H2i Spotlight: Nutarniq
Nearly 11 million people in Canada have diabetes or pre-diabetes, and it’s estimated about half will develop a form of nerve damage known as diabetic neuropathy. Caused by high blood glucose levels over an extended period of time, this long-term diabetes complication can affect nerves in the arms, hands, legs and feet and lead to a loss of sensation or feelings of burning, tingling or sharp pain. But research by Evan Lewis (PhD Nutritional Sciences, ’16) shows such damage can be reversed. Lewis recently spoke with writer Erin Howe about his non-drug nutrition therapy, Nutarniq Essentials.
How did you arrive at this concept? What inspired you?
I was an athlete on the Canadian sailing team for a number of years and the idea of looking into the impact of nutrition and performance interested me. Most supplements focus on trying to make muscles bigger or burn energy better. But for our muscles to function, we need our nerves to carry signals from our to brains to say, ‘run harder, go faster, jump higher’.
When I started my PhD, there was nothing available for athletes to improve nerve function. I investigated the use of omega-3s to improve nerve-muscle interaction. Following the successful outcome of my research, I decided to move away from sports performance and work to help people who might need help getting up the stairs or walking around the block because of their nerves and muscles weren’t working optimally. The largest group that needed help was people with diabetic neuropathy. If we can use nutrition to help people improve their nerve-muscle function, that would be a huge win clinically and for the healthcare system.
What’s the status of Nutarniq right now?
We founded our company at the end of 2016 and launched our first product, Nutarniq Essentials Diabetic Neuropathy Supplement, in June. That coincided with the publication of our diabetes trial in Neurology. It was really important for our company to launch with the publication because we’re not just another supplement company. We’re a research-based company.
Your product is a nutritional supplement, but you mentioned it could be reclassified as a medication.
We’ve been in discussions with Health Canada. If a nutrient or supplement can improve health outcomes in chronic diseases — diabetes, cancer, anything of that classification — they could consider that a drug, so it’s something we’re exploring. Right now, our Nutarniq Essentials is classified as a natural health product.
So, your product is already on the market, then.
We sell Nutarniq Essentials online in Canada and through a growing network of retail partners. We’re also expanding throughout Canada with distribution to allied health care professionals who work with and support people with diabetes.
What makes you passionate about this?
If we can use targeted nutrition therapy instead of drugs, then we can lower risk of side effects from therapy. And if we can use nutrition preventatively or restoratively, we could hopefully reduce the burden on our health care system and in painful conditions, then we can reduce the use of pain medications.
How does the product work?
The product is a pharmaceutical grade Omega-3s from seal oil, which has a different chemical structure compared to fish oil Omega-3s. Seal oil can be absorbed at two sites — one in the mouth and one in the general digestive tract. This leads to higher bio-availability, which means that the body can absorb and use the nutrients more effectively. Our general diet doesn’t provide enough of the essential Omega-3s we need so, when given in appropriate doses for the proper duration, then our clinical trials showed we were able to regenerate nerves.
How does your product differ from fish oil or other Omega-3 products?
Most people are familiar with the Omega-3s come from seeds and nuts. That type of Omega-3 is made up of very short chains our bodies can’t use for nerves. Fish oil has longer chain Omega-3s, like EPA and DHA. Seal oil contains them, too, but it also has DPA, another Omega-3 that resolves inflammation and helps nerves restore themselves. So, we have three Omega-3s in a different concentration than fish oil and two different routes of digestion and these things together provide a more powerful effect for people.
Who has helped to mentor or inspire you at U of T?
During my PhD, my primary supervisor, Tom Wolever, a professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, was a great inspiration because he’d also developed some commercialized some of his work. He was also a great mentor in terms of research design. I also worked with Greg Wells, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, who helped with the sports performance side of things and was also very keen on commercializing of research. I was also fortunate to develop relationships with clinical partners like, Vera Bril, Head of the Division of Neurology and Director of Neurology at University Health Network, and Bruce Perkins, a professor in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism. I was able to bring a group of experts together to support my development in sports performance research and diabetes research and draw on all of their expertise to get to where I am now — commercializing great research, running a company and continuing our clinical research, which is exactly where I want to be.
What’s next for Nutarniq?
Right now, we’re in the final stages of developing our proprietary product for our next clinical trial. We’re also expanding our distribution along with sales and marketing. I’m learning a lot of fun things on the fly. So far, we’ve had great response and the company is growing every day.
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