Tuesday, June 4, 2019

#2200: Ray Sahelian

Ray Sahelian is an MD and relatively well-known promoter of all sorts of herbal products and supplements for which there little or no evidence for efficacy, and a rather striking scarcity of evidence for safety. Though youtube seems to be his preferred marketing channel, Sahelian has written a number of books – peer review focusing on correlations between claim and reality, or the use of data is, shall we say, rather lax for such books, as supposed to real studies – on such supplements, including Mind BoostersThe Stevia Cookbook, Kava: The miracle antianxiety herb(if you buy into claims about something marketed as “miracle” anything you almost deserve what you get). His own products include the Physician Formulas line of nutritional supplements. 

Sahelian appears to like to come across as a fairly reasonable guy, but he is also critical of anyone expressing skepticism toward Big Supplement, such as Quackwatch. Now, and in his response to Quackwatch Sahelian didn’t actually blame Quackwatch for being shills outright (unlike most conspiracy theorists criticized by Quackwatch) – he did try to poison the well just a little bit by wondering why Quackwatch isn’t writing critical articles about Big Pharma; i.e. Sahelian doesn’t like that Quackwatch is calling out the supplement industry and would rather see that they were writing about something else – indeed, if we wish to play the game, it is worth observing that Sahelian is proud of the fact that he “also consults and formulates products for vitamin companies”, whereas Quackwatch’s Stephen Barrett has no ties to Big Pharma. Sahelian also claims that Quackwatch is unbalanced because Barrett “often, if not the majority of the time, seems to point out the negative outcome of studies with supplements […] and rarely mentions the benefits they provide.” Which may, of course, be because the supplements in question don’t really provide any health benefits and reality has an anti-supplement bias. To Sahelian, however, the failure to present both sides, even when there is only one, is unscientific: “A true scientist takes a fair approach,” says Sahelian. We suspect he doesn’t really have the faintest clue how science works, which would actually explain a bit of his behavior. 

Moreover, according to Sahelian, Barrett’s criticism of supplements is hollow since “[d]oes he take any supplements himself to learn firsthand how they work? […] Anyone who comments about supplements and has not taken them, or has not had feedback for several years from hundreds or thousands of patients, does not have a full understanding of how they work or what benefit or side effects they have.” Or put differently: anecdotes, personal experience and motivated reasoning trump carefully conducted, controlled studies, always.

Sahelian’s website pushes more or less any herbal supplement and natural cure you could imagine – yes, Sahelian does nominally warn readers about the fallacy of appeals to nature, but those are just words; the warning has certainly had no impact on the advice he himself provides. His claims are otherwise backed up mostly by anecdotes, though there is a smattering of appeals to ancient wisdom in there as well.  

Diagnosis: Though he likes to promote himself as “moderate”, there is little in Ray Sahelian’s advice or writings to distinguish him from Gary Null, apart from the tone and the rhetoric. We recommend maintaining a safe distance.

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