Every year brings new trends promising better looks, better health, and better ways of living – but it's not always easy to separate the safe, science-backed new strategies from those making dubious claims to fantastic results. Here's a look at 6 of 2020's hottest health and wellness trends – and whether their claims for improving the health of mind and body are valid, overblown, or downright dangerous.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is the darling of the health and wellness industry these days. CBD is a non-psychoactive compound that occurs abundantly in the cannabis Sativa plant and its close relative, hemp.
Research on the therapeutic applications of cannabis, or "medical marijuana," reveals that CBD has an array of positive effects on the body's endocannabinoid system, or ECS. The ECS is an extensive network of cell receptors found in the brain, tissues, and most organs. This system responds both to cannabinoid chemicals produced naturally and those from outside sources like cannabis.
Many independent studies have shown that CBD can bind with endocannabinoid receptors in many of the body's other subsystems to help regulate immune functioning, reduce inflammation, and promote healing.
In the brain, it can help to protect neural pathways, modulate pain signaling and stabilize mood. Because CBD products don't contain psychoactive compounds that make people "high," they can be sold just about anywhere, in forms such as tinctures, edibles, and topicals – salves, lotions and creams.
The effectiveness of CBD depends mostly on a product's CBD content and consumption. Still, both anecdotal reports and recent research suggest that it can be a safe and effective alternative to some over the counter and prescription medications.
2. Mushroom Stacking
"Magic mushrooms", or psilocybin, have been on the US's counterculture scene since the 60's and used in ceremonies and religious rites of passage for thousands of years. Clinical trials and new research are showing that psilocybin has the potential to reduce trauma and anxiety.
Other research suggests that microdosing, or taking minimal doses of psychoactive mushrooms or other psychedelic substances, can help boost memory, cognition, and mood. Some studies suggest that microdosing psychoactive substances can help with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and clinical depression.
Now, the practice of "mushroom stacking" is taking the potential of microdosing to another level. Mushrooms taken in this way are what's known as a Nootropic. Simply put, nootropics are one or more substances that have the potential to enhance consciousness and cognition. Nootropic stacking is the term for combining, or stacking, multiple chemicals to boost the effects. Developed by mycologist Paul Stamets, mushroom stacking combines low doses of the psychedelic mushroom, psilocybin, with lions mane mushroom and niacin, also known as Vitamin B3. Although, mushroom stacking can also be done without the psychedelic mushroom.
Stamets, claims that this combination has the potential to unlock new areas of human cognition. It could be a jump start to understanding plant medicine's effect on the human brain, but we still have much to learn.
Studies have shown, though, that microdosing psilocybin can affect neurological pathways related to the fear response. Lion's mane mushroom appears to protect cognitive functioning and enhance memory. Niacin may also boost brain and heart health.
Taken together, this "stack" of brain-enhancing chemicals may protect neural pathways and boost memory. Remember, psilocybin is a Schedule 1, psychogenic substance. Currently, there's no peer-reviewed research supporting Stamet's "mushroom stacking" formula, although it seems promising.
3. Intermittent Fasting
Most diets aim to promote weight loss by telling dieters what they should and shouldn't eat. But with intermittent fasting, the issue isn't what you eat, but when. In this popular new diet trend, eating is limited to certain times of the day or week – and within those periods, you can eat whatever you want.
Dieters can choose from several different fasting schedules. Popular protocols include 16:8 (16 hours fasting, 8 hours for eating every day), 5:2 (normally eat for 5 days a week and fast or eat very lightly for two non-consecutive days), or 24s – go an entire 24-hour period without food multiple times a week.
The proponents of intermittent fasting claim that this "non-diet" helps burn fat and promote cell regeneration. Intermittent fasting reflects early humans' eating patterns, who didn't have access to three meals a day. Experts posit that intermittent fasting can boost the body's metabolic rate, increase insulin sensitivity, and boost human growth hormone production, or HGH.
Fasting isn't safe for people with diabetes or certain other conditions, or for pregnant women. Fasting can also interfere with hormones that regulate menstrual cycles. But available research suggests that for most people, intermittent fasting is a safe and relatively effective way to lose weight. Then again, so are many other healthy diet plans.
4. Fascia Blasting
Fascia, also called myofascial tissue, is a continuous layer of connective tissue that covers all the different elements that make up the human body – bones, organs, nerves, and muscles. Fascia encloses the organs and keeps them in place, covers and protects nerves, and gives structure to the body.
Research indicates that healthy fascia is typically supple and flexible, but inflammation, trauma, autoimmune reactions, and other circumstances can cause it to become tight and painful. That contributes to conditions such as fibromyalgia, plantar fasciitis, and myofascial pain syndrome.
Many believe that fascia problems can lead to poor circulation, muscle pain and weakness, and cellulitis – the bumpy, "cottage cheese" look of fat cells under the skin. Enter the fascia blaster, a long, pronged wand developed by fitness guru Ashley Black. Massaging targeted areas of the fascia According to Black, the fascia blaster can promote firmer skin, reduce the appearance of cellulite, and promote better blood circulation.
The only research to date on the fascia blaster's safety and efficacy is a small study done by Ashley Black herself, but some users report better-looking skin and less muscle pain and tightness. Others, though, say that using a fascia blaster causes bruising, skin discolorations, and pain, even worsening varicose and spider veins.
A number of other fascia blasters are now available, modeled after Ashley Black's original. They come with varying claims for success, but all are tools for massage, and numerous studies have found that massage can help relieve pain and stiffness from a variety of causes.
5. Cold Water Bathing
Taking a cold shower is often recommended as a way to cool passions and calm down – but now, some research suggests that cold water bathing and showering really might be good for health.
A recent study found that people who take cold showers are 29 percent less likely to call in sick to school or work. Other research suggests that bathing or showering in cold water (below 70 F) may boost metabolism, improve concentration, and elevate mood in people with depression.
Coldwater has many effects on the body. The heart beats faster, breathing quickens, and blood pressure rises as the body works to maintain a stable temperature. Cold baths or showers can help people feel more awake and alert, and some say bathing in cold water can improve overall functioning throughout the day.
Even if you don't bathe or shower in cold water, cold water applications can be beneficial. Coldwater can act as a local anesthetic for quick pain relief because it constricts blood vessels and slows the brain's pain signals. Icing an injury can also reduce swelling and redness.
Cold baths and showers aren't for everyone, though. Medical experts warn that people with compromised immune systems or heart conditions might be stressed as the body works to compensate for the drop in temperature. But overall, even a brief burst of cold water during an otherwise warm shower or bath might be a boost to your health.
6. Marijuana Instead of Alcohol
For centuries, people have turned to alcoholic beverages to relax, enjoy time with friends, and drown their sorrows. But drinking alcohol in all its forms can have a long list of adverse consequences for the body and brain.
Alcohol acts on the brain's neural pathways to promote feelings of pleasure and calm – but it's also a toxin that can damage the liver and other organs, cause cognitive problems and create long-term addiction. Because of the many negatives associated with alcohol, many people are turning instead to marijuana, which also promotes relaxation with far fewer side effects.
The cannabinoids in cannabis, most notably THC and non-psychoactive CBD, can promote pleasant, calm feelings. Because cannabis doesn't depress the central nervous system, there's virtually no risk of overdose and side effects are generally temporary and minimal.
Cannabis can be consumed in various ways, from smoking and vaping to nibbling an array of edibles, and for a growing number of people, it's a safer and gentler way to relax than alcohol.
New trends and fads are constantly competing for the attention of health conscious consumers – and it's not always easy to determine which ones have lasting value. Whether you're considering CBD, cold baths or another popular wellness alternative, follow the facts to make the choice that's right for you.