December 18, 2000
From pig feed to miracle cure

A mineral-vitamin blend can heal manic depression and possibly other mental illnesses

by Mike Byfield

Feed specialist Hardy (right) and supplement user Jerry Oler: From 'snake oil' to serious scientific investigation.

ON January 30, 1994, Debora Starr Stephan committed suicide in Cardston, Alta. Two years earlier, her 23-year-old daughter Autumn--one of the Stephan family's 10 children--had gone into psychosis during her first pregnancy. Her brother Joseph's mood swings grew violent following his mother's death, prompting his psychiatrist to consider forcible hospitalization for the 210-pound youth. Another brother was later diagnosed as hypomanic. "The woman I loved had killed herself and my children were disintegrating before my eyes," recalls Anthony Stephan, a power engineer. Specialists told him that more suicides in his family were likely. But against all odds, that prognosis has turned out to be wonderfully wrong.

The disease raging through the Stephan family is called bipolar affective disorder, formerly known as manic depression. American health authorities estimate that it afflicts about 2% of the population, double the rate for schizophrenia. A bipolar victim cycles between a high-energy manic phase and despairing depression. Delusions occur in either phase. For instance, one bipolar patient planted coins in the Alberta Legislature's gardens, believing that money trees would grow and help reduce taxes. If not controlled with drugs, one-fifth to one-quarter of bipolar victims commit suicide.

Sometimes no drug helps. "We exhausted every resource of the medical community," recalls Mr. Stephan. "I couldn't work myself because of the stress, so we were also in financial difficulties. I pled and bled on my knees, praying to our heavenly Father for help." Usually, in his experience, divine help arrives in the form of other people. First came Barbara, who married the hard-pressed widower and was accepted by his children because she'd been a friend of their mother. Then, Mr. Stephan met David Hardy, a fellow Mormon who lives nearby in the southern Alberta town of Raymond.

Mr. Hardy, a biologist by training, operated a company which custom-blended nutrients for cattle and hog feed. "Pigs, like humans, suffer from central nervous system disorders," says Mr. Hardy, who has 13 children himself. The most common swine ailment of this type is called ear- and tail-biting syndrome. The animals become hyper-irritable, tearing off each other's ears and tails, and sometimes killing pen-mates.

The two friends recognized a startling difference between nervous disorders in humans and hogs. In animals, these illnesses are almost always curable by adding carefully designed nutraceuticals (minerals, vitamins and amino acids) into their feed. For humans, in grim contrast, bipolar disorder and other nervous diseases can at best be masked or suppressed by psychotropic medicines. The root causes are not removed, and the drugs leave patients feeling mentally and physically debilitated. Holding a job remains either difficult or impossible, for example.

"As David spoke about animal nutrition, a deep peace settled over me," Mr. Stephan reports. "I sensed spiritually that my kids were going to be okay. I knew we were onto an answer, that there would be work to do and it would succeed." On January 18, 1996, his third son Joseph began consuming a nutraceutical supplement concocted by livestock specialist Hardy. "Joseph calls himself Patient Zero. The goal was to keep him from being forced into the hospital," Tony Stephan explains.

Four days after the treatment began, Joseph's lithium prescription ran out. Father and son wished to leave him on the nutraceutical alone, which was already having an effect. Lithium is a common drug used to treat bipolar disorder. Barbara Stephan, deeply concerned for her stepson's safety, insisted on buying another bottle, but it was never needed. Within 30 days, Joseph was entirely free of manic depressive symptoms. Today, almost five years later, he works and lives normally.

On February 17, 1996, his sister began the same treatment. At that point Autumn Stringam had to be watched 24 hours a day by her husband Dana or another adult. Pill bottles literally covered the top of her refrigerator. She was frequently suicidal and had been hospitalized several times. "When we drove somewhere and I got thirsty, I'd shriek at my husband until he stopped the car and ran for a drink," Ms. Stringam says. "Or I'd lie in bed all day while my two-year-old son James ate apples because I didn't feed him. In ways that no normal person can understand, I lived in darkness, year after year."

Within a week of taking the nutritional supplement, the mother had dropped four of her five pharmaceutical medications. By March 29 she was drug-free. "Dana was frightened by my recovery; it seemed too rapid," Ms. Stringam recalls. "My thoughts slowed down, all the noisy garbage disappeared from my mind. The illness has never returned. I can't describe my gratitude."

Against her doctor's advice, she decided to have another baby. Samantha was born last Christmas Eve. "Researchers suspect that pregnancy often triggers bipolar psychosis due to hormonal changes," she says. "During my pregnancy with Samantha, I would sometimes feel the symptoms starting to return just like they did with James. But when I increased my supplement intake, the symptoms disappeared. I think pregnancy draws minerals and other nutrients out of the mother's body as the baby forms, greatly increasing the risk of a psychotic episode. That would explain why my problem was entirely solved by loading up with more nutraceutical."

Other bipolar sufferers showed up, drawn by word of mouth. More successes ensued. The supplement, named EM Power, contains 36 ordinary minerals, vitamins and amino acids, the key being the balance between them. At that point, Mr. Hardy realized that only scientific validation would allow the discovery to reach as many bipolar victims as possible in the shortest possible time. So he and Mr. Stephan began trekking to Calgary and Edmonton in search of help.

"I told them to take their snake oil somewhere else," says Bonnie Kaplan, a research psychologist at the University of Calgary. Her skepticism is understandable. Hordes of quacks and half-educated health enthusiasts preach nutrition theories. Results of Abram Hoffer's vitamin work with schizophrenics in Saskatchewan as far back as the 1960s, although scientific, failed to impress most psychiatrists.

One man who did listen to Mr. Hardy was Brian Kolb, a neurologist who studies brain cell regeneration. His world-wide reputation has prompted the University of Lethbridge to construct a building, in large part to house his laboratory work. Although skeptical, the affable scientist discussed which mineral forms are most easily absorbed by the human body. He also showed Messrs. Hardy and Stephan how to collect patient data. Basically, subjects rate their own symptoms day by day on charts.

As the data started to come in, Prof. Kolb visited several families, confirming the integrity of the reporting. Alerted by her U of L colleague, pediatrics professor Kaplan also found herself impressed. She and Steve Simpson, a psychiatrist at Foothills Hospital in Calgary, decided to test EM Power on "the first 10 male bipolar patients who came through the door." The results, presented at a meeting of the Canadian Psychiatric Association in Victoria, B.C., on October 4 were "extremely encouraging," according to the two researchers. "Our study shows that, on average, people taking the supplements find their symptoms are reduced by more than 50% compared with the symptoms they experienced while taking their usual medications," says Prof. Kaplan, adding that her conclusion is conservative.

Meanwhile, Alberta Innovation and Science Minister Lorne Taylor had been favorably moved by Autumn Stringam's case history when she and her father visited him. "They come across as sound, good people," says the Medicine Hat MLA. In due course a Kaplan-Simpson application to fund a definitive, double-blind testing of the effectiveness of EM Power came across his desk. Such proposals are reviewed by an external committee of scientific peers and a second ministerial committee which also includes businessfolk. Mr. Taylor pressed for approval. In October, Alberta Innovation announced a $554,000 grant to the University of Calgary which will be used to assess 100 patients over two years.

Although bipolar cures have been the most dramatic, EM Power is reportedly also showing good results with schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder and other diseases of the nervous system. Why are people's brains short of trace minerals that are literally as common as dirt? "Farming draws minerals out of the soil year after year and these nutrients are not replaced by conventional fertilizers. The result is mineral-deficient food," observes David Hardy. One United Nations report shows mineral content in cropped soils falls by 80%.

Even more perplexing is how researchers missed this seemingly simple healing strategy. "Scientists are trained to include just one variable, say Vitamin B12, in their research. By varying one factor only, they can most easily determine exactly why and how different results occur," replies Mr. Hardy. One of North America's top schizophrenia researchers told Prof. Kaplan recently that "experimentation containing more than one variable is not science." In the pig-feeding business, by comparison, nutritionists experimented until they got the right results. It helps that hogs in barns eat only what they are fed. Concludes Mr. Hardy, "Nutrition incorporates complex interactions between many variables, which must be present in the appropriate balance."

A blend of minerals and vitamins is difficult to patent, which also limits commercial research interest. Messrs. Hardy and Stephan have incorporated the Synergy Group of Canada Inc., but they have made no plans for patents. "We hope many companies research and make nutraceuticals along the lines of EM Power," Tony Stephan comments. "We'd like to place our Synergy seal on reputable products for a very modest fee. That money would go toward setting up Truehope rehabilitation homes for street people, who are often mentally ill. In Truehope homes, men and women would be brought back to health and prepared to be employable. That's the dream of David, myself and our families. When my children discuss our vision around the kitchen table, they've sometimes said, 'Maybe our mother didn't die in vain.'"

Recovered bipolar victims help heal hundreds of others

Please, please do not call me," Bonnie Kaplan begs bipolar victims seeking help. "Our office sometimes gets paralyzed with telephone calls for entire days," says the University of Calgary research psychologist. Instead, she advises inquirers to contact the Synergy Group. This Lethbridge-based company sells its nutraceutical EM Power along with no-fee counselling from a Truehope Assistant (TA) on how to use the supplement safely.

Simonne Maline, a psychiatric social worker from Portland, Maine, says a degree of caution is necessary. After her first bipolar manic episode in 1992, doctors fed her more than 60 types of medication over four years. Ms. Maline was taking four "meds" at a cost of about US$700 per month when she went onto EM Power last May 11. "Within a week, I started noticing an effect. My bipolar symptoms were getting worse!" Her Synergy TA urged her to reduce her psychotropic medicines. "As a person gets physically healthier, the drugs must be cut back or they'll make you sick," explains TA Dan Stephan. But Ms. Maline's psychiatrist opted to increase the psychotropic doses to combat the symptoms.

"Fortunately, we got it right before anything tragic occurred," says the American patient. "I was off all drugs by August. I feel completely healthy. I still can't believe how easy it is. Miles Simmons, my psychiatrist, now has five other patients on this therapy and they are all recovering." EM Power tablets cost Cdn$90 per bottle of 448 capsules. Initial recovery normally requires two bottles monthly. A maintenance dose can be as little as a half-bottle per month.

Mental illness costs the Alberta government $2 billion a year. "Because drug plans do not pay for nutraceuticals and many of these poor people are not employed, we will probably soon have to look at how they can be helped," says Alberta Innovation Minister Lorne Taylor. Synergy has about 50 active TAs, most of them former bipolar victims who work for expenses. To date, they have helped more than 1,000 fellow sufferers. The Lethbridge-based firm can be reached at 1-888-TRUEHOP or via the Internet at

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