You could say Dr. Jen Gunter came to Winnipeg to detox.
Gunter, a San Francisco obstetrician-gynecologist who grew up in Winnipeg, comes back whenever she can to visit family and take a break from "Wielding the Lasso of Truth."
That’s the name of Gunter’s blog, which has attracted international attention in recent months for her fearless and no-holds-barred confrontation of medical quackery and pseudoscience, especially where it pertains to women’s health and wellness.
On her blog, Gunter has emerged as a medical source and regular critic of Goop, the online lifestyle company and website owned by actor Gwyneth Paltrow.
The Goop website promotes "cutting-edge wellness advice" and sells products such as US$55-66 jade eggs for vaginal cleansing and detox and crystals for healing because they "absorb all the information they have ever been exposed to."
"People like Goop are saying it (the vagina) is sacred and precious and people like (celebrity) Khloe Kardashian have an eight- or 10-step vaginal regimen. I’m a gynecologist. I have a zero-step vaginal regimen. It’s a self-cleaning oven," said Gunter, during an interview Friday in Winnipeg.
People like Goop are saying it (the vagina) is sacred and precious and people like Khloe Kardashian have an eight- or 10-step vaginal regimen. I’m a gynecologist. I have a zero-step vaginal regimen. It’s a self-cleaning oven. — Dr. Jen Gunter
She said medical research has shown that trying to cleanse the vagina or uterus with objects or additives can have serious consequences
"Douching is associated with bacterial vaginosis and increase risk of transmission of HIV," she said.
Gunter, who has a medical degree from the University of Manitoba and a long list of qualifications including board certification as an ob/gyn in two countries, uses evidence-based medical research to combat what she calls "crackpot theories" that are "predatory."
She said proponents of health myths and unproven treatments use seductive language and fear-mongering to make assertions that women are always unwell and promises that aren’t delivered.
"I’m not selling anybody anything. I just want people to have good information," Gunter said. "If, after you get good information, you decide you want to go buy a jade egg, OK. It’s your choice, it’s your body. But now you have an informed decision."
While websites such as Goop include disclaimers for their products, therapies and promotions, Gunter cautioned that some of these have the potential to cause physical harm or simply take money in exchange for something that does not work.
She said she blogs to help women get educated advice so they can be more empowered with their health and make good decisions. Her medical colleagues on social media have supported her.
Most recently, Gunter was the subject of personal attacks on social media by Goop whose agent, including a male doctor, criticized Gunter for her "strangely confident assertion that putting a crystal in your vagina for pelvic-floor strengthening exercises would put you in danger of getting toxic shock syndrome." Goop stated tampons were more of a cause for concern than jade eggs because of glyphosate which was "probably"classified by the World Health Organization as carcinogenic.
Gunter, who has practised medicine for 25 years, posted a response on her blog: "I am not strangely confident about vaginal health; I am appropriately confident because I am the expert."
She called her rebuttal "Goop’s misogynistic, mansplaining hit job" and pointed out the WHO found that glyphosate is unlikely to be carcinogenic. She stated a lifetime of heavy tampon use would expose a woman to 1 mg of glyphosate where medical standards show a woman could safely consume 25 mg a day in her diet. Gunter noted the introduction of oxygen and the possible presence of naturally occurring superantigens on a jade egg in a vagina is a recipe for toxic shock syndrome.
Paltrow takes notice
Gunter uses colourful language, humour and sarcasm on her blog, sometimes including the odd F-bomb, which she has also been criticized for doing, to reach people, especially women, with facts instead of fiction.
Paltrow’s Twitter account responded earlier this year to some of Gunter’s viral blog posts stating "If you want to f--- with me, bring your A game."
Gunter responded with an open letter on her blog titled "Dear Gwyneth Paltrow, we’re not f**king with you, we’re correcting you, XOXO Science." In the letter, Gunter posted that, "It does not take my A game to counter the snake oil, biologically implausible theories, incorrect information, and magic that you and Goop pass off as health advice. Really, I’m not sure it even takes my C game. It might take a game, like Clue, that’s about it."
Gunter said she noticed that posts she writes "with my righteous indignation voice" get more hits and reach more people.
"You have to meet the people where they are and I’m OK with that. It’s about the content, not the clothes the content is wearing," she said. "Why shouldn’t health information be fun to read? Why does it have to be dry and boring, and you’ve fallen asleep drooling on the page after three minutes? If no one is going to read it, then it’s useless."
She said she chooses her topics, Goop-related or otherwise, using the harm factor — health and monetary — as a guideline.
"The harm can also be the cost," she said, noting that in the last decade, she has seen an increase in the number of women going to her clinic who have had many unnecessary tests by alternative health practitioners and have been frightened by misinformation or alternative theories.
"It breaks my heart when I hear people tell me about all the useless therapies they’ve wasted their money on," she said.
Gunter said she always had an interest in pop culture and as a medical student, would often read about alternative or fad health trends. Her attention shifted to more serious issues after she gave birth to triplet sons in 2003. After the eldest of the three died shortly after birth, her other two sons were each born 14 weeks premature with numerous health conditions.
As she surfed the internet, she said she was shocked to see widespread misinformation and treatments being promoted without any medical research or support.
She wrote a book on premature babies called The Preemie Primer and decided to help people navigate the internet’s "wasteland of medical information" and find out the truth.