The pursuit of good health has inspired all manner of unique and unusual fads. And each year brings a variety of new offerings, some of which turn out to be helpful, while others are soon relegated to the reject heap (where they likely belong). From tongue scraping to eating placenta pills, here are some of the most bizarre health trends in recent years. Remember, it's important to speak with a doctor before attempting any type of new medical treatment.
Believed to somehow supercharge the detoxification abilities of your liver, coffee enemas are one of the most surprising emerging developments witnessed by Tim Frie, a nutrition coach and founder of The Functional Nutrition Institute. "Most of the so-called 'experts' endorsing these enemas cite poor quality, outdated research and claim they help your body fight cancer, reduce so-called 'toxins,' and boost metabolism," says Frie. "However, in my own research using credible journal databases, I've found absolutely nothing positive other than reports of coffee enemas causing infections, colon perforations, inflamed colons, even rectal burns." The process, which has been featured on Gwyneth Paltrow's lifestyle site, Goop, has also been widely dismissed by other health professionals.
Some women have their placentas "encapsuled" after giving birth and consume the pills, which are thought to help speed recovery from pregnancy and diminish postpartum depression. However, there's no data supporting the pills' impact. Yes, the placenta is filled with nutrients, but it remains unproven that humans derive any benefit from ingesting it. "This myth has picked up great momentum due to celebrity endorsement," said Adnan Munya, a nutritionist and founder of AmmFitness. "In fact, consumption of placenta pills puts an individual at a risk of developing streptococcus infection." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also cautions that there could be significant risks associated with consuming placenta pills.
"Hits" of oxygen are credited with a wide range of effects, from slowing down the aging process to boosting energy levels to helping people bounce back quicker from physical exertion. "Oxygen shots," as they're often referred to, are also used to fight stress, headaches, hangovers, and pollution. However, there is little evidence to support such benefits, Munya says. The Canadian Society of Respiratory Therapists has issued a statement saying, "As health professionals, we cannot ethically or morally support providing oxygen therapy to those who do not require it." Other members of the medical community have said there is no scientific research that a shot of pure oxygen has any benefits.
Don't like going to the gym? Some might recommend the "hot pants" craze — neoprene bicycle shorts designed to make the wearer sweat away fat. The garment has developed quite a following among believers who claim wearing the pants increases core body temperature, thus promoting perspiration, according to Munya. Some claim to have lost two dress sizes in two weeks while wearing the pants. However, beyond claims made by manufacturers of the clothing and a select number of online reviews, there is no concrete evidence that the pants lead to weight loss.
While the vanity of the Kardashians has driven the family to do just about anything in pursuit of beauty, wearing a corset (as Kim, Kylie, and Khloe famously have) to slim your waist is yet another trend without support from the scientific community. Donning a corset will not cause you to lose weight. Fat is lost when energy expenditure exceeds energy intake, which means consuming fewer calories than you're burning. A corset does not help with this. What's more, wearing a corset can constrict breathing muscles and causing shortness of breath, among other potential unhealthy outcomes.
As a certified sleep coach and co-founder of the sleep wellness and product review site Tuck.com, Bill Fish has extensively researched sleep. He says one of the biggest fads developing in 2018 is using infrared saunas to improve sleep. Unlike traditional saunas, which heat the air around the body, the infrared light to heats the body directly, which proponents claim produces health benefits — such as better sleep — at a lower temperature while leading to more sweat and the release of "toxins" from the body. "Even the Kardashians are using infrared saunas, but the evidence just isn't quite there that it improves your sleep," Fish says. "We still need to see some medical studies on the topic."
The latest trend from Ayurveda, the holistic healing system from India, is tongue scraping to remove mucus, dead cells, and bacteria, says Elise Marie Collins, a yoga health coach and author of "Super Ager: You Can Look Younger, Have More Energy, a Better Memory, and Live a Long and Healthy Life." Tongue scraping has been picking up steam due in large part to the rise of Instagram and healthy lifestyle bloggers, Collins says. Proponents claim it banishes bad breath and toxins, contributing to overall physical, mental, and spiritual health. While some published studies suggest that tongue scraping could help temporarily relieve bad breath, more studies are needed to determine any long-term benefits, according to Mayo Clinic.
For those with irritable bowel syndrome, low-FODMAP eating is one clinically recommended way to reduce symptoms. The diet is low on fermentable carbs known as FODMAPS (fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols) and typically means skipping dairy, sugar, alcohol, wheat, and certain fruits and vegetables. Reports indicate that many patients diagnosed with IBS who follow their healthcare providers' guidance on food restrictions have found some success with the approach. However, the trendy eaters of the world are also adopting the practice now, and researchers caution that, for those who have not been diagnosed with IBS, the method could do more harm than good.
Yes, you read that right: hay bathing. One of the latest trends aimed at skin care and pain management involves soaking in a wet pile of hay. A spa in Italy offers the treatment, which is said to be inspired by a centuries-old practice. Farmers in the Schlern Dolomites region would sleep in hay and wake up feeling renewed. The modern take on this generally includes spending 20 minutes wrapped in hay and herbs, with the goal of easing joint pain. However, there is no clinical evidence or studies to indicate that hay baths can relieve pain, and numerous medical professionals suggest that any benefit claims are merely anecdotal.
Proponents of activated charcoal — increasingly offered in smoothies, cocktails, supplements, and more — claim it can reduce bloating and gas, lower cholesterol, rid the body of toxins, and even prevent hangovers. However, there is insufficient scientific evidence to suggest that activated charcoal offers any of those purported health benefits. Additionally, drinks made with activated charcoal have been known to have the unintended side effect of constipation. Activated charcoal is occasionally used in emergency rooms to treat poisoning and drug overdoses.
Another health trend that's increasingly popular with the celebrity crowd is electric muscle stimulation. The practice involves hooking yourself up to a system of wires and electrodes intended to deliver a rigorous workout. The electrodes are attached near major muscle groups and provide pulses of electricity, causing muscles to contract. According to proponents, this is supposed to strengthen the muscles. While select studies have suggested that EMS treatment may be effective in certain cases — notably in rehabilitation for patients with serious health conditions, or in conjunction with actual strength training — there's little evidence to suggest that EMS machines can serve as a workout replacement.
Drinking "raw water" — water from a natural source that has not been filtered or treated in any way — has been billed by supporters as a healthier alternative to bottled or tap water. However, there are numerous health risks associated with the growing practice. Untreated water poses multiple potential health risks, including cholera, E. coli, hepatitis, and giardia. Without sterilization procedures, there's no guarantee the water will not contain pathogens.
Many people pay great sums of money to go to warm, tropical places and be comfortable. Whole body cryotherapy is for those who seek restoration in frigid conditions. Treatments often involve sitting or standing in a booth filled with air that is cooled to negative 200 degrees Fahrenheit (or colder) for around two to four minutes. The treatment has been used in recent years by athletes seeking to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation. Increasingly, however, celebrities and other supporters suggest cryotherapy can also boost immunity, mood, and metabolism, among other claims. Scientific research on cryotherapy is very limited, and the unregulated treatments have not been approved for medical use by the FDA. Remaining in extreme cold for too long can also prove fatal. In one incident, the treatment allegedly led to the death of a cryotherapy spa employee.
Yes, most people want to look young forever. With that in mind, the beauty industry has developed all manner of wallet-draining promises and treatments. Collagen, the important protein that gives skin structure and elasticity, diminishes as we get older, and various unregulated collagen tonics, powders, and other products claim to help restore that youthful look. The growing trend of drinking collagen, however, is likely not the fountain of youth that proponents would have you believe. Once collagen enters your digestive system, it's broken down into amino acids, and there's no guarantee they will directly benefit your skin when they're reabsorbed by your body. Most preliminary studies on the potential benefits of collagen have been conducted on animals or by the companies that manufacture the supplements, so more conclusive research is needed.
Proponents claim that this cocktail of vitamins, minerals, and fluids will get rid of hangovers and other ailments like the flu, headaches, nausea, and stomach bugs. Although IV therapy has long been used by hospitals to treat severe dehydration and other medical conditions, there's little to suggest that it offers much more than a placebo effect of well-being for casual users — and there are also potential risks. Clinics vary in their medical expertise, and potential complications from infections could include soreness, bruising, infection, and nerve damage. The results could be even more problematic for people with certain pre-existing medical conditions.