Aug. 12, 2005return to webpage

Canadian MP misrepresents data

Neuroscientist says his studies of a company's nutraceutical did not show the results claimed

A Canadian neuroscientist says that a nutraceutical company and others have been misusing his unpublished data in an effort to support a bill in Parliament that would reclassify "natural health products" as food and would exclude any foods from being regulated as drugs.

The work in question was done by Bryan Kolb, a neuroscientist and psychologist at the University of Lethbridge, in association with–but not funded by–a Canadian nutraceutical company called Truehope on their product EMPowerplus. The research showed that the product had some effect in a rat model of stroke, and was first cited in Parliamentary testimony on April 22, 2004. "Dr. Kolb put these rats with lobotomies on EMPowerplus," chiropractor James Lunney, an opposition member of Parliament, testified before the standing committee on health. "Not only did they recover their function, amazingly, their brains actually regrew," he said, showing pictures from the research.

Lunney used EMPowerplus as an example of a product that should be classed as a food under his proposed bill, rather than regulated as a drug as it is now. Health Canada has expressed serious concerns about the product and has recently taken actions against the company.

Lunney and Truehope's cofounder David Hardy also cited Kolb's work in a meeting of the standing committee on health on May 16, when the bill, which had fizzled following the election, was reintroduced. Hardy testified that Kolb's work had not yet been published but stated that "Bryan had heard of the results of EMPowerplus in humans and decided to try this in animals. To his amazement, animals on this supplement, EMPowerplus, recovered 100% of their cognitive function. In fact, they actually performed better after having had the entire frontal lobe of their brain removed."

But Kolb has never published any papers on EMPowerplus, although the results Lunney and Hardy are citing were those of a master's thesis presented by him and one of his graduate students in a poster at the 2003 Society for Neuroscience meeting in New Orleans. The results suggested "that manipulation of diet may facilitate functional recovery and cerebral plasticity after perinatal brain injury." The abstract does not mention the product EMPowerplus but that a "vitamin/mineral enriched diet" was given to rats.

Kolb told The Scientist in an E-mail that he did not use EMP. The chow, he said, made by "a local feed company," contained "the EMP ingredients of the day, although we cannot be sure what the animals actually consumed because it appears that they don't eat some parts of the mixture." However, after this initial research, Kolb said, "we have been using the real EMP obtained directly from Hardy and it pretty much does what we found before."

EMP does not regenerate brains, despite Lunney and Hardy's testimony, Kolb said. "I have never claimed that EMP regenerates brains and we have absolutely no evidence that it does," he said via E-mail. "What we have is less injury in the brain.  This could have resulted from some regenerative process but we have not proven that, nor is that in my research plan at present." He noted that he makes "no mention of regeneration and they should not either.  I have mentioned this to them on at least two occasions."

Neither Kolb nor a university spokesperson, Bob Cooney, would say whether they had notified the government committee that the testimony before it may not be quite accurate. Contacted earlier this week, Hardy would not comment on the matter beyond saying that "we have the information." Lunney declined to comment.

Truehope has been actively promoting EMPowerplus, made in the United States, for psychiatric disorders–claiming an 85%-plus cure rate for bipolar disorder–and encouraging customers to stop prescribed medications. That has led Health Canada to declare it a potential health hazard, and to have Canadian Customs seize shipments. Health Canada has also raided Truehope's offices and has forced it to stop research it is associated with at the University of Calgary. In response, the company has filed suit against the government of Canada claiming that their rights have been violated.

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