Kale is Still Good – Junk Science Takes the Internet

kale cesar

Kale is not filled with thallium – it is good for you, in spite of the internet going into a frenzy over junk science.

The rumors started when an “alternative medical practitioner” learned about thallium poisoning, and its rather non-specific symptoms. Those symptoms include chronic fatigue, skin and hair issues, foggy thinking, and a whole host of problems that are consistent with heavy metal poisoning. He also discovered that heavy metals are taken up by brassica vegetables (kale, broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts) – so he put two and two together and came up with seventeen.

The alternative practitioner, one, Ernie Hubbard of Marine County, got the attention of Mother Jones and their headline was that this “molecular biologist” discovered the correlation – and off went the internet.


Lab Doesn’t Confirm Your Results – Find a Lab that does

Hubbard sent his samples to a number of laboratories until he found one that got the result he wanted. That is not how science is done. You get the result that you get, and if it disproves you, then you move on.

Hubbard found a lab that did – called “Doctors Data” which has been the involved in lawsuits and known to mislead the public. They are known to show people have “toxins” in order to peddle “detox” regimens.  (see references below).

Thallium and illness

When someone has a “non specific” symptom, you don’t make a diagnosis because of the last paper you might have read. You make a diagnosis based upon a physical examination, often you need laboratory back-up (blood work, urine analysis), and sometimes other modalities like radiology. Hubbard never made the diagnosis in these individuals. This may be because Hubbard is not a physician. In fact he is not a “molecular biologist,” he has no degree beyond a bachelor’s degree in science.

In highly polluted waters, crops have been known to accumulate Thallium, one report out of China where wastewater was used to irrigate crops came from a sulfuric acid plant and there were high levels of thallium that exceeded the US EPA standards. China has had issues with pollution, and is the source of most reports for heavy metal.

In the United Kingdom, where this was tested, thallium, and other heavy metals have decreased over time as improved environmental standards have provided less exposure to the public. In the United States thallium exposure and toxicity is not been reported. So did Hubbard find something new? Most likely not. In fact, considering that most labs did not find this as an issue should reassure most.

How Much Kale Is Bad 

If you live downstream from a factory that is spewing out heavy metals including thallium and are growing Kale, you probably should move, and not eat kale, or anything from those polluted waters. If you live almost anywhere else, Kale will, along with other plants, pull up some heavy metals from the soil, but to exceed the limits you would have to eat about one hundred pounds of kale a day for a year. That is a lot of smoothies.

Lessons we learn

Critical thinking is not a part of alternative medicine’s basis. We knew this- that is why they treat with “alternative” medicine. If their medicine worked we would call it “conventional” medicine. Oh – the alternative practitioner did want to sell a detoxification to his clients- which, by the way, would not detoxify someone with thallium poisoning.

Science and medicine reporting in journalism continues to be at an all time low. A skeptical eye is needed in journalism – and certainly with reporting science.  This even happens with the New York Times when they reported that the Mediterranean Diet reduces heart attacks (when the study statistics were clearly manipulated for that).

Eat Kale

Eat some kale, in fact, tonight I am having a kale Cesar salad from Tarbell’s restaurant.

Don’t Eat Junk Food

With the reports showing that diets high in sugar, low fat affect the brain – I would think that Kale is high on the list and sugar is low on the list of things to be eating — now that would have been worthy of Mother Jones reporting.



Health risks of thallium in contaminated arable soils and food crops irrigated with wastewater from a sulfuric acid plant in western Guangdong province, China.Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2013 Apr;90:76-81.  C1, Chen Y, Liu J, Wang J, Li X, Zhang Y, Liu Y. PMID: 23321363

Dietary exposure to metals and other elements in the 2006 UK Total Diet Study and some trends over the last 30 years.Food Addit Contam Part A Chem Anal Control Expo Risk Assess. 2010 Oct;27(10):1380-404. Rose M, Baxter M, Brereton N, Baskaran C. PMID: 20628929

Relationships between diet-related changes in the gut microbiome and cognitive flexibility.Neuroscience. 2015 Aug 6;300:128-40.Magnusson KR1, Hauck L2, Jeffrey BM3, Elias V4, Humphrey A5, Nath R6, Perrone A7, Bermudez LE8.PMID: 25982560

Doctors Data, Inc:

Below cited from Quackwatch

Since 2008, four people who were victimized by chelationists using DDI’s urine toxic metals test have filed lawsuits against DDI as well as the practitioners.

In 2008, Rick Pfister filed a class action suit charging that he was improperly given chelation therapy after being improperly diagnosed with a urine toxic metals test. The complaint states that his urine was tested after he received an injection of DMPS and alleges that the test report was “negligent or fraudulent” because it compared his results to unprovoked sample ranges. The defendants are Doctor’s Data, the Medical Wellness Institute, and the doctor who administered the test [15]. The court granted Doctor’s Data’s motion to dismiss in 2012.
In July 2009, 43-year-old Ronald Stemp sued in a suit against a clinic and two staff members, charged Doctor’s Data with fraud and conspiracy. The suit spells out in detail how the urine toxic metals test was used to falsely diagnose Stemp with heavy metal poisoning and persuade him to undergo intravenous chelation therapy. Stemp’s insurance company was reportedly billed for a total of $180,000 [16].
In November 2009, Ardis Morschladt, in a suit against several practitioners and a clinic in California, charged Doctor’s Data with negligence, intentional misrepresentation, and conspiracy to commit fraud because its test report compared a provoked test result with a nonprovoked standard [17]. The case was settled out of court with separate agreements by all of the defendants.
In March 2010, James Coman filed suit on behalf of his 7-year-old son against two physicians and Doctor’s Data. Among other things, the complaint indicated that—based on the results of provoked urine testing—the boy was inappropriately treated for nonexistent metal toxicity for more than four years [18].
Rick Pfister v. Treatment facility, Lab facility, Physician. Marion Superior Court No. 10 Cause No. 49D10-0802-CT-005046. Filed Feb 1, 2008.
Barrett S. CARE Clinics, Doctor’s Data, sued for fraud. Casewatch, July 15, 2009.
Complaint for damages. Ardis and Henry Morschladt vs. Alireza Panahpour, DDS et al. Orange County Superior Court Case No. 30-2009-00323131, filed Nov 24, 2009.
Complaint for damages. James Coman v. Anju Usman, MD et al. Cook County Circuit Court, Case No. 2010L002776, March 3, 2010.

Dr. Terry Simpson About Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and received his MD. Dr. Simpson, a renowned weight loss surgeon, is a leading advocate of culinary medicine. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.