Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Supplements; the sales call.

Yesterday the sales rep from our major supplier of veterinary supplies and drugs stopped by with a rep from a supplement company in tow. Since it was a hot day, and no one in Flagstaff has air conditioning, we decided to sit at the table out back under an awning (this will be important later). The supplement rep (SR for the rest of this post) was very nice, and is a sales rep, not a veterinarian or scientist-she was just doing her job. I did find the methods and claims she used interesting however. Because of DSHEA, supplement makers are not required to test their products for safety or efficacy and also cannot make specific claims to diagnose or treat disease.

The first type of supplement the SR talked about was a joint support supplement containing mostly Glucosamine and MSM. The company has scientific evidence to support their claims for this product. After the sales reps left, I had time to examine these claims more closely. Two of the studies they cite are in vitro studies, shich are fine, but say noting about actual clinical effectiveness, and the third looks better as it involves a randomized, blinded study that used force plate analysis and evaluation of inflamatory factors in the synovial fluid. The problem with this study is that only a summary written by the company is available, the actual paper has not been published, so there is no way to evaluate the methods and data they used.

Next came liver support supplements. My baloney detectors were activated when the SR said that it was "completely natural, and safe, with absolutely no side effects." Apparently it can also help to "detoxify" the liver. the references for the flier on this product have a lot of studies of the pathophysiology of various liver diseases, mostly in humans, and very little or nothing on the acutal clinical effectiveness of most of the ingredients.

Most of the information provided on this company's products was written by Susan Wynn, DVM, who the sales rep said was from the University of Georgia's College of Veterinary Medicine. Actually, Dr. Wynn is the past president of The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, and is an adjunct (generally nonsalaried and paid per class or lecture given) professor at Georgia. She is probably paid much better by this supplement company than she is for whatever talks or classes she gives at the veterinary school. She does not have any scientific publications that I could find (there is one case report of treatment of gastrointestinal problems with herbs) and she is the author of a book on veterinary herbal medicine. No controlled trials, but lots of dicussion of the "energetics" of different herbs-yet another type of energy medicine that I was not previously aware of.

Finally, at the end of the visit, the SR said something that I was hard pressed not to laugh at.
She looked around at the backyard, which I have spent the last 10 years making as pleasant as possible (rebuilding the patio, installing a pond and vegetable garden, planting trees, etc) and said; "you have really good feng-shuei here". Feng-shuei was one thing I never considered while improving the backyard. That comment mae me think that maybe the SR was not just doing her job as trained by the company, and maybe was more of a true believer than I thought.

Apparently this sales pitch works on many veterianrians, natualistic fallacies, vague references to toxins and all. It did not inspire me to start selling any of these supplements however.


  1. Nice, genuine people who try to convince you of nonsense are often the hardest to deal with. I have spent a long time trying to improve my ability to press for details and real evidence while still being polite. It is often surprising what seemingly smart, rational people can believe.

  2. I usually listen to what they have to say, then investigate their claims after they leave. The Webster rep who she came with is one of the best reps we have, and I realize that part of her commission comes from stuff like that, and she does not push much nonsense, and listens when I explain why homeopathy is nonsense. I am getting a pretty thick woo file though, but it is useful to see who among veterinary academia is helping to promote it.