You Probably Don’t Have a Parasite Despite Goop Misinformation

Goop is a corporation owned by actress Gwyneth Paltrow. It is a feel-good alternative medicine portal that tries to sell visitors everything from shady supplements and kid calming mist to spirit dust alchemy and jade eggs. It is quackery on steroids. The website itself manipulates visitors by insisting that they are having sex the wrong way, how you should never shower alone, how all diseases are caused by inflammation, leaky gut, hidden molds or GMOs (nope!) or how all diseases can be cured by illegal drugs, hypnosis, dirt, weird diets, essential oils and detoxes.

A recent Q&A article on the Goop website called You Probably Have a Parasite – Here’s What to Do About It. It predictably pushed the idea that almost everything is a symptom of parasitic infections, that parasites can cause all sorts of diseases, and that fake treatments such as homeopathy and herbs can cure or prevent it. The person being interviewed was Linda Lancaster, who is described as a “naturopathic physician and homeopath”, touting a N. D. and PhD degree. This means that Lancaster does not appear to have an M. D. degree and thus cannot be called a proper medical doctor.

Throughout the Q&A, Lancaster fearmongers about parasites that do not cause symptoms in the vast majority of cases, claims that everything from being tired to having a sinus infection is a symptom of parasitic infection, recommends using bogus tests given by non-qualified practitioners, and claims that the body has “vibrational fields” that are somehow relevant for human health. Lancaster also peddles raw goat milk as a cure for parasitic infections, despite the fact that there is no evidence that raw goat milk is effective and some evidence suggesting that raw goat milk can itself contain parasites that can be spread to humans. Finally, the article itself is joined by a classic Quack Miranda Warning, further solidifying the conclusion that it is misleading quackery.

What is a parasite?

According to the CDC (2016), a parasite is a pathogen that “lives on or in a host organism and gets its food from or at the expense of its host”. They distinguish three major groups of parasites. The first group is protozoa, which is a morphological group of single-celled eukaryotes that is transmitted via the fecal-oral route or via different kinds of vectors like insects. Examples of parasitic protozoans that are a problem for humans include Giardia (can be gotten from contaminated water) and Plasmodium (causes malaria). The second group is called helminths, which are basically parasitic worms such as roundworm and flatworms. The third group is the ectoparasites that parasitize the host from the outside, including lice.

Lancaster wants to claim that candida (a fungus that can sometimes infect vulnerable people) is also a parasite, but the article switches between different definitions of parasites depending on section, sometimes talking about parasites in terms of worms or other parasites visible to the human eye and sometimes talking about parasites as any kind of disease-causing organism. By using this more expansive definition, Lancaster and Goop can inflate the statistics and scaremonger about parasites as the new all-encompassing cause of human disease.

How many people are really infected by parasites in the United States?

The article claims that CDC states that over 60 million people are infected with parasites. This, however, is slightly misleading. The article begins to talk about parasites in terms of worms, but the 60 million figure refers to the number of people infected by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii (CDC, 2014). This is a parasite that typically infects humans from cats, but it causes no symptoms in healthy humans and the disease toxoplasmosis only develops in people with weakened immune systems. Thus, it is not really a problem for the vast, vast majority of humans and should not scare people.

So how many people in the United States are infected by parasites that can cause health problems for the average individual?

Over 300 000 people in the U. S. is infected with Trypanosoma cruzi that can cause Chagas disease, about 1000 people are hospitalized by pork tapeworm infection, about 14% of people in the U. S. has been infected at some point in their life by Toxocara (a roundworm from cats, dogs or foxes) and 3.7 million people in the U. S. are infected with the sexually transmitted parasite Trichomonas. This is probably surprisingly common for most people, but no matter how you do the math, this does not mean that over half of all people in the U. S. are currently infected by a parasite in the sense the CDC uses the word. It just does not add up to “you probably have a parasite”.

If we use the more expansive definition of a parasite (including infection by any bacteria or virus), then the conclusion might be true since all humans have bacteria that live on our skin or inside our gut and uses us for food, but this a trivial point and likely not the impression this article will leave on the average reader.

Follow Debunking Denialism on Facebook or Twitter for new updates.

The Quack Miranda Warning confirmed

Every time you read an article or product relating to alternative medicine, you should carefully look after what is known as the Quack Miranda Warning. Originally defined by internist PalMD at White Coat Underground, the Quack Miranda Warning is a warning that very often appears in alternative medicine online shops or on articles on quackery websites promoting pseudoscientific medical advice. It typically states that the information and products found on the website is not indented to diagnose or treat anything and that claims have not been approved by the Food and Drug administration.

This is a massive red flag that the claims and products being promoted are not science-based and have not been successfully tested for efficacy or safety. The reason why this should be a huge warning sign is that the seller is trying to sell you claims and products they surely must believe work, but at the same time explicitly tell you that there is no scientifically valid reason to believe them. It is also difficult to see how any real medical practitioner would tell you that they do not intend to diagnose or treat anything when you visit their office in real life. Very few reasonable people would ever consider going to such a practitioner.

In this article, the Quack Miranda Warning appears at the bottom and states that:

The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of goop, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

Let us look at this once part at a time.

First, it states that the claims found in the article in question is supposed to “highlight alternative studies”. But there are no such thing as “alternative” studies. It is either a study, or it is not a study. This is no different from the fact that there are cats, but a squid is not an “alternative” cat. It is a squid. This misleading use of the term “alternative” is very common when it comes to things like “alternative” medicine or “alternative” facts.

Second, it is almost completely vacuous to state that an article is intended to “induce conversation”. Is there anything written online that is not supposed to generate conversation?

Third, it is deceptive to claim that the views are just the views of the author and for the corporation Goop to take no responsibility. Although websites can certainly post information it disagrees with or has no opinion about (newspapers do this all the time), one still has to take some responsibility for the fact that one is giving a platform for pseudoscientific nonsense. This does not magically go away just because you write that the views do not necessarily represent those of the corporation.

Fourth, it is wildly contradictory to say that an article is for informational purposes only when it features some medical professional explicitly giving medical advice. The fact that it is medical advice does not change because the website says that it is for informational purposes only. Either it is medical advice (in which case it is not just for informational purposes), or it is not. No amount of word salad can change that.

Fifth, it is contradictory to state that an article containing medical advice from a medical practitioner (a professional) is not a professional medical advice. It is like saying that blue is not blue merely because I say that it is green. That is not how reality works.

Sixth, it is even more contradictory to publish an article with medical advice, then tell readers in the fine print at the end of the article that it should never be relied on for medical advice. It is like telling the reader to ignore the content they post. It does not make any rational or scientific sense whatsoever. What it does make is legal sense and this is the reason why quacks use the Quack Miranda Warning. By including that statement, they can cover themselves from certain forms of legal consequences.

If Goop asks us to not rely on the information that they post, then I think we should all take that advice. Do not trust content posted to Goop.

Everything isn’t a symptom of parasite infection

In a move classic to pseudoscientific quackery, Lancaster gives an expansive list of symptoms of alleged parasite infections that span everything from having a cold to being tired. The alleged symptoms include:

  • grinding teeth
  • nose-picking
  • butt-scratching
  • digestive disturbances
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • lung congestion
  • sinus congestion
  • flatulence
  • rashes
  • psoriasis
  • achy joints
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • bad breath
  • fatigue
  • exhaustion
  • brain fog
  • lack of get-up-and-go
  • depression
  • anger
  • neurological issues

Although some of these features can be present in someone with a parasite infection (e. g. diarrhea or butt-scratching), they occur in so many other cases and are so vague that they can fit just about anyone. Are there anyone who has not picked their nose, felt weird in their stomach, had a cold, been tired or farted in the last couple of weeks? By using so many alleged symptoms and making them very vague, Lancaster can insist that just about everyone has a parasite infection. It is just a senseless inflation of probabilistic resources.

Don’t trust fake doctors for clinical tests

So how does Lancaster suggest that people who are concerned with a parasite infection? By going to a real doctor and having real medical tests? Not quite:

I recommend having a test done by a naturopathic physician or natural medicine doctor—doctors trained in integrative medicine will be aware of the problems parasites can cause and can recommend further testing and natural treatment.

Instead, Lancaster suggests going to someone who believes in quackery and alternative medicine. Predictable, since those are just about the only practitioners that are going to subscribe to the idea that just about everything is going to be a symptom of a parasite infection and the ones who will order fake tests for parasites and give you the diagnosis you want or perhaps it is more accurately labeled as the diagnoses that enables them to screw patients out of even more money above and beyond the cost of the initial consultation and the test. This is another massive red flag that the information provided in the article on Goop is not scientifically credible.

No such thing as “health system with a low vibrational field”

About halfway into the article, Lancaster trots out classic physics woo about health:

If you have a health system with a low vibrational field or a weakened immune system, you’re more susceptible to parasites. We’re all already tired, and our cells are moving slowly, so a parasite can knock us over—it can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

There is no such thing as a “low vibrational field” property of the human immune system. The immune system consists of different kinds of cells and proteins working together to fight off an infection, not some magical vibrational field. The claim is pure quackery and reveals a fundamental ignorance about the human immune system. It is true that a weakened immune system makes you more vulnerable to parasites, but there is no magical reason for this. It is just that the invaders have an easier time if the defense system is weakened. Being tired does not by itself cause parasite infections and there is no relationship between being tired and the speed at which cells move. Cells in the immune system move via the blood or lymphatic system or inside tissues via different molecular and cellular mechanisms. It has nothing to do with being tired.

Parasites do not like heavy metals and radiation

What piece of quackery would not be complete without fearmongering about “chemicals” and “radiation”? Lancaster claims:

Parasites like the environment of heavy metals, chemicals, and radiation. Heavy metals and chemicals have a low vibrational frequency that causes our cells to slow down and lose their vitality.

The “vibrational frequency” is a made-up concept and has nothing to do with heavy metals or chemical substances generally and has nothing to do with their biological or physiological effects. Those effects are caused by well-understood mechanisms. Parasites, like all multicellular organisms, are vulnerable to heavy metals and radiation. Some animals are better at withstanding radiation than others, but it is merely a matter of dose. At high enough radiation dose and intensity (or high enough concentrations of heavy metals), life cannot exist. All of this has nothing to do with cells slowing down or moving slower.

Modern medicine, not raw goat milk, is effective for fighting parasite infections

So how do you treat a parasite infection? According to science-based medicine, the treatment include an appropriate medication. Depending on the parasite, this can be a special antibiotic (Giardia infection), Praziquantel (tapeworm infections), Albendazole (roundworm infections) and so on.

There is no credible, peer-reviewed evidence in that show that raw goat milk prevents parasite infection. Quite the opposite, as goats can harbor parasites that can be spread via raw goat milk. Virtually all papers in PubMed-indexed journals that tested goat milk for parasites show that it is not that uncommon (Dubey et. al, da Silva et. al, 2015; Dehkord et al. 2013). Never drink or bathe in raw (unpasteurized) goat milk for the mistaken belief that it will prevent or cure parasite infections. The risk just isn’t worth it. If you do not have a parasite infection already, you might get one from it.

Homeopathic preparations do not prevent parasite infections

Besides having very mistaken beliefs about what causes parasite infections and what treats it, Lancaster goes even further and recommends homeopathy:

My treatment is based on knowledge of the Essenes, a community that lived outside of Jerusalem during biblical times.

This is a clear example of an appeal to tradition fallacy. Just because an idea is old does not mean that it is valid. People use to believe that bloodletting cures many diseases or that diseases are caused by demons, but that is not at all an argument for why it should be accepted as a scientific fact.

In my experience, an eight-day, mono-diet goat-milk cleanse—accompanied by a specific vermifuge made of anti-parasitic herbs—is the most successful treatment.

A mono-diet means that you can only eat that one item, which in this case is going to be goat milk. This will likely itself cause flatulence and other digestive disturbances, which the quackery proponent probably will claim is a symptom of parasite infection (further reinforcing the quackery) or as a sign of the body healing (perhaps even going so far to say that it is a sign of the treatment working at the same time as it being a symptom of the disease without noticing the contradiction).

Instead of real medication, Lancaster claims that herbs will treat a parasite infection.

Think of the goat milk as bait—parasites come out of the gut lining to drink the milk, which they love, but they also consume the vermifuge, which will eventually eradicate them. On top of being highly effective, this method is a much more gentle medicine than bombarding them—and your body—with a harsh drug.

That is not how intestinal parasites work. They live in the intestines already. They do not have to be “baited”. There is no evidence that this works or is “highly effective”. Most anti-parasitic medication is not “harsh”. For instance, side effects of praziquantel is primarily not feeling well, headaches, dizziness, stomach pain, nausea, fever and itching (MedlinePlus, 2016).

How does Lancaster think that parasite infections can be prevented? By homeopathy.

There are several preventative measures to take, particularly if you’re traveling where parasites are common; I actually make a travel kit specifically for India, which includes a few homeopathics, and one of my worm formulas to take before meals every day. For prevention, I like olive leaf and have a few herbal tinctures, like an immune booster and a parasite concentrate.

Homeopathy is a form of quackery that involves diluting the active ingredient so much that there is, statistically speaking, not even a single molecule left in the mixture. It is just water. Homeopathy is also based on the false idea that like cures like. This would mean that snake venom could cure snake bites, a clearly ludicrous idea. Homeopathy cannot work based on physics, chemistry and biology and the vast majority of high-quality studies show that it does not work in practice.

You also do not want to “boost” your immunity. An immune system should only expand during times of fighting an infection, and a highly active immune system in other situations can be a sign of autoimmune diseases and cause damage to the body.

What should you do to prevent parasite infections according to modern medicine (Mayo Clinic, 2014; Mayo Clinic 2015)?

  • Wash hands before eating or touching food and after bathroom visits.
  • Cook food properly, especially meat. Also cook plant food in areas where parasites are common.
  • Basic sanitation.
  • Freeze food for more than a day to kill many parasites.
  • Treat pets that are infected with parasites.
  • Avoid swallowing water while swimming.
  • Use a condom for sex.
  • Use bottled water for drinking, washing and brushing teeth.
  • etc.

Out of all of these science-based methods to reduce risk of being infected by parasites, Lancaster only mentions the last one. This is yet another case where the information provided in this article by Goop is underwhelming in terms of scientific accuracy and completeness.

References:

CDC. (2014). Parasitic Infections also occur in the United States. Accessed: 2017-07-27.

CDC. (2016). About Parasites. Accessed: 2017-07-27.

Dehkordi FS, Borujeni MR, Rahimi E, Abdizadeh R. (2013). Detection of Toxoplasma gondii in raw caprine, ovine, buffalo, bovine, and camel milk using cell cultivation, cat bioassay, capture ELISA, and PCR methods in Iran. Foodborne Pathog Dis. 2013 Feb;10(2):120-5.

Dubey JP, Verma SK, Ferreira LR, Oliveira S, Cassinelli AB, Ying Y, Kwok OC, Tuo W, Chiesa OA, Jones JL. (2014). Detection and survival of Toxoplasma gondii in milk and cheese from experimentally infected goats. J Food Prot. 2014 Oct;77(10):1747-53.

Mayo Clinic. (2014). Tapeworm Infection. Accessed: 2017-07-27.

Mayo Clinic. (2015). Giardia Infection. Accessed: 2017-07-27.

MedlinePlus. (2016). Praziquantel. Accessed: 2017-07-27.

da Silva JG, Alves BH, Melo RP, Kim PC, Souza Neto OL, Bezerra MJ, Sá SG, Mota RA. (2015). Occurrence of anti-Toxoplasma gondii antibodies and parasite DNA in raw milk of sheep and goats of local breeds reared in Northeastern Brazil. Acta Trop. 142:145-8.

Emil Karlsson

Debunker of pseudoscience.

2 thoughts on “You Probably Don’t Have a Parasite Despite Goop Misinformation

  • July 27, 2017 at 22:31
    Permalink

    Let’s hope Gwynth doesn’t find out about the human microbiome.

    Reply
    • July 27, 2017 at 22:48
      Permalink

      Do not search for “microbiome” on the Goop website.

Got anything reasonable to contribute?

%d bloggers like this: