Dear Indian celebs, stop playing doctor. You can’t trifle with medical science

July 10,2024

Actor Samantha Ruth Prabhu’s Instagram story about using hydrogen peroxide to treat viral infections brought to light a longstanding trend of celebrities offering unsolicited, unverified, and sometimes dangerous health advice to their followers. As someone who wasn’t anyway keen on taking her suggestion of using a nebuliser with hydrogen peroxide in distilled water, it was shocking for me when Dr Cyrian Abby Philips, or ‘The Liver Doc’, as he is commonly known on social media, called it out for being actively harmful to one’s lungs.

Scientists, including the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, which Dr Philips tagged in his post, have advised people against inhaling hydrogen peroxide since it is toxic and “may result in severe pulmonary irritation”.

In the past, Dr Philips has called out other stars too like Virat Kohli for saying that non-vegetarian food was causing acidity and leading to “calcium leaking from his bones”. Not only did Dr Philips debunk Kohli’s assertion, but he also called him and Prabhu “science and health illiterate”. Rightfully so, in my opinion.

Celebrities and influencers literally make money off of engagement in real life and on social media. Most of what they say or endorse is not in public interest. While there’s enough evidence of how celebs lie through advertisements (hello, fairness cream ads!), the audience has more or less made peace with it.

Moreover, there are enough regulations that ensure companies and endorsers disclose when they’re advertising something. The new problem is the celebrity ‘doctors’ — mental health masters, ayurvedic advisors, or, like Prabhu, ‘alternate medicine’ supporters — who don’t hesitate before propagating unsafe medical practices to their millions of followers. And all without any consequences since they’re “just recommending”.

Please tell these celebs that they’re not living in Barbie world — they can’t be doctors, lawyers, fitness coaches, chefs or journalists whenever they want to!

Science isn’t ‘up for debate’

A common and easy fallback that most of these celebs, including Prabhu and YouTuber Ranveer Allahbadia, resort to when called out for spreading misinformation is that they’re open to ‘engage’. Allahbadia welcomed Dr Philips to shoot a podcast episode with him and “dive deeper into subjects” when the latter objected to him platforming unscientific treatments for alopecia on his show.

Here’s the thing: Being ‘open’ to debating basic scientific facts isn’t the power move you think it is. It means you’re shedding all moral responsibility and treating serious subjects of health and well-being and decades of scientific practice as a debating match. You can’t pick and choose here — just like there are no two opinions on the Earth being round.

Celebrities and social media influencers need to be more careful about what they advertise online. They can’t shed responsibility by saying they’re only recommending what worked for them when they’re fully aware of the dangers of celebrity culture and fanbases. Moreover, when it comes to something as basic as health, no one but a verified doctor should tell you what to put in your body.

As far as Prabhu’s case goes, she should stop inhaling hydrogen peroxide for her own sake.