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A safe study aid? New supplement aims to naturally increase attention

Two University of Miami law students have long seen the abuse of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) prescription drugs as a problem in students under intense academic pressure.

Jason Neufeld and Justin Hertzberg said they have found a solution in Focuset, a dietary supplement they said may relieve some of the symptoms associated with ADHD (which is also commonly known as simply ADD). Their goal is to let fellow students know that there is an alternative to some of these dangerous and addicting drugs.

Neufeld and Hertzberg, both third-year law students in the joint Law/MBA program, are not alone in their belief. According to a study conducted by Partnership for a Drug-Free America, one out of 10 teenagers has tried prescription stimulants such as Ritalin and/or Adderall, without a doctor’s order, and feel that these drugs help them prepare for a test.

Over the summer, Neufeld and Hertzberg started a new company, Joint Degree Labs, with a new dietary supplement called Focuset.

Although neither has a background in the medical or pharmaceutical field, they said they checked and compared different formulations from a variety of naturopathic consultants, who specialize in the application of natural remedies, to come up with the ideal supplement that they said is formulated to support enhanced focus, concentration, mood, brain function, memory and alertness.

Neither claim to mimic nor to treat the actual symptoms of ADD/ADHD, and believe that those with the actual disorder benefit from taking the prescription drugs. However, both see their product as a way for those without ADD/ADHD to maintain a healthier lifestyle.

“If you can find a natural way to help yourself, why not do that over a prescription drug,” Neufeld said.

Neufeld and Hertzberg differentiate their product from others that might be on the market by the fact that they have an American Psychiatric Association certified psychiatrist, Dennis Padla, MD, actively endorsing their product.

“We have a lot of pride in what we do and we really didn’t want to be those type of businessmen that had a product that was a scam, that was not as good as they said it was,” Hertzberg said. “We would not recommend this to someone else that we wouldn’t take regularly ourselves.”

According to Hertzberg and Neufeld, all of the ingredients in their supplement are good for the body and they took out any ingredients that indicated any negative side affect. They said Focuset does not cross the blood brain barrier as quickly as drugs such as Ritalin, thus reducing dependency.

Hertzberg said that their product includes a list of seven active ingredients, among these include rhodiola rosea root extract, green tea leaf extract and yerba mate leaf extract.

The testing for Focuset relied on research on the individual ingredients in the product as well as testimonial from the people that they have had taking their product.

“For us, to produce a real quality clinical trial and to be FDA approved, this is a multi-million-dollar endeavor,” Neufeld said. “You are going to want to commission a university so that your study has sound backing and this is just not something that we are prepared to do.”

Tanya Edwards, MD, a family medicine practitioner who divides her time working as the medical director for the Center of Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, reviewed the properties in Focuset.

“Green tea extract and yerba mate are all pretty high in caffeine, although the dosage [in the product]is not very high,” she said. “Not unlike drinking a cup of coffee, if the drug is slow release, the overall effect would be sipping a cup of coffee over the period of a day.”

Edwards said that the product contained a lot of anti-oxidants, as shown in rhodiola rosea root extract, among others, which help stabilize the free radicals found in the blood stream, protecting cells from turning cancerous. However, she remained critical that the product, like similar products on the market, has not been tested in a clinical trial.

According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, part of the National Institute of Health, website, “Manufacturers do not have to provide FDA with evidence that dietary supplements are effective or safe; however, they are not permitted to market unsafe or ineffective products. Once a dietary supplement is marketed, FDA has to prove that the product is not safe in order to restrict its use or remove it from the market.”

As a result of the FDA procedures for introducing a dietary supplement, Edwards remains skeptical of Focuset.

“Bottom line: anybody can come up with some formulation and can promote it without saying that it is safe or effective. Sorry to say that this case is exactly the reason why the FDA needs to step in and regulate the [dietary supplement]industry,” Edwards said. “Buy this product at your own risk.”

Instead, Edwards suggested that one should try educational and environmental modifications. She advises acquiring better organizational skills and removing distractions, such as TV, from the study environment as well as maintaining a better diet.

“Instead of spending money on a dietary supplement every month, go get green tea,” Edwards said. “Throw away all of your junk food in your pantry. Stop going to fast food restaurants. Eat plenty of fish, nuts, seeds, and beans and fruits and vegetables.”

Shelley Rood can be contacted at m.rood@umiami.edu.

April 25, 2006

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The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami


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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly in print on Tuesdays during the regular academic year.