Do you start your day with a visit to a hyperbaric oxygen chamber? Or do you prefer to stare at the sun while doing yoga?
These are among the rituals of four “wellness” obsessives who were profiled by The Times on 12 January.
The pursuit of good health is, of course, to be encouraged, but it’s hardly surprising that some of the measures they reported – such as Himalayan salt lamps and a device called the “HumanCharger” – raised a few eyebrows on social media.
For anyone hoping to improve their own health, we’ve picked out a few of the good bits from their daily routines – and a few you should probably ignore.
Sun staring – “I sun-stare because the UV rays aren’t harmful to my retina the first hour after sunrise,” Dasha Maximov told The Times. Though fewer UV rays will hit your retina when the sun is not yet up, they are still harmful. Staring at the sun is not a good idea at any time.
HumanCharger – “It looks like an iPod and shines light into my ear to give me energy,” says photographer Alex Beer. Light therapy may be useful for all sorts of things, including depression and neurological diseases, but it works best through the eyes.
Himalayan salt lamp – This is said to add minerals to the air. Don’t believe a word of it.
Seawater supplements – Tim Gray, a digital marketing agency CEO, said he takes Quinton Isotonic – “a supplement that comes from plankton and contains enzymes that help me stay hydrated”. According to one website selling these products, they are 29 per cent sea water and 71 per cent spring water, so a 10 ml shot of it is unlikely to do anything much.
Brain-enhancing drugs – Gray also takes aniracetam, a drug he says “switches my brain on and gives me clearer thinking”. Though studies have found a benefit in patients with dementia, there is minimal evidence that the drug is helpful to people with normal cognitive function.
Staying hydrated – “I wake up and immediately rehydrate,” says Beer. Gray has a spreadsheet recording his hydration. Wellness enthusiasts seem to have a particular concern about staying hydrated, but the truth is if you just obey your thirst, you’ll be fine.
Ditching processed food – We’re told we must eschew processed food, but there’s no good reason to do so. They have helped us overcome hunger and reduce waste.
So-called superfoods – These foods may be healthy, but they also have exceptionally good PR. Some small studies suggest quinoa may help lower cholesterol, but we don’t know for sure. Blueberries may reduce cardiovascular risk, but their much-touted antioxidants hardly get into the bloodstream. Coconut water is no better for hydration than water. The benefits of oily fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids are probably overstated.
Spices – Beer sometimes has turmeric before bed. It may be better at the start of the day: one study found that a turmeric breakfast led to improvements in working memory six hours later. But cinnamon – favoured by another person profiled – had no effect.
Supplements – All the wellness devotees espoused the benefits of supplements – Gray takes 15 a day. However, the results from a slew of studies on nutritional supplements for health has been underwhelming, and in some cases, taking high doses can be harmful. Taking supplements with food seems to be important to make sure the nutrients can be absorbed.
Probiotics – Two of those profiled mentioned taking shots of probiotics – live bacteria intended to boost the microbial communities in your gut. But there’s a lot of doubt about their usefulness. They seem to colonise the gut in some people, but not others. And when they do, they can actually be harmful.
Yoga and meditation – Yoga has well-established benefits for physical strength and psychological health. Mindfulness meditation can alleviate depression and anxiety, improve learning, and perhaps even slow ageing. There is also evidence that yoga and meditation can dampen the activity of genes associated with inflammation. To enhance their benefits further, you can even combine them with brain zapping.
Avoid blue light in the evening – There is growing evidence that exposure to blue light in the evening disrupts our circadian rhythms and affects the quality of sleep. Switching off screens before bed, or using an app to filter out blue light, may be helpful. “When I’m working on the computer, I use a program that dims the screen according to the sun’s timing in my location, and I wear blue-light-blocking glasses,” says Maximov.
Get plenty of sleep – Gray has analysed his sleep for four years and found that seven hours and forty-one minutes’ sleep is “the perfect amount for me”. Getting less than seven hours’ sleep raises your risk of obesity, heart disease, depression and early death.