A client recently asked me about a product, NuVet supplement, which after a little investigation seems to be the yet another fine example of snake oil marketing. It is quite similar to a product I reviewed not that long ago, Protandim, though all quack remedies share a lot of characteristics (as my reviews of DogtorRx, Supraglan, and others illustrate). Many of these characteristics are classic warning signs of snake oil, and in the case of NuVet, these include:
A “kitchen-sink” mixture of vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other ingredients, some of which are essential nutrients or have individually shown some interesting properties in test tubes and mice, but none of which shown to be safe and effective in treating or preventing any disease in dogs or cats.
This hodgepodge is advertised as treating many unrelated diseases (cataracts, Cushing’s diseases, diabetes, allergies, etc) with good results and no risks. These include:
- · Addison’s Disease
- · Allergies
- · Arthritis
- · Cataracts
- · Colitis
- · Cushing’s Disease
- · Fleas
- · Hot Spots
- · Infections
- · Itching & Scratching
- · Kidney
- · Mange
- · Seizures
- · Tear Stains
- · Tumors
Vague claims are made about treating “oxidative stress” and “inflammation”, with the implication that “anti-oxidant” and “anti-inflammatory” agents must automatically be safe and beneficial.
Glowing testimonials are offered to support the wild claims made, but not a single clinical study has been done to demonstrate the truth of any of them.
A money-back guarantee is offered, though how this compensates for the suffering or even death of your pet caused by relying on an untested and probably useless remedy isn’t really clear.
Too good to be true? You bet!
What Is It?
The two products NuVet promotes are NuVet Plus and the NuJoint Plus. The joint supplement contains glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM. I have written about these ingredients before (1, 2) and the bottom line is that human and animal research evidence strongly suggests there is no benefit to taking these products for people or animals with arthritis. Barring contamination with something toxic, which happens surprisingly often due to the lack of effective regulation of supplements, NuJoint is probably harmless and useless.
The ingredient list for NuVet is much longer:
Alfalfa (Canine formula only) Alpha Amylase Amino Acids Beta Carotene Blue Green Algae Brewer’s Yeast Cat’s Claw Chicken Liver Copper Evening Primrose Oil Iron L Methionine Magnesium Manganese Oyster Shell Papain Phosphorus Pine Bark Potassium Selenium (Yeast) Shark Cartilage Taurine (Feline formula only) Vitamin A Vitamin B Complex Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) Vitamin B3 (Niacin) Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) Vitamin B12 Vitamin C (Ester C™) Vitamin E Whey Protein (Feline formula only) Zinc
Talk about everything but the kitchen sink! The rationales given for the inclusion of each range from vague descriptions of what the normal role of some of the nutrients is in the body to totally unsupported assertions about supposed magical clinical benefits. I will address these claims in a moment.
The story behind the “discovery” of this elixir is either a perfect example of the naïve and unscientific thinking that should warn consumers they are being offered snake oil, or it is a carefully crafted marketing gimmick.
It all began years ago when I was noticing certain changes in my beloved furry companion, Elvis…Even though I had always cared for him and tried to give him the best food available, it became apparent that Elvis needed something more. After several trips to our veterinarian and at a cost that I don’t even want to think about, I was left to try and find a solution on my own. All the medications and changes to his diet wasn’t making any kind of significant difference and I feared my best buddy was quickly slipping away from me. I tried all kinds of vitamin and herbal supplements because I knew there was something his body needed that he wasn’t getting but I just couldn’t find the right stuff.
It occurred to me that, like my Elvis, many other dogs and cats were not taking a sufficient regimen of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants equivalent to advanced human supplements used to fight against the damaging effects of free radicals, which are a major cause of disease. I thought that the right combination, in the exact formulation, using only the highest quality of ingredients, would be required to rid pets of these damaging elements and would create a scenario for greater health and a much longer life span.
Blake G. Kirschbaum President
Mr. Kirschbaum goes on to claim his product is needed because of “obvious” deficiencies in conventional pet diets.
Because most pets lack proper nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in their diet, even when they are getting the top of the line food, NuVet® scientists understood the necessity of filling this dangerous gap. Commercial pet foods can contain harmful “by-products” and useless fillers that can be toxic to pets, causing allergies and serious diseases. This kind of atypical diet creates a scenario whereby their food may actually be creating unstable oxygen molecules known as Free Radicals.
The next step after this brilliant insight was to set up a crack team to develop and promote the magic supplement all dogs and cats apparently need.
I decided to take matters into my own hands and established NuVet Labs®. I put together a team of highly respected scientific, medical and pet industry professionals that had the same goal as I did; to create a nutritional product that would go beyond current supplements that only gave symptomatic relief. Our objective was to make a truly effective nutritional supplement that would attack the root cause of sickness and disease, eliminating the free radicals and other sources of the problem, once and for all. This became my mission and although it took our team 8 years to perfect the formula, we finally got it right. An independent laboratory tested several dogs and cats, varying in age, size, and health conditions, under the direct supervision of a team of veterinarians.
Our Advisory Team is composed of a veterinarian, a doctor of pharmacy, a pet supplement and pet food formulator, a doctor of optometry, a licensed financial advisor, a litigation insurance administrator and a senior hospital purchasing manager.
Eight years of effort dedicated to solving the root causes of all disease finally vindicated by an unpublished test in “several dogs and cats.” Wow!
I have added the emphasis above to highlight the pre-existing faith Mr. Kirshbaum evinces in the nature of his dog’s health problems (nutrient deficiency and free radical damage) and the solution (the “right” supplement), as well as the astounding arrogance and naïveté this narrative demonstrates. The very foundational principles behind this product are unproven and scientifically empty beliefs, not well-established principles of health and disease. And the claim being made is that the One True Cause of disease, and its solution, which has eluded all scientists everywhere in the world has now been cooked up by one visionary and his small team of mavericks Not a good start.
Does It Work?
The underlying theory that all these disparate chronic diseases for which scientific medicine does not have a definitive cause or cure are caused by oxidative damage due to poor diets is nonsense. While free radicals exist and do cause cellular damage and even disease, this little core of real science has been rebuilt into a bogeyman that bears no resemblance to the truth. Like all overly broad and simplistic ideas, the oxidative damage hypothesis has proven far less robust than initial enthusiasm for it would have suggested, and many purported anti-oxidants have turned out to provide little benefit in preventing or treating disease, and even in some cases have been shown to be actively harmful (e.g. 3, 4, 5).
While many of the individual ingredients in the product are essential nutrients, there is absolutely no reason to believe that they provide any health benefits except in cases in which a pet is deficient in a specific nutrient. Providing excessive vitamins and minerals to prevent or treat diseases is seldom beneficial and, again, sometimes actively harmful (e.g. 6, 7, 8). And there is extensive evidence to show that while commercial diets are by no means perfect, they are not the deleterious pile of toxins and garbage described by those who are trying to sell supplements (e.g. 9, 10).
As for the other ingredients:
Alpha Amylase: There is no truth to the claim that digestive enzymes are beneficial for normal animals (11)
Brewer’sYeatst- A source of B vitamins, but not an effective flea control product (14).
Cat’s Claw- There is weak clinical evidence in humans of anti-inflammatory properties to some of the chemicals in this herb, and there are also reports of serious side-effects (15). There is no controlled research evidence to show safety or any benefits in dogs and cats.
Evening Primrose Oil- There is limited evidence for benefits treating eczema in humans, and otherwise no solid evidence of benefit for any other disease (16). It may be a good source of essential fatty acids, which could theoretically have some benefits for allergic skin disease or arthritis. Obviously, the claims concerning cholesterol and atherosclerosis are irrelevant since dogs and cats do not suffer from this disease.
Papain- There is limited evidence for benefits of papain in humans for shingles and sore throat, and no reliable evidence for any other benefits (17). There is no reason to believe it has value as a “digestive enzyme,” and the limited research on it as a hairball remedy in cats and rabbits has not shown any real benefit.
Pine Bark Extract- There is some laboratory and animal model evidence that chemicals in this extract have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant activity, but actual clinical benefits have not been demonstrated in human or animal clinical trials (18). As always for any chemical with real physiologic activities, there is the potential for side-effects (19). I am not aware of any clinical trials investigating the use of this ingredient in dogs or cats.
Shark Cartilage- Shark cartilage has been proven ineffective for advanced cancers of various kinds, and there is inadequate evidence to show benefit for any other condition (20, 21). The harvesting of sharks for this supplement as well as for food contributes to the decline of threatened and endangered shark species (22).
And finally, as well as most important, there appears to be absolutely no published research evidence of any kind evaluating the safety or purported benefits of this product. That is not a good sign.
Is It Safe?
As indicated for the specific ingredients above, harm can result from indiscriminate use of even essential nutrients. The amounts of each ingredient in the final product are not made available to the public, so it is impossible to evaluate the safety of the doses even for those ingredients for which safe and unsafe levels have been established.
Due to the inadequate regulation of dietary supplements and herbal products, it is impossible to ensure the accuracy of ingredient lists or the absence of dangerous contaminants, both of which have been real problems for such products (23, 24). There is also no formal system for collecting and evaluating reports of harm from such products, so the only assurance of the safety of the product is the word of the manufacturer.
This product is a hodgepodge of nutrients, herbal ingredients, and nutraceuticals thrown together with no clear logic or rationale. The claims that many pet diseases are due to toxins or other deficiencies in commercial diets and to oxidative damage are unsupported by any real evidence. Only a few of the specific claims for the ingredients in the mixture are backed by research evidence, and the quality of this is generally poor and only available for humans. The advertising of the product contains many of the hallmarks of snake oil marketing, but it does not contain any research evidence at all concerning the safety or effectiveness of the product, because none appears to exist.
While I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the manufacturer of this product, I believe it is unethical to sell a product with no research establishing the safety or efficacy of the product for any disease and with little to no research even into the safety and efficacy of its constituents. Promoting the product with unproven or outright false claims about pet nutrition and disease designed to instill fear in pet owners and with wild and ridiculous claims about the effectiveness of the product for numerous unrelated diseases is wrong regardless of how sincerely the manufacturer believes in their own pseudoscientific theories. Any responsible manufacturer of a medical therapy should be expected to demonstrate their claims through rigorous science before profiting from the desperate need of people with sick pets.