Gwyneth Paltrow's wacky COVID-19 treatments have no medical justification

Gwyneth Paltrow at a panel discussion in New York City on February 03, 2020.
Gwyneth Paltrow at a panel discussion in New York City on February 03, 2020. (Image credit: Gary Gershoff/Getty Images)

Infrared saunas and skipping breakfast — yep, Gwyneth Paltrow is at it again.  The actress and Goop "lifestyle guru" recently touted some unproven methods for treating lingering symptoms of COVID-19. 

Not surprisingly, experts are very, very skeptical. 

In a blog post on Goop, the actress's wellness brand website, Paltrow wrote that she had COVID-19 "early on" and that disease left her with "brain fog" and "long-tail fatigue." She then went on to describe how she's been treating these symptoms by fasting until 11 a.m. every day (a.k.a. skipping breakfast), following a "keto and plant-based" diet, drinking bottled mocktails and visiting an "infrared sauna."

However, experts said there was no evidence that any of Paltrow's remedies could help with prolonged symptoms of COVID-19, also known as "long COVID."

"I know of no scientific rationale for this approach and know of no data from clinical studies demonstrating the efficacy of these interventions," Dr. Michael Saag, an infectious disease expert from the University of Alabama at Birmingham told Live Science. 

"Caveat emptor," or buyer beware, Saag said of Paltrow's recommendations.

Related: 14 coronavirus myths busted by science

The director of the National Health Service (NHS) England, Stephen Powis, also rebuked her advice. "In the last few days I see Gwyneth Paltrow is unfortunately suffering from the effects of COVID. We wish her well, but some of the solutions she's recommending are really not the solutions we'd recommend in the NHS," he said, according to The Guardian

"We need to take long COVID seriously and apply serious science. All influencers who use social media have a duty of responsibility and a duty of care around that," he added. 

Paltrow and Goop have a history of providing dubious medical advice. Goop has advised people to put jade eggs in their vaginas, which could lead to bacterial infection, as Live Science previously reported, and to perform "coffee enemas," a type of colon cleansing that doctors consider to be potentially dangerous

Paltrow's medical advice also comes with a hefty conflict of interest: Goop, which was worth $250 million in 2018, according to The New York Times, makes money selling products that Paltrow and others recommend on the site. At the top of Paltrow's blog post on long COVID is a box titled "Shop The Story," which offers links to buy, on the Goop website, vitamin supplements mentioned in Paltrow's post. She also offers to sell the mocktails (and a crystal double old-fashioned glass in which to drink them) to readers through the Goop website or links to other sites with which Goop is partnering.

People who survive COVID-19 have reported a range of lingering symptoms weeks and months after infection. These range from fatigue, joint pain, and shortness of breath, which are more common symptoms following COVID-19, to damage to the heart, lungs and brain, according to the Mayo Clinic. Damage to the heart muscle associated with having had COVID-19 has also been found in people who only had mild symptoms of COVID-19. Brain fog, which Paltrow reported, is indeed a long-term symptom of COVID, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Nobody is disputing that Paltrow's symptoms could be related to COVID-19. It's her recommendations for managing those symptoms that have come into question. After all, there are no treatments for long COVID as of yet. "And that is frustrating!" Saag told Live Science. It's a "new disease state" and researchers are "having trouble even defining it accurately," which leads to problems knowing how many people are affected, Saag wrote in an email. 

Still, Saag added that her advice may not necessarily be harmful.

"I don't see a huge amount of harm from keto or plant-based diets [or] not eating until 11 a.m.," Saag said. "Folks can try them but I wouldn't necessarily count [on] results."

However, "I worry a bit about infrared spa concepts," said Saag, who added that the practice could pose a risk of dehydration and overheating. Unlike traditional saunas, which use heat to warm the air, infrared saunas use infrared light waves to warm the body directly. Although infrared saunas haven't been associated with adverse effects, there is little evidence that they provide a health benefit, and the Canadian government has warned against using infrared saunas in place of proven medical treatments. 

"My judgment is that the risks outweigh any benefits, which appear marginal at best," Saag said.  

Editor's note: This article was updated on March 1 at 11:15 a.m. ET to include additional quotes from Dr. Saag about the potential risks of infrared saunas. 

Originally published on Live Science. 

Ashley P. Taylor
Live Science Contributor

Ashley P. Taylor is a writer based in Brooklyn, New York. As a science writer, she focuses on molecular biology and health, though she enjoys learning about experiments of all kinds. Ashley's work has appeared in Live Science, The New York Times blogs, The Scientist, Yale Medicine and Ashley studied biology at Oberlin College, worked in several labs and earned a master's degree in science journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program.