Skepticism

Can GOOP help get you DTF for Christmas?

The world is going to hell in a handbasket and it’s looking like we’re riding another massive COVID wave into 2022, so why not take a break from it all? Read something fun? Like this short stroll down memory lane and look at whether GOOP has something for the sex drive that constant existential dread has run into the ground!

It’s been three years since GOOP paid $145k to settle a lawsuit regarding their claims of medical benefits of carrying a jade egg around in your vagina. They still sell them, but now only make the vaguest possible statement about the effects, such as “Yoni eggs harness the power of energy work, crystal healing, and a Kegel-like physical practice” and “Build up a practice if it brings joy and well-being to you“.

They also have put cleaning instructions right there in the product description and the obviously harmful “keep it in your vagina all day” instructions, that had health professionals up in arms, have been replaced with something close to “do kegels with it for 10-15 minutes to start with. If that’s a thing you think you might enjoy, you might still want to pick something other than a stone egg though.

It’s been less than a year since Gwyneth used her GOOP blogging to promote expensive bullshit to detox after COVID and Rebecca made an excellent video about it.

And it’s been a week or two since a GOOP promotion for some absolute nonsense popped up in one of my too many social media feeds and made me want to rage post. Turned out that specific bullshit, “wearable stickers that rebalance the energy frequency in our bodies” was old news and I was tricked by the lack of publishing dates on the GOOP blogs. The product appears to no longer be available. But if you want to read the undated blog post about how it had become “a major obsession around goop HQ” or the bizarre word salad Disclaimer at the bottom of the strangely still existing Shop Body Vibes you can, even if I’m mildly annoyed I wasted time on it.

But when I visited GOOP to investigate the energy frequency nonsense, the web page was very helpful in recommending me other things to be outraged about. There are all the traditional bullshit beauty industry products promising eternal youth in tiny jars. There’s the presence of pink Himalayan salt in way too many products. There’s the $3000, 47″, 132 character, split flap display to make your living room or office get that mid-20th century train station feel. … That one is kind of cool actually. But $3000 to display single text messages on the wall? I don’t care that the webpage tells me I could be one of the 5000 first customers (apparently not flying off the shelves these things). And I think they should be flayed for calling their character units “bits”.

Okay, that’s a bit of a digression, as is this: While doing a search to see exactly how many products have Himalayan salt I learned that there’s such a thing as “American Wagyu” cattle, and that Goop sells steaks from them packaged with overly fancy (but not pink) salt. And trying to find more about the “body vibes” stickers mentioned above I found many, many vibrators. The latter is not rage inducing of course. If only safe and hygienic sex toys was all Gwyneth chose to sell. But sex toys do offer a nice segue back to the title of this post.

Now I have to admit that I personally had not only missed that GOOP sold steak, but also that they sell what Rebecca in the video linked above called “extremely expensive and ineffective supplements“. For treating your COVID the expensive and ineffective supplement is apparently a bag full of 7 pills and capsules you should be taking daily. This delicious mix of four different supplements GOOP calls Madame Ovary and will sell you for $90 for a month’s supply, or $75 with a subscription. That is a good product name, it did get me to include this paragraph in the post, but what they suggest you get yourself, or someone you know very well for Christmas is DTF. Which is also a good product name, if a bit WTF?, right?

DTF is another dietary supplement from “goop wellness”. This one will set you back a mere $55 a month and:

supports women’s sexual desire, arousal and mood*

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Given the name, I assume you weren’t surprised. But how does this supplement purport do accomplish such a purpose?

In reverse order, these are the three ingredients:

The mood part is accomplished by the inclusion of good old saffron. Why should we think saffron extract in a supplement improves your mood? Well that they say nothing about.

Next there’s Shatavari, which is supposed to “support female health” in an Ayurvedic way. It’s an adaptogenic herb you see. What’s adaptogenic? It’s herbal supplement pusher for “it does stuff!” and EU marketing regulation speak for “not shown to mean jack shit and therefore disallowed in marketing products”.

And last, but actually first, there is Libifem®, a proprietary fenugreek extract, which “has been clinically studied to support healthy sexual arousal and desire in women and provide support for symptoms of menopause“. You may have noticed that it is “clinically studied” rather than “clinically proven”, and though I’m never going to experience menopause I’m relatively certain you don’t want to “support” the symptoms.

Pretty standard weasel word marketing approach, but I think it’s worth digging into because we can all use a reminder that just because something has been studied, doesn’t mean it works, and just because a study is on pubmed, doesn’t mean it isn’t crap. And also, what if the study is actually great? I mean, it could be?

Because Libifem actually does have published studies, in plausibly not too awful journals (I didn’t actually check the journal quality), that are indexed in pubmed. If you read them you won’t find it hard to identify them as industry sponsored, bad studies with unsupported conclusions. And no one has done replication studies. But they do exist. For instance Influence of a Specialized Trigonella foenum-graecum Seed Extract (Libifem), on Testosterone, Estradiol and Sexual Function in Healthy Menstruating Women, a Randomised Placebo Controlled Study, which has a very sciency title, but is not a good study at all.

I’m just going to pick on the most obvious issue with it, which is that something went terribly wrong with the randomization of the study participants. Though the summary states that “There was a significant increase in free testosterone and E2” in the active group compared to placebo, and that there were no statistically significant differences between the hormone levels in the two groups it is kind of hard to accept that when the mean Free Testosterone started out at 1.82 in the placebo group while it was 1.13 in the Active group. Even with an n of 80, like in this study, it seems to me the differences are extreme. Knowing this it gets a little hard to accept the conclusion that the increase in Free testosterone in the active group was related to the intervention. And the study doesn’t hide this imbalance either, except by using 3D bar plots that will scare away any real statisticians:

Bar graph showing Free Testosterone levels in the study
Free Testosterone levels in active and placebo group at baseline and at 2 months. (Recreated by Bjørnar Tuftin.)

So in the active group mean Free testosterone went from 1.13 to 1.40, and in the placebo group it went from 1.82 to 1.72 and we’re supposed to believe this was due to the effect of the supplement and not, I don’t know, regression to the mean or something? A real researcher could point out more issues with this I’m sure, but I think it’s safe to say that if you want yourself or someone you know very well to be DTF before Christmas, and you just have to shop through GOOP, just get a vibrator.

Bjørnar

Bjørnar used to be a CompSci-major high school teacher in Norway, but has now followed his American wife's career to Boston, Cincinnati and finally Chapel Hill. When not writing for Skepchick he gives his actual-scientist wife programming advice, works as a tutor, updates rusty programming skills and tries to decide what to be when he grows up.

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