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Five Nobel laureates backing antiaging dietary supplement

Rating

3 Star

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Five Nobel laureates backing antiaging dietary supplement

Our Review Summary

The pill described in this story is the first product of Elysium Health, a new company formed with the backing of many leading researchers in the field. The company claims to be science and data driven and suggests that its product is superior to other dietary supplements that haven’t been scientifically validated. We think the story should have been more forceful in exposing the hypocrisy of that stance. The company says it will provide evidence to support its claims at some point in the future, but it is selling the supplements NOW. So it is essentially doing the same thing that other unscrupulous supplement sellers are doing — enriching themselves based on the “promise” of a product that hasn’t been shown to provide any health benefit. The fact that Nobel laureates are the ones doing it is unfortunate, since their stature will distract consumers from the emptiness of the company’s claims.

With all that being said, the article does inject some context and a healthy dose of skepticism into this trendy topic. It doesn’t accept the company’s claims without challenge. It juxtaposes the big name affiliations of the company’s leaders and advisers with the uncertainty surrounding their wares. We just think it should have done more on that front and put it higher up in the story.

 

Why This Matters

Dietary supplements are widely available but lightly regulated. When big scientific names back such a product, good reporting is critical to cut through the hype and shed light on the product’s real value. We’re pleased to see that many commenters on this story apparently saw through the smoke screen of Nobel names and sniffed out what’s really going on here:

  • “Mice are not people, and these guys are making those claims based on mice trials alone. If those pills are such a cat’s meow, how about getting some human volunteers to test them on, and give enough time to have real, provable results. Then publish a scientific paper based on that.”
  • “Wow! Nobel laureates “advising” a company on dietary supplements! Shades of Linus Pauling! But people still swear by massive doses of vitamin C to cure anything and everything.”
  • “Apparently, even Noble Laureates need to make a buck. Where’s the meat…Ooops… the data?”
  • “How about if you conduct the studies in humans, and IF they are positive, THEN you market the pill?”

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Satisfactory

The story tells us early on in the story that a month’s supply of the pill, called Basis, costs $50-60. So consumers will pay up to $700 a year for the privilege of helping the company test its pills.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The article quotes the company as saying that higher levels of the “natural compound” (found already in the human body) that is targeted by active ingredients in Basis has been associated with improved health in older mice, and that the pill has not been studied in humans. However, the article doesn’t tell us anything about the mouse studies directly: What sort of “improved health” did researchers find in the mice? Have researchers studied the active ingredients in Basis, or just the compound that these ingredients target?

To be clear, the story also quotes skeptical researchers who are asking very similar questions. For example: “What does it mean, to improve metabolic health? And what exactly is being repaired in the body? And is the outcome the same for everyone?” But did the story pose these tough questions to the company and fail to get a response? If so, a brief acknowledgment of that effort would have earned the story a satisfactory rating here.

Another route to a satisfactory score would have been to summarize some previous studies involving the active ingredients in Basis, such as pterostilbene.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story suggests that supplements such as Basis “have to be shown to be safe for humans to take” prior to being sold, and the story does not mention any potential harms. This language will likely give readers a false sense of security. How can we be sure that a product is “safe for humans to take” if it’s never been tested in humans? Even if we don’t know what specific harms might occur with this supplement, the story could have referenced examples of previous supplements that passed regulatory muster but were subsequently shown to cause serious harm (e.g. ephedra). It could also have mentioned the harm to your wallet of spending $700 a year on an untested product.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Satisfactory

We thought the story could have done a better job of grilling the Nobel laureates associated with this company. For example, it lets one of them suggest that their product is somehow better than the supplements sold at Whole Foods and CVS, where “you see miles of dietary supplements and vitamins” that have “no scientific basis.” In fact, a supplement that’s never been tested in humans also has little if any scientific basis for being sold.

The story does redeem itself later on by explaining the lack of evidence in humans with respect to the Basis pill and dietary supplements in general. Example: “there is no scientific evidence yet that the pill would produce the same beneficial effect in humans as in mice.”

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

The premise of the new supplement — one that is never challenged by the story — is that aging is somehow a “condition” that needs to be treated with a new medicine. Loss of muscle and other aspects of aging are normal changes that people experience as they age — not conditions in need of a cure. The framing of aging as a “condition” opens the door to expensive and untested approaches that waste money and encourage the use of more pills that can interact unpredictably. The story should have done more to resist this framing.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Satisfactory

The article quotes a reputable source who provides an appropriately skeptical view — one of the strongest aspects of this piece

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

We give the story credit for mentioning that each of the active ingredients in Basis are already available in separate pills. But since the story is about a company that claims to offer healthier aging in a pill, we thought it was especially important to mention non-chemical approaches that are also associated with healthy aging, such as a good diet and exercise. The story didn’t do that.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The article mentions the pill will be available online and debuted on Tuesday.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story provides excellent context for this product. It explains that the active ingredients are sold separately, but this is the first time this particular compound has been produced.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Satisfactory

The article goes beyond any press release

Total Score: 6 of 10 Satisfactory

Comments (27)

Please note, comments are no longer published through this website. All previously made comments are still archived and available for viewing through select posts.

Taruk

November 9, 2015 at 3:52 am

About Nobel laureates. Does anyone remember Long Term Capital ? They also had a bunch Nobel laureates on staff. It did not prevent them from loosing their shirts and almost ruining World economy. Little knowledge is a dangerous thing and we know so little about how body really works, not withstanding all the geniuses with fancy titles.

Reply

    C

    February 13, 2016 at 10:20 am

    So true Taruk. It is sad to see scientists involved in sham science for pay. On balance, MIT and other institutions have been weakened by their focus on monetizing science, which leads to lots of gamesmanship and productization. Marvin Minsky would not have approved.

    Reply

Allan Lindh

November 30, 2015 at 2:23 pm

Your review is too harsh. The scientists involved are not 90 yr old Linus Paulings. They are the best in the field, with extraordinary records real achievements. And they don’t need to make a buck hacking snake oil. This may not prove out, but the underlying basis, and the support, are night and day compared to other dietary supplements. Heaping ignorant scorn on everything is the order of the day, but you simply displayed your ignorance in this one.

Reply

    Gary Schwitzer

    November 30, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    Allan,

    Your own comment – “this may not prove out” – speaks to the focus of our review. As one of the four reviewers of this piece, I stand by what we wrote nearly 10 months ago when this review was published

    “The company says it will provide evidence to support its claims at some point in the future, but it is selling the supplements NOW. So it is essentially doing the same thing that other unscrupulous supplement sellers are doing — enriching themselves based on the “promise” of a product that hasn’t been shown to provide any health benefit. The fact that Nobel laureates are the ones doing it is unfortunate, since their stature will distract consumers from the emptiness of the company’s claims.”

    One man’s “heaping ignorant scorn” is another man’s review of the publicly available evidence, or lack thereof.

    Gary Schwitzer
    Publisher
    HealthNewsReview.org

    Reply

      Dan Bellack

      April 14, 2016 at 8:00 am

      We have heard about “guilt by association.” This is a case of “value by association.” The appeal of MIT, Harvard, and Nobel Laureate adds value to an untested product. As an aging adult (I prefer “seasoned adult”) I was drawn to the potential offered in the original article. Being skeptical of most claims, I sought out any evidence or reviews by users. There are several reviews but no evidence that this product does what it claims. This review tells us why we should be skeptical of any of these claims. However, remember the cigarette companies’ claims that “just because rats got cancer doesn’t mean humans will” may debunk that “all species are unique” idea. I will wait to try this product (if I ever do) until there are human trials and data to support the claims. Right now, I’ll hold on to my money. This HealthNewsReview is an excellent example of critical thinking and important for anyone considering buying this product.

      Jeff Sherman

      September 18, 2016 at 7:42 pm

      I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1965, when I was 16. I have taken about 20 different FDA-approved and human-tested drugs over the years. The mechanism of action for the great majority is unknown. The human trials, I believe, ranged from 6 to 12 weeks. The FDA does not test nor approve food supplements.
      I could not wait 20 years for extensive longitudinal human trials of those medications. I needed relief in the short-term for this debilitating disease. My condition is well-managed with my current medications.
      Aren’t mice similar at the cellular level to humans? I have had only a few mildly negative reactions to any of the drugs I have taken. Those ended immediately when I stopped taking them.
      I am not afraid to try Basis for at least 60 days. What have I got to lose, aside from $100?

      Kevin Lomangino

      September 19, 2016 at 7:42 am

      Jeff,

      The list of minimally tested supplements that have caused harm to those taking them is long. The decision as to whether or not to take such supplements is a personal one and may be influenced by many different factors. We would suggest that applying animal research to humans, without recognizing the huge gap between animal and human physiology, is unwise. Further reading on that topic.

      https://www.healthnewsreview.org/2015/07/problem-health-stories-based-animal-research/

      Kevin Lomangino
      Managing Editor

Michael

January 1, 2016 at 8:28 am

I would like to suggest that this supplement may just be beneficial, or not. However, it is somewhat refreshing to see a supplement which emanated from actual research. One cannot prove the effects of the supplement yet, it may have to be tweaked, and, as with any newly released product evidence may not present itself as to efficacy for quite a long. time. Individuals who this supplement for more then a year or two may just see improved lab results related to liver function. But, that is a BIG maybe. If you “feel” better on the supplement, then it becomes subjective rather than objective. One fact is relevant, there is no fountain of youth.

Reply

Shaji

January 16, 2016 at 6:59 am

On the question of whether the story commit disease mongering, I believe the conclusion is wrong. Most chronic diseases appear as we age. When we are young, our metabolic machinery is able to keep these diseases at bay and merely suggesting that it is an accumulation of insults to cellular machinery that is leading to these diseases is totally untested and lacks scientific evidence other than modifications in DNA or other epigenetic changes. One can argue equally well that these lesions in our genetic/epigenetic or other cellular machinery appear because the cells/body begins to lose its ability to repair such insults (there are certainly better evidence for this) . If so, what distinguishes atherosclerosis from aging? Both involve some alternation of the normal cellular machinery which is more-or-less intact when we are young. If so, aging is a disease akin to other chronic diseases that we see in aging. US FDA even has allowed metformin to be tested in clinical trials as an anti-aging agent through monitoring of surrogate diseases markers. It is only a matter of time before we classify Aging as the biggest disease of all.

Reply

    Gary Schwitzer

    January 16, 2016 at 7:59 am

    And that, in turn, might then be classified as the greatest act of disease-mongering of all.

    Reply

TSFranks

February 3, 2016 at 2:04 pm

It reminds me of the movie Josey Wells. In the movie the Indian chef suggests to the Carpet Bagger that he drink the potion he’s selling if his claim that it cures everything is true……….same here, do the makers use it?

Reply

    Marilyn Robinson

    February 21, 2016 at 7:27 pm

    As TS Franks asked: Do any of the “makers” take the product? I do not notice an answer to his question. I think I will wait to order until I see a response from the makers. Thank you.
    I will keep watching for a while to see if an answer does appear. Would be nice.

    Reply

Michael Feldman

February 22, 2016 at 2:20 pm

“The premise of the new supplement — one that is never challenged by the story — is that aging is somehow a “condition” that needs to be treated with a new medicine. Loss of muscle and other aspects of aging are normal changes that people experience as they age — not conditions in need of a cure.”I would disagree with this view of aging that is something that does “not need a cure” just because it’s a natural process. Falling out of a tree and breaking your leg is a natural process too, as is the the occurence of cancer due to immune system deteriation (a specific natural process of aging). It doesn’t mean we don’t treat such conditions. Ignoring treatment interventions because aging doesn’t represent a specific disease seems like faulty logic.

Also, I think thecriticism that “the story does not compare the approach with existing alternatives” is misplaced. The focus of the story was the Elysium product; it was not meant to be a treatise on aging interventions.

I think the rest of the critique is basically valid.

Reply

Dr. Robert Reed

March 7, 2016 at 1:33 pm

Twenty years ago Vitamin A was all the rage in the anti oxidation community. Unfortunately, over the past twenty years it has become obvious that vitamin A supplements can and do increase overall cancer risks, not reduce them. Furthermore, anti oxidation is not a health benefit at the cellular level but rather an interfering property in the body’s continual adjustment to age related changes. Specifically, oxidation occurs for a reason, and one is its ability to destroy cells in a timely fashion before they become dysfunctional(read cancerous) to the body. I suspect this latest fad will go the way of the Vitamin A hype and the fen-fen disaster of bygone times. Hopefully there will not be lethal carnage before the hype is replaced by real knowledge.

Reply

Helix

March 8, 2016 at 8:36 am

Re: “Mice are not people, and these guys are making those claims based on mice trials alone. If those pills are such a cat’s meow, how about getting some human volunteers to test them on, and give enough time to have real, provable results. Then publish a scientific paper based on that.”
I agree with the sentiment here, but I think it’s impractical. Human studies, especially anti-aging studies, literally take decades to produce conclusive results. An advantage of mouse studies is the drastically shorter life span of mice, which can give a quick indication of the possible benefits of a health regime.
IMO, the Elysium claims come with a big asterisk: the claim is unproven in humans. And any real “proof” is years off. If one believes their claims, though, their claims have been demonstrated in mice. As with all supplements, act accordingly.

Reply

BobLuhrs

March 10, 2016 at 6:12 pm

The fact it’s unproven doesn’t mean it doesn’t work, just that we have no idea if it works.
I think it is good that they are going ahead with it, despite their lack of research on humans. Proving/disproving this would probably take decades, even if there were adequate funding. So the real choice of something proven versus something unproven doesn’t exist in this realm. Small animal studies with shorter lifespans are, as of now, the only relevant tests even if they aren’t conclusive. I hope there will measures of ageing in humans that will point out if something is helping or not without waiting decades to see. But I think it’s unrealistic to expect to be able to buy a treatment at your friendly health food store that is proven yet somehow undiscovered by the World. It is good to point out that animal studies don’t prove a thing, besides the concept. They don’t translate to people. It’s like the old joke “What’s the problem using lawyers instead of lab rats for medical studies? ans. It’s hrder to extrapolate the results back to the human population”

Reply

Todd Kreider

April 14, 2016 at 4:49 pm

I was going to write what Allan Lindh wrote and think the critique was too harsh of a surprisingly good article. One person asked if any of the scientists were taking Elysium Basis. The founder, Leonard Guarente was quoted in another article when the news of the new company came out that he was taking Basis along with 82mg of aspirin, 2500 units of Vitamin D and 250mg of resveratrol.

Nobel Laureate Martin Karplus “said in a telephone interview that he was turning 85 this year and had asked the company to send him a supply of Basis as soon as it’s available. “I want to remind myself whether I really want to take it or not,” says Karplus.” (MIT Technology Review, Feb 3, 2015)

I haven’t tried Elysium Basis yet and will buy the ingredients separately if they cost less (so far they haven’t from what I searched). My friend who is 45 has tried it for 8 months and is very happy with Basis. She reported that a few years ago, she tried to go from 120 lbs to 110 lbs with diet and exercise and met her goal but was “starving” so quit. Last summer, after taking Basis for a while she again saw she had dropped to 110 lbs but that unlike before it was effortless and felt great. This is similar to when I took 500 mg of resveratrol for a few weeks and saw the same percentage drop in weight – 6%. (When I reduced the amount to 250mg a day, the weight came back.)

Human studies have been conducted through the NR wholesaler ChromaDex that showed safety and that 100 mg, 300 mg and 1000 mg of NR increased NAD in the subjects. They have started a new longer trial and the earlier trials will appear in a peer reviewed publication this spring. Three major universities have also completed NR trials but publishing takes time.

I agree that some detail of the mouse studies should have been summarized in the article. unlike your 6 out of 10 rating, i’d give the article a 9 out of 10.

Reply

    Kevin Lomangino

    April 15, 2016 at 7:17 am

    Todd,

    As we’ve said time and again, anecdotes are not evidence. The experience of a few people who’ve taken the supplement is not science. Claims about safety based on data that haven’t been published aren’t justified. Our critique of the story and the related product marketing stand.

    Kevin Lomangino
    Managing Editor

    Reply

      Todd

      April 16, 2016 at 9:40 am

      This simply isn’t true. Anecdotes are evidence, but I agree only some evidence. The peer review study will be out very soon, although I think only showing that NR significantly increases NAD in humans, just as it has been shown to in mice. I’m still waiting to take it, but I know what 500 mg of resveratrol did to me almost ten years ago. What I don’t know is if those good changes in weight loss and stamina would have continued had I not reduced to 250 mg. To say ” So it is essentially doing the same thing that other unscrupulous supplement sellers are doing — enriching themselves based on the “promise” of a product that hasn’t been shown to provide any health benefit.” was way over the top. Have you emailed the six Nobel Laureates at Elysium or the Nobel laureate who advises Chromaex? I thought not.

      Kevin Lomangino

      April 17, 2016 at 2:11 pm

      Todd,

      We’ll have to agree to disagree on this. I don’t see what point there would be to emailing the Nobel laureates at Elysium. Either a product has evidence showing a health benefit in humans or it doesn’t. This product doesn’t. End of story. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Kevin

Kathleen Bishop

April 24, 2016 at 6:46 pm

Thank you for breaking the spell as I was starting to go down the rabbit hole. Great article. When I read the article I got the same feeling I get when I watch an infomercial. So I went to their website which is pretty slick. The thing that made me research a little further was the lower price if you buy a 12 month supply. This is a classic ripoff tactic where they tap your bank account and it’s difficult to cancel. Sure enough on another site people were complaining about being charged after cancelation. Then I found this website and your fair and balanced critique. Good work. I will get a massage with that $50 a month!

Reply

Glenn Klausner

April 29, 2016 at 10:19 am

What everyone misses here, is the power of the human mind. The placebo effect is a proven feel good pill. If people are really convinced that the supplement they are taking is beneficial, their positive thoughts will trancsend into better health! Mind over matter exists, as numerous studies show positive people heal much faster than their negative counterparts. Let the placebo effect do its work even at high cost if it helps. Just a thought.

Reply

Tom Sharples

May 6, 2016 at 4:42 pm

Clearly it’s not reasonable or practical to expect a-priori results proving efficacy in humans – unless you’re willing to wait on hell of a long time for something not to happen. I’m not.

Reply

Thomas Heimann

May 23, 2016 at 8:16 am

Your article criticises the lack of human trials to establish efficacy. Mice are not humans.
Well, first of all mice do share some similarities that make them effective subjects to test certain treatments. Most importantly though, mice have a very short life span (approx 2-3 years max). So testing NR for example on mice and observing that a previously 2 year old mice is now exhibiting traits of a 6 months old mice is significant. To replicate this in humans would (given the human lifespan vs the lifespan of mice) take decades to come up with any conclusions.

The company Elysium does not make any direct claims but it does draw parallels. Naturally, if their product were to effectively slow down your aging or even reverse it to some degree at a cellular level, then the person taking the supplements would probably not notice very much.
So I do agree that this is another product sold to an audience of primarily aging people who want to stop or reverse the process. Some very smart people to indeed feel that aging is a condition rather than something that inevitably happens, and that extending our lifespan is something that absolutely will happen, as it has already. Just compare today’s life expectancy of an American or European, to that 100 years ago. It has increased by well over 75%.

Reply

eric peterson Ph.D.

June 20, 2016 at 4:58 pm

As a psychologist, I would suggest there might be a positive placebo effect; nevertheless, if the product is as good as the researchers believe, why fifty dollars a month? If it truly works I know clients would who happily pay thousands per month to potentially live longer… Helping rats live longer might be considered a worthy endeavor, but hardly cause celebre… Simply put, I smell a rat! Show empirical evidence the telomere length is restored and I will be the first in line to buy a decade’s supply… Stem cell research appears to provide far more reliable and verifiable results than supplements IMO… Remember what W.C. Fields once said…

Reply

Jacek Piterow

June 24, 2016 at 10:04 am

What bugs me the most is the secrecy about ingredients. If the goal of the scientists is to allow benefits seen in the lab for general human population (not greed) and expected results to be seen no sooner then after decades (none of inventors will make fortune in their lifetime) then why to hide information what is in it? It is very uncomfortable to take a chemical on daily bases unknowing what it is. Unless…. (and here you can write any conspiracy theory you can come up with). Saying all that I have purchased one month supply (for good of the science) and used it. Seems to get me off the Netflix and back to daily chores easier, but it may be a placebo effect. I think I will try another one. Placebo or not, things are getting done and that whats counts, unless I will loose my health to it then that will kinda suck.

Reply

    Marc Emrich

    July 31, 2016 at 6:09 pm

    I am about to start using Basis. This is in reply to Mr. Piterow’s comment. There are only two ingredients in Basis. Both available readily elsewhere, but Basis is as cheap or cheaper than trying to find the products alone and combining. Interviews that I have read from Dr. Guarante state that Resvatratol efficacy goes
    up with ingesting the NAD and so I plan to begin taking Resvaratol supplements as well. Here is a link to the ingredients-
    https://www.elysiumhealth.com/supplement-facts

    Reply