March 25, 2022 — Jen Gunter, MD, refuses to stay silent when she sees misleading claims about women’s health products.
In fact, the world’s most famous — and outspoken — OB/GYN (as described by The Guardian), is on a social media mission to speak up whenever she sees companies or governments “prey on women’s health and vaginal shame.”
With nearly 400,000 followers, Gunter never shies away from a controversy.
Just this week, she railed against vitamin and supplement maker Olly’s vaginal probiotic, taking the company to task for its product premise and objectionable ad copy.
WebMD caught up with the San Francisco-based doctor and author of two books, The Vagina Bible and The Menopause Manifesto. The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
WebMD: So these Olly capsules purport to be “Probiotics for Your Panty Hamster.” What was your reaction to this?
Gunter: Seeing the word “panty hamsters” is so egregious. I’m so used to baseline vaginal opportunism, but this was just absolutely egregious and I had to call it out.
WebMD: What are vaginal probiotics anyway?
Gunter: These are one of these big wellness scams where companies try to sell you on somehow hacking your microbiome by taking them. They’re not inexpensive, either, and can range in price from $30 to $150 per month, depending on how bespoke they are. And yet the data isn’t good. There is little to no evidence of the value of these probiotics except to shareholders.
WebMD: What’s one claim made in the Olly probiotic packaging that bothers you the most?
Gunter: The product claims to balance the vaginal pH. To say that is a gross misunderstanding of the vaginal ecosystem. If that tagline is what you’re leading with, what else don’t you know?
Also, if these things worked, we’d recommend them. Vaginitis is complex and often misdiagnosed, and it’s easy for a company to be predatory and swoop in and say they have a product for you.
If I think your product for the vagina is awful and you have not studied it in at least one quality clinical trial (never mind company-funded or not), and your marketing displays a stunning ignorance about vaginal health, don’t approach me about your product. Really.
WebMD: When there’s a pop culture reference to, say, menstruation, you’re quick to weigh in.
Gunter: I saw these viral messages from a boy mom (that’s what she called herself) where she wrote about being disgusted that there were mentions of periods in Turning Red, the animated movie.
Everything is here because of menstruation. If you didn’t menstruate, you wouldn’t have a kid, we wouldn’t have the person who had the intelligence to build the computer you’re spreading this message on. Menstruation is a vital part of human reproduction, and it’s far more complex than people think. For that reason alone, people should know about it
WebMD: Do you ever get worried about being so “out there” on social media?
Gunter: I have my stalkers I suppose, but the trolls don’t bother me. I don’t care if some whatever art dealer in New York thinks I have mental illness for promoting masks. That’s the best you’ve got? Honestly, this doesn’t even register with me. It’s like throwing a grain of sand at a car.
WebMD: You also got into an exchange with Dr. Leana Wen, CNN’s medical analyst, about mask wearing.
Gunter: She obviously has a different opinion than I do. I think one of the biggest issues in the pandemic is the change in messaging and this idea that somehow people aren’t living their normal lives right now. I was sad to see her promote that concept.
This weekend I went out for lunch, I went furniture shopping, I went to the movies, I took a hike. My family and I wear masks everywhere. I fail to understand how wearing a mask means you’re not living a normal life when it’s clearly linked with the reduced spread of the virus.
Almost everything in medicine is about risk reduction. You can do things to lower your risk of heart disease. It’s not 100% guaranteed, but wouldn’t we want a lower risk of bad things? I’m going to keep wearing a mask forever!
WebMD: Do you wish more doctors were more vocal like you?
Gunter: I wish more doctors would have conversations about health outside of the office in ways they’re comfortable with. Like, you’re at the hairdresser and you share information, or you share information with 15 of your Facebook friends. If you’re a doctor and post an article about COVID-19 and how it impacts the heart, your 15 friends are more likely to read that article than if your friend who’s a lawyer puts that up.
As doctors, I believe we can often influence people in big and small ways.