Why You Shouldn’t Take Health Advice From Celebs
Whether we admire them or roll our eyes at their behavior, we cannot dismiss the impact that celebrities have on public opinion, especially on public health.
We live in a time where social media has a tremendous impact on our culture, where celebrities have a significant influence on their followers and who give health advice although they don’t have a medical background. When they speak, it seems that the world listens – even when it comes to personal and public health. They heavily influence what we eat, what medical tests or what treatments we take.
But why do we follow celebrities’ medical advice when it is clearly not their area of expertise?
A recent study showed that pairing a celebrity with a product led to higher product ratings. Advice from celebrities that matches our own thoughts and attitudes has an even greater influence. When there is high compatibility between a celebrity and ourselves, consumers tend to purchase products endorsed by the celebrity.
Researchers have also discovered that seeing a celebrity endorsement activates the brain region called the medial orbitofrontal cortex, which is involved in encoding positive associations. It also activates brain regions involved in explicit memories, such as facts about the associated celebrity. So, if our memories of the celebrity are positive, they can be transferred to the product or idea being promoted by that celebrity.
But the perception of celebrities as “experts” can sometimes be deceiving. For example, although Dr. Oz has received immense criticism from the scientific community for his endorsements of miracle diet pills, his fans may disregard this and continue to follow his advice. This could be accounted for by our desire to maintain mental consistency in our beliefs and values.
A big problem emerges when medical products and treatments endorsed by celebrities have no scientific evidence.
For example, in 2013, Katy Perry tweeted a photo of herself taking 26 vitamins and supplements as a daily routine. However, did you know that overloading on vitamins can have the opposite of the intended effect and could lead to nausea, diarrhea, hair loss and fatigue?
1. Waist trainers
A new trend emerging on social media a while ago – promoted by various celebrities – are waist trainers to help achieve a certain “ideal” look. On March 2018, Kylie Jenner faced backlash after she shared a post promoting waist trainers, a controversial waist-slimming product many celebrities including Amber Rose and Kim Kardashian West endorse for helping them achieve their hourglass look. The question is, how safe are waist trainers to use? Although the promoters of waist trainers promise you a semi-permanent hourglass look, if your body doesn’t naturally have it, when wearing these corset-like products for too long or wearing one that’s too tight can cause real damage to your body, inside and out. Your ribs can get bruised, your constricted diaphragm can limit your ability to breathe, the bound down intestinal region could cause poor mobility of the bowels and when it comes to nerve and tissue damage, at the top of the pelvis, where the corset sits, nerves can get irritated and cause the pins-and-needles feeling, burning and tingling down into the leg.
2. Gluten-free diets
After receiving criticism that she was too thin, Miley Cyrus went on to tweet that she has a gluten and lactose allergy and that everyone should try to go gluten-free for a week, saying “The change in your skin, phyisical (sic) and mental health is amazing! U won’t go back!” Here, it’s important to note that a medical practitioner will only prescribe a gluten-free diet to people with celiac disease, a condition that causes the immune system to react to gluten in the body, causing damage to the lining of the intestines, along with uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms. Plus, for people not suffering from that disease, gluten-free foods have no special health benefits.
3. Juice cleanses
Another health related trend endorsed by many celebrities are the cleanse diets or juicing to lose weight or detox. Nowadays, juice is the new latte. Yoga fans drink it. Celebrities such as Salma Hayek and Gwyneth Paltrow do too. They’re consuming raw fruit & veggies drinks to “cleanse” their bodies or lose weight.
However, the benefits of such practices are questionable as there isn’t much precedent for juicing fruits and vegetables the way people are doing it today. This means we don’t have a lot of information on how it will affect our bodies long-term.
We don’t know how much juice is beneficial or safe to drink, the impact of removing or adding back fibre from vegetables, how juice storage impacts nutrition, and the effect of different juicing methods. What are the effects in people who are healthy, sick, underweight or obese?
What makes these kinds of “diets” questionable is what we know so far about fruits and vegetables consumption in a liquid state. Drinking one or more daily servings of apple, orange, grapefruit and other juices increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 21%. The high vitamin K content in a spinach-kale smoothie can be life-threatening if you take blood-thinning medications. If you have the metabolic disorder, juicing could lead to blood sugar spikes because you’re getting all the sugar of fruit without the fibre. The fibre in whole fruit and vegetables slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Four-and-a-half cups of chopped kale can be lethal if your kidneys are weak because of high blood pressure, severe infection, an enlarged prostate, certain drugs or pregnancy complications. Kale, bok choy, cauliflower, collards and spinach are rich in glucosinolates, which form goitrin, a compound associated with hypothyroidism or insufficient thyroid hormone. If you’d like to live a healthier lifestyle or lose weight, I recommend visiting a nutritionist for a personalised diet plan.
4. Appetite supressants
Adding to the losing weight “miracle” aids, celebrities have come under fire for promoting appetite suppressants to their young, female followers on social media. One example is Kim Kardashian West, who has been heavily criticised for her involvement in promoting “appetite suppressant” lollipops. She posted a picture on Instagram encouraging her 111m followers to purchase the sweet treat, which claims it helps to aid weight loss although there is no scientific evidence to back up those claims. Moreover, appetite suppressants products tend to be used by young people with eating disorders such as anorexia. Actively promoting such products on social media only encourages them to maintain their unhealthy relationship with food.
The lollipops are manufactured by Flat Tummy Co, which pays some of the most popular stars on Instagram large sums to market its “detox” teas, some of which contain a laxative, meal-replacement milkshakes, and lollipops, which contain an appetite suppressant. Ultimately, the promotion of these products is heavily influenced by monetary rewards not the belief that they are helpful towards achieving a goal in improving your health.
5. IV Vitamin Drips
In South Africa, a trend that I have been actively monitoring during the past few months is the intravenous vitamin therapy, offered by many clinics in Gauteng, as well as promoted by celebrities and influencers on social media.
Clinics offering this kind of therapy claim that vitamin IV drips boost your energy levels, stimulate the immune system, and help with stress and sleep problems. They also recommend it for a wide range of conditions including cancer, hypertension, asthma or depression, and apparently the formula of vitamins is customised depending on your needs. The clinics inform their clients that: “By directly administering nutrients to the body higher than normal blood levels can be achieved. These increased levels can provide an immediate therapeutic response by correcting deficiencies that may arise from a disease state.” (The Rothfield Center 2014).
There have been no clinical studies performed to show that the IV vitamin therapy offers any health benefit or is necessary for good health.
In addition, both short- and long-term impact on health is unknown.
In an alternative therapy journal, Alternative Medicine Review, IV nutrient therapy has been reported to be more effective and better tolerated than conventional medical therapies for conditions such as asthma attacks, migraines, fatigue (including chronic fatigue syndrome), fibromyalgia, acute muscle spasm, upper respiratory tract infections, chronic sinusitis, seasonal allergic rhinitis, cardiovascular disease and other disorders; however this is based on anecdotal evidence (Gaby 2002). To date there is no robust evidence from human clinical trials showing any positive health effects. The only published trial on their use (in fibromyalgia) showed no benefit.
Vitamins and minerals are found in foods and are consumed alongside other nutrients in the food matrix. In healthy individuals, the digestion and absorption of food is regulated to release nutrients into the bloodstream from the gut and from the liver. If nutrients bypass this natural process and are injected directly into the bloodstream in high doses, it could potentially cause harm. To date, the medium- and long-term effects are unknown.
Intravenous nutrients are used in hospitals for patients who are too sick to eat, to help keep them alive or to correct the adverse effects of various deficiencies. However, the type of such treatments and the amount given needs to be carefully assessed and monitored by use of appropriate blood tests.
What’s the verdict?
Unfortunately, once a treatment becomes popular, it’s hard to dislodge. However, as medical practitioners I believe we have a duty to inform the public around products and treatments available on the market that have no scientific evidence to support their claims, and correct influential personalities with no medical background when they promote such products and treatments.
On the other hand, there are a number of celebrities to who we can look for meal inspiration – and who have it right when it comes to what’s on their plates. Click here to find out what fit celebrities eat for breakfast.