pregnancy

No fluoride and sun gazing: Just a running tally of the false health claims made by Pete Evans.

This week, TV-famous Aussie chef Pete Evans shared a selfie with a Kennedy. Yes, as in those Kennedys.

It was Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the son of late US senator, Bobby, and nephew of former President John F. Kennedy.

“Great to spend some time with @robertfkennedyjr and learning more about the important work he is doing for our planet and for the coming generations,” the My Kitchen Rules star captioned the Instagram post.

Kennedy, an environmental lawyer, also happens to be one of the world’s most prominent critics of vaccinations. He’s published several articles, a book and even produced a film all of which spout the conspiracy theory that mercury-based preservatives in vaccinations cause autism.

This is a claim that’s been disproven by scientific researchers, again and again. Yet so-called anti-vaxxers continue to circulate disinformation, mostly online, to the extent that the ‘movement’ has been linked to increased cases of entirely preventable and potentially deadly diseases, including whooping cough and measles, in several countries.

And there is Evans, a prominent media personality, smiling alongside this man, championing his “important work”.

Evans has never explicitly stated that he’s anti-vaxx and, in fact, his publicists recently denied it. Yet there are several examples of the chef aligning himself with prominent members of the movement.

Among them, podcaster and “holistic wellness” consultant Paul Chek. In March 2019, Evans shared a podcast in which Check shared the views of osteopathic doctor and anti-vaccine campaigner Sherri Tenpenny: “One of the most important podcasts to listen to,” Evans wrote. “Thanks @paul.chek for asking the questions that need to be asked about vaccines and medicine.”

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And now, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the president of Children’s Health Defense, an advocacy group that claims there’s a link between vaccines and a range of health conditions including “seizures, neurodevelopmental disorders, and infant death”.

Let’s take a moment to remind ourselves that none of these people have relevant scientific qualifications. And again, that not one study has shown a positive link between vaccines, mercury and subsequent autism diagnosis.

Not vaccinating children, however, can be deadly, as explored in this episode of The Quicky.

Evans has a track record of promoting health claims that are dubious at best and harmful at worst. (Remember, he has no qualifications in medicine, pharmacological science or dietetics.)

Here are some of the most stunning claims, and why they’re wrong.

Claim: bone broth is an alternative to off-the-shelf baby formula.

In 2016, Pete Evans co-authored a paleo cookbook called Bubba Yum Yum: The Paleo Way for Mums, Bubs and Toddlers that was pulled from print and investigated by the Federal Health Department after it recommended bone broth could be used in place of baby formula.

The publication was ultimately released as an e-book, including the recipe, which contained ingredients like chicken liver, oils and a probiotic supplement.

After dieticians and pediatricians expressed concern that the broth “could potentially cause a vitamin A overdose in infants”, the recipe was revised with caveats that it should not be fed to children under six months. But according to the Dietitians Association of Australia, it still contained 4.5 times the amount of Vitamin A recommended for babies: “[the authors] have failed spectacularly to meet any safe standards,” a DAA spokesperson said in a statement at the time. “This new infant ‘brew’ could seriously harm babies.”

Claim: Drinking fluoridated water during pregnancy lowers the baby’s IQ.

This was a link made in a Canadian study released in 2019, and Evans was right on board: “This has been known for ages, and this is just the tip of that iceberg,” he told News Corp. “Fluoride is a known neurotoxin and it should not be put in our water supply.”

Fluoride occurs naturally in water at varying levels, depending on the kinds of rocks the water comes into contact with. But additional quantities are added to the water supply in all Australian capital cities to prevent tooth decay.

What Evans failed to acknowledge was that the Canadian study was roundly criticised as being limited: it involved a sample of just 400 women and involved a lot of estimating of fluoride intake by the women involved.

As Dr Michael Foley from the Australian Dental Association previously told Mamamia, there have already been numerous studies done into whether there’s any link between fluoridation and IQ, including one, in Sweden, that involved 728,000 people and showed no association between fluoride levels in water and child or adult IQ.

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As for the “toxic” claims, Dr Foley noted that, “Everything is toxic if you have enough of it – water, oxygen, calcium, iron, salt and even caffeine. Caffeine is neurotoxic, but only at levels much higher than in a cup of coffee.”

Claim: A ‘Paleo’ diet can treat autism, asthma and cancer.

2017 brought us The Magic Pill, a film produced and narrated by Evans that advocated for the low-carb, high-fat Paleo diet. The filmed repeated claims previously made by Evans that the diet (which is based around food that, in the past, could have been hunted or gathered) can serve as a treatment for multiple diseases.

It features a patient who claimed that cutting sugar from her diet shrunk a cancerous tumour in her breast. There’s also a four-year-old girl with non-verbal autism and epilepsy who adopts a paleo diet and, in a matter of weeks, can speak.

Without entirely dismissing the lived experience of these people, experts urged caution against accepting a single case as ‘proof’.

“Australians could improve their lives by putting healthier things in their mouths, there’s no doubt about that,” Australian Medical Association President Dr Michael Gannon previously told Mamamia. “But this idea that dietary manipulation can change the course of autism spectrum disorder or change the course of a cancer is not just ludicrous, it’s hurtful to people who are affected by these, and are worried about themselves and their loved ones.”

Claim: Sunscreen is “full of poisonous chemicals”.

When asked by a fan 0n Facebook in 2016 what he used for sun protection, Evans responded by saying he “generally” doesn’t use any sunscreen at all.

“The silly thing is people put on normal sunscreen then lay out in the sun for hours on end and think they are safe because they have covered themselves in poisonous chemicals,” he wrote, “which is a recipe for disaster as we are witnessing today.”

While Evans didn’t mention any specific “poisonous chemicals” there has been investigation into nano-sized titanium dioxide and zinc oxide particles, which have been used in sunscreens in Australia since the ’90s. However, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (the body that approves medicines and medical devices for sale in Australia) continues to conduct regular comprehensive literature reviews to assess their safety. It’s most recent, in 2017, found that “on current evidence, neither [titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles] are likely to cause harm when used as ingredients in sunscreens and when sunscreens are used as directed.”

In order to help prevent skin cancer, the Cancer Council continues to recommend using broad-spectrum 30+ (or higher) sunscreen on every day the UV index is forecast to be 3 or above. Sun-protection clothing and a hat is also important.

Claim: Dairy strips calcium from bones.

In 2016, one of Pete Evans’ Facebook followers commented, “I’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis. My doctor insists that medication is the only way, can paleo help?”

Evans responded, “I would strongly suggest removing dairy and eating the paleo way as calcium from dairy can remove calcium from bones.” He added, “Most doctors do not know this information.”

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Again, this statement was dismissed by experts.

The Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society, Osteoporosis Australia and Endocrine Society of Australia even issued a joint statement collectively rejecting Evans’ claims: “Ensuring sufficient calcium intake is an important component for bone health across the entire lifespan. Dairy foods are an important and inexpensive source of calcium for many individuals, and most Australians obtain the majority of their calcium intake from dairy sources… Men and women with osteopaenia or osteoporosis should be reassured and confident that a good dairy intake does not have adverse effects upon skeletal health.”

Claim: gazing into the sun is medically beneficial.

In the above Instagram post from 2018, Evans described “a brief gaze into the radiant light of the early rising or late setting sun” as one of the “the best forms of free medicine”.

No.

Staring toward the sun can cause damage to your eyes within a matter of seconds.

The Vision Eye Institute warns that when your eyes are over-exposed to the sun’s UV rays, the radiation literally cooks the exposed tissue and can cause permanent damage. And yes, this can even happen when UV levels are lower at sunrise and sunset.

The above is general information only and should not be considered a substitute for personalised medical advice. For further information on any of the health issues mentioned in this article, consult your doctor.

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