Steven Fowkes (Part 2 of 2): Nutrients for Better Mental Performance

Last week, in part 1, I covered Steven Fowkes’ “cures” for Alzheimer’s and herpes. In part 2, I will cover a video where he goes further afield. It is titled “Nutrients for Better Mental Performance,” but he also discusses sleep, depression, hangovers, and a lot of other topics.

Some of what he says are simple truisms: mental performance is affected by everything related to health such as sleep, food, vitamins, minerals, detoxification, nutrients, amino acids, hormone replacement, pharmaceuticals and herbs. Metabolism is the key to brain function: 3% of the body uses 20% of the energy. Macronutrients, micronutrients, exercise, water, and breathing are important too.

We knew that.

Which nutrients promote optimal brain function? All of them: any deficiency will affect the brain. Fowkes goes beyond the evidence to claim that some nutrients are needed at super-physiological levels; Mother Nature is not optimal. Some supplements appear to work but the effects are not sustainable. It’s not about parts, but about how things work together.

Energy production is essential. Anaerobic metabolism only produces 2 ATP molecules from a glucose molecule compared to up to 38 ATP from aerobic metabolism.  He says this is inadequate. He says it’s enough to support unicellular life but not multicellular life (this is not true: there are multicellular organisms that are obligate anaerobes).  He says it’s not enough to give you robust life, consciousness and a working brain.  So aerobic metabolism is essential to preventing and treating Alzheimer’s.

He shows how a complex cascade of effects from an imbalance between mercury and glutathione affects a series of other processes and leads to Alzheimer’s, and he recapitulates some of the material from his Alzheimer’s video, but this presentation is not about Alzheimer’s: it’s about mental performance in everyone. What nutrients are commonly deficient enough to impair mental performance? The elderly are deficient in melatonin, B12, and pregnenolone. Teenage boys are deficient in zinc. Everyone is deficient in Vitamin D and magnesium. 30% of teenagers have a 10-point IQ increase just from RDA level supplements.

He says some hormones are neuroprotective, but estrogens have an anti-metabolic effect and impair energy production, which explains why women have more stamina than men. This is also why when men get inflammation they produce estrogen and start gaining weight and have more health problems. These statements are taken out of context from research that has little or no clinical significance. In contradiction to numerous published studies, he says estrogen has a profound adverse effect on the brain.

How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep

He has lots of advice for better sleep, from truisms to highly questionable recommendations:

  • Pay attention.
  • Use consistent background sound.
  • Sleep with regularity.
  • Sleep in the dark (melatonin).
  • Wake up with red light to mimic sunrise and sunset.
  • Try tryptophan for serotonin.
  • Eliminate inflammation (from allergy, infection, gut).
    • Balance A and D.
    • Digestive enzymes.
    • Zinc with every meal to tighten up your gut and prevent undigested food particles from passing in and producing inflammation.
  • If a drug is needed, use Xyrem, which is a nutrient and enhances stages 3 and 4, which are decreased or absent in old age. This means you are not really asleep at night. Note: Xyrem is a brand name version of the date rape drug GHB and it has only been approved for the treatment of cataplexy associated with narcolepsy. It can have serious side effects. Ironically, one listed side effect is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. It is absurd and dangerous to recommend it as a sleeping pill.
  • Do-it-yourself sleep studies with camcorder — wakenings, breathing, etc. Note: No home studies can replace sleep lab studies, which should be done on anyone suspected of sleep apnea because it can lead to life-threatening complications.


Alternatives to SSRIs (which he calls SRI’s): B vitamins, correcting mineral deficiencies, discovering unrecognized toxicities like lead toxicity. Most laboratories measure statistical norms, others look at functional needs. Rather than measuring the amount of a mineral, he recommends measuring the function of enzymes that use the mineral. Treat hypothyroidism. He’s had hundreds of clients come to him with thyroid test results and only one was done right. Patient with low normal tests take thyroid and their energy goes up, their depression resolves, they start sleeping better, and they lose weight. Load with neurotransmitter precursors: 5-htp, DLPA. Shift estrogen dominance with iodine therapy to increase estriol which improves infections, etc. Measure estrogen levels in men. Add 5htp or tryptophan to SSRIs to prevent habituation. Note: This is all non-standard advice not supported by evidence. Depression is a potentially life-threatening condition (suicide), and unproven “alternatives” to effective treatment could be dangerous.

Milk is Bad

Raw milk has good fat structure that is destroyed by homogenization; homogenized milk causes irritation of the vascular system. Raw milk is “way better,” but in terms of allergy it may not be better at all. (He doesn’t mention that in terms of infection risk, it is much worse!) Casein, whey, galactose are the problems with milk. Low fat doesn’t help because milk solids are added and they cause cataracts. Milk causes osteoporosis and it causes an inflammatory response in 95% of blacks and 50% of whites. Milk is not a good source of calcium; grain is better. (But he tells us to avoid grain too!)

He recommends a test for milk allergy that is positively bizarre: go off all dairy (including eggs!?) for 2 weeks and then re-challenge with one drop of milk under the tongue. If a metronome synchronized to your body slows down, or if you freak out, or if your pulse rate goes up dramatically, you’re allergic to milk.

Or gullible. The test doesn’t discriminate.

Bread is Bad

Gluten is extremely difficult to digest and undigested gluten protein has an inflammatory effect that causes all kinds of degenerative problems and stress to your gut, and leads to heart disease and probably cancer as well. Corn and red meat are also difficult to digest. And yeast, because we don’t have good enzymes to digest the cell wall.

Avoid grain. Eat a Paleolithic diet (what we are best adapted to): unlimited greens, fruit, nuts, meat when you can kill it. If you have to eat gluten or dairy at Aunt Mildred’s house at Thanksgiving, take digestive enzymes with you to ease the burden.

Questionable Statements

  • Vaccines cause autism (false!)
  • There is a conspiracy to cover up information about natural treatments.
  • Doctors are ignorant.
  • Monitoring urinary pH is a reliable way to monitor acid/base balance and health (Not!)
  • “Subclinical hypothyroidism” is a common problem. (Here he doesn’t even get the terminology right. He attributes a variety of symptoms to a low level of hormone that doesn’t register on blood tests, whereas subclinical means abnormally low on blood tests without any symptoms.)
  • Estrogen/testosterone ratio is a risk.
  • Ketosis treats end-stage organ failure. (No, but ketosis is a result of end-stage kidney failure).
  • If you’re insulin resistant, depending on glucose for energy, your energy is sabotaged: your brain is living on 90 or 70 volts instead of 100 volts. Ketosis puts you back up to 100 volts.
  • Alcohol causes addiction through glucose addiction, serotonin addiction, and NADH addiction.
  • Hangovers can be reliably prevented or cured with vitamin C and cysteine.
  • Nutrasweet (aspartame) is an excitotoxin, an irritant to the brain, and can aggravate calcium toxicity in the brain.
  • He blames epigenetic effects of generations of poor nutrition as the reason that “There’s a lot of falling apart going on around us: autism is way up, brain cancer is way up.” (They aren’t way up; and besides, he already blamed autism on vaccines.)
  • Wheat has estrogens that make male animals infertile, for the buffalo.  (!? I’m guessing he meant that plants produce toxins to try to defend themselves against herbivores. I’m pretty sure the male buffalos didn’t go infertile from eating estrogens in wheat. And I think he meant bison.)
  • Mustards have mutagens (Did he confuse Grey Poupon with nitrogen mustard?)
  • Alfalfa sprouts have an ingredient that produces autoimmune disease in humans and chimpanzees. (In fact, alfalfa sprouts have been used to treat autoimmune disease.)
  • Plant toxins are not different from manmade ones, but we are adapted to eating phytotoxins. (If they’re not different, shouldn’t we be equally adapted to both?)
  • If you have residual effects from anesthesia, tell your doctor you need T3 monotherapy.

Some of these are clearly false, some need qualifying, some are speculations mixed with a grain of truth that I didn’t have the time or inclination to untangle.

“Myths to Live By”

He calls his dietary advice “myths to live by” and prefaces it by saying:

I’m not going to say this is all quite scientific, because on some level it’s based on prejudice, philosophy…

  • Low carb vegetables.
  • Eat meat (insects OK) to supply B12 (tiny to moderate amounts, maybe just the bugs in your grain as in India).
  • Cultivate ketosis (go in and out of ketosis weekly or monthly to exercise your metabolism).
  • Consume tropical oils.
  • Eat less carbs and calories than your peers.
  • Assume industry ads are lies.
  • Assume the food pyramid is upside down.
  • Assume your doctor is profoundly ignorant (doctors will never say “I don’t know” – they’ll just make it up).
  • Assume all experts are biased.

He recommends Gary Taubes’ book Good Calories, Bad Calories. He favors low-carb and Paleolithic diets.


He recommends nonstandard and unreliable lab tests and do-it-yourself home trials.

  • Ask your doctor for RBC trace mineral profile (30-40 nutrients), normative blood vitamin levels, Spectrocell functional medicine test for nutrients, urine chelation challenge for heavy metals.
  • Try a nutrient and see if you notice a difference. (We all know how reliable “try-it-for-yourself” is!)
  • Cultivate computer games (Tetris, etc.) to measure small differences that you might not notice otherwise.
  • 1 week should be enough to see an effect of supplementing things like B12. (Not!)

He tells an anecdote about a patient who was supposedly almost killed by doctor who gave him potassium based on low blood levels even after the patient and his wife told him the patient was a potassium over-accumulator. The excess potassium needed to normalize his blood potassium test drove him into heart failure and even when he was on digoxin, the doctor wouldn’t admit that he was wrong. The patient had to leave AMA to save his life. Really? “Potassium over-accumulator” is not in my medical dictionary, and Googling for the phrase got only one hit: Fowkes’ video itself.

Bottom Line

I’ll be polite and simply say I do not consider Steven Fowkes to be a reliable source of health information. Some of his facts are wrong, his speculations have not been tested with clinical studies, and some of his advice is frankly dangerous.


Posted in: Neuroscience/Mental Health, Nutrition

Leave a Comment (21) ↓

21 thoughts on “Steven Fowkes (Part 2 of 2): Nutrients for Better Mental Performance

  1. Nescio says:

    An interesting collection of common misconceptions, thanks.

    I like the way DLPA (phenylalanine) is supposed to be good for depression when used as a supplement, but when much tinier amounts come from aspartame it is “an excitotoxin” and poisons your brain.

  2. kainos says:

    Paleolithic diet – love it! My friend tried that (and followed it strictly!) and his cholesterol went up to 280. And he’s only 30 years old with a BMI around 20-21. Sounds healthy to me – NOT!

  3. DugganSC says:

    I have to say, the way you’re phrasing it makes it slightly confusing when you’re stating his opinions to lampoon them and when you’re stating the actual medical facts. Admittedly, this is something I’m somewhat prone to in my general life (throws me off all of the time in exercise classes where I have a hard time telling whether an instructor is telling me what I’m doing right or telling me what I’m doing wrong when they say, e.g., I have a straight back during an exercise), but I thought it was something I’d mention, both to avoid confusion and to avoid one of the people involved quoting your article to say that “Harriet Hall says that ‘Raw milk has good fat structure that is destroyed by homogenization; homogenized milk causes irritation of the vascular system.'”

    1. Harriet Hall says:

      @Duggan SC,
      I apologize if my writing was unclear. As to the risk of selective quoting, it is always there. If I wrote “He says raw milk blah blah but this is not true” people could still claim I wrote “raw milk blah blah.” That’s why it’s always wise to check the context of any quoted statement.

  4. qetzal says:

    He recommends a test for milk allergy that is positively bizarre: go off all dairy (including eggs!?) for 2 weeks and then re-challenge with one drop of milk under the tongue. If a metronome synchronized to your body slows down, or if you freak out, or if your pulse rate goes up dramatically, you’re allergic to milk.

    WTF? How does one synchronize a metronome to one’s body?!

    Assume your doctor is profoundly ignorant (doctors will never say “I don’t know” – they’ll just make it up).

    At least here, Fowkes is discussing a topic where he clearly has substantial expertise: making sh*t up.

    Apologies for the language, but charlatans like this make me angry.

  5. kortikosteroid says:

    great post!

    it makes me furious that people get away with lying and making things up like that. sick people look for advice and help, and all they get is bs from someone who claims he knows what he’s talking about, and presents his weird theories as if they were facts. it’s so irresponsible and immoral i’m lacking words here…

    thanks for debunking his faulty claims. the only problem is that those who really need to read this the most aren’t likely to visit a page like this in the first place.

  6. JPZ says:


    Is Steven Fowkes combining these ideas from a lot of different sources or is he making these things up on his own? It is almost like you can stand on your head, cross your eyes, and take LSD to see his point of view, but it is still so very, very wrong.

  7. Calli Arcale says:

    Wow! That is some very impressive bullcrap he’s put together. I admire your patience in wading through it. I find it particularly baffling that so many proponents of the “paleolithic diet” are against gluten. How do they think ancient man first came up with the idea of cultivating wheat (the first cultivated crop)? Surely they were already eating the wild stuff if it occurred to them to try actually tending the stuff.

    He tells an anecdote about a patient who was supposedly almost killed by doctor who gave him potassium based on low blood levels even after the patient and his wife told him the patient was a potassium over-accumulator.

    Tragically, this reminds me of an actual potassium overdose that occurred here in Minnesota, due to a dosing error when three nursing home staff misread a prescription, insisting it was 80 and not 8 when the pharmacist called to double-check the unusually large dose. I would not be surprised if someone like Fowkes doesn’t try to misquote an event like this, even though it’s clearly a procedural/institutional problem and not a problem with science-based medicine:

  8. redplanet says:

    GHB is found in every living being. Eat steak and you get GHB. Die and be autopsied and they will find GHB. To identify it solely as a date rape drug is to misunderstand it completely. It is an endogenous neurochemical. Alcohol is a real date rape drug. (GHB has a terrible taste – difficult to use for date rape purpose)

    GHB normalizes sleep architecture. It is not only NOT silly to use it for sleep, it is smart to do so. My source: William Dement, M.D. I studied with him at Stanford and if you don’t know who he is, look him up. I did GHB with an Rx for many years (7) before the government disinformation campaign began. At that time I paid $60 for a month’s supply of GHB. My doctor was from Stanford, BTW. I was introduced to him by Steven Fowkes who may not be right on every issue (who is?) but does not deserve the poorly researched articles here about him. He has many friends among the medical community here in Palo Alto and Menlo Park, CA. Fowkes wrote a book with Ward Dean, MD on GHB. I recommend it.

    Why did the government began to demonize GHB? What I paid $60 for is now $1700 and as you know is now called XYREM. Think about that. And do your research on GHB prior to the government’s interference. This is one of hundreds of positive studies chosen at random:

    The effects of gamma-hydroxybutyrate on sleep.
    Mamelak M, Escriu JM, Stokan O.
    Sodium gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is a remarkably safe and nontoxic hypnotic agent which is reported to be free of addicting properties. It is also a normal metabolite of the mammalian nervous system. We examined its effects on the sleep-EEG of eight patients with histories of impaired sleep, as a prelude to a more detailed study of its clinical potential. Sleep induced with GHB was indistinguishable subjectively from natural sleep as well as by behavioral and electroencephalographic criteria. Unlike most synthetic hypnotics, GHB increased delta sleep and did not suppress REM sleep. It shortened the REM sleep latency and shifted REM sleep into the first third of the night. On one occasion it induced a sleep onset REM period which was experienced as an attack of sleep paralysis. Withdrawal was simple; there was no REM sleep rebound and sleep patterns immediately returned to their pre-drug form. Its major clinical drawback was its short duration of action: its hypnotic effect lasting only 2 to 3 hr. We suggest that GHB may serve as the prototype for a new class of hypnotic compounds derived from natural sources and capable of activating the neurological mechanisms of normal human sleep.

    PMID: 192353 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

  9. Harriet Hall says:

    Hundreds of positive studies? I can’t find them. The one you cited is only a preliminary study with 8 patients. It has been approved to reduce daytime sleepiness in patients with cataplexy and narcolepsy, but has not been proven safe and effective for common insomnia. “Remarkably safe” cannot be determined from 8 patients, and there are reports of significant side effects elsewhere. One list of side effects includes “difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.” Hallucinations are also listed, and there are reports of dependence and withdrawal symptoms, albeit rare. And I didn’t identify it solely as a date rape drug, I also mentioned its FDA-approved uses.

    Hearsay from William Dement and the facts that Fowkes wrote a book and has friends don’t carry any weight with us.

  10. Dov Henis says:

    First learn what sleep is…:

    Understand Sleep


    Why Life Eats And Why Life Sleeps:

    -Life ( and other, inanimate, mass spin arrays ) eats because the universe expands.

    -Life sleeps because RNAs genesised-evolved long before metabolism evolved. They were active ONLY during sunlight hours. Thus sleep is inherent for RNAs, even though, being ORGANISMS, they now adapt to when/extent sleep time are feasible…

    Dov Henis
    (comments from 22nd century)

  11. I found this article confusing to read, as well. DugganSC is not alone in his reaction. I think his criticism of the format and style of this article is completely valid. Harriet Hall’s reaction was kind of lame, IMHO, and surprising considering she writes professionally.

    She said:
    “I apologize if my writing was unclear. As to the risk of selective quoting, it is always there. If I wrote “He says raw milk blah blah but this is not true” people could still claim I wrote “raw milk blah blah.” That’s why it’s always wise to check the context of any quoted statement.”

    No, people would probably would not assume the quote was yours if your sentence was written properly. And, setting unspoken rules for how your reader SHOULD react to what they read isn’t a useful way to communicate. If your readers don’t understand what you’ve written, you should do something about that. It is your responsibility as the writer. It almost sounded like you were saying “well, uh, I’m still right, cuz, like, it doesn’t matter if people misunderstand me. it’s their fault for not thinking to check every single quote in an article by digging up the original sources and verifying.”

    Essentially, this approach excludes people who disagree with you, and what good does that do? Somehow this doesn’t surprise me, though. I love the intention of this blog, but quite often it sounds like a bunch of doctors and scientists stroking each other’s egos and saying “hahaha look at how stupid everyone else is!” I was once a daily reader and I have returned to it today after nearly a month of disillusionment with the tone of the blog and it’s audience. I don’t think I will read this anymore. I’ve lost my taste for it.

    I did like this article, but mostly because it’s funny. When I was sick, I witnessed a lot of crazy claims, harmful techniques, and improper use of terminology that took me years to sort out. I can definitely see, though, why people would find these kinds of things compelling, especially people who are scared, sick, poor, or uneducated. Although, I’m not sure why it is useful to make fun of them, and making the point over and over how crazy alternative medicine practitioners are is kind of unoriginal at this point. I feel like every article says essentially the same thing using different examples.

  12. jmcohen87 says:

    Thanks for the review. I think what you’ve demonstrated is that he wrote some things that are clearly wrong in your POV (as well as mainstream science), while most of the rest of what he says is postulations that haven’t been proven according to scientific principles, but also can’t be disproven with our current state of knowledge.

    I guess it’s a matter of personal preference, but I prefer to experiment with speculations and see if it helps me in any way. I’ve experimented with many diets (vegan, vegetarian, whole-food plant based, paleo, raw food and various mixtures) supplements and lifestyle changes (meditation, yoga and different forms of exercise) and I can say definitively some have helped me, although with most I can’t tell a difference (that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a difference, just not one that I noticed). If I had only followed “proven” changes I would be substantially worse off. I do, however, try to stay away from the theoretically unfeasible or disproven treatments like homeopathy (I still wonder if the less diluted forms of homeopathy – the kind where molecules of the substance are still in the formula – have been disproven. Or maybe it’s only the 30X and similar dilutions.) I still experiment and fine tune the lifestyle with which I feel the best.

    I was one of those that tried to eat healthy for a while and listened to the standard medical advice and science but always felt sick, tired, and had a long litany of complaints. Experimenting with herbals, superfoods, lifestyle changes, and other supplements, have produced beneficial incremental effects. You can say it’s the placebo effect, but I will retort that experimenting and adjusting placebos keep giving me better results than the previous placebos. As a result of my experiments thus far I have dramatically improved my quality of life, yet most of what I do isn’t “scientifically proven.” So while I think science is the way to propel society forward, I think the gaps in knowledge are too big and people just need to experiment with different methods and see which works best for them.

    There are also a variety of objective criteria that can’t be attributed to a placebo effect. For example, while I used to get infections, flus, strep, and colds maybe a total of 5-6 times a year I haven’t come down with anything for more than a year and the last time I did it was a cold. So while I do like all the critique of the website I also think that if I were to follow standard medical care I would just feel and be SICK ALL OF THE TIME. And there are many other objective criteria beside the amount of times a year I come down sick and even more subjective methods, but I will stop here.

  13. jmcohen87 says:

    I do think, however, that we should listen to what the science says when it is solid. But unfortunately the gaps cause me to take things into my own hand.

    An interesting example: The part Steve mentioned about dairy resonated with me. I used to consume dairy, since it wasn’t proven that it was harmful and since it is tasty and may even be healthful because of the calcium I didn’t see a reason to abstain. After reading The China Study I decided to abstain from dairy along with various other foods. Every so often I would experiment and try to see what happened if I ate dairy. It turns out that it caused me to become extremely fatigued every time I ate it. I didn’t notice the fatigue when I was consuming dairy every day. Only when I stopped for a while did I notice how detrimental it was when I reintroduced it. If I didn’t experiment I’d still be eating dairy and still feel SICK FROM IT.

    As an aside, as scientific as the book claims to be I found many pieces of advice just didn’t work for me. Abstaining from eggs caused serious detriment to my motivation and cognitive function. Only from experimentation did I realize eggs were ESSENTIAL for me. Eating 3 soft boiled eggs a day would be a death sentence according to mainstream medicine, but it makes me feel great.

  14. Harriet Hall says:


    “while I used to get infections, flus, strep, and colds maybe a total of 5-6 times a year I haven’t come down with anything for more than a year and the last time I did it was a cold.”

    You don’t know that this wouldn’t have happened anyway.

    “So while I do like all the critique of the website I also think that if I were to follow standard medical care I would just feel and be SICK ALL OF THE TIME.”

    I think you are making an unwarranted assumption.

    We humans are prone to the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. The rooster crowed, the sun came up; therefore the rooster made the sun come up. I took a pill, I felt better; therefore the pill made me better. I ate eggs, I felt better; therefore the eggs made me feel better. Personal observations like yours are notoriously unreliable: that’s why we need science.

    By the way, mainstream medicine does not consider 3 eggs a day a “death sentence.”

  15. GLaDOS says:

    I’m not sure why it is useful to make fun of them, and making the point over and over how crazy alternative medicine practitioners are is kind of unoriginal at this point.
    The laughter isn’t a marketing strategy.

    I feel like every article says essentially the same thing using different examples.


    1. Harriet Hall says:

      “making the point over and over how crazy alternative medicine practitioners are is kind of unoriginal at this point.”

      1. We are not saying they are crazy, but that they have been misled by their beliefs and their claims are not based on scientific evidence.
      2. Our aim is not to be original. Our aim is to explain science and show why certain claims are false or questionable. We have to make the same points over and over because people keep making new and repackaged claims and other people are believing them because they haven’t heard anything that contradicts them. It gets to be very boring after a while: constant deja vu. It’s an unpleasant job, but someone has to do it. Otherwise woo-woo will reign unchecked.
      3. Some of the things we write about are really funny. It doesn’t hurt to point this out, and it makes the message more accessible to some readers.

  16. jmcohen87 says:

    @ Harriet Hall

    I agree with what you are saying about fallacies in thinking (like post hoc ergo propter hoc, which is definitely dangerous and I see people falling into it all the time) and how science is the best method of providing evidence for some position. Where we may disagree, however, is the areas where science hasn’t proven or disproven something. The way I approach such an area is with caution and skepticism. So, for example, whether green tea, medicinal mushrooms or curcumin can HELP cure, prevent, or slow cancer progression is a matter that isn’t settled by science. There is promising signs and SOME positive evidence. Is the evidence at a level where you would call it scientific? That depends on your definition of science. But either way one must proceed by either taking it or not. And I think we are forced to act a certain way within this fog of knowledge or lack thereof. Not taking these things is also a kind of action. So do I drink green tea or do I not. One could think, “well, there is no scientific PROOF!” I agree that there is no “proof” that it can “cure” or help cancer in some way, but there is some evidence – we can argue about the strength of it but it isn’t important for my point – and lots of evidence that it is healthful in many other ways. How healthful is also a matter of debate, but again not my point. So with that in mind everyone needs to make their own cost benefit analysis in terms of price, how enjoyable or unenjoyable tea is to them, how expensive it is, how much of their time is being consumed by it, etc… With all that said, I would drink it even without the strong evidence for a particular disease because most likely the worst case scenario is it will help my body in some form or another.
    When I drink it I also feel my eyes can see better and that it benefits my skin. You can claim that my personal anecdote isn’t reliable and I will agree, but if I don’t drink it my skin will almost certainly not benefit from not drinking it and if I do drink it I may or may not benefit – and if I feel the difference I would argue that even though it isn’t scientific evidence, it still constitutes evidence and would make it more likely that it helps my skin than the probability that it doesn’t – but there’s a decent chance that I will.

    I am making a few points here:
    1) We are forced to act amid a lack of scientific evidence

    2) A subjective feeling that something helps isn’t scientific evidence, but it is a form of evidence, of which the value is greater than zero.

    3) I didn’t commit a post hoc fallacy. A post hoc fallacy is to say since Y happened after X, X must have caused Y. What I am saying is, since Y happened after X, it provides SOME evidence (not proof) that X caused Y. Looking at plausibility, confounding variables and any other evidence at a connection is important in determining if it was just a coincidence. In other words you have to look at the full picture. As far as plausibility, it could make sense that by consuming certain foods or herbs changes to your body is made. Regarding confounding variables, there are dozens or hundreds. But most of the confounding variables don’t have scientific proof either (which is why, btw, I don’t assign only one thing I have done to my current condition.) I am aware some things I do may have little or no value.
    As far as other evidence, there is cellular studies, animal studies, small clinical trials, anecdotal evidence – which I would argue would be of little value but still greater than zero.

    So looking at the full picture and concluding there is good chance SOMETHING I have done has brought about my present state of physical well being.

    Also, most of the time I do A/B testing and so that would get rid of the post hoc problem. Although I agree that there is still psychological factors to be reckoned with, I am of the opinion that having a subjective feeling (energetic, having an uplifted mood) does constitute some form of evidence, especially is if it’s done with A/B testing. I would also say the strength of the evidence isn’t strong and would depend on the individual. Some individuals are more prone to the placebo effect than others.

    And remember, if there IS scientific evidence one way or another, I would say to throw out all other forms of evidence. But the problem is when there isn’t strong evidence one way or another you have to take whatever evidence you have and as long as there is a certain threshold of plausibility (We can disagree what that threshold may be) act in a calculated manner. And if after everything it’s the placebo effect that is most prominent (something I would doubt in my case), than I’d say GIVE ME MORE PLACEBOS!

  17. Harriet Hall says:


    I understand what you are saying, but you are arguing for anecdotal evidence and I think you are over-confident. The kind of experimenting you are doing allows you to say “I think this makes me feel better, so I’ll keep doing it.” But it does not allow you to say “I have proved that it works.” A double blind N=1 trial would be more meaningful, but even that may not lead to accurate conclusions, since it doesn’t reliably rule out all the confounding factors like normal fluctuations of symptoms over time. You should always remember that you might have reached an incorrect conclusion, and you might be doing something that complicates your life unnecessarily or that actually causes some kind of unrecognized harm. By the same token, a treatment that has been proven to work by good science might not be responsible for your improvement, since you might have improved without any treatment. Penicillin cures pneumonia, but some people recovered from pneumonia before penicillin was invented. Science has its limits, but anecdotal evidence from personal experiments is much more limited.

  18. JPZ says:


    Acting on a lack of scientific evidence makes you the example that others should avoid should you fail. Is that the example of your life? Even if you succeed, you then become a n =1.

  19. jmcohen87 says:

    @ Harriet Hall

    I am arguing for using methods less than the gold standard of scientific evidence (animal studies, small clinical trials, epidemiology) and EVEN anecdotal and subjective evidence, with all of its flaws, since at the end of the day it is better than zero and we are forced to make a decision. I also think that subjective evidence can vary based on who the subject is. That is, I think certain individuals are more self aware and less susceptible to the placebo effect. So if that’s the case some people’s experiences would be more reliable than other people’s. As an aside, in some sense an individual experiment may be better than a gold standard scientific approach because everyone’s biology is different to a large degree, so even if something helps 50% of patients and the control group helped 30% of patients how do I know that I would be part of the 20% it helped.

    If trying a variety of “alternative” approaches in a safe, strategic and rational way produces a positive result in many health parameters, then I say why not? I agree that an alternative approach won’t be “proved” (everyone can have a different definition of proof) by this method, but it can be valuable for certain people to try. I do think it’s important, however, to always be skeptical and keep in mind all of the psychological traps and that it’s hard to know if your subjective experiences are reality. Every day I challenge any idea that seems fixed, by asking myself “what do I really know?” or “could there be another way of looking at this?”

    I wonder how SBM editors live their lives. Do you stay away flouride, mercury, BPA, and other toxins that aren’t “proven” to be harmful at the doses regular people are exposed to?

    Do you eat dairy?
    Sugar? Coke?
    Wheat? Whole wheat? Sprouted grains?
    How about organic fruits and veggies when there is no hard outer layer to take off like an apple or tomato or lettuce?
    Would you take curcumin?
    How about any other herbs?
    How about “superfoods”?
    Fish oil?
    Vitamin D?
    Would you buy a water filter?
    Medicinal mushrooms?

    How often do you get sick – including colds?

    Do you think mainstream medicine is scientific? (I don’t)

    Did you ever read the RAND health experiment?

    I wonder what your diets and lifesyles are like.

    All I can get from this site is what is proven false or what isn’t “proven” true, but not much of a clue as to what course of action you take.

Comments are closed.