The skeptical cardiologist first encountered the blather of Dr. Steven Gundry while researching and writing a post entitled The #1 Red Flag of Quackery.
Gundry came across my quack radar screen due to the popularity of his useless supplements and his pseudoscientific justifications. He is also widely described as a cardiologist but he is not, He is (or was) a cardiac surgeon (like, strangely enough, the celebrity prince of quackery, Dr. Oz)
I’ve been meaning to write specifically about his most popular useless supplement, Vital Reds.
In the meantime, Gundry has come out with a best-selling. book entitled “The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in Healthy Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain”.
This book claims to reveal to its readers the great dietary “secret” that is causing almost all chronic diseases. Of course, Gundry is the only person with the brilliance and insight to have recognized this. Only those who are willing to plunk down the money to buy his book will learn this secret and the (mostly gobbledook) science behind it.
This technique of convincing the naive that only you are aware of the “hidden” factor which is the cause of their various maladies can probably be considered the #2 Red Flag of Quackery.
The Plant Paradox would have you believe that lectins are the major danger in our diet.
I’ve come across two well-researched pieces which destroy any validity to the concepts put forth by Gundry in The Plant Paradox.
Campbell: Is It Possible Gundry Is Out To Make A Quick Buck?
The first is from T. Colin Campbell of China Study fame. While I don’t agree with his overall dietary philosophy (see here) in his article he has taken the time to read Gundry’s book in detail and address in great detail the multiple bogus claims and the lack of scientific support. Campbell begins:
The claims come fast and furious in this book, stated with a degree of certainty, without nuance, that undoubtedly appeals to many readers. But the referencing is so lacking and sloppy that Dr. Gundry should be embarrassed. The references that are cited in this book do a poor job of trying to justify its claims. And the bulk of the author’s wild claims lack references at all, with several examples of easily verifiable falsehoods. Because his claims are quite profound and novel, referencing of the findings of others and his own results are especially important. This is especially troubling for an author who touts his own research experience.
After debunking Gundry’s lectin claims , Campbell suggests that Gundry’s major goal is selling more useless supplements, including one that will protect readers from the dreaded lectin:
In conclusion, there are many people who desire good health and deserve good information and we resent that they must suffer such poor quality and confusing information under the assumption that it is good science. Is it possible that Dr. Gundry is just out to make a quick buck? He admits that his patients give up to a dozen vials of blood for testing every couple of months at his clinic. Overtesting is common practice in supplement-driven clinics. This extensive testing, (which are another topic), is almost always used to demonstrate some type of nutritional pathology, which of course can only be corrected by taking the suggested supplements. And of course, Dr. Gundry sells supplements, including “Lectin Shield” for about $80 a month. According to his website, “This groundbreaking new formula was created to offset the discomforting effects of lectins (proteins commonly found in plants that make them harder to digest). Lectin Shield works to protect your body from a pile-up of lectins and to promote full-body comfort.”
Are Lectins The Next Gluten?
The second article I highly recommend was written for The Atlantic last year by one of my favorite medical writers, James Hamblin, MD.
Entitled, “Lectins Could Become the Next Gluten“, the article combines a tongue–in-cheek commentary with interviews with scientists who debunk Gundry’s claims. Hamblin also interviews Gundry which is particularly revelatory as to Gundry’s lack of credibility.
Although Gundry claims his writing is not motivated by money, Hambling notes:
Yes, he also sells supplements he recommends. The last 20 or so minutes of his infomercial is a string of claims about how supplies are running low, and it’s important that you act immediately, and that if you do manage to get through to a customer representative you should order as much as you have room to store—the shelf life is great, etc. And the necessity of supplements is the crucial argument of the book. He writes, “Getting all of the nutrients you need simply cannot be done without supplements.”
The GundryMD line of products includes something he invented called vitamin G6. Another is a “lectin shield” that’s “designed to neutralize the effects of lectins.” These are available on his website for $79.99. There you can also get six jars of Vital Reds for $254.70.
Fake Dietary Science Undermines Valid Dietary Recommendations
Hambling closes his piece by noting that book publishers have no accountability for publishing dietary/health misinformation as they are incentivized to publish and profit from the most outrageous claims.
This is a problem much bigger than any plant protein. Cycles of fad dieting and insidious misinformation undermine both public health and understanding of how science works, giving way to a sense of chaos. It seems that every doctor has their own opinion about how to protect your body from calamity, and all are equally valid, because nothing is ever truly known.
N.B. Gwyneth Paltrow (GOOP) deserves a prominent place in the Quackery Hall of Shame.
Julia Belluz of Vox has a typically spot-on piece about GOOP which begins:
Gwyneth Paltrow has made a career out of selling pseudoscience on her lifestyle website, Goop. Over the years, the actress has proclaimed women should steam their vaginas, that water has feelings, and that your body holds secret organs. Mixed into these absurd assertions is her bogus detox diet and cleansing advice, all of it in service of promoting Goop’s beauty and wellness products