Natasha Tracy is an award-winning mental health writers. She tested and critically evaluated an alternative medicine product called EMPowerplus Advanced during a time period she was suicidal and out of evidence-based options. Turns out that EMPowerplus Advanced is just a mixture of minerals and vitamins, amino acids and antioxidants. They claim that it can replace psychiatric medication and that they have over two dozens scientific papers published showing that it is effective. In reality, most of those are either case reports written by clinicians who believe in the product or plagued by lacking controls, having massive dropouts, being open label, having non-random self-selected samples or relying on self-reporting treatment effects.
Tracy wrote a few critical blog posts about the product and the company (called Truehope Nutritional Support) behind it in late 2013. A few days ago, The Synergy Group of Canada sent her a letter threatening with a lawsuit (webcite) for “slander/defamation” unless she removes all of her critical writings and issue a public apology within a week. In other words, an alternative medicine company that sells a “treatment” (against a variety of psychiatric conditions) that does not appear to be supported by solid scientific evidence has now attempted to silence a leading critic by threatening with legal action. This, of course, is known as a “strategic lawsuit against public participation” or a SLAPP lawsuit.
Truehope and the Synergy Group thought they could bully a mental health writer who criticized their alternative “treatment” into silence by threatening her with a lawsuit. They were wrong. Debunking Denialism supports Natasha Tracy’s freedom to critically investigate and write down her thoughts and arguments for all to see. Debunking Denialism reject the intellectually dishonest and cowardly SLAPP tactic. Perhaps unwittingly, Truehope and the Synergy Group has now made sure that the skeptical spotlight will exposing their dirty laundry.
What is EMPowerplus Advanced? Who are Truehope and the Synergy Group of Canada?
EMPowerplus Advanced is an alternative product that claims to successfully treat a wide range of psychiatric conditions such as depression, bipolar I and II, anxiety, ADHD and autism. However, they have included a quack Miranda warning on the product page of their store:
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
But if it is not intended to treat any disease, why are they promoting it as a treatment for these conditions? The quack Miranda warning is a true sign of pseudoscientific quackery. Anytime you see this, turn around and walk in the opposite direction. Also note that their product is sold for around 70 USD. Pretty expensive for 60 capsules with low-dose minerals and vitamins.
According to the mission statement, Truehope are committed to “overcoming regulatory issues” and “establishing a new mainstream culture of non-invasive healing”. What is meant by “overcoming regulatory issues” exactly? In a stunning case of an unguarded disclosure, it is possible that they want to overcome those pesky FDA regulations and sell their “treatment” to vulnerable people.
There is not a lot of information about Synergy Group of Canada, but according to the letter sent to Tracy, Truehope is a subsidiary of them.
What did Natasha Tracy write about EMPowerplus Advanced and Truehope?
Tracy wrote a total of seven articles about EMPowerplus Advanced and Truehope in addition to the post where she discussed the lawsuit threat. Here are the most hard-hitting ones:
Why Take the Alternative Treatment EMPowerplus for Bipolar?: Tracy describes why she wanted to try EMPowerplus Advanced — she felt like she was out of options — but cautions others that the product is not based on any credible scientific evidence and finishes of by discussing a story about the experience of another person who had a negative experience of the product (webcite).
Truehope and the Bipolar “Treatment” EMPowerplus: Tracy shows that Truehope claims that their product can replace psychiatric medication when there is very little in the way of solid scientific evidence for the efficacy of their product (despite the fact that they claim that it is appropriate for all ages). She ends by a critical discussion of alleged miracles cures (webcite).
What I Know about EMPowerplus by Truehope that You Don’t: Tracy details the invasive nature of follow-up calls, dangerous drug interactions and documents sent by the company. Turns out that they also promote Candida pseudoscience (including a dubious self-test) and suggest that buying more products will help. Truehope also tries to convince family and relatives to ensure that the person stays on the treatment. She also exposes the fact that the randomized controlled trial of the product for bipolar condition does not actually exist as it was terminated in 2009. If you are going to read just one of the articles about EMPowerplus, read this one. It is the article with most visitors and Tracy suspects that it was a key reason she got the lawsuit threat (webcite).
My Psychiatrist’s Reaction to EMPowerplus/Truehope Treatment: this article discusses the arguments and reactions by the psychiatrist that Tracy visits. Turns out that the concentrations of nutrients are very low and that there might be ingredients in the product not listed that are responsible for any benefit (webcite).
What are the details of the lawsuit threat?
Originally, Tracy had a link to the lawsuit threat but has since decided to take it down due to concerns over possibly violating copyright. This is a classic tactic used by people who want to intimidate critics into silence: not only do Truehope want her to remove all of the content, but they also try to prevent her from exposing their pathetic tactics.
Although the original link is removed, I managed to find the document via Google cache, and it can be found here. Below are quotes from the relevant sections of the letter and it looks like this falls under fair use. The relevant section starts with:
It has come to our attention that you have engaged in a campaign of slander and defamation in relation to Truehope and the product we produce.
One wonders what exactly they consider to be slander or defamation in her writings. It continued (ALL CAPS and grammatical/spelling errors in original):
It is clear that this SLANDER and/or DEFAMATION has taken the form of you publishing false statements concerning our products and programs to assist those suffering from mental illness in it’s various form, included but not limited to statements which you know or ought to have known were false concerning EMPower Plus and EMPower Plus Advanced. You have also facilitated a forum for others to engage in publishing defamatory statements regarding Truehope. We hereby demand that you immediately remove from your publications and cease and desist all remarks to third parties of such a nature within seven (7) days of the date of this correspondence. We further demand that you print a public apology and retraction of your defamatory and libelous statements on your Blog.
Getting a cease-and-desist letter filled with trivial grammatical and spelling errors is not exactly that threatening. Also, they never specify what exactly they consider to be slanderous, defamatory or libelous. That is a key sign of it being an attempt to silence a critic with threat of legal action. It finishes off by stating that (errors in original):
Your calumny will not be tolerated. Should you refuse to rectify your malfeasance within the aforesaid time we will refer this matter to our legal department to protect our good name by commencing legal action against you for injunctive relief as well as the recovery of damages, including punitive damages and costs on a solicitor client basis, without further notice to you.
Natasha Tracy is not backing off and neither should scientific skeptics
She wrote a short paragraph in response:
Now, I assume he thinks that as a little ol’ mental health writer, I would back down under threat of a lawsuit. Indeed, that would be the simplest thing to do. However, I am not backing down. I am not removing the articles and I am certainly not writing an apology or retraction. In short, Truehope can bite me.
It seems like Truehope will not get their way. Their lawsuit threat will not stop Tracy from hosting those articles on her website. Going forward, I recommend that Tracy and others in situations like her read the Popehat post So You’ve Been Threatened With A Defamation Suit.
To show that this kind of behavior is not acceptable, Debunking Denialism encourages readers to spread the news about the problems with the products offered by Truehope and about their intellectually dishonest attempt at silencing critics with a lawsuit threat. They should never be allowed to bully a mental health writer into silence with lawsuit threats. Let them truly experience the full force of the Streisand effect.