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,

-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

2012-01-09-redflags2-682x1024

 

 

 

21 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 !

    1. 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

  6. 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.

    1. 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

      1. 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.

      2. 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.

  7. 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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