Feb 03 2014
Mark Cuban is generally known as the skeptic on the popular show, Shark Tank. In the show, investors hear pitches from inventors looking to sell part of their company for investment capital. On a recent episode the sharks were pitched a product known as “Life Caps.”
The product website declares:
LifeCaps is the ultimate solution when food is not an option. Great tasting and simple, you can take LifeCaps with you everywhere you go.
LifeCaps contains the perfect amount of nutrients that work together with our proprietary micro-particulate blend to create a metabolic trigger. This allows your brain and vital organs to utilize the sugars, proteins and carbohydrates that are stored within body fat for energy.
LifeCaps is bioavailable with the vitamins and nutrients that are essential on a daily basis for intake. Through the Krebs Cycle of the metabolization of the body, it absorbs in to the bloodstream within 20-25 minutes of ingestion. Once absorbed, LifeCaps is designed to maintain efficiency for approximately 240-280 minutes (depending on the individual and their circumstances).
In other words, LifeCaps is a multivitamin. It also contains the herb, hoodia, as an appetite suppressant (which I will get to below), but otherwise it is a multivitamin. This is the result of the lax regulations in the US – you can sell a vitamin pill with all kinds of claims and implied claims, say that it’s “scientifically formulated” and market it toward a specific use – when the pill is just vitamins.
Creator, Daryl Stevenett, is not a scientist. He has no background in nutrition, medicine, or biology. He has done no research on his product. He did not consult with experts. He simply produced a multivitamin and invented some weird claims for it.
Stevenett’s general claim is that if someone is in a disaster (trapped in a mine, for example) then taking a multivitamin will help offset the negative health effects of going days without food (you still have to drink water). This is trivially true in that you will still get the vitamins. However, when going without food, vitamin deficiency is not an immediate problem. You will die of lack of caloric intake long before vitamin deficiency sets in. Maybe the vitamin C will help a bit.
Stevenett pretends as if there is something magical about his multivitamin that will allow you to go days without eating. His specific pseudoscientific claim is that his formula (a multivitamin) will allow you to live off of your stored fat, just like a bear during hibernation.
This is complete BS. While the sharks, especially Mark Cuban, slammed the product as snake oil, they did not key in on this massive bit of nonsense.
Bears and other hibernating animals evolved specific metabolic pathways that allow them to survive off of stored body fat for months. Humans do not have these metabolic pathways, period. We do burn fat for calories, but we also need to burn glucose (the brain, for example, needs glucose). We do not have the pathways to make glucose from fat, so instead we burn protein – muscle – in the form of ketones. This leads to ketosis, which is a dangerous condition.
There is no magic formula that will give humans the metabolic pathways to live off body fat. That is pure nonsense. There are no “sugars, proteins and carbohydrates that are stored within body fat.” (BTW – sugars are carbohydrates.) The phrase:
Through the Krebs Cycle of the metabolization of the body, it absorbs in to the bloodstream within 20-25 minutes of ingestion.
Is completely meaningless gibberish. It’s almost as if someone who is completely scientifically illiterate looked up some terms in a biology textbook or online and then arranged them randomly into sentences.
These claims are potentially dangerous. At best they can give someone a false sense of security – if a multivitamin is your disaster plan, thinking that they will somehow allow you to go days without food without ill effects, you may forgo other actually effective methods, such as high caloric density emergency food.
Further, while the product is not explicitly marketed as a diet pill, it is clear that people will use the product as such. Stevenett noted that he lost about a pound a day while surviving on his magic pills. In the Shark Tank Success blog, a promoter writes:
What’s interesting to note and perhaps even a bigger market for this super vitamin, is marketing LifeCaps also as a dietary/ weight loss supplement. Even if you could survive for 2 weeks with nothing but a bottle of Life Cap’s and plenty of water (Entrepreneur Daryl Stevenett survived for 17 day’s) you’re still going to lose some excess body weight while living off this food pill that’s more like a meal in a capsule.
No, it’s not a meal in a capsule. It’s a multivitamin. This, of course, is even more dangerous – convincing people they can safely fast for days because of this magic pill that does some biological mumbo jumbo.
What about the hoodia? A recent review of the literature found:
Publications based on scientific studies of key aspects such as in vivo biopharmaceutics, the biological activity of all chemical constituents, clinical efficacy, and especially safety are insufficient or completely absent causing great concern as H. gordonii is one of the most widely consumed anti-obesity products of natural origin.
Hoodia is regulated as GRAS – generally regarded as safe – which is partly based on prior use, but mostly just the regulatory version of the naturalistic fallacy. There is evidence to suggest possible toxicity from hoodia, but because it’s a “natural” herb used by indigenous people (who apparently have transcendent knowledge about such things) it is assumed to be safe.
As others have pointed out, there is no failed presentation on Shark Tank. Life Caps just got free advertising before millions of viewers, many of whom probably walked away with the single fact , “lose a pound a day,” resonating in their heads. All the stuff about not being FDA approved and no research are just details.
Mark Cuban was correct – this is pure snake oil. It is just the tip of the iceberg, however. There is a huge market for what are essentially just multivitamins with bogus claims of being “scientifically formulated” for some specific purpose. Airborne comes to mind – designed by a teacher to “boost the immune system.”
There real magic formula is this:
multivitamin + made up bullshit ———-> cash
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