This coming January, our favorite vaginal egg hawker Goop will hold its second “In Goop Health” summit in New York City, where for the reasonable price of $650 for a “Turmeric” level ticket and $2,000 for “Ginger” (sadly, already sold out), you’ll be treated to “cutting-edge panels of health-defining doctors and experts, along with a hall of experiential activations, ranging from binaural beats meditation to acupressure and tarot card readings.”
Let’s disregard the second half of the sentence which largely consists of made-up words and concepts (I do not know what an experiential activation is so please do not offer it to me), and focus on the first half. Doctors! Experts! Cutting-edge! Health-defining! Panels! That certainly sounds science-y to me. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, at least one of these experts promotes ideas that are unscientific, dangerous, and often absurd.
A prominent expert featured in the summit is Dr. Kelly Brogan, a “holistic health psychiatrist” based in New York. In a blog post published Friday morning, gynecologist and Goop critic Dr. Jen Gunter points out that, in 2014, Dr. Brogan claimed that the notion that HIV causes AIDS is a “meme” brought upon us by the “medical-scientific-industrial marriage,” and that “drug toxicity associated with AIDS treatment may very well be what accounts for the majority of deaths.”
In the now-deleted blog post entitled, “HIV and Pregnancy: Pharma Abusing Women?” Dr. Brogan ignores overwhelming research finding that antiretroviral therapy significantly reduces the mortality rate of HIV-infected people, instead defaulting to a preferred rhetoric of pseudoscience supporters—that they’re just asking questions; they just want to save lives.
“While I recognize the hypocrisy in using my mind to help unearth truths while proclaiming our fundamental limitations as thinkers, there is an abuse of ideas, and the people who accept them that is resulting in harm and suffering where there might have been something entirely more benign if we just gathered more information,” she writes, failing to mention that the disease was spread (obviously) not because people with HIV are over-treated, but because they are overlooked or shunned, and medically neglected. Dr. Brogan also fails to reckon with the reality that today, Americans who suffer from HIV and AIDS are largely from poor, rural, black, Southern communities, communities that need access to antiretroviral therapy to avoid passing HIV to newborns. And, lastly, she fails to acknowledge her precarious, if indefensible position as a white woman suggesting that maybe these vulnerable populations have the luxury to question the doctor offering them life-saving treatment.
“Through the lens of human ecology, we see that forcing a system to adapt to a pharmaceutical grade chemical is a misguided assault on their very humanity. We must protect our most vulnerable from this assault,” she writes, doing just the opposite, “lest we look back on these transgressions with blinding shame.”
Dr. Brogan is, in fact, an active opponent of all medications—in her “About” section on her webpage she writes that after being diagnosed with postpartum thyroiditis, or Hashimoto’s disease she had to face a life of medication—a life which she wasn’t ready for.
“Despite many years earning my medical credentials,” (Dr. Brogan cites training at NYU Medical Center and Cornell University Medical College and is board certified in psychiatry, psychosomatic medicine, and integrative holistic medicine) “I was not ready for a life dependent on pharmaceuticals. So, I searched for an alternative—and I found the gentle, hopeful world of natural self-repair. Two-and-a-half years and one pregnancy later, I was symptom free—and prescription free.”
“I have a hard truth for you: the medical industry, government, food companies, and the pharmaceutical industry do not have your best health interests at heart.”
Dr. Brogan’s psychiatric mission is related to treating depression. She explicitly rejects that depression is caused by a serotonin deficiency in favor of the idea that it’s a holistic problem caused by chronic inflammation that must be treated via food and lifestyle.
“We’ve been told a story about what depression is,” she says in the above video promo for her book. “And we’ve been told that it’s a chemical imbalance and many people even believe that depression is a serotonin deficiency—maybe something they were born with. But it’s my passionate belief that depression is in fact a message. It’s a message and an opportunity to change. And the primary pillar of this change is nutrition.”
It’s an intriguing suggestion, but one that becomes dangerous when she vigorously and repeatedly suggests her followers stop antidepressant usage.
In fact, her entire livelihood rests upon the mission of ridding Americans of their medications and converting to her food-first program. On her website, she offers one-on-one counseling services, in addition to selling her book, A Mind of Your Own, which presents a long form version of the no-medication argument, and an accompanying course called “Vital Mind Reset,” a 44-day distillation of her one-on-one coaching that claims to provide individuals with a “path to drug-free health and happiness.” The complete course costs $997 and comes with, among other things, something called a “Detox Your Mood Coffee Enema.”
On her blog, Dr. Brogan has published a post called, “5 foods that cause depression,” that list gluten, dairy, GMOs (a broad, slippery classification), sugar, artificial sugar, and vegetable oils; she publishes anti-medication pieces like, “Why you should stop taking your antidepressants,” “3 beliefs Holly ditched when she stopped antidepressants,” “How to live a medication free life,” “Healing from depression and psychiatric medication with community,” and “Robin’s Story: My recovery from antipsychotics,” and has written that she stopped prescribing antidepressants because they result in worse long-term outcomes, form habits, and cause “unpredictable violence,”; she has republished a piece entitled, “Mass shootings: The new manifestation of an ancient phenomenon and their link to psychiatric drugs,” which discusses “altered states of consciousness induced by antidepressants and other psychotropic drugs well-documented to promote homicidal and suicidal behavior in susceptible individuals.”
Dr. Alison D. Hermann, an assistant professor in psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine and an Assistant Attending Psychiatrist at New York Presbyterian Hospital objected, in general, to the use of a “reductionist model” when approaching depression treatment.
“When a psychiatrist evaluates a patient for depression, she/he will consider all possible biological contributors such as genetics/family history, medical problems, substance use, activity level, and diet/nutrition. They also consider psychological factors such as trauma history and social factors such as financial problems. The treatment they recommend is based on the totality of these factors that they have identified as contributing to the depression,” she wrote in an email to Jezebel.
“In recent years there has been an increasing body of evidence for a so-called ‘gut-brain axis’ whereby the health of the gastrointestinal system influences the health of the nervous system and vice-versa. The immune system appears to play a large role in mediating this relationship. There are a portion of patients for whom this is very important,” she continued.
“However, a healthy gut alone does not effectively treat depression for a large portion of patients for whom other treatments, including antidepressants, antipsychotics, and psychotherapy may be necessary and even life-saving.”
But Dr. Brogan posits otherwise. In a meandering post about a trip to India, she writes of a woman who became “immobilized by nausea, diarrhea, and pain,” and her traveling companions insisted she visit the doctor. But Dr. Brogan, per her account, “demanded an opportunity to support her without medication intervention.”
“I knew, in my heart, that if she aligned with her body, she could move through this.”
Eventually, the woman emerges from her sickness. Dr. Brogan writes:
She moaned and cried, vomited, and lost control of her bowels. But within 12 hours, she emerged. We joked that it felt like she had birthed the most beautiful baby and we were all here to ooh and ahh over it.
She demonstrated a woman’s fearless capacity to surrender to a process, and because she did that, it is now easier for every woman on the planet to meet that challenge in the future. This is the morphic resonance of fearlessness.
Contrarily, if she had taken antibiotics, she would have, in my estimation, prolonged and complexified her illness because the body will never be suppressed. Then when she finally recovered, she would have credited the antibiotics–the emblematic sacrament of the patriarchy–with her life and stability. What a loss therein.
Dr. Brogan defended these prescriptive practices to Jezebel in a statement.
“As a conventionally trained physician principally invested in the ethical tenet of informed consent, I base all of my conclusions on published, peer-reviewed scientific literature,” Dr. Brogan wrote in an email. “I believe women need to know the full breadth of this literature in order to make informed decisions about medical interventions designed and researched by corporations beholden to investors, not to women’s bodies and minds. The radical healing that I have witnessed through lifestyle medicine is not something I was ever taught was possible in my one pill for one ill training.”
A lot of what Dr. Brogan preaches is based in some drops of truth—that the medical establishment is flawed and has typically favored research focused on men; that the pharmaceutical industry is often unethically regulated and run; that various methods of food production and processing have had detrimental effects on society’s health. But Brogan stretches these conclusions to their antiscientific, harmful ends. Pharma companies want to make money: don’t get the flu shot. Chemicals aren’t natural: don’t seek chemotherapy. The medical establishment historically has been run by men: antibiotics are a sacrament of the patriarchy.
But this kind of thinking is not strange for Goop—the organization that, as Stassa Edwards wrote in April, profits from a combination of endless illness, scientific rebellion, and invented cures. The organization that promises, in a pleasing serif font and impeccable design, that for $2,000, they’ll tear the sinister veil off the medical establishment and tell you the truth about wellness: it’s a vitamin subscription service, a good grounding practice, a $4,099 cedar sauna, and they’ll be happy to sell it to you.
In a statement, a Goop representative told Jezebel, “Dr. Brogan is a board-certified psychiatrist, NY Times bestselling author, and has trained at NYU, Cornell, and MIT. She will be speaking about mental health at our summit. We strive to give a platform to doctors who have interesting, varied, and sometimes unconventional perspectives, and Dr. Brogan is just one of more than 20 individuals that will share their ideas with attendees in January.”