Let's face it: there's always going to be a new health craze sweeping the nation. In fact, many old (and debunked) health fads still resurface from time to time online, renewing their popularity with a whole new audience. While many health tips and programs really can help to improve your health, it's important to keep yourself safe by doing your own research before jumping on board with the next health trend. Read on to learn our predictions for some of the most popular trends that you'll see this year — and which ones are actually worth the hype!
Heat and Cold Therapy
Professional athletes have used heat and cold therapy techniques to aid in their health and recovery for years. More recently, celebrities and social media influencers have jumped on the trend, bringing at-home therapies like cold plunges and infrared saunas into the mainstream. You'll no doubt be blasted with product recommendations like sauna blankets and cold therapy machines this year — but are they actually worth the hype?
The goal of these therapies is to signal your body's stress response using a brief "stressor," such as jumping into a cold pool or doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT). By exposing your body to this type of short, monitored stress (where you have control over when you stop), the theory is that your body will adapt and strengthen itself in response — helping boost immunity and metabolism, decrease muscle pain and inflammation, eliminate toxins and more.
While the science is still limited, there is some research to back up these approaches. For example, a 2021 study found that three to seven sauna sessions per week reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and high blood pressure by nearly 50%. Studies have also indicated other benefits such as skin improvements and increased energy levels from regular sauna use and reduction in depression symptoms from cold therapy.
While influencers may try to sell you expensive devices in order for you to reap the benefits of heat and cold therapy, it's actually easier (and more affordable) than you might think! Something as simple as a regular cold shower can have the same stimulating response on your body. Try taking a daily cold shower (starting with just a few seconds and slowly building up your time) and notice the effects over the weeks and months to come. You'll likely start craving them!
Dopamine is a type of "feel-good" neurotransmitter that's released as part of your brain's reward system. Certain experiences (such as laughing with a friend or eating a yummy treat) will trigger the release of dopamine, causing us to feel pleasure and reinforcing the behavior. This can be unhealthy if dopamine is reinforcing harmful behaviors such as excessive drug use or, more commonly these days, excessive screen time.
From Netflix binging to TikTok scrolling, many of us struggle to limit the time we spend on our phones. This is where the idea of the "dopamine fast," created by California psychiatrist Dr. Cameron Sepah, comes from. Their intent was to explain how dopamine can reinforce unhealthy addictions and to encourage disconnecting from technology in order to reconnect with ourselves and others. However, the term "dopamine fast" has grown in popularity online and is being taken out of context in unhealthy ways.
Due to its rather confusing title, many people have misinterpreted the term and think they should (or even could) fully "fast" from dopamine — avoiding even healthy activities like exercise or social interactions in order to give them some sort of dopamine "tolerance break." Luckily, there's no need to deprive yourself of dopamine by avoiding healthy, pleasurable activities. In fact, that's not going to do you any good! Instead, consider it more of a digital detox. While you may not be able to "hack" your dopamine levels, you can still find ways to find more peace in your life (and limit the constant urge to check your phone) by setting boundaries with your screen time.
Oral Collagen Supplements
Can adding a spoonful of powder to your drink actually make you look younger? That's what makers of collagen supplements claim! These days, all sorts of different supplements and on-the-go snacks and treats advertise the inclusion of collagen peptides, claiming to improve the health of your hair, skin and nails. While collagen is in fact a necessary protein that helps keep your connective tissue strong and resilient, your body should be able to produce what it needs when supported by a healthy diet.
While a collagen supplement may be a tempting "quick fix" alternative to a nutrient-dense diet, there is little non-industry funded research to prove that taking oral collagen supplements actually improves your skin health. Plus, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not review supplements such as these for safety or effectiveness before they are marketed and sold to consumers. Instead, consider finding ways to boost your collagen with healthy, naturally occurring foods. While collagen is only naturally found in animal flesh that contains connective tissue (such as meat and fish), there are a variety of healthy foods (including fruits, vegetables and whole grains) that contain nutrients which aid in collagen production.
Social media can be a powerful tool to increase access to health resources and information. However, it can also lead to heavy amounts of misinformation — some of which can be unhealthy, if not outright dangerous. Extreme health challenges like the popular "75 Hard" program, which is designed to promote mental toughness, may not be right for many lifestyles and diagnoses (and has serious drawbacks when looking at the sustainability of keeping up the routine long-term). New beauty fads like sunscreen contouring (in which you apply different amounts of sunscreen to certain parts of your face in order to "naturally" contour your skin) can increase your exposure to cancer-causing UV rays. Viral weight loss trends like the recent Ozempic Challenge (where TikTok influencers recommended using an expensive diabetes medication to encourage weight loss, despite not having diabetes) is not only risky, but has caused a global shortage of the medication for those who actually need the drug for their type 2 diabetes.
While we can't debunk every health fad making its way around the internet, it's important to remember to do your own research and always talk to your doctor before making a major change to your eating or exercise plan.
This article first appeared in the January 2023 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.