This year, new innovations, products, and scientific—or, in some cases, unscientific—developments will change the way people eat and behave, for better or worse. Of course, that’s nothing new. Long before the days of snake oil peddling, we humans have fallen for, and occasionally benefited from, dubious health products and claims.
As a physician, keeping ahead of health and wellness trends means staying informed so you can understand what’s at stake and where the claims—which often go unchecked in the media—are supported by evidence.
Here are four health and wellness trends coming down the pike in 2021.
With new coronavirus variants cropping up, and a challenging vaccine rollout, it looks like the pandemic isn’t going anywhere soon, according to experts. That’s why many are embracing wellness strategies that claim to boost immunity—a trend that is expected to continue into 2021 and beyond. According to MarketResearch.com, the onset of COVID-19 stimulated demand for immune supplements, with more than 50% of consumers increasing their consumption levels last year. Herbal extracts, the fastest-growing ingredients in this area, are expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 12% through 2025.
While supplements are widely used by Americans, and sales may indeed increase, it’s unlikely that vitamins and supplements will have much effect on our immune systems. According to an article in JAMA Internal Medicine, these products “often advertise health benefits, such as improved thinking, better heart health, and a stronger immune system…However, these claims have not been supported by evidence from medical research.”
While there aren’t many surefire ways to boost your immune system, there are many proven ways to bring it to its knees. Chief among them: drinking alcohol, according to Alcohol Research: Current Reviews. The early months of the pandemic brought a huge spike in alcohol consumption, with Nielsen reporting a 54% increase in national sales of alcohol for the week ending March 21, 2020, compared with the same week the year prior. The WHO quickly warned that alcohol use during the pandemic may potentially exacerbate health concerns and risk-taking behaviors. And, there’s no question about it, people are drinking more alcohol in these times.
The CDC, in newly updated guidance on COVID-19 and alcohol use, offers these takeaways:
Drinking alcohol does not protect you from COVID-19.
Drinking alcohol weakens your body’s ability to fight infections, increasing the risk of complications and making it harder to get better if you are sick.
Alcohol use can increase the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia, which are sometimes associated with COVID-19.
Indeed, the research backs this up, according to the aforementioned article in Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, citing studies showing that drinking increases susceptibility to pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), sepsis, alcoholic liver disease, and certain cancers, as well as causing slower and less complete recovery from infection. And if that’s not enough, alcohol causes a variety of other unsavory health risks.
Prioritizing mental health
For the few who made it through 2020 without encountering any mental health hurdles, good on you! For the rest of us, the year will be remembered as a devil’s brew of uncertainty, political upheaval, divisiveness, financial insecurity, isolation, and a climbing burden of disease and death. According to a 2020 report from Mental Health America (MHA), more people are facing deteriorating mental health during the pandemic. From January through September 2020, the number of people who took MHA’s anxiety screenings increased by 93% over the previous year, with the rate of people with moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety remaining higher than rates prior to the pandemic.
In 2020, many people were granted extra time and perspective with which to examine their habits, relationships, careers, and overall life path. In 2021, those insights may fuel greater prioritization of mental well-being. Food and beverage companies will likely respond by marketing more products that contain stress-reducing and sleep-improving ingredients, like antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber, healthy fats, and other bioactive compounds like probiotics. Of course, holistic mental health is about much more than diet, so expect many to cultivate an active lifestyle, healthy relationships, and fulfilling hobbies this year.
Pandemic shutdowns shrank the world. Quickly, face-to-face meetings were limited to whoever lived in our households and the few local retailers we needed to keep food on our plates—like local grocery stores, restaurants, and farmers’ markets. According to Kantar’s COVID-19 barometer, which measures people’s feelings about the pandemic and the future, community bonds and localism continue to gain momentum, with 69% globally saying that they are supporting local shops and 52% reporting paying increased attention to product origins. The report noted that “these protectionist inclinations seem to be more about economic support of neighbors and staying safe by shopping close to home.”
While supporting the local economy and reducing the environmental impact of food production, storage, and transportation are admirable goals, consuming local foods may also bode well for health—unless your “usual” is a cheeseburger from the joint down the street. This is especially true if those foods originate from the garden in your own backyard—the pandemic has apparently led to a boom in gardening with American seed companies scrambling to keep up.