With the world focusing more than ever on wellness, many are wondering what we can do to support our immune systems and overall health. Director of Product Development Tina Van Horn recently spoke with Dr. Alfredo Galvez, Reliv’s Chief Scientific Officer and the discoverer of the lunasin peptide, to learn more about the science of immunity, what role nutrition plays and what you can do to take charge of your health.
Tina: What are the effects of nutrition on immunity and what role does epigenetics play in the immune function?
Dr. Galvez: Fortunately our bodies are very smart and have evolved over time to fight against infections through our innate and adaptive immunity. But, we also know there are specific foods and nutrients that have co-evolved with the human body to support a more efficient immune response to environmental threats like viruses. When you combine this knowledge with our current understanding of epigenetics, we can have an even greater impact on wellness as a whole, but the immune system is of particular interest in the field of nutritional epigenetics.
The role of epigenetics is the key science that has been proven to be one of the underlying causes of not only infections and inflammation, but also chronic disease formation. That is the reason why we need to have nutrients available for our bodies to use.
Research in the last decade has revealed the expression of genes associated with immunity response to epigenetic influences. A study that caught my attention ten to twelve years ago, from Purdue and Indiana Universities, demonstrated the ability of lunasin to turn on the genes associated with the immune response, both for innate immunity, our first line of defense against infection, as well as adaptive immunity, which is the ability for the body to produce antibodies that prevent future infections. This is important research in light of novel viruses and infections. Epigenetics provides new research opportunities to find and develop more effective treatments and vaccines, which is important to me from a research perspective. But, there is also a practical application for individuals because with the right nutrients, we can strengthen our immune systems to counter pathogens AND to respond efficiently when vaccines are introduced by teaching our bodies to produce antibodies that can attack novel viruses.
Tina: With the growing body of research surrounding epigenetics and lunasin, in particular, we have gained a solid understanding of the cellular health benefits of lunasin for our long-term health, but it is interesting to hear you talk about how lunasin benefits our short-term immunity in fighting off those viruses and pathogens that are environmentally attacking us in addition to the long-term health benefits. What about other dietary ingredients and nutrients? Do we need them along with lunasin to support immunity?
Dr. Galvez: Scientific evidence supports that metabolism and nutrient absorption are unique to each individual, so it is very important to have a combination of multiple nutrients at optimal levels to support all of our physiological processes, especially metabolism which is directly linked to immunity.
When I started working with Dr. Carl Hastings on adding lunasin to the core nutrition, one of the main objectives was to improve metabolic health. In fact, we did some experiments on the combination of lunasin and Reliv Now® with Soy. The results showed an improvement in metabolic biomarkers and risk factors associated with a number of health conditions. We understand now, more clearly than ever before, how metabolic health directly affects the immune system. So the nutritional composition of the core nutrition (macronutrients and micronutrients) in combination with lunasin, optimizes genetic expression for good health today and improves our long-term health.
Tina: You already stated that what makes Reliv products so unique is that we don’t focus on single ingredients for a specific health benefit. Yet so many people when we talk about immunity they instantly think of taking mega doses of vitamin C or zinc. But those mega doses are not nearly as effective as putting these ingredients together in synergistic formulas. How can we combat that misunderstanding?
Dr. Galvez: The body of research on nutrition and epigenetics is expanding exponentially. At Reliv, we are not only looking at lunasin, but also we are also looking at lunasin in combination with the other ingredients we have in core nutrition and even some of the targeted solutions like FibRestore®, CardioSentials® and GlucAffect®. These formulas contain ingredients also known to have an effect on the epigenome. As I see now with so much new research on bioactive agents and dietary nutrients, we are gaining a greater understanding of how the nutrients work together metabolically not only to support physiological functions, but also epigenetically to have a real impact on health. For example, when dietary fibers are digested in the gut, chemicals are released that send signals to the epigenome.
I am hopeful that the next generation of scientists, researchers, and medical professionals will expand on what we know so far and apply this understanding to develop nutritional solutions that can have a real impact on many of the chronic health conditions that are so prevalent today. So many of our current therapies only treat the symptoms, but with epigenetics, we can more effectively target the underlying causes of these conditions. I believe the best way we can find effective treatments is to understand the epigenome and the effect of natural bioactive agents working together to turn off the bad genes that promote disease and turn on the genes that support wellness.
There are many things that still need to be understood. There is also a learning curve for the medical establishment and consumers as far as epigenetics is concerned. With the foundational work that I have done on nutritional epigenetics, along with other researchers in the space, we are certainly moving in that direction. I anticipate that as the trend continues for patients and consumers to be more proactive with their health, the demand for effective nutritional solutions will keep driving researchers to find effective solutions.
Tina: You have a very unique perspective as a researcher on the current situation. What are some of the challenges that researches are facing that are inhibiting their efforts to finding effective therapies or developing a vaccine for COVID-19?
Dr. Galvez: That is a very good question. Actually, that was a question posed to me when I was taking my Ph.D. oral examination because it was during the height of the HIV infection. Like HIV, this new coronavirus is an RNA virus and it is more difficult to find a cure or even a vaccine because RNA viruses only have a single strand of genetic material (versus DNA viruses which have two strands). This means that it can mutate more easily than other types of viruses. In fact, that is one of the reasons why we have to reduce the infection rates, so we can reduce the chance of mutations.
It is going to be very difficult to develop vaccines. There are a lot of stages of testing that must be done. It will take anywhere from a year or a year and a half. Of course, you also have to take into consideration the mutation rate of this virus. It’s a serious problem, but it’s not something that we haven’t seen before.
I think individually we can each do things to help control this, so all the suggestions that the CDC and epidemiologists have been giving us we should accept it and practice it. This is the only way we can fight against this virus. In the meantime, it becomes vitally important to do what you can personally to keep supporting your immune system with nutrition and lifestyle choices.
Tina: What are a few recommendations that you have for our readers and what are you personally doing to protect yourself and your family?
Dr. Galvez: My family is certainly taking Reliv nutrition and focusing on the basic principles of health and wellness – plenty of vegetables and fruits along with quality protein, emphasizing plant-based protein sources. We exercise at least 30 minutes each day. There are a lot of studies done on exercise and epigenetic changes. In fact, exercising can reduce the epigenetic age to optimize your epigenome and support immunity. Getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep at night can also have an effect on delaying epigenetic aging. There is not a short-term fix that is going to protect everyone. You have to be vigilant and proactive so when you get challenged by these environmental stresses and viral infections your immune system and your body is strong enough to fight it.