I’m Not a Doctor, But… (Snake Oil on the Internet)

I follow some news sites, the ones with cool photography archives, on Instagram. The other day, I noticed this comment under one of the New York Times’s posts:


The one from “farmers_kitchen” – not the one like: “Oh woah”, or the heart emoticon. I’m looking at the one that says “Lupus can be stopped with a very careful gluten and dairy free diet.”


Right? If a young woman said to me: “my doctor says I don’t have lupus anymore”, I’d say: “Girl, you need to get yourself a new doctor.”

Of course, I’m not a doctor. But I am an avid reader, and I like to think if Lupus, the auto-immune disorder that has affected so many over the course of history, had been cured by a gluten free diet, I would have read about it somewhere other than an Instagram comment.

This is not to say that some ailments aren’t diet-related, and that some lifestyle choices can help people with chronic diseases live long and healthy lives. Of course. But saying that a certain type of diet can stop a disease smacks a little of orthorexia nervosa, which describes the extreme preoccupation with avoiding “unhealthy” foods, or an obsession with consuming “healthy” foods.

I suspect, if you live on the West Coast, you know what I’m talking about. No gluten, no dairy, no coffee, no sugar, only certain “whole foods” and things prepared in certain ways. Recently, I heard a radio story about a man who’d tried to cure his blindness by consuming vast quantities of pomegranate juice and seaweed (antioxidants!) and following a caloric restriction diet to prolong life. The tragedy of the story was that it didn’t work: the man died alone, but very generously donated almost his entire estate to a nonprofit for the blind.

Of course, there is an upside to this: I’ve discovered it’s much easier to comment on the NY Times Instagram account than it is to comment on the NY Times site itself. At least 4 times this year, I have spent hours crafting pithy, reasoned responses to specific articles, and each time, I’ve had to wait for at least 8 hours to be approved. Around hour 3, I usually lose hope and cry to M: “I guess I didn’t make the cut, again!” On the Instagram, however, you can put psuedo-spammy snake oil sales comments on there, no problem!

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