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Celebrity “vegan cardiologist” Dr. Joel Kahn has become an antivaccine COVID-19 crank

Dr. Joel Kahn is a well-regarded “integrative” cardiologist. So why is he spreading COVID-19 and antivaccine disinformation on Twitter? Simple. “Integrative” medicine can be a “gateway” to antivaccine beliefs.

Dr. Joel Kahn is a fairly well-known cardiologist in my neck of the woods who recently came to my attention for his Twitter feed and its plethora of antivaccine pseudoscience. We’ll get to that in a moment, after I look at who Dr. Kahn is, given that I’ve only mentioned him on this blog one time before, in the context of his recommending a book by Vani Hari, otherwise known as the “Food Babe.” Specifically, he is an “integrative” (or, as he likes to put it, “holistic”) cardiologist who practices in the suburbs of Detroit at what appears to be a concierge practice. Of note, Dr. Kahn DOES NOT ACCEPT INSURANCE PAYMENTS FOR OFFICE VISITS (and the all caps are not mine, but straight from the page on his website that informs patients of this). Also, he charges $500 for a one-hour consultation and $250 for half-hour followup visits. (Nice work if you can get it.) Dr. Khan calls his clinic the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity and advertises thusly:

The Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity in Bingham Farms, Michigan, is one of the world’s premier cardiac clinics. Joel Kahn, MD, and his team offer advanced care using a direct patient model — you have exclusive access to Dr. Kahn, longer and more thorough consultations, and access to the most advanced preventive screenings.

One of the clinic’s sought-after services is a one-on-one thorough evaluation with Dr. Kahn. It’s called the Ultimate Heart Check Up. Additional services at the clinic include Carotid Intimal Medial Thickness (CIMT) ultrasounds, EndoPat artery health screenings, advanced labs, calcium scores, genetic testing, and nutrition counseling.

I note that these tests are in addition to the consultation, with the CIMT ultrasound costing an additional $250; the EndoPat $225; and more, including the unproven “GAINSwave low-intensity shock wave therapy of erectile dysfunction, whose sales pitch describes it as a “turnkey, direct-pay brand that has been successful in helping our network of providers easily add an additional revenue stream to their practices,” “particularly powerful tool for edifying a solo practitioner’s or small practice’s independence,” and whose deployment “can augment existing services for virtually any medical practice.” Generously, Dr. Kahn notes:

You must carry insurance to cover other medical services. The Kahn Center fees are for the personalized services and enhanced access offered in the program in his office. For other medical visits and hospital services you will need your insurance.

One wonders how many of these “specialized tests” are covered by health insurance, but I do know that health insurance won’t pay for the numerous supplements that Dr. Kahn sells. Be that as it may, Dr. Kahn is fairly famous. His website includes a bunch of logos of television shows and other media in which he has appeared, including—of course!—Dr. Oz and the incredibly popular The Joe Rogan Experience podcast. Amusingly, there, as the “vegan cardiologist,” Dr. Kahn “debated” a an acupuncturist and “functional medicine” advocate named Chris Kresser who is also a famous proponent of the so-called “paleo diet.” In any event, Dr. Kahn’s whole brand is to recommend a plant-based diet as, more or less, the be-all and end-all of heart health, having written books with titles like The Plant-Based Solution: America’s Healthy Heart Doc’s Plan to Power Your Health. While there’s nothing intrinsically horrible about such a position, given that there is decent evidence that a more plant-based diet can be associated with better heart health, Dr. Kahn has, from my observation, gone a bit beyond that and appears to attribute near-miraculous powers to such a diet, much the way Dr. Dean Ornish does.

Dr. Kahn didn’t use to bother me that much, given that he seemed to be a run-of-the-mill vegan-promoting cardiologist most of whose other medical advice was sound. However, as time has gone on Dr. Kahn appears to have drifted further and further from science-based medicine. For instance, he’s now quite credulous about touting unproven health benefits of CBD and hemp oil, as well as “heavy metal detox” quackery:

And conspiracy mongering about how “pharma” and the FDA are “suppressing” plant-based miracles:

Then this week a reader directed me to Dr. Kahn’s Twitter feed. This led me to peruse his Instagram and Facebook feeds as well. The results were…disturbing.

Dr. Kahn has become a font of COVID-19 and antivaccine misinformation.

So here were the very first posts I found on Dr. Kahn’s feeds. First, Instagram:

And Facebook:

And on Twitter this morning as I was going over this post one last time:

Interestingly, Dr. Kahn’s promotion of “detox” quackery didn’t trigger Facebook’s algorithms, but his antivaccine stylings did.

Be that as it may, you will note that the Facebook and Instagram posts recycle a common antivaccine meme about “informed consent.” I’m just amazed that Dr. Kahn restrained himself from adding a rape analogy, given that antivaxxers frequently love to compare “forced vaccination” to rape. In any event, as I’ve discussed many times before, the version of “informed consent” that antivaxxers tout is in reality “misinformed refusal,” in which misinformation is used to drive a decision to refuse vaccines based on a distorted version of “informed consent” in which risks are hugely inflated and benefits as badly downplayed, if not denied altogether. Now he’s bragging on Twitter about having been put in “Facebook jail” for promoting misinformation. (I know, I know, Dr. Kahn doesn’t view it as misinformation, but it is, as I’ll explain yet again.)

There was such copious misinformation on Dr. Kahn’s social media that I had a hard time deciding which examples to feature in this post. However, there was one that I definitely had to start with, namely this Instagram post:

That’s right. Dr. Kahn is likening vaccination during pregnancy to smoking during pregnancy. I assume that he’s referring to the COVID-19 vaccine, but he doesn’t actually specifically say that he is. What tells me that he is are the hashtags “#experimental” and “#EUA,”the latter of which clearly refers to the emergency use authorization used to distribute the current COVID-19 vaccines and the “experimental” referring to a favorite antivaccine trope about COVID-19 vaccines, that they are still “experimental.” This latter trope is based more on a legal, rather than scientific definition, of “experimental” or “investigational, a legal definition that antivaxxers like Del Bigtree have exploited for propaganda purposes. Basically, drugs or vaccines that have not yet received full FDA approval must still be referred to as “investigational.” However, from a scientific standpoint these vaccines are clearly not “investigational” any more. They’ve all undergone phase 1, 2, and 3 testing, with phase 3 clinical trials involving tens of thousands of subjects. Moreover, they’ve been administered to hundreds of millions of people now, with an overall excellent record of safety and efficacy, efforts of antivaxxers to use fear mongering to claim otherwise notwithstanding, including memes like this one shared by Dr. Kahn:

Note his promotion of “natural immunity” and his parroting of common misconceptions about mRNA vaccines, which have actually been in development for coronaviruses and other pathogens for at least 15 years.

Contrary to his claim that he is “pro-vaccine,” Dr. Kahn is no more “pro-vaccine” than Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who likes to portray himself as “fiercely pro-vaccine” while likening vaccine mandates to the Holocaust, which, I’ve argued, is a form of Holocaust denial. It’s a form of Holocaust denial that Dr. Kahn gleefully echoes alongside the claim that children are at such low risk from COVID-19 that it’s wrong to vaccinate them:

The issue of vaccinating teens is a nuanced one in which the evidence does come out on the side of vaccination as being considerably safer than letting COVID-19 spread among teens. Of course, Dr. Kahn is not about nuance. He’s about comparing the vaccine program to the Holocaust and vaccine advocates to Nazis, while ignoring all the other non-fatal complications that COVID-19 can cause in children. It’s a technique that antivaxxers used to use to argue against the MMR vaccine.

But let’s continue with more examples, starting a couple of days ago:

Here, Dr. Kahn can’t believe that a journal retracted an article because it was a bad article by antivaccine activists that somehow got published. He can’t believe that editorial board members (including Edzard Ernst, who asked if the lead author was incompetent or dishonest) might have resigned because they honestly thought the article was so bad. No! To him it had to be a campaign to “suppress” science showing how supposedly dangerous COVID-19 vaccines are! He even does so while citing an article that explains that the study misinterpreted data to make the false claim that COVID-19 vaccines kill two people for every three that they save from COVID-19. As I’ve joked to people who sent me a link to this study last week, because I was busy and didn’t blog much last week, the study was published and retracted before I could even write about how awful it was!

Then there’s Dr. Kahn’s promotion of a favorite antivaccine bit of disinformation, the misrepresentation of reports to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) database. Here are some examples from Dr. Kahn’s social media feeds, in which he posts anecdotes and references to VAERS straight from the antivax playbook:

He also promotes Tweets from TrialSiteNews.com:

The claim that vaccines, be they COVID-19 vaccines or vaccines against other diseases, violate the Nuremberg Code is complete and utter bullshit that I’ve discussed more times than I can remember (for example, here). It’s a favorite lie used by antivaxxers that allows them to portray vaccine advocates as Nazis and physicians as Nazi doctors. I also note that this particular website features Dr. Peter McCullough on its advisory board. Dr. McCullough, as you might recall, is peddling the lie that COVID-19 vaccines are killing huge numbers of people. He also promotes an unproven drug and supplement cocktail for COVID-19, because, where there are COVID-19 conspiracy theories, there is grift. It’s a near-universal rule.

Then there’s this;

And:

And:

“I’m not antivaccine. I’m a pro-safe vaccines!”

“I’m not antivaccine. I’m a vaccine safety advocate!

“I’m fiercely pro-vaccine!”

Remember those quotes? They came from Jenny McCarthy 13 years ago and other antivaxxers echoing her, with the last one being the one I mentioned above by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who, again, is most definitely not pro-vaccine.

Before COVID-19 vaccines even received EUAs, I was warning that antivaxxers would weaponize VAERS reports this way, and since then I’ve discussed how antivaxxers (including Dr. McCullough) have misrepresented VAERS as showing mass death and destruction (and female infertility) from COVID-19 vaccines several times; so I won’t go into it again other than leaving embedded links. It’s all part of antivaxxers’ efforts to undermine confidence in COVID-19 vaccines.

Then there was Dr. Kahn saying this:

Yes, Dr. Kahn is promoting a favorite antivaccine talking point that the COVID-19 vaccines based on mRNA or adenovirus vectors are “experimental gene therapy.” They’re not. Nor do they “hack the software of life.” They’re vaccines based on technology that has been in development for two decades. Also note the false equivalence. Sure, it might be nice to do the things that Dr. Kahn advocates in terms of promoting healthy living, but right now we’re in the middle of a pandemic that’s killed over 600K people in the US alone. Vaccines are a way out. Reasonable people can argue whether “vaccine sweepstakes” and “vaccine lotteries” are a reasonable way to promote vaccine uptake, but that does not appear to be what Dr. Kahn is about.

He’s also all-in, it would appear, for ivermectin for COVID-19:

I’ve already written a post about how weak that review was. But wait, there’s more:

I can’t resist mentioning that that particular website is maintained by the same astroturf group that was promoting hydroxychloroquine a year ago.

Then:

No, this was an awful meta-analysis, as I discussed, and one of its main authors is a conspiracy theorist.

And just today:

To summarize, I’ve already written about how ivermectin is the new hydroxychloroquine in that it has low scientific plausibility, no good evidence in clinical trials that it has significant activity against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and is being promoted by astroturf groups pushing conspiracy theories about ivermectin being “suppressed” by big pharma and the government in order to promote COVID-19 vaccines and, of course, profits for big pharma.

What happened to our “vegan cardiologist” with respect to vaccines and COVID-19?

I could go on and on and on listing posts on the various social media endeavors maintained by Dr. Kahn in which antivaccine misinformation and COVID-19 conspiracy theories are promoted, but I think I’ve already posted enough to make my point. In the name of full disclosure, I also have to point out that Dr. Kahn was once the director of preventative cardiology at one of the hospitals at which I practice (not my cancer center!), which was a frustration to me. He was also faculty at my medical school. I don’t know if he still is, but I will definitely have to look into that.

My annoyance with Dr. Kahn’s previous (and possibly ongoing) academic and medical affiliations aside, not to mention his prominence in my neck of the woods, aside, I’m left with a question. You might notice that I haven’t really commented one way or the other on his promotion of a vegan diet as the near be-all and end-all of preventative cardiology, because the observation that a plant-based diet is associated with better health is not all that controversial for the most part, even if going as far as Dr. Kahn does in promoting the idea might be. That’s because I’m more interested in why he might have gone full COVID crank.

To address that question, I go back to my writings about the Cleveland Clinic, which, as you might recall, has gone all-in on “integrative medicine” quackery, having set up a traditional Chinese medicine herbal clinic, hired “functional medicine” guru Dr. Mark Hyman (it has been “wildly successful“), and set up a Wellness Clinic. You might remember that a few years ago the former director of that Wellness Center, Dr. Daniel Niedes, caused a stir with articles parroting antivaccine pseudoscience. He ended up being fired and going full “integrative quack” afterward. At the time, you might also remember that the Cleveland Clinic’s leadership should not have been so shocked that the director of its Wellness Clinic would go antivax, because that’s what happens when you let a culture of pseudoscience and magical thinking take hold within a department or institute in your hospital. What am I saying?

Basically, more and more, I’m coming to believe that integrative medicine, in which one “integrates” quackery with real, science-based medicine, all too often serves as a “gateway” to antivaccine pseudoscience. Sure, there are a lot of integrative medicine doctors who swear up and down that they are very much pro-vaccine, and most of them probably are. However, once you embrace one form of pseudoscience alongside science-based medicine, it becomes more likely that you will embrace others. Given how closely the rhetoric from antivaxxers about “natural immunity,” “toxins,” and distrust of big pharma aligns with similar beliefs among “integrative medicine” doctors, it shouldn’t be too surprising that a subset of such doctors goes down the rabbit hole of antivaccine conspiracy theories.

That appears to be what has happened to Dr. Kahn.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

29 replies on “Celebrity “vegan cardiologist” Dr. Joel Kahn has become an antivaccine COVID-19 crank”

What is it with cardiologists who combine quackery promotion with antivaccine ravings?

In addition to Kahn, there’s Jack Wolfson the paleo nitwit and Steven Gundry, king of clickbait.*

“shock wave therapy of erectile dysfunction”

Sounds…unpleasant.

*The latest Gundry clickbait that pops up on my news feeds has to do with suppressing farts, something that is right up a cardiologist’s power alley. At the same time, Gundry says that bloating and flatulence are _positive_ signs during the beginning phase of “detox”. C’mon, in addition to being on the lookout for spike proteins shed from the vaccinated, we also have to dodge toxin-laden methane clouds from Gundry’s patients? Ewww. We’ll never be able to stop wearing masks.

I wonder if it starts as understandable frustration with the life style issues in the U.S., looking for an effective way to get people to move away, and then, like Orac suggested for the steps from integrative to antivaccine, a legitimate quest to help becomes something else. (Obviously just musing).

How about the easy, obvious, possible reason: the guy spouts bs to patients and they buy it – literally. He gets more gadgets and his patients fall for them too. So why not escalate when there’s money to be made and the patients are increasingly viewed as marks.

But maybe he’s actually just noble.

At least Wolfson appears to have decreased his anti-vax rhetoric (well except for the COVID-19 vaccines). Now he’s promoting his own brand of coffee that’s supposed to protect your heart (at only $22 for a 12 oz bag) as well as doing phone consults for a mere $1200 for 45 minutes or a 90 minute in-person visit for just $2800 (guess Kahn just isn’t greedy enough).

Amusingly, there, as the “vegan cardiologist,” Dr. Kahn “debated” a an acupuncturist and “functional medicine” advocate named Chris Kresser who is also a famous proponent of the so-called “paleo diet.”

It’s like the Polisario Front or, as a fellow I knew once put it, “fighting to see who gets to take out the garbage.”

Gorilla Dad is wrong: they are already vaccinating animals against Covid at the Oakland Zoo! Run away, Big Cats!

Right, veganism may sometimes be effective for CV health but if it is over-promoted as being effective for multiple conditions, it may become a gateway for woo and anti-vax as some advocates believe that nature is always the best medicine. Hearing a doctor promote veganism without strict limits may push people towards woo. .

“I have so many patients with scary Mercury levels. Usually tuna, mackerel, shark, and lots of salmon.”
Seems like he is also a vet for an aquarium! Talented dude. I would be interested to see his detox program for salmon.

I’ve always been suspicious of “gateway” arguments, as they’re kind of relatives of slippery slope fallacies and/or post-hoc-propter-hoc fallacies. If it’s true that “once you embrace one form of pseudoscience alongside science-based medicine, it becomes more likely that you will embrace others”, that’s just correlation, not evidence of causality, and it doesn’t speak to the probability that an embrace of any particular form of pseudoscience (e.g. COVID antivax) will follow from an embrace of another…. but it’s not clear from the OP exactly what pseudoscience Dr. Kahn was into before he started putting on his COVID antivax social media show. Over-enthusiasm about the cardiac benefits of a vegan diet doesn’t seem that out there.

The “gateway” thesis here seems to be ‘one bad idea leads to another’ in a sort of self-enclosed contamination metaphor, a metastasis of bad belief. I’d like to suggest a hypothesis for a different mechanism, where something else pushes the more bad beliefs forward, rather than just the badness of the original belief. You see, from what Orac reported about Dr, Kahn in the first part of the post, before he got to the actual anti-vax part, the “has become an antivaccine COVID-19 crank” in the headline was already making sense to me. Which, on reflection, I think was due to Orac’s description evoking the socio-cultural milleau I associate with quackery and antivax: concierge practice in an upscale suburb, DOES NOT ACCEPT INSURANCE PAYMENTS, charges $500/hr., supplements, “specialized tests”, a handful of self-help books to sell, TV appearance with Oz, more media appearances cited on his website, multiple “social media endeavors”….

in sum, Dr. Kahn does not seem content to be a “integrative cardiologist”. He seems to want to be a celebrity ‘integrative cardiologist”. To be rich and famous, to have not just patients, but followers. My hypothesis, then, is that the advancing crankery of his public profile is a product of his ego-driven goals, that consciously or not, he’s going in the direction that offers him positive feedback, in the form of both media attention, and patients willing and able to fork over $500/hr cash ++ for his concierge services. Those types of incentives all favor “brave maverick” posturing — he’s worth the big cash fees because he’s special, a step ahead of those anonymous drudges in Big Pharma and the FDA, yada yada yada. i guess you could say I’m positing that the “gateway” might be more narcissism and self-promotion than “integrative medicine”. (Though of course, the two aren’t mutually exclusive…)

Maybe think of it this way: when you’ve lowered your standards to a certain level, a whole new set of nonsense can creep over. That addresses the correlation/causation issue.

You hit the nail on the head!
Often, if they seek fame and wealth- the easiest way is to exaggerate the benefits of a practice/ diet and to blur the results of research in such a way to sound as if they have something TOTALLY new. I imagine that a cardiologist selling a book about a standard. SBM-based diet for CV health wouldn’t make as big a splash as one who advocates something highly constrained/ different that is purported to cause great changes/ cures.
Like the contrarians- they want to make news!- and consensus/ standard isn’t news!

One of the loons I survey advocates total veganism based largely upon exaggeration/ mis-information-:
if a study said that older men in the UK who ate cured meat very frequently had more of a specific type of cancer, it would be woo-translated as ” meat causes cancer” implying a widespread danger for all people.. There are also other wild claims about milk products being highly allergic for most people, causing excess mucous and osteoporosis! Similarly with wheat! Of course, some people DO have allergies but if you make it sound as if it is a widespread problem ,you will again set yourself apart as a bold innovator/ truth teller contra the Establishment. Often, the consequences of a non-plant based diet are described in ludicrous and disgusting ways that are not based in reality but imaginative fear mongering. The immorality of eating meat and its ecological consequences are also amplified. – it also gives them a way to branch out into other areas of in-expertise….
And new topics for books.

Orac’s Twatter exchange with J.K. today was hilarious. The latter has a … peculiar communication style: Staccato, with what seem to be ad hoc motto-shaped utterances, like Yoda gone pear-shaped.

This is the closest I’ve been to bringing the Bot Service Center out of suspended animation in quite a while.

First, it is possible to be a vegan cardiologist and not a crank: Dr. Danielle Belardo is a vegan cardiologist I follow on Twitter who is all about SBM (and is more than ready to prescribe medication as well as diet).

Second, vis-a-vis the Gorilla post, oh my goodness where to start. 1) gorillas are apes, not monkeys. 2) non-human primate medical research is being phased out for ethical and scientific reasons. 3) are non-human primates even a relevant model organism for testing coronavirus vaccines? (I don’t know.) A small and vindictive part of me would love to sic PETA on this cardiologist for suggesting that the vaccines should be tested on an endangered species. (But PETA is like tar, it gets all over you too and is almost impossible to get rid of.)

Dr Kahn seems rather like a fame-hound, and currently the fastest and easiest way to get attention is to be an anti-vaxxer and COVID liar. Dude, go back to encouraging kale salads and oat milk or whatever.

Just to add, Singapore has used sweepstakes, discounts and prizes to encourage healthy living via 1000 steps challenge or healthy eating. So, this isn’t a new approach to encourage healthful habits. The impact is questionable but Singapore approach is a multistep system, where reduce barriers n increase incentive would help, such as having fitness corners, running tracks, round island bike trails and etc .

I was putting out ant cups to deal with a minor kitchen invasion, when I discovered that the active ingredient is avermectin.

It’s practically the same as ivermectin, just one carbon double bond difference! So I can stock up on ant cups and just slurp the drug out of the little plastic reservoirs if I feel under the weather.

Science!

Hi Dr. Bacon. Have you tried aspartame for ant control? Evidently it’s a neurotoxin for them. https://www.doityourself.com/stry/combat-ants-with-nutrasweet

But it’s okay for humans according to Coca Cola…a little a day is ok! New slogan! https://www.coca-colacompany.com/faqs/what-is-aspartame

And then there’s Rummy’s part in the Aspartame FDA approval thing. https://www.vice.com/en/article/nzpbkx/the-story-of-how-fake-sugar-got-approved-is-scary-as-hell

OT – How’s your garden?

“…in sum, Dr. Kahn does not seem content to be a “integrative cardiologist”. He seems to want to be a celebrity ‘integrative cardiologist”. To be rich and famous, to have not just patients, but followers.”

Or celebrity patients, like the near-famous Mayim Bialik, now shilling for Neuriva, a forgettable memory supplement.

@ Narad – Hi Cheeky. You are paying attention. It only took a couple of bones. And no, not a sock. The Facebag login feature for RI wasn’t working (or I was doing something incorrectly) a few months back and I created a WordPress account. If I commented somewhere in a previous post and sock-puppeted, it was done unintentionally. I haven’t logged in using FB for months.

Apologies for the location of my previous reply…not where I thought it would end up.

Thank you for my nickname : ) There are stories.

Stay cool.

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