‘You Do Not Need Glasses’: A Wellness Coach’s Bogus Claim — And Its 100-Year History

Lifestyle

“What’s the one thing that your optometrist doesn’t want you to know about?” asks a “human optimization specialist” who goes by the name Samantha Lotus in a recent video on her Instagram account. “The fact that you do not need glasses,” she answers, removing a pair from her own face.

Lotus goes on to explain that it’s “a lie” when eye doctors tell patients they require corrective lenses because, in fact, poor vision is caused by “mental, emotional, physical, and even spiritual” factors which can be “healed.” To that end, she offers a Vision Healing Masterclass for $11, in which she claims students will learn how to “truly see” through a “holistic multidimensional” process.

The strange clip gained viral attention thanks to scrutiny from @this_is_mallory, who prefers to be identified only by her social media handles and describes herself as a “skeptic” passionate about identifying wellness misinformation, as well as how it spreads online.

Her curiosity piqued by Lotus’ anti-glasses take, @this_is_mallory signed up for Lotus’ Zoom vision class. Before longs, she says, she deduced that it was, at least in part, a setup to pitch doTERRA Essential Oils, as she detailed in a viral thread on X, formerly Twitter. Lotus is a sales rep for the multi-level marketing company, according to a list of active members on their website. Earlier this year, it was hit with an FTC fine over misleading claims that their supplements could prevent, cure, or treat Covid-19. (It’s unclear if Lotus, whose Instagram is now private, made any such claims.)

In a reply to @this_is_mallory, the brand seemed to acknowledge that Lotus may have been exaggerating the benefits of their products by saying they could help improve vision, and elsewhere noted that their compliance team was looking into her endorsement. In a statement to Rolling Stone, the doTERRA communications team reiterates that their oils cannot treat disease and that they “have taken immediate action to review any of the distributor’s statements that may not comply with our policies and relevant legal requirements. They added that the company “will also consider and impose remedial or disciplinary actions consistent with our distributor compliance policies.”

Lotus says the masterclass grew out of her own personal experience. “I was prescribed glasses in my late teens and a few years later was able to stop needing them, due to various changes I had made,” she tells Rolling Stone in a statement. These changes included: “Reducing stress, eye exercises, reduced screen time and blue light exposure, improved diet and more sleep.” She notes that “medical doctors and other teachers,” like neuroscientist Andrew Huberman, who hosts the popular health podcast Huberman Lab, “share about vision improvement openly.” Given such educational material, she says, she finds it “so fascinating and a little flabbergasting” that her own claims have caused such an “uproar.”

The difference, perhaps, is that Huberman also happens to be a professor of ophthalmology, and in no way hints that eye doctors are tricking patients into wearing glasses. Lotus, by contrast, says that in her training course, she makes it “explicitly clear that this is not medical advise [sic], I am not a doctor, and that this is for holistic educational purposes.” Some of the ground she covers is uncontroversial: nutrition and stress both affect how well we see, reduced screen time and eye stretches are good for your vision — Lotus shares a long list of studies demonstrating as much. Clearly, however, it’s the glasses comment and the endorsement of essential oils (Lotus says she gives clients a “disclaimer of how, when and why someone could potentially benefit” from these products) that triggered this controversy.  

As Lotus’ original video and materials from her masterclass made the rounds, she began leveling legal threats at @this_is_mallory, who tells Rolling Stone that she is “consulting with legal counsel” in the matter and therefore not commenting further at present. Lotus also started pushing back against misinformation-debunking influencers, such as cardiologist Dr. Siyab Panhwar, who described her claims as a “bullshit grift” on both TikTok and Instagram, referring to both those comments and criticism from @this_is_mallory as “wildly untrue accusations and misrepresentations.” Lotus’ critics in the medical profession also included Dr. Harbir Sian, an optometrist who discusses eye health on The 20/20 Podcast. “Look, I’m always open to discussing holistic treatments,” he wrote in the caption to his own Instagram video challenging Lotus’ ideas. But, he said, her broad and unspecific approach to the issue of eyesight “is harmful to patients and the medical system as a whole.”

Lotus sees herself as the victim of an unfair pile-on, but after days of backlash, she went into retreat mode. “I have removed all public-facing materials used during my training and I am reviewing the presentation, sources and studies cited to ensure the materials presented are compliant and safe,” she tells Rolling Stone.

Healthcare practitioners battling falsehoods that spread on social media is par for the course in the pandemic age, but you might imagine this anti-glasses sentiment is something new from the “alternative medicine” community. In fact, like anti-vaccine propaganda, it has a surprisingly long history, dating back at least a century. Much of it derives from the common misconception that wearing glasses weakens your eyes over time, making them more reliant on lenses. There is no evidence for this, and typically, if a patient’s prescription gets stronger over time, it’s because of a predictable, age-related decline in vision.

Moreover, those issues aren’t resolved by the alternative therapies Lotus advocates for. “It is completely false to believe that any sort of natural products or behavioral changes or unapproved medications or treatments, regardless of what they are, and in any way, replace the need for glasses, contact lenses, or surgery to correct refractive errors,” Dr. Houman Hemmati, an ophthalmologist who teaches at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. He’s also specifically worked on the development of pharmaceutical drugs designed to reduce the need for glasses in patients with vision loss.

“When we have any refractive error, such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and/or presbyopia, which is age-related loss of reading vision, this is an optical issue,” Hemmati explains. “It occurs because the rays of light are not focused directly onto the retina, which is like the film, in the back of the eye that senses the light, and sends the signal to the brain, or the images are irregularly shaped or blurred when they are focused onto the retina. Thus far, the only known and approved way to bypass the use of any physical or optical methods to correct refractive errors has been the use of Vuity eye drops (which, incidentally, I helped develop a decade ago) from AbbVie. Vuity causes the pupil to shrink into a pinhole, causing the light to focus on the retina for patients with presbyopia, which can reduce the need for reading glasses.”

Still, contrarians have been known to resist that understanding of ocular impairment. The most influential of these thinkers was William Bates, a physician who in 1920 published a book titled The Cure of Imperfect Sight by Treatment Without Glasses. Bates believed conditions like myopia were not physiological in nature but the result of “strain” and “wrong habits of thought.” Furthermore, he held that corrective lenses, by enforcing such mental errors, would actually harm a patient. “It is fortunate that many people for whom glasses have been prescribed refuse to wear them,” he wrote, “thus escaping not only much discomfort but also much injury to their eyes.”

Bates’ system, which he falsely declared could even cure glaucoma and other diseases, found a receptive audience in the public and writer Aldous Huxley, who wrote in his own 1942 book, The Art of Seeing, that after trying these techniques, his vision was “twice as good as it used to be when I wore spectacles.” This was despite Bates being widely discredited by the medical establishment in his own day and for decades to come. A subsequent abridged version of Bates’ book, Better Eyesight Without Glasses, omitted his more outlandish recommendations (the original Bates Method, for example, advocated for staring directly at the sun). Meanwhile, a 1956 volume, The Truth About Eye Exercises, sought to refute Bates point by point, once and for all.

Yet Bates’ pseudoscience was continually rehashed by disciples over the years, and it endures in self-published materials today: You Don’t Need Your Glasses or Contacts: Natural Ways to Correct Your Vision Without Drugs or Corrective Lenses is a 2015 guide by former NFL player turned chiropractor Dr. John DeWitt that has dozens of positive reviews on Amazon, where readers note that he is a proponent of the Bates Method. (Chiropractors, of course, are not medical doctors, let alone eye specialists.) And the exercises Bates described are taught around the world by hundreds of holistic therapists affiliated with Bates Method International, which continues to train even more of these teachers. Naturally, like Samantha Lotus, a good number of them are peddling their remedies on social media.

So while Lotus may have hit upon a clever way to leverage the anti-glasses movement, her viral video is only a novel twist on an age-old formula. People will always want a quick and easy fix for what ails them, with others always promising that very miracle. If you stop for a closer look, you’ll see right through them.  

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