As 2019 creeps ever closer to its merciful end, there’s plenty we’re glad to be leaving in the rearview mirror. Much of the last decade—particularly the tail end of it—has felt like a haunted carnival funhouse in which each new room serves up a surreal and previously unimaginable horror. This was also true of the last 10 years in health trends.
Reading the news on “wellness,” health, and beauty fads from the last several years is how I imagine it would feel to hear our world explained back to us by aliens. Some are strange, and many are truly unbelievable. Vaginal steaming. Penis and vampire facials. Robots that listen to our sleep patterns and interpret our breathing. Some are recurrent, others are fleeting. But one thing is consistent: They are all fucking terrible. Here are a few of them.
We’d be remiss not to include on this list one of the greatest grifters of the decade—the one who, by her own blood, sweat, and downward dog, brought the so-described “healing modalities” to the masses: Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow. Where would we be if not for the very woman who championed not only the dangerous quackery of vaginal steaming but a whole class of bizarre and pseudoscientific horseshit?
A few of Goop’s greatest hits include the infamous vaginal jade egg (claims about which Goop was sued for and later forced to settle over), bee stings for beauty (a kind of procedure that can be deadly), and unnecessary colon cleansing (your anus is probably fine). And because Goop evidently can’t be killed—in fact, it’s thriving—you can rest assured there will be plenty more woo-woo scams from this company to look forward to in the coming decade.
Few things truly capture the absurdity of our times quite like biohacking, in all of its many forms. Depending on who you ask, biohacking can mean simply eating well and exercising—or it can mean going full cyborg. For example, a blog post on the website of motivational speaker and accused creep Tony Robbins describes it as being “essentially the practice of changing our chemistry and our physiology through science and self-experimentation to energize and enhance the body.” For others, it might be having microchips embedded beneath their skin—or any number of Jack Dorsey’s misguided attempts at the optimization of the self (more on that in a minute).
As you may imagine, the people who refer to the practice of injecting themselves with DIY gene therapies as a self-improvement lifehacks are generally not professionally trained scientists nor licensed medical personnel.
Since we have previously reported on everything from controversial tales of DARPA cranially implanting chips to treat chronic depression to heartbreaking stories of desperate patients cobbling together DIY cancer immunotherapy and pharmaceuticals, let us be clear which body-modifiers we’re talking about right now. We mean the dude trying to make his dogs glow. We mean the man who wanted to turn his dick into a vibrator. People who some media might think “look f*cking cool” but they’ve got a questionable antenna sticking out of their heads. Those guys.
Perhaps the best example of fringe biohacking is the guy who injected doses of his own semen intravenously for well over a year in an attempt to cure his back pain. And should there be any lingering confusion as to whether it works, the answer is no, cum is not a remedy for back pain.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is one of the most visible practitioners of the Silicon Valley trend of “intermittent fasting.” Back in January, Dorsey tweeted that he had been experimenting with the practice “for some time.” He claimed he ate only one meal a day (a 22-hour fast, as he described it) and had recently dabbled in a three-day water fast. The foremost thing he noticed, he said, “is how much time slows down.” But limiting your food intake to a single meal per day and sometimes subsisting only on water sounds suspiciously like disordered eating, as many, many others have observed.
For fasters, however, starving yourself offers a chance to optimize the mind, man. Geoffrey Woo, chief executive of startup H.V.M.N., told the New York Times that people are “not physical laborers anymore” and that therefore “we need to optimize for cognitive performance and intellectual labor.” H.V.M.N. just so happens to sell nootropics—substances for very allegedly enhancing brain function—including a Ketone Ester meant to complement fasting and keto diets.
So while we’re here, let’s talk about fad diets. There was paleo, Atkins, Whole30, keto—oh yes, keto, the effects of which are still not clear, at least nowhere as clear as advertised. And remember the cabbage juice diet, and just juicing in general? That caught on... for a minute there.
This may be asking too much, but I wish for all of us moving into 2020 that we can be unburdened by these absolutely bananas diet headlines and just enjoy our food in peace.
What an absolute roller coaster it’s been for the sharp rise and abrupt fall of vaping, the ostensible smoking cessation tool for adults and drug of choice for teens. Juul, the market leader for e-cigarettes, debuted in 2015 with marketing campaigns featuring young, hip-looking models that the company’s top brass were well aware would likely appeal to teens. The design of the device—a sleek, easily concealable USB-looking thing—only made it all the more appealing to young people. To boot, the company offered an assortment of sugary or fruity flavors, all of which the Food and Drug Administration says contribute to the product’s popularity among kids.
But all of this already damning information was compounded by incidents in which Juul claimed its products were safer than traditional cigarettes. Not only did former Juul CEO Kevin Burns claim in a letter on the company’s site that Juul gives adult smokers “the satisfaction that they want without the combustion and the harm associated with it,” but two teens testified before a House subcommittee earlier this year that a Juul rep visited their classroom and told the students the products were “totally safe,” among other spectacular lies about e-cigarettes.
This news, much of it recent, comes as ongoing reports of deaths and illnesses possibly related to e-cigarette habits dominate national headlines, which doesn’t exactly help Juul’s case. While many of those appear to be linked to black-market THC cartridges, not all victims reported vaping THC, and investigations into the reports are still underway.
One thing is clear, though. In its quest to dominate the incredibly lucrative tobacco market by cutting corners, Juul is now furiously backpedaling. The company this month pulled all of its non-tobacco or menthol-flavored products from sale on its site in the U.S., meaning no more mango or cucumber pods. The golden age of delicious Juul pods may well be over. And honestly? It’s probably best it stays that way.
If there were a health fad to sum up the Silicon Valley generation, surely it would be microdosing. Taking psychedelics—namely LSD or magic mushrooms—in teeny, tiny amounts frequently has been heralded by the San Francisco crowd as a way to improve creativity, expand the mind or whatever, and even make child-rearing a bit easier.
Those who microdose aren’t actually trying to trip, and the described benefits include alleviation of pain, including migraines and PMS, and improvements for depression and anxiety. One person claimed it cured their fear of public speaking. These are all, to be sure, pretty fantastic testimonials about a yet-to-be-fully-understood practice. Some studies have reported positive results, but more research is needed to weigh potential risks.
But with respect to the Silicon Valley crowd—the trend-chasers and self-described biohackers—maybe it’s time to let super-enlightened tech bros who are micro-intoxicated stay a fixture of this decade as we move into the next. There are already enough stranger-than-fiction narratives playing out around us. We shouldn’t have to wonder whether the most powerful people in the world—the ones with all of our data, secrets, and shame—also happen to be high as shit.