I realize that this isn’t the sort of topic I usually write about here on the old blog, and, indeed, I did hesitate for a moment before plunging in to discuss the spate of stories about Elle Macpherson being seen canoodling with disgraced antivaccine doctor and scientific fraud Andrew Wakefield—but just for a moment. The reason? It’s a story that involves disgraced British doctor and scientific fraud turned antivaccine icon Andrew Wakefield. When last I mentioned Wakefield, he was being called out on Twitter by Chelsea Clinton, driving his followers into paroxysms of stupid. (Of course, it’s not at all difficult to drive Wakefield’s followers into paroxysms of stupid.)
This time around, the news was more puzzling, which is why I hesitated to comment on this. On the other hand, it’s a perfect opportunity to mention the intersection between celebrity culture and the antivaccine movement, which I’ve done more times than I can remember for Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey, Rob Schneider, Robert DeNiro, Mayim Bialik, Kristin Cavallari, Alicia Silverstone, and others, including, unfortunately, Donald Trump back in the days before he was running for President, back when he was just a second rate reality TV star. So what am I to make of this story in The Daily Mail?
Here, we learn that Andrew Wakefield has apparently hooked up with Elle Macpherson:
‘Living her best life: The 54-year-old appeared in good spirits as she filled up her basket with produce, with her new man in tow.’ Elle McPherson is going out with anti-vaxxer ANDREW WAKEFIELD. https://t.co/nHZAmvydit
— Eva Wiseman (@EvaWiseman) July 17, 2018
And from the story:
Model Elle Macpherson has been pictured kissing a former British doctor who was the driving force of the anti-vaxxer movement.
The 54-year-old was seen locking lips with Andrew Wakefield, 61, at Glaser’s organic farm in Miami on Friday.
It comes just over a year after she was awarded $53 million in cash and a $26 million home during her divorce from billionaire Jeffrey Soffer.
Wakefield is a former doctor and researcher who spawned the modern anti-vaccination movement with widely discredited research, claiming that the MMR jab causes autism and bowel disease.
The first thought that came to my mind and to that of many others who read this story was: Ewww. The second thought that came to mind was that, damn, Elle Macpherson has crappy taste in men. The third thought that came to mind was a bit of marvel at how well Andrew Wakefield can sense financial opportunities, how finely tuned he is to finding ways to continue to live in the manner to which he had long ago become accustomed.
Of course, one reason why I found this whole story to be curious was that I had thought that Wakefield was already married. He had a wife. Her name was Carmel. She appeared extensively in the fawning “documentary” about Wakefield released just in late 2017. It turns out that the Wakefields separated last year, and I didn’t know about it:
A source told MailOnline that he separated from his wife Carmel in 2017 and first started seeing Elle in late 2017 after they met at an event in Orlando.
Andrew and Carmel – who is also a doctor – met in the late 1970s while training at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, London.
Medicine ran in both families – both have parents who were doctors and brothers who later went into the profession. They have four children – thee boys and a girl.
But the snaps have upset Wakefield’s wife Carmel because they only recently separated, according to her brother.
Finbar O’Donovan said his sister split with Wakefield in April.
But Elle was first pictured looking cosy with Wakefield in November last year with her arm draped over his shoulder at the Doctors Who Rock gala dinner in Florida.
Speaking exclusively to MailOnline Mr O’Donovan said: ‘We had no idea that Andrew was seeing Elle Macpherson.
‘My sister and Andrew only split up a few months ago. They are not divorced yet but they plan to.’
Wakefield? Cheating on his wife? Who’da thunk it? (I need a sarcasm tag.)
So what could be the affinity? I’ve always noted that Wakefield, despite frequently appearing disheveled and unkempt, seems to be pretty attractive to his female antivaccine fans, who view him not just as an antivaccine guru unjustly “persecuted,” but as a bit of a sex symbol. Maybe it’s the whole “bad boy” thing, and, of course, Wakefield can be very charming when he wants to be. Indeed, the aforementioned laudatory documentary, The Pathological Optimist, seems to go out of its way to show scenes of Wakefield being manly, opening with a sequence showing him going to do yoga and finishing with a scene of him chopping wood on his property.
But there could be another reason, as Anna Merlan mentions in an article for Jezebel, characterizing it as “important and slightly alarming” that Macpherson is dating Wakefield:
Macpherson has been professionally known as The Body, for having a body people like to photograph; she’s now the co-founder and public face of a wellness business called WelleCo that sells things like plant protein powder and what they call “elixirs.” Wakefield is known as a walking one-man public health crisis, for his continued insistence that vaccines cause autism. His claims have gotten more dire over the years: he now insists that “80 percent of American boys” will have autism in 15 years, a claim I have personally heard him make on several occasions.
And it is actually newsworthy that Macpherson and Wakefield are dating: One of the core aims of the anti-vaccine movement is spreading their message far and wide with the help of celebrity support. If the relationship lasts, Macpherson could be instrumental in introducing Wakefield and his ideas to a whole new world of monied and influential people—people who are, like her, concerned with the somewhat spongy and ever-more-profitable concept of “wellness.”
Perusing the Welleco website, it didn’t take me long at all to find stuff almost as bad as what can be found on Goop. For instance, it turns out that Macpherson is very much into “alkaline living” (or is at least into selling it). I quickly found ridiculous articles, full of scientific nonsense, like:
- INTERVIEW WITH NUTRITIONIST NIKKI HEYDER: WHAT ACID V ALKALINE IN YOUR BODY MEANS
- PH & ALKALINE LIVING, DR LAUBSCHER EXPLAINS
- THIS IS HOW TO DO COMPLETE ALKALINE WELLNESS LIKE ELLE MACPHERSON
Does anyone remember Robert O. Young? He was the mail-order naturopath sent to prison for practicing medicine without a license. He also made his name in quackery circles selling his “pH Miracle Living.”
I first discovered Young eleven years ago, and, since then, I’ve discussed his extreme quackery from time to time on this blog. Young claims to be able to treat cancer and—as is the case with so many quacks like him—a wide variety of other serious diseases, such as lupus, type I diabetes (you read that right, not type II diabetes), metastatic prostate cancer, and cancer in general. Not surprisingly, Young is also quite antivaccine, publishing anecdotes from parents who believe their child is “vaccine damaged” and appeals to support antivaccine groups like the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC). (Many of the links have been taken down but can still be found on Archive.org.) Perhaps the most famous incident involving Young was his treatment of Kim Tinkham. At the time she encountered Young in 2008, Tinkham had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, described as stage III, and was being urged to undergo surgery. She refused. In the end, Tinkham paid the ultimate price for her trust in Young.
Young liked to claim that “alkalinization” is the cure for cancer, AIDS, sepsis, and a number of other conditions. If you really want to get an idea of just how big a quack Young was, though, I suggest that you read read my deconstruction from eleven years ago. The sheer level of quackery encompassed in Young’s ideas beggars belief.
Of course, what Macpherson is peddling is only a less blatant version of the same quackery that Young sold. The ideas and concepts, such as they are, behind her Welleco “alkaline living” are the same as the ideas and concepts behind Young’s “pH Miracle Living,” the exception being that, instead of claims that alkaline diets can cure cancer, Welleco goes with gauzy claims of boosting health and, yes, “wellness.” For instance, here is Simone Laubscher, Elle Macpherson’s personal nutritionist, laying down the pseudoscience:
SO WHAT IS PH?
pH is a term used to describe how acidic or alkaline a substance is. The pH scale is from 1-14 with any reading of 6 or less reflecting acidic and 7 or higher being alkaline. What you eat and drink directly affects your pH levels with some foods raising or lowering the pH. This is based on the mineral content of the food, not the actual pH of that food. For example, lemons have a naturally low pH of around 2, but due to their mineral content they have a wonderful alkalising effect on the body. Let me reveal how this affects your daily life – the bottom line is that disease flourishes in an acidic environment. As always it is all about balance, and the human body was designed to operate at its optimum when body fluids are alkaline at 7-7.5.
The most alkalising ingredients on the planet are super greens (as they contain chlorophyll). The supergreens family is mostly made up of cereal grasses such as wheat grass, barley grass and blue/green algae.
96% of patients had more energy
94% reported having a better mood and feeling more confident
92% had improved sleep pattern
Doctors reading that last sentence in the first paragraph about “alkaline bodily fluids” are no doubt doing facepalms so hard that they’re giving themselves concussions. For one thing, the normal optimal range of pH for the blood, at least, is much, much narrower than that, between 7.35 and 7.45. We have a word for someone with a blood pH of 7.0, and that’s dead. (At least, I’ve never seen anyone survive a pH that low.) As for that bit about lemons, that’s pure BS. Now, it is true that, despite their low pH of around 2, lemons when eaten and metabolized do produce some alkaline byproducts, but they do not raise the pH of blood and other bodily fluids other than urine, whose pH they can slightly raise. The whole thing is complicated. Basically, lemon juice may have an alkalizing effect on your urine. However, contrary to the premise of the alkaline diet, it has very little influence on the pH of your blood, and foods don’t influence our blood pH. Basically, alkaline diet quacks are unduly impressed by the ability of a diet of vegetables, fruits, and greens to produce higher pH urine than a diet rich in meats. That’s just the kidneys doing their job and regulating the pH of the blood.
Laubscher claims to have a clinical trial that shows that “96% of patients had more energy, 94% reported having a better mood and feeling more confidant and 92% had improved sleep patterns after taking THE SUPER ELIXIR.” Is there any reference to studies in the peer-reviewed medical literature? What do you think? Of course not!
Elsewhere, Nikki Heyder lays on even more alkaline woo pseudoscience:
An acidic body is a by-product of today’s increasingly acidic diet of sugar, alcohol, red meat, dairy products and coffee, teamed with pollution and stress.
This is indistinguishable from quotes by Robert O. Young himself, and her video doubles down on the same nonsense:
And, of course, you can fix all the problems that “acid” causes by buying Welleco’s SUPER ELIXIR.
So is Elle Macpherson’s Welleco as bad as Goop? From what I can tell, probably not. It seems to be rather a one trick pony, with “alkaline diet” being its main thing and its SUPER ELIXIR products being its main product line, while the rest of its health recommendations remain fairly standard: exercise, get enough sleep, and the like. But don’t forget that the alkaline diet nonsense being peddled by Welleco is based on ideas identical to those promoted by the dangerous quack Robert O. Young. Welleco just doesn’t push those ideas, which are based on a misunderstanding of human physiology and pathology, into the realms of curing cancer or AIDS. Also, there’s no evidence that the “alkaline diet” can cure or prevent any disease.
We don’t know if Macpherson is a vaccine “skeptic” herself (I have reached out to WelleCo for comment on that subject and will update should I hear back). What we do know, though, is that celebrities have an unfortunately large impact on how people think of vaccines.
All of this is probably an extreme overreaction to some photos of Wakefield and Macpherson snogging at a farmer’s market, but given the enormous measles outbreak in Europe right now and the fact that some California schools still have “dangerously low” vaccination rates due to anti-vaccine parents, a small amount of freaking out is perhaps warranted.
I couldn’t find out either (Google searches of her and anything to do with vaccines are now dominated by dozens of hits about her dating Wakefield). However, I can’t help but note that “alkaline diet” proponents are often antivaccine. For instance, Robert O. Young is very antivaccine, and has declared that “true immunity” is found in diet and lifestyle, “not in a vaccine which are all acidic and poisonous to the body.” It’s also not hard to find examples of advocates of “alkaline diets” suggesting that such diets can “heal vaccine injury.” So it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Macpherson is herself antivaccine, given that she’s swallowed the alkaline diet, hook, line, and sinker. Even if she isn’t antivaccine, she could be another celebrity “in” for Wakefield to insinuate himself into communities of famous people to spread his pernicious message. Unfortunately, he is quite good at that. There’s a fine (and sometimes nonexistent) line between “wellness” and antivaccine views.