Getting to the Core of Good Health -- An exclusive interview with the chief scientists behind Epicor® High Metabolite Immunogens
Dear Friends and Valued Customers:
While visiting Embria Health Sciences, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Drs. Larry Robinson and Stuart Reeves who shared with me the history and research behind EpiCor. In this exclusive Swanson interview, these two dynamic scientists demonstrate an excitement you rarely see in the staid setting of a laboratory. It was truly a pleasure to learn from them.
~Lee Swanson, President of Swanson Health Products
Larry Robinson, Ph.D., is vice president of scientific affairs at Embria Health Sciences. He is responsible for the ongoing research and scientific studies of existing products, as well as the research and development of potential new products. Larry earned a bachelor's degree with double majors in biology and psychology, a master of science degree in microbiology with a minor in biochemistry from Auburn University and a PhD degree in microbiology from Rutgers University, followed by post-doctoral studies at the University of Minnesota.
Stuart Reeves, Ph.D., ARCS, is director of research and development at Embria. He is responsible for both the internal research and external studies of Embria Health Sciences. Most recently, he was the primary senior scientist for Diamond V® Mills, Inc., and laid the scientific foundation for many of their research-based animal nutrition products. Stuart has been instrumental in developing and spearheading the supporting research behind Embria Health Sciences' key human nutrition products. He earned a bachelor's degree in plant biology and chemistry from Imperial College, London, and a Ph.D. in plant biochemistry from Kings College, London, followed by post-doctoral studies at Cornell University.
SWANSON: Thank you, doctors, for taking the time to share with me—and with our valued Swanson customers—the science of EpiCor. Let's start by talking about how EpiCor is made. It's a brewer's yeast-based product, but it's not your average brewer's yeast. Can you explain?
REEVES: I would love to address that. You see, Diamond V, Embria's parent company, has been a leading innovator in brewer's yeast products for health and nutrition since the early 1940s, and I worked with them in a scientific capacity for many years. Our products have been keeping animals healthy for decades, and I'm just thrilled that we're able to bring the benefits into human nutrition. So, on to the basics about brewer's yeast. Brewer's yeasts are microscopic fungi—single-cell organisms that are generally about 5-10 microns in size. Several species of brewer's yeast have proven very beneficial to man and beast. But it's important to understand that our products only begin with brewer's yeast. We work with the yeast to develop end-products that are value-enhanced. Embria's yeast does not consist solely of brewer's yeast cells or yeast biomass. Instead, it is a brewer's yeast-fermented product designed to provide fermentation metabolites often called "immunogens." To create these immunogens, a culture media is inoculated with live brewer's yeast cells, allowed to ferment under a specific set of conditions, and then the entire fermented media is dried. The end-product contains both the residual yeast cells used in the fermentation, as well as the metabolites or metabolic by-products the yeast produced. Our proprietary fermentation and drying process produces a biologically complex product. It contains both the "intracellular" yeast cell nutrients and the "extra-cellular" metabolites of fermentation. That's why we define EpiCor as "High-Metabolite Immunogens" because it's the metabolites produced through our proprietary process that we believe are primarily responsible for the benefits we've seen.
SWANSON: Let's talk about those incredible health benefits because it's a fascinating story. Can you please share with our readers the reason Diamond V began branching out into human nutrition and eventually founded Embria for that purpose?
ROBINSON: I'll be glad to address that, Lee. I still marvel at how this all took place because it all started with an innocent audit of our company health plan. We are partially self-insured, which means that while we had an insurance company administering our plan, we were paying the treatment costs for all of our 125-plus employees. To handle this, we set aside funds based on expenditure estimates from the actuaries and underwriters. The auditors found our actual year-to-year expenditures defied the estimates, leading to a buildup of funds in our healthcare account. We just weren't spending the money on healthcare that everyone would expect a company of our size to spend. And because of this, the premiums we were charged to have our health plan administered were rising, at the most, by only three percent annually. That's astonishingly low for any company. Meanwhile, the union was complaining because they were being provided with sick days they weren't using. They said they would rather we gave them more vacation time and less sick time because they were losing those days off by not being sick. We conducted a review and found that we did, in fact, have unusually low incidences of health problems and very low use of sick time among our employees. At that point, we were scratching our heads.
REEVES: That's when we decided "Hey, we're scientists—there's got to be an explanation for this!" We began to think that, you know, we're producing nutritional feed products from brewer's yeast, and we're working with this stuff all day, every day. It's in the air; it's on the surfaces in the plant. No matter how careful you are, if you're working in the actual production plant, you're going to be exposed. It seemed entirely possible that our product might, in fact, be keeping our employees healthy. So, being the scientists that we are, we decided to test our hypothesis.
ROBINSON: We recruited 10 employees who worked with the brewer's yeast product in the fermentation plant. We designated this group as "exposed." Then we recruited 10 age- and gender-matched employees working in non-production positions away from the fermented brewer's yeast, like the front office, sales and marketing, etc. This group was designated the "non-exposed" group. Blood and saliva samples were taken from each participant. We ran an extensive auto-immune panel on the blood samples and analyzed over 50 immune parameters. From the saliva, we measured secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA) levels. What we found was simply amazing. The tests showed that the exposed group had a significantly enhanced immune response as measured by a variety of parameters, including NK cell activity, which itself was strikingly higher (See graph 1). And we found much higher levels of secretory IgA in the saliva of the exposed group (See graph 2), which indicates optimal functioning of the mucosal immune system, the "first line" of defense.
SWANSON: You must have been pretty excited to see these results. What was your next step?
REEVES: At this point we knew that the employees who were exposed to the brewer's yeast-based feed additives we were producing appeared to have stronger immune systems. Now we needed to move from "accidental" exposure to purposeful consumption. And that meant developing a new product suitable for humans.
ROBINSON: That's when EpiCor was born. We developed a new, proprietary production process, which we call MetaGen4, to concentrate the metabolites generated from our proprietary fermented brewer's yeast (See figure 1). Then we set about the task of establishing safety and efficacy for our new product. We now have six solid scientific studies proving the safety of EpiCor even in extraordinarily large doses, and we've discovered a lot about the characterization of its complex composition.
REEVES: If I may interject—Larry mentioned characterization, and I'd like to touch on one aspect of that. While it may not be the primary method of action behind EpiCor's benefits, I think it's important to note that this substance is a remarkable antioxidant. On the ORAC scale, now recognized as a primary measure of antioxidant activity, EpiCor has one of the highest scores ever recorded. In terms of general composition, EpiCor contains both macronutrients and micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals, et cetera. Plus it contains phenolic compounds like catechins and phytosterols like ergosterol, which is a precursor to vitamin D.
SWANSON: I understand you now give EpiCor to all of your employees. Has that proven to be effective?
ROBINSON: Absolutely, and they love it. We all love it! At Embria and at Diamond V, we have some of the lowest healthcare costs imaginable. We're the envy of many companies, most of whom struggle to control costs. Now, although it all began with anecdotes, blood and saliva analyses have confirmed the stronger immune systems of those exposed to the product, and we like to think that EpiCor has a lot to do with keeping our employees healthy. After we conclude this interview, we'll take you out to the production facility, so you can meet some of our employees, and test subjects, in person.
SWANSON: I'm looking forward to it. Thank you both for sharing the EpiCor story. I can't wait to try it myself and share it with our customers.
REEVES: It's our pleasure, Lee. Thank you for taking the interest and coming down to Cedar Rapids personally to see what EpiCor is all about.