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Interview - Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ) and Dr. Louis M. Scarmoutzos

Annual Overview Issue: Sports Nutrition and Weight Loss


NBJ: What is your opinion of the quality of research in the sports and weight loss segment today?

Overall, I believe the quality of research in these areas is improving- particularly in the sports segment area.

Research in the sports segment is becoming increasingly more specialized and the quality of science is improving here. Sports fitness and nutrition is becoming a recognized scientific discipline in and of itself, particularly for professional athletes.

Research in the weight loss segment is coming of age- the baby boomer demography is aging and baby boomers are looking for increasingly more ways to increase longevity and to lead healthier and happier lives.

Aging baby boomers are placing increasingly more demand for weight loss and dietary information and associated products which, in turn, places a large economic incentive on companies and individuals to deliver or cash in on this demand.

The typical baby boomer and consumer wants reliable information and efficacious products and wants it all now- at a pace and timescale in which science cannot deliver. This mismatch provides a ready entry for exaggerated or erroneous product claims, which may take years to overcome or disprove by quality research studies.

As an aside, there is some very interesting work going on in the area of obesity and genetics that proteomics will likely shed additional light on in the years to come.

NBJ: Is science being used inappropriately for marketing purposes?

This is always an ongoing conflict between science and marketing- particularly in the private sector. Every company (and product) is trying to gain an edge, an advantage, particularly in the fiercely competitive sports and weight loss segment.

In gaining an edge, scientific results and claims often get exaggerated or misinterpreted. This occurs consciously or unconsciously- first by one company or entity, and then not to be left out, by another. Soon the results of the original research study(s) are often forgotten or are wholly misinterpreted.

This is one reason why, in the US, the FTC polices product claims and cooperates closely with the FDA in product areas related to human healthcare.

The timescale for business and science also differs dramatically. Science generally moves very slowly, particularly the health sciences- more slowly than most people realize. We all hear about the "Eureka" discoveries- but that's the exception to the rule.

Business operates at a much more rapid pace. And the pace of business appears to be increasing as private sector interests expect more immediate returns on their efforts and investments.

The pressures on businesses for new products and additional profits are enormous. And sometimes the line gets crossed.

The scientific profession isn't perfect either. There is bad science or junk science going on out there- led by the poorly trained or misguided.

NBJ: Has there been any improvement in how companies conduct and use science?

No, not really. Although there has been an increase in the pace at which benchtop science is being translated into products. And I believe this pace is about to increase even more for the health sciences here in the United States (US).

The Director of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently released (September 2003) a new NIH initiative, called a "Roadmap for the Future", that intends to accelerate the medical research process. The NIH is committing more than $2 billion dollars over the next 6 years to speed discoveries from "bench to bedside to practice".

All of the NIH's 27 Institutes, including the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), are part of this program and will play a role in its implementation and in its funding, both internally and externally.

The NIAMS is the primary NIH research organization for Sports Fitness and the NIDDK is the primary NIH research organization for Nutrition and Weight Loss/Dieting.

NBJ: In light of the exodus from ephedra, do you have any opinion on the current roster of weight loss ingredients in terms of their maturity and/or potential as efficacious ingredients in weight loss supplements:

--thermogenic ingredients (green tea, garcinia cambogia, caffeine, citrus aurantium etc.)
--starch and fat blockers (bean extracts, chitosan, etc.)
--CLA and EFAs role in body composition.

Currently, I don't see anything that really excites me with the thermogenic ingredients and the starch and fat blockers. I think the burden of proof still falls on these ingredients in demonstrating their efficaciousness and health claims.

In contrast, there is some high quality research studies associated with CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) and the EFA's (Essential Fatty Acids). I believe these materials merit close attention and watching- at the very least they are showing some very promising and positive health effects in areas other than diet and weight loss.

Although in vitro studies with CLA and the EFA's have been positive, in vivo results remain mixed- once again demonstrating the cautiousness which needs to be applied when translating results from the benchtop to practice.

As an aside, I'm a real believer in limiting your caloric intake to such an extent that it is equal to or less than your caloric output. I believe that is the only certain and relatively risk-free way to maintain or lose weight based on what we currently know.

* * * * *

Dr. Louis M. Scarmoutzos, or "Dr. Lou" as his colleagues and friends fondly call him, is a Managing Partner and Founder of MVS Solutions Incorporated- a Research and Development (R&D) company and consulting firm that provides scientific, technical and business assistance to business, government, and nonprofits in the biotech, chemistry, life sciences, medical device and technology and related industries. Dr. Lou can be reached at lscarmoutzos@mvssolutions.com or at (617) 283-2182.

The Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ) covers the nutrition industry including supplements, herbal and vitamin sales reports, organic foods, functional foods, nutraceuticals, sports nutrition and natural personal care. Additional information concerning NBJ can be found on the Internet at www.nutritionbusiness.com




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