Is there any science behind online show The Goop Lab?
The lifestyle and wellness series explores various alternative therapies, from psychedelics to women’s sexual health and cold water immersion.
The moment you open Netflix these days, The Goop Lab with Gwyneth Paltrow pops up as something you should watch. The six-episode lifestyle and wellness series explores various alternative therapies, from psychedelics and energy healing to women’s sexual health and cold water immersion.
The series has given rise to a wave of criticism, especially from the medical and scientific community worldwide. The chief of the UK’s National Health Service, Simon Stevens, not only slammed the series but called Goop a brand that peddles products “despite them carrying considerable risks to health.” On the other hand, an Australian surgeon writing for the Washington Post explained how people — especially women — buy into “medical misinformation” spread by such wellness brands because the medical community has not paid enough attention to their needs.
So is there actually any science behind The Goop Lab or is it all misinformation?
Here’s everything you need to know about the series to make up your mind.
Each episode of the series picks up an alternative therapy to test. Goop staffers, including Paltrow as the “bravest guinea pig”, try out the therapies and then sit with a panel to delve deeper into these practices and why conventional science and medicine dismisses them. The episodes come with a discretionary warning that the series is “designed to entertain and inform - not provide medical advice.” The following is what you need to know about the six episodes.
1. High for healing
The first episode deals with psychedelic drugs like psilocybin mushrooms and methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) and how they are used to treat mental health issues like grief, trauma (including post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD), stress, etc. The contents of this episode are partially backed by science, since research into the therapeutic uses of psychedelics, especially to treat the growing numbers of psychological disorders, is increasing by the day. A study published in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology in 2018 underlined the importance of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy (PAP). Even the US Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of these drugs and has even hailed psilocybin as a breakthrough therapy to treat major depressive disorders.
2. Freezing to de-stress
This episode revolves around Wim Hof, a Dutch extreme athlete who is also known as The Iceman because of his ability to withstand extremely cold temperatures with bare minimum clothing. Hof teaches a group of Goop staffers his signature breathing technique and finally asks them to jump into ice-cold water at Lake Tahoe to relieve stress. The Wim Hof Method has many supporters globally, and cold water immersion (CWI) is practised by many athletes because it was supported by scientific evidence until recently. Studies published recently, especially the one in The Journal of Physiology in 2017, revealed that CWI didn't show any impact on inflammation and cellular stress. This doesn’t just make Hof’s technique ultimately ineffective against stress but also deems it dangerous.
3. The vulva monologues
Hailed as the most accurate of the series, this episode delves into women’s pleasure and why it deserves attention. Sex educator Betty Dodson explains the difference between the vagina (the birth canal) and the vulva (the external part of female genitalia), shows how to identify the clitoris, and how to stimulate both the clitoris and the vagina to have an intense orgasm. A study published in the International Journal of Reproductive BioMedicine in 2017 described how women face many obstacles in achieving orgasms — physical, psychological and relational — and these contribute to the occurrence of female orgasm disorders. Dodson’s method circumvents these obstacles by teaching women to recognise and love their bodies.
4. Feeling younger
Paltrow and two of her associates tried three different diets to try and decrease their biological age — vegan, pescatarian and “fast-mimicking” (FMD) diets — and three cosmetic facial treatments to look younger - acupuncture, metal threading facelift and vampire facial (micro-needling with plasma-rich protein or PRP). Reducing your biological age is shown as a real possibility here, but there are a few caveats attached. While the pescatarian diet was deemed the healthiest, Paltrow, who did the FMD lost the most "age". Dr Valter Longo, who created the FMD, prescribes just a five-day-period as safe. Studies, like the one published in Science Translational Medicine in 2019 by Longo, describe how FMD for longer periods can actually be more harmful and increase the risk factors of diseases.
5. Go with the (energy) flow
While the third and fourth episodes of the series may have been the most credible, the last two were a little too out-there to be backed by science. In fact, energy healing - as shown by John Amaral, a body-worker and chiropractor in this episode - is a controversial topic because it is not yet supported by any real data. According to a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2017, the validity and effectiveness of these practices - including Reiki, Therapeutic Touch and Johrei - are yet unsupported, and more research needs to be done on different populations with a larger range of conditions before these healthcare approaches can be scientifically supported.
6. Following your intuition
In the last episode, Paltrow’s team engages psychic medium Laura Lynne Jackson to ignite the inner psychics of the Goop staff and communicate with their deceased loved ones. There is a lot of scepticism attached to psychic mediums in the world, and this is because of the many scams and frauds that are often associated with the profession. Psychic readings cannot be quantified by scientific data (yet) and most psychic mediums cannot specifically explain how they made their readings either. This opens up the field for those who wish to take advantage of grieving and depressed people, leading to cases of frauds. While you may believe in psychic mediums, the efficacy of this type of therapy is not yet backed by science. And so, the last episode of The Goop Lab turns into the least scientifically credible one.
For more information, read our article on Mental Illness: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Prevention.
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