The Happy Pear twins have been criticised for promoting a ‘nonsense’ theory that ‘irresponsibly’ linked antibiotics to depression.
Doctors have warned that the claim has no scientific basis and could stop people seeking life-saving treatment.
Influencer twins David and Stephen Flynn, who set up their lifestyle and food brand in Greystones, Co Wicklow, in 2004, came in for major criticism last year when they claimed mushrooms could prevent breast cancer.
In a post to their Instagram page this week, the brothers – who have over 605,000 followers on the platform– promoted a podcast interview they held with American physician Dr Zach Bush.
Dr Bush stated: ‘One course of antibiotics, my risk of major depression in the next 12 months goes up by 24%.
‘Two courses of antibiotics in a year is a 45% increase in anxiety disorders, 52% in depression.
‘Your inability to be joyful, your inability to have pleasure [is harmed] because you took an antibiotic,’ he added.
Writing on Instagram, the twins said that while ‘antibiotics can be wonderful, life-saving medicines’ the interview ‘highlights some of the negative affects they can also have’ and raised questions ‘over usage/prescription’.
Dr Bush, described as a ‘health guru’, has a website selling gut and skin support supplements and in the past has linked gut health to autism.
Dr Denis McCauley, GP and vice-president of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), said the claims made by Dr Bush were ‘nonsense’.
He said he would hate to see such misinformation prevent someone from getting a potentially life-saving antibiotic.
Dr McCauley explained: ‘There is absolutely no scientific research behind this. There is absolutely no association between antibiotics and depression.’
He said that, used correctly, antibiotics had played a major role in treating secondary infections during the Covid pandemic, and more recently had proved vital in treating serious Strep A infection. ‘Naturally, you have to respect antibiotic use, but when used appropriately they can be lifesaving,’ he said. ‘This claim is irrational, and to call a spade a spade, is nonsense. Antibiotics in their place are very, very useful, and I would hate to see an irrational barrier stop someone having potentially life-saving treatment.’
David Robert Grimes, an Irish science writer, gave the example of drownings and ice-cream sales both increasing during summer time, but not because they were in any way linked. Because a person on anti-depressants was also on antibiotics, that was not proof that one caused the other, he said.
He said depression was a complicated multi-factoral illness and that it was ‘foolish’ to attribute it to a single cause. ‘Even if there was a weak, short-term link between antibiotics and depression, it is important to remember that we use antibiotics because they save lives,’ he added. ‘Demonising them is a foolish thing to do.’
Mr Grimes added that the fact that the person making the claim had a medical degree did not mean what they said was true.
‘They sell a lot of supplements and a lot of questionable advice as well. Please never take your health or medical advice from influencers or people trying to sell you things,’ he said.
Other doctors also raised their objections on social media. Dr Niamh Lynch, a paediatric doctor from Cork, said: ‘When your product is “wellness” and you have a huge following then there is a sort of social contract there, that you wouldn’t do anything to put your followers in harm’s way.
‘You wouldn’t do that, because you know amongst your half a million or so followers, there are bound to be some vulnerable people. People who would hate to fall back into depression. People who might refuse a necessary antibiotic because of the fear you may just have activated.’
Dr Afif El Khuffash, Clinical Professor of Paediatrics and co-host of The Baby Tribe podcast, branded the post ‘very irresponsible’.
The brothers said in a statement: ‘The Happy Pear acknowledges that some of the content in a recent reel post across some of our social media platforms in relation to a podcast with US-based Dr Zach Bush MD, has caused offence, with some statements not given the appropriate qualification or context.
’It was never the intention to mislead or to misinform and we sincerely apologise for any offence caused… We will endeavour to ensure that this does not happen again.’