Tuesday 19 September 2017

Dr Ciara Kelly: The danger of following the health advice and 'nutri-babble' of your favourite Snapchatters

Dr Ciara Kelly. Photo: David Conachy
Dr Ciara Kelly. Photo: David Conachy
Jade Eggs

Ciara Kelly

Last week I wrote about nutri-babble and the lack of evidence that the ketogenic diet does anything to benefit cancer sufferers despite the claims of some. But seriously, it isn't just nutri-babble that's making my head spin.

It's a constant never-ending stream of complete twaddle about health issues in general that the internet is awash with. Everything from anti-vax baloney to fad diet bulls**t which I would be extremely happy to ignore except there are people who are likely to accept these things and may actually try them - to their own detriment.

As a doctor active on social media it's a bit like playing 'Whack-a-mole', trying to slap down one load of rubbish after another!

Two stood out for me this week though. Riona Little, an Irish Snapchatter with thousands of followers, posted that her "doctor suggested that I go on a water-based diet for seven to 14 days to help with my skin and digestion" and by water-based diet she literally meant just water. I was asked my opinion on this and I said as plainly as I could - that is not a diet, that is a hunger strike.

But what kills me is this. This woman is posting to her multiple followers, mostly young women, about literally starving herself - but under the guise of it being medically recommended.

I can safely say I have never, EVER heard of a health care professional - a doctor or dietitian - who would recommend such a thing. Yet this is how this is portrayed, not as a dangerous starvation regime the likes of which you might see on an eating disorder chat room, but as something that a doctor suggested. No doctor should ever suggest this.

That is the real danger - the attempt to dress up something extremely bad for your health, as something good for it. It is The Emperor's New Clothes of health advice.

The other thing I saw was on Goop, the website that Gwyneth Paltrow runs that advocates eating quinoa (pronounced Keeeenwah!) and buying gold vibrators. I have come to the conclusion that it is inevitable that Gwyneth and I will actually have to physically do battle - such is the need to stop her tirade of faux advice and irritating drivel. I feel she is becoming my nemesis.

Anyway, this time Goop has been recommending that women should insert jade eggs into their vaginas to improve their orgasms, their pelvic floors and their all-round 'connection to themselves'. As you do. A jade egg for the uninitiated is a small stone - made of jade - that is presumably egg-shaped.

The fact that the website is providing links to selling these eggs clearly presents no conflict of interest to their objectivity about this. Nor does the tiresome detail that there is no evidence to back up their claims of improved orgasms, etc, from walking around with pebbles shoved up your lady bits deter them in any way from stating for a fact that it does. That it may actually be harmful is no problem either.

The problem as I see it is many people out there see health as a kind of attractive marketing tool that they want to use to promote themselves or whatever it is that they are selling - a book, a blog, a lifestyle. And they think that they can operate in the 'health space' in the same way they did in the cooking or beauty or modelling space by simply claiming that stuff is true because they believe it is or possibly more so because they want you to believe that it is.

But the rules, as I have said before, are different around health. The burden of proof is higher and the responsibility is far greater when you are talking to people about something as fundamentally important as their physical or mental well-being. And that is as it should be.

And there has, of course, always been quackery, always been snake oil salesmen, but the internet and social media have provided them with a massive boost to their abilities to put their misinformation out there. And sadly there is a queue of celebrities lined up to endorse stuff they are selling under the guise of health, but it isn't right. Fiction dressed up as fact needs to be taken down.

And much as I hate to burst your babble luvvies, stuff like living on water being healthy needs to be taken with a very large pinch of salt.

@ciarakellydoc

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