Novel Immune System Enhancer Strengthens Microbial and Mutagenic Defense
By Chris D. Meletis, ND
Immunity is one of our bodyís most important resources. Yet, some of the most
devastating diseases can affect this aspect of our health including HIV, cancer,
and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and multiple
sclerosis. Even if weíre not subject to any of these chronic conditions, we can
become vulnerable to a host of influenza viruses or bacterial infections. Itís
therefore integrally important to reinforce our immune systems.
Over the last three years some of the top laboratories in the nation have been
researching a substance that appears to modulate the immune system in such a way
as to make it resistant to pathogenic organisms. After personally communicating
with the director of the research team responsible for investigating this new
substance, I have concluded that it is one of the most promising agents Iíve
seen. However, before I describe its discovery and how it supports the immune
system, I must describe several key aspects of our bodiesí immune defenses.
One of the ways we can nurture this aspect of health is to enhance the activity
of natural killer cells, key players in immunity. Natural killer cells are
lymphocytes, cells present in the blood and lymphatic tissue that are integral
to immunity. Natural killer cells bond to viral-invaded cells and release
cytotoxins that kill the infected cells. They act similarly on many types of
While natural killer cells are an important aspect of immunity, they are not the
only aspect. The immune system is a complex tapestry that also relies upon the
proper functioning of T-cells. These cells emerge from the bone marrow in an
immature state and must migrate to the thymus gland, where they are programmed
to transform into:
1) CD4 helper cells, which orchestrate the immune response by activating other
immune cells and stimulating the production of antibodies by the B- cells.
2) CD8 suppressor cells, which suppress killer cells by signaling the
termination of an attack.
Therefore, if we could find a natural substance that decreases the number of CD8
suppressor cells in relation to the number of CD4 helper cells, we would improve
the CD4/CD8 ratio, strengthening the immune systemís ability to defend against
viral, bacterial, and parasitical invaders.
A third aspect of immunity involves immunoglobulin A (IgA). IgA is the principal
immunoglobulin in exocrine secretions. It is important in protecting mucosal
surfaces from invasion by pathogenic bacteria and viruses. Its presence in
colostrum is thought to be the main reason behind colostrumís anti-infective
properties in newborns.
While the aforementioned aspects of immunity are important, they are, in a
sense, oversimplifying how the immune system works, as it is a complex interplay
of many different factors. However, understanding each of the factors I mention
above will help explain how the new discovery discussed below has a novel and
fascinating effect on the immune system.
The discovery of a unique yeast-derived product called EpiCorô began when
insurance adjusters noticed that employees of a leading manufacturer of animal
nutrition products, experienced unusually low sick leave rates and filed
significantly fewer claims than employees of similarly sized companies. In fact,
while 2004 annual insurance premiums increased an average of 11.2 percent
nationally, this companyís 2004 premiums didnít increase at all.
The owners suspected this low illness rate was due to a fermented yeast culture
the company manufactured for production animals since the workers who came in
contact with this fermented yeast culture experienced an unusual lack of
Consequently, the company commissioned a research group to perform a series of
studies investigating EpiCorís effects, its safety and whether it was the agent
responsible for the enhanced immunity at the companyís production facility
Prior to conducting these studies, the research group visited the manufacturing
facility and interviewed the employees. They began with the plant manager, who
had previously worked at another company for more than 20 years. His wife was an
emergency room nurse and often caught viral infections while on the job. While
working at the other company, the plant manager and his children contracted 3 to
5 colds or flus per year. However, he had now worked with the fermented yeast
product for 9 years and had not had a cold or flu for at least the last 7 years.
His wife and children continued to contract a number of illnesses every year.
After hearing similar stories from other members of the production facility
staff, the researchers were intrigued. Among the production facility workers,
there had been no admissions for any emergency room visits, no incidence of any
chronic diseases. In the administrative building, where employees rarely came in
contact with the fermented yeast product, there was a greater incidence of colds
There definitely seemed to be a reason to investigate this product.
Background on EpiCor
The ingredient to be investigated was an end product of fermentation of bakerís
yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae). The company has produced this product for 63
years as an additive to animal feed products and they distribute it worldwide.
The process used to manufacture the product, while not patented, is a trade
secret that other large companies have failed to replicate. Consequently,
EpiCorís producer has dominated in the feed marketplace for many years,
especially since it wasnít uncommon for animals consuming the animal feed
version of EpiCor to have an increased litter size compared to what would
normally be expected.
First, the team of researchers broke down EpiCorís composition to help determine
why it might have an immunomodulating effect. In doing this, it was noted that
EpiCor had an excellent profile of mono unsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty
acids and a small amount of saturated fat. In addition, all of the essential
vitamins and minerals were in the product as well as trace elements.
Interestingly, they also found it contained compounds known to exert free
radical fighting activity such as phytosterols and phenolics including catechins
and trans resveratrol. The researchers were surprised to find compounds such as
squalene, which is found in sharks and only a very few plant species. Given this
profile of substances known to exert antioxidant activity, they decided to
subject EpiCor to studies investigating its antioxidant potential.
The first study conducted was designed to determine whether EpiCor could inhibit
the formation of radical oxygen species (ROS) in freshly purified human
neutrophil cells. They exposed the cells to hydrogen peroxide to induce severe
oxidative stress then compared the EpiCor-treated cells to the cells left
untreated. They discovered significant reduction of all ROS formation at EpiCor
concentrations as low as 1 part per trillion compared to control cells
challenged with only hydrogen peroxide. They continued to observe inhibition of
ROS formation at concentrations even lower than one part per trillion. This
effect didnít stop until they reached a concentration of 0.01 part per trillion.
The antioxidant activity of EpiCor (or ORAC activity, as its called in the
industry) was actually significantly greater than that of blueberries.
Next, the researchers found that EpiCor dramatically reduced the growth of E.
Coli bacteria and Candida Tropicalis. At concentrations that continued all the
way down to 1 part per billion they noted total inhibition of E. Coli and
Candida Tropicalis. It did not, however, inhibit Staphylococcus aureus.
After conducting this study, they concluded that EpiCor may provide protection
against infection with coliform bacteria (a common cause of food poisoning) and
candida. The study also indicated that EpiCor may support the growth of
desirable mucosal flora in the intestinal tract.
Stability and Toxicity Studies
The research team also decided to conduct a study to determine if EpiCor had a
sufficient shelf life, an important consideration if it were to be consumed by
humans. They first determined that when the product sat at 77 degrees Fahrenheit
for 28 days, levels of mold, Salmonella, and Staphylococcus aureus stayed below
the acceptable limit. Other tests have shown that it is extremely stable for at
least 22 months.
In another study, they asked a leading lab to check for 139 different
pesticides. EpiCor was found free of all 139 compounds tested for at the
They also performed oral toxicity studies in rats. They gave 2,000 mg of EpiCor
per kg of body weight to 20 ratsóthe equivalent to 140 grams administered orally
in humans. After 14 days, the animals treated with EpiCor had normal body
weights and no deaths occurred during the treatment period. In addition, no
gross pathological changes were observed.
In a 90-day toxicity study, they treated 4 groups of rats (40 animals per group)
with either 30, 200 or 1,500 mg of EpiCor per kg of body weight. A fourth group
served as the control. EpiCor-treated rats did not have an increased rate of
mortality, there were no treatment-related clinical symptoms, no significant
differences in body weight, nor any pathological changes in any areas examined.
In addition, there were no gross pathological lesions found in any organs.
The researchers concluded that EpiCor was well tolerated in daily oral doses up
to 1,500 mg for 90 days. (A 90-day rodent study is equivalent to 1.5 years of
human consumption in a 70 kg adult male or a 50 kg adult female).
Other tests have shown that EpiCor is not mutagenic and does not have the
potential to cause gene mutation.
Before delving into human studies they also investigated whether EpiCor is
contraindicated in people taking any type of pharmaceutical drug. So they looked
at whether it would affect drug-metabolizing enzymes such as Cytochrome P450.
They conducted a test called the immortalized human hepatocyte assay, considered
the gold standard for inducing drug-metabolizing enzymes. Through this test,
they found that EpiCor is not toxic, does not induce the expression or enzymatic
activity of cytochrome P450 or other drug metabolizing enzymes and therefore
does not interfere in drug metabolism.
They were almost ready to conduct human studies on EpiCorís immunomodulating
potential. However, first, they wanted to ensure its safety. For one month, 15
men and women ages 15 Ė 40 consumed 500 mg of EpiCor in a single daily dose.
They measured baseline values 3 days preceding the studyís start. Multiple blood
samples were taken on day 2 and 28 and additional blood and saliva samples on
days 0, 14, 21, 28. EpiCor was well tolerated with no evidence of adverse
effects on the immune system nor any clinically relevant changes to any vital
Now that they had determined that EpiCor is safe, non-toxic, non-mutagenic, is
not harmful to cells, and is pesticide free, they were ready to begin studying
if and how it affects immunity in humans. They compared one group of 10
production employees who are exposed to EpiCor on the job at the facility with
another group of 10 gender and aged matched non-production facility employees
not exposed to EpiCor.
They analyzed blood samples and what they found was fascinating. The group
exposed to EpiCor showed a significant decrease in CD8 suppressor cells,
resulting in an improvement in the CD4/CD8 ratio. The CD4/CD8 ratio suggested
that these EpiCor-exposed individuals had at least 2 to 3 times the natural
killing activity against viruses, bacteria and cancer cells than would normally
This was quite striking to the laboratory. The director called one of the
researchers and said, ďIíve never seen anything like these results before. These
people seem virtually immune from contracting almost anything.Ē
The researcher then asked him to go through the results and highlight the ones
he thought were significant while the researcher did the same. They did not hold
the code as to whose blood samples they were observing. The code was still kept
by a scientist at the facility. But when they broke the code they had both 100
percent successfully separated the production from the non-production employees
based on their immune profile.
One of the other interesting aspects is that natural killer cells in EpiCor-exposed
subjects had a much higher killing efficiency of pathogen-infected and abnormal
cells despite a significant decrease in the natural killer cellsí number. To use
an analogy, if we sent out soldiers, we could send out less soldiers because
they had become more efficient at doing battle. At the same time, EpiCor-exposed
subjects experienced a significant inhibition of interferon gamma production,
which indicates that EpiCor has anti-inflammatory abilities.
They also found significantly higher levels of total salivary secretory IgA in
the EpiCor subjects. The IgA levels were surprisingly highómore than 300 mg per
ml. This indicated that the EpiCor subjects had the equivalent of an
immunological envelope protecting all the membranes in the eyes, nasal passages,
and all the places where pathogenic organisms enter into the system.
They also found significantly lower levels of immune complexes and higher levels
of glutathione in erythrocytes (red blood cells). Higher levels of immune
complexes are responsible for inflammation, and lowering their levels would
result in less inflammation and tissue damage.
These same immune-modulating effects were seen in the study mentioned earlier in
this article, in the 15 subjects treated with EpiCor for 28 days.
Another aspect of the EpiCor studies worth mentioning is known as calcium
signaling. Calcium signaling between cells is pivotal to the coordinated
response of cells in tissues and organs within the whole body. It is now well
established that cells do not behave as selfish entities but rather tend to form
"micro-societies" whose proper functioning requires a precise coordination of
signals that the cells emit and receive. When these signals are not working
properly, this can result in pathological situations that can range from
abnormal cell proliferation to cell death. The research has shown that EpiCor
can influence calcium signaling, thereby offering a potential explanation for
how EpiCor supports immunity and defends against invading pathogens.
Additionally, it was determined that EpiCor affects the activity of Nuclear
Factor Kappa B (NFK-B). NFK-B plays an important role in inflammation, immunity,
autoimmune responses, cell adhesion, cell proliferation, cell development and
cell death (apoptosis) because it regulates the expression of genes involved in
all these processes.
After conducting these studies, an expert panel of toxicologists was assembled
to review the data. The panel was chaired by the former director of the division
of drugs and environmental toxicology and the human food safety program at the
FDA. Other panelists included EPA scientists and the editor of the journal Food
and Chemical Toxicology. As a result of the panel review, EpiCor has now
received FDAís Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) classification.
I have never been so impressed by the effects of a compound as I have been with
EpiCor. At this writing, there is one published study depicting the immune
modulating aspects of EpiCor (Schauss AG, Vodjani A. Discovery of an edible
fermentation product with unusual immune enhancing properties in humans. FASEB
J. 2006;20(4):A143). Because this information is so new, a majority of studies
mentioned in this article are still unpublished. The researchers expect to
submit 5 manuscripts to peer reviewed journals within the next six months.
Meanwhile, the confirmed safety of EpiCor and its effects on various immune
parameters indicate that it is an immune modulating substance par excellence.
Chris Meletis, ND
Dr. Chris D. Meletis is an educator, international author and lecturer. Dr.
Meletis has authored 14 books and was awarded the 2003 naturopathic physician of
the year by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. He has also
written over 200 nationally published health and wellness articles. He served as
Chief Medical Officer and Dean of Naturopathic Medicine for the National College
of Naturopathic Medicine and has participated in starting 16 clinics providing
care for uninsured families.
His personal mission is "Changing Americaís Health One Person at a Time." He
believes that when people become educated about their health that this is when
true wellness is achieved.
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