An Analysis of Rexall Showcase International’s “Doctors Speak Out” Audiotape

Stephen Barrett, M.D.
July 19, 1999

The tape begins with the statement, “Rexall has been one of the strongest names in American business, and has been supplying quality health products to customers for over 90 years.” This statement is misleading because Rexall Showcase International (RSI)’s parent company merely bought the rights to the Rexall name in 1985 and had nothing whatsoever to do with the operation of the company prior to that time.

The tape then states that “thousands of distributors and customers have lost weight and kept it off with the company’s weight management products, and many have dramatically reduced their serum cholesterol levels.” To substantiate this statement — which implies that a typical user who makes no changes but merely uses RSI products would achieve weight reduction and permanent weight control — it would be necessary to collect data systematically for many years.

Specific Claims

The bulk of the tape consists of testimonials from 33 persons who identify themselves as health professionals: 19 physicians, 5 dentists, 2 chiropractors, 2 nurses, 1 microbiologist, 1 dietitian, 1 podiatrist, and 1 mental health worker. Most of the reports allege that one or more individuals experienced a significant drop in blood cholesterol as a result of taking Rexall’s BiosLife product, but some of the reports contain no actual numbers or time frame. None of the reports indicate whether the individuals made dietary changes, exercised more, or did anything else (such as taking a cholesterol-lowering drug). Other claims included:

  • Calmplex stopped patients from being fearful of the dentist.
  • Patients have been helped to eliminate irritable bowel
  • Unspecified RSI products “must stimulate immune system or something of that nature.”
  • Defendol (a homeopathic product) has ended symptoms of severe allergies; enabled a patient with chronic cough to sleep at night without coughing; cleared someone’s sinuses; enabled an allergic child to become less congested; and has tremendous potential for treating patients with neurogenic bladder, urinary obstruction caused by an enlarged prostate, or have allergies.
  • An RSI homeopathic product permanently relieved symptoms of burning and indigestion.
  • An RSI skin-care product caused facial disfiguration related to pregnancy disappear within two months.
  • Stopped a man from getting attacks of congestive heart failure.
  • Stopped attacks of esophageal reflux (pain and burning due to stomach contents backing up the esophagus).
  • Prescribing RSI’s homeopathic products can help solve the problem of “millions of hospitalizations due to adverse drug incidents.”
  • BiosLife enabled a woman to achieve “immediate resolution” of a 5-year problem with severe irritable bowel.
  • BiosLife plus Cardiovascular Essentials have normalized blood sugar levels and enabled several diabetic patients to stop taking blood sugar medicine. One patient avoided amputation of a leg.
  • Of over 400 patients placed on Rexall products, those who use them regularly have “incredible results.”
  • BiosLife plus Calmplex (a homeopathic product) dropped one doctor’s blood pressure from 190/110 to normal.
  • Estevol skin care cleared up a precancerous skin problem.
  • BiosLife will protect you against diseases you don’t know you have.
  • Shoulder pain stopped three weeks after taking (unspecified) products.
  • An irregular heartbeat present for 18 was “98% relieved” after six months on a Cellular Essentials program.
What Do the Data Mean?

To be considered valid, data must be accurately and systematically recorded, subjects should be typical of the population studied, there should be no confounding variables, and the experiences of product users should be compared to similar individuals who do not use the products. In this case:

  • It is impossible to judge from the tape whether the reports, some of which were secondhand, were truthful or accurate.
  • For many of the claims, it is impossible to tell whether the reported changes were caused by taking the products or were merely natural variations in the person’s condition.
  • Cholesterol test results can vary according to the method used, the proficiency of the laboratory, and individual variations. The anecdotes presented in the tape contain insufficient data to judge the extent or duration of the changes.
  • The anecdotes do not indicate whether other measures such as exercise, dietary changes, prescribed drugs, or other products known to lower cholesterol were used.
  • The reports do not indicate how many people took the products. Thus, even if all of the results were caused by taking the products, it is impossible to judge what percentage of people using the products would have similar results.
  • Weight-reduction alone could account for many of the reported improvements in cholesterol, blood-sugar and blood pressure. It is not possible to tell from the reports whether weight-reduction occurred as a result of the products or other lifestyle changes.
  • An optimal cardioprotective program should include analysis and correction of all modifiable risk factors, not just cholesterol values. The reports do not indicate whether the subjects were appropriately counseled and made other important changes.
  • Increasing the fiber content of the diet can reduce or eliminate the symptoms of irritable bowel. However, in many cases, merely increasing dietary fiber would not be enough. Optimal management should include analysis and control of all factors that might trigger or irritate the condition.
Key Questions about BiosLife

Since soluble fiber can help to reduce total cholesterol levels, I would expect that many people using BiosLife (a high-fiber product) would experience a reduction, although not necessarily as high as those reported. However, the following questions should be asked:

  • Has Rexall done any well-designed research to test whether a typical user is likely to have results similar to those reported in the testimonials? If not, why not? If so, have the results been submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal?
  • BiosLife is expensive. Has Rexall done any research to test whether using it is cost-effective? For example, are there any data showing that it is more effective or cost-effective than using oatmeal?
  • Although physicians who prescribe BiosLife may counsel their patients appropriately, nonphysician distributors lack the training to do so. I have been consulted by two people whose doctors prescribed BiosLife for their high cholesterol levels. Neither was being optimally managed.
The Bottom Line

There is good reason to believe that BiosLife is an effective product, although the cost of using it might be much higher than the cost of increasing dietary fiber with foods. The raw assertions made for the other products do not strike me as credible.

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This article was posted on July 19, 1999.