'Tis the season to reflect on the year that was. So to celebrate, I took a look at the most wildly off-base health claims of 2015. A few of the highlights:
1) Gwyneth Paltrow told women to steam clean their vaginas. Don't do this.
In January, Gwyneth Paltrow — who has a long history of spouting absurd health claims — stooped to a new low, endorsing steam cleaning one's vagina to boost energy and rebalance female hormones. An excerpt:
The real golden ticket here is the Mugwort V-Steam. You sit on what is essentially a mini-throne, and a combination of infrared and mugwort steam cleanses your uterus, et al.
Needless to say, you should definitely not do this.
2) Donald Trump said some nonsense about vaccines and autism
Donald Trump says a lot of bizarre stuff, but one of his worst claims this year came when he endorsed the long-refuted notion that vaccine induces autism in kids. In case you need a longer look at why this is wrong, see our debunking.
3) Dr. Oz denied that his medical show was actually a medical show
Dr. Oz's TV show, which has long offered overhyped or outright bogus medical advice, has come in for heavy criticism over the past year. So in April, he offered this absurd defense — it's not actually a medical show!
We very purposely, on the logo, have 'Oz' as the middle, and the 'Doctor' is actually up in the little bar for a reason. I want folks to realize that I'm a doctor, and I'm coming into their lives to be supportive of them. But it's not a medical show.
To his credit, his new season seems to have taken the criticisms to heart. When I watched a few episodes, I found the bullshit had been dialed way down.
4) Canada's biggest newspaper spread misinformation on the HPV vaccine
In February, the largest daily in Canada, the Toronto Star, reported that women were being harmed and even killed by the HPV vaccine. The story was based mostly on a few anecdotes and ignored all the evidence to the contrary. The paper eventually apologized and retracted the story.
5) The media hyped (bad) stories claiming that kale is dangerous
In recent years, an alternative medicine practitioner has been doing a few experiments, some in the kitchen of his houseboat, that supposedly found high levels of heavy metals in kale, suggesting people were slowly being sickened by the green. The claim went viral. The science behind the claim was terrible.
6) Theranos was busted for lying about its blood tests
Elizabeth Holmes, founder of the embattled biotech startup Theranos, managed to assemble an influential board, attract a $9 billion valuation, and win accolades from the likes of President Obama and Time magazine with promises that she could disrupt the multibillion-dollar US blood testing industry with novel pinprick tests. But when a reporter at the Wall Street Journal started to probe the highly secretive company, he found what seemed like a house of cards: Theranos reportedly rarely used its much-hyped technology for its tests, and there were concerns that the company's results aren't accurate.
7) Everybody freaked out (needlessly) about bacon and cancer
When a World Health Organization research agency announced that eating processed meats (like bacon, salami, and hot dogs) could increase a person's risk of cancer, it spawned panicked headlines. Few stories appreciated, however, that the actual increase in risk was tiny.
8) A company knowingly put synthetic chemicals in supposedly "natural" supplements
In November, six federal agencies announced a crackdown on the manufacturers of weight loss and workout supplements that sickened dozens of Americans. One company had Chinese suppliers create fake documents that portrayed a synthetic chemical as a botanical that had been extracted from "geranium flower powder."
Of the botanical, the executives at the company allegedly said in an email: "lol stuff is completely 100% synthetic." Sadly, there are many other examples where synthetics have been found to be masquerading as botanical supplements.
9) The Food Babe spread nonsense about food — and won a cult following
If you needed more evidence that you can basically say anything about health — no matter how nonsensical and ridiculous — and win a massive following, consider the rise of blogger Vani Hari, known as the Food Babe.
Hari is a former management consultant turned self-styled consumer activist who spreads misinformation about supposed toxins in our foods — from "hazardous chemicals" in pumpkin spice lattes to the genetically modified ingredients in grocery aisles. She basically demonizes chemicals in food, no matter how benign, and suggests they're slowly killing people. It presents a real challenge for journalists, who have to figure out how to cover quacks like Hari.