Sunday Editorial: Gwyneth Paltrow’s own brand of pseudoscience.

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Last weekend, Gwyneth Paltrow’s inaugural health-and-wellness summit kicked off. While the internet has been rife with exasperated analyses and memes, we at Biotechin.asia believe that her putting a price tag and exclusivity on dubious health products is a legitimate attack on good science. If you have been living away from the internet, humanity or just haven’t had the time, make this your Sunday read and get updated on the perils of pseudoscience. Biotechin.asia takes a look at the latest GOOP misstep.

The internet is no stranger to ridiculous comments from Gwyneth Paltrow. In the past few years, social media, her business venture GOOP, and increased exposure have completely eclipsed Paltrow’s Academy award-winning career. These days Paltrow is more in the news for pretentious comments that smack of privilege than her acting prowess. This week Paltrow hit the headlines and the late night talk show circuit to promote her latest venture.

Back in 2008, Paltrow launched the weekly lifestyle newsletter GOOP brandishing expensive and ridiculous products for affluent followers. Since then GOOP has taken gargantuan proportions metamorphosing into a lifestyle brand peddling pseudoscience and unfounded claims packaged into trendy products.

Most recently GOOP published and article about the health benefits of the unbeknownst of “gel water“. The article begins with an explosive title suggesting that we have all been drinking water the wrong way all these years and the only way to be truly hydrated is to get gel water in our systems. In the article itself, an anthropologist, Gina Bria, and a medical doctor answer a series of questions to create a jargon-filled spiel about the benefits of gel water. The duo go on to make a false claim about curing dehydration with chia seeds.

“Gina’s ninety-year-old mom was living in a nursing home and suffering from chronic dehydration. She wasn’t drinking enough water to stay healthy. Gina did her anthropology research on desert cultures and knew that many desert-dwelling people subsisted on far less than eight glasses a day, consuming specialized plants like cactus and chia. After some testing, she sent her mother ground-up, pulverized chia seeds that could be stirred into her orange juice each morning. It largely solved her mom’s issue”

Interestingly the term gel water itself is a scientific concept pioneered by the Pollack Laboratory at the University of Washington. Even as the scientific community examines Dr. Pollack’s claims about the fourth phase of water- a gel-like phase that he terms EZ water-quacks all around have found the next snake oil to peddle. Indeed the Pollack Laboratory website makes a clear disclaimer regarding their association to any commercial businesses producing water based products. However, some others like Bria have gone on to write entire books on completely untested theories about benefits of EZ water on human health.

In a recent lecture, Dr.Pollack himself stated that the actual impact of water on human health, in particular, the effect of “gel water” are yet to be studied and any proposed impact on health is highly speculative.

Indeed, we all recognize that water is essential for our well-being. There is nothing better than a refreshing glass of water on a hot afternoon. However, the scientific method deals in specifics. What is the exact effect of water on cells? What is the impact of dehydration on a cell? Can EZ water, in particular, have a strong effect on any cellular function? Can EZ water be absorbed from sources mentioned by Bria, such as Chia seeds or fruits? How is EZ water absorbed by the body? Does the charged nature of EZ water have an impact on its absorption?

Many ideas that we think are intuitive are tested with a great deal of experimentation by scientists before it can be accepted as a fact. It is disheartening when folks like Bria deliberately misinterpret hypotheses and theories to sell their own version of the truth.

We can all agree, that a glass of orange juice mixed with Chia seeds- the purported cure to chronic dehydration according to Bria- will not harm you, but it is still unethical for her to shill a miracle cure without data to back it up. One might go on to say that there is something malicious about using half-baked truths and fallacies to prey on those who are looking for the smallest respite in the midst of a health crisis.

As the reach of the internet increases at an exponential pace, more and more people are looking to it for information about their health. In an age where information is wealth, this has put greater power into our hands and normalized relationships where leverage is strongly influenced by information asymmetry. At the same time, the proliferation of new age health gurus like Paltrow threatens the credibility of information affecting our most important choices. In fact, some of the tips on GOOP have been termed downright harmful.

Interestingly, GOOP devolves itself of all responsibility with a simple disclaimer:

The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of goop, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

Shielded in part by free speech and Paltrow’s influence as a celebrity, GOOP has been notorious for getting away with very little consequence. In a recent interview, Paltrow admitted to being completely ignorant about some of the terrible ideas and theories her brand espouses.

Even as she insulates herself from all criticism by her privilege, she owes it to readers to thoroughly vet the claims from folks like Bria before giving them a platform to air their opinions.