Special Edition: Immune Health

Ingredients derived from fungi offer alternative in immune health space

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

Ingredients derived from fungi offer alternative in immune health space

Related tags: Bacteria, Immune system

The immune supporting properties of ingredients in the cell walls of yeasts and other fungi have been known for centuries and two companies in particular—Biothera and Embria Health Sciences—are unlocking the benefits of these compounds, offering them in a form in which they can be readily incorporated into multi-ingredient immune health formulations.

The two ingredients are often conflated within the supply end of the dietary supplement industry as being yeast-derived ingredients.  Actually, there are significant differences between the two, which has informed how the companies have researched their effects and positioned the ingredients in the marketplace.

Whole shebang vs reductionist approach

Embria’s EpiCor ingredient was discovered almost by happenstance in the course of manufacturing the yeast marketed by Embria’s parent company Diamond V.  In the late 1990s, workers in that part of the factory exposed to the fermentation product that was eventually packaged as EpiCor were using significantly less sick time than their peers.  The company noted the ingredient had the effect of boosting killer cell activity. Rather than parse out which of the many constituents of the fermentation product were producing these effects, the decision was taken to get the ingredient whole, resulting in a mixture of antioxidants, protein, fiber, polyphenols, vitamins, amino acids, beta glucans and other metabolites that work together to help strengthen the immune system.

“It is a complex fermentation ingredient,”​ Larry Robinson, Embria’s vice president of scientific affairs, told Nutraingredients-Usa. “We always tell people to think of this like bread. You mix a bunch of ingredients together, let it rise and then bake it. What you end up with is not a single compound or chemical, but a bunch of ingredients working together.

“It is the same with EpiCor,”​ he said. “We start with a proprietary fermentation medium and our fermentation organism. Then we anaerobically stress the tank, and produce stress response metabolites. Then we dry the entire tank down to a powder. Nothing is left out.”

Biothera has taken a different approach. The company isolated a 1,3/1,6 glucan molecule from a proprietary strain of baker's yeast. The resulting ingredient, branded as Wellmune, has regulatory approval in a number of markets around the world, including GRAS status in the U.S. and novel food approval in Europe and China. 

Biothera is well known in the industry for the extensive suite of science backing the ingredient.  The company continues to add to that pool of data, said Don Cox senior vice president of research and development for Biothera.

“We had a small study that was published in Japan with our ingredient in a vinegar drink, a class of drinks that are popular there.  And we had a study using Wellmune in a milk-based powdered beverage in China.  And we did a study in Brazil on how Wellmune reduced allergy symptoms in children one to four years in age,”​ he said. 

Differing modes of action

In addition to the differences in the ingredients’ makeup, EpiCor and Wellmune differ in their mode of action as well. Biothera has long studied its ingredient for its immune-stimulating properties and has a parallel pharmaceutical development track. Biothera has extensive data on the ingredient’s method of action that show that fragments of Wellmune digested and released by macrophages bind to the CR3 receptor sites on neutrophils, priming these cells for disease-fighting activity without over-boosting the immune system. The company added to that data last year with a study that verified the mode of action for the several different forms of the ingredient—dispersible and soluble—the company offers. 

Embria’s evidence shows a mode of action involving natural killer cells.  The company’s studies on the ingredient show EpiCor directly activated those cells in B cells as well in vitro​.  The company has conducted human research as well.  But it’s focus has been slightly different; Embria investigated the ingredients antioxidant properties as well as its direct effects on immune system functioning.

“While we do have a small amount of beta glucans in the product, most of the makeup of the ingredient is not that.  We have multiple modes of action,”​ Robinson said.

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Ken is wrong

Posted by David,

Your statement shows ignorance. Indeed in ancient times the concept of 'immune function' was not known. The existing medical systems had in general a more holistic look at the body / mind. When someone got sick, this was diagnosed as 'unbalanced'. Quite often these diagnoses were quite accurate even when seen with modern eyes. They then used 'medication' to restore the balance (and some of these treatments we would now call 'immune support'). E.g. the Chinese had the so-called Fu-Zheng therapy, which today would be called 'immuno-therapy'.

Many of these treatments involved mushrooms, such as Reishi, Maitake, Trametes and others. Several of these are described in the well-known 'Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing' which is considered to be around 2000 years old. We now know why these mushrooms work, back then they only knew that they worked.

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Fungal Derivatives for Immune Health Have NOT been known for Centuries

Posted by Ken,

I keep seeing this and similar statements in the scientific literature and the popular press, but it is simply not true. Any benefits to the immune system from constituents of fungi have not been known for centuries for the simply reason that neither the immune system nor the constituents were known until comparatively recent times. Such statements are both non-truthful and misleading.

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