The backlash from scientists and other health experts to Gwyneth Paltrow’s new six-part Netflix series “The Goop Lab,” which starts later this week, has been vocal and vigorous.
Promos for The Goop Lab say it will be featuring “boundary-pushing wellness” ideas, but, as Dr. Jennifer Gunter, a San Francisco-based obstetrician-gynecologist and dedicated Goop-debunker, posted on Twitter: “Ideas like bras causing breast cancer? Or that supplements don’t really increase all-cause mortality? Or that jade eggs can be recharged with energy of the moon? Exploring those ideas?”
The answer is, apparently (and unfortunately), yes. The trailer for the series refers to exorcisms, psychedelics, psychic healing and energy healing, all of which are nothing more than mumbo-jumbo.
It remains to be seen if the series will steer clear of some of Goop’s most controversial health claims. In September 2018, for example, the company paid $145,000 in a settlement with the Orange County D.A.’s office over misleading claims regarding jade eggs intended for vaginal health, “heart-activating” quartz eggs and a flower essence blend that Goop claims “assists in the clearing of guilt, shame, self-criticism and blame.”
Such products may sound amusing to people who recognize the ridiculousness of those claims, but underneath all that nonsense is the potential for real harm. A 62-year-old Canadian woman suffered second-degree burns after trying vaginal steaming, a practice that gained popularity after actress Paltrow endorsed it as a method for cleansing the vagina.
And the harm doesn’t stop there.
“We know the spread of this kind of health misinformation can have a significant and detrimental impact on a range of health behaviours and beliefs,” explains Tim Caulfield, a professor of health law and policy at the University of Alberta (and the author of “Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?”), in an essay for The Conversation. “This is the age of misinformation and this show seems likely to add to the noise and public confusion about how to live a healthy lifestyle.”
A huge industry
Caulfield brings up several other important points in his essay. One involves The Goop Lab’s conflict-of-interest problem.
“The producers of this show — that is, Gwyneth Paltrow and her company Goop — benefit directly from not only the show being popular but also from the legitimization of pseudoscience,” he writes. “This show is, basically, an infomercial for the Goop brand, which is built around science-free products and ideas.”
As Caulfield acknowledges, “one of the things that attracts people to the alternative health practices pushed by entities like Goop is frustration with the impact of private industry and the profit motive — particularly in the context of the pharmaceutical industry — on the conventional health-care system.”
But alternative medicine is a huge industry, too — something consumers tend to not realize. “The worldwide ‘wellness’ market, which is largely composed of unproven and ‘alternative’ modalities, has been estimated to be worth over US$4 trillion,” Caulfield points out.
Indeed, the Goop brand is reportedly worth an estimated $250 million.
“Given the size of these markets, it would be naive to believe that alternative medicine is somehow missing the twisting profit-motive incentives that have created problems for conventional health care,” he adds.
Like the conventional health community, the alternative one has plenty of conflicts and biases.
“To cite just a few examples, naturopaths profit from the in-office sale of products and have partnered with the vitamin industry to expand the reach of their practice,” writes Caulfield. “… And we shouldn’t forget that many of the most commonly used alternative products, most notably supplements and herbal remedies, are often made by the very pharmaceutical industry that alternative wellness devotees are seeking to avoid.”
“More needs to be done to combat the adverse impact that conflicts of interest issues can have on bio-medical research and clinical practice,” he adds. “But we also need to recognize that profound conflicts of interest exist in the alternative health and wellness domain. We should not give those involved with this industry — including Paltrow and Goop — a pass.”
For more information: You can read Caulfield essay in full on The Conversation’s website.