“Something tells me that pouring high fructose corn syrup into someone who’s dying is not a good idea,” says Robin Gentry McGee, and it’s hard to disagree with her. Yet she says feeding chronically, even terminally ill people feeding-tube formulas high in sugars, oils and synthetic vitamins is a common practice.
When McGee’s own father suffered a traumatic brain injury and required tube feeding, she thought little of the recommended products, despite her training as a whole foods chef. One day, out of sheer boredom, she read the ingredients on a can of feeding-tube formula and discovered it was high in sugar, oils and chemicals. “I was frantic,” she says.
With the help of her father’s medical team, along with nutrition professionals, she poured over medical nutrition resources, eventually tailoring a recipe based on healing, whole foods for her father. He was able to stop taking all but one of his 17 medications after the dietary change.
“Getting the texture right was the hardest part because my dad was also on fluid restriction,” McGee says. “He was only allowed to have four cups of food a day. The reason those [commercial] formulas are on the market, I think, is because almost the only way you’re going to get calories is from fat and sugar."
Soon, she had a formula that worked.
Inspired to offer others the same product, McGee returned to school, studying holistic nutrition, and developed a line of organic, nutraceutical products she describes as “food as medicine.” Her feeding-tube formulary project, dubbed “Functional Formularies,” won a $25,000 loan from Bad Girl Ventures, and was funded by the Innov8 for Health Business Concept Expo, among others.
Today, McGee faces a number of hurdles: high shipping costs for the formula, the enormous expense of clinical trials (which will make it hard to ever take the product into mainstream medicine) and manufacturing headaches. Still, with her father’s memory in mind – he passed away three years after his injury – she feels that these are small challenges.
McGee’s not trying to replace commercial formulas. Instead, she points to 150 emails in her inbox at any given time from families looking for better nutrition for their loved ones, or people interested in her food-as-medicine concepts and products.
After some final tweaks in the manufacturing process, such as ensuring proper consistency and texture, McGee will offer the formulary to patients and physicians willing to test it for 30 days, tracking the results through bloodwork. She continues to raise funding for an official product launch.
By Robin Donovan