health

"Don't you dare use COVID-19 as your opportunity to peddle alternative medicine."

As it currently stands, the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, has spread to over 140 countries. Thousands are dead and close to over 160,000 infected, with death tolls in places like Italy and Spain rising more quickly than they were in China at the same stage of outbreak. Late last week, the virus was declared a global pandemic, and hour to hour, minute to minute, updates come from all over the world about the previously unimaginable measures that are being taken to curb the spread.

Schools closed.

Workplaces shut.

Entire cities, entire countries in lockdown.

The advice from the medical community about how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic is relatively clear: to the extent that it is feasible, we must self-isolate. While the mortality rate of the virus is low (but much higher for vulnerable individuals and the elderly), a secondary challenge comes when our healthcare system is overrun. If a lot of people get sick at the same time, we don’t necessarily have the resources to provide them all with optimal medical care. Self isolation makes it possible to ‘flatten the curve’ – spreading the outbreak over a longer period of time, to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.

WATCH: Mamamia’s The Quicky host Claire Murphy breaks down your most asked questions about COVID-19. Post continues below. 

Video by Mamamia

But this pandemic, and all the questions and uncertainties that come with it, is unprecedented. The sheer volume of information that’s available to the masses means there’s inevitable ambiguity surrounding how the virus spreads and what we can do to prevent it.

That’s where Miranda Kerr comes in.

Over the weekend, the model and business owner posted an image to Instagram promoting a resource called ‘Virus Protection’ by Medical Medium Anthony William. The 33-page pdf claims “the first step to protect yourself… is to stop eating the foods viruses love to eat”. These foods, apparently, include eggs, dairy, gluten and corn, as well as foods high in fat, like peanut butter, soy, chicken and pork.

William also advocates for keeping your immune system strong by consuming celery juice, cucumber juice, raw garlic, and elderberry syrup, before finally, on page 31, explaining some ‘antiviral practices’ like washing your hands regularly, and avoiding touching your face.

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Great info to help people at this time ???????????? @medicalmedium

A post shared by Miranda (@mirandakerr) on


The response to Kerr’s Instagram post was a far cry from the near-universal adulation she typically receives when posting about her work or her family.

The most ‘liked’ comment read: “The ‘medical medium’ has no medical license of any kind. Spreading his pseudoscientific misinformation is literally dangerous at this point. Please consider removing this,” while others described the post as “completely irresponsible,” “dangerous misinformation,” and “utter nonsense”.

Of course, there are plenty of others who thanked Kerr for sharing, commenting that they’d “check out” the resource themselves.

Just to be clear – Anthony William claims his advice comes from alleged communication with ‘Spirit’. Legal disclaimers on his website state that he has no qualifications in science or medicine, and that his suggestions should not be used as a substitute for medical advice. His most popular claim – that centres on the healing powers of celery juice (including for fighting viruses like COVID-19) – has no scientific evidence to support it.

Speaking to Mamamia in 2018 about the purported benefits of celery juice, APD Dietitian and Nutritionist Marika Day said:

“There’s no scientific or research-based evidence to support [any benefits]. There’s no scientific research behind [the movement], and no evidence to support that it does the things it claims to do. In my opinion, it’s making people believe that they need to or should be doing something, that their diseases are their fault and if they don’t do something about it (i.e. drink celery juice), then they’re failing.”

The problem, of course, is that Miranda Kerr has spent years cultivating an identity that’s synonymous with health. She has an organic skincare range, a widely-reported wellness routine, and a lifestyle that appears to put wellbeing at the forefront.

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So does Gwyneth Paltrow.

Ironically, the Goop founder starred in the 2011 film Contagion, which has become one of the most-watched films in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. But in 2020, Paltrow’s stance on ‘wellness’ resembles that of Jude Law’s character – a blogger who suggests the benefits of forsythia, a type of flower, are being overlooked by the world’s leading scientists.

While some of the advice on Goop about COVID-19 is endorsed by the medical community, like washing your hands and disinfecting your phone, the suggestion that elderberry (which, coincidentally, can be purchased in the form of a ‘chew’ on Goop for $30) boosts your immune system has no scientific support.

The peddling of pseudoscientific remedies in response to the novel coronavirus is also taking place closer to home. Over the weekend, celebrity chef and My Kitchen Rules judge Pete Evans shared a Facebook live, where he recommended patients look up ‘Ozone Therapy’ to protect themselves. He also warned viewers about the dangers of WiFi (which, presumably, they were using to watch his live stream) and 5G, stating they may decrease your immune system and make you more vulnerable to infection.

Also over the weekend, former Married at First Sight contestant Tracey Jewel acknowledged the ‘fear’ and ‘uncertainty’ around COVID-19, and directed her audience to Healy – a lifestyle wellness device that’s all about “good vibes”. Healy, Jewel says, can be used “to boost your immune system, bioenergetics, [and] increase your protection”.

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Jewel’s Instagram provides a link to a website with more information, including the claim that many diseases and disorders are caused by “the electric potential difference between the cells and the spaces in that cell [being] too small”.

“The fact that Healy is designed to carry electricity into the body,” the website states, “will return the voltage of the cell back to a healthy level (physical).”

A disclaimer at the bottom of the page reads:

“Science and orthodox medicine do not accept the existence of information fields, their possible medical or other relevance, the Healy device and their applications due to a lack of scientific proof in accordance with orthodox medicine standards.

“Healy is not intended to treat, treat, relieve, diagnose or prevent disease, but promotes energy balance and increasing efficiency in body rejuvenation, vitality and well-being.”

On a regular day, the ‘Healy’ might be nothing more than a silly product to giggle at.

But right now, we’re sitting on the precipice of an unprecedented time in human history.

Never before, during a global pandemic, have people had such extensive access to information. Never before, in the age of mobile phones and laptops and Facebook and Instagram, have people had more attention to give, more time to dedicate to listening to the people they follow. Last week, as Italy settled into lockdown, Telecom Italia Chief Executive Officer Luigi Gubitosi said there was “a reported increase of more than 70 per cent of Internet traffic”.

In many parts of the Western world, lockdown procedures are just beginning. Many of us are working from home, we’re avoiding going out, some schools are closed and mass gatherings are cancelled. The Petes and the Traceys and the Mirandas matter – because at best they waste people’s time, and at worst, they decrease trust in medical experts for medical advice, and reduce the likelihood of the community paying attention to public health messages when they need to.

Speaking to Mamamia about the pseudoscientific claims emerging on social media, Dr Brad McKay explained, “When gaps appear in our knowledge, people try to fill those gaps. People survive when the gaps are filled with science, but when the gaps are filled with pseudoscience, people die.

“Intelligent people in white lab coats are working hard to come up with answers, but answers aren’t instant,” he added. “Researchers need time, funding, and resources before they are able to provide us with the information we need.

“We all need to work together to get through this challenging time.”

If you’re a fan of medical mediums or alternative medicine or the Healy, now is not the time to peddle it.

Stick to the evidence. To do otherwise is arrogant, irresponsible, and ultimately dangerous.

For more from Clare Stephens, you can follow her on FacebookInstagram or Twitter.

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