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Two actors and their woo

Why does anyone listen to actors when they pontificate about health and medical issues?

Think about it. What is it that actors do? They read lines given to them. True, some have a talent that goes beyond that; they can actually write or direct. But few of them have any more abilities when it comes to science than the average populace. Indeed, arguably, they have less knowledge of science than average. Witness, for instance, Jenny McCarthy and her crusade against vaccines. Yes, I realize that she claims not to be “antivaccine,” but her actions and words say otherwise. She’s also managed to suck her boyfriend Jim Carrey into the morass of quackery and pseudoscience for which she has become the figurehead.

Except that apparently Jim Carrey was more than receptive to McCarthy’s charms other than her obvious ones:

Carrey – who has long been open about his own battles with depression – says he’s the happiest he’s ever been thanks to vitamin supplements. Too often, he claims, people think anti-depressants are the only answer.

“I think the medical establishment we’re presented with, it’s a system,” said the comedian. “They’re taught a certain thing. There is drug company money that goes into the educational system. I’m saying you have to look outside that, and consider the other possibilities for people.”

In the end, he said, “It’s important that there are alternatives.”

Carrey made similar comments to CNN’s Larry King on Monday night, wading into potentially controversial territory. Most notably, he said he “didn’t disagree” with Tom Cruise’s infamous condemnations of prescription medications.

Yes, indeed. There’s big pharma conspiracy mongering yet again, and, worse, he appears to be going straight into Scientology country:

“I think Prozac and things like that are very valuable to people for short periods of time,” he said on the show. “But I believe if you’re on them for an extended period of time, you never get to the problem.”

Note the false dichotomy: Either people are on antidepressants for a long period of time or we “get to the root of the problem.” Of course, the “root of the problem” is biochemistry. The drugs are an imperfect correction for the abnormalities in brain biochemistry that result in depression, but it is generally agreed that those alterations are the “root of the problem.” One wonders what Carrey thinks to be the “true” cause of his depression. Whatever he does think (if you can call it thinking), though, it’s not surprising that he had an affinity to Jenny McCarthy and her “Indigo child” woo and her belief that vaccines made her son autistic.

Speaking of vaccines and autism, one of the concepts behind the belief that vaccines somehow cause autism is that it is the mercury in the thimerosal preservative that used to be in many childhood vaccines until 2001 that causes autism. Alright, alright, I know it’s a lame segue, but, speaking of mercury “poisoning,” witness Jeremy Pivens, who bowed out of a production of Speed the Plow for a rather unusual reason:

But on Wednesday night, Mr. Piven’s publicist, Samantha Mast, wrote in an e-mail message that he was not feeling well, and that “his doctors have advised him that he should end his run immediately.” She referred questions about Mr. Piven’s diagnosis to his physician, Dr. Carlon M. Colker, the medical director of the Peak Wellness clinic in Greenwich, Conn., and a diet book author who has worked with clients like Andre Agassi and the snowboarder Chris Klug.

In a telephone interview on Thursday, Dr. Colker said that Mr. Piven had come to him soon after the show had opened, complaining of excessive fatigue and exhaustion. Noting Mr. Piven’s artistic lineage — his parents founded the Piven Theater Workshop near Chicago — Dr. Colker said, “For him, he’s used to the rigors of an acting career, so he knows the ropes.”

Dr. Colker said that an initial battery of tests on Mr. Piven had shown normal results. But after Mr. Piven said he was a frequent sushi eater who consumed fish about twice a day, and that he used herbal remedies, Dr. Colker tested him for heavy metals.

Dr. Colker said that these tests revealed “a very, very elevated level of mercury” in Mr. Piven’s blood, adding that it was five to six times the upper limit that is typically measured. Left untreated, Dr. Colker said, the condition could result in heart problems, cognitive problems, renal failure and, in very extreme cases, death. He said that he told Mr. Piven he could continue in the show, but only with extreme caution.

Interesting that it’s being blamed on excess intake of sushi when Pivens is known to take various herbal remedies, and Chinese herbal remedies have been found time and time again to be contaminated with various heavy metals including mercury. Dr. Colker is quick to dismiss the possibility that herbal remedies might have contributed significantly to Pivens’ mercury toxicity, assuming he actually was suffering from mercury toxicity. Perhaps it’s because Dr. Colker is a bit of a booster of woo himself. He’s the President and Owner of Peak Wellness and a huge advocate of supplements for bodybuilding and what he calls “general wellness.” He strikes me as a physician to the stars in the same way that Dr. Jay Gordon is a pediatrician to the children of the stars. One also wonders why he so quickly zeroed in on a diagnosis of mercury toxicity. It seems awfully–shall we say?–convenient.

Leave it to David Mamet, though, to sum up the situation drolly:

At least one person associated with the play seemed less forgiving about Mr. Piven’s departure. Speaking to Daily Variety, Mr. Mamet said, “My understanding is that he is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer.”


In any case, I present these two examples not to make fun of them (well, maybe a little), but to use them to illustrate the principle of the general cluelessness of actors when it comes to medicine. They fall under the sway of woo-meisters; they do stupid things; they think they know more than real experts. Whether they are more credulous than the general population is difficult, if not impossible, to determine. What is clear is that they have access to the media. When they say and do stupid things, they have far more influence than if you or I said and did stupid things.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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