When gaslighting is chef Pete Evans’ only defense to credible health science, it's time to step up against his marketing BS and the harmful health impacts for confused consumers.
This week chef Pete Evans resorted to personal gaslighting to refute comments I made on his Facebook post (Fig 1. below, all other images at end of article) relating to the newly published study in Journal of the American Medical Association JAMA about water fluoridation on IQ. The poor anecdotal quality of this study and how it got published in JAMA is quite astounding in itself, surely impacting JAMA’s reputation more than it benefits the public, but that’s another discussion for another blog.
I’m an integrative dentist - a general dentist with a degree in Chinese medicine and I’ve done studies in naturopathy, nutrition and physical therapies such as various styles of massage and some yoga. I’m certainly more progressive in my health practice than many mainstream regulated health professionals.
I don’t profess to be an expert at any of these health modalities, there are plenty of practitioners far more masterful than I in each of them. My talent however lies in understanding the rules and system of operation of each; the strengths and weaknesses; the language and terms; and how each intersects with the others - complementing, contrasting or even contradicting. Understanding when it’s best to apply each tool for the best health outcome and why. I’ve been studying, learning and practising health and its practice in various forms for 25 years.
I too cop my fair share of slack from the mainstream medical and dental fraternity for incorporating complementary health paradigms that have limited science to date to explain their efficacy. But unlike Pete Evans, I follow the clearly defined health paradigm systems, evolved over hundreds or thousands of years of observational experience in situations where the science hasn’t yet caught up. And/or I apply quality science appropriately, after years of practice to learn how to do so. I’m also answerable to regulatory bodies for my continued ability to practice my chosen career, dentistry.
Pete Evans, has no health professional credentials to speak of (from glancing at his website) and no verifiable health partner to veto for accuracy and impact. He applies a haphazard conglomerate of poorly discerned health information and tools from across a variety of health paradigms to the public, who don’t generally possess the knowledge or training to discern fact from fiction, nor when to apply promoted tools safely. A hit ‘n miss approach that unfortunately I, along with a number of my health colleagues, am seeing the harm outweigh the good more often than I’d like to see in professional practice.
This blog looks at the disastrous down-stream impacts of the misuse of such questionable health data by Pete Evans - a self-defined “chef, restauranteur, author and presenter” - to market his own platform, actively discredit health professionals and, of greatest concern, create growing confusion and mistrust regarding healthcare in the community.
His methods to hack the health system are dangerous, and not in the Maverick, Top Gun kind of way. Maverick understood the fighter pilot’s rules of engagement and the abilities of his fighter plane. Pete Evans does not in the healthcare space.
If he did, he would not have let a young girl go cold turkey from a processed food addiction for all the world to see in his documentary the Magic Pill. Her poor little brain would have felt like constant screaming fingernails down a chalk board throughout the days of her detox. It’s enough to send anyone mad and could have been managed so much more gently and less stressfully with adjunctive therapeutic support by a trained health practitioner.
How bloody cruel! And yet he has the nerve this week to weigh in on the debate around vegan parenting like he’s an expert. He’s also the guy that got into strife with authorities over his recipes for liver and bone broth in infant formula back in 2015. No. Enough is enough.
What’s the issue with Pete Evans exactly?
My primary issue with Pete Evans’ post is:
the way he uses language that actively sensationalises and misleads the public relating to health: influences, delivery and sustainable outcomes specifically;
his consistent use of selectively poor quality science to push his own beliefs and platform;
his consistently poor interpretation and use of quality data to fuel his sensationalism and intent to mislead for his own personal gain above the wellbeing of the general public.
Pete may successfully apply marketing prowess to generate traction and controversial self-promotion, but when it comes to health the stakes are high and the consequences on consumers expensive: both in terms of physical loss of life quality, function, appearance and skills, PLUS the monetary and time cost to repair the damage caused.
He and his supporters argue it’s a case of “buyer beware”. But health is not a commodity. And this is not a plausible excuse. When it comes to health advice, services and products ‘do no harm’ is of primary importance, well above fame and fortune. Something regulated health practitioners are liable to medico-legal consequences for failing to adhere to. Something he’d know and have to adhere to also if he actually had any health qualifications and a membership to a regulatory organisation for health.
So why is a person who has apparently zero health credentials or accountability continued to be allowed to push his own health agenda so publicly at the expense of consumers wellbeing and health practitioners trust?
Why is marketing trumping safety, standards, facts and the greater good in the health sector?
“Toxic tap water” is not only a false statement, it’s consciously misleading
If Australian tap water was indeed “toxic” or “poisonous” as Pete Evans can be quoted as stating, then the whole country would be experiencing illness, but we’re not. Neither are animals or plants that are exposed to tap water.
I myself am a “fluoride baby” - a term Pete uses to describe babies born to mothers who consumed fluoride added to tap water, also the focus of the new study in discussion. I use tap water extensively in all parts of my diet and cooking and have done so throughout my whole life. I rarely consume bottled or fluoride-free water. I have a high enough IQ to continue to practice as a dentist. I’m a picture of medication free, near perfect health in my early forties.
So if you use an N=2 study of the effects of fluoride on overall health in Australia, self-reported and uncontrolled for confounders like the present Canadian study: Pete (no fortified fluoride tap water for 30 years) and me (high use fortified fluoride tap water for 43 years), the results appear to be no difference.
In the JAMA study Pete references in this post, the difference in measured IQ of self-reported water fluoridation use was just 108.07 to 108.21 - a mere 0.14 points!. It’s unlikely that’s clinically significant, even if it is in fact statistically significant with independent review. Much like the widely quoted Lancet study that demonstrated a statistically significant but clinically insignificant fluoride neurotoxicity in rats at dosages at least 2.5x that found in tap water.
It means you’d have to consume more than 8L or more of tap water a day for a possible adverse fluoride impact, a volume of water that would itself cause ill effects. Just like you need to consume enough coffee or alcohol - also neurotoxins - for them to cause illness. As I said to Pete in one of my comments: “Anything in life can be a poison, it’s dependent on dose. What’s it going to take for you to understand that concept?”
Various larger scale population studies across Australia and the world support the same findings related to water fluoridation: no general health difference but up to 44% difference in dental health. A point I was making in my initial comments to him that he gaslighted as “stupid" (see Fig 2B, 4A-4B below), and falsely reframed and paraphrased another dentist Rachel Goodrich in the same feed before going on to call her “delusional” (Figs. 3A-3D) - rather stupid statements to make in the face of very credible data presented by experienced health practitioners in the field.
If we tallied the self-disclosures from the 1700-odd comments on his post in discussion this week, I feel confident we’d find that the use or avoidance of water fluoridation didn’t significantly impact on health, beyond dental health, but the consumption of sugar did significantly impact on responders wellbeing. And that’s the point. Sugar is the bad boy that fluoride responds to, up to a point beyond which even it cannot mitigate the adverse effects of sugar on health. So to call water “poisonous” because of the presence of fortified fluoride, as found in abundance in nature, is inappropriate scaremongering.
This is not the first time I’ve felt compelled to write publicly in response to Pete’s stance on fluoride on the mainstream health profession. My open letter of 2017 went viral (under my previous domain drchristinemay.com now amalgamated with facewell.com.au). The message is sadly still as valid today as it was then. (Fig. 2B). Health is hard enough for both providers and patients without eroding trust in the relationship.
Unqualified fear mongering about health is harmful
Health professionals and communicators understand that statements made about health need to be backed by data, tradition and experience, framed to a specific situation (contextualised), and offer a safer alternative solution if positive change is the desired outcome from the statement. Pete fails to do this in many of his posts. Sure he talks about using water filtration in some posts, but not all, like this post.
It’s normal human behaviour to want to avoid something that’s toxic. I wouldn’t have a problem if Pete said something along the lines of “for the cleanest living diet and lifestyle, choose to filter your water”. But he doesn’t. Because while that may be a true statement, and offers an appropriate alternative to the claim stated, it’s not nearly as motivational or sensational as “toxic tap water”. And that’s the issue.
Pete doesn’t consistently deliver water filtration as a solution to his stance on the inclusions within tap water he has personal issue with. As a result, people who are less engaged, and/or less capable for a range of reasons, hear “toxic tap water” but don’t necessarily implement his recommended solution: filtered tap water. Instead they choose to discard tap water in favour of other options like bottled beverages that can be disastrous for dental health, and can negatively impact on overall health, particularly when high in sugar (Fig. 4). By means of qualifying this, childhood tooth decay has risen in Australia over the past 10 years. Nearly half of parents interviewed believed bottled water to be be healthier for their children than tap water. But there are other contributing factors also, including the frequency of toothbrushing. Dentists have to manage the fallout, often times with complex and expensive treatment management that’s largely preventable.
BS causing unnecessary confusion and harm to consumers and the health industry are the triggers for taking it up with chef Pete Evans
I’m calling for chef Pete Evans to be stopped from providing health advice and commentary in an authoritative and profiteering capacity, unless he partners with qualified and verified health practitioners to audit the quality and safety of his health advice and claims. His final comments in our dialogue (Fig 7A-7B) where he attempted to give an online public psychology assessment of me - another example of gaslighting, rather poorly, should be enough to cement this regulatory action.
Sensation, extrapolation and exaggeration have no place in health care communications or marketing of health services and products. In trying to hack the health system he is creating chaos that’s leading to more harm than good. Growing mistrust of health practitioners by consumers is of particular concern.
We’re already seeing a lockdown by the medical fraternity with the withdrawal of health fund rebates for a number of complementary health services that offer more good than harm to those users by their trained providers. The peak regulatory body, AHPRA is considering limiting medical doctors concurrent use of complementary therapies in practice. Making it difficult to maintain the availability of those services to the public. These are also the types of health services and products that Pete tends to promote unaccountably, just to add to the public confusion and professional frustration.
I’m the first to agree that western medicine needs to open itself up to modality integration as a matter of priority. Western medicine’s strengths lie in diagnostics, surgery and acute disease management. Other health modalities are often better suited to dealing with prevention of disease or management of chronic conditions. However it has to be done mindfully, carefully and collaboratively between nominated health experts in each field. Chef Pete Evans does not qualify but it would be great to harness his marketing skills to help with eventual deployment!
By Christine May, dentist, health writer, speaker on complementary health therapies in dentistry and teledentistry. All views expressed are my own.