An Important Documentary: Letters from Generation Rx

Bonnie Kaplan, PhDJulia Rucklidge, PhD
20
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Letters from Generation Rx is the second documentary from international award-winning filmmaker Kevin P. Miller about the challenges of treating mental health symptoms with psychotropic drugs. The film includes interviews with many people familiar to the MIA community: Robert Whitaker, Dr. Peter Breggin, Dr Joanna Moncrieff, Dr. David Healy, and others whose work has defined decades worth of resistance to the blind assertion that psychiatric drugs cure mental illnesses. Aside from the aforementioned, however, this film also provides revealing insights from the “leaders” of the medical community, including a first-ever interview with Thomas Insel MD of the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) and officials at the FDA.

We are grateful that Miller interviewed both of us for Letters — and his film highlights the struggle we’ve faced in bringing our research on nutrition and mental illness to the world. But make no mistake, the “stars” of Miller’s documentary are the everyday people who bravely share their personal sagas for all to see. Their stories will keep you on the edge of your seats.

As we mention in the film, we were trained to be scientists, and we never dreamt that we would be attacked for using accepted scientific methodologies to address legitimate research questions. Yet that is exactly what happened — simply because we wanted to study the use of micronutrients (minerals and vitamins) for the treatment of mental disorders.

We are both products of educational systems that taught us that nutrition was irrelevant for mental health, and that psychiatric symptoms were manifestations of chemical imbalances that could only be corrected with powerful psychotropic medications. Readers of this website know that science has been unable to establish any credibility for this perspective, yet that is what Bonnie was taught (and her PhD was in the mid-70s), as well as Julia (whose PhD was in 1998).

Letters from Generation Rx not only shares our perspectives on the suppression of real science; it does so wrapped around important information about the history of the DSM, the widespread use of antidepressants, and how such shaky science was utilised to help these drugs pass muster with the FDA and Health Canada, the regulatory agencies charged with approving “safe and effective” medicines for consumers in North America. In our estimation, no other film has provided a forum for understanding why things are the way they are as powerfully as this documentary.

Here are some of the unexpected obstacles Bonnie faced when trying to conduct objective clinical trials of micronutrients in adults with bipolar disorder. As challenged as we were — and as many obstacles as we were forced to contend with by Health Canada and others, the company that developed the EMPowerplus formula, Truehope Nutritional Support, endured TEN TIMES as much difficulty:

  • Health Canada ordered Bonnie to stop her research, and they shut it down for almost five years.
  • Terry Polevoy (one of the so-called quack busters in Canada) harassed her team and Bonnie spent years with University lawyers dealing with his Freedom of Information demands, his accusations, and unfounded charges, some of which were sent to the university ethics committee. After a re-review by the Ethics Committee, she was, of course, exonerated from any wrong-doing. Then Polevoy demanded a retraction of her research from a major medical journal (which was denied). Intererestingly, they have rejected all submissions on the micronutrients since then.
  • Bonnie was dragged through the media (again, with Truehope), repeatedly, in a demeaning and mocking manner, which came close to destroying her reputation as a serious scientist.
  • By the time she was able to re-start a clinical trial 5 years later, the publicity had been so bad that in the ensuing 4 ½ years, not a single psychiatrist was willing to refer a patient to the trial, and her team received NO referrals from Calgary psychiatrists. In addition, when any member of the public expressed interested in being screened for the trial at the Bipolar Clinic at a local teaching hospital, they were told to stay away from the study.
  • To this day, mental health professionals around the world invite Bonnie to visit and lecture, but the mental health community in her own province of Alberta is generally wary of even learning more about the links between nutrition and mental health.

And while Bonnie has been battling these obstacles for decades, in New Zealand, Julia is just now confronting the power of the orthodox medical establishment there. Although Julia has managed to stay under the radar for 10 years — and successfully publish over 30 papers on the importance of micronutrients for the treatment of mental illness — current legislation in New Zealand is now threatening her research as well. Feel free to sign a new petition asking to put a stop to the new legislation. (We told you a bit about this in a previous blog)

NZ’s new legislation intends to make it nearly impossible for a company to educate consumers about advances in the science about nutrition and mental health conditions. Why? Is it because nutrient formulas are not a drug? By forcing registration of any and all vitamin or mineral products that have a therapeutic benefit for “serious” conditions through NZ’s Medicines Act, these products will be effectively banned, as the Act is designed to qualify drugs with only one ingredient as “legitimate,” not complex products with 36 non-patentable ingredients like EmpowerPlus. And the government knows this. In the early documents, they stated: “obtaining an approval for a natural health product under the Medicines Act is not seen as a viable option as, unlike medicines, producers cannot generally patent natural products and recoup the costs associated with product approval through a period of exclusive marketing.” And yet that is exactly what they have ended up legislating.

How is it possible that for all these 20+ years, everything from pharmaceutical companies has been assumed to represent good science, while anything about nutrition was assumed to be a scam? What has gone wrong with our scientists, our medical societies, that these narrow attitudes have prevailed?

And, if you have watched the documentary already, you know that even Dr. Tom Insel, former head of NIMH, accepts that Robert Whitaker’s assertions about these drugs have now been accepted by those at the top of the medical mental health food chain; and that medication has failed to solve the problems of mental health. Yet, what is Dr. Insel promoting now that he made these declarations about the efficacy of psychiatric drugs being unproven? Billions of dollars more on genetic research—even though we know that we are, at best, 30-50 years away from genetics delivering any valuable therapeutic interventions.

Conversely, in the area of nutrition and mental health, there have been about 50 scientific studies (about half of which are randomized clinical trials) demonstrating that nutrition may be a vital key for preventing and treating mental disorders. In spite of that fact, governments in the US, Canada, Europe and elsewhere have yet to fund trials of multinutrient formulas for mental health. For this reason, Bonnie has established two charitable funds to raise money for this research, one in the U.S. and one in Canada.

In closing, we cannot begin to describe the heartbreaking stories of parents who have lost their children to murder and suicide due to psychiatric medications—and we know that this audience is already familiar with that problem.

But if we want to educate others; if we truly want them to understand the plight of those on these drugs, we highly recommend people rent or buy the award-winning documentary Letters from Generation Rx, narrated by Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton.

Listen to the stories of your neighbours—and take note of the resistance to new ideas like the potential of micronutrients to solve some of the “incurable” problems we’ve been battling for a generation now. Both of us fully believe that this important film will educate the population and save lives.

If we don’t support films like this, then education withers. When that happens, the public will never understand that committed scientists are working to find treatments and cures — and that they are being shunned and defamed for merely doing their jobs. If we allow the media and others to highlight only what they wish us to see about these drugs, we will continue to witness the deaths and tragedies which have marked the 60-year experiment with psychiatric drugs, while draining scientific resources, our economy, and the minds of people, young and old.

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Bonnie Kaplan, PhD
Nutrition and Mental Health: Bonnie has published on the biological basis of mental health – in particular, the contribution of nutrition to brain development and function, micronutrient treatments for mental disorders, and the effect of intrauterine nutrition on brain development and maternal mental health.
Julia Rucklidge, PhD
Nutrition and Mental Health: Julia's interest in nutrition and mental illness grew out of her own research showing poor outcomes for children with psychiatric illness despite conventional treatments. She has been investigating the role of micronutrients in mental illness.

20 COMMENTS

  1. It is interesting that this article uses the phrase, “for the treatment of mental disorders” when discussing the use of micronutrients. This phrase assumes there are actually discrete mental “disorders” in existence a la DSM: There are not.

    The authors also admit that “science has been unable to establish any credibility for this perspective” (that drugs cure so-called mental disorders), yet they apparently are confused about the problem that discrete psychiatric disorder categories do not exist, are not scientifically credible/valid, and are not reliable.

    As for genetic research being 30-50 years away from delivering effective interventions, what makes you think that pipe dream is real? Genetic research into psychiatric categories that don’t exist is never going to reveal anything; it’s doomed.

    Ok, having made the usual antipsychiatry criticisms, I want to say that I support this movie and generally support the value of better diet and nutrition into helping people with life problems of any sort (not “mental disorders”, a demeaning, unwanted term). And, I respect that the authors are trying to pursue independent research that stands up to and diverges from the prevailing model of what is needed to “treat” people’s problems. I would just question why they continue to use unscientific, unevidenced terms like “mental disorders”, given that we know these categories are not scientific….

    • Well, it would take more space to always use “physical disorders that primarily produce mental symptoms” and be linguistically correct. See, psychiatric medical and “ordinary” clinical medical models of diseases aren’t identical, as much as psychiatrists would like to have you believe otherwise. Maybe they have delusions, believing psychiatric syndromes are actual diseases, instead of collections of signs and symptoms susceptible to multiple treatments. It’s no surprise they’ve gone for the soft life, turning their patients into zombies in return for toys, trips and retainers from the pharmaceutical community.

    • agreed. if i must i usually say things like “a diagnosed schizophrenic” – like, someone diagnosed him as such but it’s not anything accurate and doesn’t really mean anything. i would never say ” a schizophrenic” because i would never validate the ridiculous labels the establishment invented.

      as for the amazing, beautifully done, heartwrenching, disturbing movie “letters from gen rx”: BUY IT NOW. i saw it at its florida debut and i own it now through vimeo. we on this site must support kevin p miller and his heroic efforts- and those of all the victims and activists portrayed in the film, all fighting against the system we have come to loathe. kudos to all involved, and all who support this unbelievably important work of art!

      continued healing, all,

      -erin

  2. Why isn’t this on Netflix anymore ?

    I learned about this film talking about psychiatry with someone who then told me they saw this film and refused to let the school Adderalize his daughter.

    His daughter was kind of spacey but a real sweetheart and lucky they didn’t put her on the ADHD pills, my favorite get high drugs, fun till feeling normal seems lame compared to that high and you get obsessed with it.

      • No , it was homeland security cameras in the smoke detectors sometime after I called them cause those D-heads from India and Pakistan, those online pharmacy websites, kept calling my house trying to sell me phony Xanax.

        I tried to get them to stop. I told them “no he can’t come to the phone, he died after after taking pills he got in the mail” but they kept calling. Well I can make some calls too.

        I knew someone was after me at that point. A lot of people just HAD to be involved now and there were a lot of white vans driving around for some reason.

  3. To the authors, Bonnie and Julia, if you want to learn more about why governments are passing legislation to effectively ban vitamins and minerals, you should look up something called “Codex Alimentarius”. Dunno if I can post links but search for “Nutricide – Criminalizing Natural Health, Vitamins, and Herbs” on youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_z6lZ8q3Z_o). This is just one informative video clip, though I’d suggest looking into a great deal more information regarding Codex.

  4. No question nutrition and mental health are linked, but promoting a company like truehope ist harmful. If Kaplan and Rucklidge were serious scientists they would do research without promoting this one product and company. This is just advertisment for a very expensive multi-vitamin that claims it is THE wonder supplement for all popular psychiatric diagnoses.

    I couldn’t find any double-blind trial.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/marvin-ross/health-canada-empowerplus_b_1811203.html

    http://healthwatcher.net/Quackerywatch/Synergy/News/mdc0401evenson.html

    • I couldn’t let your characterizations of Drs. Kaplan and Rucklidge stand without stating the facts. Neither of these researchers are promoting the Company, nor have they ever done so. Your claim to the contrary would be false. They have never taken a dime from the company. What they HAVE done is endeavor to conduct legitimate scientific inquiry into whether micronutrients can be useful in the treatment of bipolar, ADHD and depression. And they’ve been met with fierce resistance for merely conducting scientific inquiry into what is a very important question: can vitamins and minerals (mainly minerals) be useful in the prevention of — and treatment of mental health symptoms?

      Lastly, your links to the so-called and self-described “Quackbusters” are lame. These protectors of the universe will SCREAM any time a vitamin is used for any health condition .. but they are deathly silent while tens of millions of children and adults are injured, killed, or die on the very drugs this forum was designed to combat.

      No sir, I’ll stand with Dr. Kaplan and Dr. Rucklidge any day of the week.
      -kevinpmiller

  5. Those ads are invariably suspect. If you’re aware of biochemical individuality, you know there’s no magic one-size-fits all formula for health difficulties, even if you’re not paranoid. Besides, if you’re going to be on supplements a long time, you’re going to get the cheapest effective ones you can, and be aware of the prices of the exotic ones that might require a visit to the health food store.

  6. One day, hopefully soon, epigenetics, pharmacogenetics, pharmacogenomics, nutrigenetics, nutrigenomics – how genetic makeup affects an individual’s response to drugs, food, supplements, etc – will be household words. Hopefully, testing will become affordable. The results will be life-altering and life-saving. (The pharmacos will not be happy.)

    Meanwhile, Bonnie and Julia, you are in good company. Canadian medical geographer Harold Foster wrote about his closest friend orthomolecular psychiatrist Abram Hoffer: Dr. Hoffer treated several thousand schizophrenics over the last 50 years. He uses high dose niacin and vitamin C and a few other nutrients like selenium . The effects is enormous. Many of his patients start taking nutrients regularly and then go on to university and become physicians, lawyers politicians, etc. For his successes Abram has been attacked relentlessly by the medical profession for half a century.

    A nutritionist friend offered this comment when asked why some people report very negative experiences with EMPower:

    “My guess is that psych drugs permanently damage epigenetic expressions and mitochondrial function and that may cause intolerance and failure to assimilate or conjugate some of the forms of vitamins in EmP-P. When drugs screw up various biochemical pathways for detox, methylation, acetylation, phosphorylation etc. that can certainly happen. The fluorinated SSRIs and anti-psychotics are notorious for causing permanent damage. Add to this the increased likelihood of also being prescribed fluorinated antibiotics, steroids, proton pump inhibitors, statins and NSAIDs for various psych drug side effects, that can do the same things.

    Many also report that they used to eat and do everything but now have acquired horrible chemical and food sensitivities and allergies, and cannot tolerate normal activities, or benefit from many of the supplements they used to take and rely on. Some have become brittle diabetics overnight with no history of metabolic disease. These drugs DESTROY physiological norms.

    EMPower Plus made my ferritin and iron levels rise above normal range, was a bit hard on the digestion and did not have any other benefit for me, but I could not ramp up to tolerate the full daily dose so I guess I’ll never know if it would have helped. But I have met people whose mental health was really improved on it although almost everyone complains about the price and the number of pills per day. ”

    An holistic MD commented: ” I completely agree. The average human carries around about 5 grams of stored drugs, chemicals and toxic heavy metals in fat and muscle cells. The only reliable way to get rid of these is sauna therapy which pushes them out of the fat cells and out through the sweat. There is no other detox program, including IV chelation, that works as well so, people that have these detox reactions to NHPs need to get into the sauna for several months before getting on to any supplements. The drugs and not the supplements are to blame. ”

    An article about the promise of micronutrients in the treatment of mental illness appeared in the Montreal Gazette in 2010. No longer available on line, it’s here in its entirety:

    “Revolution or false hope? The way we see and treat mental illness is being challenged by studies showing micronutrients have promise as treatment for mood disorders.
    ALBERT NERENBERG
    Freelance
    Saturday, February 27, 2010

    Tony Stephan’s life was coming unglued.

    In 1994, the 40-year-old engineer from Cardston, Alta., thought his 210-pound teenage son might kill him.

    Joseph, 15, had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and although medicated had violent mood swings. Once a gentle giant of a kid, he would explode into violent rages.

    “He assaulted my wife. We were all afraid for our lives,” Stephan said in an interview. “My son was insane.”

    But that was just the half of it. Severe bipolar disorder runs in the family.

    Stephan’s wife, Deborah, and daughter Autumn Stringam, 22, had also been diagnosed with the condition. Autumn hallucinated and saw “demons” coming out of a hole in her chest. Then one day, Deborah committed suicide, asphyxiating herself in the family van in a provincial park.

    Stephan was losing it. He had just buried his wife. It seemed to him his son and daughter were next. What he did to apparently save his kids – taking them off their medications and giving them micronutrients (concentrated daily doses of a vitamin and mineral formula) – is now being heralded as either a scam or a revolution.

    Stephan is not a doctor or a scientist, but a new wave of international research suggests this “regular guy” from rural Alberta could be part of a significant breakthrough in the way we see and treat mental illnesses. Stephan claims mental illnesses may not be life-long conditions but potentially treatable nutritional issues. But Health Canada, some doctors and some mental health experts have disagreed, warning against Stephan’s micronutrient approach.

    Micronutrients sound like something out of a Hollywood script: A “cure” for terrible diseases discovered by the families of those suffering with the illnesses, not medical professionals. That remarkable claim is getting support from preliminary studies at universities in Canada, the U.S. and New Zealand.

    Taking risks with medication is naturally dangerous and worthy of extreme caution and this story does not suggest people with mental illnesses stop taking prescribed medication. But a new approach may be on the horizon and with the announcement of a major clinical trial of treating Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder with micronutrients, it’s time to take a look at the bigger picture.

    Studies at three major universities have now concluded the micronutrient approach to mood disorders merits serious examination. Results of preliminary research into treating people suffering from ADHD with the Canadian treatment approach, reported in January at the University of Canterbury, caused a stir in New Zealand.

    “People … made ‘remarkable’ improvements by taking a daily dose of nutritional supplements rather than conventional medicines, a trial has found,” an Auckland newspaper reported.

    Now, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study – the accepted standard for testing new treatments – is taking place in New Zealand, testing Stephan’s treatment on people with ADHD. (In such a clinical trial, neither the patients nor the researchers know who is getting a placebo and who is getting the treatment, so the results aren’t tainted by expectations.)
    – – –
    “The normalization of the mentally ill via nutrient supplementation would be the most significant breakthrough in the field of mental illness since the beginning of time,” states Bonnie Kaplan – a professor in the faculty of medicine at University of Calgary who has conducted research into Stephan’s micronutrient treatment – in conference materials for Micronutrients for Mental Health, held in San Francisco in December.

    Kaplan co-authored a study with New York University economics Professor Dermot Gately, published in November 2009, examining 358 adults with bipolar disorder who were using Stephan’s approach. The study showed that symptoms of bipolar disorder were “45-per-cent lower after six months” of taking micronutrients, according to their report in the journal Clinical Medicine: Psychiatry. This involved daily doses of vitamins and minerals that could be sourced from almost any drugstore.

    Although this treatment originated in Canada, other countries might be in the process of legitimizing it. But at home, Stephan has been shut down and called a fraud, a charlatan, and even accused of exploiting the horrors of his family ordeal for profit, he says.

    “There was a lot of excitement about this stuff when it first came out,” said Bill Ashdown, vice-president and founder of the Mood Disorders Society of Canada, an advocacy group. But Ashdown notes sufferers of mental illnesses and their families have frequently been let down by “exciting new treatments.” Could this be different?

    After looking at copies, sent to him by The Gazette, of some University of Calgary and Canterbury studies done over the past decade that show Stephan’s micronutrient approach has promise, Ashdown said he liked what he saw so far.

    “The more I looked at the studies, the more encouraged I am. It’s obvious this is a whole area that needs further study.”

    Stephan claims that today 60,000 people worldwide are using his treatment and “80 per cent have lives that have returned to some kind of normalcy.”
    – – –
    Mental illnesses will be the No. 2 cause of death and disability by 2020, according to the World Health Organization. Along with many common mental illnesses, bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive disorder, is becoming more common. One in every five Canadians will have a mental health problem at some point in their lives and about one per cent will experience bipolar disorder, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association.

    Although the condition varies greatly, bipolar disorder is generally accompanied by dramatic mood swings often from depressive to manic states, which can come with psychosis, delusions and hallucinations. It is tied to elevated rates of depression and suicide. There is no known cure for bipolar disorder but many have their condition stabilized through medication, traditionally pharmaceutical variations on the mineral lithium.
    – – –
    “My son was on 900 milligrams of lithium a day and was absolutely out of control,” said Stephan. His daughter, who was on a mix of pharmaceutical drugs, believed her husband was plotting to murder her.

    Fearing his children were headed for oblivion, Stephan says he found something that saved his kids. What he discovered was outside medical practice, and at first glance sounds totally loony.

    While discussing new carpeting for his church basement, Stephan told his desperate story to David Hardy, an animal feed specialist. Hardy observed Joseph’s bipolar condition sounded a bit like ear-and-tail-biting syndrome in pigs. Yes, pigs. Pigs often behave badly, something that can be regulated by changing their diets. Using Hardy’s background in feed supplements, the two would then create a human version of a pig nutritional regimen, which they administered to Stephan’s children while weaning them off their medication, which had not been effective. The supplement was heavy in micronutrients.

    As opposed to major nutrients like proteins and carbohydrates, micronutrients are the tiny trace amounts of minerals and vitamins that some believe are essential to health and balanced mental function. They include selenium, zinc, chromium, manganese, magnesium and molybdenum among many others. The theory is that people who lack certain micronutrients lose healthy brain function, and may develop mental and mood disorders. Some people simply need them more than others.

    Within about 30 days on a daily high-dosage micronutrient supplement, Joseph’s symptoms were gone, Stephan says. Autumn had been in a psychotic state, convinced there was a portal to hell in her chest. After four days of treatment, she says, her hallucinations subsided. Autumn would later write a book about her ordeal, A Promise of Hope, published by HarperCollins in 2007, where she describes waking up after taking the supplements for several days: “I push my arms under the blankets to feel my chest. There is no hole. Just me, in bed with a mid-morning sun on my face.”
    – – –
    “New treatments come along all the time,” said Professor Hani Iskandar, coordinator of undergraduate medical education in the department of psychiatry at McGill University and a Douglas Hospital clinician and researcher in mood disorders. “It’s important to be very cautious.”

    New treatments do follow a clear and careful route in the medical world, and Iskandar said the micronutrient approach has yet to gain appropriate credibility.

    But in the U.S., there are now several hundred doctors prescribing micronutrients, says psychiatrist Charles Popper, a clinical associate at McLean Hospital, a Harvard University psychiatric teaching hospital.

    Dr. Scott Shannon treats adults and children with bipolar disorder in Fort Collins, Colo., and is an associate professor in psychiatry at the University of Colorado. He says he now regularly prescribes Stephan’s micronutrients to those patients: “It is so much safer and effective, and it’s really a shame that it’s not more well known.”

    Shannon says unlike pharmaceutical medications, which often cause “weight gain and cognitive clouding, the only side effects we get is some soft stools because magnesium, one of the ingredients, is a laxative.”

    Shannon said he personally has treated more than 150 patients with mood disorders with the micronutrient approach.

    “I would say 70 to 80 per cent respond robustly,” he said. “After two years they often don’t need me anymore.”
    – – –
    After Stephan’s kids returned to “normal,” Stephan and Hardy decided to seek scientific validation for their discovery.

    They began by approaching scientists, contacting Kaplan, then director of behavioural research at Alberta Children’s Hospital. Kaplan would initially tell a reporter: “I told them to take their snake oil somewhere else.”

    But in 1996, Kaplan, on the recommendation of a scientist friend, met with the two men, and they convinced her it at least merited investigation. She tried the micronutrient treatment on people who had not responded well to conventional medication for bipolar disorder, two young boys with mood disorders and explosive tempers. After taking the supplement, Kaplan said, their rages diminished.

    Kaplan was intrigued, and in 2000, began a small open-label clinical trial of 11 bipolar patients who had also not responded to standard medications. After six months, all 11 patients were both less depressed and less manic according to Kaplan’s study, which was published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Child Psychopharmacology.

    Kaplan would tell Discovery Channel: “In a word, they got better. It somehow corrects an imbalance that these people are predisposed to have.”

    Stephan and Hardy also met with psychiatrist Popper. After testing the Canadians’ micronutrient treatment on 22 patients suffering from bipolar disorder, Popper wrote in the December 2001 Journal of Clinical Psychiatry: “What if some patients could be treated with inexpensive vitamins and minerals rather than expensive patented pharmaceuticals?”

    Of his 22 patients, “19 showed what I believe to be a positive response. (2 mild, 7 moderate, 10 marked improvement),” Popper wrote.

    “I’m in full agreement with being skeptical about new wild-eyed claims,” he said in a recent interview. “But it’s clear that this merits research.”

    These results are still considered “anecdotal” by medical research standards, which usually require a major double-blind, placebo-controlled study like the one now under way in New Zealand.
    – – –
    Stephan and Hardy, who happen to be Mormon, in 1996 co-founded Truehope, a religious-sounding Alberta nutritional supplement company, to sell their micronutrient treatment for bipolar disorder, EMPowerplus, which they manufacture in Los Angeles. It’s a mixture of vitamins and minerals that sells for about $150 for a month’s daily supply. The mixture contained relatively high doses of 34 vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium, copper and potassium. Truehope quickly became controversial because of its advice to clients taking EMPowerplus to go off their regular medication, due to possible side effects of overmedication.

    On its website, Truehope claims its products not only help resolve bipolar disorder but also migraines, schizophrenia, depression and other conditions.

    “Yes. It got us into a lot of trouble,” with Health Canada, which requires testing of products for which medical claims have been made, said Stephan, who says he believes that most mood disorders may have a nutritional basis. “We had people coming to us with depression who wanted to try our product. When it seemed to work, it was hard to say ‘no.’ ”

    Truehope does suggest that people go off their meds, though with the help of their doctors. The obvious danger of the micronutrient approach occurs when people go off their medication because of it.

    “We try to work with people’s doctors when we can. I do believe in science,” he said. “But I believe in helping people, too. The mindset about mental illnesses is there’s no cure for them and there never will be. I obviously disagree.”

    Why would a nutritional supplement, based on one given to pigs, work on human bipolar disorder when medical science can seemingly only manage it?

    Generally speaking, common mental illnesses are seen as life-long conditions. They cannot be cured, but can be treated and sometimes moderated by modern medicine. Nobel Prize winning scientist Linus Pauling had another idea in the late 1960s. He speculated that some people have a stronger genetic-based need for vitamins and minerals than others. He suggested some mental illnesses could simply be results of failing to meet these requirements. Scientists have observed that nutritional deficiency in otherwise healthy people can quickly produce mental issues. Almost anyone will experience mood swings when very hungry.
    – – –
    Back in Calgary in 2001, Kaplan was ready to go to the next stage, and launch a major double-blind study. But in March 2001, Health Canada lowered the boom.

    “We started the study,” said Kaplan. “And then I found out the formula had been stopped at the border by Health Canada. Health Canada shut down our trial. They confiscated the formula, raided Truehope’s office, and ordered everyone to go off the formula,” Kaplan said in an interview.

    Kaplan was floored. She said she had assumed at the very least that checking the effectiveness of the micronutrient approach was a reasonable subject of study.

    For the thousands of people already using the product, there was panic, says Stephan, as fear spread that users would be cut off.

    Tony Rider, a Toronto real-estate agent and bipolar sufferer said in an interview he was so desperate for the supplements he would smuggle them across the border.

    “I used to drive back to Canada with it under the seat of my car,” said Rider, who credits micronutrients for his current stable mental health.

    A June 2003 public advisory on Health Canada’s website states: “Health Canada is advising consumers not to use EMPowerplus, also known as EM Power+ and EM Power. It is a drug. …

    “The main concern with Empowerplus is that the product is being promoted for the treatment of serious psychiatric disorders without having undergone the rigorous testing necessary for all drug products.”

    Acting, it says, out of concern for the well-being of patients advised to go off their medications, Health Canada alerted the RCMP, which in July 2003 raided the Truehope office in Raymond, Alta. Truehope was charged with violations of the Food and Drug Act, for selling a drug without government approval. In July 2006, a provincial court judge dismissed the charges, ruling the firm had no reasonable legal alternative to selling its EMPowerplus without regulatory approval, accepting the defence’s arguments that clients may have become ill or even died without it.
    – – –
    “Why don’t they (Stephan and Hardy) just go away?” Dr. Terry Polevoy said in an interview. Polevoy is a pediatrician who operates the Acne Care Clinic in Kitchener and a fervent opponent of Truehope. He runs one of Canada’s main anti-quackery websites, Healthwatcher.net, and is incensed at what he sees as Truehope’s non-medical approach to treating serious illnesses.

    Polevoy, who claims Truehope is simply a scam preying on the desperation of the mentally ill, co-wrote an online exposé book, titled Pig Pills, Inc., The Anatomy of an Academic and Alternative Health Fraud (2003). Polevoy says Stephan is not a doctor, but he and his staff act like medical professionals dispensing “cures” for mental illnesses for profit.

    “It’s dangerous. Because there’s no proof and these people aren’t scientists.”

    Stephan counters that he expected opposition but he was surprised how “ballistic” it was. Not only was he targeted personally and professionally by Polevoy, but anyone who took up research in the micronutrient area was targeted, too.

    The two researchers who originally opened the door to micronutrient research regarding mental illness were both subjected to what they characterize as harassment.

    Polevoy wrote letters to deans and research ethics committees at the University of Calgary attacking Kaplan’s research and conducting Access to Information requests for all her documentation. Similar letter campaigns sent to Harvard targeted Charles Popper’s work. As a result, both researchers spent months defending their work to academic bodies, they said.

    “We were always exonerated,” said Kaplan. “There’s never been a charge upheld against any of us.”

    Popper characterized the campaign against micronutrient research as “anti-science.”

    “Their names were being associated with sales of the product (EMPowerplus),” said Polevoy, explaining why he targeted Kaplan and Popper.

    The Pig Pills author was stunned to hear that New Zealand was now conducting clinical trials with EMPowerplus. “I don’t believe it,” he said, adding he doubted micronutrients would ever gain legitimacy. “No big drug company is going to study this because there’s no money in it – it can’t be patented.”

    Kaplan has recently moved on to an Alberta government-supported

    $ 5-million study of nutrition and pregnancy, where she leads a 16-member academic team. She said she felt the crux of the furor over EMPowerplus was that the treatment came from regular people, Stephan and Hardy, not the medical community.

    “It infuriates their critics that these people aren’t doctors and they’re helping people,” she said.
    – – –
    David Thomas, a media-relations officer for Health Canada, said although Health Canada allows a version of Truehope’s product to be sold in Canada, it still recommends against the use of EMPowerplus.

    “The safety and efficacy of EMPowerplus has not been shown,” he said.

    Truehope claims it’s caught in a Catch 22. Critics attack the company, saying it doesn’t have appropriate research backing its claims, but the same critics have campaigned against that very research even taking place, Stephan says.

    Marvin Ross, a science writer and author of Schizophrenia: Medicine’s Mystery – Society’s Shame (2008), co-wrote Pig Pills. He says he and Polevoy got interested in the story when they attended an information session staffed by Truehope in Hamilton.

    “They were encouraging people to go off their meds,” said Ross.

    In 2007, Health Canada issued another warning about EMPowerplus: “Health Canada has received nine case reports of serious adverse reactions associated with the use of EMPowerplus. … The worsening of these symptoms could be related to taking the product and discontinuing prescription medications.”

    Ross says the numbers of former bipolar sufferers who swear by EMPowerplus does baffle him.

    “I don’t explain it because I can’t,” he says. Ross did speculate that by its nature bipolar is a condition that “waxes and wanes.” People who experience a natural improvement in their condition might attribute it to EMPowerplus while it may be coincidence.

    “Take vitamins if you like,” he said. “But don’t go off your meds. Yes, there are anecdotes about people who have gotten well. But anecdotes don’t make science.”
    – – –
    Research has taken root at Ohio State University, as well as at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury.

    Professor Mary Fristad at Ohio State completed a study in 2009 on Truehope’s EMPowerplus, which showed positive results.

    “This report adds to accumulating preliminary evidence that further basic science and clinical studies of micronutrient supplements are warranted,” says her study, published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology.

    Fristad is now working on finding funding for a full clinical trial of Truehope micronutrients as treatment for bipolar disorder.

    Child psychiatrist Arnold, also at Ohio State, says Canada has missed the boat on this one. “There’s been some intemperate claims about nutritional supplements in the past, which may have caused a backlash,” he said. “But a lot of good people are on top of this. I think Canada missed the opportunity to be the leader in the area and now other countries are taking over.”

    The formal clinical double-blind, placebo-controlled study, treating ADHD with the micronutrient approach, is now in progress at the University of Canterbury under Professor Julia Rucklidge, a former graduate student of Bonnie Kaplan. Rucklidge says she’s been inundated with over 500 requests from people who want to be on the study, so they can access the treatment.

    “It’s been quite amazing,” she said.

    As a Canadian, Rucklidge says, she was baffled by what she called Canada’s “crushing” of micronutrient research.

    “To try and shut down a natural line of investigation doesn’t make sense,” she said in an interview. “Right or wrong, it’s in the best interest of everyone to find out.” ”

    © Montreal Gazette 2010

    On a personal note – I saved my husband’s life with magnesium. He was not able to metabolize any of the drugs prescribed for atrial fibrillation. The drugs were toxic for him and he almost died several times. I asked doctors at one of Canada’s top cardiac centres about magnesium. They don’t use it – it is ‘not the standard of care’. Cutting and burning and pacemakers are the standard of care and are profitable. We chose magnesium (and a few other nutrients) – inexpensive. Most of his drugs are now unnecessary.

  7. The poignant diaries featured in this film were written by my teenage daughter. She was a very bright girl whose chemical torture and death were caused by medical “care” and SSRIs. She was not “mentally ill” and her original presenting symptoms at age 9 were due to what we later learned was situational anxiety. I shared her insightful writing and our family’s true horror story so that other children might live. (I would never share my child’s story to promote a product.) Prior to the film’s release, I had never heard of True Hope nor do I have any financial interest in their product. Today there are few independent film makers, journalists and researchers who cover life and death topics such as this one. I hope these efforts continue to spark healthy dialogue that ultimately leads to positive change.