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Walk along any main street in a big Canadian city like Toronto and you can’t fail to notice the variety of places offering to improve your personal “wellness.” Hot yoga studios. Ketamine clinics. Juice cleansing bars. Flotation therapy rooms. Healing salt caves. One spot near my place offers everything from massages to acupuncture to osteopathy. It bills itself as an oasis of calm for “mind, body and soul.”

All pretty harmless, you might say. It’s been a tough couple of years and if folks feel the need to ease their stress with a little aromatherapy, why not?

But there are good reasons to take a dimmer view of the wellness movement. One is that much of this stuff simply doesn’t work. Lavender oil won’t cure your depression. Most vitamin supplements won’t give you anything you wouldn’t get from a normal, healthy diet. There is no proof that drinking lettuce water helps you sleep or that eating foods laced with activated charcoal will magically detoxify your body.

Timothy Caulfield, an Alberta professor and author who specializes in science and health, is run off his feet battling all the wellness myths that circulate online. His Twitter feed bubbles over with frustration at the blizzard of fairy tales and falsehoods he faces.

Yet the wellness industry keeps getting bigger. The New Yorker cites a report that puts its worth at close to $6-trillion. Despite all the mockery aimed at Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, her company’s value has swollen to $325-million.

Influencers, celebrities and social media fuel the mania. On The Kardashians recently, Kendall Jenner and Hailey Bieber got together for some so-called NAD intravenous drip therapy, lounging on a couch as fluids meant to regenerate their cells were fed into their arms.

IV therapy outlets are popping up all over. At a place in Toronto’s swishy Yorkville district, you can sign up for the anti-aging drip, the detox drip, the mood-boosting drip, the weight-management drip or “a customized formula that fits your health needs.” One company will even come to your home to hook you up to an IV bag. Its hangover drip goes for about $500.

Jonathan Stea of the University of Calgary, another Alberta researcher in this field, says by e-mail that “there’s no convincing evidence that supplementation with NAD has any health benefits whatsoever.” To the contrary, “It has pseudo-science written all over it.”

That’s the larger problem with the wellness movement. Apart from sending people down blind alleys in search of what ails them, and picking their pockets in the process, it feeds into a general distrust of scientific authority, a grave issue in pandemic times, when thousands have died through misinformation.

Wellness treatments present themselves as a friendlier alternative to the cold, antiseptic world of Western (that is to say, modern) medicine. They claim to tap into the wisdom of the ancients and the healing powers of Mother Nature. What is often called wellness culture is becoming more like a wellness cult.

As Prof. Caulfield pointed out in a recent appearance, its proponents are refining their pitch. Instead of calling their movement a wholly separate system of knowledge, they claim it is a legitimate arm of modern science, its methods backed by reputable study.

In fact, much of it is pure bunk – and dangerous bunk at that. The thinking that infuses the wellness movement is the same kind that leads people to shy away from getting vaccinated.

Like the anti-vax movement, it is skeptical of “gatekeepers” such as doctors and public-health experts. It manufactures evidence to support its case and distorts the real evidence that’s out there. It is riddled with conspiracy theories about Big Pharma and big government. It encourages sick people to follow their own healing path even if they have no expertise save for what they may have gleaned from a website.

“Push your boundaries and experience a life beyond limits with the help of the Royal Flush deluxe IV therapy,” urges one downtown IV outlet. It wants its clients to be “the best version of you.”

In fact, the best version of you is the one that has the sense to recognize bunk when she sees it.

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