Mocking the vanity, self-absorption, and stupidity of the rich and celebrities may be too feckless a sport. But the tragic spin-offs of the sweeping misinformation their hype mechanisms can generate sometimes just cannot be ignored.
If you can take it, New York magazine has put out a detailed story on “The Wellness Epidemic,” a deep dive into the cult-like affectations of affluent Americans who spend way too much time worrying they might be sick—and dabbling with remedies that might make most readers with an inkling of common sense spit up a little.
Why pay a second’s attention to this hypochondria and Goop, the fantasy empire of wealthy and beautiful Gwyneth Paltrow? Because she’s the actress who’s not only selling millions of dollars in beauty supplies and vitamins and supplements of suspect health value, she’s also sharing with a sadly rapt global audience her nonsensical views on the benefits and necessities of fecal transplants and putting a $66 jade egg into one’s private parts.
Doctors and scientists keep ripping Paltrow and others like her (including the blogger who developed what’s known as the “spoonie” theory of limited health), with New York quoting one Canadian physician’s explanation as to why the actress and her Goop merchandise and points of view not only infuriates her but concerns her, too:
Your goops—t bothers me because it affects my patients. They read your crackpot theories and they stop eating tomatoes (side note, if tomatoes are toxic why do Italians have a longer life expectancy than Americans?) or haven’t had a slice of bread for two years, they spend money on organic tampons they don’t need, they ask for unindicated testing for adrenal fatigue (and often pay a lot via co-payments or paying out of pocket), or they obsess that they have systemic Candida (they don’t). I have a son with thyroid disease and I worry that in a few years he might read the kind of bats–t crazy thyroid theories you promote and wonder if he should stop his medication …. I also worry that science will have to spend more and more resources disproving snake oil as opposed to testing real hypotheses. I worry that you make people worry and that you are lowering the world’s medical IQ.
Is the doctor wrong? Consider that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just published a study on a strep-infected infant, twice was hospitalized in natal intensive care units. There, a discerning doctor learned the likely source of the baby’s serious illness: His mother. She had asked for and received her placenta, which was delivered to an unnamed company. The firm had freeze-dried and improperly prepared it for her to eat in capsules in keeping with her alternative beliefs—odd dietary notions are par for the course and pushed by Paltrow and other celebrities— that this practice would benefit her health and that of her baby. Fortunately, doctors could treat the baby boy with antibiotics and he’s fine.
We all may not be. Inaccurate, deceptive, false, and misleading health reports abound these days, spread viral fashion around the world with the unchecked power of the Internet. Researchers have just called on the federal government to step up its oversight of beauty and cosmetics vendors because its clear that consumers are suffering clear harms from their products. New York magazine’s well-reported anecdotes, any of which might just easily have occurred not just on the Upper East or West Side of Manhattan but also in tony areas all around the District and Beltway, can sound so empty as to provoke guffaws (print the piece out and toss it in the bag for beach reading). Some of the circulating canards can’t even be labeled as “fake news” because they’re so old and creaky they’re medieval.
I’m a big advocate of patients’ pursuit of a fundamental right in medical care: informed consent. That’s a term that expresses a concept at the core of any free society: Each person has a right to decide what to do with his or her own body, so long as he or she doesn’t hurt someone else. It, of course, covers medical care. It means that doctors, as experts in their field, must share sufficient information with patients so they understand drugs or therapies and can freely and fully understand whether they want them. We can’t make critical individual choices about our medical care without informed consent, and, similarly, we can’t make vital legal and policy decisions without sound information.
Celebrities and rich Americans certainly have a First Amendment right to espouse extreme (crank) medical or health views. But all the rest of us don’t have to give them credibility—or tens of millions in our hard-earned dollars.