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The Goop Lab wants to slow down aging, but only for rich people

Goop's fourth episode explores the science of antiaging – and some out-there "natural alternatives" to plastic surgery.

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Gwyneth Paltrow gets a vampire facial in the fourth episode of Goop Lab.

Netflix/Screenshot by Mercey Livingston/CNET

Netflix's The Goop Lab follows Gwyneth Paltrow and the team that runs her wellness brand, Goop, as they experience various alternative wellness practices, from meeting with a psychic to taking a workshop about how to orgasm. In The Goop Lab's fourth episode, The Health Span Plan, Paltrow, chief content officer Elise Loehnan and Goop's marketing VP Wendy Lauria explore the societal obsession with antiaging and the often expensive lengths many go to avoid it.

In their quest for eternal youth, members of the Goop staff try several different diets reported to reduce the risk of age-related disease, including fasting, veganism and pescatarianism. Paltrow and her team also set out on a quest to find "more natural" alternatives to plastic surgery and fillers, like facials and acupuncture. 

Aging is one of many things that medicine can't stop, so that raises the question: Is there any validity to these diets and treatments? Can you really slow down the aging process with food? That's what The Goop Lab sets out to determine and the results are, surprisingly, somewhat valid.

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The Health Span Plan episode explores diets and skincare treatments that claim to have antiaging benefits.

Netflix/Screenshot by Mercey Livingston/CNET

The Goop Lab Episode 4: The Health Span Plan

The Goop team chats with Valter Longo, the director of the University of Southern California's Longevity Institute, about the practice of fasting and how it can have positive effects on health. He promotes his fasting mimicking diet in the episode (for which he has a book and a $250 diet kit that Paltrow tries). Notably, the group doesn't talk about other forms of fasting -- such as intermittent fasting or alternate-day fasting -- which can have the same health benefits as Longo's diet.

Paltrow also talks with Morgan Levine, who studies aging at the Yale Department of Pathology. Levine developed a method of calculating a person's "biological age," based on several factors that intend to predict how likely you are to get age-related diseases or be at risk for early death. 

Paltrow, Loehnan and Lauria are tested for their biological age before starting a new diet for three weeks. Lauria followed a vegan diet and Loehnan did a pescatarian diet, while Paltrow uses Longo's kit (which includes a nut bar, soup packets and kale crackers -- appetizing, huh?) for a five-day fast. 

At the end of the three weeks, all three have their "biological ages" retested. The only person whose age did not "lower" was Lauria.

To round out this antiaging episode, all of the women try three different facial treatments -- acupuncture, facial threading and a vampire facial -- that are supposed to be more natural than using typical dermatological treatments such as skin fillers and Botox injections.

Loehnen tries facial acupuncture, which is reported to boost collagen production. Lauria gets a "facial threading" treatment that involves sewing a plastic thread that dissolves after nine months into her face in an effort to boost collagen and lift the face.  

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A Goop employee tries facial threading, a less invasive way to get the effect of a face lift.

Netflix/Screenshot by Mercey Livingston/CNET

Finally, Paltrow gets a "vampire facial," which is when a facialist extracts platelet rich plasma from your blood, and then microneedles it into the skin on your face. The PRP is supposed to help the skin resurface and look rejuvenated. Paltrow seems a bit weirded out by the process but notes that there's an "overuse of that stuff," (referring to injections, fillers and plastic surgery), and at least "this is your own blood and not a toxin, it's a more natural way." 

Can our diets affect the aging process?

Right now, there is a lot of hype surrounding fasting, intermittent fasting and ketosis and how those diets might benefit our overall health. It's not all hype -- there's definitely some sound science here and it's likely to keep expanding.

During the episode, Longo presents his fasting mimicking diet, which involves "tricking" the body into a fasting state while allowing specific amounts of food for at least five days. The idea is to give your body just enough nutrients that it thinks it's fasting, but not so few that you encounter the negative effects of prolonged fasting like a weakened immune system and nutritional deficiencies.

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Fasting can help improve your overall health, some studies have shown.

Getty Images

Longo says that his clinical trials on the fasting mimicking diet showed to "reduce risk factors for multiple age-related diseases." That's not totally bunk -- science shows that when you restrict calories for certain periods of time, it does promote longevity. A study on this type of fasting did show that it can be effective in improving health markers that put you at risk for age-related diseases such as BMI, body fat percentage and blood pressure. Fasting can also lower inflammation levels in the body, improve cognitive impairment in mice and can decrease insulin-like growth factor, a hormone linked to cancer. The research is promising.

While Longo's diet might be scientifically sound, I found it hard to wrap my mind around the idea that eating processed, packaged foods for five days could actually be better for you than eating whole, unprocessed foods. Surely you can hit the same macronutrient targets (low carb, low protein and a total of 750-1,000 calories per day) he cites is necessary to "trick your body that it's fasting" with real food?

I'd be interested in seeing studies on groups who do the fasting mimicking diet versus groups that follow a pescatarian diet (as Loehnan did in the show). Also, I'd like to see results in a study of participants who follow the fasting mimicking diet with Longo's food packets and bars versus the same exact macronutrients in whole food form. My guess is that the results could be pretty different.

The questionable antiaging facial treatments

The facial treatments in the episode are pretty extreme. While they are touted as "more natural" alternatives to plastic surgery or fillers, Goop did not provide much information on why these treatments are "better" for you.

When each practitioner did each treatment, it sounded more like an infomercial about why you should do it, rather than a scientifically backed procedure. The episode lacked real information or science on if these treatments are actually safe, and how they compare to fillers or Botox. No one (at least that we could see) challenged the practitioners about the safety or quality of what was going on. 

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Facial acupuncture is said to help stimulate the production of collagen in the skin.

Netflix/Screenshot by Mercey Livingston/CNET

The science behind facial acupuncture is promising, but there's still a lot of work to be done. As for the facial threading, aka the noninvasive face lift, a study published in JAMA concluded that the results of the threading face lift are not effective enough to justify the patient's risk of potential complications from the procedure.

I would describe the facial threading procedure more as a cosmetic procedure and less of a facial treatment. Even though the Goop staff say it's more "natural" than a face lift, it seems pretty invasive to me. You see the doctor literally sew a plastic thread into her face and if that isn't invasive plastic surgery, I don't know what is. Nothing about this treatment says "natural alternative" to me. It just says, "here is another way to get a face lift, and it's temporary." 

Goop has long been criticized for presenting highly inaccessible treatments, and that's the same in this episode. The vampire facial costs over $1,000, and the facial threading pricing can start at $1,500 and go up to over $4,000. Facial acupuncture is typically less expensive, but it depends on where you go and how many treatments you get. 

There's nothing wrong with showing what these extreme treatments are like, it makes for entertaining television. But if Goop wanted to better serve its audience, perhaps it would have been more helpful to show more accessible options for natural beauty products, regimens or other useful skincare advice. 

Should you try any of these antiaging tactics?

This episode of The Goop Lab presents a few valid and several questionable antiaging practices for your body and face. While fasting to improve your overall health is backed up by science, there are plenty of other more accessible and doable ways to improve your health through nutrition, exercise and lifestyle alone.

Focusing on the basics like sleep, drinking water, moving more and lowering stress seems more realistic, and then you can experiment with fasting if you think it could help you. Fasting is not a very accessible wellness trend in that it's difficult to do, you should do it under the supervision of a specialist, certain health conditions can prevent you from doing it and it can be really triggering for someone who has a history of eating disorders. 

Because of this, fasting is not my favorite wellness topic to explore, and I would have loved to see Goop cover more of the actual science on the benefits other diets such as pescatarianism and veganism, or even better the benefits of eating more plant-based diet versus a restrictive plan like veganism or vegetarianism.

As for the facial treatments, I found it interesting to see the different procedures on the market, but unrelatable for someone who can't afford to drop $1,000 and up on a treatment. It would have been much more interesting to me if Goop had talked to skincare experts, dermatologists and other pros in the space who can teach people about good skincare regimens, habits, ingredients and explain what clean or natural beauty products can help. 

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.