Updated 24 June 2014

Celebs who fall for health scams

Celebrities rarely shy away from public peddling of dubious ideas about health and science. Here's who is doing what and why.

Pop guru Simon Cowell carries pocket-sized inhalable oxygen shots, America's "Mad Men" actress January Jones favours dried placenta pills, and British soap star Patsy Palmer rubs coffee granules into her skin.

In its 2012 list of the year's worst abuses against science, the Sense About Science (SAS) campaign also named former U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney for spreading misinformation about windows on planes, and Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps for false justifications for peeing in the pool.

Read: Dr Oz grilled over promotion of miracle cures and diet pills

Worst abuses against science

To help set the record straight, SAS, a charity dedicated to helping people make sense of science and evidence, invited qualified scientists to respond to some of the wilder pseudo-scientific claims put about by the rich and famous.

It suggested Romney, who wondered aloud in September why aircraft crews don't just open the windows when there's a fire on board, should listen to aeronautical engineer Jakob Whitfield:

"Unfortunately, Mitt, opening a window at height wouldn't do much good," the scientist said. "In fact, if you could open a window whilst in flight, the air would rush out because air moves from the high pressure cabin to the lower pressure outside, probably causing further injury and damage."

Read: How to spot a health scam

January Jones's dried placenta pills, which the actress admitted in March she consumed after giving birth
, win no favour with Catherine Collins, principal dietician at St George's Hospital in London.

"Nutritionally, there's nothing to be gained from eating your placenta - raw, cooked, or dried," Collins said. "Apart from iron, which can be easily found in other dietary choices or supplements, your placenta will provide toxins and other unsavoury substances it had successfully prevented from reaching your baby in utero."

ReadWhy some are eating the placenta just after giving birth

Gary Moss, a pharmaceutical scientist, patiently points out to Palmer that while caffeine may have an effect on cellulite, rubbing coffee granules into the skin is unlikely to work, since the caffeine can't escape the granules to penetrate the skin.

Phelps's claim that it's fine to pee in the pool because "chlorine kills it" is put straight by biochemist Stuart Jones, who reminds him that "urine is essentially sterile so there isn't actually anything to kill in the first place."

Read: How to avoid health scams

And for Cowell, Kay Mitchell, a scientist at the Center for Altitude Space and Extreme Environment Medicine, warns that very high levels of oxygen can in fact be toxic particularly in the lungs, where oxygen levels are highest.

"Celebrity comments travel far and fast, so it's important that they talk sense," said Sense About Science's managing director Tracey Brown. "The implausible and frankly dangerous claims about how to avoid cancer, improve skin or lose weight are becoming ever more ridiculous. And unfortunately they have a much higher profile than the research and evidence."

Read: How the health and food industry is making a mockery of the average consumer

Some more fads celebs are following, from

Michelle Pfeiffer once followed the Breatharian Diet – which involved no food or water.
Boy George uses biotyping to lose weight, a process that requires hormone manipulation to target certain areas of the body.
Rihanna supports the use of intravenous vitamin and fluid therapy post-hangover, despite the fact it uses up important emergency medical supplies needed in hospital
Demi Moore told ABC News she felt great after being covered in leeches for blood detoxification. According to medical experts, however, your body’s liver and kidneys take care of that process naturally – no leeches needed!

Read: Prince Charles - a right royal quack

To encourage more vigilance among celebrity pseudo-scientists in the future, SAS provided a checklist of "misleading science claims" it suggests should be avoided:

  • "Immune boosting" - you can't and you don't need to.
  • "Detox" - your liver does this.
  • "Superfood" - there is no such thing, just foods that are high in some nutrient.
  • "Oxygenating" - your lungs do this.
  • "Cleansing" - you shouldn't be trying to cleanse anything other than your skin or hair.

Read more:

Eating the placenta gaining popularity
Quacks and other science fraudsters
The heated debate over vaccinations that cause autism


The truth about juicing

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