A doctor’s-eye view of Goop Lab: it’s not all bad
I have just finished watching The Goop Lab and I feel … conflicted.
I’m a doctor, so I’m supposed to hate The Goop Lab, but I didn’t, at least not all of it.
Like Gwyneth Paltrow, I am deeply invested in the idea that we only have one life, and I want to "milk the shit out of it". I think that it is a deeply valuable idea to explore the meaning of wellbeing, and that health goes beyond only physical factors. Gwyneth Paltrow is warm and compelling. I want all her clothes.
Gwyneth Paltrow in The Goop LabCredit:Netflix
The reason I don’t hate the entire show is that some parts of it are actually great. The episode on sex focuses on accurate anatomy and communication. I have had so many women apologise when I need to examine their perfectly normal bodies, because they have learnt it is something to be embarrassed about. Finding ways for women to talk about pleasure without shame can only be a good thing.
Unfortunately this was a rare highlight.
The episodes each explore a non-mainstream strategy to improve wellbeing. This ranges from travelling to Jamaica to take magic mushrooms, to working with a medium to read eachothers’ minds. While the hallucinogenic psilocybin is being actively investigated as a way to treat end-of-life anxiety in cancer and there have been some early positive trials of MDMA (ecstasy) in post-traumatic stress disorder (don’t try this at home). Other strategies, such as Reiki have been studied and there is no evidence that they work.
There is an overarching idea that life is something to solve … that just one (expensive) experience will solve all our problems.
There is an overarching idea in The Goop Lab that life is something to solve, something to be perfected. That just one transformative (expensive) experience will solve all our problems, "heal" our trauma.
For the Goop staff, who all felt amazing after they tripped on magic mushrooms together, how much of that was the mushrooms and how much of it was down to the bonding feeling of an all-expenses paid work trip? How long did it last when they got back to mortgages, traffic jams and children who only put their shoes on after you have yelled at them? Some of the participants had suffered real distress in life; was this one experience really enough to resolve the trauma?
The Goop Lab has a disclaimer that it is trying to entertain and inform, and is not medical advice. Where this show crosses from entertaining and informative to dangerous is when it crosses from trying to enhance everyday wellbeing into using highly selective interpretations of science to suggest disease management.
Some of the participants had suffered real distress in life; was this one experience really enough to resolve the trauma?
Wim Hof is a Dutch man who has managed some amazing feats of endurance and has developed a technique to increase the ability to tolerate extreme stress, like cold. Some his feats, like a half marathon barefoot on ice, or swimming 57.5 metres under ice are phenomenal. He has developed a "method" which he claims can improve multiple facets of life which consists of cold exposure, breathing techniques and "commitment".
The breathing technique is described as something Wim thought up to make the body alkaline to improve endurance. It causes symptoms of light-headedness, hands clenching and tingles. These physical symptoms are well-described as a result of hyperventilation or breathing more than we need to. When we do this, we exhale additional carbon dioxide and this can cause a change in the Ph of our bodies called respiratory alkalosis. This is not magic and Wim Hof did not discover this.
Some people interviewed credited the Wim Hof method for improving their wellbeing. If taking a cold shower helps you get through the day, then I say go for it. It’s free, easy and unlikely to cause harm. While it is fascinating that the Wim Hof method may alter immune responses, there is no evidence that it has a therapeutic role in auto-immune disease. The man who attributes his recovery from Guillian Barre, an auto-immune disease, should also have reminded us all that most people with this condition make a complete recovery by 12 months, regardless of how they breathe.
Since Gwyneth Paltrow has such a huge platform, I genuinely hope that she is in this to ask questions and find serious answers, rather than just "monetise those eyeballs". She has the power to actually help bring a deeper understanding of some of the links between psychological factors and physical health.
I sympathise with people who are looking for ways to cope better with stress in life and to generally feel they are optimising their health. There is a huge body of scientific literature linking factors like mental wellbeing and emotional connection to physical health. Health in humans includes physical factors, like exercise and nutrition, but for wellbeing we do need to include social connection, emotional connection and purpose.
All of us who want to remain healthy for as long as possible are consumers of health information. Hearing women’s experiences of health strategies, as consumers, is inherently valuable. The challenge for people who are producing media is how to share this in a way that challenges and engages without resorting to over-simplifying complex ideas, so that they lose all nuance and meaning.
I see moments where The Goop Lab could add value to the conversation around women’s health. I see moments of important, thoughtful discussions. The exhausting part is that there are just so many misrepresentations and extrapolations, and I can’t help but think that the drive to sell more product supercedes the desire for a meaningful exploration of health.
- Dr Kate Gregorevic is a Melbourne physician.
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