John Stirling, a straight talking
Australian, started his professional career in the Australian Health
inspecting the crews of foreign ships as they docked. By chance
he discovered that his recurrent bouts of digestive malaise had
to do with rough seas, but much to do with a lactose intolerance.
Nutrition featured no larger in his thinking until, in the mid
1970s, he was diagnosed with malignant melanoma and found himself
to Germany to attend the medical clinic of Dr Josef Issels.
The Issels clinic
Issels' treatment was based on the concept that malignant tumours
do not develop in healthy bodies with efficiently functioning
defence and repair mechanisms. But it takes many years and a
causes for bodily mechanisms to malfunction badly enough to allow
malignant tumours to develop.
of tumours does nothing to repair these malfunctions which is
why every second cancer patient
tumours after surgery. Issels’ treatments therefore not
only removed tumours but sought to discover and remove the underlying
At the Issels clinic John not only recovered his own health but became
fascinated by their work. Having qualified as a naturopath he then
worked with Issels at the clinic focusing especially on the role of
If your digestion is so compromised through illness, allergy or other ‘abuse’,
that you are unable to absorb nutrition your body has little chance
of accessing the nutrients it needs to repair its own systems - and
disperse cancerous tumours. At the clinic they experimented with suspending
nutrients in liquids and emulsions and pureeing foods so that the nutrients
would be more easily absorbed and accessible to the body.
Move to the UK
In the late 1970s John and Sharon moved to the UK where John continued
to practice as a naturopath while working on a lactase enzyme for lactose
intolerants like himself. But although the enzyme worked, the business
model did not and John turned his attention to marketing the first
fermented, pharmaceutical grade GLA (Gamma Linolenic Acid) made by
Sturge Biochemicals. Although the factory making the GLA was closed
down only 18 months later it had given John the opportunity to research
and develop products of his own, the first of which, Mycopryl, was
launched in 1988.
The information on Mycopryl in BioCare’s practitioner catalogue
- and the fact that the product is still available 16 years later -
says much about the company’s approach, and their primary interest
in delivering nutrients to the gut in a form in which they will be
of some use.
‘Caprylic acid is a short chain fatty acid found in human breast milk
and coconuts that has been found to establish the growth of beneficial
bacteria in the gut.
Calcium is normally absorbed in the body before it reaches the large
intestine. However supplying caprylic acid bound to magnesium and calcium
ensure the liberation of the caprylic acid lower down in the large
Although John continued to experiment and develop products (Sharon
did then, and still does, run the administrative side of the business)
BioCare’s real leap forwards came when they joined forces with
Sue and Nigel Plummer, micro-biologists with an interest in gut health
and the possibilities of probiotics which equalled his own - but who
had also just founded the manufacturing company, Cultech.
Sue had worked extensively with probiotics in animals - using them
for the successful prevention of diarrhoea in pigs - and was anxious
to extend her research to humans. Nigel’s interests lay more
in the technology needed to create the absorbability and bio-availability
which John was seeking for his products. Nigel had also had experience
with freeze-drying, a technique which BioCare now uses extensively.
Move to Wales
While John and Sharon remained in Birmingham, Nigel and Sue took over
a factory at Maesteg in the hills outside Swansea (the hills at the
bottom of this page in fact) and installed the largest pharmaceutical
freeze-drying plant in the UK. As the business expanded, Sue got her
own research laboratories in Swansea and 5 years ago the Maesteg factory
was turned over entirely to freeze drying and emulsifying nutritional
oils. The main manufacture was moved into a large (but already outgrown)
unit in Port Talbot. Here 60 workers weigh, mix, sort, encapsulate
and tablet over 350 products which are then despatched in bulk to King’s
Norton for distribution.
Because of the nature of the Stirlings’ and the Plummers’ own
interests BioCare products were designed for - and are still used -
primarily by practitioners seeking to deliver very special nutrients
to very compromised patients. Although BioCare products are now available
in some health foods stores and pharmacies, and they have a large mail
order customer base, practitioners remain their core market - and one
with whom Biocare work closely.
They run weekly seminars for practitioners
both in London and in Birmingham on topics which include Chronic Fatigue
Syndrome, Weight and Immunity, Digestion and Liver Support or Musculo
Skeletal and Connective Tissue. Obviously these seminars are designed
not only to discuss the condition but to explain the BioCare products
and how they can be used for these conditions. But BioCare also use
this contact with practitioners to remain in touch with their needs
and seek ideas for yet more new products.
New Product Development
New product development is at the heart of what BioCare is all about.
While many other supplement companies merely import and re-pack a relatively
narrow range of nutrients, BioCare’s primary interest is in developing
not only new products but new ways of delivering those products. This
means that there is a constant stream of new launches, each carefully
tailored to deliver a slightly different nutrient in a yet more bio-
available way. But, since each is indeed new either in concept or in
delivery, they are reluctant to de-list older products which are still
performing a useful role. Whenever they do so they are deluged by complaints
from long term, happy users - so, they don’t! Fortunately their
plant in Port Talbot is sufficiently flexible to be able to handle
very small as well as quite large runs. So the range keeps growing,
Robert Joy, their marketing director tears his hair out - and customers
Research and Probiotics
BioCare/Cultech are among the very few supplement companies to run
their own dedicated research laboratory. Sue Plummer has 9 researchers
working in her laboratory in Swansea and several ongoing trials and
programmes with hospitals in Swansea and further afield.
The main focus of her research - and BioCare’s research interest
- remains probiotics. The thinking behind probiotic therapy is preventative,
not curative. For example, giving pigs with diarrhoea pro-biotics will
not cure them. But give new born piglets probiotics before they come
into contact with harmful pathogens and you prevent them getting diarrhoea.
The logical progression from this is to ask whether you can use probiotics
to help with immune support, the repair of damaged guts (as in IBS
or IBD) or to preserve gut integrity.
For example, would they help preserve gut integrity for patients in
intensive care (often ingesting massive quantities of drugs) or patients
being tube fed? What about the elderly where gut function may be impaired
by age, poor nutrition and heavy anti-biotic use as well as specific
digestive problems? In a trial carried out at Addenbrookes Hospital
last year they found that although probiotics will not prevent the
establishment of Clostridium Difficile, a common complication of anti-biotic
therapy among the elderly, they dramatically reduced the resulting
incidence of diarrhoea.
Another trial, about to start, will assess how effective probiotics
might be if given from birth to protect children from developing eczema
Sue and her team have also been working on using probiotic therapy
in conjunction with anti-biotics. Although many of the ‘good’ bacteria
delivered by the probiotic will be destroyed by the antibiotic, it
seems that enough may remain to’carpet’ the gut thus providing
some protection against re-infection. Further work which is currently
awaiting publication suggests that using probiotics in conjunction
with anti-biotics might prevent the build up of anti-biotic resistance.
Yet another current trial is looking to see whether probiotics could
have a role to play in reducing the incidence of MRSA.
But however positive and exciting all this may sound, getting clinical
trials which will establish the credentials of probiotics to the satisfaction
of the main- stream medical world is incredibly difficult. As Sue says,
in financial terms, BioCare is a minnow swimming amongst the whales
of the pharmaceutical companies.
Freeze Dried Versus Live
The huge growth in the number of ‘live’ probiotic drinks
has hotted up the argument over which delivers more organisms to the
gut, ‘fresh’ or freeze dried probiotics - and which organisms
are actually worth delivering.
Of the many probiotic organisms on offer, lactobacillus acidophilus
and bifidobacteria are the two species that predominate in the human
gut. Most probiotic research has concentrated on these organisms and
their benefits to human health. It is however very important that the
strains of Acidophilus and Bifidobacteria are genuine human derived
strains. Sue Plummer feels that only a human specific organism can
really be expected to benefit a human so a great deal of her research
has focused on isolating and identifiying strains she wished to use
in BioCare probiotics. This also involves finding strains that are able
to survive their passage through the hostile environment of the stomach
and arrive intact where they are needed in the intestine.
BioCare’s latest bit of technical wizardry, the Duo-Cap, has
encapsulated a capsule of freeze dried acidopholus and bifidobacteria
inside a second capsule filled with plant oils. The outside capsule
dissolves in the stomach releasing the beneficial oils. The inside
one travels on down to the small intestine where it releases the probiotic
Technical Wizardry - Freeze Drying
Technical wizardry in the manufacturing department is Nigel Plummer’s
speciality at both the Maesteg and Port Talbot plants.
His original interest was in freeze drying - what Nestle do to millions
of tons of coffee every year. The process exploits the fact that ice
can ‘sublime’ or pass straight from frozen ice to vapour
without melting back into water. This vapour can then be ‘sucked
out’ leaving the product almost completely dry.
For example, if you freeze dried an apple you would be left with what
looked exactly like an apple and still contained all the nutrients
of an apple, but if you touched it it would crumble into powder. Although
it is a relatively slow and expensive process freeze drying combines
the preservative qualities of freezing and drying with the added advantage
that the freeze dried product crumbles into a very manageable powder.
BioCare use the process not only for their probiotcs but for herbs,
garlic, and any other fruits or vegetables they might wish to use in
Minerals, as we all know, come from rocks but in the ‘natural’ rock
form are almost impossible for humans to absorb. ‘Chelating’ or
attaching the mineral to an amino acid can improve absorption up to
50% but BioCare use another method.
If you ‘react’ (very gently agitate in cold water over
several days) the in-organic mineral in water with organic acids such
as ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), the metallic particle in the mineral
will break away and attach itself to the ascorbic acid. If you then
freeze dry the remaining liquid, you get a freeze dried mineral attached
to Vitamin C. Recognising this as very absorbable Vitamin C the body
will also absorb up to 90% of the attached mineral.
Omega 3 & Fish Oils
Fish oils are widely recognised as the best source of the Omega 3 fatty
acids so lacking in many modern diets, but getting patients to take
them has always been a problem because of their taste. However, using
fish oil concentrates from unpolluted South Pacific anchovies BioCare
use the equivalent of a high pressure mixer (very similar to what is
used to homogenise milk) to emulsify the fish oil with fruits or fruit
oils. In the advertisement below they use orange oil; in their Lipocell
oil which we tasted in our oil tasting in July and found quite delicious,
they use orange, pineapple, mango and banana. Obviously this not only
makes the oils much moreappetising but adds nutritional benefit derived
from the fruit, and aids absorption.
Cultech’s factory in Maesteg now only houses the freeze drying,
reacting and emulsifiying operations - all long slow processes which
take place with only the sheep for company. The Port Talbot plant meanwhile
sorts, mixes and encapsulates Biocare’s 350 odd formulations.
The vast majority of these come in capsules made from inert vegetable
cellulose although a couple of products come as tablets. They also
make a range of liquid supplements (Vitasorb) for those with compromised
digestive systems and allergies.
The only non active ingredient in either tablets or capsules is 1/2-1%
of magnesium stearate (a synthetically prepared naturally occurring
fatty acid from vegetable oil) to help the powders flow and prevent
tablets sticking in the throat. No lactose, sugars, modified starch
or other potentially allergenic ingredients. Colours, where used, have
nutritional benefits - bilberry, turmeric, chlorophyll etc. Sustained
release tablets include a lot of vegetable cellulose which takes a
long time to break down in the system thus delaying release of the
Although practitioners still remain the core of BioCare’s business
they do have a team of nutritionists at King’s Norton able to
guide consumers through their products and to answer most questions.
The Stirlings have even been known to put together specific formulations
for especially difficult cases - although it is rare to find a need
for which they do not already cater!
For more information and advice call 0121 433 3727 or check out www.biocare.co.uk
First published in 2004
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