Feb 15, 2020 - Health

Beware the "science" behind some wellness industry's claims

Gwyneth Paltrow, founder and CEO of Goop onstage at 2019 New York Times Dealbook conference. Photo: Mike Cohen/Getty Images for The New York Times

A surge in misinformation has grown with the internet, making wellness strategies appear to have scientific foundations when instead they're fueling baseless and sometimes harmful theories.

What's happening: Wellness products such as vitamins and supplements are under the purview of the Federal Trade Commission, meaning they are not subject to scrutiny or testing like prescription medication and medical devices, which are managed by the Food and Drug Administration.

By the numbers: The wellness industry, from personal care to nutrition and weight loss, is presently worth $4.2 trillion worldwide, jumping 12.8% between 2015 and 2017, Global Wellness Institute reports.

The pursuit of wellness "has been co-opted to being afraid of toxins and going for cryotherapy ... all these things that have zero basis in science and actually could be harmful."
— Dr. Jen Gunter, pain medicine physician and gynecologist tells Dr. Abdul El-Sayed on his health podcast "America Dissected"

Between the lines: Some products are backed by misleading studies from predatory publishers — journals that are not peer-reviewed, the New York Times reports.

  • Such publications are more often free for readers and claim to be indexed and sourced, but are not, the FTC has said.

Be smart: Beware of studies drawn from small sample sizes that aren't representative of the general population, are funded by a manufacturer for its own products or that shift results in their favor.

  • Some of these products present more risks than benefits and could expose people to unknown substances, Gunter added.

For the record:

  • Actress Gwyneth Paltrow's company Goop was fined $145,000 in California last year for "unsubstantiated claims" on three products on its website that could have harmed women, CNN reports. Paltrow now has a Netflix show on wellness she markets as "out there" with tactics often unregulated.
  • Some medical professionals have actually pushed back against vitamins, saying they're unnecessary: "There is no added gain from taking a multivitamin,” Erin Michos, associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, told CNBC.
    • Social media influencers have caused online vitamin sales to skyrocket 40% in the last year, according to market-research firm Rakuten Intelligence.

Yes, but: Women are responding to gender bias and mistrust in medical research by starting their own health and wellness businesses in an attempt to find and offer alternatives to traditional medicine, the Global Institute notes.

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