Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop double down on quackery by featuring an HIV/AIDS denialist and antivaccine quack at its upcoming Goop Summit

As amazing as it is, I hadn’t really paid much attention to Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s online empire devoted to selling “health, beauty, and wellness” to (primarily) women until earlier this year. Oh, sure, I was both amused and alarmed a couple of years ago over reports of Gyneth Paltrow recommending that women steam their vaginas, although I had noticed the trend before I had ever heard of Paltrow’s Goop. And, yes, I did notice when Dr. Jen Gunter had some fun mocking Goop’s sale of jade eggs almost a year ago. In case you don’t remember, jade eggs are highly polished, egg-shaped pieces of jade that Goop sells for $55-$66 a pop and that are intended for women to stick up their vaginas, If you believe Goop and Paltrow, jade eggs provide all sorts of wonderful benefits, such as stronger orgasms, balancing hormones, and improve “female energy.” Oh, and jade eggs provide crystal healing. Lots of crystal healing. However, Jen Gunter and Tim Caulfield did such a good job taking down this ludicrous nonsense that this appeared to be one of those rare circumstances where there wasn’t much left for Orac to have fun with.

Then Goop did something that even I couldn’t resist commenting about. It started advertising a product that reminded me of one of the most woo-tastically quacky bits of nonsense I had ever seen in the 13 year history of this blog. Basically, Goop was promoting something known as Body Vibes stickers, which were basically stickers to which miraculous properties were attributed, such as restoring the human body’s “ideal energetic frequency” and “targeting imbalances.” These stickers even used something their manufacturer called its patented Bio Energy Synthesis Technology, which supposedly, when functional, will “hold bio frequencies to the substrate material.” All for prices ranging from $120 for a pack of 24 stickers to $60 for a 10-pack. What a bargain. The laughing over that particular bit of ridiculousness apparently caused something to snap in Goop editors, because after that, Goop, echoed by Gwyneth Paltrow herself, launched a counterattack against Dr. Jen Gunter and other skeptics. As I noted at the time, the doctors who wrote those counterattack articles were not exactly what you would refer to as science-based. In fact, they were pretty darned quacky. Sadly, though, none of this richly deserved mockery of Goop and Paltrow seemed to slow down in the least their raking in of huge quantities of cash hand over fist. In June, Goop held its “Goop Summit,” and easily continued to sell lots of expensive nonsense to credulous people with more time and money than sense.

Well, the second Goop Summit is nearly upon us. Scheduled for January 27, 2018 in New York City, the second Goop Summit, dubbed in Goop Health, looks to be at least as quacky as the first Goop quackfest. Tickets range from $650 for the “Turmeric” level to $2,000 for the Ginger level, and both levels are sold out. One thing, however, that people have been noticing, is just how quacky one of the keynote speakers for the event is. This time around, Goop is giving a highly coveted platform to a genuine HIV/AIDS denialist, psychiatrist Dr. Kelly Brogan:

As Joanna Rothkopf reported for Jezebel, a doctor named Kelly Brogan, who will be featured in January’s Goop summit (a ticketed event run by Goop that includes panels with health professionals and other “trusted experts,” as the site refers to them), published a since-deleted blog post with false claims contradicting proven medical knowledge. In 2014, Brogan, a private-practice psychiatrist based in New York, called the idea that HIV is the cause of AIDS a “meme”—a fleeting cultural concept or catchphrase passed around the internet—rather than the established fact that health authorities worldwide consider it. “Drug toxicity associated with AIDS treatment may very well be what accounts for the majority of deaths,” Brogan wrote.

Asked about those statements in the blog post, which is still available here, in an interview with Newsweek, Brogan called the link between HIV and AIDS an “assumption.” That assertion directly contradicts medical knowledge; according to the National Institutes of Health, there is abundant evidence that HIV causes AIDS.

I checked out the article referenced, which is no longer on Brogan’s website but, thanks to the almighty Wayback Machine at Archive.org is still available. It’s worth citing more of Brogan’s post, dated November 22, 2014, just to remind everyone what an utter quack she is. In her post, Brogan approvingly cites HIV/AIDS denialist Celia Farber’s claims about HIV/AIDS:

This fact would be less concerning if this trial was not the foundation of empirical treatment of pregnant women around the world with a medication so toxic, it kills mother and their unborn. She raises questions about assumptions we have come to believe are truths –

That HIV is a meaningful diagnosis (she references the false positive testing likelihood in pregnancy, the unstandardized lab standards from country to country, and the abandonment of even those criteria in Africa where an HIV diagnosis can be conferred based on symptoms like malaise and diarrhea alone).

That HIV causes AIDS (a syndrome of 25 illnesses that does not satisfy Koch’s postulates of infectious disease).

That drug toxicity associated with AIDS treatment may very well be what accounts for the majority of deaths.

Farber also references the role of vitamin A in reducing HIV transmission, if we are to accept the clinical relevance of this concern, and how unacknowledged the role of nutrition is in infectious disease – stating that before the discovery of niacin and vitamin C, pellagra and scurvy were thought to be contagious.

See the nonsense there, particularly the bit about AIDS being a “syndrome of 25 illnesses that does not satisfy Koch’s postulates.” One analysis of Farber’s 2006 article in Harper’s Magazine, Out of Control, counted 16 misleading claims, 25 false claims, ten instances of unfairly ascribing evil motives to someone or an entity without evidence, and five examples of obvious bias, but Brogan accepts Farber’s article as brilliant reporting, noting, “Through the lens of human ecology, we see that forcing a system to adapt to a pharmaceutical grade chemical is a misguided assault on their very humanity.” Elswhere in the article she claims, “Because we have barely observed the natural course of a now-labeled pathology, we attribute toxicity of medication and treatment to the disease process itself or to other incidental variables, giving pharmaceutical companies a wide birth to harm us, and even kill us.” The problem, of course, is that by 2006 we certainly had observed the natural course of untreated HIV. One of the aspects of HIV natural history that gives denialists a target is the variability in the rate of its progression and the long time that can lapse between infection and the onset of severe immunodeficiency leading to opportunistic infections. No wonder she linked to Rethinking AIDS, one of the oldest HIV/AIDS denialist groups and an article on GreenMedInfo about Angelina Jolie that basically denied that cancer-causing genes in fact cause cancer.

As befits a former speaker at the antivaccine quackfest known as Autism One and someone who’s laid down some neuron-apoptosing ignorance about Gardasil with Sayer Ji, Brogan approvingly mentions William, Thompson, of the “CDC Whistleblower” conspiracy theory hatched by Brian Hooker and Andrew Wakefield in 2014.

Yes, Brogan is antivaccine to the core, as well. She published an E-book entitled Vaccines and Brain Health that is chock full of antivaccine misinformation. In it, she implies or outright claims that vaccines can cause depression and other neuropsychiatric disorders, citing a “peer-reviewed” article that she published in a bottom-feeding alternative medicine journal on the topic. Lots of the antivax greatest hits are there: Vaccines as a cause of “inflammation” (never mind that getting the actual diseases vaccinated against cause way, way more inflammation than any vaccine); the claim that vaccines cause neurodevelopmental disorders like autism, as well as psychicatric disorders like anorexia, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. She even cites Anthony Mawson’s utterly execrable study comparing vaccinated and unvaccinated children and claiming to find that unvaccinated children are much healthier than vaccinated children. It was a study so risibly awful that it received an extra helping of not-so-Respectful Insolence when it was ultimately retracted. She also appears to buy into all the usual fear mongering about aluminum adjuvants, as provoked by a recent terrible study by Christopher Exley, as well as a number of other “greatest hits” as well:

Furthermore, the vaccine schedule is a one-size-fits-all approach that has never (not once) been studied in its ever-growing entirety. Additionally, vaccine formulations have never been studied against a true placebo for FDA approval. These studies can be even further compressed since the introduction of ‘fast- tracking’ in 1992, a method that pharmaceutical companies can pay extra for to accelerate FDA approval of their vaccine candidates, like Gardisil. These fast- tracked vaccines are often studied against false ‘placebos,’ like aluminum or another vaccine, raising the background rate of adverse events and ultimately making it impossible to identify the true risks of the vaccine relative to non- intervention. When they are, like in the Cowling et al study of the flu vaccine, the results are not industry-favorable – this study showed a 4x increase risk of non-flu infection after receiving the seasonal shot.

Ah, the “no true placebo” study trope. It’s nonsense, of course. What antivaxers mean when they say this is that many vaccine studies look at the vaccine versus vaccine minus the actual antigens and including the aluminum adjuvant. This is, of course, the scientifically rigorous way to do a trial: Use controls that have everything except the “active ingredient” of the vaccine. However, antivaxers who fear aluminum and ascribe all sorts of evil to this particular adjuvant claim that such studies obscure reactions due to the aluminum. Of course, for many vaccines, it’s not too hard to find randomized controlled clinical trials using saline-only controls. Whenever an antivaxer says that there are no studies using “correct” controls, they’re either lying, parrotting antivaccine talking points, or ignorant. Brogan also invokes the “toxins gambit.” On steroids. Seriously, I might have to do a post just about this E-book, except that it would probably have to be a multi-part post. The misinformation, pseudoscience, and outright lies are just that numerous and densely packed. To give you an idea, she even cites the “deathbed confession” of Louis Pasteur in which he supposedly “admitted” that the “microbe is nothing.” The claim that Pasteur’s last words were to admit that he was wrong is a myth long promulgated by Bill Maher and germ theory denialists. (Yes, such people exist.) Denying germ theory is a very common belief among HIV/AIDS denialists and antivaxers, and Brogan goes down that path as well:

And what about contagion? Has it ever actually been proven that germs travel from one person to another and infect them? Does a yawn spread that way? What about women’s menstrual cycles syncing up when they live together? What about fear-induced illness, which is strikingly demonstrated in a study in which women who were convinced that they were inhaling “contaminated air” got sick when they saw others get sick from it – despite the fact that there was nothing wrong with the air[6]. Then there’s people who only get symptoms of the cold when they believe themselves to be unwell at baseline; perhaps they sense not their immunological vulnerability, but the need for their body to take an opportunity to rebalance[7].

Yes, Dr. Brogan. It has been demonstrated many, many times that “germs” travel from person to person and infect them, causing disease. Where on earth did you get your medical degree? Consistent with her invocation of the myth of Pasteur’s deathbed recantation of germ theory, Brogan goes full Bechamps, only gussying up Bechamps idea that “the germ is nothing” and the “terrain is everything” (i.e., germs can’t make healthy people with an “inhospitable terrain” sick):

Germs as pathogens is a complex question that science has contributed rich literature to in the past two decades. With the dawn of the microbiome – our inner ecology that reveals not only our harmonious relationship to but our dependency on the very microbes we have demonized – everything about orthodox medicine should have changed. Including the discovery of so-called viruses embedded in our own genomic material, calling into question whether or not viruses actually exist in the way we have assumed. Has a discrete virus, deemed unable to exist independently, ever been visualized under electron microscopy – or are we still inferring? What about exosomes –the packets of genetic material that travel between the environment and our physiology and influence gene expression? Science is revealing that these exosomes look a little too much like viruses for our comfort, leaving us, once again seeing the enemy as a critical part of ourselves.

Quacks, particularly those inclined to deny germ theory, do so love new science on the microbiome, because they think it demonstrates that it’s the “terrain” that’s the problem. Here’s the thing. There’s nothing about germ theory that’s incompatible with the idea that there are also beneficial microorganisms living on and in us that disrupting this “microbiome” can make us more susceptible to disease. Heck, we’ve known an example of this for decades, namely how antibiotics can wipe out the colonic flora and leave us susceptible to C. difficile colitis. I’m surprised she didn’t invoke epigenetics in her post. Quacks love epigenetics almost as much as they love the microbiome. Oops. I spoke too soon.

Brogan endorses the use of coffee enemas to “detox your mood”; so no pseudoscience or quackery is beyond her.

Indeed, it’s not surprising that Brogan advocates coffee enemas for anything. Her mentor was, as she describes him, the “late, great Nicholas Gonzalez“:

My mentor, the late, great Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez, was one specific influence in my life that reinforced this fearless approach to illness. He helped to blast away any residual carve-outs -any circumstances in which I might say, ‘well that does require conventional medicine.’ As I studied and learned of his natural healing protocol that enabled decades-long outcomes with terminal cancer patients, I knew that there was, indeed, nothing to be afraid of. Ever. And when patients who had otherwise been hexed by the medical establishment met with him, they too shed their fear in favor of faith in the body’s capacity to self-regulate and heal, even if part of the healing looked like sickness. And they did heal, by the hundreds.

While Nick had a protocol based on personalized nutrition, detox, and supplementation (one that has greatly informed my own), is it possible that this protocol only fortified the body’s self-healing response, but that it wasn’t actually what healed the patient?

Nicholas Gonzalez was a cancer quack who peddled a version of the Gerson therapy for cancer, complete with lots of supplements, juices, and, of course, coffee enemas to “detoxify” the liver and body. Through a cherry picked “best case series” of twelve patients with advanced pancreatic cancer treated with his protocol who did better than expected, his advocates finagled an NIH grant to do a randomized trial of his protocol. When the results were published, it was a disaster—for patients on the Gonzalez protocol, whose median survival was around one-third that of patients receiving standard-of-care. The Gonzalez protocol was, not unexpectedly, worse than useless for pancreatic cancer. Gonzalez, of course, made excuses for the failure of his protocol, but none of them could explain such a huge difference in outcomes between the two groups in the trial. None of this stopped him from, in his later years, claiming that he could have saved Steve Jobs if only Jobs had come to him.

She’s also very much into the quackery known as the German New Medicine which posits that cancer is actually the body’s healing reaction to some sort of internal conflict that the patient might not even be aware of and that this conflict must be dealt with in order to heal the patient. Actually, it’s not just cancer. German New Medicine is a theory of everything in medicine, postulating that all disease is due to a “shock experience that catches us completely off guard” and that the remnants of these psychic shocks can be visualized on CT as a “lesion that is clearly visible on a brain scan as a set of sharp concentric rings.” This is all utter twaddle, of course, as is the French bastard offspring of the German New Medicine, Biologie Totale. To Brogan, cancer therapy treatment “with chemotherapy and radiation not only disrupts a complex process that needs to actually be supported, but also it induces secondary harm, both psychically and physiologically. When we interfere and war with the body, we keep the fight alive – you can’t win the battle against yourself. This is the sort of quackery that kills.

I could go on, but I’ll stop there. I can’t, however, finish without also noting that, for a psychiatrist, Brogan is an anti-psychiatry crank who’s cranky enough that I wondered if she is a Scientologist. If you peruse her blog, it won’t take you long to find posts basically advocating treating depression by basically overcoming it yourself and describing a “natural antidepressant journey.” This is some grade-A, weapons-grade dangerous advice here, the sort of stuff that, were a depressed patient to take it, potentially lead to suicide. This is one of the keynote speakers appearing with celebrities, such as Drew Barrymore, Chelsea Handler, Laura Linney, Meg Ryan, and more, and other dubious medical people and “therapists” whom I don’t have the energy to discuss in this post.

One wonders what these celebrities would think if they knew they were going to be sharing the stage with an HIV/AIDS denialist, antivaccine activist, anti-psychiatry ranter to rival any Scientologist, and all around quack like Kelly Brogan. I keep hoping someone will ask them the next time they do a major interview.