Dahlias for Diabetes?
One of our contacts noticed an item on TVNZ news on the 7th March detailing a product being developed by the University of Otago for prevention treatment of type 2 Diabetes. A complaint was made to TVNZ but they have not upheld the complaint.
The item makes interesting viewing from a skeptical angle. It seems that a researcher - Associate Professor Dr. Alex Tups - has discovered a potential use of compounds found in Dahlia flowers to lower blood glucose levels.
The item reported that a clinical trial tested the safety of the drug and that researchers are now looking for volunteers to take part in a clinical trial to determine dosage levels.
I would expect that there would have been a clinical trial which actually tested the efficacy of the treatment in humans. Previous reporting on the subject has discussed trials into the effect of the drug on blood glucose levels in mice.
The item reported on a collaboration with Aroma NZ, a company that specialises in processing natural ingredients from New Zealand into nutritional supplements for use around the world. From their website they list a bunch of products that they process including Green-lipped Mussels, Oyster Powder, Collagen Powder, Abalone Powder and Fish Cartilage Powder.
There’s little doubt that compounds found in the wild have effects when consumed - this is the origin of the pharmaceutical industry. Considering the list of products above there are some red flags raised there. Those products seem to fall into the category of supplements that are used by the “worried well” or those with “symptoms of advancing age” to self-medicate. Many of these products have been promoted by popular publications in response to flawed studies showing some potentially amazing efficacy.
It is interesting to read what Aroma NZ is claiming about the efficacy of their products. I followed one of the links about their Green Lipped Mussel products to their News and Resources page. This shows a study from the University of Queensland on just 23 patients showing self-reported reduction of pain. Now I’m no expert in clinical studies but even I can tell that this wasn’t a particularly well-designed study that would convince me of efficacy. Yet, the website trumpets:
“In a recent landmark clinical trial by the University of Queensland, arthritic pain was reduced by 59% for people taking Aroma’s GlycOmega-PLUS™. This was a huge result and endorsement for this product.”
It appears that their modus operandi is to promote a product then find confirming studies after the fact to boost their confidence they’re selling something that actually works.
It worries me that the University of Otago seems to be looking to commercialise a discovery before the product has been well studied and has had its efficacy proven (at least that's not been reported) - seemingly putting the cart before the horse, and it should especially worry skeptics that there seems to be a low bar for commercialisation of products that appear to have some compound that might have therapeutic effects. And why go the "natural product" route when, if the compound is earth-shatteringly effective, might it not be better to turn it into a traditional pharmaceutical?
Worryingly the item also features Alex Tups claiming that the root cause of Type-2 Diabetes is brain inflammation. We’ve referred this claim to one of our expert medics who made the following comments:
“Had a look at the clip and certainly there is no evidence that I am aware of that diabetes is a result of brain inflammation - it is generally accepted as autoimmune destruction of pancreatic beta cells (type 1) for reasons unknown or unknown causes of insulin resistance (type 2). There is no rationale for the use of dahlia flowers presented to the listener so it not possible to comment on the science of this claim. I cannot see a link to the A.Prof you appended who seems a credible researcher.
I agree this is a crap report which raises expectations without any apparent evidence although I assume there must be some logic somewhere. This type of reporting needs to be science based with credible logic (imho) before putting it out to the public which only serves to confuse them.”
Finally, promoting products that include active ingredients found in the wild is particularly dangerous when it allows people to self-medicate. There is potential for dangerous drug interactions that can occur when doctors prescribe medications to patients, being unaware of the “natural” products they’re also consuming.
I’m aware that I write this from the relative privilege of middle age where few (though not none!) of the effects of aging are making themselves apparent. I’m aware of the powerful psychological drawcard that these alternative medicines and supplements can have on people trying to find relief for what ails them, particularly if the mainstream medical treatments are perceived to be lacking.