There is plenty of misleading and inaccurate medical information online. As a general rule, I advise against Googling symptoms, as it is rarely productive and will typically lead to stressful (and usually false) conclusions. There’s also just plain bogus information. And in some cases, entirely fictional conditions arise and gain momentum.

Let’s consider two completely fake, yet surprisingly popular, diagnoses: “Leaky Gut Syndrome” and “Candida overgrowth.” A simple Google search will return hundreds of webpages discussing these alleged conditions, many from supposed Experts and Institutes. However, these conditions have essentially no medical basis and are basically a means for selling expensive supplements and touted treatments.

“Leaky Gut” advocates claim that increased permeability in the intestinal lining leads to movement of substances from the bowel into the bloodstream. Things like bacteria, toxins, and debris. They propose that this leads to numerous symptoms and conditions, from digestive (bloating, gas, IBS), to fatigue, depression, acne, and autoimmunity. It’s an attractive storyline, but unfortunately it has no scientific basis. Intestinal permeability is tightly regulated, and rarely fails, outside of severe inflammation (such as untreated Crohn’s disease) or advanced illness (such as cirrhosis). There isn’t a single scientific study supporting the concept of Leaky Gut. It generally falls under the category of alternative medicine, but most sites state that “a growing body of medical literature” supports the concept. Not really. A rapidly growing body of websites does, however. And most are selling expensive “treatments” for the disorder.

“Candida Overgrowth” is another fake diagnosis, though far more ridiculous than even the Leaky Gut creation. The claim here is that yeast (particularly Candida) becomes overgrown in the intestines, resulting in any number of very common symptoms: fatigue, bloating, constipation, allergies, mood swings, eczema, and sugar cravings. Sounds suspicious, doesn’t it? There is absolutely no scientific basis for this condition. Candida is a normal component of our intestinal flora (made up of trillions of organisms including bacteria and yeasts). Unless you are severely ill, Candida doesn’t cause a systemic problem. Hyping Candida as a source of symptoms is convenient, because everyone actually has Candida within their gut. And that’s normal and healthy. Perhaps the best part of the Candida Overgrowth scam is the diagnostic test of choice– the “candida spit test” – possibly the most comical test in medical quackery.

It’s easy to challenge alternative medicine, but these claims fall outside of alternative, and land within the realm of fraud. They are a means for selling expensive supplements, books, and pseudo-knowledge, all of which has the potential for financial and physical harm.

As always, proceed with caution when reading medical information on the Internet. And know your source.

-Christopher McGowan, MD, MSCR