UPDATE: The Digestrol product was a scam and the conmen responsible have been jailed. Read the whole story here.
I wrote a blog entry about a product called Digestrol a while back and received a quite humungous number of comments about it, so I thought it was worthy of a follow-up. Lots of people said that they were equally horrified by the Digestrol brand of marketing (which told people that they might need surgery for their IBS if they didn’t invest in a few bottles of this wonderstuff), but others said that I was wrong about Digestrol, and so I’d like to address a few of the issues raised.
Firstly, there were a few people who said that they had tried Digestrol and it worked for them, so therefore I was wrong to criticise the product.
However, my original review was an evaulation of the quality of marketing copy on the Digestrol websites, not an evaluation of whether the product would work for IBS or not, and there was a good reason for this – I have no clue whether Digestrol works for IBS or not. And this is because the manufacturers have not given me any information which could show whether their product works or not. In other words, they haven’t done any placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trials.
Without these clinical trials, there is no way of telling whether Digestrol is any good for IBS. I always find it very amusing when I see herbal or “natural” products making all sorts of nasty claims about prescription drugs, listing all the possible side effects and the dangers of man-made chemicals, and omitting to mention the fact that at least prescription drugs have to go through vigorous and extensive testing to get approved, and at least doctors have access to a bucketload of data about how well the product works for which symptoms, as well as the side effects and possible risks. Herbal supplements just come with a leaflet.
Most IBS supplements, as opposed to IBS drugs, don’t have any clinical trial data. Now, this in itself isn’t a reason to condemn them all to the very bowels of hell: clinical trials are expensive and take a great deal of organisation, and lots of companies can’t afford them. Fair enough.
But what this means is that we sufferers have to rely heavily on the marketing copy when we are deciding which products to try. And if a company tells me very clearly in its marketing copy that it either doesn’t know the first thing about IBS (Digestrol’s website claimed that IBS was a progressive disorder, for example) or that it didn’t even bother to check the blurb that their advertising guy wrote for them, I think that’s a pretty clear signal to stay away.
Or, to put it another way…your television has exploded, and you go to the shops to buy a new one. The salesman tells you that the new TV-3000 cooks chicken in under an hour and never has problems with its wheelnuts. Would you buy a telly from this man?
Secondly, we have to be careful about our own claims as well. Because we are human beings and not petri dishes, we can never really know exactly what is making us feel better. Now, this doesn’t just apply to people taking Digestrol, this applies to everything from a new diet to a new drug.
People write to me and say “I have been taking Super-Duper-Pooper Capsules for over a week now and they are really working”. But how do they know it is the capsules that are working, rather than the diet they ate that week, or the fact that they stopped taking another medication, or their stress levels, or some entirely mysterious factor?
We all eat different things every day, drink different things, and IBS waxes and wanes naturally. We need to be careful that we don’t make assumptions about which particular aspect of our lifestyles is causing our relief. And, of course, this is exactly why we need proper clinical trials – because they attempt to eliminate all other variables except the one treatment being tested.
Thirdly, perhaps one of the things that I should have concentrated more on in the earlier review was the actual cost of Digestrol ($57 for a one-month supply, about £30 for the Brits). Digestrol just contains digestive enzymes, nothing else, and I can buy the very same enzymes in my healthfood store for a fraction of the price. So why shouldn’t I?
And last but not least, I do want to say that I’m not in the least trying to tell people what to do, and in fact I’m always ever so slightly worried when someone starts using a new treatment based on what I have said on my websites. All I am saying is that every treatment should be evaluated carefully, using all the information we have at our disposal, be that clinical data or marketing copy or personal recommendations or whatever else.
We’re all going to come to different decisions, and that’s the way it should be. If anyone chooses to take Digestrol, then that’s fine by me – just as long as they’ve evaluated the possible risks and rewards for themselves, and they’re not just being influenced by the fancy advertising that is a bucketload of style and no substance.