Quack to the Future (Reair) | Crooked Media
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September 06, 2022
America Dissected
Quack to the Future (Reair)

In This Episode

Traditional science-based medicine has some gaps—but what happens when grifters and scammers take advantage? Dr. Abdul El-Sayed leads us inside the underbelly of the cult of wellness. Dr. Jen Gunter, Twitter’s “Resident Gynecologist,” helps us understand modern quackery—and how we can apply scientific principles to make our best health decisions.

 

This episode originally aired in September 2019.

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: [?], workouts, retreats, all for a steep price tag. Everywhere you look, someone’s trying to monetize your wellness. One wellness doc is even trying to be your senator. So today we’re going back into our archives to bring you an episode about exactly that. Oh, and update you on fall vaccine boosters. This is America Dissected. I’m your host, Doctor Abdul El-Sayed. [music break] In the United States, wellness is a multi billion with a B dollar business. TV doctors, celebrity endorsers and sleekly branded white coat wearing companies have perfected the wellness formula, preying on our insecurities. They tell us that we’re not calm enough, we’re not thin enough, that our eyebrows aren’t quite right. But we can be at the end of a steep price tag. As I watched the King of Wellness, Dr. Mehmet Oz, reemerge onto the national scene, I’ve been thinking more about this industry. Could pushing bunk health cures on television really catapult this man to the Senate? So today, I wanted to dive back into an episode we did way back in the before times about wellness, aptly titled Quack to the Future. This episode comes deep from the America Dissected vault. Back when this show, now 150 episodes in, was but a little limited ten episode series. Back then, we went deep into our topics covering the Flint water crisis, America’s anti-vaccine movement, the opioid epidemic, with a selection of different voices, archival research and more. These episodes were a lot different than the interview show this podcast has evolved into. This is our episode from our very first season on Goop, Dr. Oz and the Wellness Industrial Complex. I hope you enjoy it. But before we get there, a quick note on the fall boosters. The FDA has approved and the CDC has recommended two bivalent boosters for the fall. These boosters include an additional dose of the run of the mill COVID vaccine and a formulation designed specifically against BA.4 and BA.5. Just to quickly explain, the existence of these boosters speaks to two facts. First, BA.5 remains the most dominant variant affecting people right now. Second, every single year of COVID has had us facing a surge in the fall. Given both of these things, the FDA and CDC are expecting that if there is a fall surge, it’s going to be from BA.5. That said, there’s actually no way to know that that’s true. But if it is, then it behooves us to get as much protection for BA.5 as we can as the fall approaches. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about if and when to take them. First, these have been recommended by the CDC for a reason because you should get one. But where the confusion comes in is when, and which to take. Generally, we expect that immunity from a previous infection or vaccine lasts about three months. So if you’ve been infected or had your third dose of vaccine within the last three months, you could wait a bit. The idea here is that you should be both protected for now and that you can draw out the three month protection window from this new vaccine for a bit longer out into the fall and winter. But if you’re more than three months out from your last infection or dose, I would go ahead and get vaccinated as soon as you can. The other question is which to take. There are both Pfizer and Moderna formulations. There is no head to head evidence about which works better, and there’s really little reason to believe that one will have any advantage over the other. I’ve had three doses of Pfizer, so I’m going to go ahead and try to get Moderna. There is some limited evidence of marginal benefit of mixing and matching. Considering that teaching your immune system to recognize a virus, it’s kind of like teaching your phone to recognize your face. You know how you have to get a bunch of different angles? Well, that’s what mixing and matching the vaccine does. Each vaccine shows a slightly different angle of the same face. So happy boosting. And now on to the show. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: What if I told you I’d found the cure to insomnia and that all it involved was gazing at the world through blue colored glass? Or how about letting me diagnose your mental ailments all by examining the bumps on your head? Now for the guys. What if I told you I could solve any issues you had with impotence or sterility by implanting goat balls in your scrotum? And magically, you got that billy goat verve. Or what if I told you I had the pill you could take derived from raspberries, to trick your body into acting like it’s thin? I know it all sounds kind of ridiculous, right? Truth is, each one of those quack treatments had its time in the sun. True believers who followed along, risking their lives and their wallets to cure whatever ails them. You might think they’re all a thing of the past, but while some of them are that last one, raspberry ketones. That’s from someone you can catch on daytime TV. I’ve got the number one miracle in a bottle to burn your fat. It’s raspberry ketones. [music break] I’m Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. And today on America Dissected, we’re taking our scalpel to modern medical scams, unsubstantiated treatments that might hurt us, or at least our wallets more than they help us. To be clear, we’re not talking about acupuncture or yoga for back pain. Those things actually have some scientific evidence backing them up. We’re talking about today’s equivalent of gazing into blue glass or implanting goat balls and why with all that science has provided us, we still pay money for treatments that have no basis in it. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So, Carolyn, can you introduce yourself? 

 

Carolyn Seuthe: I mean, let me first say, I feel like it gives a lot of fodder to my enemies to publicly associate myself with Goop. I feel like there’s just nothing more hateable. Um, and they do do a lot of dumb stuff. I’m Carolyn Seuthe. I am a writer living in Los Angeles, where I work on a newsletter called Staunchly. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Have you ever bought a product on Goop? 

 

Carolyn Seuthe: Yes. I buy a lot of her beauty products. They’re actually pretty good. She has a really great face oil, a really great like instant, exfoliating facial. And that’s what I’ll say. Like the actual skin care and body recommendations are pretty strongly the quality of the products is great. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: The she that Carolyn is referring to is, of course, Gwyneth Paltrow, actress and founder of Goop, the infamous website for all things wellness related. I called up Carolyn because, well, she’s a Goop user, even though she kind of gets why it’s problematic. 

 

Carolyn Seuthe: I mean, I definitely don’t think that someone should, you know, rely on rose quartz to heal their cancer or Gwyneth has recommended something called grounding. That’s basically like you put your feet on the grass and I don’t know, your autoimmune disease goes away or something. It’s really ridiculous. It’s like I fundamentally believe in science. Like, subscribe to like, I’m not a skeptic in the most real way. Like believe in vaccinations, believe in doctors aren’t lying to us. Like, I do believe in all that. But I also see how all my friends just feel so unhealthy. And I think part of it is mental. And the part of it that’s mental is sort of healed by holding a crystal in your hand and feeling like it makes you feel better. And if you think that, it sort of does. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: Carolyn is like many of us, she’s looking for an answer to her health challenges that she sometimes just can’t find through the usual means. She hasn’t rejected science and medicine per se. She’s just looking for an answer they’re not offering. The problem, though, is who is offering answers. Goop, which started as a newsletter in 2009, is now a sprawling website estimated to be worth $250 million dollars. Simply put, Goop is making big money for its founder and CEO, Gwyneth Paltrow. It attracts over 2 million visitors a month. It is in some ways the locus of what some people, including our next guest call the wellness industrial complex. Now, before you get all upset at me and shout. That’s not fair. Not everything on Goop is a scam. I hear you. Sure. Not everything is dangerous or completely off base with science. It’s just that so many things are like crystal infused water or walking around barefoot to heal yourself. 

 

Carolyn Seuthe: I don’t know if I want to admit this on air, but I did try to buy a jade egg because she said it would heal my hormones. Um, but they were sold out. And that was years ago. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: The infamous jade egg. Carolyn was far from alone in her interest in the jade egg. At 66 bucks a pop, these jade eggs, also known as yoni eggs or simply vaginal eggs, were hot sellers. They’re being marketed to women to fix all kinds of things, to balance hormones, to regulate menstrual cycles, to prevent uterine prolapse, and to increase bladder control. Basically, you insert this egg made out of jade into your vagina and voila, you’re better? If that sounds awfully similar to goat balls, that’s because it is. It might sound harmless, but the use of these eggs could lead to infections and worse things like toxic shock syndrome, which can kill you. And here’s the important thing. Paltrow and her people were advertising these jade eggs to do all of those things with absolutely zero scientific evidence to back it up. In the medical world, that’s a big no no. We don’t recommend treatments for people unless they’re backed up by rigorous scientific evidence that come out of scientific trials. That’s the backbone of what we call evidence based medicine. But much of the wellness industry exists in this gray area, often outside of the purview of the Food and Drug Administration, who strictly regulates most medical products. Instead, it’s mostly left to the FTC, the Federal Trade Commission, the folks tasked with general consumer protection from appliances to electronics to vitamins and supplements, which means it’s not subject to the same kind of standards of testing and labeling that we put on other products we put in our bodies. Goop had been flying too close to the sun for some time, getting hit for making false medical claims on their site from the Better Business Bureau and Truth In Advertising on products from Moon Juice. A collaborator. And practices like grounding, which we talked about earlier. And in 2018, the jade egg caught the eye of authorities in California. They hit Goop with civil penalties amounting to $145,000 for making dangerous, unsubstantiated claims about what the jade eggs could do. Paltrow’s response, she bragged to a group of students at Harvard Business School about the cultural firestorm over the product. I can monetize those eyeballs. I guess, no press is bad press. In an interview with the BBC, when asked if Goop was practicing pseudoscience, Paltrow defended her company, saying, quote, “We really believe that there are healing modalities that have existed for thousands of years. There’s an incredible power in the human body to heal itself.” She went further, speaking to the ways that her company’s products challenge conventional Western medicine and at the same time empower women. That last point, though, about the need to empower women is true. While I wouldn’t call selling women jade eggs that could kill them empowering. Gwyneth is right that women have been marginalized in the health care system for a long time. 

 

Carolyn Seuthe: Every woman I know has in some ways been unsatisfied with the level of care she’s received from traditional medicine and traditional doctors and feel she hasn’t been listened to. And I think that Goop kind of enables women to seek alternative paths to wellness and explore outside of traditional medicine. Sometimes to an extreme, but I feel like most often not. I think it’s so easy for men to denigrate these efforts and to dismiss them as frivolous without really reckoning with the fact that the medical system was set up for men. Like the more studies we learn about, you know, women being 50% more likely to be misdiagnosed after heart attack. Statistics like that don’t make me feel like doctors are always right or completely to be trusted. But especially with women, I understand the outrage intellectually, but I just can’t get there emotionally because I just feel like women haven’t had that many other options in a way. Like we have a system that was set up to basically let us die. Like seatbelts are made for men, specifically like white average sized men. We’ve had to sort of like be creative and kind of like, you know, MacGyver, our own solutions. And clearly we’re not nailing it every time. But I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that. I think we have to work on fixing the gender biases in the medical system. And then I think that there’s less space for, a thing like Goop. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: Since the dawn of evidence based medicine. As Carolyn says, scientific research is either implicitly or explicitly focused its attention on one demographic, white men. In fact, everything I learned in medical school is optimized to one person, the 70 kilogram man. That’s 154 lbs. for the people trying to do the math in their head. That means that Carolyn is right. There’s this yawning gap, this space in which evidence based medicine has left whole groups of people, namely women, ignored. That study that Carolyn cited about women in heart disease. That’s a big one. It included more than 180,000 people. It found that women were three times as likely to die of heart disease because they were less likely to get treated. And that was because they were less likely to get the right diagnosis in the first place. Heart disease is the deadliest disease in the world, but the stereotypical symptoms that we always hear about left sided, crushing chest pain. It turns out that that’s not the way that heart disease often presents in women. And so heart attacks are more likely to be missed because we’ve created a whole stereotype about how a deadly disease presents itself constructed entirely around men. And when you know that even if you were to get the most deadly disease in the world, you might be misdiagnosed and mistreated simply because you’re a woman. I can appreciate why you’d be in the market for an alternative. Now, it’s certainly true that there are other facets of medical scamming and quackery that target men and women alike. But the truth is that our failure to center women in health care has left them vulnerable in two ways. First, to being mistreated by the health care system in the first place, and then to being exploited by the alternative. In addition to all that, there’s also the problem that evidence based medicine just hasn’t really answered some of the more amorphous medical questions. That nagging pain or that tired feeling that just won’t go away. Those hormone issues that Carolyn referred to. All of this helps explain why Carolyn, who believes in science, might turn to a place like Goop. By failing to center and appreciate our diversity and in failing to listen and empathize. We’ve left quacks like Gwyneth the space to prey on people’s insecurities. Evidence based medicine has to do a better job of addressing these things. But how do we do it? For that, we turn to Twitter’s antiquack in chief, after the break. 

 

[AD BREAK]

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: When was the first time that Goop came on your radar? 

 

Dr. Jen Gunter: Someone sent me a post from theirs that suggested that bras were a cause of breast cancer, and the hypotheses were so ludicrous it was beyond belief, you know, that the underwire was picking up wifi and that the bras were so tight they were causing lymphatic compression. And I was looking at this thing, you don’t even need medicine to debunk this. You just need to have actually worn a bra. But besides that, a lot of people believe that myth. And it was amazing to me how common it was. And fear sells, right? So I decided to take that myth down and and then it just kind of started from there. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: That’s Dr. Jen Gunter. She’s a gynecologist and pain medicine physician. When she’s not actually taking care of people. She writes about people like Gwyneth Paltrow, why they exist, and what we need to do about it. She’s been called Twitter’s resident gynecologist, and she’s dedicated her career to unpacking modern medical scammers, specifically what she today refers to as the wellness industrial complex. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: How do you think about wellness and what is wellness to you? 

 

Dr. Jen Gunter: Well, I think wellness, like natural and organic, has been co-opted to mean other things. And I thought of wellness as things that you could do to make you a little bit healthier and maybe help your longevity and a little bit happier, that that would be how I look at wellness. And obviously, now it’s been co-opted into, you know, being afraid of toxins and, you know, going for cryotherapy, you know, where you put your whole body in a cryochamber, like all these, you know, these things that have zero basis in science and actually could be harmful. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: I want to be clear. The wellness industrial complex is way bigger than just a Goop. Goop’s just an obvious example. Remember Alex Jones from Infowars? 

 

[clip of Alex Jones] Alex Jones here to break down some exciting developments in the area of research concerning supplemental iodine. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: Yeah, he was hocking all kinds of questionable supplements right alongside his globalist conspiracies. Point is, there are countless other magazines and websites and blogs pushing all kinds of products today to cure all kinds of things. Altogether, the wellness industrial complex. It’s a $4 trillion dollar industry, full of products and quote unquote, “therapies” you probably have never even heard of. And that’s probably a good thing. Can you talk about some of the other, you know, your top ten list of crazy products that you’ve seen out there? 

 

Dr. Jen Gunter: I would say the top things that bother me or anything that is geared towards toxins. Oh, uh thermography. Oh, that’s a big one. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: What is thermography? 

 

Dr. Jen Gunter: So this idea that you can use, like heat sensing imagery, like the kind of stuff you’d see like in like Mission Impossible, where they’re trying to decide if there’s somebody in the room or not, you know, um that you would use that to scan your breast to tell you if there’s hot spots and, you know, maybe you need you should have a biopsy for breast cancer. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So it’d be like infrared imaging. 

 

Dr. Jen Gunter: Yeah. Yeah, like that. And apparently some people, some people who are grifters, I guess, are telling people that they can screen for breast cancer with that. And you can’t. And the FDA is very clear that thermography is not valid, you know, imaging for breast cancer screening. So thermography is is certainly number one on my hit list, probably because we could do away with it by, you know, arresting people who offer it, which I think should happen. You know, I think that homeopathy is certainly, you know, in my top list because that’s magic water and that’s ridiculous. Uh, anti-vaccines is certainly in my top list. And anybody who, you know, who promotes fears over toxins, I would say that’s, you know, up there and uh supplements. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Why do you think people care what somebody like Gwyneth Paltrow thinks about health? 

 

Dr. Jen Gunter: Well, you know, I think celebrity has always had allure. I’m sure people wanted to look like Cleopatra. Right? You know people–

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: As an Egyptian American, I can say I think that’s probably true. 

 

Dr. Jen Gunter: Okay. Well, there you go. But, you know, like celebrities have allure. And then you also have to remember, I mean, they are stunningly attractive. That’s part of the reason they’re celebrities. They have this genetic privilege. And I think we all look at someone like Gwyneth Paltrow and say, oooh, I’d like to be sunkissed and Californian. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: It’s easy to mistake fame for knowledge. And that’s because there’s a curious thing about knowledge. Those who know the least tend to speak the loudest and with the most confidence. 

 

[clip of Donald Trump] I know more about Isis than the generals do. Believe me. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: Aw habibi, I’m sure you do. With real harder knowledge comes the appreciation for how much of it you don’t actually know. The scientists, we’re taught to speak only on what we know, which when it comes down to the grand scheme of the universe, the collective sum of human knowledge isn’t actually that big. So uninformed voices, they rise up. And with the internet, they amplify. When you couple that with an audience who’s eagerly seeking answers, well. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Who in our society do you feel like is most susceptible to this and at greatest risk of potentially being hurt by some of the misinformation and the unverified unvalidated products that are being put out there? 

 

Dr. Jen Gunter: I mean, I think everybody is at risk. I mean, when I delivered my children prematurely and they were in the intensive care unit, I mean, which is kind of how I got started looking at online information. You know, I, I bought all kinds of useless products for reflux because medicine didn’t have an answer. And, you know, some of them might have actually been harmful. I made a formula switch that I really wish now that I hadn’t, you know, even a physician obsessed with evidence based medicine can can fall down that rabbit hole. But I think all of us are vulnerable to it. I think, you know, it’s a combination of fear and desperation and propaganda and all your common sense and all your learning can fly out the window in a heartbeat. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: And this is the point. Medical scamming isn’t something experienced by some far off them. It’s something we all can fall prey to from time to time. It’s a human thing to want answers and to believe that successful people around you have them. And it certainly doesn’t help when doctors and scientists themselves exploit the charade. Dr. Mehmet Oz is probably the best credentialed quack in America. His Emmy Award winning TV show, viewed by millions, came under fire for actively promoting baseless medical claims like natural remedies for teeth whitening, garcinia cambogia or raspberry ketones for weight loss and a lavender soap for restless leg syndrome. But a study in the British Medical Journal found that more than half of the claims made on his show were either unsupported or flatly contradicted by the evidence. 

 

[clip of unspecified news reporter] There’s nothing ambiguous in the letter ten doctors wrote about Dr. Mehmet Oz, to the dean of Columbia University’s medical school. We are surprised and dismayed that Columbia University’s would permit Dr. Mehmet Oz to occupy a faculty appointment. He has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: Despite this blatant quackery, he maintains a faculty position at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, which also happens to be my alma mater. And in 2014, he was made to testify before the Senate Consumer Protection Panel over his claims about green coffee extract on his show. I’ll hand it over to then Senator Claire McCaskill. 

 

[clip of Claire McCaskill] I don’t get why you need to say this stuff, because you know it’s not true. Why would you cheapen your show? 

 

[clip of Dr. Mehmet Oz] I actually do personally believe in the items that I talk about in the show. I passionately study them. I recognize that oftentimes they don’t have the scientific muster to present uh as fact. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: Um yeah, you’ve got that right. But here’s the thing. Often when you try out one of these, quote unquote “remedies”, it might turn out okay. Until it doesn’t. That’s where we glimpse the dark side of the wellness industrial complex. 

 

Dr. Jen Gunter: Most things that are offered as wellness are, you know, under the modern wellness industrial complex, probably have have little to offer you health wise. But the risks besides spending a lot of money are really significant. So many of these products actually, you know, have unknown substances. So you’re potentially exposing yourself to an unknown substance. Who knows what’s in it, it could have lead, it could have antidepressants, could interact with the medication you’re on. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: A lot of people don’t realize that the ingredients in vitamins and supplements aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration before they hit the market. It’s the wild, wild west out there. And we often don’t know that the things we’re putting into our bodies to make them healthier could actually wind up making them sick. 

 

[clip of unspecified news reporter] Various toxins in your supplements. 

 

[clip of unspecified news reporter] Things like heavy metals, lead. Arsenic, cadmium and mercury. Antibiotic residues. Pesticide residues. 

 

[clip of unspecified news reporter] The FDA says test determined the supplements contained at least two harmful anabolic steroids. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: A study by the Center for Environmental Health found that two of the supplements that Alex Jones was pushing, one of which had the word, quote unquote “caveman” in it, had dangerously high levels of lead. And then there’s the fact that many of these products become a gateway. 

 

Dr. Jen Gunter: Many people who are sort of part of this wellness industrial complex are also into medical conspiracy theories. So they’re anti-vaccine, they’re anti-fluoride. There’s a lot of overlap there. And so you have to kind of churn this fear wheel to keep people in. So so say you toddle off to Goop and you’re like, oh, I want to buy like the pashmina shawl there. And then you’re like, oh, look at this face cream. It’s all sweet and nice and it’s $280 and I want to spend that on myself because I deserve it. Fine. It’s your disposable income. But then you see an article by somebody who uh also sort of has this sort of soft sell against vaccines, and you say, oh, well, that’s kind of interesting. And then you click on his website, and then now you’re in the hard sell against vaccines. And so many of these wellness sites expose people to medical conspiracy theories so that that is a significant problem because you have this phenomenon called the illusory truth effect. The more you’re exposed to something, the more you believe it to be true. We all mistake repetition for accuracy. So now you’ve been on Goop and then you’ve seen maybe three or four exposures to uh something that might make you vaccine hesitant. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: I’m reminded of what Ethan, the young man who got his vaccines against his mother’s anti-vax beliefs, told us last episode. 

 

[clip of Ethan, previous guest] You gain so much by becoming a vocal leader in the anti-vaccine community. I mean, you’re talking about how you can sell supplements, you can sell uh alternative medicine. You know, just all the time people do this because when you tear down the fabric and authority and trust in science and medicine, you can market anything you want. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: Okay, so hearing all this, I decided to conduct my own experiment. I’ve been trying to get a bit of a mental edge lately because, you know, I’ve been working on this really cool podcast about health, so I want to be on my A-game. I open up my browser and toddle over to Goop.com search under shop wellness. There I find nerd alert. That sounds like just the stuff. It boasts a bite sized mental boost with two nootropics just a dollar a day for one month’s supply. You know, there’s even a fun video of people dancing and finding their focus. Now, here’s the problem. I went to med school and I have no clue what a nootropic is, but it does sound science. So I google. I’m served a ton of ads of other nootropics from companies like Neuro Hacker Collective. I also find a definition on Wikipedia, colloquium, smart drugs and cognitive enhancers. Hmm. I place that suspicion on hold and click over to neural hacker collective and wow, there’s all these doctors and scientists recommending the products, but I’m still not sure. So I hop over to the Wikipedia page, which tells me these things are under investigation by the FDA and the FTC for false marketing claims. That’s all I need to know. And now I start to appreciate how these folks operate. Dressing up, sciencey sounding words that have no real definition. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: What would you say to somebody who is using some of these products and says, you know, I don’t really have any answers anywhere else and I’m going to try this. What do you tell them? 

 

Dr. Jen Gunter: You know, women have been dismissed by medicine since the dawn of time. So I think that, you know, that there are very valid reasons people can come to that. And then people have different belief systems. You know, I would say that, you know, if you’re using a product that is not conventional in any way, you know, where did you get that information? And if it was somebody who was selling that product, it’s not possible to get unbiased information from someone who sells product. And so I would ask them to think about that. The other thing I would say is, you know, what is your bother factor and what is the way this is going to fix it? And I think that’s a question that we often neglect in medicine. You know, what’s bothering you? I mean, obviously, if you show up in the emergency department with an open femoral fracture and your femur is sticking through your leg. I think we all pretty much know what your bother factor is. You don’t want your bone sticking through your leg. You’d like that fixed. But, you know, I think much of medicine is symptom management. You know, we we have offered this lure to people, I think, or this idea that that medicine cures. And in reality, you know, we’re more about mitigation. We’re more about improvement. I do chronic pain for women. Cures are something I don’t talk about. I talk about improvement and setting expectations. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Mm hmm. 

 

Dr. Jen Gunter: So. So I think that, um you know, I would ask somebody, what’s their bother factor and what do they hope that this medicine is going to do for them or this treatment? And where is the proof that it will from a site that doesn’t sell that product or that service? 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: What can we do uh in the in the science and um biomedical and public health world to try and qualify that, if anything? 

 

Dr. Jen Gunter: Well, I think, you know, first of all, teaching everybody how themselves to access information online and how to spot bias, how to spot propaganda. You know, I think the Internet is an amazing library. And I would never tell someone not to go to the library, but I might say, hey, if you’re going to the library, here’s the best way how to use it. And, you know, you don’t have to stop at the, you know, the National Enquirer. That’s right in the front door. There’s actually really more amazing stuff if you just venture in a little bit more. So I think we have to teach people Internet hygiene. I think that is a very important thing that we need to teach that kind of literacy. We should probably be teaching that, you know, in elementary school all the way up. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: Dr. Gunter is spot on with all this. Teaching people Internet hygiene, how to be skeptical consumers of information, weeding out the false, baseless and sometimes dangerous claims from the safe, helpful evidence based information is key. But maybe we need to start even further up. Like Dr. Gunter suggested, maybe we just need to be honest about what science and what medicine can and can’t do. See, people want answers to their problems. And because of how we’ve communicated science and medicine, we’ve conditioned people to believe that there’s a cold, hard, decisive answer for everything. But there’s not. That’s just not how science works. See, science is in a body of knowledge. It’s a process of coming to knowledge. We set up a hypothesis and then we try to prove it wrong. If the hypothesis survives, it gets to be the best answer we have for now. But the process leaves a lot of questions unanswered, even important questions, and even more so for important groups of people like women. And that’s frustrating. And into this void step a whole lot of people attempting to answer those questions in the most irresponsible way possible to make a buck. So what do we do about quackery? Well, first, we’ve got to make sure that science centers, everyone, not just the 70 kilogram man. But we’ve also got to have a better conversation between scientists, doctors and the public. And that’s kind of what we’re trying to do here. Seriously, scientists and doctors have to be a lot better at communicating what we know and what we don’t. But everyday folks have a part to play too. When science hasn’t yet delivered a clear answer to a question about our particular ache or pain. We can’t just leave scientific principles behind. We should still bring the spirit of science to finding our answer. And that spirit is skepticism. After all, as we discussed, science is about posing a hypothesis and then trying to disprove it. So the next time we hear Gwyneth Paltrow tell us to stick a rock in it. Well, we should treat it like a hypothesis, one that’s pretty easy to disprove. That spirit of science matters a lot. It’s something we should be teaching our kids every day in school. But today, science education is woefully underfunded. In fact, American 15 year olds ranked 24th in the world in science ability. So we’ve got to make real investments as a society to making sure our young people understand the principles of science and can apply them in their daily lives. All that said, I’m not against a little pampering every once in a while. [music break]. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: What product like entry level Goop. What product should I look at? 

 

Carolyn Seuthe: Um, maybe dry brush. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Okay. I don’t know what a dry brush is so. 

 

Carolyn Seuthe: It’s basically something you, it’s like a really kind of like rough bristle body brush. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Okay. 

 

Carolyn Seuthe: That you do before you get in the shower to exfoliate and boost circulation, so to speak. Um, that’s a pretty good like entry way into wellness world. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: Okay so the nootropics. And frankly, anything I’d have to put into my body are a definite no for me. And they should be for you too. But my skin, I have to say, feels so fresh and so clean. Next time on America Dissected. We’ll consider what happens when the people we pay to answer the big scientific questions like how to cure Hepatitis C, charge us way too much for the answers. American Dissected is a product of Crooked Media. Our producers for this episode were Austin Fisher, Carrie Junior the second and Katie Long. Our associate producer is Tara Terpstra. Andrea B. Scott was our story editor. Sound Design by Daniel Ramirez. Veronica Simonetti mixes and masters the show. Production support from Ari Schwartz, Alison Falzetta, Alisa Gutierrez, Carol Hart, Daniel Porcelli and Ines Maza. Our theme song is by Taka Yasuzawa and Alex Sugiura. Our executive producers are Sara Geismer, Sandy Girard, Michael Martinez, Mukta Mohan and me, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, your host. Thanks for listening.