June 14 2003 By lleiren Byles Staff Writer
While a scientific storm continues to rage around a controversial dietary supplement, those who feel their emotional health depends on the pills are feeling a little more secure. "Right now we can have it," said St. Albert businessman, Robert. "That big hurdle's over for now. The media responded, some government officials have responded and things are stabilizing, I think." Robert, his father and father-in-law spoke to the Gazette last week to air their concerns about a government advisory against EMPowerplus. They claimed the concoction of vitamins and minerals has been pivotal in restoring emotional well-being to Robert's wife, Barbara, who struggled with bipolar mood disorder for more than 10 years. But federal health officials began stopping shipments of the product at the U.S. border, leaving the family in fear for Barbara's well-being. Robert launched a Web site to gather information and public reaction about the site. Although the Internet site has been steadily gathering steam, including several hits a day from Health Canada, supporters of the product are braced for along fight, he said. "We saw this coming two years ago. Now, it's here and it's real," he said. "This is going to be a very long, very involved process, but so far, so good." The battle begins, unfortunately, with claims made by the makers of the supplement, according to Tyler Maitson, a cognitive psychologist who has been using EMPowerplus. "Truehope makes explicit claims about using EMPower as a treatment for mood disorders. They are also not following federal guidelines in trying to recruit members for their own research studies--ignorance and management, that," he said. "As well, the group of companies that market this stuff doesn't seem to be well managed in general, which is why there is all this foofaraw. It looks to me like the product is good, but the company is just not being well run and not going about producing it correctly." In an interview with the Gazette, Marvin Ross, a medical journalist from Ontario and co-author of Pig Pills, Inc.--a disparaging look at the Truehope company--called the company "criminal and reprehensible." "There is no scientific evidence that EMPowerplus will help with any psychiatric disorder whatsoever," he said. "There have been no safety tests done, no animal studies and no toxicity studies." Ross and his co-authors, Ron Reinhold, a private detective from Black Diamond, Alberta, and Doctor Terry Polevoy, owner and operator of healthwatcher.net, claim research done at the University of Calgary and funded by the Alberta government proved the supplement to be ineffective. They also claim that Truehope is endangering vulnerable people by encouraging them to quit psychiatric medications in favour of EMPowerplus. "I really object to Truehope people actively encouraging people to go off their psychiatric medications," said Ross. "To tell people to go off that stuff and replace it with stuff that's never been effective, I think it's criminal and reprehensible." Ross cited the case of one young man in Ottawa who attempted suicide after treating his own schizophrenia with EMPowerplus. "I wonder if there are any numbers for people who tried to commit suicide while taking lithium," quipped Robert. "Those don't get blamed on the mdication." Ross admitted that number is "probably quite high." Everyone, it seems, wants the research on EMPower to begin. "I would hope that (Truehope founder) Tony Stephan is right, so let's prove it," said Ross. "I wouldn't argue with anecdotal evidence, because I can't." Robert and Maitson would also love the research to progress, as long as the product is still available for those who feel they need it. "We're realizing very quickly that it's not the product they (the Pig Pills, Inc.authors) have a problem with, it's the company," said Robert. "If that's the case then leave the product alone when there's nothing wrong with it." The products' supporters would just like to believe they're being listened to, he said. "We know we're not the only ones lobbying Health Canada," he said. "The pharmaceutical companies are also trying to make their case. I'm a businessperson, I can understand that. If someone was encroaching on my business, I'd do everything I could to make sure my product came out ahead. But if the government wants to see research, give them a little bit of a break and help them out. Don't just jump on them and shut them down."