Clinical Trials: Yay or Nay?

Clinical Trials: Yay or Nay?

A Perspective From Our Founder

One of the biggest catch phrases around equine supplements these day is "clinical trials".


And one of the most common questions I see about supplements is: "Does it have peer reviewed scientific research done on it?"


Well...given that there are a minute number of products on the market that meet that criteria, the answer is generally 'no'. 


I'd love to tell you why but better yet, I'm going to explain why you should have at least a bit of skepticism about any product that claims to have those credentials. 


Is Science Perfect? 

I'm a pretty big fan of science and the scientific process. I am actually, technically a scientist after all.


But science isn't perfect and it doesn't have every single thing covered. 


The academic community is also riddled with flaws - just like every other one! 


Let me explain.... 


A very tiny number of all the hundreds of thousands of research trials and papers being written every year around the world make it into academic journals. 


That is, become 'peer reviewed' and published in an academic source with a good reputation. 


That's not because the vast majority of research is a pile of junk. 


It's because there are a limited number of journals with a limited number of annual publications and a limited number of peers to review all of that research! 


The majority of research, much of which is groundbreaking, brilliant and insightful - is gathering dust in the cupboards of basement labs and university libraries. 


Never to see the light of day. 


Never to be acknowledged or learned from or known about. 


You can understand why academia isn't for everyone!


How Does It All Work Though? 


When a scientist/ academic submits a paper for publication, it goes to the review panel of the journal they want it to be published in. 


They review it and either decide it is worthy of publishing or it isn't. 


But how do they decide? 


Most people on journal review panels are academics themselves.


They've published research which made significant and widely accepted conclusions.


They often know the people submitting research for publication because they're likely in the same field of study. 


And they are human. With embedded bias and their own agendas to preserve and promote. 


I'm not saying that all review panels are corrupt or that there's a conspiracy at work here. 


But it would be foolish to pretend that someone with friends or close colleagues on the review panel of a journal doesn't have a leg up.


In some cases, the people trying to get their papers peer-reviewed and published are on the panel themselves! If that's not bias, I don't know what is. 


We expect research to be free from bias. But even if the experiment/ trial itself is fairly robustly protected from bias, that doesn't mean it won't creep in at the publication stage. 


Why do so few supplements have research to back them up?


1. It's expensive! Most supplement companies, including Equinutritive are small businesses. We just don't have the resources to pour hundred of thousands of ££ into academic research. And if we did invest in this kind of research, we would have to dramatically up our prices. 


2. It won't allow us to make claims we're already prohibited from making. Supplement companies are restricted in what they can say about their products by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) and also by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD). 


Even if research proved scientifically that a supplement actually addressed a clinical issue or cured an ailment, the company still couldn't say that about their products! To do so they would have to register it as a medicine. Then they'd be restricted in how they can sell it. 


Not to mention, that the process would take years and an eye-watering amount of money. 


Don't forget, we're talking about small nutrition companies, not mega pharmaceutical companies!


So, one has to wonder - what would be the point for a small business in doing this? 


3. Academics don't want to research commercial products. Scientists and academics aim to conduct meaningful research with a wide scope and the broadest possible impact. In order to progress their careers and reputation, they select their research pursuits carefully. Conducting research on a specific branded product is a commercial exercise and totally unappealing to most researchers (at least the serious ones). 


4. Academic journals don't want to publish articles about commercial products. If publications start to publish papers of a commercial nature, they will cease to be taken seriously in the academic community. 


5. There are very few academics researching equine nutrition in the UK. There are only a small number of equine science programs/ schools available. There are only a small handful of post-graduate researchers at each of them. And, sadly, they're not particularly well funded and don't generally have great facilities or significant herds of research horses.


So, even if a supplement company wanted to go down the independent clinical research road, a lot of stars would need to align and a very large cheque would need to be handed over. 


Is clinical research the only data that counts?


Put simply, no. There are some people out there very keen to discredit and dismiss anecdotal evidence as irrelevant. But anecdotal evidence is actually very powerful. 


A huge amount of scientific research is conducted because of profound anecdotal evidence. Without it, the scientific community wouldn't know there is something worth researching in more depth. 


Anecdotal evidence doesn't tell us about cause and effect. It doesn't tell us exactly the degree of effect. And it doesn't tell us how an effect is being achieved. 


But that doesn't render it meaningless. 


When it comes to research on animals, scientists have to pass through extensive ethics criteria and applications. It's very hard to get approval for a high number of animals to be included in a scientific study. What's more - it's very hard to find a high number to participate. 


At Equinutritive, we trial our products on a minimum of 100 horses before we ever launch them for sale. 


We could never, ever hope to get 100 horses involved in a clinical trial. In fact, in a research trial, you'd be lucky to have access to 10 horses! 


Anecdotal evidence from 100+ horse owners gives you A LOT more data than 8 or 9 horses in a trial. That's when the data starts to really become significant.


It's not perfect. 


But neither is the coveted double-blind controlled trial approach, unfortunately.


Food For Thought 

I'm not anti-science or anti-research by any means. 


I love science. 


But science and business don't make for a good mix. 


Business corrupts science and the scientific method. Leads it astray. 


If you come across a commercially formulated supplement (not a single ingredient that has been researched and is being sold by many companies) that has scientific research to back it up, it's worth asking yourself the following questions: 


- Who paid for the research? If the company paid for it, the results will always (conveniently) be favourable! 


- Are directors, founders or others involved in the company closely connected to the publishing journal? 


- Or are they connected to the people on the review panel? 


You may not ever have a way of finding these things out. Though a quick look at the paper itself should shed some light on who funded it at least. 


Once you've taken a look under the lid, step back and think about what it all means.


Almost no supplements have scientific research to back them up. Almost no supplements ever will. And, personally, I hope it stays like that. 


That way, when you read a journal article, you don't have to worry about whether or not the researcher sold their soul to a company for the chance to do their work. 


I know all of that is a lot digest -  If you have any questions, you can always reach me at


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