If you’re just so effing tired or just have too many balls in the air, Gwyneth Paltrow has some fancy, new GMO- and gluten-free supplements for you. Yesterday, her lifestyle emporium Goop launched their newest brand arm: supplements, or as she calls them, Wellness. There are four “vitamin and supplement regimens,” each designed to address particular body concerns. Are you tired all the time? There’s a $90 set of 30 packets for that. Do you miss your high-school metabolism? There’s a packet called High School Genes for that. Every supplement packet, which Goop certifies is tested to be free of pesticides, heavy metals, and environmental pollutants, was designed with a Goop-approved doctor. The Cut spoke to famous Dr. Alejandro Junger, who was involved in the creation of the “Why am I so effing tired?” supplement and is Paltrow’s favorite detox doctor, about why he thinks detox should be taught in medical school, how you can trust supplements even when they’re not regulated by the FDA, and his thoughts on eating your way out of taking supplements (turns out, you can’t).
You’ve worked as a trainer and a cardiologist, originally specialized in Western medicine. What made you interested in alternative medicine?
The trainer part of my life is a funny story. I was doing my training in Cardiology, and getting really sick. I had allergies, depression, IBS, gained a ton of weight, and I didn’t know what to do. I went to a general practitioner in NYC where I was training, and I saw a personal trainer there with a six pack, pulled up my shirt and showed him my gut. It was a big gut. I said, “If I want to look like you, how long will it take me? What should I do?”
He said, “Come here six times a week and eat a certain way.” He said it was going to take me four months. In two months, I did it. But my symptoms didn’t go away even though I was in tip-top shape. That got me interested in things beyond the physical body.
More than anything, I wanted depression out of my system, which is how I stumbled upon meditation. I went to an ashram in upstate New York and then India to be a doctor and cardiologist there. While I was there, I worked with a ton of doctors who were Ayurvedic, into Reiki, hands-on therapy, you name it. We used to sit in a circle and put patients in the middle and everyone would ask questions and give their opinions according to their school of learning. Now I know that’s what’s called integrated medicine, although I didn’t know that’s what it was called at the time. I was learning about all these different modalities of healing, as opposed to just medical-school stuff.
What made you believe in alternative medicine? Was there an “a-ha” moment?
More than anything, what I’m impressed by is results. You can’t argue with success. I saw people with all kinds of symptoms and diseases come to us and the Reiki healer would do something or the Ayurvedic doctor would change aspects of their diet, and they would get better. You can’t argue with that.
But the most important part of my interest and attraction is my own experience. I know everyone calls it alternative medicine but it’s all just medicine to me. When I came back from India, my symptoms improved here and there. But then I stumbled upon the concepts of detox and cleansing and did a program myself. All my symptoms went away. No depression, no IBS, zero allergies, I looked and felt 20 years younger.
It blew my mind — that I could get myself into this kind of shape with my colleagues being given seven prescription medicines to function. After ten days of juicing, I felt incredible. I thought, This should be taught in medical school. We’re doing our patients a disservice by not learning about this.
Why nutritional supplements? How do they fit into what you’ve learned about alternative medicine?
These days, I am a practitioner of functional medicine. It’s thinking about Eastern medicine with the knowledge of Western medicine. In functional medicine, the main principle is that you remove the obstacles and add whatever is lacking. Then the body will correct by itself.
What does an obstacle mean? Let’s think about it like a thorn. If you have one in your skin, it will not heal. So you have to take it out. Thorns inside the body can be toxins, parasites, viruses — anything that poses an obstacle to the normal functioning or chemistry of our cells. After removing the obstacle, you have add or restore whatever is lacking.
In our body, there are thousands of chemical reactions happening at every minute. Trillions of molecules and molecules in motion are combining with each other to make the body and perhaps functions like, create bodily fluids and hormones. Put in a very simplified manner, Molecule A plus B forms to become Molecule C. But if Molecule A isn’t there, then Molecule C can’t be formed — that could be hair, bones, whatever. So there’s where supplements and nutrition come in.
I’ve been working on this for 22-plus years. I had to discover the detox and the Institute for Functional Medicine. Then I met Gwyneth. When I met her, we shared this passion for learning, spreading the word, and helping people. We’ve been talking about this forever, but finally Gwyneth and Goop were ready.
What was your first time meeting Gwyneth?
An ex-schoolmate of hers when they were little, called me and said, “I have a friend of mine who cannot come to your office, but needs a vitamin drip,” and asked me to help her out. I grabbed my stuff after work and went to her hotel and rang the bell and the makeup artist opened the door. She used to be in the ashram with me. She said, “Hey, how are you?” Then a stylist appeared. She turned out to be a really good friend of my girlfriend at the time. Then out came Gwyneth, who was like, Who is this guy that everyone knows? We clicked. While I was giving her this vitamin drip, she started bombarding me with questions. She’s a smart cookie. She was asking me questions that not even my traditional colleagues would ask. Some I had to go and research and come back to her with answers. She invited me over to talk more and also meet her husband at the time, Chris [Martin], and we hit it off.
How would you respond to supplement skeptics who say that if you’re eating well, you’re deriving enough nutrients from food?
Those people are knowledgeable about one aspect and ignorant about another aspect. What they’re saying is true, but they’re not completing the thought. You should be able to get enough nutrients if you ate according to the way nature designed for you to live — if you ate natural food grown in its natural state, grow in natural conditions in a soil filled with nutrients, and your intestines were healthy and able to digest and absorb the nutrients designed. Then absolutely. Supplements wouldn’t exist.
Things exist because man finds a need for them. This came out of a need. As modern men and women, we’ve departed from the ways of nature. We eat food depleted of nutrients and a lot of our intestines are destroyed. The body has to adapt and survive and turn on survival mechanisms. Obviously, the best thing to do is to somehow get your gut to heal, digest, absorb, and get nutrition through whole foods. That’s the best way to do it. But who knows how to do it? Who has the money and time to do it?
Nutritional supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA. How can the consumers believe they’re safe?
You’re right, they’re not. There is a movement trying to regulate them. But there are other regulations and controls that monitor supplements. There are certifications manufacturers get to do with the cleanliness. The good ones double and triple test for pollutants. There’s a big spectrum in the quality.
The most important thing is to find a trusted source. I know this will sound like a commercial but Goop went and looked for a trusted source. They trusted me. I advised them to go to this company, which I have worked with for many, many years. I tried their supplements. I treated and helped people successfully. I went to the manufacturing plant. I saw the testing of the raw materials. I saw the controls, of which there were several steps. I walked through the manufacturing plant, I had to dress like a surgeon because everything was so clean. But everybody has to find their trusted source. Trust is an important commodity today. You go with your gut and knowledge to find people you trust and people who speak and seek the truth in a genuinely curious way.
The specific supplements you worked on with Goop address adrenal fatigue. What is that?
It’s a condition in which your adrenal system or glands get exhausted and start functioning suboptimally. The severe extreme in Western medicine is called Addison’s Disease. But way before you arrive to that, there’s a spectrum that doesn’t get recognized. For some it can show up as hormonal imbalance, hair thinning, depression or weight gain, lack of concentration, or skin problems.
It’s as if your body is a house of appliances and the adrenal system is the main source of power. When it’s running low, your body won’t turn on. It’s an epidemic worldwide. Your adrenal system is also responsible for your “fight or flight” response. If you think about it, if you live in natural conditions, your fight or flight response would kick for example, when you encounter a tiger. In modern life, that can kick in different, less extreme ways. This morning, I had to take my kids to school and we woke up late and the dog came out and I thought it jumped into the car. But then I came home and realized the dog didn’t jump into the car! I had to drop my kid (not literally) and run back to the house. Then I couldn’t get on your call. It’s a constant fight or flight. By the end of day, my adrenals are going to be tired. It’s no wonder most of us have depleted adrenal systems.
How can you tell if your adrenal system is overworked? Some of those symptoms can be symptomatic of other things or just situational.
There are some things more typical and common across the board. You could kind of pull it together yourself. If you have difficulty sleeping, if you feel tired, moody, and can’t pinpoint exactly what it is. But the thing is, if you do things to really charge your adrenals, you could get better, but you won’t get worse. There isn’t a gigantic risk. It’s not like getting chemotherapy because you might have cancer. If you have chemo and don’t have cancer, you’ll die. But if you charge your adrenals but don’t have adrenal fatigue, nothing is going to happen, But if you do it and have it, you’ll hopefully feel better.
Charging your adrenals is different for everyone. I made it easy for you before but the equation is a little bit more like Molecule A plus B plus C plus three-quarters D plus five other things, or something else. But there are a few things most common and that is what we are providing with this package. It contains phytonutrients, nutrients derived from plants, which are a major part. Then there are other things that help the system recover the adrenals like Ayurvedic adaptogens such as holy basil, ashwagandha, and all these roots and leaves that have an effect of facilitating the adaptation. They kind of push you energetically in one direction. That’s part of the package. There are also good fats like omega fats in it. But supplements alone are not going to do it. If you are sleep deprived, it doesn’t matter how many you take. Your adrenals will never recharge. The program is not just the supplements, but also what things you shouldn’t eat and other things that will improve your daily routine so you can recharge. Good sleep, fun, and relaxation are just as important as any nutrients.
A lot of times when I do these pieces relating to alternative medicine, I’ll ask Western-medicine doctors for their opinions. They usually are cautious about recommending them because they ask for more research, or the results of scientific double-blind studies.
Let me tell you a story. When I tried in NYC, my first cardiology teacher was a guy named Dr. Rony Shimony. He’s one of the best doctors I’ve met in my life and is the director of cardiology at Mount Sinai. He’s charismatic, kind, incredibly knowledgeable, and I learned so much from him. People come from all over the world to see him. You wouldn’t believe the patients I’ve seen in his office. He took a liking to me and he asked me after I finished my training to join his practice. But I declined and told him, “I’m going to India to a monastery.” He rolled his eyes and hugged me and said, “Oh no, we lost you. You had so much potential.” He was genuinely sad and concerned.
Throughout the years, he’s called me and said, “Are you coming back? It’s time to get serious.” When I came back to NYC in 2007, we had dinner and he said, “Listen, I still hope one day we can work together. Can you come help me a couple days a week at the office?” I started seeing his patients and doing what I do. I put them on a certain diet and programs and supplements. Suddenly, the world started spreading that these people were doing really well. One day, he said, “Listen, Alex. One of my sisters has been sick for years with digestive problems. She’s seen every specialist under the sun.” She came to me, I put her on a program. She completely resolved all her problems in three weeks. He was so blown away, he was an instant convert. He finally said, “You know what, you have to do what you have to do. But I want to learn.”
Listen, the most important thing is to keep an open mind. See what works and what doesn’t. That’s what Western medicine does every single day. The wrong medication or dosage for a heart problem can kill you in a day or in an hour. Doctors are just trying them and seeing if they work. Supplements won’t kill you. There’s more trial and error in Western medicine with more serious consequences than anything alternative practitioners do.
This interview has been condensed and edited.