Your brain as a walnut

Josh Axe in action
Josh Axe in action. Here he seems to think that a reduction of 1/4 is 40 %. Credit: Addicted Tolgnerance, "Dr. Josh Axe is a Moron," fair use.

The other day, I (MY) received note from the Kentucky paleontologist Dan Phelps. The note was an anguished letter that he had sent to the PBS affiliate Kentucky Educational Television and was headed

If someone dies, what will KET say?

What anguished Mr. Phelps was the station’s airing of a program called “Ancient Remedies” by a quack nutritionist (or something) called Josh Axe. It seems that KET is not the only affiliate that runs his “advice”: so do Rhode Island PBS, New Hampshire PBS, Arizona Public Media, Duluth-Superior Area Educational Television, Kansas Public Television, Blue Ridge PBS, Delta College Public Media, PBS Western Reserve, and I suppose more, but I gave up looking. In my own area, it looks like PBS12, Colorado Public Television, carries the program, but Rocky Mountain PBS does not. May we suggest that after you read this post you check your own PBS affiliate and if appropriate complain about their airing this nonsense.

I had never heard of Josh Axe, so I looked him up and watched – no, endured an hour-long program here. I did not take notes, but what I came away with was

  • Cancer is a psychosomatic disease (my interpretation of what he said)
  • Certain personality types and get breast cancer on the left side, others on the right, depending on some mumbo jumbo about qi (chi)
  • The plural of anecdote is data; Chinese medicine is 5000 (?) years old and has accumulated plenty of data (he does not seem to have heard of confirmation bias)
  • Western medicine believes in evidence (again, my interpretation; I do not remember his precise wording)
  • And, finally, like cures like, so walnuts are good for your brain, or something like that, reminiscent of homeopathy, only worse

I now yield the floor to my colleague Dan Phelps, who started this discussion with the following letter to KET:

Back in August, during a fundraiser, Kentucky Educational Television aired an infomercial for “Dr. Josh Axe,” a chiropractor. He touted his version of “ancient remedies.” Every ten seconds or so of his spiel, the camera did a close-up of the grinning/nodding zombies in the audience nodding their heads in total agreement. Some of the things he said concerning diet made sense, but why couldn’t the PBS station get someone reputable to say that? Most of the “ancient remedies” touted seem to be based on symbolism. For example:

  • Tomatoes have four chambers, just like your heart
  • Mushrooms are the same shape as adrenal glands
  • Carrots in section look like the eyes' irises
  • Walnuts look like brains
  • Celery looks like bones
  • Beets are the color of blood …
  • The color of the food will tell you what part of the body it will heal
The website “The Encyclopedia of American Loons” did a nice entry on Axe. Today I was looking at KET’s schedule and found they are showing more of Axe’s infomercials in late November. Why KET? Why? If someone dies, what will KET say?

To clarify (MY again), in the interview that I watched, Mr. Axe stated explicitly that walnuts were good for your brain because they looked like your brain. He added that people who accepted the theory of evolution would not understand, because when God created the universe, he set it up that way deliberately.

Kali Mattheus, a Programming Specialist at KET, blissfully unaware that there’s no degree known as doctor of natural medicine, responded thus:

Thank you for your additional comments. We appreciate your thoughts and concerns. After your initial email we reviewed the program and talked with the distributor. We confirmed [that] Dr. Axe’s credentials as a doctor of natural medicine and certified nutrition specialist more than qualify him to speak on the subject of diet. Also, as mentioned in a previous email there are disclaimers recommending viewers speak with their primary care physicians prior to making any changes to their diets. We will continue to review programs as they are submitted.

Mr. Phelps broadcasts a lot of his e-mails; Vincent M. Cassone, Jack and Linda Gill Professor of Biology at the University of Kentucky, which I take to be an endowed chair, was incensed by Mr. Mattheus’s response and wrote,

I am stunned by your answer to Mr. Dan Phelps, a highly regarded science educator, expressing his concern about false and probably deliberately misleading statements made by chiropractor Josh Axe on your station, which, based upon your name, presumes to be educational.

First, contrary to your statements otherwise, Josh Axe has virtually no credentials in terms of medical advice, including diet. A very quick perusal of Dr. Axe’s websites shows he is a chiropractor, which qualifies him to adjust the spine, and is a practitioner of “naturopathic medicine” in Tennessee, which has proven to be quackery over and over. He even lists a fake university, Exodus Clinic, as the institution where he received his “doctor of natural medicine.”

Among his “credentials” on his website, he lists his height and weight. I suspect these data are the most accurate of his credentials.

Some of the dietary advice has some support in mainstream diet fields, but adherence to a keto diet is not supported by many registered dieticians, who actually have credentials to prescribe dietary advice. Secondly, many of the statements he has made on his program, as catalogued by Mr. Phelps, are categorically false. Tomatoes do not always have four chambers. The most common anatomy among tomatoes has 5 seed “chambers.” Mushrooms do not look like adrenal glands. Carrots in cross-section do not look like irises. Etc., etc.

These inaccuracies could just be curious, even humorous. However, statements proposed by Mr. Axe are dangerous. He video lectures that “cancer is caused by two things: Deficiency and Toxicity.” He actually says that Splenda (sucralose) can break down into chlorine. This is patently untrue.

I am stunned, very disappointed, that your station would promote this ridiculous accumulation of ignorance. I’m outraged. I strongly encourage you to see this video that completely debunks Axe. [Reproduced with permission.]

I (MY) watched the video, and it does. I usually shy away from invective, but I can only conclude that Mr. Axe has a walnut for a brain. Or else he is a conscious faker.