Feb 03 2014

Sharks Eat Life Caps

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.

and

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.

Conclusion

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:

poor regulation
multivitamin + made up bullshit ———-> cash

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13 responses so far

13 Responses to “Sharks Eat Life Caps”

  1. nybgruson 03 Feb 2014 at 1:05 pm

    For anyone curious, here is a link to the segment on Youtube. The link will take you directly to where the segment starts.

    I have to say that I am actually very impressed with the Sharks. All of them, not just Cuban. They actually went above and beyond to really slam him as a snake oil salesman. They had an excellent out purely for financial reasons and could have completely ignored the science, medicine, and safety of non-FDA approved supplements. But they didn’t.

    Worth watching the segment.

  2. SheRaon 03 Feb 2014 at 1:33 pm

    I’m curious about this statement”This leads to ketosis, which is a dangerous condition.” I’ve read that there are children with epilepsy that live in a state of ketosis for years with no long-term ill effects as part of their treatment plan. If you have the time, would you mind elaborating?

    Sincerely,
    SheRa

  3. Martin Lewitton 03 Feb 2014 at 6:17 pm

    You must be confusing ketosis with ketoacidosis. Ketosis is not dangerous, the heart and even most of the brain can switch to oxidizing ketones for energy. There is some residual obligate glucose need in the brain, medulla of the kidney and the retina. The energy of fat can be used to produce glucose but the substrates for gluconeogenesis are the glucogenic amino acids, which are mobilized from muscle which is the bodies store of protein.

  4. Bronze Dogon 03 Feb 2014 at 6:51 pm

    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.

    I may need some more info to digest Martin’s comment above and how it relates to/elaborates on this, but it puts one thing in perspective for me. I’ve heard the idea behind the Atkins Diet and similar low-carb fad diets is deliberately inducing ketosis. It sounds pretty bad.

    As for the Life Caps, yeah, it sounds pretty silly and dangerous. I’ve seen a bit of sci-fi and fantasy stuff that occasionally brought up super food pills and combat rations that looked way too small for me to believe they’d sustain someone. Yeah, you can cram a daily dose of vitamins and minerals into pill form, but expecting to live on that kind of strikes me as trying to sustain a car primarily on spare parts while neglecting to fill the tank. I imagine “empty calories” don’t look quite so bad when you’re concerned about surviving one more day.

    My apologies for using an engineering metaphor on a medical/biology issue, but I couldn’t think of a better one.

  5. ConspicuousCarlon 03 Feb 2014 at 6:52 pm

    I don’t know who all of these people are, but other than that one shameless guy they were all pretty much on top of the scam-trashing game. You rarely see mainstream news reporters interrogate something that well.

  6. TheFlyingPigon 03 Feb 2014 at 8:49 pm

    Just watched that segment. I thought the sharks did well and I appreciate Cuban’s obvious contempt. I wouldn’t expect them to know the specific physiological reasons why this product is snake oil, but they all smelled the bullshit (that is their specialty). It’s too much to hope for, but it would have been wonderful to see someone point out how dangerous it is to offer a pill that promises people the ability to safely go on a starvation diet. Some people could die, some people could experience permanent damage, and all would suffer muscle loss. Monstrous.

  7. Philosofrenzyon 03 Feb 2014 at 9:17 pm

    I read that we DO have a pathway–albeit a minor one–for converting fat to glucose, which is a relatively recent finding compared to what’s in a lot of the textbooks.

    I read it on a low-carb proponent’s site (http://blog.cholesterol-and-health.com/2012/01/we-really-can-make-glucose-from-fatty.html). It’s written in a for-beginners way, and possibly with an agenda– but I checked the claims that seemed implausible, and looked at these papers he referenced.

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/096800048790051X

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0968000486902562

    As an amateur I couldn’t find fault with it. Hopefully Dr. Novella can shed some light.

  8. DLCon 04 Feb 2014 at 1:54 am

    “Food in a pill” has long been the objective of research — usually by cranks.

  9. ConspicuousCarlon 04 Feb 2014 at 3:59 am

    I just watched it again, and:

    1. The big bald guy wasn’t really shameless, I think he may have just been playing along to tease the crank.

    2. Watching it the second time was REALLY fun, as I was half busy the first time and missed a lot of the snears. These scammers rarely get a good facial smack-down like that, and these people were just hammering him.

  10. BillyJoe7on 04 Feb 2014 at 7:27 am

    Martin Lewitt,

    “You must be confusing ketosis with ketoacidosis”

    I’m no expert but…
    Ketoacidosis is seen only in untreated or poorly treated diabetics and in alcoholics.
    Ketosis is seen in starvation states and in people on certain diets.
    Steven Novella is talking about starvation states and hence ketosis, not ketoacidosis.

    “Ketosis is not dangerous”

    I think you got that part right:
    http://eatingacademy.com/nutrition/is-ketosis-dangerous
    Perhaps Steven needs to revisit this.

  11. BillyJoe7on 04 Feb 2014 at 7:30 am

    …oops, I think I misread your post. Apologies. You are making the same point as I am.

  12. zorrobanditoon 04 Feb 2014 at 10:49 pm

    What’s the take-away here? That if you stop eating you will lose weight? This hardly seems revolutionary.

    There is so much snake-oilery around losing weight (eg the claim I saw waiting in the supermarket checkout line yesterday that some movie star will tell you how to lose 10 pounds a day for two weeks (in defiance of the laws of physics) that this Life Caps stuff seems relatively mild by comparison.

    But be consoled. It is unlikely that anyone who managed to become overweight in the first place will have the self control to live on a vitamin capsule for more than a few days.

  13. carbonUniton 10 Feb 2014 at 1:34 pm

    If he’s claiming that you can survive for days on this, wouldn’t that make it “food”??

    Talk about your unsinkable rubber duck, go look at the website for these clowns, www dot lifecaps dot net. The page title, which is even visible in search results, proclaims “LifeCaps: As Seen On Shark Tank | Survival Pill”. Also, the page has a big graphic touting the “Shark Tank SUPER SALE – Today only BUY NOW!”. The page has been like this since I looked at it on Feb 3rd after seeing Steve’s post. Either this is incredibly ballsey, or they um, tanked, gave up on this and are working on the next scam…

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