Standard Process=Standard Nonsense

Standard Process is a company that has been selling dietary supplements since 1929. It was founded by a dentist, Royal Lee, who developed a number of unconventional theories about the role of nutrition in health and disease. In essence, Dr. Lee and his successors take rational, scientific principles and extend them well beyond reason and evidence to promote claims that the particular plant and animal extracts they provide have near magical medicinal qualities. This is the very paragon of pseudoscience, the presentation of unsupported, often irrational hypotheses, mingled with scientific terminology and a sprinkling of tangentially related actual scientific facts to create a set of faith beliefs that appear to be scientific but do not actually conform to the philosophy, methods, or data of legitimate science.

It is quite reasonable and demonstrably true, for example, that nutritional deficiencies can cause disease, and that  supplementation with the appropriate nutrients can prevent and treat such diseases. This does not, however, support the generalization that all disease is associated with nutritional deficiencies, or that all disease can be ameliorated with proper nutritional supplementation. Food and nutrients of appropriate kind and quantity are unquestionably necessary for health and even life, but that has very little to do with whether or not the specific theories about the benefits of particular foods and nutrients sold by Standard Process are true.

Of course, Standard Process products are not simple vitamin and mineral supplements. They contain complex mélanges of plant and animal ingredients. The marketing materials talk a lot about the value of “whole foods.” The claim is frequently made that plant and animal tissues contain combinations of chemicals (never called by that dirty word, of course) that provide greater health prevention and treatment benefits in combination that individual nutrients can alone. And it is taken as a given that “processing” of any kind, including cooking, ruins the nutritional and health value of foods. The key to healthful supplements are that they contain whole, unprocessed, natural ingredients, preferably organically produced.

All of these are fairly standard arguments seen in the marketing materials for alternative approaches to nutrition. The evidence does not generally support such claims. Organic food appears to be no healthier than conventionally produced foods, though there may still be some environmental advantages to organic production methods. And while cooking and other kinds of processing do alter the nutrient content of foods, this is a pretty well-understood phenomenon. Some nutrients become more available, and those that are diminished by cooking can be effectively replaced. So the evidence does not support claimed health benefits for raw foods in humans or pets. “Natural,” of course is a meaningless marketing term. Synergy can exist between compounds in a whole plant, but it requires complex, thorough investigation to document that it actually does occur in any particular plant. And finally, the issue of “processing” of foods is a complex mishmash of fact and mythology. In general, “processed food” is used as a synonym for “junk food,” but clearly every time you wash, chop, season, or cook your food, you are “processing” it, and usually improving it. Claims about the nutritional inadequacy or deleterious effects of commercial pet foods are not supported by real evidence.

What is particularly odd about the emphasis in Standard Processes’ marketing materials on natural, unprocessed, whole foods is that their supplements cannot in any reasonable way be described by any of these buzzwords. They are complex mixtures of herbs, plant extracts, vitamins and minerals combined with “Protomorphogen” and “Cytosol” extracts. highly processed substances derived through proprietary processes from animal tissues, These mixtures are then compounded into tablets or powders. So mixtures that would never be found in nature in forms that are the result of extensive technological processing are sold as natural whole foods?

The animal tissue extracts represent another element to Dr. Lee’s unproven, pseudoscientific nutritional theories. It is true that deficiencies in the function of some glands can be remedied by supplementation with relevant substances from the same gland. However, it is usually true that purified isolates or synthetic forms of these glandular products are superior to whole organ supplements, and often the supplement cannot be given orally anyway. And none of this has any relevance to the broader claims that whole gland products or gland extracts prevent or treat disease through the action of numerous, often unidentified substances.

Ultimately, the idea that treating kidney disease by feeding ground up kidneys to the patient, as an example, is not a scientific hypothesis but yet another form of sympathetic magic. This is a descriptive term from anthropology which refers to a form of magical belief found in most cultures, that things which resemble one another in some superficial way can be used to influence each other. Mandrake root must be an aphrodisiac or fertility treatment because the root resembles a human penis; voodoo dolls that look like a particular person can be used to harm them; and diseases that involve a particular organ can be treated by feeding supplements made from that or a related organ.

There does not seem to be any real research evidence to support the claim than glandulars in general, or the “special” gland extracts sold by Standard Process, have any significant health benefits. Those who promote the use of these products support their assertions with clinical experience, case reports and uncontrolled case series, and reference to pre-clinical research showing that some chemicals from some glands have some effects. Much of the supporting research comes from publications devoted exclusively to promoting these products or alternative therapies in general. And, of course, there are plenty of anecdotes and testimonials to miraculous cures brought about by these products, which have their usual lack of probative value. Well-designed and conducted clinical trials published in mainstream peer-reviewed journals do not appear to exist, despite the fact that the company has been producing and marketing supplements for over 70 years.

As is usual with pseudoscience, claims about the products and unsupported theories are mingled with tangentially related facts from legitimate scientific theory and research. One example of the marketing materials for the Standard Process veterinary product line illustrates this technique. The document, published in Standard Process’ own pseudojournal Whole Food Nutrition Journal, begins with a list of known nutrient deficiency diseases. It then proceeds to point out that the transition from “traditional” to “modern” diets is associated with health problems. This has, of course, some truth to it, though it has nothing to do with the claims that will later come about the specific relationship between Standard Process supplements and health, and it ignores the fact that so-called “traditional” diets are themselves associated with nutritional deficiency diseases.

The infamous Pottenger study is mentioned, which is a common warning sign of veterinary nutritional pseudoscience. This is a poorly designed experiment from the 1940s that involved feeding milk and meat, either cooked or raw, to cats. The cats fed the cooked meat developed nutritional and developmental diseases, which is often cited as evidence that raw foods are healthier than cooked foods. Unfortunately, the complete lack of experimental controls or proper evaluation of the subject, and the simple fact that both diets were grossly deficient and utterly unlike the commercial pet foods the study is usually used to criticize, make the results meaningless. Pseudoscience at its best, or worst.

The pattern continues throughout the document, and is characteristic of the rest of Standard Process advertising. A mixture of hypotheses and outright fantasy with vaguely related scientific information to create the false impression that the whole is sound.  What the company is pretty careful not to do is make direct claims that its products prevent or treat actual diseases. Thanks to the ridiculously lax regulation of dietary supplements, it is possible to suggest, imply, and in a multiplicity of clever ways mislead the consumer, and even veterinarians, into believing the products have proven value in disease treatment or prevention. However, straight out claims that the products are medicinal are not allowed. The company and its founder have been sanctioned numerous times in the past by the Food and Drug Administration for illegal claims about their products. The current leadership is now more careful. However, believers in these supplements, primarily chiropractors and naturopaths as well as “holistic” veterinarians, devise and teach each other strategies for deciding which supplements to use when.

Bottom Line
The theories about the relationship between food, nutrients and health invented by Dr. Lee and still promoted by Standard Process are unscientific and not supported by scientific evidence.

The marketing claims that the products are beneficial because they are unprocessed, natural, whole foods are both meaningless and inconsistent with the real nature of the products, which are highly processed, artificial mixtures of compounds.

The promotional materials used to advertise these products to veterinarians and consumers are highly misleading pseudoscience, mixing unproven and unscientific ideas with bits of real science that do not actual have anything to do with the validity of the claims made about the company’s theories or products.

There is no evidence beyond individual opinion, anecdotes, and poorly designed case series to indicate that Standard Process products have any value in treating or preventing disease. More than 70 years after the company began manufacturing and selling supplements, there are still no good quality clinical trials demonstrating that any of their products are effective for the prevention or treatment of any medical condition.

Ultimately, the choice to use these products is a gamble, trusting that notoriously unreliable forms of evidence such as anecdotes can accurately guide us in the absence of any real scientific evidence.


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115 Responses to Standard Process=Standard Nonsense

  1. dogowner says:

    If I were you I would read up a bit more on testimonials and how completely worthless they are- even when truthful. No-one needs to be ‘deliberately lying’. Bloodletting wasn’t used as a cure-all for hundreds of years because people were lying, but because they were truthfully making mistakes. Because testimonials are inherently misleading, even entirely truthful ones.

    And the chances are that even if you do ‘see results’ you may be seeing results that aren’t actually there. Pet owners are known to get placebo effects for their animals- tell the owner that the pet has been given something to treat its arthritis and the dog will limp less, tell the owner the dog’s on a new food that will do wonders for its health and vitality and the owner will be convinced the dog is much better. Even if no treatment has been given at all, or the dog’s actually on the same or a worse food.

    Your pet could be completely unaffected and you could be ‘pleased with an improved condition’ while your pet is actually the same, or perhaps even worse off. You’d feel great- but what about your pet?

    Wouldn’t you be better off doing something, anything, that has a chance of working? Or spending the money on something that your pet would actually get benefit out of- actual ‘natural, unprocessed, whole’ food, toys etc. A nice bit of liver would get the pet some vitamins without funding people who are scamming others. Because, let’s not forget- you are paying them to sell an unproven treatment. You are encouraging them to continue to sell something without bothering to test whether it does what they claim.

    If the people at Standard Process thought their products worked they’d have done an experiment showing that by now. They presumably think it doesn’t work- why would you think it was worth trying if even they apparently don’t think it’s worth it to test?

  2. CC says:

    All I want to know is if the products are real and not synthetic..NO garbage, no fillers, no rocks or saw dust..ANY help?? Thanks

  3. skeptvet says:

    Of course, terms like “real,” synthetic” and “fillers” imply a lot of things about “good for you” and “bad for you” that haven’t actually been shown to be true, so the question itself contains a lot of shaky assumptions. That said, obviously you will have to go to the company to find out exactly what they put in their product, where they source it, and all the rest. My goal here is to take a science-based look at the claims they make and the evidence for them, not to conduct an independent laboratory analysis of heir ingredients.

  4. Gattina says:

    I’ve been using Standard Process Whole Canine Support for my two Tibetan spaniels for at least 5 years. I’d like to change to a different, general supplement and would appreciate your suggestions.

  5. skeptvet says:

    As I’ve tried to point out, there is no such thing as a “general supplement” that magically protects health and wards off disease. Specific supplements can be useful for specific things. Fish oils, for example, may reduce itching in dogs with allergies or reduce arthritis pain. Vitamin B12 supplements may help support appetite and prevent anemia in cats with chronic inflammatory bowel disease. But the key is choosing a specific supplement for a specific issue based on good evidence. There is absolutely no evidence that giving supplements of any kind, especially untested mixtures of things, to healthy animals has any health benefits. And since over-supplementation of even essential nutrients can cause harm, there is no reason to do this.

    My recommendation is to feed a balanced commercial diet or a homemade diet formulated by a veterinary nutritionist and skip the supplements.

  6. Gattina says:

    Just to be clear, I’m not looking for “magic.” I was asking about a supplement that would be the equivalent of a human’s multivitamin. Neither of my dogs has any health issues, unless you count the 2 back surgeries one of them had when he was 1 and 2 years old. He’s now 13. The other one is 11. People are always surprised when we tell them they’re that old.

  7. skeptvet says:

    Sure, I understand why people often have the idea that giving a nutritional supplement to a healthy person or animal might promote or protect health. It’s a rational concept, it just turns out not to be true. The evidence, for example, is pretty good that multivitamins in humans are useless at best and potentially even harmful unless there is a specific, diagnosed deficiency that needs to be treated. Even the idea of vitamin supplements as “insurance” against an imperfect diet turns out not to be true for humans, and it’s even less likely to be true for our pets since they are usually fed a much more balanced diet than we eat ourselves. I’ve never used any supplement for my healthy animals, and they too have remained well far into their teens. There simply isn’t any evidence that what you are looking for, as reasonable as it sounds like it should be, actually exists or does anything useful.

  8. AKinPA says:

    A “PhD” “wholistic”(his spelling) specialist, who claims to “cure” Cancer with “detoxification diets”, recently put my relative on a “vegan only” diet which mostly includes consuming large amounts of pills, powders, and liquids which are (products) mostly made by 2 companies STANDARD PROCESS and SUNRIDER. There are also products of 2 other similar companies that frequently do not have any FDA information/warnings on them. One common feature of all these products is a very high price for some basic supplements and in the case of “Standard Process” some type of “bovine excrement” that they include in their products.

    My relative has a type of degenerative Motor Neuron Disease(that is the current diagnosis). The “wholistic” doctor did not even try to reference what the disease is and was not familiar with it. But was very quick to charge an examination fee and write up a list of the above products that have to be ordered from far away places. The “examination” included an unsanitary “blood exam” that was something out of the 18th century which involved simply taking blood from a finger cut to a random microscope slide. I hope he does not “cure” HIV or Ebola in the same way.

    The “wholistic”(or should I call it holistic?) approach became necessary because the standard American Corporate Hospital with pharmaceutical company representatives calling themselves MD’s failed. Failed because they want to give you a horrible diagnosis and say something along the lines of “well I hope you enjoy dying because you probably will in 2-4 years, but before that happens we want you to start taking an overpriced drug that the FDA approves that does not really do anything(riluzole)”. Tests done by the hospital seem to show low levels of IgG(immunoglobulin), vitamin B and D deficiency, and lymphocytes in areas where they could be causing inflammation – MD mentioned nothing about this.

    So what should one suggest/advise/do in that situation? The MD’s in the American “Healthcare” system offer no hope. I am all for the scientific/science based approach – but are the MD’s in the US “for profit” or “for science”? I know it is not the same in other countries(having lived in other countries and received medical treatment there). And doctors who were trained outside of the US seem to differ from their counterparts who were trained in the US. Many MD’s in the US are no different from the “wholistic” doctor who is trying to sell you expensive treatments.

    I want my relative to return to her normal health, but where to go for help when MD’s fail? At this point only a Chiropractic Neurologist who is not trying to sell something offers any hope, the “wholistic” doctor offers false hope(mostly placebo effect) in my opinion.

  9. skeptvet says:

    It’s awful to be in such a position, and frustrating. All I can say is that I think you paint the entirety of the medical profession with such a broad brush that I think you have gone beyond simply recognizing the very real problems with our healthcare system and have gotten to a level of cynicism that is unfair and unhelpful. For all its flaws, and they are many, modern medicine and the scientific process behind it have given us the longest and healthiest lives of any humans who have ever lived. The inability to fix every problem isn’t a reason to jettison something that has reduced suffering so dramatically and reach for the kind of nonsense the holistic practitioner you mention offers.

    The best anyone can do is try to be an informed patient while accepting that while our doctors don’t known everything, neither do we, and if you persevere until you find one who you can communicate with and trust, they can be of great help even when they can’t always fix all of our ills.

    Best of luck to you and your family.

  10. Marelyn Shapiro says:

    Concentrated Cannabis Oil.

  11. Douglas Gray says:

    I had a friend whose cancer came back and multiplied throughout his body. Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, CA kept him for 10 days, and he went around with a chemotherapy drip outfit 24 hours a day. They charged him $17,000, then discharged him, and he died a week or two later. I think that the medical profession itself collects a lot more money for treatments that it knows are not going to work. Standard Process Labs is nothing by comparison. Here in Los Angeles, the major cancer centers constantly advertise on the radio.

  12. skeptvet says:

    Funny how any failure of science-based medicine is used to dismiss the entire field despite the overwhelming evidence that it has lengthened and improved the lives of millions, and yet the consistent failure of alternative medicine never seems to reduce anyone’s faith in it. I guess “faith” is the key word here, and facts have little meaning when that is the case.

  13. Judy says:

    I have been taking SP products for many years. A couple months ago, I started taking Ligaplex II for the ligaments in my shoulders an neck that I have a problem with.
    I was taking 6 of them most days, giving me 105 mg of manganese. I started getting sore muscles! Most days I can barely get out of bed. The muscles are sore all over my body. I have never experienced anything like it. I can hardly move. After looking up manganese toxicity, I couldn’t find find a description that fit what I am experience, except for one.
    This person was only on the product for a couple of days, and can hardly sit down because of the soreness. I do believe that this product is causing it. Has anyone else had these symptoms while taking Ligaplex II?

  14. Don miller says:

    Well it comes down to whether you ” Believe or Not”

  15. Thom Clark says:

    Instead of listening to a skeptical vet you should reach out to some that not only practice traditional vet medicine but use holistic practices that have great results. There are many non conventional treatments that really work and the Canine Whole Body Support has produced great results as I have seen with my dogs.

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