There are many different avenues to optimum health and wellness. We eat kale, we practice yoga, and we do what we can to support healthy living in our day-to-day lives. Wellness can come through various schools of thought and in many different forms of diets, health routines, sleep regimens, detoxification treatments, nutritionists, clinicians, and shamans. Several practices from various cultures have become popular in the last few years, and some of these health trends—while beneficial to some—are not necessarily ideal for all. Here, experts weigh in on a few trending wellness topics rooted in ancient wisdom.
Hot on the heels of the popular Paleo diet, bone broth is the super food du jour. The stock, which is cooked anywhere from 12 to 48 hours is said to have many healing benefits, including improving digestion, managing and minimizing inflammation, improving joint health, and providing nutritive recovery for athletes. Over the past few months bone broth has been spotted on cafe menus, in shot form, and even in cocktails and mocktails. These potables come at a price, with some purveyors charging up to $7 to $10 a shot. The minerals, amino acids, and collagen, are a big part of the appeal, as many find these beverages to be not only soothing but also curative. “I’ve seen patients who start ingesting bone broth and feel significantly better,” notes Janet Zand, O.M.D., a naturopath and founder of Zand supplements. “There are certain protein and mineral complexes that our diets might lack. These nutrients can be found in a slow-cooked bone broth and, for some, this soup can be highly restorative.”
In Ayurveda, bone broth is a traditional remedy. Larissa Hall Carlson, dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, shares, “Bone broth is traditionally used when the bone tissue is depleted. This is an extremely nourishing way to replenish the bones, ligaments and tendons, as well and hair and nails, which are considered to be directly connected to the skeletal system, according to Ayurveda.” Carlson recommends that you use fresh, organic and free-range ingredients in the broth for optimal effect. There are some who debate the efficacy of bone broth as a curative. “Since we don’t absorb collagen whole, the idea that eating collagen somehow promotes bone growth is just wishful thinking,” William Percy, an associate professor at the University of South Dakota’s Sanford School of Medicine, recently told NPR. “Bone broth as part of a well-balanced and nutritionally sound diet is probably harmless, but it is not some type of ‘miracle food source’ with the ability to cure a multitude of aches, pains and diseases all by itself,” notes Percy. While there may be some who gravitate to cure-all approaches to nutrition, there are many who feel that bone broth is a viable part of a balanced diet that provides some essential nutrients that we might be missing.
Some studies have found positive effect from ingesting broths, such as this research related to rheumatoid arthritis and chicken-noodle soup. Researchers found that chicken collagen decreased inflammation. Another study reveals the anti-inflammatory properties of chicken soup as a remedy for flu/cold symptoms.
Kombucha is a fermented beverage made from tea, sugar, yeast, and bacteria. The result of this mixture of ingredients is a bubbly, effervescent probiotic drink that reminds one of apple cider vinegar or a spritzer wine cooler—slightly sweet and tart. Some find that drinking kombucha increases their sense of wellness, positively affecting digestion and immune function. Others find it creates gastric distress and even causes allergic reactions. This drink, like many other popular remedies, is not for everyone. “Like every other health trend that pops up, the key is moderation,” says Zand. “The other important thing to remember is to pay attention to how you feel. Some remedies are perfect for some and not others.” Many like to make their own batches of kombucha, but it is extremely important to have sanitary conditions for this.
“Fermented foods and drinks are used therapeutically in Ayurveda, but not usually recommended for daily intake,” notes Carlson. According to Ayurvedic principles, balancing the qualities of the season with the qualities of food is important for digestive health. In the cold, dry winter it’s generally balancing to eat warm, moist foods such as soups and stews. Kombucha has a pungent and spicy quality that can, in small doses, help support digestion. “Temporarily stoking the ‘agni,’ or digestive fire, with a hot, sour substance like kombucha can be effective for igniting digestive vitality. We’d get a similar effect from adding black pepper to a savory dish, or sipping some ginger tea—these are both hot spices, and help stoke the digestive fire. It’s important not to overuse hot, spicy substances, as that could eventually lead to acid indigestion, skin irritation, or mental agitation,” advises Carlson. “You should avoid using kombucha if suffering from acid indigestion or heartburn, as this fermented drink could make that pitta-aggravated situation much worse.”
Erin Casperson, academic coordinator for the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, is a fan of kombucha but warns that one must be mindful of one’s constitution and quantity. “One of the main concerns with kombucha consumption is quantity. A ½ cup is fine. 16 ounces is a lot and it can aggravate in high quantity. Take it before a meal as a digestive rather than a full afternoon beverage,” says Casperson.
Humans have been ingesting charcoal for centuries as a digestive remedy and detoxifying agent. Charcoal is commonly used in air and water filtration systems to serve a similar purpose—removing unwanted agents from the materials being filtered. Activated charcoal contains small pores that allow it to absorb acids and toxins in the body. This substance has become so popular that juice bars and now serving green drinks spiked with charcoal for up to $9.95 a bottle. There is no conclusive evidence to demonstrate the efficacy of activated charcoal as a safe part of one’s diet and historically its been used in the ER for overdoses or poisoning, or for an occasional upset stomach—not as a consistent part of one’s health regimen.
The activated charcoal binds to particles, including poisons, in the body and is used in to absorb dangerous compounds in emergency situations. This remedy has a history of treating sudden gastric discomfort and has been found to be effective, when used in moderation, to treat gas and diarrhea, but it’s always best to consult a physician before using any remedy such as this. “Activated charcoal doesn’t know the difference between nutrients and toxins and can absorb the good with the bad, so you just have to be careful and be sure to consult a practitioner before use,” cautions Zand.
Recently, oil pulling resurged in popularity, especially in dental and oral health applications. Oil pulling is performed first thing in the morning, as part of a daily self-care routine (also called dinacharya in Ayurvedic medicine). The practice involves gargling with oil for 10 to 20 minutes, typically with sesame or coconut oil, to strengthen the muscles in the mouth and jaw and fortify the gums and teeth. Coconut oil is also used, depending on personal preference and doshic constitution. Casperson is a strong proponent for oil pulling. “Charaka Samhita, the classical text of Ayurveda, states that gargling with sesame oil is beneficial for the strength of the jaws (and ability to chew even the hardest eatables), depth of voice, flabbiness of face, and for improving one’s sense of taste and smell; the individual never gets dryness of throat or cracked lips and their teeth will not decay.
Ayurveda incorporates coconut into daily routines. According to Carlson, “Coconuts are ideal for use in Ayurveda for pitta conditions involving excess heat and inflammation. Coconut oil is lovely for massage in the summer months as it’s light, cooling, hydrating and refreshing for the skin. Coconut water is extremely refreshing to drink in the summer season (or after a hot yoga class), and is regularly recommended in Ayurveda to keep the system cool during the hot season.”
Coconut oil contains the antioxidant Vitamin E that is highly beneficial for skin. “We’re lucky that coconut oil and coconut water are very easy to find these days. They’re sold in health food stores and regular chain supermarkets. This is one of my favorite Ayurvedic tools. As a pitta constitution, I depend upon coconut oil for my daily massage not only in summer, but throughout much of the spring and early fall,” says Carlson. “It keeps my skin soft and supple, and gives it a radiant glow. I also drink coconut water a few times a week during the warm season, as I find it works to immediately cool me down—both mentally and physically.”
As a health curative, some claim coconut oil helps to fight off bacteria and viruses. It has also been touted for increasing “good” HDL cholesterol in the body. Regardless of these claims, coconut oil is high in saturated fat, and therefore potentially a dietary concern for heart health and overall fat consumption. Interestingly, coconut oil has also been found to positively impact weight loss. A study published in the journal Lipids demonstrated a reduction of abdominal obesity in overweight women who took a daily dietary supplement of coconut oil in combination with a low-calorie diet and 50 minutes of walking each day. Women who supplemented their diets with soybean oil did not demonstrate this effect. As with all other treatments, moderation and self-awareness is key.
If you decide to embrace any of these cures, it is always recommended that you consult with a health professional to ensure which practice is best suited to your needs.