How To Spot a Quack Health Site: Red Flag #1, Primary Goal Is Selling Supplements

During the process of compiling the Cardiology Quackery Hall of Shame, the skeptical cardiologist has recognized that the #1 red flag of quackery is the constant promotion of useless supplements.

Such supplements typically:

-consist of “natural” ingredients

-are a proprietary blend of ingredients or a uniquely prepared single ingredient, and are only available through the quack

-have thousands of individuals who have had dramatic improvement on the supplement and enthusiastically record their testimonial to its power

-have no scientific support of efficacy or safety

-despite the lack of scientific data, the quack is able to list a series of seemingly valid supportive “studies”

-aren’t checked by the FDA

-apparently cure everything from heart disease to lassitude

I received an email today from a reader complimenting me on my post on the lack of science behind Dr. Esselstyn’s plant-based diet. The writer thought I would be interested in the work of a  Dr. Gundry.

I found on Dr. Gundry’s website an immediate and aggressive attempt to sell lots of supplements with features similar to what I describe above.

Dr. Gundry’s bio states “I left my former position at California’s Loma Linda University Medical Center, and founded The Center for Restorative Medicine. I have spent the last 14 years studying the human microbiome – and developing the principles of Holobiotics that have since changed the lives of countless men and women.”

Need I mention that “holobiotics” is (?are) not real.

Bonohibotically Yours,


After writing this, I googled “red flag of quackery” images in the foolish hope that I might find a useable image. Lo and behold the image I featured in this post turned up courtesy of Here it is in all its glory, courtesy of Maki





15 thoughts on “How To Spot a Quack Health Site: Red Flag #1, Primary Goal Is Selling Supplements”

  1. My ophthalmologist now pushes supplements, and of course they stock them, as well. I do NOT believe in supplements and resent the sales pressure the docs use. This is nothing more than a revenue generator and from my reading, becomming more prevalent in “legitimate” medical practices.

  2. As well known, there are a plethora of such sites The sine qua non of the financial success of each is the MD classification of the purveyor to whit ” if you cannot trust a MD for medical advice who can you trust” as MDs are “reliable, knowledgeable and trustworthy”. Does not unscientific if not snake oi,l promotion under the auspices of such “MDs” weaken patient trust that is essential for a good doctor patient relationship. Why does the medical profession as a duty permit this from its members as some such sites may even be harmful to a patient. Does this not limply that doctors enter into the field of medicine primarily for personal financial gain rather than a fiduciary duty to a a patient. Why limit this skepticism to Cardiologists,

  3. My pet peeve is supplements that contain plant sterols or stanols, sometimes combined with other ingredients such as carnitine (which may promote atherosclerosis according to research by Stanley Hazen’s group at the Cleveland Clinic), and because the plant sterols lower cholesterol slightly, people assume they must be beneficial. In reality, plant sterols and stanols have never been shown to prevent cardiovascular events, or do anything else other than cost you money.

    1. I was convinced when Loma Linda was mentioned. I had some experience with those folks.. I was further convinced when the video by Dr. Gundy had no pause button, typical of quack sites.

      Notice I’m not rushing out to buy Prevagen, a brain medicine than can’t pass the blood-brain barrier.

  4. My ex-wife wanted to buy our daugher a supplement from a doctor she met. She said: “It’s a secret formula. It’s patented.” I pointed out that by definition you can’t patent a secret formula.

  5. Amen to the skeptics… I’m with you. However, it would be helpful if the Skeptical Cardiologist would at least briefly address whether the central claims made by Dr. Gundry have ANY truth to them, namely that : polyphenols are GOOD, and lectins are BAD. Is “Dr. Gundry” in fact who he says he is ? Do polyphenols even come from the fruits he says they do ? Are the supposed concentrations when combined with the other ingredients in his supplements able to deliver the specific results claimed for polyphenols generally ? I have no problem with someone making money off of a good product that does what it says it WILL do… which is why I still use a broom, a hammer, plyers and aspirin. What most of us DON’T know, is whether the product Dr. Gundry is hawking is more like a broom or more like a “magic crystal”. We need actual FACTS (not “alternative facts”) to make that determination. Generalized bias or resentment or knee jerk unsupported reactions, don’t help us sort things out any more than the flood of B.S. miracle claims… a nation turns its lonely eyes to you…

    1. I’ve been meaning to write a detailed critique of Vital Reds and if time permits I’ll be able to publish it in the next month or so.
      My analysis thus far is that there is no scientific basis to the Gundry claims for this product. There are definitely no studies showing any benefit of his supplements in preventing cardiovascular disease in humans.
      In putting the follow up post together I ended up going down a reservatrol rabbit hole. The reservatrol story is typical and fascinating for how a “natural” chemical shows some early promise in limited animal studies , becomes hyped and marketed on the internet and ultimately is found to be useless.

      1. Wow, what a fast response ! Thanks so much ! I will look forward to the results of your investigation. While I was on your site, I poked around and found the post on the 4 top quack docs…VERY helpful… especially the recounting of the Senate testimony. I also checked out the “supplements you don’t need” page, also very helpful. I was checking out Vital Reds mostly because of it’s claims about increased energy, something I’m struggling with in my mid 50’s. I’m a few pounds overweight but not a lot, am somewhat active, and have a very mentally demanding, stressful job, but I’ve noticed I’m exhausted a lot more, especially after I eat. Doesn’t matter what it is. Thought it could relate to digestion/nutrition so the Vital Reds ad caught my eye. No known heart issues, just fatigue. At any rate, that’s what started me down this winding path to you. Got to say though, I’m glad it did. Didn’t know you existed till today. Thanks for what you’re doing here !

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