Sick Patients Are Pumped Full of Feed-Tube Formula of Corn Syrup That's Produced by ... Nestle?
When family nurse practitioner Susan Lavelle learned that a neighbor of hers developed the autoimmune disease systemic sclerosis and couldn’t naturally ingest food last year, she became concerned about the feeding tube formula doctors were recommending. The formula, called Ensure, was full of processed, sugary ingredients.
Ensure is produced by Abbott Nutrition, a company that competes with the multinational conglomerate company, Nestle to produce most of the feeding tube products available.
To give an example of what Ensure is made of, the first six ingredients—i.e. the most highly concentrated ingredients—of 36 items listed in the Ensure “Powder Vanilla” product are, in order:
“Corn Syrup, Corn Maltodextrin, Sugar (Sucrose), Corn Oil, Sodium & Calcium Caseinates, Soy Protein Isolate and Artificial Flavor.”
“[Ensure is] a very traditional way the medical system addresses getting calories into people because they can’t swallow or because they need more calories from some disease problem,” says Lavelle, noting that when she worked in hospitals Ensure was the only feeding tube formula she remembers them using.
She continues, “The problem is it’s loaded with sugar. It’s got refined sugar in it, like corn syrup. It’s got the concentrated milk protein casenite. … It’s processed food. Basically, it’s not real food.”
Nestle and Abbott Nutrition produce a majority of feeding tube formulas on the market, and Lavelle says hospitals and care facilities typically recommend Ensure and similar products to feeding tube patients.
Lavelle is an instructor through the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine’s “Food For Life” program, and an advocate of unprocessed, whole foods as a means of promoting health. She says she has found it discouraging that the medical system addresses most issues from a pharmacological or procedural standpoint, with little-to-no emphasis on lifestyle interventions like nutrition.
“When I talk to people [about health], I start with food because I think it makes the biggest difference and gets to the root of the problem,” she says.
So, when Lavelle’s neighbor was told to drink Ensure, she asked around the medical and nutrition communities in search of a feeding tube formula that was made up of whole, non-processed foods.
“Everyone said, ‘We can’t help you,” she says.
It was not until this year that Lavelle discovered the first ever shelf-stable, organic, whole foods feeding tube formula on the market. It is called Liquid Hope.
The Story of Liquid Hope
Robin Gentry McGee, a health and lifestyle coach and chef, faced a dilemma when her father suffered a brain injury and coma in 2005. The feeding tube food her father was consuming consisted of what McGee calls “essentially sugar water.”
McGee says very early on in her father’s treatment she picked up the feeding tube formula can he was using at the doctor’s recommendation, read the ingredients list, and realized it was “garbage.” She calls it, “the can that changed her life,” adding that to this day she has kept the can as a reminder.
That can began McGee’s search for a clean, whole foods-based formula to feed her father. After scouring the Internet, health food stores, supermarkets, and everywhere else she could think to look, she couldn’t find anything of the sort. So, McGee, then a chef with a background in whole foods nutrition, decided to create the formula herself.
“I basically created it because I had to,” she says. “I was trying to save my dad’s life, and to me giving him the high fructose corn syrup sugar water was not an option—unless I couldn’t do it myself—but I had to try. And, I was able to successfully create it with the oversight of a doctor who was an internist.
McGee began looking at a functional foods model and researched foods with certain properties she felt could benefit her father. The formula contained 25 different organic, whole food ingredients like super foods and omega three fatty acids.
Her father soon recovered.
“Within six weeks the healing was [so] profound that his M.D. called me up and told me it was a miracle,” McGee said in an interview in December 2012. “But it wasn’t a miracle, it was nutrition.”
McGee went back to school to study integrative nutrition further, and began working with individuals to help develop recipes for their loved ones, which some tried to bring into hospitals. She says, however, that hospitals in the US very rarely allowed the “home made” formulas to be used because the ingredients were not yet shelf stable, had to be kept on ice, and were not produced through a certified manufacturer.
However, after six years of preparation and research, McGee launched the first-ever organic, non-GMO, whole foods, vegan, and shelf stable feeding tube formula to be released through a USDA-certified, FDA-approved facility. She called it “Liquid Hope,” after the nickname she gave her father’s original formula.
The shelf-stable Liquid Hope formula is now a product of McGee’s company, Functional Formularies. It consists of the following ingredients, in order: filtered water, garbanzo beans, green peas, carrots, whole grain brown rice, flax oil, whole grain brown rice protein, quinoa, sweet potato, miso, broccoli, almond butter, kale, garlic, turmeric, rosemary, ginger, wakame, all of which are organic, and a vitamin blend, which is also listed.
This first ever shelf-stable formula for feeding tube patients went on the market only months ago, and McGee has already sold out. Two hundred people are currently on the waiting list.
She brought Liquid Hope to this year’s Natural Products Expo West, which promotes healthy food products from around the world. Functional Formularies won first place in the expo’s Nexty award in the category of natural, organic, and functional foods and beverages. It is the first of its kind, and challenges the status quo for hospital feeding formulas.
According to the endoscopic nursing news website, Endonurse.com, about half a million people in the US rely on feeding tubes for their nutrition.
While 200 people are on McGee’s waiting list, 30 people are currently using the Functional Formularies feeding tube formula. Of those 30, about 10 percent of them are hospitalized. While care facilities tend to place patients on traditional, mass-produced formulas, McGee says hospitals and other care facilities have been generally receptive of the new Liquid Hope product when patients have requested it and paid for it themselves.
FDA Bans Testimonials
Laurie Sherman found Functional Formularies online after her husband was diagnosed with stage four throat cancer in November 2012. Because treatment would prevent him from eating food through his mouth, he required a feeding tube, put in through his stomach. Sherman says once the feeding tube was in place, the doctors and nutritionist at the hospital said that her husband should take the formula Nutren 2.0—a Nestle brand concoction. Among the top ingredients in Nutren 2.0 are corn syrup solids and sugar.
“I kept asking them if he should be taking anything with better nutritional value and they only told us that he will be fine on that formula,” she says in an email. “I disagreed with them, and wanted my husband to have the best nutrition possible. I did not want him taking the other formula because it was full of dairy and contained processed sugars.”
Sherman admits that at the time she was not especially informed about nutrition, but says she thought that processed sugars and dairy couldn’t be the healthiest thing for a sick person.
“I did extensive Internet searching and by chance came across Liquid Hope,” she says. “I was impressed with the fact that it did not contain anything bad for a persons health. It took me only reading the web site and seeing the ingredients to decide to purchase the formula. I figured that it couldn't be bad for him since it was all natural.”
The doctors wanted Sherman’s husband to receive about 2200 calories a day, the standard caloric intake for people of his body size. Liquid Hope met the requirement, and even surpassed the caloric intake provided by other more generic formulas. Taking Liquid Hope allowed Sherman’s husband to take in more calories in a day than the other formulas. A single 12-ounce bag of the formula contains about 440 calories. Alternatively, eight ounces of Nutren 2.0 contains about 265 calories, so Sherman’s husband would have to eat more of the alternative formula to get the same calories available in one bag of Liquid Hope.
Sherman notes that her husband was on the other formula for about three weeks prior to receiving Liquid Hope. Her husband received his first chemotherapy treatment prior to switching to Liquid Hope, and came away vomiting and feeling “very bad.”
“Once my husband started taking Liquid Hope I noticed that his reaction to the treatment has improved,” she says, adding that when he used Liquid Hope he did not vomit at all. “During his treatment he had lost a lot of weight at first. After taking Liquid Hope his weight loss slowed down considerably.”
After his treatment, Sherman’s husband had to wait two months for the treatment to finish working. When the two months were up and he went back to the doctor they could not find any cancer left in his throat.
Sherman credits Liquid Hope as being the number one factor behind her husband’s recovery. She says she believes her husband would be in the hospital now having a major surgery to remove residual cancer if he’d remained on the “unhealthy formula” that the doctors wanted him to use.
“My husband is still smoking as of today even though he knows he is not supposed to,” Sherman says. “This is why I think nutrition and Liquid Hope has helped him with a successful outcome. If my husband can get through this part of his life with just changing his nutritional intake, then anyone can have as much success as he has had.”
McGee says she’s brought to tears nearly everyday by emails and phone calls from people who, like the Shermans, have received her product. But, while McGee has eight years worth of positive customer testimonials, she cannot put any of them on her website, nor share them with the press, due to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) restrictions.
According to the FDA’s truth-in-labeling regulation policy, even customer testimonials that mention medical conditions improving following the use of a product can automatically classify that product as a drug. Since that “drug” would not be FDA approved, it would in turn be considered an illegal drug.
So, McGee doesn’t feature any of the customers’ glowing reviews of Liquid Hope on her website. In fact, she even decided to omit parts of her own story about the original development of Liquid Hope and experiences regarding her father’s conditions following an FDA review of the company website.
“Even though it’s my own story—I have the blood work, I have all the doctors reports to show—I had to change my story,” she says.
Additionally, like many other food producers, McGee no longer labels Liquid Hope as “Non-GMO,” or non-genetically modified, even though she has lab tests for each ingredient in the formula to prove that they are in fact not GMO.
According to the FDA, companies cannot advertise their products as non-genetically modified using labels like "GMO-Free" because, the agency says, guaranteeing a product to be free of GM material is virtually impossible. Instead the labels have to say the food was not produced through bioengineering. The FDA has also decreed it may take legal action against companies that violate these guidelines.
Despite having to re-label her product, McGee says she has received overwhelmingly positive responses to Liquid Hope.
Susan Lavelle says she predicts that the challenge for McGee and liquid hope will be getting individual patients and practitioners to ask for Liquid Hope.
“You’ve got these big conglomerate corporations that pretty much have a stronghold on the marketplace,” she says. “Organizations probably get a better price for the junk food, so patients, families and practitioners like me are gonna have to push for [Liquid Hope].”
Lavelle says she is also interested to read clinical studies that compare Liquid Hope to the more common feeding tube products on the market.
McGee says she, plans to begin clinical studies to test the product against commercial brand formulas, and is searching for an MD to partner with for that project.
“What I assume is clinical trials are going to have to be done, and that’s what the medical community at large wants to see,” she says. “They want to see clinical trials of taking [Liquid Hope] in and studying it over the course of one, two three year period in controlled studies with a number of patients.”
While researching the possibility of long-term clinical trials, Functional Formularies plans to begin charting progress for at-home patients who are on feeding tubes and using Liquid Hope.
“We can get them to work with their doctors to start charting the outcomes such as where they’re showing improvement, what their blood work looks like, etc,” McGee says. “People who began using Liquid Hope from first shipment have all done really great on the formula. It’s really heartwarming for me to see people having such great luck and success with it, and they’re so happy to have it. People are so grateful because there’s no other option, so for them to be able to use real food, or give their loved ones real food, it’s amazing.”