Fake health news is now more potent. Do doctors have an antidote?

Traditional health quackery and medical bunk have been given a boost by America’s increased political polarization.

Look no further than Alex Jones, host of Infowars, the far-right YouTube channel famous for conspiracy theories. President Trump has shared links to Jones’s rants and raves, making them more influential.

Infowars is known mostly for anti-globalism and conspiracy theories like “Pizzagate.” One overlooked element is the site’s health and medicine “news.”

VOX health reporter Julia Belluz watched more than six hours of Infowars and took notes. She joined To the Point for the first installment of our series The Emotional States of America about the challenge to science, facts and reason in these critical times.

“I didn’t realize how many segments on Infowars were actually focused on health and when I started to poke around, I realized it was a recurring topic,” said Belluz.

“They’re often raising health problems that Alex Jones then has the solution to, usually in the form of a supplement of some kind you can order for $30-40 and have all your health problems fixed.”

That’s the case for a supposed “fungal epidemic” that Jones has dedicated several lengthy segments to — segments where he segues between politics and hard-to-debunk health claims. Like this exchange with a naturopathic guru Edward Group.

Group: “Brain fog, lack of energy, insomnia, headaches, bowel problems, joint pain. It’s linked to Crohn’s disease…

Jones: Infertility. What about the obesity epidemic? I’m not bragging here, but we game-changed the presidency, we game-changed the new world order. Globalism is falling because of you. You are the Infowar. I do not bring you something unless I absolutely believe in it. Please! We only have a limited supply of this. I wanna get your reviews,  I wanna hear what you have to say, for me it’s been incredible. Myco ZX anti-fungal, anti-fungus, anti-yeast. Get it today, limited run it’ll be months till we get more…

Belluz, who has interviewed Infowars fans, said Jones is able to capitalize on the general distrust of the establishment that he’s known for and turn it into a very particular distrust of the health care system.

“Many people have had terrible experiences at the doctor, or haven’t been treated well in the hospital, or maybe mainstream medicine doesn’t have answers to a lot of the problems they have, and when you hear something like ‘OK, it’s this invisible fungal epidemic that can explain everything from your obesity to your diabetes to your Crohn’s disease – and we also have the magic pill to fix it,’ that’s a very appealing message.”

Just look at the reviews on Infowars’ web store, where the Myco-ZX supplement is “out of stock” and the supposed benefits seem to span everything from weight to skin.

“My wheat belly down 50% in 1 week!”

“It must be cleansing me b/c I used to have frequent constipation & now I go to the bathroom several times a day. Thanks for this product.”

“My skin has not been itchy as much since using this product.”

Of course, health experts are experienced in battling bunk claims. “We’re talking about fake news now like it’s something new,” Belluz said, “but this is a problem that doctors and health researches have been thinking about deeply for decades, and how to fight against it.”

However, they are not proposing revolutionary ideas for refuting the emotional appeals Infowars makes. “They’re now drawing their attention to early childhood education and teaching critical thinking in really young people,” Belluz said.

The Emotional States of America is To the Point’s ongoing series looking at the fate of science and critical thinking in an increasingly irrational age.