The British Sense About Science charity trust just released its annual report Celebrities and Science 2009 debunking the absurd health claims of celebrities who think their pop culture status gives them the right to play doctor. Sense About Science reviews celebs’ bogus advice, from special diets to miracle cures, and asks real scientists what the “stars” should have said.
Among this year’s gems, actor Roger Moore told the Daily Mail that “eating foie gras can lead to Alzheimer’s, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.” A real shocker — except that it’s false. Dietician Lucy Jones corrects the record, noting that food is broken down into component nutrients during digestion and “it is the balance of these components that is important to our health, not the specific food that they come from.”
The PETA-endorsing model Heather Mills asserted that meat “sits in your colon for 40 years and putrefies, and gives you the illness you die of.” University of Liverpool gastroenterologist Dr. Melita Gordon, however, called Mills’ assertion flat-out clueless. Meat proteins are absorbed by the small bowel before they get to the colon, says Gordon, and any remaining indigestible material is expelled within days.
Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty — another PETA endorser, incidentally — said she avoids carbonated drinks because “they sap all the oxygen from your body and make your skin wrinkly and dehydrated.” Wrong again. Physiologist Ron Maughan replies that even “[at] rest, the body is constantly producing carbon dioxide.” Maughan adds that “the amount from a fizzy drink is trivial and there is no obvious mechanism by which the skin would be affected.”
Scientifically-ignorant celebrities can be counted on to regurgitate more and more radical propaganda from activist groups. The Humane Society of the United States is waging a campaign against the consumption of meat while “Twinkie Tax” creator Kelly Brownell and Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest have called for “soda taxes” in a wrongheaded attempt to counter obesity.
Spreading misinformation and prescribing medically spurious advice are par for the course in some activist groups, despite evidence that (for instance) there is no link between obesity and soda drinks. Megan Fox even believes she has a “miracle cure” for obesity: drinking vinegar shots, which allegedly speeds up digestion and “flushes” toxins from the body. (Turns out that it really doesn’t.) Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie still swears, however, organic apple cider vinegar makes “a difference on my stomach.”
Real experts beg to differ. “As attractive as it sounds, there’s no magic pill for a quick fix to weight loss,” counters Jones. “The body, including the liver, is a well-oiled detoxing machine, which will not be improved by vinegar.”
Our celebrity-obsessed Twenty-First Century culture will probably continue to place too much trust in people whose only credentials are their 15 minutes of fame. Before you trust someone who doesn’t even “play a doctor on TV,” check with a real physician. (And no, we don’t mean these guys.)