by Dr. Donald Cox
“Run faster, jump higher, get stronger” is the mantra of many serious athletes focused on improving performance. In terms of supplementation, athletes have traditionally relied on products that build muscle, fuel endurance and aid recovery as an important part of their training. But without the benefit of good health, training programs and performance gains fall by the wayside. In other words, if you’re sick, you cannot train, at least not effectively. This is a common occurrence among athletes based on substantial research demonstrating that high intensity exercise weakens the immune system.
New clinical research with a natural immune health ingredient called Wellmune® may change how athletes, trainers and coaches approach supplementation. In studies involving marathon runners and cyclists in a heat-stress lab, Wellmune reduced the incidence of upper respiratory infection symptoms and activated protective immune responses that maintain health.
Wellmune is a food, beverage and supplement ingredient that is clinically proven to safely prime the key immune cells that help keep the body healthy. It is a beta 1,3/1,6 glucan derived from the cell walls of a proprietary strain of bakers yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae). Wellmune triggers human immune defenses that have evolved over thousands of years to protect the body. Researchers have demonstrated that Wellmune mobilizes billions of innate immune cells that are part of the body’s natural defenses. It helps these cells to do their jobs effectively without over stimulating the immune system, which can be harmful to long-term health. This unique ingredient’s patented, year-round protection is the culmination of more than $300 million in research with leading university and government institutions. Wellmune is a product of Biothera, a U.S. biotechnology company dedicated to improving immune health. University of Houston Study The Department of Health and Human Performance at the University of Houston conducted a clinical study that found that Wellmune might enable both recreational and elite athletes to exercise longer and harder with less risk of immune system suppression that normally occurs following high intensity exercise1. The effective- ness of the immune system drops sharply below its normal state two to six hours after strenuous exercise and then gradually recovers within 24 hours. “During this ‘open window’ period, the athlete is more susceptible to infection, which may result in lost training time as well as missed work or school,” explained Brian McFarlin, Ph.D., FACSM, lead researcher and Associate Professor of Exercise Physiology, Nutrition, and Immunology at the University of Houston. Study Design The randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study involved 60 recreational athletes [31 women (age 22 +5), 29 men (age 23 +5)] engaged in sustained aerobic exercise. Following initial screening, study subjects were given either a placebo or 250 mg of Wellmune daily for 10 days. At the end of the period, the athletes rode an exercise bicycle for approximately one hour in the heat stress chamber at the Health and Human Performance lab at the University of Houston. Exercise conditions in the chamber were set at 38°C (100°F) and 45% relative humidity to create an environment that placed the athletes under physiological and psychological stress. The athletes were closely monitored during the exercise challenge to ensure their safety. Blood samples were drawn at day 0 and ten days later, immediately before and after the exercise session and again two hours post exercise. The samples were analyzed for 25 immune system measurements. Using a cross-over study design, the athletes next observed an eight-day “wash out” period during which no supplement was given to clear their bodies of any supplement effect. The study subjects then repeated the 10-day supplementation with the other test variable (Wellmune or placebo). At the end of the second supplementation period, the subjects then replicated their initial exercise regimen. Study Results Study subjects taking Wellmune had statistically significant higher concentrations of monocytes in their blood compared with the blood samples while taking the placebo. The higher monocyte level was recorded immediately before and after exercise, as well as two hours post exercise. Study participants also had higher levels of key cytokines (IL-2, IL-4, IL-5 and IFN gamma) following Lipopolysaccharide (LPS) stimulation when taking Wellmune. (figure 1). LPS is derived from gram- negative bacteria and is used to mimica bacterial challenge to stimulate an immune response. The data also showed higher levels of plasma cytokines (IL-4, IL-5, IL-7, IL-8, IL-10 and IFN gamma) two hours after exercise when the subjects had supplemented with Wellmune. All of these results were statistically significant (p<0.05). The effect of Wellmune on LPS-stimulated IL-4 and IL-5 production suggests that leukocytes were primed for higher plasma cytokines that directly mediate innate and humoral dependent immune responses. The research demonstrated that Wellmune not only reduced the “open window” effect, but also actually resulted in a higher level of immune responsiveness than the study subjects’ normal immune state. “Wellmune provided a greater degree of protection before and after exercise, as measured by monocyte concentrations and certain protective cytokine levels,” says Dr. McFarlin. “It may enable athletes to maintain a strenuous training program, avoid down time and ultimately enhance their overall athletic performance.” Carlsbad Marathon Study The immune health benefits of Wellmune were also demonstrated in a clinical study with marathoners who participated in California’s Carlsbad Marathon in 2007. Runners taking Wellmune experienced increased vigor and mental clarity and a reduction in fatigue and upper respiratory tract infection symptoms2.
Study Design The double-blinded, placebo-controlled study included 75 marathon runners (35 men, 40 women) ages 18-53 (mean age 36 years) who were recruited at the 2007 Carlsbad Marathon. Subjects consumed 250 mg of Wellmune daily or a placebo for four weeks. Both groups monitored and recorded symptoms that included nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, cough, fatigue, headache, general malaise and body aches. The study measured the psychological states of the participants using a Profile of Mood States (POMS) questionnaire. The POMS profile method, which measures six primary moods states (tension, depression, anger, fatigue, vigor and confusion), has been employed in thousands of health studies. Study Results Marathoners taking Wellmune had statistically significant (p<0.05) improvements in measurements of physical health, including reported upper respiratory tract infection symptoms and overall health status (figure 2). At the two-week interval, 68% of subjects in the placebo group reported symptoms associated with URTI, but only 32% in the 250 mg Wellmune treatment group reported similar symptoms (figure 3). Upper respiratory tract infection symptoms were reported by only 8% of subjects in Wellmune group at week four vs. 24% of placebo subjects. In addition, study participants taking Wellmune rated their health 44% higher as compared to normal. It was unsurprising, perhaps, that the POMS results mirrored the physical health assessment. The marathoners taking Wellmune experienced fewer symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections so their energy levels and general sense of wellness were higher than the placebo group. In contrast with the placebo group, the Wellmune marathoners reported a:
- 22% increase in vigor (figure 4)
- 48% reduction in fatigue (figure 5)
- 38% reduction in tension (figure 6)
- 38% reduction in stress-related con- fusion (figure 7)
Livestrong Marathon Study A study of 182 runners who completed the 2011 LiveStrong Marathon in Austin, Texas, confirmed previous clinical research showing that Wellmune’s support of the immune system has health benefits for individuals under real-life conditions. The Health and Human Performance Lab at the University of Houston conducted the study. Study Design This was the second marathon runner study to evaluate Wellmune and was completed in 2011. The study was conducted by the University of Houston and included evaluation of both the dispersible and soluble forms of Wellmune3. The study was similar in methodology to the Carlsbad marathon study published by Talbott. The randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study included 96 men and 86 women with an average age of 34 and an average finish time of 4:00 hours. These participants were given either 250 mg of Wellmune soluble or Wellmune dispersible daily or a placebo of 250 mg of rice flour to take for four weeks following the LiveStrong marathon. Cold and flu symptoms were tracked via several survey tools daily (including the WURSS-21 survey). The investigators did not know the identity of the variables until after all the data analysis was completed. Study Results Both forms of Wellmune (dispersible and soluble) significantly reduced the average number of days subjects reported cold or flu symptoms compared to the place- bo3. There was no significant difference between average number of symptom days between the dispersible and soluble groups. This study confirms the efficacy of both dispersible and soluble forms of Wellmune. Based on previous studies conducted by the University of Houston, it is reasonable to speculate that the improvements associated with Wellmune were likely due to alterations in monocytes, plasma cytokines, and improved mucosal immunity1,3. Future Research Statistically significant benefits of Wellmune have been demonstrated in other clinical trials involving wildland firefighters, fourth year medical students and other individuals with high stress lifestyles. This body of research may have broad implications for elite athletes and ordinary consumers, as well as food, beverage and supplement manufacturers in the immune health category. Biothera is committed to an ongoing research program that advances under- standing of the immune system and the technology of Wellmune. The company is focused on continued biomarker research linked to specific health benefits. In the meantime, both recreational and elite athletes may want to rethink their mantra for obtaining performance goals. Maintaining immune health is a requirement for “running faster, jumping higher and getting stronger.” References: Carpenter KC, Breslin WL, Davidson T, Adams A, and McFarlin BK. 2012. Baker’s Yeast Beta-Glucan Supplementation in- creases Monocytes and Cytokines Post-Exercise: Implications for Infection risk? British Journal of Nutrition: May 10:1-9. Talbott, S. T. and Talbott J. 2009. “Effect of BETA 1, 3/1, 6 GLUCAN on upper respiratory tract infection symptoms and mood state in marathon athletes.” Journal of Sports Science and Medicine 8: 509-515. McFarlin, BK, Carpenter, KC, Davidson T, McFarlin MA 2013. Baker’s Yeast Beta Glucan supplementation increase salivary IgA and decreases cold/flu symptomatic days after intense exercise. Journal of Dietary Supplements. 10:171-183.