Last week, Gwyneth Paltrow posted to Instagram a picture of her makeup-free and dewy face to her 1.3 million followers with the caption: “All contagion aside … Going to hit it with heat #fluday5 #infraredsauna #clearlightsauna #iwilltryanythingatthispoint.”
But many of Paltrow’s 1.3 million followers will get the flu this season, and I can only imagine the damage this dangerous advice could cause.
The flu is not something to treat as a hot topic with trendy med-spa treatments. It is a serious disease that kills people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 200,000 Americans are hospitalized with complications from influenza every year—and up to a quarter of these patients will die.
This is not the first time Paltrow has offered unwise medical advice. In January, she advocated for the benefits of an herbal vaginal steam. The treatment, as you might imagine, has no proven medical benefit. While that advice could at best leave you with an expensive spa bill and at worst, with a yeast infection or a burn, taking her advice on the flu has potentially fatal consequences.
In the hashtag style à la Instagram, I offer you my top three reasons why you should not take Gwyneth Paltrow’s health advice.
While Paltrow may have an infrared sauna within her own home (I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt), I’m betting most Americans do not. This means that in order to follow her treatment plan, most people would be leaving their homes to venture to a public place, spreading their multiple bodily fluids in the confined space of a steamy sauna.
This is problematic, because healthy adults may be contagious as soon as one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. So even on #fluday5, when someone may feel well enough to venture out to a public space to undergo a sauna treatment, she can still be a vector of disease.
There is a reason that your mother, your doctor, and reputable health care sources tell you to drink fluids and eat chicken soup when you are sick. Dehydration can be a very real complication of the flu. It is caused by many factors, from fevers to decreased oral intake to gastrointestinal losses from vomiting and diarrhea. Two-thirds of the human body consists of fluids, and without enough fluid, the body can have very real complications: decreased blood pressure, increased heart rate, kidney failure, or brain injury.
All saunas, whether traditional (warming the area around you) or infrared (warming your skin directly) have the same result: They increase body temperature to stimulate sweat production and an elevated heart rate. In a patient with the flu, this will cause further dehydration and possibly significant complications.
While most cases of the flu in healthy adults can (and should!) be managed at home, it is very important to run any unusual symptoms by your doctor. Difficulty breathing, fevers higher than 103 degrees Fahrenheit, persistent cough, chest pain, lightheadedness, and confusion are just a few of the symptoms that warrant medical care.
And if you hear about any unusual remedies from a friend of a friend on how to miraculously cure the flu (say, via Gwyneth Paltrow, your Instagram pal), please call your doctor before you pay any attention to that, too.