James Donovan
President of Nutru, Inc.
Interviewed by Doh Driver

Omega ZenAre you vegan? If so, for how long, and what led you to become vegan?
Yes, I follow a vegan diet as much as possible. In the mid-1970s when I went to UC Santa Cruz, Berkeley, etc., I had a lot of exposure to the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle and restaurants. Then I started going to vegan/vegetarian restaurants in the early 1980's in Europe, like "Zum Gleich" in Zurich, quite frequently. Also, with mad cow disease in the U.K. in the mid-nineties, I stated looking into vegan alternatives. More recently, I had digestive problems which hastened my move in this direction. I am also quite opposed to common practices in the meat and dairy industries, especially with respect to what the animals are fed and how they are treated in large industrial settings.

Do you have a degree in nutrition or related field? What led you to start NuTru?
I have degrees in philosophy with an emphasis in philosophy of science, international economics, and international new product marketing. I worked for 20 years in the pharmaceutical field in international business development, starting with 3M in the early 1980s. I also worked with certain companies in the natural health field and helped to launch Remifemin, a black cohosh product for menopause, in the U.S. I also have studied extensively the history of technology, including the Oxford Series which traces the history of the pharmaceutical and natural products industry, particularly in Germany in the late 1880s.

Due to the fact that I have worked in new product development and licensing for 25 years I was constantly being asked to develop my own products, especially if a client turned down an innovative new product that we presented. On the vegan side, I started experimenting with omega-3s in the late 1990s and was not satisfied with many of the products that I evaluated, especially those in bovine gelatin caps. Therefore, I decided to develop a much cleaner, vegan product, which would be easier on the digestive system, etc. I then decided to develop other products which were similar in terms of their vegan formulation and mode of activity. I was also able to take advantage of more than 25 years of international travel to Germany, Japan, India, etc., always on the lookout for unique and innovative products in the vegan and organic areas.

NuTru is based on a set of core values--the name is derived from "Truth in Nutrition" or "Truth in Nutraceuticals," which means developing natural products, especially those in the vegan area with considerable science behind them, that offer a real benefit to the consumer. A big problem in the natural health industry is that there are too many marginal products making unfounded claims in improper dosage forms with ingredients that some consumers, such as vegans, don't want.

What is NuTru's mission?
To develop special vegan nutraceuticals that meet the real needs of vegan consumers using formulations which have extensive science behind them and an excellent safety profile, i.e. GRAS [Generally Recognized as Safe] substances. These are products that are safe for daily consumption yet have important health benefits. NuTru's mission on a longer-term basis is to support the vegan community and contribute wherever possible to worthy causes, particularly to innovative programs which address human health and basic needs for those less fortunate.

What has been the most surprising aspect of starting a vegan supplement company?
The most surprising aspect is how much I truly relate to the people in the vegan community, especially those that donate time and resources to improving health and nutrition and other causes, such as animal cruelty. I really like a lot of the people that I have come across in the vegan community, and respect what they are trying to do. I think it is a values thing, more than anything!

How do you decide what products to develop? What products does your company offer?
NuTru develops products that meet some basic health issues that more and more of us face every day in key area such as heart health, brain health, etc. These are high-end, designer type nutraceutical products which work on a preventative basis, hence our phrase, "Innovation in Prevention"TM. The whole focus of the healthcare industry has to change and become more prevention-oriented, considering with the current healthcare system we have--not to mention what is bound to happen in the future.

You have an omega-3 supplement. Is this the same as taking flax oil?
The research that we did on plant oils like flaxseed and other sources of omega-3s, led us and other science and technical people to conclude that oils like flaxseed were ultimately converted to DHA--and sometimes not so efficiently. So, why not concentrate on DHA, especially for brain and heart health? This is especially worthwhile from the standpoint of being able to take one vegicap per day, rather than taking a lot of different items to basically accomplish the same thing.

Why is DHA so important to a vegan diet?
DHA and other omega-3s typically come from fish, shellfish or game. It is difficult for vegans to get the DHA or other similar EFA's from plant sources.

Why did you decide Vitamin E and Phosphatidyl Serine were the next crucial products that your company could offer? What do they do for the body, and why can't vegans get them from their diet?
There has been a lot of scientific research done on tocotrienols [natural vitamin e], especially those derived from palm fruit, in relation to heart health and certain cognitive problems like Alzheimer's, senile dementia, etc. Also, tocotrienol is synergistic with omega-3, and the body needs more natural vitamin E or tocotrienol when taking omega-3s. P-Tidyl_WeiTM, our phosphatidyl serine product, also works in combination with DHA, particularly in relation to phospholipid structures in the brain and elsewhere. Phosolipids and DHA are critical in terms of brain and cellular function. For example, approximately 15 percent of the human brain fatty acid structure is made of DHA. DHA also works in tandem with phospholipids in the body, as does tocotrienol.

Does this mean that vegan diets are nutritionally inadequate for human health?
In certain respects, yes. These diets need to be offset by certain nutraceuticals or nutritional factors like omega-3, certain types of plant proteins, trace minerals, etc.

What about children--do they need these supplements? If so, how do you propose we give them to children who won't swallow capsules?
I myself personally am very careful about giving children any sort of supplements until they are old enough to swallow a vegicap. In general, in this country we believe that children are given way to many drugs, supplements, etc. Beyond that, the DHA levels do not become crucial until adulthood, or unless there are special health issues which come up before this.

What do you think parents of vegan children need to consider, in regards to children's nutrition?
Be sure they get enough protein and essential nutrients as well as minerals, all in moderate doses.

Do you have plans for other supplements in the near future?
NuTru will continue to develop other vegan products which meet the needs of the vegan community and reflect our commitment to products that make a difference in terms of improving health and longevity, as well as quality of life. These will be products that offer good value in appropriate dosage in an all-vegan format.

If there were a single piece of advice or a message that you could give to vegans, what would that be?
Stay the path. Be true to yourself and your values, but be reasonable and compassionate at the same time. Move towards a more integrated holistic model which emphasizes real concern for other creatures, including our fellow humans. Don't be exclusionary! Finally, we all need to move into another mode which veganism will be a part of, and will have to come from a further evolution in consciousness beyond what we have now.

Where can your products be purchased?
At leading purveyors of vegan products like Vegan Essentials, Pangea, etc., as well as some health food stores and natural health chains that carry fine vegan products.