We asked doctor of traditional Chinese medicine Melissa Carr to peek into her crystal ball (er, do some research) to tell us what’ll be big in 2018. What are the new topics she’s reading up on? The food trends worth trying? Which supplements are exciting her? She made us a handy primer, from the fun (hi, unicorn food) to the functional (hey there, omega-3s).
A: Activated charcoal
No, we’re not talking barbecue fuel here, though you may want to have some activated charcoal handy if you’ve had one too many beers with your burgers. Activated charcoal is a natural supplement that binds to toxins and chemicals in the body, allowing them to be eliminated. Make sure to take it away from medications and other supplements though, and know which medications it doesn’t mix well with.
B: Brain-gut connection
“I have a gut feeling” seems to be truer than we once thought. As a “second brain,” the gut communicates regularly with the brain in our skull, impacting our mood and perhaps even our decision-making. In fact, it’s estimated that 90 percent of our serotonin—a feel-good hormone—is produced in the gut!
As the most abundant protein in your body, collagen helps to provide elasticity, strength and structure to your skin, bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments. No wonder it’s become a buzzy topic. To boost your collagen production, eat plenty of foods rich in copper and vitamin C, like mango and kiwi, and avoid smoking and too much sugar. You can also give collagen supplements and topical vitamin C cream a go.
D: Dark chocolate
Fair trade dark chocolate (70 percent or more) is my favorite prescription to follow. Rich in nutrients like iron, magnesium, copper, manganese and a bunch of antioxidants, in moderate quantities it may help protect your heart and blood vessels, defend your skin against sun damage and improve brain function. Plus, it contains a chemical that’s the same one your brain releases when you have those “I’m falling in love!” giddy feelings.
E: Essential oils
As one of your most primitive and powerful senses, your sense of smell is directly linked to your limbic system, the part of your brain that helps control your drive for survival, basic emotions, motivation and some types of memory. No surprise, then, that smelling lavender can help you feel calm, peppermint can boost your energy and citrus can lift your mood.
F: Fermented foods
Before refrigeration, fermentation was one way we preserved foods. That’s why people around the globe have their own traditional fermented foods, from natto to kimchi to sauerkraut to lassi. As you’ve probably heard, one of the main benefits of fermented foods is the presence of good bacteria—probiotics—that support a healthy digestive system.
G: Golden milk
Still high on the trend-o-meter, golden milk and golden lattes are indeed golden in both color and reputation. Most of that has to do with their main ingredient, turmeric: a potent spice that can help us manage inflammation and improve liver function. To make golden milk at home, simply mix 1/2 Tbsp coconut oil, 1/2 tsp turmeric powder and 1 cup nondairy milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. Let simmer for five to 10 minutes before stirring in 1 Tbsp maple syrup and a pinch of black pepper.
H: Herbal tea
If you have a whole cupboard devoted to tea, raise your hand. My hand is raised high. Matcha went mainstream in 2017, and many trendspotters expect healing herbal teas to rise in popularity too. Herbal teas are generally caffeine free, and some favorites include ginger tea for digestion, camomile tea for calming, rosehip tea for vitamin C and rooibos tea for antioxidants.
The word “inflammation” is often met with disdain because so many health conditions have it at their root. But inflammation, whether caused by injury or infection, is also a vital part of your healing process. The problem is when your body gets stuck in chronic inflammation. Luckily, natural anti-inflammatories can help. Include turmeric and omega-3 fatty acids in your diet whenever possible and use arnica topically or as a homeopathic formula.
J: Juicing (with a twist)
Yes, juicing has been trending for ages. But lately low-sugar juices—which emphasize dark leafy greens and other veggies over fruit—have been taking over. Because vegetable juices have high concentrations of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (healthy plant compounds), they can provide a powerful nutritional punch. While not a replacement for regular whole produce, this is an easy way to boost your intake.
K: Kale cousins
Kale has long been crowned king of the greens world, but it’s time to go beyond. Collard greens have more fiber, protein, calcium and iron than kale, and Swiss chard is a better source of iron. Other healthy greens to grab include romaine lettuce, parsley, watercress, beet greens, radicchio and arugula.
L: Local superfoods
When it comes to superfoods, we often think first of the exotic ones from faraway lands. Emphasizing local foods not only helps protect our environment, but it also supports local farmers. Luckily, for many of us, local superfoods can include avocados, berries, broccoli, oranges, squash and more.
Although not hallucinatory, the medicinal mushrooms now being researched do seem magical. Depending on the variety, mushrooms like reishi, maitake, cordyceps, turkey tail and lion’s mane have been shown to fight viruses and bacteria, kill cancerous cells, calm the nervous system and support the brain, heart, kidneys and liver. Mushroom latte, anyone?
N: NSAID alternatives
In February 2017, the American College of Physicians (ACP) released updated guidelines that called for physicians to recommend non-drug therapies for patients with low back pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) were not recommended as the starting point. Instead, the ACP points to acupuncture, massage, yoga, exercise, progressive relaxation and heat wraps as go-to options.
Whole books have been written on omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs). They’re anti-inflammatory and support the health of virtually every organ and system in your body. Simply put, if you want to feel good and look good, you need to get enough omega-3s. You’ll find them in flax and chia seeds—and as supplements.
You are more “non-you” than “you” because each person carries 10 times more bacteria than human cells! And that’s a good thing, because “good” bacteria—probiotics—improve digestion, fight off harmful bacteria and even affect how we think and feel. Probiotics can be obtained through supplements or fermented foods (do you remember the “F” section of this abecedary?).
Q: Quiet time
Close your eyes and listen. Is it quiet? For most of us, traffic, TV, music, smartphones and other people provide a steady chorus of background sounds. But quiet time is excellent for your physical and mental well-being. It may even stimulate brain cell growth. If you can’t find a quiet place, try earplugs or noise-cancelling earbuds.
R: Root-to-stem cooking
Food waste continues to be a major concern. In the United States, about 50 percent of all fruits and veggies are tossed—yikes. So can the leafy tops of root vegetables and tough stalks of leafy greens be used rather than tossed? You bet. For starters, try blending beet or carrot greens into pesto and kale stalks into smoothies.
Is this the original mermaid food? (See the “U” section.) I imagine that King Triton would have told his daughter Ariel to eat her veggies—in this case, sea vegetables like kelp, wakame, dulse and kombu. Seaweed is rich in a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, and it’s a good source of fiber. Many seaweed species are also full of omega-3s. Add seaweed to soups, stews and salads for a pop of salty flavor (and to indulge your inner mermaid or merman).
T: Traditional Chinese medicine
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) isn’t one of the newer wellness trends, having been around for a few thousand years. But as research builds support for its use in various health conditions, TCM continues to grow in popularity. As a complete medical system, TCM uses acupuncture, herbs, nutritional guidelines and other lifestyle recommendations to treat the individual and the root cause of illness, as well as the symptoms.
U: Unicorn and mermaid food
Yup, you read that right. No, it’s not food for horned horses or fish-tailed females. Rather, it’s colorful and/or sparkly food that has its own hashtag. If you want to give it a try, use natural ingredients to dye your food—beets for red, chlorophyll for green, turmeric for yellow and blue algae for blue.
V: Vagus nerve stimulation
Never heard of it? You should find out more because this “wandering” nerve reaches many of your important organs and is key in helping you calm your nervous system. Some ways to stimulate your vagus nerve include dipping your face in cold water, deep breathing, acupuncture and chanting. You want to create a vibrating sensation when you chant—for example, researchers say chanting the word “om” likely stimulates the vagus nerve (one more reason to pay close attention to the “Y” section …).
W: Wearable health technology
Want to know your heart rate, how many calories you’re burning, how many steps you’ve taken, how deeply you slept or how well you’re handling stress? There’s a wearable health tech tool for that. These tools can definitely push you to be healthier, from helping you meditate to reminding you to get up off the couch and go for a run.
X: Xenoestrogen avoidance
Xenoestrogens (pronounced zeeno-estro-jens) are chemicals that mimic your body’s own estrogen, so they can disrupt hormonal balance for both men and women. To avoid them, wash your fruits and vegetables well, avoid cigarette smoke and carefully read skin care product labels (no-no ingredients include parabens and phthalates).
Y: Yoga for the mind
Believe it or not, yoga isn’t all about crop top bras and extreme bendy-ness. Yes, it involves physical movements, but lately I’ve been seeing more focus on the mental and spiritual benefits. The word “yoga” means “union”—making a connection. The emphasis is on awareness, so even if your goal is simply to touch your toes, practice yoga while tuning into the present moment.
Getting sufficient, restful sleep is one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy. So if you suffer from insomnia, consider some natural remedies, including installing blackout shades for your bedroom windows, avoiding backlit screens for at least an hour before bedtime and taking a sleep-supportive supplement like valerian, magnesium or melatonin.