Gene Hacking for Weight Loss? An RD Fact-Checks Gwyneth Paltrow

Dietitian Abby Langer—FLARE's go-to Goop buster—is back to help us figure out whether you really can "turn off" certain genes to trigger weight loss

Gwyneth Paltrow holds one of her new supplements, High School Genes, while wearing a black dress.

(Photo: Rex/Shutterstock; Design: Leo Tapel)

Nestled in between stories about cashew pimento “cheese” and New-Age crystal emojis, we found a new claim on Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop that piqued our interest

How to Hack the Genes That Impact Weight Loss & Metabolism” sets out to solve the riddle of why you and your BFF can eat the same foods, yet one of you loses weight while the other can’t seem to shift it. (And yes, we hate that injustice just as much as you do.) To answer the question, Paltrow turns to Dr. Sara Gottfried, a gynecologist and “aging and weight loss resistance expert,” who also happens to be the creator of a new supplement in Goop’s growing range.

The Q&A with Gottfried gets really technical, really fast—and tellingly, between talk of dry saunas and how genes “talk” to the environment, she fails to cite any research to back what she’s saying. Rather worryingly too, the post wraps up by directing the reader to learn more and/or buy Goop’s $90 High School Genes supplement, “designed for women who feel like their metabolism might be slowing down.”

To get another take on the idea of gene hacking for weight loss, FLARE turned to Toronto-based registered dietitian Abby Langer of Abby Langer Nutrition, who is fast becoming our resident Goop debunker (de-Gooper?). Here’s what she had to say.

1. Genes aren’t that simple, GP

The Goop Q&A talks a big game about the “fatso gene” and its role in making it hard for some people to lose weight. But, according to Langer, it’s not that simple. “You can’t really turn genes on and off in the way that Gottfried explains. If we knew how to turn a gene off completely, and it was as easy as she makes it out to be, then no one would be overweight.”

2. Goop’s expert *does* get some things right, but there are still red flags

When Gottfried boils down weight gain and weight loss to genes, she’s correct in some respects. “Genes do play a role in weight management,” says Langer. “Some people are predisposed to gain weight on their stomachs, others might gain weight on thighs; some people might gain more weight during pregnancy than others—the list goes on—and we do have our genetic makeup to thank for that. But habits play a role, too, and I don’t like how she glosses over that factor. She makes it seem like you can change your whole genetic makeup by manipulating a few genes, and you can’t really do that.”

Drilling down on diet and exercise is likely a way better use of your time. “Instead of focusing on one specific thing, one specific food, one specific nutrient, one specific gene—that’s the flavour of the day in terms of fad diets—I’d much prefer it if people took a more global approach to health and turned their attention to reducing everyday stress, getting in a bit more exercise and eating whole foods.”

Also, Gottfried should really show us some research to back her claims, says Langer. “I’m always wary when no research is cited. It’s aggravating because I want to look at the studies that support what she says.” She also takes issue with Gottfried’s claim that bone broth strengthens hair and nails. “The idea that you can ingest collagen in that form and it’ll have those effects is just a myth,” says Langer. “It’s like saying eating gelatin will make your nails stronger. It’s doesn’t work that way.”

4. Dry saunas are bogus—and just stop it with the hot water and lemon

Langer doesn’t recommend dry saunas for weight loss or as anti-aging tools. “Again, there’s no research to support those claims. I still don’t understand why she recommended it,” says Langer. “Sure, a sauna may ease stress, which is fine, but I don’t think you can make the leap to say saunas help you age well.” Making those types of associations gives Langer pause.

And, think twice about replacing your morning Americano with hot lemon water. “I can’t take it,” says Langer. “It has no nutritional benefits, and if you drink too much your tooth enamel will erode.”

5. It’s pretty problematic to offer advice while promoting a product

Langer finds the positioning of Gottfried’s supplement, High School Genes, in this post a bit icky. “There’s something about a doctor that promotes hype as professional opinion and then goes on to sell supplements she’s created that makes her lose credibility for me. It muddies the water.”

“I know I’m forbidden by my regulatory college from doing it, and I honestly feel dirty after reading this,” she continues. “Like, are you just trying to sell your supplement? Because that kind of seems like a conflict of interest.”

6. Bottom line: if you want to buy something to help with weight loss, consider a DNA testing kit

Langer recently test-drove Nutrigenomix, a personalized nutritional assessment from a University of Toronto startup that’s based on a DNA test (there are other at-home tests like it out there, such as 23andMe, which Gottfried mentions), and learned a lot about her genetic predispositions and how she can override them to promote sustainable and healthy weight loss. “If you want to spend money on something, I’d suggest looking into a test like this versus buying a bunch of supplements,” says Langer. (Note: she doesn’t stand to benefit in any way if you *do* use Nutrigenomix.) “It’s a smart, easy way to find out a little bit more about yourself and how you can better regulate some of the genes that might make it harder to lose weight. I like saying words like ‘regulate’ and ‘override’ instead of ‘turning your genes on and off’ because that just sounds a bit more sane.”

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