When it comes to your health, whom do you trust?
Unfortunately, many trust the wrong people. There is something about the human condition that makes us suspicious of authority and wanting to embrace conspiracy and quackery: Western medicine is in the pocket of big pharma, there is a cure for cancer that’s been suppressed, vaccines cause autism, and cholesterol is all a con, mmmkay?
Speaking of cholesterol allegedly being a con, Anthony Colpo, author of The Great Cholesterol Con, taught me a lesson: don’t engage with angry zealots. As punishment, I’ve been “exposed” in a diatribe that serves only as an indictment of the author’s own sanity.
I ask again: Whom do you trust? It’s not just me vs. Anthony, but also evidence-based medicine vs. quackery.
I write this not because I care about the false accusations leveled at me – many have done that and I’ve not replied – but because I want to use it as an example of how people get sucked into believing dangerous information.
I’m not even going to get into the details of Anthony’s 12,000-word ad hominem attack-filled screed about how adrenal fatigue is totally a real thing, and how we shouldn’t trust most experts with medical degrees and experience with patients, because establishment.
I only skimmed his post about me, because after the email exchange I had with Anthony I came to the realization that he’s just not one of those people who is worth reading, especially when it’s 12,000 words of unreadable, mouth-frothing nonsense. I’ll keep my reply significantly shorter.
Colpo asserts the medical establishment is wrong in regards to not just endocrinology, but what causes heart disease, railing against the use of statin drugs to lower cholesterol.
Before you listen to Anthony and go off your doctor prescribed medication, or accept a false diagnosis of “adrenal fatigue” from some alternative practitioner looking to sell supplements instead of working with a real doctor to find the true cause of your health woes, I want to reveal Anthony as someone who makes a lot of mistakes about the simplest things.
We had a lengthy email exchange, and that’s where I’ll focus. I first came to know of him a few years back while researching a so-called metabolic advantage of low carb diets. I saw his pieces and subscribed to his e-newsletter. The newsletters were sparse, and I paid little attention. My knowledge of Colpo’s work beyond calling out metabolic advantage was limited. Therefore I had an uninformed opinion about him as a writer and a researcher. I am better informed now.
Anthony recently sent out an email about “A list of excellent books you should read.” One of them was Adrenal Fatigue by a naturopathic doctor named James Wilson. Regrettably, I sent a short email questioning why he would recommend a book by an ND (recall that at this point I held him in some modest esteem based on limited information) and told him that, according to my speaking with an actual endocrinologist, adrenal fatigue was “a bullshit condition with zero scientific merit.”
And he lost it.
Admittedly, I didn’t open things well (something I regret). I start things off kind of hostile, and so he went on ranting screeds via email for days, filling them with profane insults and factual errors, even though I later tried to de-escalate. But before revealing all that I need to explain …
The Problem with Alternative Medicine
Alternative medicine harms and even kills people that need not die, while rarely providing value, because it is used instead of real medical treatment. Alt med is mostly a wasteland of false promises, and so I rail against it.
Imagine this scenario that, sadly, happens with regularity:
A medical doctor tells a patient she has breast cancer. The doctor recommends a full mastectomy along with chemotherapy and radiation treatment, but they’ve caught it early enough that her prognosis is excellent and she’ll most likely live a long time.
Regardless, this is still not fun news to receive. Cutting off a breast? Chemo? Radiation? All that stuff sucks. Medical science is far from perfect, but it’s what we’ve got. Evidence-based medicine is the only thing we know that works, and it does save lives. It saves lives all the time.
But the patient doesn’t like this news. The road to removing the cancer is harmful for the patient, but less harmful than leaving it untreated.
Some alternative medicine practitioners take advantage of this situation. They say they can cure the cancer with herbs and juicing and whatnot. And people believe them, because they’re desperate. So they get the alternative treatment, and they get sicker.
And then it’s too late. What once had a high probability of being cured has become a terminal illness. (Here is but one story of this happening.)
It’s an extreme example that unfortunately is all too common. In the case of adrenal fatigue there are similarities because people accept a bogus diagnosis from an alternative practitioner, waste time and money on inefficacious supplements and treatments, and stop searching for the real problem. In the case of Glenn Beck I mentioned in my article, I imagine it was his high stress level, his lack of exercise, poor diet and only sleeping five hours a night that made him feel terrible. But having a “chiropractic neurologist” tell him it’s adrenal fatigue allowed Glenn to shift blame from his own behaviors to some mythical ailment.
When I wrote about adrenal fatigue one person commented on my Facebook page: “My supposed ‘adrenal fatigue’ BS diagnosis turned out to be very real Hashimoto’s and Hyperparathyroidism that needed surgery to correct.” Real medicine is what came to the rescue.
Medical doctors are not perfect. They make mistakes, and people die. Pharmaceuticals kill people all the time because they contain powerful medication that actually works. Of course there are going to be side effects, bad interactions, allergic reactions and overdoses. Does that mean we should ignore efficacious drugs and take unregulated supplements that may work a little, but probably don’t, may be contaminated, and may not even contain much of the alleged “active ingredient” instead?
Just because medicine isn’t perfect doesn’t mean people should be embracing some unscientific alternative. To quote Dr. Ben Goldacre’s analogy of alt med: “just because there are problems with aircraft design, that doesn’t mean that magic carpets really fly.”
Of course, as we learn, there will be exceptions where alternative practices are proven efficacious and become part of regular medical treatment. But as it stands, modern medicine is mostly correct, and alternative medicine is mostly not. There is certainly more to learn in regards to adrenal and pituitary function, but it will almost certainly be scientists and endocrinologists using evidence-based medicine who uncover it, not some naturopath with a profit motive or an egotistical personal trainer in Australia.
You can stop here. You don’t need to read any further unless you’re curious to learn …
Why You Shouldn’t Trust Anthony Colpo
Anthony Colpo is not a doctor, and yet he thinks most doctors are wrong and he’s right (about some things, at least).
I recently interviewed vaccine expert Paul Offit about why you should get a flu shot. Colpo, conversely, has fear mongered about vaccine safety, spreading bogus information. Also telling is this guest post Colpo allowed on his site, written by one Fred Burks, who in the piece links multiple times to his site: www.wanttoknow.info.
Go ahead and have a look at that “want to know” site. It’s full of conspiracy theory nonsense like government mind control, 9/11 trutherism, cover-ups of everything from AIDS to aspartame to cures for cancer to alien visitation.
The article in question includes NINE links back to Burks’ wanttoknow.info site as well as a link to the quacktacular NaturalNews.com. This doesn’t mean Colpo believes everything on Burks’ site, but it shows what Colpo considers to be a reliable source worthy of publication on his namesake blog.
But didn’t “independent researcher” Anthony have a “study” published in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons about cholesterol? He sure did, but said journal is not indexed by mainstream scientific databases and has been widely criticized (along with it’s parent association) for spreading extreme, dubious and scientifically inaccurate information. Quackwatch puts it on its list of untrustworthy periodicals.
I won’t waste time on Colpo’s opinions on adrenal fatigue or cholesterol. I’m instead going to show you the kind of person he is so you can decide for yourself if his research is indeed as rigorous as he pretends it to be, and if his 12,000+ word rant on adrenal fatigue is worth reading.
This was my interaction with the man who calls himself a “walking bullshit detector.”
After my first email Anthony replied: “You flatly refuse to believe that anything could ever go wrong with the human hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis?” I should have stopped right there, because his very first reply revealed his lack of reading comprehension. My article I had provided him went into detail about the real medical conditions of adrenal insufficiency and Addison’s Disease. Unfortunately, I replied, asking if he’d actually read my article, because it seemed so illogical that he would make such an accusation that a casual scanning of said article quickly shows to be false.
That was a mistake; because Anthony appears loathe to admitting when he is wrong.
He called my article a “lame effort” and added to his “books you should read” page (along with a bunch of insults about me) this statement: “Personally, I don’t like the term ‘adrenal fatigue’; I much prefer ‘adrenal insufficiency’.” And this is where his cluelessness on the subject matter really starts to show. As my article points out, adrenal insufficiency is a real medical condition that is easily tested for and requires medical intervention. Adrenal fatigue, which I believe was invented by the author of the book in question, James Wilson, is a made up disease that the evidence-based medical establishment asserts doesn’t exist (more on that to come). It is often treated not with real medications, but with supplements that you can conveniently purchase at Wilson’s website. They have names like Adrenal-C, Adrenal Rebuilder, Super Adrenal Stress Formula and Herbal Adrenal Support Formula. They’re not cheap, either. There is a clear financial motivation to sell people on the concept of adrenal fatigue.
Colpo also provided links in our email exchange to bolster the existence of adrenal fatigue: One and two. I pointed out that the first was written by an alternative medicine embracing author with a list of books to her credit that include “What your doctor doesn’t tell you” in the subtitle (red flag #1) and that she’s fond of the word “holistic” (red flag #2) and that the MD she interviewed is an “integrative physician” (meaning embraces alt med, so red flag #3). And the second article was the word of a personal trainer against a physician / NYU professor.
Unimpressed with Anthony’s “evidence,” I sent him some additional links debunking adrenal fatigue, including:
- Science-based medicine author Scott Gavura
- The position of the Endocrine Society
- Steven Novella, an academic clinical neurologist at Yale School of Medicine
- Surgical oncologist Dr. David Gorski
This is where it gets comical. First off, he referred to my calling him out on the real differences between adrenal fatigue and adrenal insufficiency as “semantic bickering,” which is a mystifying reply considering that one is a real medical condition that is easily tested for, and the other scientific consensus asserts is hokum. This is not an issue of semantics.
Even better, he accused me of engaging in the logical fallacy of “appeal to authority.” This makes it clear that Anthony Colpo, the man who promotes himself as an expert at exposing bullshit, doesn’t have a clue what appeal to authority actually is.
- This link defines appeal to authority as “Claiming something is true because an unqualified or untrustworthy ‘expert’ says it is.”
- And this link says, “It is important to note that this fallacy should not be used to dismiss the claims of experts, or scientific consensus.”
So, Anthony provides me with a link where he takes the side of a trainer over an MD / professor, and one where an anti evidence-based medicine writer interviews an alternative medicine embracing MD (and don’t forget Colpo lauding a book by a naturopath that the Endocrine Society says is invalid), and I’M THE ONE doing appeal to authority? I showed scientific consensus from the Endocrine Society and additional evidence from reputable medical experts that adrenal fatigue doesn’t exist, and yet he says it’s an appeal to authority while providing unreliable “experts” to bolster his case. Okay, then.
Colpo makes a big deal out of the fact that I haven’t read Wilson’s book, but why would I? I can learn all I need about his position at Wilson’s site, and many medical experts have already debunked Wilson’s book. What is the point of reading a book where the scientific consensus is that it’s bogus?
Anthony then takes us into another logical fallacy, accusing me of ad hominem attacks by saying all I had to offer were “anemic little insults.” However, up until that point the only insults I leveled were saying he must have burned a lot of calories writing a previous ranting, ad hominem filled email, and then asked him what kind of EPOC blowing his stack has. Let’s look at all the insults he hurled at me which prompted my caloric burn / EPOC comments:
- “You’re a fucking moron”
- “Like most sheep, you can’t think for yourself”
- “What an idiot” (in reference to me)
- “coming from an intellectual coward”
- “Sleazy little fucker, aren’t you?”
- “You assume I’m as stupid as you are.”
- “Like I said, you’re an idiot.”
- “makes you a first rate dipshit”
- “makes you an annoying, time-wasting dipshit”
- “makes you a pathetic annoying, time-wasting dipshit”
All of those ad hominem attacks were in one single email, and yet he accused me of offering insults. Of course, there were plenty more profanity-filled affronts to come from him afterwards, but I think you get my point about his hypocrisy.
Oh, and I’m one of the “sheep.” This is a favored term amongst conspiracy theorists.
Admittedly, after he hurled more ad hominem, I asked him how tall he was and if his behavior was “a short man thing.” (With apologies to those of shorter stature – I regret the body shaming and never intended for this to become public.) Then after he told me he was going to expose me I dared him to, calling him a “fucking pissant off his meds nobody,” because I was fed-up with his bullshit.
And so, he engaged in a silly pissing contest about reader base. Anthony used Alexa ratings to show his blog gets more traffic than my NOT a blog that, until three days ago, was only a collection of links to my published works at other sites. I’m confident my multiple syndicated columns achieve a vastly higher readership than those who read Anthony. He also laughingly compared his book sales rank on Amazon.com to mine for Lose it Right, which is yet another mistake he made, since mine isn’t even for sale in the U.S. We’ve only granted Canadian rights to Random House Canada and haven’t yet allowed it to be sold via any American outlets (for strategic reasons). The fact that my book has any rank at all on Amazon.com is a head scratcher. It spent the first month in the top 100 for all books on the Canadian Amazon.ca (peaking at #22 overall), and most of the next six months in the top 1,000, not to mention the heap of TV, radio and print media coverage it received. More noteworthy is that my Amazon sales represent a small fraction of overall sales, with the majority coming from bookstores. I can find my book in stores all across Canada. I don’t know that Colpo’s self-published works have ever been sold in any store.
But such a pissing contest is irrelevant. More people take nutrition advice from Kim Kardashian than they do from me or Colpo. Popularity ≠ factual.
I’ll note that Anthony also made reference to the size of my genitalia. There is your expert researcher Anthony Colpo, offering insults about dick size.
Final statement about how Anthony gets the simplest of things wrong. He looked at my article about Jillian Michaels and wrote: “LA Times published a retraction because you’d gotten your facts wrong.” (Emphasis mine.)
This shows more cluelessness on his part. First off, there is a HUGE difference between a “retraction” and a “correction.” And while I’ve spelled out the entire circumstances in this post (which was admittedly offline at the time of this email exchange), it’s very easy to see by a casual reading that I said it “seemed” Michaels had not recertified, and that I asked her about her certifications and was told she was too busy by her publicist. And therefore, when they showed us she had recertified, the LA Times issued a simple correction, not a retraction.
What Jillian’s lawyers were demanding were a retraction and an apology. We gave neither, because it’s clear that the only reason I made a minor mistake about recertification was because, as made in clear in the article, of a lack of information on Michael’s website and her refusal to answer my question in this regard. As a result, her lawyers never filed suit because they had no case.
And yet, Colpo sends a ranting email about how this shows what a terrible journalist I am. The only thing I really was at fault for with that article was the first name of a source. I felt bad about that, but when you have a thousand articles published across multiple outlets, you’re going to make mistakes like that. I apologized to Mark Cheng personally about it.
I’m not the only one who has found Anthony’s myriad mistakes of logic and undue care with research when coming under attack. Anthony seems to really hate vegans, and went on a tirade against a blogger who goes by “Plant Positive,” who then exposed Colpo’s multiple errors in this reply. If you want a lot more details about Colpo’s ignorance beyond what I’ve shared, be sure to check that link out.
Recently a friend of mine posted these words on Facebook in reference to a certain low carb blogger, but they could just as easily apply to Anthony Colpo:
“He’s an expert without an education, which people seem to love. He is willing to take on educated people with a sureness that only a person that isn’t very smart can do.”
Anthony told me: “Read my book The Great Cholesterol Con and see how far you get. Trust me, I will absolutely tear any rebuttal you contrive to shreds.”
Such over-confidence reminds me of a quote from Bertrand Russell: “… the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” Anthony is cocksure, yet made so many stupid mistakes in our email exchange it’s comical. And so I ask, when reading what Colpo wrote about me: Consider the source of the criticism.
You should always consider the source. When you are exposed to new information, before blindly accepting it ask some questions about where this information is coming from and what their reputation for relaying unbiased facts is.
Some admire Anthony’s work, but perhaps they didn’t know him well enough. I made the same mistake myself, seeing his attack on low carb misinformation as meaning he did quality research. I since learned Anthony Colpo embraces pseudo-science and alternative medicine, launches vicious ad hominem attacks against any who disagree with him, fails at basic levels of logical debate, and makes the simplest of mistakes when trying (and failing) to prove his point. He’s a PubMed keyboard warrior that made so many glaring errors in our email exchange I cannot consider him a trustworthy source of information. I see no point in reading his claim for the existence of adrenal fatigue, especially since his own anecdote of having this “disease” shows he’s personally invested in perpetuating the myth.
I read research with regularity, but prefer to form opinions based on interviewing reputable scientists, doctors and other experts who have read all the relevant studies, and conducted their own studies, and worked with thousands of patients, to get qualified opinions. I also chose a woman with a PhD in the psychology of eating behavior as co-author for my book, and had it vetted by a registered dietitian. According to Colpo, doing such things makes me a sheep that can’t think for himself.
Anthony Colpo is likely correct about some things, but so is Dr. Oz. A teller of half-truths is the most dangerous of charlatans, because it can be difficult separating their fact from fiction.
Regardless of follow up blithering by Anthony, I’ve said all that needs saying. Colpo is not worth another moment of my time.
And he’s not worth any more of your time either.
James S. Fell, CSCS, is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and AskMen.com. He is the author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada.