On days I am seeing patients, I get asked at least a few times about some miracle health tonic or pill someone discovered on the internet. Products like these make any number of claims, from curing and preventing common endocrine diseases like hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease, to cardiac disease, kidney failure, cancer, and more. In many cases, the companies that make these products do not divulge their magical ingredients, “research” data, or “clinical trials,” in the name of protecting trade secrets. In other cases, the raw ingredients will be listed, which are more often than not ordinary items that any average person can find and throw together, but claim that their unique processing combines these items in such a manner that they produce remarkable health and disease management benefits.
I had an appointment this week, where one of my nicest and well intentioned senior clients brought her Weimariner in for her yearly visit. Having suffered from skin allergies chronically for the past couple of years, I remarked on how good her dog’s skin looked. My client told me that it was because of this amazing new product her husband had bought from the internet called Nuvet.
With computer terminals in each of my exam rooms, I was able to quickly “Google” the product and found its website. What I found out about it was quite interesting. According to the product’s website, Nuvet is not only a cure for allergies, but it is also a cure for: cataracts, Cushings disease, diabetes, ear infections, mange, cance3r, thyroid disease, and more.
As soon as I saw the claims of being curative for multiple, unrelated diseases – the one product cure all claim – my snake oil radar was instantly up. I then asked the owner if there were any other measures she had taken in order to help her dog’s skin, and she told me that at the same time she started the Nuvet, she and her husband also started her dog on a limited ingredient diet. They also put a paver walkway down the middle of their yard so that the dog would have less prolonged contact with the grass when she went out to relieve herself.
After review of the ingredient (more on this below), seeing the multiple disease cure claims, no clinical studies performed, and doing a quick search of the medical literature and finding nothing on Nuvet, I informed this nice lady that she had likely been sold a bill of goods. I told her that it was far more likely that the limited ingredient diet and limiting her dog’s exposure to the organic substances in the yard were responsible for the improved skin, not Nuvet. I advised her to not throw away any more money on that product, continue the limited ingredient diet and limiting yard exposure, and that her dog’s skin will likely fair no worse.
Returning to Nuvet’s ingredients, here they are:
Blue Green Algae, Brewer’s Yeast, Cat’s Claw, Evening Primrose Oil, Shark Cartilage, Oyster Shell, Alpha Amylase, Beta Carotene, Pine Bark, Papain, L Methionine, Alfalfa, Chicken Liver, Vitamin B1 (Thiamin), Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B3 (Niacin), Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid), Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine), Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Vitamin K, Manganese, Magnesium, Iron, Copper, Amino Acids (Tryptophan, Threonine, Isoluecine, Luecine, Lysine, Methionine, Cystine, Phenenylalaine, Tyrosine, Valine, Arginine, Histidine, Alanine, Aspartic Acid, Glutamic Acid, Glycine).
As if my snake oil radar was not stimulated enough, the true nail in the coffin as far as me giving this product any sort of credibility was the presence of shark cartilage. It has long been disproven that shark cartilage has any proven health benefit, and its continued use by charlatans has served no further purpose other than to cause sharks to be exterminated solely to harvest their fins, a grievous wildlife and environmental insult..
As a final measure, I decided to have a little fun with Nuvet and called their company. When I got a representative on the telephone, I told her that I was a practicing veterinarian and I was interested in using their product for a case of canine diabetes, whose owner wanted me to look into its benefit. After a prolonged pause, here was our conversation:
Operator: Okay sir, what is it you would like to know.
Me: Virtually all canine diabetics are type I, meaning they are insulin dependent diabetics. Genetically, they either have cellular insulin receptors that are not responsive to insulin secreted by the pancreas, or the pancreas itself is deficient in the production or synthesis of insulin. Physiologically, how does you product overcome these circumstances?
Operator: Long pause…okay, well it helps by purifying the skin and helping with wound healing.
Me: Right, but that is skin, you claim to cure diabetes, how exactly does your product address diabetes.
Operator: It stabilizes the blood sugar.
Me: Okay, but how does it do that, overcoming the fact that a canine diabetic is either not making enough insulin, or has cells that do not recognize it because of dysfunctional genetic coding.
Operator: Um…Right…Would you mind holding while I get someone else to answer your question?
After nearly 10 minutes of being put on hold
New Person: Hi, this is Pamela.
Me: Hello Pamela, I was holding for information gathering on your product on behalf of a client, as to how Nuvet overcomes the genetic inability to either secrete enough insulin, or for cellular receptors to recognize insulin; in order to cure diabetes.
New Person: Well…it really doesn’t. It supports the body to decrease the damaging effects of diabetes over time, you know, complications, and maybe even decrease the dose of insulin.
Me: How does it decrease the dose?
New Person: Um, well, by supporting a healthy metabolism.
Me: How does it do that?
New Person: Well, it cleanses the body of toxins, which in turn purifies the body, which overall supports all of the organs.
Me: Do you have any clinical trials that I can look at? Any peer reviewed controlled studies that I can look up?
New Person: No, all of our research is done internally.
Me: Why would you keep all that good information to yourselves? If you can really cure cancer, diabetes, and all of the other disease you claim on your website, then shouldn’t everyone know about this? Wouldn’t it be great for sales if Nuvet was being written about in veterinary journals and being presented at conferences?
New Person: Well, yeah, but it is important for us to protect trade secrets.
Me: I see. Well, thanks for the information.
New Person: You’re welcome.
I do not think I need to state anything further.
I will leave you with this: as in most things in life, if a product’s claims seem too good to be true, it probably is. Be careful what you decide to give your pets. While most of this stuff is not likely harmful, more often than not, it is expensive, and you may be throwing away money that could better be used to offer real treatment that actually works.
Are you into holistic medicine? Fine, find a veterinarian that practices holistic medicine. Nutritional, traditional Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture, nutraceutical therapy, and a number of alternative modalities have well established data behind their efficacy and safety. By choosing a licensed veterinarian for alternative treatment, you ensure that you are being guided by a health care provider that understands physiology and has access to diagnostics that can diagnose disease, as well as monitor efficacy of treatment regimens.
Here are some tell tail signs that a product is little more than proverbial witch potion or snake oil:
1.) Claims of being curative for multiple diseases, aka, one product cures all.
2.) Ingredients are not specifically offered under the guise of trade secrets.
3.) There are no published clinical trials or peer reviewed studies to substantiate product claims.
4.) The product website makes statements like, “Your veterinarian does not want you to know about this product,” or “Veterinarians don’t know about us because of silencing from a powerful veterinary establishment that wants to continue treating your pets with poisons,” and other variations of that.