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Be Careful of Getting Duped by Witch Potions

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?

Me: Sure

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.

Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital and CEO/Chief Editor of the veterinary information and blog online community, Web-DVM.

8 thoughts on “Be Careful of Getting Duped by Witch Potions

  1. MisterSpuddy says:

    And Big Pharma remedies that cause irreparable harm to pets on a daily basis is better, huh?

    • Dr. Roger says:

      Based on this comment, I would venture to state that you are not a regular follower of my blog, podcast, and videos. In fact, I would venture to think that you did not even read this article in its entirety. The first point I would offer you is that both as a practitioner, I am a proponent of integrative medicine, that is, I practice and promote a brand of medicine that combines the best aspects of both traditional western and alternative medicine, utilizing both for the best result in my patients. In that spirit, I perform acupuncture, cold laser, hydrotherapy, therapeutic massage, nutraceutical therapy, and integrate nutritional management of disease. However, in cases of fractures or ligament tears, hemorrhage, shock, and any case of severe pain, infection, etc., for the benefit of the patient, I will resort to surgery, fluid therapy, and other measures I need to take to control severe pain, restore stability, maintain vital signs, and reverse shock. If pharmaceuticals are needed to achieve these this, I will indeed use them. Please take a moment to watch my veterinary rehabilitation series where I highlight proven and effective alternative techniques, while also highlighting where traditional western medicine is necessary:

      http://www.youtube.com/rwdvm

      It is only 6 short, 2 minute videos, not a big time investment, but it should make it clear that your statement is not representative of the type of veterinarian I am, nor conveys the message that I am trying to get across.

      The second point I will make is that you really should read the entirety of this post and scroll down to see the transcript of the conversation I had with Nuvet. When asked some very simple fundamental questions about canine diabetes, one of the many diseases that they claim to cure, they could not…instead, they fumbled and stumbled and talked sideways with no scientific basis or even ability to discuss physiology. In essence, they could not give me once single reason how their product does what it claims.

      The third point I will make, is that if this and other products like it that have such miraculous qualities to cure multiple unrelated diseases, why are they not in medical journals? Why are they not presenting at veterinary conferences? Why are they not inviting veterinarians to try their products and give them feedback? Many alternative techniques and nutritional/supplemental modalities have made their way into our industry in such a manner: acupuncture, joint supplements, milk thistle for management of liver disease, nutritional management of IBD, pancreatic disease, kidney failure, heart disease, l-carnitine supplementation for heart disease….the list goes on and on. Most would not consider these modalities poisonous big pharma.

      Veterinarians and pet owners alike should not draw lines in the sand when it comes to the care of their pets. Relying on traditional western medicine alone without any regard for proven alternative techniques denies the patient important health benefits that come without the cost of side effects. Relying only on alternative medicine with no regard for the diagnostic and life supporting benefits of western medicine also denies the patient optima care.

      However, in being open to alternative medicine, it does not mean that we abandon physiology, scientific method, and the basic tenants of research to demand proof of the efficacy and safety of health products. We do not accept that an elixir with great claims of disease management but offers no clinical data or even plausible reasons why their products work; just because the claims are made.

      This post was to help protect my readers, listeners, and viewers from making that mistake as far too many people do, not only wasting money, but potentially causing harm…while enabling the charlatans that peddle these products to stay in business and continue to scam people. I would suggest that you set cynicism aside and really read this post to find out ways that you can sniff out bogus products.

  2. Cheryl S****** says:

    I seriously appreciate and applaud your most direct inquiries to this organization … of “animal support”. I, too, feel the need to know exactly what’s going into a product; be it prescription, holistic or over-the-counter, and for either my pets or me. Sad that it’s often an effort to flush the truth from some of these people. Again, thank you for the use of your great credentials in assisting of unveiling truths.
    On a bit of a different note, I am a witch – who does occasionally make potions, and they’re not bad ones. Nor would I ever offer them for any purposes for which they’re not meant. Perhaps you might consider rephrasing your “witch” comment, please? It is a rather sweeping, general statement. Thank you. 😉

    • Dr. Roger says:

      Cheryl, thank you for your sentiments, and please know that I meant know offense in my terminology, but I understand how it may be offensive. All too often I write or speak as I think with, with too little regard for the political correctness or potentially sensitive nature of how things may sound. I assume that you state “witch” you are referring the practice of wiccan, and this most certainly not an affront to your faith. It is too late to change the title, but I will endeavor to choose my wording more appropriately in the future. Thanks for taking the time to read my article and comment. 🙂

  3. Rumblepuss says:

    I just spent some time looking over the NuVet Plus ingredient list on their website and came across the claim that an herb called “papain” increases the availability of arginine (somehow) in your pets GI tract, which in turn “has been found to influence the production of HGH.” That’s right, folks: Human Growth Hormone will be synthesized by your dog if you give it NuVet! Your pet will become some sort of dog-human hybrid. Hooray?

  4. Liz says:

    Thank you for this blog post. I appreciate reviewing information presented by a qualified source. I was basically forced into a year’s subscription by my breeder, or otherwise relinquish my health guarantee. Seeing that I basically spent $200 on my puppy’s warranty, if you will, I have only one question. After doing my research into NuVet’s claims, I feel justified in my skepticism that it will provide any tangible benefit. However, one question remains… Do you believe it would cause my puppy harm to provide the supplement to my dog?

  5. Meghan says:

    HEllo,

    I really appreciate your post. I recently got a puppy who is now 12 weeks old. The breeder was very nice and stated that she uses the vitamin nuvet. She told me how much she liked them. She did recommend them, but did not “shove it down my throat” or anything. Is there a vitamin or supplement that is recommend? My boyfriend thinks we should give her fish oil, but I am not even sure that is good? Any recommendations help.

  6. Meghan says:

    Also, do you have any advice choosing a vet? I have gone to VCA in the past.

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