Celebrity snake oil does odd things to you when absorbed
Fad? Fact? ... Olivia Newton-John and David Beckham. Photo: Reuters, AP
HAVE you heard the one about the bracelet with holograms that can improve your strength and flexibility, or help you lose weight? Did you know that sperm was highly nutritious and something to be reabsorbed into the body, particularly before a fight?
For the past 12 months a motley collection of celebrities has endorsed and promoted a range of scientifically dubious ideas. Fortunately, scientists and doctors are on hand to dispense some corrective wisdom on the dodgiest of these claims.
A campaign group, Sense About Science (SAS), has collated scores of examples of scientific abuse from the past year and published its annual list of celebrity science shame.
''When people in the public eye give opinions about causes of disease, cures, diets, or products we should buy or avoid, their opinion goes worldwide in seconds,'' said Lindsay Hogg, assistant director of SAS.
''It gets public attention and appears in every related Google search for months. So if it's scientifically wrong, we're stuck with the fallout from that.''
For example, the singer Olivia Newton-John told a newspaper she took extra digestive enzymes and ''plant tonics'' to boost her immune system.
''All the digestive enzymes you need are produced in a beautifully co-ordinated way by different structures in your gut,'' said Melita Gordon, a consultant gastroenterologist in England.
''They work best at the exact location where they are produced. Your body makes all the enzymes you need, in the right place, at the right time.''
SAS also pointed to several celebrities endorsing Power Balance, a silicone bracelet that contains a hologram. David Beckham, Kate Middleton and Robert de Niro have all made positive noises about it, she said.
The cage fighter Alex Reid took things much further with his tips for health. Giving fans advice on how to prepare for a match, he said: ''It's actually very good for a man to have unprotected sex as long as he doesn't ejaculate. Because I believe that all that semen has a lot of nutrition.
''A tablespoon of semen has your equivalent of steak, eggs, lemons and oranges. I am reabsorbing it into my body and it makes me go raaaaahh.'' John Aplin, a reproductive research scientist at the University of Manchester, said sperm cannot be reabsorbed. ''In fact, sperm die after a few days, and the nutritional content of the ejaculate is really rather small.''
The sceptics' favourite, homoeopathy, was cited by the British actress Julia Sawalha as a great cure-all. ''I don't get inoculations or take anti-malaria tablets when I go abroad, I take the homoeopathic alternative, called 'nosodes', and I'm the only one who never goes down with anything.''
A Royal Pharmaceutical Society expert said Sawalha was very lucky not to have contracted malaria as there was no protection to be had in homoeopathic treatments.
And Hogg said: ''We'd like to see more celebrities checking out the science before they open their mouths and send the wrong thing viral.''
Guardian News & Media