© 2004  Karen Selick
Hypocrisy at Health Canada
An edited version of this article first appeared in the March, 2004 issue of Canadian Lawyer.  If you wish to reproduce this article, click here for copyright info.


Hypocrisy at Health Canada


An old acquaintance of my husband’s suffers from the condition called bipolar disorder or manic-depressive illness.  Having obediently taken his lithium prescription for decades, he has destroyed not only the kidneys he was born with, but a transplanted one too.  His life expectancy is now distressingly short. 

Consequently, when we first spotted a newspaper report back in 2000 about some Albertans who were curing bipolar disorder with “pig pills”, we clipped it for him.   Thus began our interest in the Truehope Foundation. 

Briefly, the Truehope story is that founder Anthony Stephan lost his bipolar-disordered wife to suicide in 1994. Then two of his teenaged children started exhibiting the same frightening symptoms.  A friend of Stephan’s whose business had been selling vitamin supplements for livestock observed similarities between the children’s bizarre behaviour and a behavioural disorder sometimes seen in pigs.  He had witnessed the successful treatment of many disturbed pigs with generous doses of vitamins and minerals.  Stephan, at his wit’s end, decided to try the same ingredients on his kids.  They made rapid recoveries and resumed normal lives.  Stephan then founded a company to sell his multi-vitamin, multi-mineral formula, dubbed Empowerplus, to others suffering from mental illness.

Last June, Truehope made headlines when Health Canada (HC) issued a warning that consumers should not use Empowerplus because they “may be putting their health at risk.”  HC then stopped shipments of Empowerplus from entering Canada (it’s manufactured in the U.S.) leaving 3,000 Truehope customers without their supplements.  Finally, HC raided Truehope’s Alberta office, seizing confidential files and computer data.  Truehope has responded with a lawsuit.

According to HC, Truehope’s claim that its product can be used to cure bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression and other mental illnesses makes it a drug, which means it can’t be sold in Canada without HC approval.  The approval process entails costly, protracted clinical trials supposedly designed to ensure both the safety and efficacy of the “drug”.

In fact, none of Empowerplus’s 36 ingredients is normally considered a drug by HC or anyone else.  They’re just run-of-the-mill vitamins and minerals.  For years, I have taken a 38-ingredient multi-vitamin and -mineral supplement.  The commonalities between Truehope’s formula and the product I take are quite extensive. 

I’m convinced that Truehope is on to something good.  After all, mainstream psychiatry accepts that mental disorders frequently have bio-chemical causes.  The main difference between the psychiatric profession and the laypeople at Truehope is in their choice of remedies.  Psychiatrists try to correct chemical imbalances using patented drugs such as Prozac and Ativan.  Truehope tries to do it with vitamins and minerals.

My main criticism of Truehope is that they seem to be engaging in a colossal struggle merely to re-invent the wheel.  There are orthomolecular physicians and psychiatrists dotted around the country who have been successfully treating mental illness with nutritional supplements for years.  One of the pioneers in this field, Victoria, B.C. psychiatrist Abram Hoffer, began curing schizophrenia with megadoses of B vitamins back in the 1950s.

As well, Truehope unrealistically recommends its one-size-fits-all formula to all sufferers.  But every individual’s biochemistry is unique.  Bipolar disorder or depression in one person may be caused by a B-vitamin deficiency, but studies have indicated that other individuals with these conditions may be lacking the essential fatty acid EPA, found in fish oils.  Since Empower does not contain EPA, it’s unlikely to help everyone. 

These are minor quibbles, however.  The fact remains that Truehope has a large contingent of satisfied customers who swear that their lives have been turned around by this product—in some cases after many years of unsuccessful or even harmful treatment with mainstream psychiatric drugs.  They want to continue using Empowerplus.  HC insists they’re being duped and it’s going to protect them whether they like it or not. 

But what has HC’s record been when it comes to protecting the public?  HC virtually always approves the same drugs for treating mental illnesses that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves in the U.S.  Are such approvals any guarantee of effectiveness and safety?  Absolutely not.

In a 2002 article in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, three U.S. doctors analysed information they had received under a Freedom of Information request.  These were clinical trial data from placebo-controlled, double-blind studies used by the FDA in approving nine anti-depressant drugs including such well-known products as Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil and Effexor (also approved in Canada).  Fewer than half (45 of the 93 trials) showed the anti-depressants to be statistically superior to placebo.  Think about it—more than half the trials showed that placebos worked as well as, or better than, the drugs that health authorities approved.  There’s efficacy for you.

What about safety?  Well, my husband’s acquaintance is certainly not impressed by what the approved drug lithium did to his kidneys.  The many other recognized side effects of approved psychotropic drugs include: racing heart, loss of libido, twitches, blurred vision, dizziness, insomnia—the list goes on and on.

British psychiatrist David Healy’s book Let Them Eat Prozac (excerpted extensively at www.healyprozac.com) documents the accumulating evidence that several of the most widely used antidepressants cause suicidal and homicidal behaviour.  Healy lost a position as professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto for blowing this whistle. 

So who is Health Canada really protecting here?  I’d say it’s the big drug companies.  More on this next month. 


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April 18, 2004