Well, not exactly “no comment.” You know that Orac, being the annoyingly obnoxious skeptic that he is, has to put at least two cents in.

This one’s just plain odd. I knew Rosie O’Donnell’s not exactly the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, and she also borders on being a creduloid, at least with respect to almost buying the myth that mercury in vaccines causes autism (although she does get props for slapping down David Kirby) and waxing antivax about Gardasil, the new vaccine against human papilloma virus. But last week, she revealed that she has been using “inversion therapy” for years to battle depression.

What is “inversion therapy”? It’s hanging upside down for 15-30 minutes a day. Is there any evidence that this does anything for depression? In a word, no. Nor is there any evidence that it “really releases the serotonin,” as Rosie claims.

Now, given Rosie’s level of intellect, one might argue that anything that produces more blood flow to her brain, even for less than a half hour a day, would be a good thing (although in reality it probably does nothing more than slightly increase intracerebral pressure by impeding venous return without producing any increase in blood flow to the brain; our vascular system is designed to provide blood flow to the brain while the head is above the level of the heart, after all). Unfortunately, the fact that she’s using her celebrity to push a dubious and unproven “treatment” for depression is just as bad as Oprah Winfrey credulously lapping up what psychics have been laying down and shamelessly plugging what looks to be 2007’s big entry in the sweepstakes for destroying what little is left of skeptical thought in this country, The Secret. It’s depressing. Oprah, at least, should know better. At least Rosie, unlike many who use conventional therapy and alternative therapy, doesn’t attribute her recovery only to the alternative therapy:

Anyone concerned about the stigma of taking medication for depression should know that “it saved my life,” she said.

When she began taking antidepressants, O’Donnell, 44, said she began yoga and “inversion therapy,” where she hangs upside down by a swing for 15 to 30 minutes a day.

I’ll at least give her that much credit.

One thing that lifts my depression at the state of critical thinking in this country is to look at Rosie, actually demonstrating her “inversion therapy”:



  1. #1 Prup aka Jim Benton
    March 10, 2007

    The only comments I can make were made by Charles Dodgson:

    “‘You are old, Father William,’ the young man said, ‘And your hair has become very white; And yet you incessantly stand on your head– Do you think, at your age, it is right?’

    ‘In my youth,’ Father William replied to his son, ‘I feared it might injure the brain; But, now that I’m perfectly sure I have none, Why, I do it again and again.’

    ‘You are old,’ said the youth, ‘as I mentioned before, And have grown most uncommonly fat; Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door– Pray, what is the reason of that?’

    ‘In my youth,’ said the sage, as he shook his grey locks, ‘I kept all my limbs very supple By the use of this ointment–one shilling the box– Allow me to sell you a couple?’

  2. #2 Justin Moretti
    March 10, 2007

    There is hope; a tiny little foot in the door for rationalism and medical therapy – even if it is accompanied by woo.

    Slightly off the topic, I have posted a link to your homepage from my weblog, and referred to it in glowing terms. We may not agree on all things, but I think we do concur on the ones that really count.

  3. #3 anjou
    March 10, 2007

    Oh geesh, first…Tom Cruise, now this…. As a psychologist, I now look forward to patients asking why I don’t have this idiotic swing in my office????

    On the plus side, all this celebrity discussion of depression, and the media backlash against some of the crazier publicity, does bring it out in the open, and make folks aware that others suffer too. Can only hope that this further helps to reduce the stigma and get folks to seek legitimate help and not feel they have to “tough it out.” Unfortunately, perhaps also putting money in the pockets of the idiot marketers of this stupid inversion swing.

  4. #4 Oom Lout
    March 10, 2007

    She’s using it wrong. It’s supposed to work like this:


  5. #5 Bartholomew Cubbins
    March 10, 2007

    This guy disagrees.

  6. #6 James
    March 10, 2007

    Is this a case of sympathetic magicical thinking I wonder?

    As in: turn that frown upside down?

  7. #7 epador
    March 11, 2007

    I suppose it does both remove he strain on Cooper’s Ligaments temporarily, as well as stretch those lumbar and thoracic ligaments. That might lead to some denial if not antidepressant effects.

  8. #8 Interrobang
    March 11, 2007

    Hey, I can totally see how that would relieve non-biochemical depression. I’d be laughing my head off the whole time. That looks fun… Sort of like a for adults, only upside-down.

  9. #9 Interrobang
    March 11, 2007

    Argh, I munged the link somehow. That should say “a Jolly Jumper for adults.” *mutter grump*

  10. #10 Graculus
    March 11, 2007

    Hey, it’s gotta be legit. Ever met a depressed bat?

  11. #11 mark
    March 11, 2007

    Yes, I’ll open an office and install one of these. And advise patients that they must fill their pockets with change before undergoing this therapy.

  12. #12 Sastra
    March 11, 2007

    I suppose there might be several reasons “inversion therapy” could actually work:

    1.) It makes you slow down and take time for yourself for 15 to 30 minutes a day. For someone with a highly stressful, intense schedule (ie Rosie), this could be useful.
    2.) It makes you focus on the importance of “feeling better” and distracts you from problems, since you can’t really do a lot of heavy intellectual lifting while you’re dangling.
    3.) Hanging upside down is such a child-like, wacky thing to do it’s sure to force you out of thinking of yourself as a dreary person in a boring rut.
    4.) It feels so good when you stop, it’s easy to mistake that for the “head rush” of euphoria.
    5.) Any and all other placebo factors can come into play, since, unlike many other medical problems, if you really feel as if you’re not depressed anymore, then you’re not.

    None of this would effect serious, full-blown clinical depression, of course, but I could see it working for a chronic case of the blahs.

  13. #13 Alan
    March 12, 2007

    Hmmm, I wasn’t sure that the “serotonin-lack” theory of depression held much water anyway. There was an interesting PLOS-medicine article on this a while back and IIRC giving extra serotonin to depressed people did not have the same effect as SSRIs or other antidepressants. The companies advertising their medications as “rebalancing” your brain chemistry came in for quite a drubbing for oversimplifying the method of action, which remains pretty mysterious.

  14. #14 SarahBeth
    March 12, 2007

    Actually Prup,

    It was written by Lewis Carroll

    “You are old, father William,” the young man said,
    “And your hair has become very white;
    And yet you incessantly stand on your head–
    Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

    “In my youth,” father William replied to his son,
    “I feared it might injure the brain;
    But, now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
    Why, I do it again and again.”

    “You are old,” said the youth, “as I mentioned before,
    And you have grown most uncommonly fat;
    Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door–
    Pray what is the reason for that?”

    “In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
    “I kept all my limbs very supple
    By the use of this ointment – one shilling a box–
    Allow me to sell you a couple?”

    “You are old,” said the youth, “and your jaws are too weak
    For anything tougher than suet;
    Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak–
    Pray, how did you manage to do it?”

    “In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
    And argued each case with my wife;
    And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,
    Has lasted the rest of my life.”

    “You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
    That your eye was as steady as ever;
    Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose–
    What made you so awfully clever?”

    “I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
    Said his father. “Don’t give yourself airs!
    Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
    Be off, or I’ll kick you down stairs.

    I think I’ll ask my psychiatrist if my depression could be lifted by standing on my head for 30 minutes a day. I rather think he’d prefer to use a proven treatment, like adding Lamictal to my med regimen.

  15. #15 Phobos
    March 12, 2007

    …our vascular system is designed …

    Oh, now you’ve done it. 😉

  16. #16 DaveW
    March 13, 2007

    SarahBeth: Both you and Prup are right: Lewis Carroll was the pen name of Charles Dodgson.

  17. #17 Sonya
    March 13, 2007

    Wait a minute, I expected that link to go somewhere reporting a study on inversion therapy that showed it didn’t work. It went instead to a link that said it has never been tested.

    I also doubt it release serotonin. That’s clearly silly. However, since the mechanism of SSRIs is unknown – in fact it’s not even know if they actually raise serotonin levels or some something interesting to the serotonin receptors — I’m not sure that matters.

    If this works, it might be as simple as why exercise works. And exercise *has* been tested as a treatment for depressions and found to rival, and often surpass, drugs or psychotherapy.

    I’m not saying it’s likely to work, but considering that clinical trails of antidepressant medication demonstrate that not everyone (in fact, often less than 50% of those in the test group) respond to medication, yet most experience side-effects, and many relapse even on the medication within six months, I’m not sure I can diss on anything essentially harmless that makes people feel batter.

  18. #18 M
    March 15, 2007

    Anecdotally speaking, I always enjoyed hanging upside down from jungle gyms and such when I was a kid; it gave me a new perspective on the world, for one thing, and in addition it just plain felt good.

    If it makes Rosie feel better, and she takes standard medications along with it, then more power to her; a bit of magical thinking is limited in harmfulness if it’s coupled with (and doesn’t discourage) real medicine.

  19. #19 Colugo
    March 20, 2007

    How many forms of lunacy will Rosie O’Donnell embrace? Now it’s 9/11 conspiracy mongering.

    O’Donnell’s blog 3/15/07

    “at 5 30 pm
    9 11 2001
    wtc7 collapsed

    for the third time in history
    fire brought down a steel building
    reducing it to rubble

    hold on folks
    here we go”

    Read the rest for yourself.

    More recent posts on O’Donnell’s blog:

    “Kristen writes:

    I understand that WTC7 was obviously planned, but who did this? And why?

    (O’Donnell:) follow the money”


    (O’Donnell:) “i read pop mech
    i dont think explosives were planted that day
    but b4”

    Story on National Ledger

    My take: 9/11 conspiracy theories are, without fail, incredibly stupid and infantile. 9/11 conspiracy mongers conflate all legitimate dissent and investigation with their conspiracy idiocy. Worst of all, 9/11 conspiracy mongering blames the victim – the United States of America – while absolving the perpetrators – theocratic terrorists. And anyone – left, right, or center – who disputes the conspiracy mongers is accused of enabling the conspiracy.

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