Even when I’m not working, I’m still a veterinarian and a skeptic, and I tend to notice things related to those subjects wherever I am. In this case, I was stopped at a traffic light when something caught my eye, and I noticed the car next to me was covered with advertising for a product called DogtorRx. Along with the name and logo for the product was a website (petequinox.com) and a list of conditions presumably treated by DogterRx:
Frail Geriatric Dogs
Dog Joints & Ligaments
Dog Separation Anxiety
Pet Skin Hot Spots
Pet Fur Shedding
When I had the time to investigate further, I was not shocked to find a web site with all the usual warning signs of quackery including:
Sweeping yet vague claims of miraculous benefits and guarantees of absolutely no side effects
Sloppy and misleading use of scientific terms
Claims of scientific research and proof backed up only by opinions and anecdotes, not published clinical studies
Collections of meaningless testimonials from customers and veterinarians
A human product from the same manufacturer with the same ingredient but marketed for entirely different uses (primarly as a “natural” alternative to anabolic steroids for atheletes)
And many others…
What Is It?
The web site is quite vague, but here is how they describe the product:
The natural growth factors in DOGtor Rx’s Formula are comprised of clusters of low molecular weight oligopeptides, which are quickly and easily assimilated and transported through the bloodstream to their specific receptor sites. Each of these growth factors has unique, bio-stimulating properties…
The active ingredient in DogtorRx is fertilized chicken egg extract, which contain heterologous oligopeptides that are able to cross the gastrointestinal mucosa. These peptides have a demonstrated adaptogenic effect and act at TWO levels:
- Normalize the adrenal cortex activity (androgens, glucocorticoids, mineral-corticoids).
- Cellular/tissue level (exert cyto-stimulating, cyto-protective and anti-oxidative properties).
Fancy and impressive language, but unfortunately largely meaningless and unsupported by any documentation. “Oligopeptides” is simply any protein with between two and twenty amino acid constituents, and this say nothing whatsoever about its function. Proteins are normally destroyed in the stomach by normal digestion, which is why you can drink insulin or rattlesnake venom without effect, but you will experience significant effects if you inject them into your body. So the claim that the ingredients in this supplement can be absorbed orally and work medical magic is an extraordinary one that ought to be backed up by extraordinary evidence. Nowhere, however, is any such evidence provided on the site for the veterinary or human products.
The site also makes use of the appeal to authority fallacy by pointing out that the inventor of the egg extract and the process used to manufacture it is a legitimate scientist.
Dr. Gheorghe Mihaescu, M.D. is an international expert in such fields as Experimental Immunology in Oncology, Steroid Biochemistry, Radio-assay Methodologies, and Geriatric Nutrition. Dr. Mihaescu has authored 32 published scientific papers in the aforementioned fields. He also holds 15 invention patents, which have been recognized and prized by the European scientific community at the prestigious Brussels and Geneva Conventions.
After 10 years of research at the Department of Nuclear Medicine at the Institute of Physical and Engineering Research in Bucharest, Romania, Dr. Mihaescu and his team were the first scientists in the world to demonstrate (in vivo) that embryonic peptides extracted according to his own technology are able to cross the intestinal membrane to act beneficially as growth factors, without producing toxicity or immunological side effects. This amazing accomplishment led to the invention of HumanofortTM
Unfortunately, the credentials of the inventor don’t prove the invention works. Linus Pauling, for example, was a brilliant scientist, and arguably a really good person who won a Nobel Prize for chemistry and a Nobel Peace Prize. He was also spectacularly and obstinately wrong about the health benefits of megadoses of Vitamin C. There is no more reason in this case to simply take Dr. Mihauscu’s word for the miraculous benefits of chicken embryo protein supplements.
Does It Work?
Apart from the implausibility of the underlying idea, that proteins extracted from chicken eggs can be ingested orally and somehow have wide-ranging benefits and absolutely no side effects, is there any real scientific evidence for the claimed benefits and the assertion that the product has been scientifically proven? Shockingly, no.
A number of research studies are referred to in the advertising materials for both the veterinary and the human product.
Effects of Oral Administered Humanofort on Steroid Hormones Level and on Oxidative Stress” by Prof. Gh. Mihaescu, T. Stoica, F. Oancea, Medicine Pharmacy University „Carol Davila” Bucharest, Romania
Oxidative Stress decrease in Old Age Patients Treated with Drugs Containing Embryonic Peptides” by Professors Gh. Mihaescu, O. Mihaescu, I. Mihaescu, National Institute for Geriatrics and Gerontology „Ana Aslan”, Bucharest, Romania
Clinical Trial of Humanofort Effect on Overweight Endocrinology Institute „C. I. Parhon” Bucharest, Romania
The human studies mostly utilized individuals older than 35. According to the authors who reported the results, the fertilized chicken egg extract works as a general tonic and stimulates the adrenal gland, normalizing its function.
DOGtorRx™ formula is having profound effects on over 66% of the 65+ canine and feline participants in an ongoing clinical study at the Holistic Pet Care clinic, New Jersey.
In 2004 I conducted a small study at the Belmont Pet Hospital to support the safety and efficacy of the DOGtorRx™ formula. The study focused on aging dogs with orthopedic challenges and dogs with suspected or diagnosed Cushing’s disease.
A study involving 23 human subjects was completed in Ohio June of 2003. The results were impressive and confirm many results and observations made in the Romanian studies. A summary letter from the Doctor who conducted the study follows:[but it doesn’t]
Twenty-eight healthy male rugby players (age 20-32) volunteered to participate in a 21 day clinical trial.
I was only able to find two studies that had actually been published anywhere, and none of them were among those referenced here. This suggests that the rest are either uncontrolled and unpublished pilot studies or even “try-it-and-see” use misrepresented as a “clinical trial,” or that the manufacturer is outright lying.
The two reports (1,2) I did locate were from a small, uncontrolled human study published by Dr. Mihaescu in the Romanian Journal of Internal Medicine. Subjects took the human version of the supplement and blood samples were taken, apparently fishing for some difference that could be attributed to the supplement (without the full text of the studies, it is impossible to determine the exact methodology). What was reported was a lowering of cholesterol (though it is unclear whether the initial values were normal or abnormal: “the initial values of the biochemical parameters were shifted towards pathological range. Following the administration of EP…cholesterol (total and LDL) were shifted towards the physiological limits for their age.”) The levels of a growth factor, IGF-1, and insulin were also apparently altered after the subjects took the supplement.
So that’s it. One small and poorly controlled study that showed the human product might reduce cholesterol levels and alter the levels of a few other substances in people. This, and the inevitable testimonials, are all that’s given to justify claiming the product can treat or prevent glandular disease, arthritis, allergies and other skin disease, and separation anxiety and even prolong life, all without any possible side effects! This sort of marketing in the absence of any meaningful scientific evidence defines a snake oil.
The marketing of DogterRx is a perfect example of the deceptive, pseudoscientific advertising that characterizing quack remedies. The underlying theory, that mysterious “oligopeptides” extracted through a secret, patented process from chicken eggs can magically survive normal digestion and treat a wide range of unrelated medical problems with absolutely no risks is implausible in the extreme. And the sweeping, vague claims of benefits without risks, combined with the complete absence of any relevant scientific evidence to support them, is nothing less than fraud (ethically at least, if not legally since the usual Quack Miranda Warning is provided in small print at the bottom of the web page).
The testimonials provided are, as always, great advertising and useless as proof of any of these claims, and the lack of any published studies to confirm the assertions that these claims are “scientifically proven” is as perfect an example of snake oil pseudoscience as one could find. It is impossible, of course, to conclude from the complete absence of evidence that the product doesn’t have any of the claimed benefits. But it is also impossible to prove, without any evidence, the President isn’t actually a space alien in disguise, and ultimately the burden of proof is rightfully on those making and profiting from wild claims. Without real scientific evidence, spending your money on a product like this is the medical equivalent of going to Vegas and hoping you get lucky. Surely our pets deserve better?