Sometimes you have to do some deep, investigative reporting and ask the tough questions. And sometimes you have to do shots of $200 smoothie (NZ$300). For science and journalism and stuff.
We did that. We did that thing. Not me personally, because I live in New York and the smoothie boondoggle happened on-site in the D.C. office. But I was there in spirit, chugging the high-end smoothie that actress Gwyneth Paltrow claims can make us all better people.
You won't be surprised to learn that most of the ingredients found in Paltrow's breakfast smoothie are unproven and can be bought more cheaply - and one of them may even be dangerous.
What's really in Gwyneth's smoothie
Dr. Mikhail Kogan, our medical supervisor for the video we shot to go with our story, works at George Washington University's Center for Integrative Medicine. Kogan incorporates some alternative medicine practices into his treatments, so he's a little more open to the ingredients found in Paltrow's smoothie than we are. But even Kogan is skeptical about the cocktail.
As Kogan explains, some of the compounds used in the pricey brew might actually have health benefits: Cordyceps, a fungus known for parasitizing insects and turning them into "zombies," certainly has a long history of being used as medicine.
But just because something has a long history doesn't mean it actually works. A lot of alternative medicine relies on the "common knowledge" of ancient peoples to support health claims, but these life-giving properties don't always make themselves known when it comes time to conduct scientific studies.
In other words: "The products throw a lot of Chinese medicinal products together for which the evidence is primarily anecdotal," Daniel Commane, a human nutrition expert at the University of Reading, told WIRED of the smoothies in question.
In the case of cordyceps (while there is an edible, safe species of the zombie fungus) the jury is out on any actual benefit. And studies have pretty much shot down the idea that it boosts your aerobic performance, which is one of Paltrow's purported reasons for taking it.
We could go through the smoothie ingredients one by one, but the story is pretty much the same across the board: Some of them might have health benefits, but none of it is really backed by sound, repeated scientific research. And at these prices, you want some darn good science in that smoothie.
There are a few ingredients worth mentioning as being particularly ill-advised: One because it's definitely, definitely, absolutely not worth the money. And the other because it might wreck your liver!
The former would be the so-called "Moon Dust" that contains, among other things, ground-up pearls. (Note: This is the "Beauty Dust" variety. There are actually six different kinds of Moon Dust that Gwyneth sells on Goop. There's one called Spirit Dust, which claims to enhance extrasensory perception. It was sold out.)
The dust contains a few plants that are known as "adaptogens" in the alt-med world -- things that are supposed to just generally make your body better at handling stress and life and stuff. The very concept of an adaptogen is something that's not really supported by scientific research to-date. But even if you and your doctor are into that kind of thing, there are way cheaper ways of obtaining the active components of the dust.
Now onto the ingredient that makes this smoothie potentially harmful: Ho shou wu is an herbal supplement that allegedly promotes a youthful "natural glow" and boosts libido. But doctors warn that some individuals can have severe liver problems after consuming the stuff.
As the folks over at .Mic put it "we should all be aware that most supplements aren't Food and Drug Administration-approved, so companies like Moon Juice can sell you whatever the hell they want - and can even call them 'like, real magic' without penalty from the FDA or whatever agency wizards use."
You can do whatever you want with your body, of course. If you want to start the day with a shot of vodka, we can't stop you, and we can't stop you from drinking magical smoothies either. But when it comes to supplements without FDA approval, you might want to take celebrity advice with a big grain of organic pink Himalayan salt. And if you want to drink a gross smoothie that may or may not make you healthier, you can probably do it an awful lot cheaper.