Gwyneth Paltrow has now stepped into the role of online nutritionist, peddling a new series of vitamins on her wellness website Goop.
At $90 for a month’s supply, the daily pill packages come with cutesy names and dubious promises to deliver solutions for a range of health troubles.
The “Why Am I So Effing Tired” vitamins, for example, will allegedly “improve energy levels and diminish stress.” “Balls in the Air” is for women who “function at an intense pace and want to keep it that way.” “The Mother Load” gets “moms back on their feet.” And “High School Genes” will purportedly address “numerous systems in the body that may contribute to weight gain when not functioning properly.”
Among everything wrong with this latest Goopian venture, there are two most worrying aspects.
First, Paltrow has a long history of selling junk health products, from jade eggs for vaginas to detox diet and cleansing regimens. With the vitamins, she now seems to fancy Goop a health source that can replace actual health professionals for women. "I am really fortunate I can go to the doctor, get a blood test, and he can tell me you're deficient in x, y, and z,” she told Harper’s Bazaar recently. “But for a lot of women it's not that accessible. We thought well, wouldn't it be amazing if we could leverage our relationships, curiosity, and relationships with our doctors and create really targeted solutions?"
Goop’s “vitamin protocols” were indeed created with the help of a doctor, according to Goop, but that doctor, Alejandro Junger, isn’t exactly a trustworthy source. Junger is the “cleanse specialist” and detox evangelist who has been behind a lot of Paltrow’s health pseudoscience for years. So Junger and Paltrow are not sources women should trust more than their own health professionals, and Paltrow’s suggestion that they are sufficient stand-ins is lunacy.
Second, the vitamins are more likely to rip off buyers than offer actual “targeted solutions.” By getting into supplements, Goop is entering into what are perhaps the most oversold, underregulated health products in America.
Most vitamins and supplements don’t actually make good on the health promises on their packages. For example, study after study has demonstrated that our beloved multivitamins don't provide most of the benefits they claim to — like staving off cognitive decline or preventing cardiovascular disease and cancer. The health benefits of probiotics have been wildly exaggerated (there’s good evidence that they can reduce the risk of diarrhea caused by antibiotics — but that’s about it). And taking antioxidant supplements like beta carotene and vitamin E might even harm you.
Vitamin sellers, including Goop, can get away with making these bold claims and underdelivering because they don’t actually have to do any better. Supplement makers don't need to prove their products are effective or even safe before putting them on store shelves — and problems with quality and adulteration appear to be distressingly common.
A Vox review of government databases, court documents, and scientific studies uncovered more than 850 products that contained illegal and/or hidden ingredients — including banned drugs, pharmaceuticals such as antidepressants, and other synthetic chemicals that have never been tested on humans.
We don’t know how Goop’s products are sourced, but Goop’s website offers no evidence of their effectiveness. At best, they will probably be like most other vitamins: snake-oil pills that empty wallets and don’t deliver on their health claims. At worst, they could be dangerous.
There are rare cases when you might actually need to take a supplement. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with a medical condition — like an iron deficiency. Or you’re planning on becoming pregnant and your doctor suggests folic acid tablets, which have been shown to prevent neural tube birth defects. In these instances, there are little tricks you can use to tell which products are higher quality and carry less risk. And you’re much better off listening to the advice of your doctor, not Gwyneth Paltrow or even her doctor.