MS, Parkinson’s ‘supplements’ concern
PARKINSON'S disease and multiple sclerosis (MS) sufferers are being targeted by companies claiming colostrum from cows can alleviate their symptoms, despite a lack of scientific evidence.
The products are available to buy over the internet and are accompanied by testimonials from people with multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease who claim the supplements have relieved their symptoms, including reducing tremors and tiredness.
A New Zealand company behind some of the supplements, New Image, sells its products, including powders and capsules, through direct marketing.
Sufferers have also been targeted by an advertisement featuring a testimonial in an Australian seniors' newspaper, which was found to breach sections of the Therapeutic Goods Act and Advertising Code, for an unnamed bovine colostrum product.
Bovine colostrum, like human colostrum, is a form of milk produced at the end of pregnancy which contains antibodies to protect newborns against disease.
Several websites promoting bovine colostrum-containing supplements from New Zealand claimed the products worked by stimulating adult stem cell production to repair parts of the body affected by degenerative disease.
A leading Australian stem cell expert said this would be impossible.
Professor Martin Pera from Stem Cells Australia and the University of Melbourne said bovine colostrum would probably be digested and broken down by the body before it could enter the bloodstream, let alone spur production of stem cells.
He said unless people were allergic to it, taking bovine colostrum would probably not cause any harm, but it would not do any good either.
"I'm not aware of any scientific evidence that colostrum is useful in any of those conditions (Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis)," Prof Pera told AAP.
Royal Melbourne Hospital neurologist Dr Anneke Van Der Walt, who treats MS sufferers, said the products targeted vulnerable people.
"It is of concern that there are these websites that advertise products as if they have proven benefits for people with multiple sclerosis or other neurological diseases," she told AAP.
"For the lay person, the information is often hard to verify as correct and it creates a false sense of hope that there's a miracle natural therapy.
"Therapies can only be applied to everyone with a particular disease when they have been trialled in a randomised control study."
Medical experts who spoke to AAP could only point to one study, in 1987, that was a randomised control study of colostrum in MS patients. The results were negative.
An emailed statement from New Image, whose products are featured on independent sellers' websites along with the testimonials, conceded there was a lack of hard evidence supporting the effects of colostrum on MS and Parkinson's.
The statement, attributed to Research and Development general manager Peter Lehrke said the colostrum supplements were not designed to treat disease, but to support a healthy gut and immune system.
Parkinson's Victoria chief executive Ann Burgess said the organisation was familiar with the products and had "great concerns".
She said Parkinson's sufferers, their family and carers should focus on evidence-based treatments.
An MS Australia spokesperson said the organisation made the same evidence-based recommendations to their members.