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 a dramatic improvement on the supplement and enthusiastically record their testimonials to its power
-have no scientific support for 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 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 described 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,
-ACP


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 sci-ence.org. Here it is in all its glory, courtesy of Maki

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

  1. This guy is one of the most money-grubbing opportunistic scammers on the internet. He uses twisted and manipulated data, scare tactics and faulty information to sell his useless (but highly profitable) products. Come on – lectins? They’re in nearly every food you eat, but he has discovered an effective button-pushing catch phrase to goad unwitting victims into believing his hype. I guess he just got tired of being an MD and dealing with the politics of the health care industry, and decided being a shark gliding unhindered through the waters of the internet would be alot easier and and more profitable. Like a shark has one goal, to pursue food and disregard the impact of their solitary purpose in life, to feed, he has one similar goal – to relentlessly reap profits with his self-designed theatrical scamming presentations. You can’t go online without being bombarded with his “avoid this one food”, “A simple to trick to fix anything that might ail you”, “top cardioogist reveals one simple fix for everything”, which, as he knows, is something most people are just suckers for, and which continuously pop up no matter what you happen to be looking at online. He probably researched advertising secrets and techniques extensively before starting this ridiculous campaign, and must reap as much in ad revenues as he does for his grossly overpriced and phony products and “ground-breaking information”. There are so many scammers online, don’t fall for another one. He doesn’t need his bottom line to be further padded with your hard-earned money. It is an infuriating and shameful display of greed and deception, don’t fall for it!

    Reply
  2. if they have auto shipping, a special sale and Limited availability, it’s a hint plus there’s the videos and operators are busy so better act soon , it’s not available in stores. It’s so odd that a heart surgeon would wanna become a snack bar maker, usually they really like doing surgery sort of a dedication to her talent a lot of people don’t have ,unless something went wrong and they had a malpractice i career change inspiration. And where is positive Zocdoc reviews the life-saving cardiothoracic surgery he did, somebody should be grateful for that but not one review. Usually they have reviews from people that had a really good experience with their heart surgery. But the bad reviews can’t really tell you about their experience or reviews because they’re dead.How many people sued the department he headed before he quit surgery? to become “untrained” dietitian.” Which is in his bio literally in the same context..is he even licensed to practice medicine within 500 feet of a GNC?

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  3. People should do their own research. If they cannot assimilate what they are reading in journals, books, and videos then they should have someone do the research for them. An interesting statisitc in cardiology is when patients are fully informed they will choose procedures over alternatives only 3% of the time. The medical-pharmaceutical industries want to push their procedures along with very powerful and profitable prescriptions. Do the research, make a an informed decision.

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    • ” The medical-pharmaceutical industries want to push their procedures “

      Thats not true at all, procedures are considered open source people can learn it around the world. Open source individual science and drs discovering practical or new ways of performing surgery and or inventing a device , usually from a doctor or gruop of doctors but frequently the procedure is named after the surgeon that invented it.And has a large trust fund for his family.
      And if scientific pharmacology research-based medicine has scams and and manipulates prices with regulation and oversight imagine the unregulated field of hyperbolic magic beans sold for 3 times as much than at any vitamin shop here’s nothing in this at all that’s special. Usually things that work really good don’t need a commercial, like Retin-A that, stuff was flying off the prescription pad in the 80s because it worked. Dr.Gundy/ Secret snack foods aren’t even original or a nutritional previously undiscovered answer to most health problem,if it worked every doctor would have abs and be135. There are no secret weigh loss tips that you’ll ever hear on the Internet with a video and and former DR, selling magic beans He must’ve been on sabbatical from a highly trained life-saving surgery two equally stimulating and challenging life of ” an amateur nutritionist” which many could argue we all are.

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  4. I did fall for the HARD sale tactics used by Dr Gundry. I do know better but I really wanted to believe. I took his Vital Reds for 1 month and the best thing I can say is…it doesn’t seem to have caused any lasting damage.
    I would hesitate to call this a scam except for the conscious decision by Dr Gundry and his marketing team to shade the truth for their benefit. For example, he states he attended Yale which is true but this was for an Undergraduate degree not his medical degree. He is not a cardiologist but rather a cardiac surgeon. Furthermore I can find no evidence he has ever trained as a nutritionist. As stated elsewhere, his book makes claims for which he offers very little if any proof. If his clinic is more than just a money machine, I would expect to see published studies documenting his research and substantiating his claims.
    I am a firm believer in wholistic health so I’m going to chalk this up as a learning experience then go do some Yoga, drink a glass of water and get some much needed sleep.

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  5. Thanks for being here, Dr. AnthonyP!
    I found you while researching a new product of Gundry’s – “Energy Renew”. I’m aware that lifestyle etc are the keys to good health (at least, what an individual can contribute to it.) Are you familiar with a book, “Younger Next Year”? It sells NO products, and focuses on the science and logic behind aging, and how to “convince” you body to stay (get!) younger in health and energy. The woman’s version, at least, makes clear that some things just WILL happen, like wrinkly skin. Mostly, it gave me justification to do the things I’d felt drawn to do anyway (like take time to really EXERCISE.) Those are things that are so easy to put off, while caring for others.
    😉
    To “cut to the chase”, I’m hoping you can help guide me, in finding some answers for myself. I’m not asking for you to give me the answers. I know that can’t happen!
    My dilemma – I have a VERY VERY VERY demanding life, as the 47yr old single mother of an 8 yr old and autistic 11 year old, both gifted. (On Autism Spectrum myself, as well as ADHD). I work hard to exercise, stay ACTIVE, generally eat well, and try to get enough good sleep. When I’ve got the balance “right”, I feel really well. The balance that “works” for me, though, seems to be getting more and more fragile, as well as more “demanding”, as I age. Seems perfectly normal, I know. But, this does make it harder and harder to do enough for myself, within my schedule, to be as healthy and energetic as I really HAVE to be in order to keep up with everything else! (Oh, btw, I have also had a THOROUGH physical and blood panel. Everything looks good, I’m just “getting older” POO!)
    It seems that there MUST be something I can do to further support SOMETHING from the inside of me! I just don’t really know what, or how, or what questions to ask, or anything.
    THIS is what I’m hoping you can help with. How do I direct my research, to target whatever it is I need to target, or even to find out what I need to target?? (Do I sound clueless yet? Because I feel it!)
    I hope this all makes some sense, and thanks again!
    Sincerely,
    Keep On Keepin’ On

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  6. So I’m 71 trying to stay healthy bought into the scam of vital red.I got 3 containers (not cheap).
    So do I return it you are supposedly get a 90 day garentee return or chalk it up to a lost? I am really upset I feel for this.. patricia

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    • I highly recommend returning them. They probably count on people not going through the hassle but these snake oil salesmen need to be held accountable. I have heard that getting one’s money back is really difficult. Maybe you could describe the process when you are done.

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  7. And of course Dr Gundry is not a cardiologist, but rather a CTS. He requires expensive alternative blood work (only from one lab), pushes lots of pills, and “diagnoses” illnesses for which there are no identified lab indications or even symptoms in the patient. He is focused on creating a dependency upon his care.

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  8. I watched the full video today and I have to admit that most of it was intriguing. I do not know if it is bunk science or what. However, I am skeptical of online ads indicating that an offer will expire in 24 hours with a 100% money-back guarantee. I also admit that I can be gullible for these types of advertising techniques and have fallen prey to only a few of them. Sleep and snoring aids come immediately to mind. I am surprised that Dr. Gundry’s elixir does not cure sleep apnea. What really concerned me was the claim that the online purchase was protected by 228-bit encryption (i.e., security). I am not a cyber-security expert; however, I can research the web like everyone else. In general, cryptography methods use 256-bit, 384-bit, or greater encryption… multiples of 128 bits. Much to my surprise, there is 228-bit cryptography; however, Dr. Gundry’s glance over this topic in the video does not specify whether the encryption uses a 228-bit RSA or ECC. According to https://www.keycdn.com/support/elliptic-curve-cryptography/ (2018), “To put things into perspective, according a Universal Security study, breaking a 228-bit RSA key would take less energy than what is needed to boil a teaspoon of water. Alternatively, breaking a 228-bit ECC key would require more energy than it would take to boil all the water on earth” (para 12). I will not be ordering Dr. Gundry’s products! I will leave it at that!

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  9. I tend to write off any ‘doctor’ who appears on Oprah and pushes his particular wheelbarrow of drugs. Dr. Oz leads the list. Any website that entraps you and forces you to listen or read page after page of text, I just know that bottom line is ‘buy my stuff’. A LOT of stuff.
    nooooo.

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  10. What tipped me off was when the doctor stated that only animals with four stomachs can digest grass which is not true. Horses only have one stomach and they digest grass fine

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  11. Ahhh this information is all very interesting. First of all I’ve read both of Dr. Gundry’s books and found them quite interesting. I found as I strictly followed his eating guidelines in his book “Diet Evolution” my total cholesterol in fact improved, falling 65 points from 231 to 166 although my HDL has always been around 66 or a bit higher and never deviating. As a result of changing my eating habits I lost weight and the energy returned. However, weight loss is a hook to get you to use his supplements. They begin to see weight loss as a result of a change in eating habits then they say… as I did… I’m going to try his supplements too. Weight loss continues if you stick to the diet but now on the supplements the energy is most always attributed them rather than what you’re eating, which is where they get you. There’s no silver bullets folks! I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call Dr. Gundry a quack because his food list is a good one and it works. As for the supplements I don’t think they really make any difference at all. I’m convinced it’s about what you eat and don’t eat as well as your life style. Are you active and exercise or do you sit around like a slug? Good eats and activity are my keys to high energy and feeling good mentally and physically.

    Reply
    • Gary,
      Thanks for your comments.
      I agree that lifestyle is very important.
      If you obscure your good dietary advice with promotion of useless and expensive supplements then you qualify as a quack.
      Dr. Pearson

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      • I have no argument with that Dr. Anthony I am assuming he is/was a real cardiologist so I thought I’d give him the benefit of the doubt… However you are quite correct in that someone who sells a special tonic that claims to do everything from curing the common cold to making hair grow on a bald man’s head is called a quack, a term that refers to any fraudulent practitioner of medicine or law. I guess we also refer to them as snake oil sales men.

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        • Gundy is/was a cardiothoracic surgeon. I don’t mean to disparage the entire subspecialty but CT surgeons seem particularly prone to jumping the shark once they’ve grown tired of splitting sternums. Dr. Oz being the most prominent example.
          Both Gundy and Oz were well respected in their fields but that is no guarantee that they can’t spew unscientific blather and promote useless supplements for their own profit.

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          • Anyone (like dr. Oz) who is pushing a specific product should at least look as if it helps him, too. His wrinkle cream apparently is only for the young and flawless (omg I have a crease) and not for the well seasoned like Dr. Oz, who has enough wrinkly bits to embarrass a Shar Pei…

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      • Thank you so much for your honest comments. I consider myself very knowledgeable about supplements and just taking them all these comments regarding Dr . Gundry did raise my eyebrows because I received his plant base product and it was already expired when I called I was told it had a shelf life of 2 years. Also I think I will be returning ASAP his skin care products because if he can not be truthful in his supplements as far as not being able to state that they are backed by science I tend to agree he may be out to make bucks how sad for a doctor whose ethics should be unquestionable, thank you again for this invaluable information,

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    • Don’t need some “Gundry” diet. Lots of those around the internet or see a good dietician. Tired of hearing about the gundrymen out there. Echhhhh!!!

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    • What about the studies from France and BJM on reservatrol from the grape Tannat. Studies from cell biologists showed lab results of the cell penetration abilities in human vascular specimens of this compound. Reversing atherosclerosis. Claimed by research in France and confirmed by the Brits. Also I believe, confirmed by NYU.
      I agree though, too many unsubstantiated claims exist from a multitude of companies on this website. Measurable lab tests of blood work, xrays, CT or MRI would be a form of scientific evidence. Unfortunately our Government does not require science for either side of the fence on these opinions. The FDA is run by big pharma executives, thus anything out of that office is suspect. Fraud is found on BOTH sides. Be aware of that. Science has been betrayed by all for hundreds of years, all in the name of MONEY. This fact seems to have no foreseeable end and that is the cause of my need to be

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    • Aspirin is an an anti-inflammatory as well. And effective at that. Take on a full stomach. Yes, it does the pain alleviation thingie, too.

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  12. 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…

    Reply
    • 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.

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      • 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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        • Your story is same as mine. I consider to be well educated and highly skeptic. Found my way here after looking for good fasting information over an idea that humans have evolved and eaten quite naturally before farming and cultivation.
          I fell often in microsleep while in red trafic lights in my car and I was honked at. This happened several times during last year mainly in winter. We live in skandinavia. That is when I woke literally up.
          Long story short. Noticed soon that some people just cant resist making the best of other peoples ignorance and lazyness. Started seeing red flags about Dr. Steven Gundry. I am glad to come upon this site. I have put my resourses (mainly time) to the message of Jason Fung MD. Have fun and take care. Oh and my job is not stress full but stress related. I coach breathing techniques. But be warned, I make little money from it 🙂
          Jarmo, the OIOnaut

          Reply
  13. 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.

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    • 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.

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  14. 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.

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  15. 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,

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  16. 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.

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