Phony Advertising:
The "Amazing" Story of Recovery™

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Recovery, a "dietary supplement" product of Biomedica Laboratories, is marketed with conflicting claims. One one hand, it is claimed to be effective against a long list of diseases and conditions. On the other hand, the manufacturer states that it has never been formally tested and is not claimed to prevent, treat, or cure any human ailment. This article discusses the contents of the company's Web site and a fact sheet it distributed to pharmacists who sell the product.

Biomedica's Web site is registered to The Nutraceutical Medicine Company Inc., of Duncan, BC, Canada, and is administered by the company's founder and president Jason Watkin. The product appears to be marketed primarily through Canadian pharmacies, at least 150 of which have been listed on the Web site.

Conflicting Claims

A Web page titled "Alphabetical List of Conditions RECOVERY Helps" lists 45 items accompanied the following statement:

The overwhelming success of RECOVERY continually leads to new indications for its use. Unlike other treatments designed to relieve specific symptoms, RECOVERY decreases cell damage and improves cell reception. As RECOVERY impacts cell structure and function, there are benefits in many seemingly unrelated conditions.

The listed items include acne, age-related degeneration, allergies, athletic performance, arteriosclerosis, arthritis, asthma, autoimmunity, Behcet's, cachexia, cellulite, chronic fatigue, constipation, COPD, delayed wound healing, depression, dermatitis, diabetes, eczema, fibromyalgia, gastritis, gout, hardening of the arteries, heartburn, hypothyroidism, IBS/IBD, infection, lupus, mixed connective tissue disease, muscle tension, neurodegenerative, OCD, osteoporosis, pain, polyarteritis nodosa, periodontitis, polymyalgia rheumatica, post-surgical recovery, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, rosacea, scleroderma, Sjogren's, vaginal dryness, varicose veins. Some of these are diseases, some are symptoms, and some are disease categories that contain anywhere from a few items to hundreds.

In addition, a 4-page product information sheet distributed to pharmacists states:

RECOVERY has been observed by clinicians to achieve dramatic results in the management of rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, as well as asthma, hypothyroidism, "chronic fatigue," fibromyalgia, IBD, type II diabetes, certain mood disorders, scleroderma, interstitial cystitis and other complicated respiratory digestive and autoimmune conditions in animals.

The size of the above lists should be an immediate tip-off that the claims are fraudulent. No single product could possibly be that beneficial. In an apparent attempt to ward off such criticism, the site carries the following disclaimer. (The highlighted words are "weasel words" that create the illusion of a promise but enable a seller to claim they were merely speculations.)

RECOVERY has not yet been formally tested for efficacy in either pre-clinical animal models, or placebo-controlled human clinical trials for any specific condition or disease. As a result, RECOVERY has not yet been approved by any government health regulatory bodies for any specific condition or disease in humans. Any information provided by BIOMEDICA LABRATORIES is based on theoretical mechanisms from published cellular, biochemical and molecular pathways, and does not specifically claim that the use of RECOVERY can diagnose, prevent, cure or treat any specific disease, ailment or condition in humans. Based on the biomedical literature, BIOMEDICA LABORATORIES believes RECOVERY may be useful in preventing or curing some diseases, ailments and other medical conditions in humans and in animals.

Consult with your doctor before using RECOVERY. Do not discontinue any other medical treatments without first consulting your doctor.

In other words: "We can't prove anything. We can't legitimately promise anything. When we suggest that something is effective, we really don't mean it. The day might come when someone actually conducts a test. Meanwhile, however, don't say we didn't warn you that the product might not work for you."

Unimpressive Ingredients

The primary ingredient in Recovery is said to be "Nutracol NM, a proprietary purified pharmacologically active polyphenolic complex (epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), epigallocatechin (EGC), Proanthocyanidin B2, epicatechin gallate (ECG) and resveratrol) extracted from Vitex vinifera and Camellia sinensis." The "secondary ingredients include glucosamine hydrochloride (1000 mg); methyl sulfonyl methane (1200 mg); magnesium (145 mg); calcium (10 mg); zinc (5 mg); vitamin C (445 mg); water-dispersable vitamin E (145 IU); dimethylglycine (200 mg); anthocyanocide-rich freeze-dried raspberries and blueberries; natural flavor; and splenda (sucralose).

Vitex vinifera is the grape, and Camellia sinensis is the plant commonly used for tea. EGCG is present in tea and has been the subject of many research papers; it has antioxidant activity and may have other effects, such as disrupting the cell cycle in cancer cells and inhibiting enzymes that break down proteins. EGC and ECG are similar compounds in tea. Proanthrocyanidine B2 is found in grape seeds and also is an antioxidant. Resveratrol, found in grapes, is an antioxidant and has estrogen-like effects as well.

Some evidence exists that glucosamine may be useful in treating osteoarthritis. Some of the other ingredients are being scientifically studied for various purposes, but none has been proven effective against any of the listed conditions and there is little reason to believe that any of them will be. Moreover, some of the ingredients can produce undesirable side effects and, without testing, nobody can be certain what happens when they are mixed.

Bomedica call its approach "Biostructral Medicine™." Its Web site is filled with scientific-sounding statements about cellular structure and function and biochemical processes. Thomas J. Wheeler, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, has provided me with a line-by-line analysis of these statements. He says that some are biochemically accurate and some are not. However, the wide-ranging claims made for Recovery™ go far beyond the preliminary findings made in studies of its individual components.

Many of the statements are related to "Reactive oxygen species (ROS)," which are "free radicals" or produced by free radicals and can damage cell membranes, proteins, and nucleic acids. Biomedica would like you to believe that Recovery™ can prevent oxidative damage and many conditions related to degenerative diseases, inflammatory responses, etc. However, the body has its own mechanisms for preventing oxidative damage; and whether antioxidant supplements will add additional protection is unknown. As Dr. Wheeler notes:

Oxidative damage has been linked to many degenerative conditions. The idea that antioxidants in the product could prevent damage is plausible. Recovery contains chemicals from tea and grapes that act as antioxidants and may produce other effects. We don't know what levels the chemicals in Recovery will achieve within the cells or how the levels compare to those found in research studies. Most important, as the disclaimer indicates, Biomedica has no direct evidence that the product is helpful for the listed conditions.

The Bottom Line

It amazes me that someone would have the nerve to market a product with so many unsubstantiated claims. It puzzles me that 150 pharmacies would be willing to market such a product. Doesn't Canada have a government agency willing to protect its citizens from being exploited?

This article was revised on November 30, 2001.