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4 Goop Doctors: A Look at Their Pseudoscience

An excellent account of celebrity culture’s influence on health

Gwyneth Paltrow runs goop, a lifestyle brand, website, and online store that offers unsound and unfounded health and nutrition advice to women, much of it to help goop sell its health products.  This nutrition and health misinformation reaches far and wide, thanks to the growing popularity of goop.

The bogus health advice includes things like vaginal steaming, goat milk cleanses (to cleanse your body of parasites and heavy metals), and colon cleanses. Goop publishes many articles with health claims that are not backed by good science. Here are some of the many dubious (and expensive) products in goop’s store:

Goop Doctors

A number of doctors are associated with goop. Unfortunately for many the title “Dr” gives credibility to their advice that often stokes unfounded fears.

Common themes to goop doctors’ advice includes

  • TOXINS – you are sick and tired because of various toxins and need to “detox” with their product/diet plan;
  • MISINFORMATION  with just enough science to sound plausible and masquerade as truth (usually by citing select research to support their narrative, but that doesn’t consider the body of scientific evidence);
  • SUPPLEMENTS – all goop doctors sell supplements – that typically will “cure” a long list of ailments (which usually includes some form of “fatigue”)
  • STORIES  to create a distrust of science-based medicine.

Goop Critics

Good has many critics who argue that goop doctors spread health misinformation with their marketing and pseudoscience. Two of the most vocal critics are Jen Gunter, a California-based OB-GYN, and Timothy Caulfield, professor of law and health policy at the University of Alberta.  Responsible health journalists regularly write about goop’s bogus articles and products, and even Late Night Show host Stephen Colbert is showcasing goop’s pseudoscience.

Goop critics promote evidence-based information about women’s health issues and correct goop’s bad advice.  Goop and “goop doctors” are making money off women who are concerned about their health by deceiving them with pseudoscience to convince them that they need to buy their products.

Goop doctors argue that their advice empowers women to make informed health choices. How does fearmongering, sowing distrust in science-based medicine, and spreading health misinformation empower women? Is goop really concerned about women’s health?

Last week goop tried to increase its credibility by having two goop doctors verbally attack vocal goop critic Jen Gunter. I decided to have a closer look at some of the goop doctors, and will certainly add them to my list of Nutrition and Health “Experts” You Should Not Trust.

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Aviva Romm

Aviva Romm is an integrative physician, midwife, and herbalist. She strongly defends goop doctors and their practices, contributes to the misinformation on the goop website, and like other goop doctors, her advice is not evidence-based.  Her website and Facebook page targets pregnant women, busy (and tired) women, and parents.

She sells her line of herbal supplements, books, and online courses (e.g. Heathiest Kids University – Natural Medicine for Children).  Much of her information uses the appeal to nature logical fallacy, that something “natural” (like herbal remedies) are good for you because they come “from nature.”

Just because a product is “natural” does not mean it is healthful, effective, or safe.

appeal to nature logical fallacy

How much do you need to worry about “Toxins”?

Toxins are prominent in Aviva Romm’s fearmongering.

Romm makes this sweeping statement

many health conditions that are adversely affecting children today can be traced back to environmental toxin exposure.

Environmental exposures are important. The field of environmental health trains many public health scientists in a variety of areas to study how environmental exposures influence health.  These experts and their research play an important role in setting guidelines and standards that consider the body of scientific evidence (and not just isolated studies).  Should we be listening to these scientists – environmental epidemiologists, toxicologists, and others – and trust them to protect public health, or rely on individuals like Romm, who often only present one side of the issue, instill fear, and sell products and supplements to help you get rid of “toxins”?

For example, Romm advises women to refuse glucola (a standard sugar drink to screen for diabetes), calling it a “toxic cocktail.” She credits the chemical-fearing Food Babe for alerting her to these toxins. . .

Should pregnant women be worried about glucola? No. Gynecologists Jen Gunter and Amy Tuteur explain that you would be better off fearing toxic advice of people like the Food Babe or Aviva Romm.

Aviva Romm’s Supplements and Products

Dr.  Romm’s website sells books, online courses (e.g., herbal medicine for women, adrenal thyroid pro training), and her online “dispensary” (via Fullscript) offers hundreds of high-priced supplements by category such as “Natural Detox Support” or “Adrenal and Thyroid Support” that include bogus health claims like “replenish adrenals,” “detox” “rejuvenate liver function” and “boost immunity.”

Her website includes many posts and tips (often herbal medications) for preventing and dealing with “adrenal fatigue” – a made-up medical condition that is not recognized by endocrinologists. She has created her own line of women’s herbal products to help “replenish and restore the adrenals and counteract the effects of an overwhelmed stress response system.” The products are adrenal nourish, adrenal soothe, and adrenal uplift, and cost $27.50 for 2 oz. ). There is no rigorous scientific evidence showing that these products will do anything beyond give you false hope and drain your pocketbook.

One of her top recommended herbal supplements for women is curcumin (found in turmeric) – she recommends it for  “leaky gut” (no quality research supports leaky gut syndrome) and “detoxification from environmental chemicals” – a nonsense statement.  Curcumin supplements are a waste of money: a recent comprehensive research review shows that they lack sufficient evidence of efficacy.

READ  Healthy or Hype? Turmeric

Should children use unregulated dietary supplements? Dr. Romm’s website guides you to a “Natural Children’s remedies” section, which has 20 supplements, including “Calm Child” designed to “support calm, focuses attention in children.” Her online course “Super-Charge Your Children’s Health and Immunity with Natural Remedies” lesson material includes “toxins in vaccinations” and a section on herbal medicines.

Aviva Romm claims to be offering the “evidence-based alternatives” that women are desperately seeking.  She masquerades as a trusted source of health information, yet sells dubious herbal treatments for which there is no good evidence.

Many people believe that herbal supplements are safer than prescription drugs because they are “natural” and they don’t consider them “drugs.” But, as Steven Novella, academic clinical neurologist at the Yale University School of Medicine, explains,

herbs and plants that are used for medicinal purposes are drugs – they are as much drugs as any manufactured pharmaceutical. A drug is any chemical or combination of chemicals that has biological activity within the body above and beyond their purely nutritional value. Herbs have little to no nutritional value, but they do contain various chemicals, some with biological activity. Herbs are drugs. The distinction between herbs and pharmaceuticals is therefore a false dichotomy.”

Before a prescription and nonprescription drug is on the market, it undergoes years of research and rigorous testing for safety and efficacy and needs FDA approval to be sold. In contrast, herbal medicines and dietary supplements are not well tested for efficacy or safety (if they are tested at all); also, they are poorly regulated and often make outlandish and unfounded claims. There are many good reasons to be skeptical of the multi billion dollar herbal and dietary supplement industry and individuals selling herbal products.

John Oliver offers an entertaining account of the poor regulation of the dietary supplement industry . . .

Steven Gundry

Steven Gundry is a goop contributor,  author of several books overloaded with misinformation on diet and disease, and runs the website gundrymd.com.  If you sign up for his newsletter, you will immediately be presented with an offer for one of his many supplements – Gundry MD Vital Reds, for a discounted $254.70 (for 6 jars, which is what Gundry recommends): and it’s also recommended you buy Dr. Gundry’s book Diet Evolution (to supercharge the benefits of Vital Reds).

According to the website, MD Vital Reds will

help reduce the fatigue and energy dysfunction which act as warning signs for much more serious health problems. I’ve combined the power of 25 polyphenol-rich superfruits with dozens of natural fat-burning ingredients to help your body maintain higher energy levels and fast metabolism.”

Save your money – there is no good evidence to back up any of these claims.

And Vital Reds is just the beginning!

You can spend a lot more money on unproven supplements at Gundrymd.com.  These include “Lectin Shield” ($75)  – to protect yourself from the “toxic” lectins (proteins in some plant foods), which Lundry states are the #1 biggest danger in the American diet.  Gundry has even written a book about lectins (to convince you that you really do need Lectin Shield).  In The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in Healthy foods that Cause Disease and Weight Gain, he claims that lectins are the cause of almost all diseases.  The fact that Dr Oz has endorsed the book is a good clue to the pseudoscience within.

The book promo has the familiar popular line that introduces much pseudoscience . . .

Is it possible that everything you’ve heard about diet, weight, and nutrition is wrong?

There is no good evidence showing that lectins cause disease

Avoiding lectins means missing out on many nutritious foods, including whole grains, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, dairy, eggs, and fruit.  The Atlantic’s James Hamblin has an excellent commentary on the Gundry’s book, including this observation:

“In fact, the book seems to be a sort of culmination of a long-percolating hypothesis about the imminent dangers of lectins. It’s especially common among purveyors of dietary supplements. The story goes: We need nutrients to survive, but many plants makes us sick, so synthetic supplement pills and powders are the prudent approach.  The idea is based in just enough evidence to be seriously convincing in the right hands.”

“…Book publishers are rarely held accountable for publishing invalid health information. Rather, there seems to be an incentive to publish the most outlandish claims that purport to upend everything the reader has ever heard. This is a problem much bigger than any plant protein. Cycles of fad dieting and insidious misinformation undermine both public health and understanding of how science works, giving way to a sense of chaos.”

Other ridiculous health claims by Gundry on the goop website include that eating out-of-season fruit is one of the biggest modern health hazards (because “fruit promotes fat storage”).

READ  Healthy or Hype? Gluten-Free Diets

Gundry also perpetuates myths like the existence of a so-called leaky gut syndrome (and of course recommends his products as a remedy).  According to experts at the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research, no quality research supports the existence of leaky gut syndrome, which they say is “is all speculation, as scientific studies do not validate any of these claims. It is extremely dangerous that a TV doctor personality and some otherwise trusted practitioners are diagnosing and treating this baseless ‘syndrome’.”

These are but a few examples of the vast amount of misinformation that Steven Gundry shares. Your best bet is to ignore everything on his website, books, and writings on the goop website, and definitely don’t buy any of his products.

Emails from Gundrymd.com are pretty good evidence that this “Dr” is little more than a snake-oil salesman . . . too bad so many people fall for this marketing.

More Reading:

Alejandro Junger

Doctor to celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and author of Clean: A Revolutionary Program to Restore the Body’s Natural Ability to Heal Itself, Alejandro Junger is a big fan of detox diets and a good snake oil salesman. His “Clean” 21-day program will cost you $475 in useless supplements and shakes. He preys on fear and convinces many that they are consuming and surrounded by harmful toxins.

Junger also advocates colon cleansing, a practice that has no proven health benefits and is potentially harmful.

As there is no good evidence for any of his treatments, he relies on cherry-picked studies, colorful stories, and convincing anecdotes.

Junger created Gwyneth Paltrow/goop’s Why Am I So Effing Tired pack: expensive supplements ($90 for a 1-month supply) designed to treat “adrenal fatigue” a condition not recognized by any endocrinology society and a syndrome that experts have confirmed does not exist. Other false claims and potential harms for Why Am I So Effing Tired pack are reviewed by OB/GYN Dr. Jen Gunter here.

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Habib Sadeghi

Dr. Sadeghi, who has been called Gwyneth Paltrow’s “Quack in Chief,” is another goop doctor who contributes a fair share of fearmongering pseudoscience to the goop website. His misinformation includes a lengthy article resurrecting a myth that underwire bras cause breast cancer. Trying to sound legitimate, he selectively cites what he deems as “research” to support his case.

A common tactic of goop doctors is to foster a distrust in mainstream medicine or research that doesn’t support their ideas.  In rebuking a rigorous trial showing no link between bra wearing and breast cancer by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center (a world leading institution in Cancer Research), Sadeghi brings up the ridiculous notion that these researchers may have falsified study results because they have a fundraising fun run called the Bra Dash. Unbelievable, but true.

He has many unfounded tips to reduce cancer risk, including such nonsense such as taking an epsom salt and baking soda bath soon after a flight to remove toxins from the body; and reducing intake of grain products (because of the proteins lectin and gluten)  – there are no studies linking intake of either of these proteins to cancer.

Sadeghi is founder of Be Hive of Healing,  which offers a host of bogus treatments, and a Wellness Store with an overabundance of products and supplements with no convincing evidence to support their use.

If is frightening that Sadeghi advises cancer patients about their treatment, and irresponsible of goop to publish his nonsense.

Lifestyle factors can play a role in some cancers, but goop or Habib Sadeghi are not good resources. You can find evidence-based information on lifestyle tips for cancer prevention at AICR.org.

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And finally, here is a video by AJ+ that highlights some of  Gwyneth Paltrow’s health nonsense.

More Nutrition & Health Experts You Shouldn’t Trust

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