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It’s effect on Immune System Function
FUEL FOR THE IMMUNE SYSTEM IN A BOTTLE!
23 October 2008
I. Introduction: The Immune System
Exposure to antigens, including bacteria viruses, fungi, parasites, and any foreign microorganisms, is a dangerous, health-threatening inevitability of our daily lives. It is the responsibility of our immune systems to defend our health against these invaders. Since the ability of the human body to ward off infection rests largely on the strength of immune system function, the improvement of this system has been the target of copious research. In recent years, scientific research has shed light onto many factors which can lead to the suppression of immune system function, including stress and sleep deprivation; however, discovering a substance that effectively improves immune function has remained a challenge. In today’s world of excess stress, environmental pollutants and super-bugs, such a discovery is crucial. The new, groundbreaking dietary supplement, EpiCor® has proven to be effective in the enhancement of immune function in a number of clinical trials. EpiCor® successfully builds immunity by increasing levels of secretory IgA, increasing the killing efficiency of natural killer cells and improving the CD4/CD8 ratio. (http://www.healthsavers.info/HSNews/EpiCor-ImmuneSystem.htm)
II. What is EpiCor®? : Background
EpiCor® was unintentionally discovered in 2004 when insurance adjusters noticed the unusually low sick leave rates and relatively small number of claims made by a leading animal nutrition products manufacturer. The insurance company initiated the idea of conducting a study to indicate whether if the proprietary yeast culture produced by this particular manufacturer to keep animals healthy was enhancing its employees’ immune systems. Indeed, the studies revealed that the insurance company’s keen observation was no coincidence.
The ingredient of EpiCor® is Dried Yeast Fermentate, which is the end product of fermentation of baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) (http://www.vrp.com/articles.aspx?ProdID=art1887&zTYPE=2). This yeast-fermented product is designed to provide fermentation metabolites often called "nutrilites." These nutrilites are created when a culture media is implanted with live yeast cells, which are allowed to ferment under a specific set of conditions. After fermenting, the yeast cells are dried and the end product is made up of the leftover live yeast cells that were used in the fermentation, as well as the metabolic by-products of the yeast produced (http://www.4greathealth.com/).
II. How Does EpiCor® Work? : Rationale
In order to understand exactly how EpiCor® works, it is necessary to breakdown its overall effect by observing its function in each part of the immune system. “The immune system can be divided into specialized ‘teams’ of immunity, each with its own set of protective responsibilities,” and its own type of assistance from EpiCor®. (http://www.4greathealth.com/).
The first lines of defense are concentrated in areas of the body where there can be contact with external stressors, such as the mouth, nose, throat, and intestines. In these areas, the body’s most abundant antibody, secretory IgA (sIgA), is secreted and serves as a barrier by coating the surfaces of the mucous membranes. According to their research, the developers of EpiCor claim that it raised levels of sIgA up to 60%.
The second line of defense consists of a team of helper cells (CD4) and suppressor cells (CD8), which come to the body’s defense when an environmental stressor makes it past the sIgA defenses. EpiCor has been shown to increase CD4 while decreasing CD8, which improves the balance between the two, an immunological balancing act that is the key to all successful immune defenses (http://www.healthsavers.info/HSNews/EpiCor-ImmuneSystem.htm). EpiCor® also increases the activity and efficiency of Natural Killer (NK) cells, which help the body to stay healthy by killing pathogen-infected cells.
Tests conducted by EpiCor® developers also concluded that it acts as an antioxidant. It contains compounds known to exert free radical fighting activity such as phytosterols and phenolics as well as squalene, which is found in sharks and very few plant species (http://www.vrp.com/articles.aspx?ProdID=art1887&zTYPE=2). As an antioxidant, EpiCor® naturally fights free radicals which break down the DNA, spur the body's immune response, and add stress that the body doesn't need (http://www.4greathealth.com/).
IV. What are the Claims? : Usage and Claims
A single 500 mg capsule of EpiCor® taken once daily is recommended for all adults. It is best taken year-round for maximum benefit (http://www.4greathealth.com/).
Taken daily, EpiCor®:
In addition to the claims inherent in the description of how EpiCor® works in the body (by increasing levels of sIgA, balancing levels of CD4 and CD8, activating NK cells and acting as an antioxidant), there are further claims about the benefits of taking EpiCor®:
Delivers 3X the antioxidant power of any known fruit. “An oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) assay showed EpiCor has an ORAC value of 450–650 — providing nearly three times more antioxidant power than the highest ORAC–value food, black raspberries, which have a score of 164” (http://www.4greathealth.com/).
Helps common cold and flu symptoms. A recent human clinical study suggested that EpiCor® reduced the incidence of cold and flu symptoms by 21% and showed a decrease in the duration of cold and flu symptoms by 14%, both statistically significant results. Study was published in Urologic Nursing, 2008, Volume 28, Number 1, p. 50-55 (http://www.4greathealth.com/).
Epicor® is safe. The fermentation process involves the same microorganism used for thousands of years to make bread. Furthermore, multiple toxicological studies have been performed to prove its safety and a panel of independent experts determined that EpiCor is GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) (http://www.discount-vitamins-herbs.net/epicor.htm).
Epicor is unlike other immune products. “EpiCor® is not a single chemical as are many immune support products on the market, but a complex product comprised of beneficial metabolites together with vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants working together to support immune health” (http://www.4greathealth.com/).
"EpiCor is designed to help balance the immune system to handle everyday stressors, including work or travel, as well as enormous physical demands, as with running a marathon," said Larry Robinson, Ph.D, Embria's vice president of scientific affairs. BOLD CLAIM! (http://www.nutritiondome.com/epicor.html)
V. What Scientific Research Supports These Bold Claims? : Evidence
It is quite evident that the motives of the websites I have referenced thus far are not solely to improve the immune function and overall health of those who visit these websites. The incentives of those who advertise EpiCor® on these websites are clearly profit-driven and the evidence that they provide is not sufficient. Furthermore, the claims made on these websites were often followed by an asterisk. Upon scrolling down to see the indication of the asterisk, one will read “*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.” However, there have been studies that provide concrete evidence for the efficacy of EpiCor® in supporting immune function.
In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled pilot study done by Jensen et al (2008), designed to evaluate effects of consumption of EpiCor®., twenty-five healthy participants consumed 0.5 gram EpiCor® or placebo daily for five weeks. Males and females were randomized separately, to ensure an even gender distribution in each group. The randomization led to an overall comparable gender and age distribution and the average BMI was also comparable between the two groups. The initial saliva and blood samples were collected, and instructions were given regarding consumption, tracking, and compliance. The next saliva and blood samples were collected upon completion of the five week consumption period. Questionnaires pertaining to general health were also completed one and two weeks after consumption had ended. When analyzing the questionnaire pertaining to minor health complaints, participants who consumed EpiCor® had fewer health complaints at the end of the study, whereas the placebo group showed no changes. The health of erythrocytes was evaluated by erythrocyte count, hemoglobin, and hematocrit; and EpiCor® led to an increase in hemoglobin and hematocrit. When analyzing secretory IgA (sIgA) between the two groups, the EpiCor® group showed a relative increase in sIgA after consumption, whereas the placebo group showed a relative decrease in saliva IgA. Also, levels of serum Immunoglobulin E (sIgE), which is associated with allergies, decreased for those in the Epicor® group. In conclusion, according to Jensen et al (2008, page 74) “the data suggest that EpiCor® supports the formation of healthy red blood cells, supports mucosal defense and provides anti-inflammatory support”.
In another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial conducted by Moyad et al (2008), researchers studied 116 people recently vaccinated against the flu. Subjects received either daily supplements of EpiCor (500 mg) or a placebo. The University of Michigan scientists collected data on the subjects at the beginning of the study and after six and twelve weeks. The researchers found that the subjects given EpiCor experienced significantly fewer cold and flu symptoms and significantly shorter duration of symptoms, compared to subjects taking the placebo. Among the 116 study participants, those who did have symptoms experienced a reduction in the duration of symptoms by 14 percent after taking EpiCor. The overall occurrence of cold and flu symptoms was reduced by 21 percent in the EpiCor group.
Lastly, the study associated with the initial discovery of the benefits of Epicor®, by Schauss et al (2006), showed significant results. A comparison study was performed on blood from 10 fermentation plant workers compared to that from 10 age and gender matched controls. The fermentation plant workers had decreased levels of CD8 cells resulting in significantly increased CD4 to CD8 ratios, significantly improved natural killer (NK) cell activity, higher killing efficiency of NK cells, significantly increased levels of secretory IgA, higher levels of red blood cell intracellular glutathione, and significantly lower levels of immune complexes. Higher levels of immune complexes are responsible for inflammation, and lowering their levels would result in less inflammation and tissue damage. EpiCor® was also tested for antioxidant activity in an in vitro assay called the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity assay (ORAC) and its antioxidant activity was verified.
VI. Conclusion and Recommendations
Epicor®, taken as a supplement on a daily basis, is intended to improve immune system function by targeting each of the system’s individual lines of defense in beneficial ways: The physical barrier (first line of defense) is strengthened by an increase in levels of sIgA, the second line of defense is boosted by a greater level of balance between CD4 and CD8 cells s well as an increase in activity of NK cells, and the supplement also assists the immune system by acting as an antioxidant. The two double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled studies as well as the earlier-performed comparison study provide evidence for Epicor®’s effectiveness improving immune function in each of these particularly described, intended ways. Not only did the data demonstrate that Epicor® was effective in each of these specific ways (ie: increase in sIgA after consumption), but also, participants who consumed Epicor® reported few minor health complaints and endured fewer cold and flu symptoms, which shows its overall effectiveness as perceived by users. In addition, the comparison study provided evidence for claims regarding Epicor®’s role as an antioxidant, ability to improve balance among CD4 and CD8 cells and success in activating NK cells.
The results of these studies warrant further research. Although these studies have found significant results, further research and repeated results would make the findings far more reliable. Epicor® is a relatively new subject of research as the studies cited are all recent. Prospective studies going forward would certainly help to confirm the efficacy of this supplement.
Although the dietary supplement Epicor® has been shown to improve immune function and holds a great deal of potential, it is only one piece to the puzzle. Getting one’s immune system to function at its optimal level of performance will never be achieved by one solitary practice. Since immune system health is determined by a variety of factors, it is important to pay attention to all of them in order for one’s “army” of immunity to be fighting at full force. Controlling stress, getting sufficient sleep, performing mild to moderate exercise, ensuring proper hydration and practicing a health-promoting diet and lifestyle are all pivotal for those seeking to enjoy true wellness.
Jensen, G., Patterson, K., Barnes, J., Schauss, A., Beaman, R., Reeves, S., Robinson, L. (2008). A Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled, Randomized Pilot Study: Consumption of a High-Metabolite Immunogen from Yeast Culture has Beneficial Effects on Erythrocyte Health and Mucosal Immune Protection in Healthy Subjects. The Open Nutrition Journal, 2008, 2, 68-75.
Moyad MA, Robinson LE, Zawada ET, Jr, Kittelsrud JM, Chen DG, Reeves SG, Weaver SE. (2008). Effects of a Modified Yeast Supplement on Cold/Flu Symptoms. Urologic Nursing. February 2008;28(1): 50-55.
Schauss AG, Jensen G, Vojdani A, Financsek I. (2006). After decades of Ingestion by Farm Animals, the Discovery of a Yeast Fermentate With Unexpected Significant Immune Modulatory Activity When Consumed by Humans. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2006; 25(5): 465.
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