Dr. Charles W. Popper, M.D.
Psychopharmacologist and Psychiatrist
Harvard Medical School
Dr. Popper is one of the most knowledgeable psychopharmacologist and psychiatrists in the U.S., for this reason, Tony Stephens and David Hardy sought out to arrange a meeting with him through a mutual friend.
The following account of Dr. Popper’s initial experience with EMPowerplus is taken from testimony he gave as an expert witness in Truehope’s 2006 court victory over Health Canada. He testified that up to that time, he had assisted 100-150 of his own patients and consulted with other doctors on 300-500 more patients in the use of EMPowerplus. Dr. Popper has been using EMPowerplus in his private practice since 2000, and published a commentary on EMPowerplus in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry in 2001.
How did you first get involved or introduced to this supplement?
Somewhat reluctantly actually… I have for my entire career been very much the sort of mainstream child and adolescent psychopharmacology psychiatrist/physician who paid, frankly, next to no attention to nutritional factors, either in my professional life or in my personal life.
Interesting new findings
One day out of the blue, I received a phone call from Dr. Marcel Kinsbourne, who is one of the leading neuropsychiatric researchers, saying that he had gotten a call from a former graduate student of his, Dr. Bonnie Kaplan. He said that Dr. Kaplan has described getting some interesting new findings on the treatment of bipolar disorder using vitamins and minerals….
…Bonnie Kaplan was going to be coming to Boston around Thanksgiving…and she had made arrangements to meet with Dr. Kinsbourne to describe her new findings. The question was, would I be willing to come and listen?
And so I wound up going, and as it turned out, Dr. Kaplan came to McLean Hospital with David Hardy and Tony Stephan.
…Tony and David described a lot of anecdotal experience that they had had using this treatment in a fairly large number of people…
Dr. Bonnie Kaplan…had some patients that had been treated under blind conditions that would increase the validity of the observations. And I heard what they had to say and it struck me as very strange…
But as I listened to them, they made some claims about this treatment that struck me as pretty obviously ridiculous. For one thing, they said that this treatment…would effectively treat around 80 percent of bipolar patients. …80 percent just struck me as wrong, inflated, …unlikely. …There was nothing in psychiatry that was even looking in that general direction. So, their claim of an 80 percent response rate struck me as bogus. False.
…Their second claim…was that when they treated patients who were not previously on psychiatric medications with this EMPower stuff, that they could see clinical improvement within five days.
Now, we don’t have anything in psychiatry that works that fast… So, for them to say that they can start a treatment and five days later see an improvement struck me as ridiculous…
So, in my own mind I was thinking, “You know, that’s strike two. That’s…just two strong claims they’re making that are obviously false.”
Then they had a third claim…that when you give the EMPowerplus to patients already on psychiatric drugs…that the vitamins and minerals amplify the effects of the psychiatric drugs to such a degree that you had to lower the doses or otherwise the patients would get sick or side effects from their psychiatric drugs. Well, [there’s] nothing like that, no suggestive data even slightly in that direction in the field of psychiatry; nothing.
…So, I had a very clear response to that one. That one to me was strike three. “And what am I doing in this room? And I’ve been in this room for an hour! And life is short. And I gotta get out of here.”
“How do I get out?”
…I sat there for a minute trying to figure, “how do I get out of this small group without appearing too offensive?” So, what I said was, “Well, jeez, you know, I have a patient at 2:00” (which I didn’t; I had allotted two hours to hear these people but I had had enough). “…Could you give me a list of the ingredients just so I can sort of think about this and read up about these different minerals and vitamin effects on mental functioning?”
… I figured they’d give me a piece of paper… But they said they didn’t have a copy of it… and they said, “Here, why don’t you take this bottle?” I knew that the bottle cost $75. I didn’t want to trouble them wasting $75 on me. I said, “No, no, just e-mail me with a list of your ingredients and that’ll be great.” But David Hardy was pretty insistent…
Hiding the evidence
So…I took the bottle, said thanks…and as soon as I was outside the room…I literally took the bottle and put it under my coat, because I was going to be walking through McLean Hospital and I didn’t want people seeing this bottle. And when I got to my office I took the bottle and stuck it behind a stack of journals, because I was afraid some parent might see the bottle, or that some kid wandering around would pick up the bottle and say, you know, “Look mommy, what’s this?” or that the cleaning lady at the hospital overnight would see the bottle. I just didn’t want it in sight. So, I stuck it there and left it.
A call for help
Well, a really strange thing happened that day… That evening around 5:00, I got a call from one of my child psychiatry colleagues who said, “Could you please consult on my child as soon as possible, like, right now?” And frankly, if it was anybody else, I’d say, “Well, jeez, you know, I can certainly see you in a couple of months or three months…” but this was…a colleague and a friend. And I said, “Sure,” and made an arrangement to see the child and both parents that evening.
A bipolar child
The child was a 10 year old who had been having temper tantrums—severe temper tantrums—for two to four hours a day, every single day for about four months. These were really severe tantrums; the kid spinning on the floor…not even having…bodily control enough to stand up. …I knew that that was a bipolar child…
So, I told the parents that, you know, just as they feared, the child definitely did have bipolar disorder and that the treatment was going to be long and involved…and that the odds were going to be very good and something could be done to improve the situation, but it would be still leaving a fair amount of psychiatric symptoms even after we’ve done everything we can with typical psychiatric medications.
So, we started discussing the options but I explained to them that I didn’t want to start anything that day because…I always insist on seeing a child a second time, at least, before starting a serious psychiatric medication. So…I suggested that we could meet in a week…which, you know, the child psychiatrist knew perfectly well was the appropriate thing to do… But…the father said, “Isn’t there anything we can do? I mean we just — we can’t get through another week with this.” And I really didn’t want to give any because I wanted to see the kid clean and get a clean reading on what the child looked like at a different point of time.
…And we sat there for a few minutes sort of with this impasse…
“Let’s give it a try”
So, I said, “Look, you know, I heard about this really weird treatment today, and if you want to hear about it I can tell you about it.” And so…I went through the whole story with them. I told them about all three strikes and was very clear about my attitude about the treatment, but the parents felt, “Look, it’s something. Let’s give it a try.”
…So, I took the bottle out from behind the journals and handed to them. I was just thrilled to get it out of my office; just delighted… I remember thinking, “the cleaning lady…” and not to have to have that discussion.
So, I gave them the bottle. I said “…I’ll see you in a week and we’ll see where things are.” And I was perfectly satisfied that I was going get a clean reading on the kid.
So, the father calls four days later and he says, “The tantrums are gone! Not better, not a lot better, gone!” And that the kid wasn’t even irritable.
…But I thought, “The vitamins and minerals, obviously, would not have done that; no drug would have done that…”
So, I said to myself, “This is a placebo, clear and simple.” And I said to them, “Oh, that’s wonderful. That’s great. Keep that treatment going and I’ll see you in three days and we’ll take a look.” And I figured, “[In] a few more days that placebo effect is going to wear off, I’ll get my nice clean look at the kid and see what he’s about.”
“A totally different child”
So, I saw the kid three days later at the seven-day point, and he was a different kid. The first time I saw him, he was surly, nasty. Everything out of his mouth…if it wasn’t a curse, it felt like a curse—snarly… The second time, he was warm, thoughtful, intelligent, organized…very aware of the complexity of his feelings, very articulate about it; he was a totally different child.
So, I was floored and said to myself… “This is still a placebo. Placebos can last up to a couple of weeks in child psychiatry…” To them I said, “Isn’t that wonderful? Keep the treatment going,” and set an appointment to see them a week later.
When I saw him a week later, he was just like he was that second time: bright, articulate, sensitive, the whole bit. Very impressive kid.
…They had ordered up new bottles because the bottle that I had given them was a two week supply… I said, “well, you know, I still want to follow this closely” and I was expecting the kid to break loose within a few days…
“The tantrums are back full force”
The father called a couple of days later and said, “You know, we ran out of the EMPowerplus. The bottles…didn’t arrive. And so, the kid’s been off.” And he called me at the 48-hour point and he said, “The tantrums are back full force.”
So, I said, “Jeez, well, you know…we can get conventional psychiatric medications going now…or if you want, you can wait for when the bottle arrives and you can retry the stuff,” although I was definitely leaning toward conventional treatment. And they said, no, they wanted to wait. The stuff had been shipped. It should be arriving any day.
Well, it was…in the Christmas season. The package must have gotten lost in the mail… So, the kid continued with these temper tantrums every single day for about a week. And the family was about to go on vacation. They didn’t know what to do. The stuff hadn’t arrived. So, I had a list of the ingredients by that point and I said, “Look, I’ll tell you what. I’m going to go our local health foods store and start pulling ingredients off the shelf to try to approximate some mix of what was in the EMPowerplus formula.” It’s not that I believed it; it’s just that they were going to wait anyway, so, I may as well at least try to get some portion of that vitamin/mineral treatment to them.
“A hundred bottles”
So, I went…to the health food store and frankly sort of made a scene by…buying a hundred bottles to try and get the various ingredients in the right forms…and to try and get a reasonable balance… So I bought up the pile of bottles. I gave them to my friend and said, “You know, why don’t you try those? It’s the best we can do…” And I said to myself, “This is totally ridiculous…”
So they gave the kid this…mess of pills. They called me from vacation to say, “You know…this is not like the original formula, but… he’s about 60 percent better than he was, and that’s making the vacation workable.”
That was the first time I began to believe that maybe there was something to this—maybe…
They came back from their vacation. The package still hadn’t arrived. He…went back to school and interestingly, the teachers said that he was about 60 percent better, entirely on their own.
And then a few days after that, the package arrived… The child went back on EMPowerplus and the father called me four days later and said the tantrums were gone—totally gone.
…So, that’s several reversals, and each reversal strengthens the case that there’s a causal relationship between the drug treatment and the response. So, that, at that point, was really extreme, strong evidence, and it really made me pay attention.
Over the course of time…the family decided… “This is a lot of pills…We can try…lowering the dose little by little.” …They got down from 32 to 24 pills, and at that point the symptoms began coming back… So they just put it back to 32 and left it there.
He stayed on [EMPowerplus] for maybe another year. Zero tantrums. Zero over that entire period of time. And then again, they decided, “Hm, so many pills. It’s been such a long time. Maybe he can do with a few less.” So again they try to lower the number…and they found that the child needed the full dose…
So every single time there was a stopping or a reduction of the dose…there was a return of these obviously unmistakable symptoms, and every time he went back on the product, he improved and his symptoms were gone.
A couple of years later, he decided he just doesn’t want to do the pills… And so I work with the child and the family. We discontinued the EMPowerplus. He went on conventional medications and he did not badly with them. But they didn’t work as well. He…became sort of chronically irritable; not terrible, but…absolutely, unmistakably not his old self. And he complained that the medicines made his mind foggy, that he couldn’t think as clearly on the conventional medications. And this was, you know, a star student and…he really cared a lot about his brain working as well as it could…
Back on EMPowerplus
So, after several months…on conventional meds, he decided he wanted to go back on EMPowerplus… He made the transition back to EMPowerplus and he’s been fine ever since. No tantrums. He’s not messing with the dose. And he is a superstar student.
Experience with other patients
So, that was the case that got me interested… And I figured, you know, “This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but…I have other patients who are not doing great on conventional medicines. I really owe it to them to at least inform them about the treatment… I started telling certain of my…patients who even on good conventional medication therapy were having a hard time. …I told them about the treatment. I gave them all the provisos. I gave them all my doubts. I told them about the one case. And I said, you know, “I don’t know, I just don’t know, but this is a choice that you can make. If you want to give it a try, we can give it a try. If you want to stick with the conventional meds. that’s absolutely a reasonable decision.”
Some of them chose to try; some of them chose not to. And so, [I began], little by little, to have some experience with other patients, converting them from their…prior medication regimens to EMPowerplus.
“All three strikes…were true”
And as I began to work with other patients, and seeing that it worked, and getting more experience, I found several things. One was those three strikes. Itdid look like about an 80 percent response rate. For the people that went on EMPowerplus who were not previously on medications, they did show a response within a small number of days, faster than Lithium, faster than the drugs. And most baffling, that when we added EMPowerplus to a psychiatric regime, that they would get flooded with side effects…of the psychiatric medications that they were on, and that we really had to reduce the doses of conventional psychiatric medications… So, all three strikes, the things that got me out of the room initially, all three of them were true.
And over the years, subsequently, that I’ve been working with it, those initial findings that were being described by Bonnie and Tony and David, they’ve all held out.
It took me a very long time to not be extremely suspicious of the treatment… But it was so consistent… And, you know, the way [I] do it now differs very, very slightly from the method that…I understand they use at Truehope. But in essence, what they were describing…was absolutely right.
“My own opinion”
My…observations are basically those of a clinician—albeit trained to sort of work with new treatments and observe the subtleties of treatments that aren’t well understood—they’re still the observations of one clinician. We don’t have any completed controlled trials. We don’t have the kind of scientific data that would allow me to recommend to my colleagues that this is a treatment that ought to be used…
But…my own opinion is that this stuff works—in many cases dramatically and much better, for many people, than conventional medications have.
Dr. Charles Popper,
Harvard Medical School
Below the video is Dr. Popper’s published study on EMPowerplus. If you don’t have time to read the entire study, the last paragraph is the most informative statement.
What if some psychiatric patients could be treated with inexpensive vitamins and minerals rather than expensive patented pharmaceuticals? or what if some doses of psychiatric drugs could be reduced by the concurrent use of nutrients? The economic implications, for individual patients and for the pharmaceutical industry, are difficult to overlook. For now, micronutrient treatments and other nutritional approaches remain in a very early stage of scientific investigation. Depending on how this line of research develops, clinicians and researchers may need to rethink the traditional bias against nutritional supplementation as a potential treatment for major psychiatric disorders.
This video contains many insightful remarks that Dr. Popper presented at a mental health conference on the benefits of micronutrients in mental health.
For more information, please call 714-656-5652 or email info@SecondMessage.com.
Here are two links to recent articles on the 168th annual meeting for the American Psychiatric Association:
Psychiatrists May be Ready to Learn About Treating With Micronutrients
Questions About Jeffrey Lieberman’s “Notorious Past and Bright Future of Psychiatry”