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Synergy Group - True Hope or True Hype?


Canadian Quackery Watch

Bonnie Kaplan interview
Dr. Jim Rick's radio show.

Victoria, B.C.
December 19, 2001

After some romantic blues music is playing in the background, Dr. Ricks comes on:

JR - Well everybody gets the blues, don't they. But when the blues turn into depression it's another story. It's not romantic, it's debilitating and it effects a lot of us. Recently there's been an interesting discovery about a nutritional supplement that's been shown to reduce depression in people diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The research is taking place at the faculty of medicine at the University of Calgary and is led by Dr. Bonnie Kaplan, a psychologist. What's interesting about this is that it was first used in a kind of pig feed. Is that right Dr. Kaplan?

BK - Well it wasn't so much that it was used that way however it was based on knowledge of animal nutrition, yes.

JR - Noted that it was originally compounded to treat behavioural problems and mood changes in pigs. Even though I grew up with pigs I'm not sure how you tell what their moods are.

BK - Oh, you can. Well, you can tell something about irritability. Have you ever seen irritability in pigs on a farm? What they did - apparently do on farms is if they do not want to kill the pigs, send them off for sacrifice yet - they actually very often use a broad spectrum mineral based nutritional mush that is applied to the feed. David Hardy who had owned an animal nutrition feed company for 20 years knows a lot about animal nutrition. That is how irritability and aggression were often treated in farm animals - pigs and other animals. And so they decided that maybe there would be some bit of wisdom to be applied to humans and help Tony Stephan with his children who are not of the animal kingdom but the human animal kingdom.

JR - Treated the kids first right?

BK - Well, it wasn't the nutritional supplements that we are studying now. But they did use the knowledge that came from farmyard animals. You know this is not that unusual. We are used to a lot of human health related things being tested on lab animals but what we are not is some insight coming from farm animals.

JR - Similarity between pigs and humans in terms of physiology?

BK - Right. Right, now I am not a gastroenterologist but my GI friends tell me that pigs are in fact the animal model of choice for anything involving the gastrointestinal tract and a lot of metabolic disorders, etc that we are actually quite similar so there is a lot of wisdom behind applying what's known about these particular farm animals to we human non farm animals. And that's where the idea came from. The supplement has evolved.

JR - Were you skeptical when you first heard?

BK - Oh, yes totally. Actually I wouldn't even meet with these guys when I first heard about it. And they were not using animal nutrients and that's important for your audience to know. I had a funny phone call from a family that had called every veterinary supply house in Canada trying to find the pig pills. There are no pig pills. What these guys did, David Hardy and Tony Stephan, is that they went about putting together a human supplement based upon David's knowledge of animal nutrition. And then after they were able to help Tony's children so much they realized that they were on to something and they knew that they had a choice to make. They could either got out and try to make a lot of money selling the stuff or they could try to really change the way we view mental illness. In order to change the way we view mental illness, they knew they had to approach academics to try to get some scientists interested in the studies. That's what they've done.

JR - Is this similar to the thinking of Abram Hoffer?

BK - Absolutely. Dr. Hoffer is a giant in the field. The step forward that Tony and David took beyond what Dr. Hoffer has done and there are many other people like Dr. Hoffer is that they didn't have the kind of constraints that we all have in the scientific and medical world that you just want to play with one ingredient at one time or maybe one or two ingredients. I think that Dr. Hoffer uses several but with a major emphasis on one. They didn't have that bias and probably our brains don't have that bias and our brains don't know that you are supposed to change one variable at a time. And so what Tony and David did was they introduced a broad spectrum of ingredients and the way the supplements have involved right now there are actually 36 ingredients in it.

JR - Now, this is the supplement that you actually studied in your research. Right?

BK - That's right.

JR - Tell us a little bit about that. Just describe the researh so we can get a picture of what you've done.

BK - Oh sure. Research follows an orderly progression. When you have a novel intervention you do case studies, you do development work and then when you think you know what you are doing, you do what are called open label case series. That means everybody knows what what they're getting but you study them systematically. All of that is still preliminary in the scientific world. After you have had open label case series and you have a promising intervention you go on to what are called randomized control trials. What we have just done is started to publish our preliminary data consisting of, well eventually I think there will be even three articles, but right now the first one has come out and it is involving open label case series in adults with bipolar disorder

JR - How many did you study?

BK - Well that is an interesting thing. That particular manuscript has only 14 people in it and in fact 3 dropped out so only 11 finished. A lot of people think that means it's not interesting. But I need to maybe educate your listeners if you will let me as to the concept of effect size and why we stopped at 11, and we are not going to do anymore than 11. The reason has to do with the magnitude of the effect. When you have something where everyone gets better.

JR - I will believe you Bonnie. I did not do well in statistics in school so I will assume that eleven is enough.

BK - It is plenty. Don't waste your research.

JR - What did you find?

BK - Well we found a 50-60% improvement in symptoms and a 50% decrease in the need for psychiatric medication. That is called a "large effect size". So, that was pretty powerful. It's not magic but it was pretty powerful. So, from there we are moving on to randomized control trials.

JR - What did you tell these guys they were getting?

BK - In the open case series they knew exactly what they were getting. In fact they had the entire ingredient list.

JR - So what you are saying, we next go to the place where some people get the placebo, the stuff that doesn't supposedly work, but of course it always does. Placebo effects are pretty good. As a matter of fact we could bottle placebo effects we could do a lot of non-invasive treatment. But, in any event that's the next step. Now you've told me before we got on the air today that there's been a lot of public response to this research, that a lot of people have called you up. What's that been like?

BK - Well, actually I appreciate your bringing that up because people should not call me. I can't help the public. We're very separate. The researchers at the university are academic researchers and we need to just do our research. We can't help people clinically. If people want to know about the supplement they should call the company and we're 12 arms lengths away from the company. We work with them obviously.

JR - And who is the company?

BK - The company are the people who I mentioned the Synergy Group of Canada and they run what's called the Truehope Institute and they have a website which is, may I give the website?

JR - Sure.

K It's www.truehope just the way it sounds t-r-u-e-h-o-p-e dot com and in fact their toll free number is also truehope it is 1 triple 8 truehope. So we researchers, we don't get any money for the sale of the product, we're not promoting this product and we're not really tied in with the company. That's really important.

JR - What's been the reaction from people in psychology community, the other psychologists?

BK - I'm getting some and of course the internet changes everything but we are getting some really interesting responses from all over the world. I just got an e-mail, oh I guess dozens of e-mails everyday, but I just was reading one before you called about a physician down in the States who himself has depression and has managed it with a multi multi ingredient approach and is very interested in this.

JR - So you are flushing out people who might have independently stumbled on to this?

BK - Oh yes, and also potential collaborators for research all over North America.

JR - Say about Bonnie she very gracious in giving her time and own dedication not about research but about helping people and I appreciate that. So, what is in the future. Understand you have a half million dollars to continue the research.

BK - We actually have more than that but that is money is not my problem but there are many other obstacles to doing research. What we are doing right now is a randomized control trial here in Alberta and we actually have a couple of other trials funded but there are a lot of details to work out yet so I'd rather not go into detail about that if you don't mind.

JR - End result of this?

BK - I'd like to say sometimes I'm studying this particular supplement called EM Power but I'm not really studying EM Power. What I find really exciting at this point in my career is that I am studying a new approach , a new way of thinking about mental disorders. And if you are a psychologist, what could be more interesting than that? Where is it going? I don't know. I mean a lot of people don't think it is going to pan out after the placebo controlled trials. We've seen so many positive results that I don't know. I have a feeling that we're going to be continuing this program of research for many years. You know, I am a scientist. I am going to wait to see what the results really show.


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