LAS VEGAS — A Las Vegas health supplement company has found itself in the middle of a David and Goliath type struggle against the massive pharmaceutical industry.

The company sells a product called Longevinex, which has been featured in previous I-Team stories.

Company executives say the drug companies have tried to stifle research into the medical benefits of the product, but at the same time, have tried to turn a natural supplement into a drug that would be available only through prescription.

Bill Sardi learned firsthand the value of mass media in getting the word out, so he started up his own weekday talk show on KLAV 1230 AM radio.

“It’s the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the American public,” Sardi says during one of his radio shows. “The biological action of most prescription drugs can be duplicated by what’s at the health food store.”

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Sardi has struggled for years to promote his principal product, a supplement called Longevinex, but says he has been thwarted at every step by Big Pharma and by the doctors who take drug company money. Stories by the I-Team last year about the benefits of Longevinex generated thousands of messages from the public and testimonials from people who’ve seen dramatic improvements in their health after taking Longevinex. The reaction in Las Vegas was so strong that Sardi moved his production facility to the valley.

People such as Joyce Brown of Mesquite, Nev., swear by Longevinex. Macular degeneration made her legally blind, but she’s now able to see and drive. Sardi has been flooded with similar stories.

“Not just good vision, but joints were better, depression is less, thinking and cognition improve, aching and pain and dependency on medications — all that improved,” Sardi said.

The supplement sounds like snake oil, but the research done on the main ingredient in Longevinex- something called Resveratrol, better known as the red wine pill, is now well documented. Scientists have known for decades about its potential as an anti-aging elixir. So where is it hiding?

“All in the ‘70s,” Sardi said. “Insurance companies got a hold of it, were briefed about it and they threw it under the bus.

Clinical trials were approved by the National Institutes of Health, but were never carried out. In the United States, anyway, there has been little research on the proven cardiovascular benefits and anticancer properties of Resveratrol., so Sardi sponsored his own at a major university. The researcher, Dr. Dipak Das, was attacked by colleagues. Sardi has been warned in letters to not help Das in his legal fight to clear his name or else he will be put out of business. He thinks Big Pharma is behind it because the drug companies don’t want Resveratrol sold as an over-the-counter supplement.

“The roadblocks they have put in our way, (such as) it’s OK to sell it as a drug, but not OK to sell it as a supplement,” Sardi said.

Earlier this year, a study by Harvard University heralded the potential benefits of Resveratrol but only as part of the search for a red wine pill, a prescription medication, not a supplement. Sardi thinks if the drug companies can get control of Resveratrol, most people would either never see it or couldn’t afford it.

“They mentioned in the paper the other day, they would make a pill that would address 20 different ailments,” Sardi said. Do you think Big Pharma is going to put itself out of business? I don’t think we’re going to see a pill.

“How much would it cost? Statin drugs were $5 to $6. Viagra were $9 a pill. This will be an elitist pill. These people get to love longer. These don’t.”

For now, at least, Sardi will wage his David and Goliath battle on the local airwaves.

Das has filed a $35 million lawsuit in federal court against his former employer, alleging he was defamed in order to discredit the benefits of Resveratrol. In the meantime, Sardi’s radio show is carried weekdays at 10 a.m. and will soon be airing in Arizona.