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So, Should You Trust Andrew Huberman?
April 1, 2024

So, Should You Trust Andrew Huberman?

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Scientists Like Me Knew There Was Something Amiss With Andrew Huberman’s Wildly Popular Podcast, The wildly popular podcaster and scientist claims he can help you live a healthier life. But we should think of him as a Dr. Oz type.

We live in a world of misinformation and fearmongering. Headlines bombard us with claims about cancer, chronic illness, the dangers of our food, ‘toxins.’ Health anxiety seems to be at an all-time high.

Enter Andrew Huberman. He has a Ph.D. in neuroscience, with research expertise in optic nerve signaling. His wildly popular podcast claims to make science more understandable while giving you simple, ‘zero-cost’ protocols for your health. The appeal Huberman offers is obvious: control over our health when it feels like we have none.

In reality, his podcast is focused on pseudoscience: He often makes claims that appear scientific but lack evidence, plausibility, and validity. Pseudoscience presents unsubstantiated conclusions, but it can be incredibly hard to distinguish from conclusive evidence. It contains grains of truth, but those grains of truth are exaggerated beyond the point of usefulness, even so far as to lead away from the truth. Huberman fills his podcast with confident displays of pseudoscience, topped with the appeal to authority he garners by regularly repeating his academic credentials to gain your trust.

The March 25 New York magazine cover story laid out a stunning tale about Huberman—that he was seeing six women simultaneously. Further, that story says, his lab at Stanford, ‘according to knowledgeable sources, barely exists.’ Whether or not you care about infidelity and hosts’ personal lives, listeners to Huberman’s podcast should not sweep aside the contents of the New York mag story as mere gossip. As a biomedical scientist who has spent a lot of time considering what Huberman has to say, I can tell you that he is leading his podcast audience astray, too.

If you’re not a fan of his work, let me give you an indication of what his show is like. His episodes are exceedingly long, often over 2 hours. He fills them with scientific-sounding jargon, stringing together names of genes or proteins that a listener might hear and think, ‘Hey, he is using complex lingo, he must really know his stuff.’ But jargon gives the illusion that Huberman intimately understands topics he doesn’t. (Scientists, for all their knowledge, are trained to know a lot about a relatively narrow field.) He inserts widely held generalizations—sleep is important, exercise is beneficial, and lifestyle can impact our health—to add legitimacy. If you agree with some of his statements, then why not everything?

Huberman frequently supports his assertions by saying things like ‘supported by peer-reviewed research,’ or ‘science-backed,’ and he includes links to papers in show notes. But it’s important to know that not all studies are created equal. Some studies are done on cells in a Petri dish (in vitro), or on animals (in vivo). In others, scientists ask people to fill out surveys recalling details from their days or weeks, or they observe human participants’ behavior in a lab. Neither of these methods creates particularly reliable results for humans. Other studies are controlled clinical research—like studies where some people receive a treatment, others a placebo. That is the kind of research you want to see before undertaking a health intervention. But even there, study design matters. It dictates how strong the data can be, and how much you can conclude.

Think about yourself, and then think about a layer of cells growing on a piece of plastic. There’s a big difference. Things that happen to cells in a plastic dish—say, when you add an ingredient found in a dietary supplement to them—aren’t representative of what will happen to a person consuming those supplements. We have to consider the physiological relevance and limitations of a study when we analyze the data (findings which are often used by scientists to determine further avenues of exploration, or to add, piecemeal, to the picture of how biology works).

Huberman often doesn’t do that. Instead, he extrapolates non-human data to people, using in vitro studies, or in vivo studies on non-human animals, to make prescriptive recommendations for lifestyle changes. He cherry-picks weak or irrelevant studies while discarding larger and more robust studies that demonstrate something different. If you’re not conducting research or regularly dissecting scientific studies, this might not be obvious. But to scientists, it is.

Take an episode on how cortisol and adrenaline can boost energy and immune function.
He calls sleep ‘the ultimate reset’ for the body following a stressful day (who can disagree?). Then, he goes on to tout ashwagandha supplements as basically a miracle panacea for stress. According to him, it ‘has a profound effect on anxiety,’ and can reduce stress, cortisol, and even depression. He goes further, extrapolating cellular mechanisms to suggest ashwagandha may trigger a range of downstream effects, improving vision, cardiovascular health, sleep, and memory. These are a lot of bold claims.

Upon my own literature review, I found in vitro studies using rat neurons, rat studies that included behavior assessment, and some other in vitro studies. Human data provides a conflicting and more limited picture: A 2012 study that suggested it can improve chronic stress had just 64 participants. A meta-analysis, pooling data from five small randomized controlled trials, found that it might help with sleep, particularly in people with insomnia, but found ‘no significant effect on quality of life.’ Another noted the supplement ‘significantly reduced anxiety,’ which refers to statistical significance, not clinical relevance. If you look at the data, the sample sizes are small and outcomes rely on self-reported symptoms. The overall assessment concluded that there is weak confidence in the link to ashwagandha, which warrants ‘further high-quality studies.’ I wouldn’t suggest anyone bank their health on this stuff. It also has documented evidence of harm. But Huberman tells his listeners that ashwagandha ‘comes through as the heavy hitter,’ alongside a liability caveat: ‘You’re responsible for making sure [supplements are] safe for you if you decide to use them.’

In another episode, there was an error so obvious that it would have been comical if it hadn’t been so misleading. Huberman was joined by Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist with a history of making hyperbolic claims about nutrition, like calling sugar a ‘poison.’ Lustig references a study to claim ultraprocessed food consumption inhibits bone growth. Huberman asks, ‘Was this in vitro or in vivo?,’ to which Lustig replies, ‘In vivo.’ Huberman exclaims: ‘So these are people that are eating high amounts of highly processed food; exactly how did [the researcher] find those in the Middle East?’ Lustig answered: ‘In Israel.’

While ‘in vivo’ can technically refer to a study done in people—we are animals—the study Lustig was referring to was actually in rats. To claim that the results have a direct relevance to people is a wild misinterpretation of data. (And the truth around ultraprocessed foods is complex.) But Huberman presents his conclusions as if they are facts, and so his listeners trust him.

Huberman also uses false balance: the fallacy that equal and opposite sides always exist. Take his thoughts on fluoride. While fluoride has been used for decades to prevent dental disease, Huberman gives the impression that there is an ongoing debate among experts about its use, and reasons for his listeners to be careful of how much fluoride-containing tap water they consume.  During his oral health podcast episode, Huberman undermines consensus data on fluoride, endorses fluoride-free toothpastes as well as a yerba maté tea company that uses fluoride-free water (and which he is a business partner of), and cites a dentist who spreads fear about fluoride as his expert reference. Huberman positions this for his listeners as ‘information to make the best decision,’ as though we all need to be carefully thinking about our fluoride levels.

An episode he did on colds and flu was so littered with falsehoods that I dissected it in a four-part newsletter on my Substack, ImmunoLogic. He advertised the episode as ‘science-backed’ methods to prevent colds and the flu, but he announced he does not get the flu vaccine, the No. 1 thing that prevents flu. A scientist waving aside the most science-backed measure to prevent the flu is not providing credible advice. Huberman claimed that the flu vaccine can be ‘completely ineffective’ if it does not protect against the strain of flu circulating that year, noting that he often does not get the shot himself. Here’s how those vaccines actually work, though: Flu vaccines include four different flu strains: two influenza A and two influenza B viruses, which are selected from flu virus surveillance. While there are more possible flu virus strains, vaccination still provides broad protection against illness, hospitalization, and death from any flu viruses because of the polyclonal memory immunity we generate. Even if you get infected with a different strain of the flu, if you’ve been vaccinated, it will make illness easier to weather than it would have been otherwise.

From basic Immunology 101 to how vaccines work, virology, and the public health impact of influenza, that episode was littered with falsehoods. He even—in that same episode—botched the relationship between exercise, cortisol, and immune function, and said antibodies are produced by stem cells in bone marrow. They are actually produced by B cells in our lymphoid organs, a fact which is fundamental to immunology. (He publicly replied in an Instagram comment that he consulted three MDs for the podcast episode, which is not actually that relevant; doctors know a lot—but they’re not inherently experts in immunology.)

This brings us to the conflicts of interest: his sponsors. Having a paid sponsor isn’t a disqualifier in and of itself. But when your financial conflicts of interest seem to dictate your content, it should be. After dismissing legitimate data in the flu episode, his lengthy ‘science-backed’ discussion to prevent colds and the flu boiled down to an extended commercial for taking supplements. Huberman is sponsored by Athletic Greens, which sells a supplement powder called AG1, which promises to ‘support immunity’ and ‘promote gut health.’ One easily gets the idea listening to Huberman that taking supplements of all sorts is very, very beneficial to your health.

But steering your listeners into the wide and unregulated world of supplements is bad. At best, most supplements do nothing. At worst, they can be harmful, potentially fatal. Supplements, thanks to a fun legal loophole, can be sold without the burden of safety and efficacy data that Food and Drug Administration–approved medications must generate. Aside from certain instances where a specific supplement would be recommended by a doctor for a medical issue, there is no body of evidence to support supplements. No credible scientist should repeatedly tell you to buy and consume a special supplement drink, just in case.

The problem with health misinformation is that it often misleads people to do things that are ineffective or potentially harmful—while discouraging them from evidence-based interventions. Those who believe in one piece of health misinformation are more likely to believe others. There is a direct relationship between wellness behaviors like buying supplements and believing medical conspiracies. Though, yes, Huberman actively promotes medical conspiracies too. On the episode with Lustig, he suggests that 93 percent of Americans are ‘inflamed’ and have leaky gut, a pseudoscience diagnosis promoted by the wellness industry. (I have discussed the issues with that here.) His endorsement will only propagate that misinformation.

Biology is complex, and we don’t have every answer to everything. Issues with our health care system compound the frustration, and even desperation. But wellness products aren’t a solution: They are an exploitation. Wellness influencers like Huberman pit their solutions against conventional science and medicine to sell unproven interventions that are expensive, have no benefit, can lead you to delay real medical treatment, or be actively harmful.

As a scientist and science communicator, it saddens me. Huberman could be improving health outcomes, science literacy, and critical thinking, but instead, he chased fame and wellness fortune, à la Mehmet Oz. The $5.6 trillion global market of wellness persuaded Huberman to contribute to misinformation, not combat it.

Huberman has a massive following and influence. He doesn’t use the responsibility as someone trained in science to be accurate and reliable. Instead, he promotes pseudoscience while eroding public trust in legitimate science and robust scientific agencies.

There isn’t an easy fix. We must shift the paradigm. Too many people confuse celebrity with expertise. Rebuilding trust and science literacy will be an ongoing effort, especially when falsehoods spread faster than facts. Further, we need people to understand that scientific expertise doesn’t transfer to every field. If someone presents themselves asan expert in too broad a topic range or topics outside their expertise, be wary. We need good scientists and medical professionals sharing robust data, and we need resources to do that, and for those with platforms and influence to elevate it. In the meantime, listeners should be wary of anyone rocketing up the podcast charts by sharing easy, simple fixes.


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