Hi friends! Did 2020 do a number on you? Can we do a quick reframe? Perhaps the past year’s trials and tribulations could serve as forced implementation of mindfulness practices, coupled with a newfound appreciation of holistic stress-relieving techniques. (I’m looking at you red light therapy, blue-light blocking glasses, and Wim Hof breathing!) With all we’ve learned from these challenging months – coupled with the promise of a new day – here are five health and wellness trends we can look for in the many horizons of 2021.
We’ve known for a while that Vitamin D – which is actually a hormone – plays a critical role in health, particularly when it comes to the immune system. The COVID epidemic has further substantiated Vitamin D’s role in immune health.
In some shocking statistics, a September 2020 cohort study of 489 patients who had Vitamin D tests conducted prior to COVID diagnoses, found those who were deficient in Vitamin D were 77% more likely to contract COVID. In October, another study looked at 216 patients, and found that 82.2% of people with COVID-19 were deficient in Vitamin D. And lastly, a November 2020 analysis of 154 patients with COVID found that almost 60% of those admitted were low in Vitamin D. Even more telling? Only 32.96% of asymptomatic patients were deficient in Vitamin D, compared to a whopping 96.82% in those who experienced severe COVID symptoms! In other words, being deficient in Vitamin D predicted a much worse outcome in those who contracted the virus. The fatality rate was also 21% in vitamin D deficient individuals, versus 3.1% in those not deficient. With these findings, the study recommended “mass administration of vitamin D supplements to population at risk for COVID-19.”
A large percentage of the population already presented with Vitamin D deficiency prior to the pandemic, while 2020’s quarantine likely exacerbated that problem. So, it may come as no surprise that the key to welcoming back proverbial sunshine into our lives may be literal sunshine! Our bodies naturally generate vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, so spending a short amount of time each day outdoors can boost our resilience by building up our interior stores of the hormone. You can use an app like D Minder (http://dminder.ontometrics.com) to ascertain the perfect outdoor timing for optimal Vitamin D generation, based on your location, body type, and time of day. And while this may be controversial, during the wintry months, I personally engage in extremely brief tanning booth sessions in beds using UVB rays only (which tend to be the “cheap” beds – so that’s a plus!). I recommend weighing the cost benefits, using this method with caution, and going in for only a minute or two.
While synthesizing our own Vitamin D from the sun is ideal, Vitamin D is also found in some foods, such as seafood, cod liver oil, and fortified dairy, and can be taken as a supplement. (I personally take Thorne’s liquid Vitamin D/K2 blend.) Some protocols promote initial high dose Vitamin D supplementation to boost levels, to the tune of 5,000-10,000 IU a day. I recommend working with a knowledgeable practitioner to monitor your vitamin D levels as you work on bringing them into range – typically considered to be 30 and 50 ng/mL.
Continuous Glucose Monitors
One of the biggest healthcare trends may be a re-imagining and re-purposing of an already existing medical device. Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) have historically been prescribed to diabetics to monitor blood sugar levels for proper insulin administration, since chronically low or high blood sugar levels can be fatal. Now, new companies such as Nutrisense and Levels (the latter of which is scheduled to launch early 2021), grant the general public access to CGMs, while providing apps which help interpret the data.
Why would you want to wear a CGM if you’re not diabetic? Chronically elevated blood sugar levels are linked to a myriad of metabolic health problems, as well as insulin resistance – which itself may be at the root of an overwhelming number of chronic degenerative diseases. (For more on that, check out Dr. Benjamin Bikman’s Why We Get Sick.) With real time evaluation of blood glucose levels, you can catch trends towards prediabetes and diabetes – and consequentially metabolic health in general – long before conventional testing. I’ve tried a lot of “biohacking” devices, and wearing a CGM has been one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. By seeing instantly how your body reacts to food, diet, exercise and fasting, you can get an instant picture of what dietary and lifestyle choices may or may not be working for you. Worried about information overwhelm? The corresponding apps provided by Nutrisense and Levels help you interpret that data, to take charge of your metabolic health.
In The Lion King, Mufasa eloquently and succinctly explains to Simba the concept of the circle of life: how the lions eat the antelope, and the antelope eat the grass, and when the lions die, they become the grass. Simba’s mind is essentially blown. Little did he know that today, we would be facing vehement wars of confusion, in which good intentions of seeking health and the least amount of harm, are often filtered through ideologies which muddle the actual implications of our choices. While the supermarkets are increasingly displaying an outpouring and production of vegan products, and while many people can indeed thrive on a vegan diet, are such products the key to the sustainability of both ourselves and the future of our planet?
As Robb Wolf and Diana Rodgers discuss in Sacred Cow, a diet inclusive of animal products provides the maximum bang for your buck nutrition wise, while a plant-only diet can fall short, and may also require a certain amount of social privilege to sustain from a cost and accessibility perspective. Concerns regarding cholesterol, cancer, high protein diets, advanced glycation end products (AGEs), etc. are often more nuanced than they are made out to be.
But perhaps the greatest misunderstandings, and where the ultimate future trends of our farming system lie, is in the environmental side of things. While it’s already in vogue to fill your vernacular with words like “greenhouse gasses” and “soil depletion” (or if you want to get really fancy, “carbon sequestering”), do we actually understand what these literally mean? Does removing livestock save the planet from global warming, or could doing so actually lead to the detriment of our planet?
The earth survived for millions of years as an ecosystem of various species, and the survival of the planet likely relies on a complete habitat inclusive of plants and animals, in their natural aforementioned circle of life. Conventional agriculture’s monocropping system, taxes our energy resources and destroys our top soil. Regenerative agriculture practices may be the key to restoring it. In regenerative agriculture systems, ruminants naturally graze and fertilize the soil, and herds are moved around to prevent overgrazing and maintain biodiversity of the land. This can include areas that may otherwise become barren, like hillsides. Entirely plant-based monocropping systems deplete and expose the soils, which then emit greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. While mass producing vegan products are often net carbon negative, in regenerative agriculture systems, livestock serve to sequester carbon back into the soil.
In 2021, look for a move towards more regenerative practices inclusive of animals, such as pasture cropping, which rotate cash crops with cover crops, to enrich the soil and naturally control weeds. In this system, rather than using toxic herbicides to remove crops, animals can be used to graze them down, and the land can effectively support both production of plant and animal products. Or consider the practice of silvopasture, in which trees are used to create a unique form of sustainable diversity. By planting trees in pastures, or bringing grazers into woodlands, a unique habitat is created where trees provide shelter, and animals provide fertilizer.
Farms practicing regenerative agriculture practices include the “celebrity” likes of Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms and Anya Fernald’s Belcampo, while small family farmers across the country play a more silent – though no less vital – role. Additionally, sourcing companies like Butcher Box or Grass Roots Cooperative cut out the middle man of the grocery store by working directly with sustainable farmers to ship products directly to the consumer. Supporting regenerative agriculture practices in 2021 and beyond, may be the key to seeing an actual future of anything in the actual beyond.
While we’ve made massive strides in reducing our exposure to toxins in our food – through increased production, support of, and accessibility to organic practices, a sinister source of chronic exposure continues to run rampant. Europe has banned thousands of toxic compounds from skincare and makeup, yet the US has banned less than 10! These compounds can function as endocrine disruptors which mess with your hormones; obesogens which literally cause your body to store and gain weight; as well as carcinogens linked to cancer.
In the newly released The Cancer Code, Dr. Jason Fung reveals how chronic low-grade exposure to toxic carcinogens catalyzes cancer. Essentially, in such an environment, the cells are not damaged enough that the body kills the cells in its protective safety mechanism known as apoptosis, but neither are the cells adequately repaired. Rather, they exist in a damaged grey zone, in which the cells resort to reverting to the selfish characteristic of unicellular life in order to support themselves. They go rogue to generate energy via the glucose-reliant Warburg effect, evade the immune system, grow, and metastasize throughout the body. Effectively: the hallmarks of cancer.
Because there is no adequate regulation of US skincare, the task falls on independent companies to produce “clean” products and assure safety for users. The problem? Many companies proudly parade labels of “vegan” or “natural,” while still containing problematic ingredients. Mineral based makeup can often be problematic, since the source materials are often high in heavy metals.
Thankfully, many brands are taking it upon themselves to make a change. You can look up the toxicity of brands on the nonprofit Environmental Workout Groups (EWG)’s Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database. I personally adore Beautycounter, which was founded on a mission to remove endocrine disruptors from skincare and makeup, formulating products which are safe for your skin, but which also work. Perhaps most importantly to me, they test all products multiple times for heavy metals. In 2021, look for continued advancements in the clean beauty movement.
Time Restricted Eating/Intermittent Fasting
While it can be easy to ascribe fad labels to the various dietary protocols fading in an out of collective consciousness, it is hard to make such transitory statements about fasting. As a self-proclaimed intermittent faster since 2011, I have to remember that news blasts of “time restricted eating” are relatively new in the zeitgeist. I assure you friends: intermittent fasting – colloquially known as “IF” – which is simply not eating, is also simply not a fad. We’ve been doing IF (even if historically by force rather than choice) since the dawn of humanity, and it’s got a slew of near-magical benefits!
Intermittent fasting is pattern of eating in which you restrict the hours you eat each day, rather than the amount of food you eat. IF’s benefits lie in both its ease (IF does not require calorie counting nor macro calculations!), as well as an array of scientifically-supported benefits. Studies on fasting show it can support insulin sensitivity, boost brain function, reduce inflammation, increase weight loss, improve metabolic factors, and so much more. The fasted state notably activates AMPK, a cell signaling factor which helps repair cells and increase longevity. Fasting also induces a state of ketosis, in which our bodies run on energy from ketones generated from body fat.
Common IF approaches include 16/8 (in which you fast for 16 hours and eat in an 8-hour window), OMAD (in which you eat one meal per day), and ADF (in which you alternate fasting days of no food or up to 500 calories, with days of normal eating).
But be warned: Expect to see many companies capitalize on the fasting “trend” by throwing the popular adjective onto their various food products. Think “fasting” bars, snacks, drinks, etc. While these may be wonderfully nutritious for your eating window, food is not fasting. There’s not much to sell when it comes to fasting: you simply don’t eat. So, if you find yourself shelling out lots of money for “fasting water,” you may want to reconsider.
Analysis of vitamin D level among asymptomatic and critically ill COVID-19 patients and its correlation with inflammatory markers
Association of Vitamin D Status and Other Clinical Characteristics With COVID-19 Test Results
Vitamin D Status in Hospitalized Patients with SARS-CoV-2 Infection
Unravelling the health effects of fasting: a long road from obesity treatment to healthy life span increase and improved cognition
Skin safety and health prevention: an overview of chemicals in cosmetic products
Cumulative effects of antiandrogenic chemical mixtures and their relevance to human health risk assessment
Mixture effects at very low doses with combinations of anti-androgenic pesticides, antioxidants, industrial pollutant and chemicals used in personal care products
Chemical Exposures: The Ugly Side of Beauty Products
Concentrations of Parabens in human breast tumors.
Sacred Cow: The Case for (Better) Meat: Why Well-Raised Meat Is Good for You and Good for the Planet – Robb Wolf and Diana Rodgers, July 2020
Why We Get Sick: The Hidden Epidemic at the Root of Most Chronic Disease―and How to Fight It – Benjamin Bikman, July 2020
Skin safety and health prevention: an overview of chemicals in cosmetic products