I’ve given up a lot since becoming a skeptic. I’ve stayed away from Whole Foods. Left behind some seriously tasty GMO-free chips. I can’t even read a Mark Bittman recipe anymore, and I used to live by his frittatas, okay? But now pseudoscience is threatening something essential to the very fabric of my being. Or at least my being on the couch with a glass of wine and chocolate. And that essential something is the Real Housewives.
I love the entire Housewives universe (my favorites are Beverly Hills and Atlanta, but I’ll even watch the Miami housewives if I’m desperate). The shows are more than escapist entertainment. They’re practically educational. Don’t be tardy for the party and Be cool. Don’t be all…uncool are wise words for any of us to live by. And while there might have been a smidge of pseudoscience every once in a while — a psychic here or a homeopathic cold remedy there — it was nothing I couldn’t laugh off as the usual Housewives ridiculousness, like a wig room or living in a mansion when you’re bankrupt.
Unfortunately, pseudoscience, woo and quackery have now moved to center stage. It all began when we learned Beverly Hills housewife Yolanda Foster is more than just a lady with a fruit-dedicated refrigerator. Foster is a “Lymie,” which means she identifies with a growing community of people who say they suffer from chronic Lyme disease. Although credible experts in the field agree there’s no evidence to support claims of ongoing infections of Lyme, there is an entire cottage industry of “Lyme literate” doctors who profit by selling “Lymies” prolonged courses of antibiotics and a wide range of quacky and ineffective alternative remedies. Not only do these treatments not work according to all available evidence, longterm antibiotic use can make people more susceptible to dangerous antibiotic-resistant infections. Sadly, Foster’s storyline on the show lends dangerous credibility to “chronic Lyme” and the doctors who profit from it.
Unfortunately, the woo isn’t limited to Beverly Hills. This season in Orange County, housewife Meghan’s husband’s ex-wife LeAnn was battling colon cancer (she has since passed away) at the same time that Vicki’s then boyfriend Brooks was experiencing a recurrence of his non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Having watched Leann deteriorate, her cancer no longer treatable, Meghan was understandably dismayed to hear that Brooks had elected to stop the chemotherapy treatment that was actually working in favor of a treatment called Resveratrol (essentially, red wine extracts).
It was strange to hear several of the OC housewives wave off Meghan’s concerns because she’s young and inexperienced at life (I guess 30 is the new 18?) when Meghan is actually the lone voice for science in the OC Housewife universe. I believe she might be the first Housewife ever to use the word “evidence” when she said unequivocally that the evidence shows that Resveratrol is not an effective cancer treatment. On the other hand, she doesn’t know who Heather Locklear is. God, 30 year olds these days, amirite?
The appeal of the Housewives is that they’re so different from the rest of us and yet they’re also exactly the same. They experience loss and illness, just like everyone else, but sadly they also fall prey to pseudoscience and good old fashioned quackery. I want to continue watching the Housewives, but I don’t want to watch these women present dangerous and unfounded health claims as fact. If the next franchise is the Real Housewives of Wooville, we’ll need a few skeptical women to balance it all out. I can think of a few good science advocates who might be willing…
Required reading Real Housewife, Fake Disease by Russell Sanders