July 11, 2010

Dangerous Celebrity Doctors Who Prey on People with Diabetes

Not a week goes by than I don't get an email from someone directing me to the web site of yet another physician with poor or nonexistent credentials in endocrinology who's trying to duplicate the financial success of people like Neal "I'm a psychiatrist but that doesn't keep me from making millions giving bad advice about diabetes" Barnard or Joseph "even a stopped clock is right twice a day" Mercola.

What all these doctors have is common is this: little or no experience treating people with diabetes and grandiose claims that they have discovered secrets that will cure or reverse your diabetes. They publish bestselling books that propel them to TV stardom without anyone in the publishing or media community ever checking what happens to people with diabetes who follow their advice.

Barnard, in case you've been living under a rock, is a vegan activist who heads the PETA front group misnamed Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. His books claim that the cure for diabetes is a vegan, extremely low fat/high carbohydrate diet--a diet that leaves most people with diabetes fighting ravenous hunger, rollercoastering blood sugars, and advancing complications.

Barnard has no training in endocrinology. He's a psychiatrist who doesn't appear to have practiced much in his specialty. But he is a genius at self promotion and over the years he has promoted himself to where he is on peer review committees funding diabetes research and is a darling of the American Diabetes Association. This should be no surprise. The ADA is so invested in the low fat/high carbohydrate which it has promoted to people with diabetes for decades that they gravitate to anyone whose charisma might postpone the day when America discovers how poorly it has been served by the organization whose flawed advice, maintained in the face of decades of evidence against it, has been killing their loved ones with diabetes.

What you won't find on Barnard's TV show is any advice about testing after meals to see what foods raise your blood sugar, of course. But he's convincing (as so many psychopaths are). So Barnard will retire a multi-multi-millionaire and tens of thousands of people with diabetes who see him on legitimate looking TV shows will end up with unnecessary compliations as a result of eating the diet of grains, fruits, pasta, and soybeans he has convinced them are a healthy diet.

But there plenty of questionable self-promoting doctors who have jumped on the Low Carb bandwagon, too. Dr.(DO not MD) Joseph Mercola is the most notorious. Mercola won his first adherents in the alternative health community by turning against grains. Fine. There are problems with grains and I'd be the first to admit it. Since then he's jumped on whatever is the currently fashionable cure all, (right now it is Vitamin D).

But the problem with Dr. Mercola is that if you visit his site you'll see that he popularizes health ideas that are true (though discovered by others) so that he can sell you cures that are highly questionable verging on the fraudulent. His site funnels you into the "Products" and "Services" sections that sell branded worthless supplements like acai berry, and overpriced items like a $39 Vitamin D spray that will give you the same dose as a bottle of $6 capsules from Walgreens.

But Mercola doesn't stop there. Having lured you in with not entirely unreasonable content (available on hundreds of other sites) he does his best to sell you some some very bogus natural health cures. These include homeopathy, acupressure (though Mercola is NOT a trained acupuncturist, a discipline that takes several years of training), and chiropractic (though Mercola is also not a trained chiropractor). His articles on media outlets like the Huffington Post start out by citing some natural health idea beloved by the alternative health community--something along the lines of the ever popular "Aspartame is poison!" but then seguey into promoting his branded higly fringe cures.

In fact, a careful look at Mercola's credentials suggest he's a marginally trained D.O. with very little clinical experience treating metabolic disease. The hospital he cites on his web site as being the one he was once affiliated with, St. Alexius Medical Center, Hoffman Estates, IL, turns out to be a small Catholic mental health hospital. He is not board certified in any specialty that would suggest he has expertise in treating metabolic disease and his "professional affiliations" are not impressive. Most are fringe groups or things you can join if you have a medical degree and write a check. His publications appear to mostly be letters to various journals citing his personal theories not actual research.

This is not to say that all Mercola's health post are wrong. Only that he picks up ideas from elsewhere and uses them to lure people in so he can profit from selling his questionable products and services. And because he is plugging so much questionable content, his site is not helpful to people with diabetes.

These are just two of the celebrity doctors who want your money and who don't care that they are selling you crap that will not keep you from developing diabetic complications. There are plenty more. My site has become so visible I'm getting inundated with PR mailings from a host of celebrity doctor wannabes, all of whom have in common that they have something to sell and web presences that make it clear they have no clue what it takes to control diabetic blood sugars.

And that is the crux of why I'm posting this. It's one thing when money-hungry celebrity doctors market themselves to "the worried well," all those vaguely hypochondriac people who have nothing wrong with them except, perhaps, boredom or normal age related ailments. The worried well respond strongly to placebos and that is what most of these celebrity doctors' branded products really are.

But it's another issue entirely when they move from fleecing the worried well to pretending they have real solutions for people with diabetes. Diabetes does not respond to placebos.

Diabetes does not reverse in response to any supplement. Chiropractic can not lower your blood sugar. Acupuncture will not cure diabetic neuropathy. There is, in short, nothing any celebrity doctor is selling that will cure your diabetes and a lot that they promote that will make it worse because the false hope they give you keeps you from learning about the tried and true tools that could lower your blood sugar and keep you healthy.

What these effective tools have in common is that they don't require you to buy much beyond a blood sugar meter and possibly some safe prescription drugs any family doctor can prescribe--the most effective of which is $4/month generic metformin.

The only diet that will keep you healthy if you have diabetes is one that keeps your blood sugars below 140 mg/dl (7.7 mmol/L) at all times. What this diet will be varies from person to person. For many of us it will be a diet low in carbohydrate. For a very few who have a rare subset of diabetes where they are fat sensitive it may be one lower in fat. You won't know what diet will control your personal form of diabetes until you employ a blood sugar meter as described HERE. Follow the technique described on that web page and within 2 weeks you should have a very good idea what foods make up a safe diabetes diet for you.

But even that diet will not "reverse" your diabetes, because nothing has ever been shown to truly reverse established diabetes. Diet and medications can stop your diabetes from destroying your body and give you normal health, which is good enough for most of us. It isn't a miracle. It requires self-discipline and daily choices about what to eat and how to use our energy. But it works. Unlike the one-size-fits-all miracle cures of celebrity doctors.

There is no miracle cure for diabetes. It takes work, study, and an annoying amount of daily effort to preserve your health if you have abnormal blood sugar. Doctors who claim to have discovered health secrets usually have one real secret--they've gotten bored with treating patients and have decided to take the quick way to making a fortune and retiring from practice.

How To Evaluate The Credentials of Any Would-Be Celebrity Doctor

When someone with M.D. after his name sets himself up as a diabetes authority--or tells you that he has found "secrets" that will cure all that ails you--ask the following questions.

1. What is this doctor's board certification (if in fact he has one)? An endocrinologist or cardiologist should be board certified and actively practicing in that specialty for years before self-appointing himself an expert. A legitimate doctor should have completed a residency in the field he purports to be an expert in. Look at what medical school the doctor attended too. Brighter doctors get their degrees at schools associated with major teaching hospitals.

2. What hospital does he practice out of? Legitimate doctors have hospital privileges at good hospitals. A doctor who only practices out of his own clinic may be a doctor who was kicked out of his last hospital for harming too many patients or one whose credentials are very marginal.

3. How much time has this doctor spent treating people with diabetes and what evidence is there that his patients do better than the average besides his say so?

4. If his ideas are not mainstream, how much evidence does he give to support them and what is the quality of that research? Typically celebrity doctors will cite only three or four studies--sometimes without giving you any citations to the actual studies. The studies they cite may be small poorly conducted studies that were cherry picked to support the simplistic theory the doctor already came up with before doing any research.

5. What is this doctor selling? The more branded products and non-physician services you see for sale, the more dangerous the doctor is likely to be to your health. Doctors who no longer practice medicine except on TV shows are often the most dangerous to your health because it is years since they've actually treated a patient with a serious medical problem.

6. Does the doctor promise a miraculous cure available only with his products or services or only to those who follow his advice? If so remind yourself there is NO one cure for any form of diabetes. There is no one diet or drug that works reliably for every person with diabetes, either.

7. Check out what real people with diabetes have to say about any celebrity doctor's approach on online discussion groups. You'll see several linked on the right column of this blog. Be aware that there are shills promoting supplements on all online groups, so if you see someone enthusing about something expensive, click on their profile and see if they post about anything besides that supplement or treatment. But besides the shills most online discussion groups have a core of regulars who have been posting for years and whose comments may be useful. Read their opinions before you become just another victim of a doctors whose concern for his own fame and fortune is greater than his knowledge of what it really takes to survive diabetes.



Anna said...

This is a great topic and I applaud you for shining the spotlight on these appealing but exploitive doctor personalities! I think your characterizations of both "celebrity doctors" are excellent and spot-on.

Based on the number of well-meaning people who suggest or want to loan their tapes and books to me, I think Dr. Oz's name richly deserves to be on the list, too, as well as Dr. "how-many-chins-hide-behind-that-beard" Weil deserving an honorable mention, too (though I've heard lately that he is rightly backing away from his former high carb, "complex, whole grain" advice).

Liz H. said...

I agree about Dr. Oz; i have heard him give very bad diet advice to diabetics on his TV show.

Goober said...

Mercola's articles are good. If people are stupid enough to purchase his products, that's up to them. But, Mercola is at least a good source for news and his analysis isn't bad at all.

Info about DOs.:

D.O.s are trained and licensed to examine patients, prescribe medicine and perform surgery like an M.D. To become a doctor of osteopathy, one must complete four years of undergraduate work, usually in a science field, followed by four years of medical school. D.O.s complete an extra 300 to 500 hours studying the body's musculoskeletal system and learn hands-on methods of diagnosis and treatment. D.O.s are licensed by the region in which they live, and in many areas can become board certified after a two to six year residency and completion of board certification exams. D.O.s can also choose to specialize in a particular field, as M.D.s do.

There are many people on the web that talk about diabetes and are very knowledgeable. Based on your comments, we should ignore almost everyone who isn't an MD. Wait, then that would include you or possibly Mendoza. Yet, I think both of you add to the Diabetes dialog.

Anna said...

Goober makes a good point about DOs. While trying to select a new primary care physician, I realized there were a number of DOs in the large "Big Medicine" system that provides my HMO plan healthcare (sickcare).

DOs might have a reputation for being "alternative", but in a Big Medicine setting (like MDs) they "run with the pack" along with the MDs. The two DOs that I've seen at Scripps (Family Medicine and Opthamology) were no better nor worse than the MDs I've seen in the 14+ years of care in this system (I now go out-of-network for some of my "healthcare"). I don't think the MD or DO makes much difference as the education between the two isn't that much different; the person, experience, and knowledge behind the credentials is what is significant (not to mention the system/network in which he/she chooses to work).

Jenny said...

My one experience with a DO was with a DO who almost killed my daughter at her birth. She was a natural childbirth fanatic who pretended to be a gynecologist without the appropriate training.

My baby got stuck and after 23 hours of unproductive and excruciating labor during which this doctor kept accusing me of having the wrong attitude, a real ob/gyn came in, saw what was happening and literally kicked the DO out of the delivery suite and did a midforceps delivery to rescue on my huge, post dates baby.

I later found out from the doctor who handled my second pregnancy that this DO had completely ignored the tests showing I'd been diabetic throughout that first pregnancy. That was my first experience that taught me how dangerous doctors can be who sell themselves as using "natural alternative" medicine. This woman's main emotion as things started going bad was anger at me that I might ruin her reputation as a no-drugs natural childbirth doctor.

Andreboco said...

Jenny, thank you again. I saw Dr. Barnard in India present to a hospital. I went there with Dr. Ron Rosedale. The best he could cite was bringing an A1c down from 8.1 to 7.1. As a type 1 now I know that is still a death sentence. I was insulted and expressed my opinion. I did not know that he was a psych. You are a beacon of light in the diabetes world...please write a character in your novels who has diabetes.

DJ said...

Sorry Andrebocco, I am confused. Did Dr Barnard or Dr Rosedale say he could bring your AiC down from 8.1 to 7.1?

Andreboco said...

DJ, it was Dr. Barnard in his discussion, that said that he has brought A1c down from 8.1 to 7.1. He was proud of that.

A1c 8.1=blood sugar 211
A1c 7.1=175

Either of these BS are totally unacceptable. That was the best he could do. I follow Dr. Bernstein, Dr. Rosedale and Jenny. My A1c went from the high 10s to 4.9

DJ said...

Ok, thanks. I was sure Ron Rosedale would not lay claim to those numbers. I also follow Rosedale and Bernstein (through their books). Great job on your A1C. Am still working on it myself.

Erik's Rant'z said...

I was diagnosed 10 years ago and have been out of control for the past 5 years. I finally got it mostly together and was able to go from an A1C of 14.9 to 8.9. I was pushed Lantus and Byetta on top of Actos Plus Metformin prior to hitting 14.9.

I pulled myself off of both Lantus and Byetta, started doing better with food and walking and the result was better but still out of control.

My doctor also works out of the St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates, IL which is NOT a mental health facility but a full hospital.

I don't like the hospital but lets get what it does as accurate as possible. Thanks for this site, I don't know how I didn't find it after all these years but I'm glad I did.

My new doctor put me on Onglyza along with Acto Plus Metformin. I only took the Onglyza once, it made me feel very strange and while searching it on Google I chanced onto this site. I'm not taking the drug again.

I'm going to begin yet another search for a new doctor. There has got to be one out there that will work with you and not lift an eye brow when you question them.

ItsTheWooo said...

I agree with the brunt of your post. Very important, people on the internet read mercola as if he were an authority. The man is a quack. Bernard is similar, a nutty

I'm actually surprised as hell mercola is a real doctor. I assumed he was like a chiropractor.

DOs are real doctors, though. Their training is pretty much equally rigorous, it's just a title difference. I've met great DOs, and terrible MDs. You need to go by the individual practitioner.

I would also add most DOs are not altie quacks. They do tend to have a more holistic/natural approach but that's simply practical and reasonable IMO. There are lots of subtle nutrient / environmental insults which can cause problems. You may not believe this, but you are going against research (and IMO you are going against common sense).
Any good doctor, DO or MD, uses mainstream medicine to its full potential.

Also, supplements do help diabetes, particularly type II. It's not good information to tell diabetics not to take supplements. They are very low risk proposition and evidence suggests it can help.

Speaking personally I have metabolic "issues" not diabetes, I had severe obesity, reactive hypoglycemia and very bad PCOS. Most of this I resolve with a low carbohydrate diet, but adding chromium and inositol made a big difference for me. I've said this before, and I think it needs repeating... it really helped a lot. Daily chromium GTF, with a bit of chromium picolinate, plus a fair dose of myo-inositol... HUGE difference, HUGE. In terms of weight, mood, and reproductive capacity, all improved significantly. Research supports this.

I believe you have MODY (correct me if I am mistaken) which means your metabolism is otherwise healthy, you don't make insulin normally. For someone with type II or related sequeleae (severe obesity PCOS reactive hypo) then supplements to allow glucose to be processed better and insulin sensitivity improved is going to be beneficial.

There are no supplements that make the body make insulin (which is all a MODY and type I need to worry about) but there are LOTS of nutrients which directly and indirectly affect insulin sensitivity. Anti-inflammatories, minerals, vitamins, all of these affect glucose tolerance insulin sensitivity and thus health outcome. It's silly to ignore it as if it were irrelevant and just get on metformin instead.

Jenny said...

I have carefully reviewed the research about the supplements that are supposed to help with Type 2 diabetes and none of them improve blood sugars to any significant degree when taken orally. In fact, very few of them test out at all. Details HERE and HERE.

The quality of research about supplement is generally extremely poor and often done by people who profit from selling them. Many that were believed to be helpful turn out to raise the risk of death.

My recent nightmare with Vitamin D causing hypercalcemia (which has finally calmed down after a month off the Vitamin D and avoiding all cheese) has reminded me how dangerous these supplements can be.

PJNOIR said...

Mercola's information is standard faire. It acts like a a doorman greeting you into a room of snake oil salesman in doctor coats. I don't allow his junk email onto my browser anymore. Mercola is NOT a source of 'Good' news - just news used as a facade. That is the worst kind of news.

Saponaria said...

I found this post sort of unfair. I know nothing of the first Dr mentioned. However you seem to imply that Dr Mercola claims to be selling a miracle cure for diabetes or that he claims he can cure diabetes with chiropractic or acupuncture. Where in the world does he claim this? Linking to a webpage where he says he uses chiropractic and acupuncture at his clinic is not the same as any proof that he claims this.

I read you and I read Mercola. I don't buy what he's selling but I enjoy the links to the recent articles and studies on various health issues. I like Mercola because I found out about Dr Rosedale there and found his diet hugely helpful to me when I found out I was diabetic. But I was disappointed in this article because I was expecting more. I was expecting you to back up what you seem to be implying about him or claiming. I'm not sure..you seem to refrain from any direct claims just lots of loaded implications.

If you've got some real dirt on Mercola and reason for me to ignore him I would totally be willing to read it and weigh it. But you just sort of failed to do that here.

Yeah, he's selling something..constantly selling something though I started reading him before he started selling things. But pretty much every MD I've met is trying to sell me something or make some money off me somehow. I have no experience with DO's though I assume it's the same. This isn't enough to really discredit him. I'd like to see where he makes claims that are actually claims of miracle cures for diabetes.

I'm sorry about your experience with a DO. I've had some seriously bad experiences with those in the medical field, alternative and otherwise. Just recently I had a run of the mill non natural birth oriented OB try to tell me that I did not fail my GTT. I ignored her and went with my results to my specialists who sent me to an endo who all agreed I failed my GTT even though my OB didn't feel I did according to her standards. She made many errors in her treatment of me and was just fired a few weeks ago. But her failures don't make all OB's bad and incompetent.

She was just another run of the mill incompetent Dr on a power trip who didn't like someone who wanted their own copies of all their labs and questioned them when they were clearly screwing up.

LHL said...

Well said.
Celebrity doctors are celebrities first, seeking out fame and fortune is always at someone else's expense.
This is not to say all experts who become famous for their work are like that.

I originally bought Barnard's book when I was first diagnosed and also got your book. I was horrified by Barnard's approach and now I can see why, just another type of extremism.

Robert said...

I very seldom pay attention to Dr. Oz. However, I happened to be watching when he told viewers there was nothing wrong with adding a few tablespoons of sugar to cold tea, since there were only 15 calories in a tablespoon. Hey, maybe he treated the sugar with Reiki...

renegadediabetic said...

I think Dr. Mercola has some good stuff, but he is selling things and sometimes seems alarmist. I haven't seen much wrong with his advice to diabetics. The only point I could disagree with is that he says insulin is bad for type 2s. This is true if they are making enough insulin on their own and have high insulin levels. However, if enough their beta cells have been damaged, they may not make enough insulin and therefore need some. Dr. Bernstein uses insulin for type 2s when needed and I think he knows better than Mercola.

Dr. Bernard is just a vegan activist. If his diet doesn't even acheive the ADA's anemic definition of "tight control," what good is it? Dr. Oz is just riding Oprah's coattails. It's like anyting else on the web or the media, you have to beware.

fiona said...

Wonderful article, thank you.
Dr Rosedale by far has exceeded the results of any other 'specialist' out there. He typically has gotten from over 10's to down to around 5's, and many that I know that started with Bernstein ended up with Dr Rosedale and their results were far better with Rosedale. Shelly Schlender at www.myandmydiebetes.com is a patient of his that is a type 1, and Rosedale got her numbers in to the 4's and she is NOT on insulin! but she follows the Rosedale diet strictly, she also started with Bernstein and never got those results. Bernstein is still better than most of them and doing a great job, but never found one to top Rosedale on his research, knowledge - constantly ahead of the crowd by many years. Rosedale has been tirelessly sharing his information around the world, giving freely of his knowledge to help people with this terrible often man made desease with many wrongly diagnosed and treated. type II diabetes should not even be around any more, that he turns around day in and day out.

GrimFandangeo said...

I am 100% positive this post will never see the light of day - so be it - at least YOU will see it and know there are people out there that see through you BigPharma-backed vitriol. Yes, you are very obvious indeed, and by promoting the BigPharma way to "health" you are bringing unnecessary suffering and death to people you have never met (Sociopathic behavior?)

By the way, Mercola's advice to Type2 Diabetics is sound advice - Daily exercise, cut out the grains and the sugars, especially Fructose, daily exercise, check your insulin levels, exercise, and optimize your Vitamin D level and have those levels tested regularly by a proficient lab to make sure you’re not reaching toxic levels.

Yeah, all really good advice, and not one itsy bitsy pitch for any of his products. Shame on you