As athleisure and Taylor Swift continue to inundate our social media feeds, a slew of health hacks and wellness habits du jour are also emerging. From alternative medicines gone viral to evidence-based eating patterns, local professionals predict the trends that will continue to gain traction in the health and wellness sector in 2023.
Miracle elixir or snake oil for the influencer era? Though there’s a lack of large-scale studies proving its efficacy, this natural supplement is taking TikTok by storm, and proponents are swearing by its ability to aid an assortment of ailments. The tasteless, odorless purported panacea is high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and eating a daily spoonful has been said to reduce inflammation and boost immunity. Phoenix-based purveyor Jamrock Sea Moss (jamrockseamoss.com) sells restorative gel handmade from sea moss sourced off the coast of Jamaica. According to owner Hunaya Cramer, consuming the jelly-like substance boasts a host of benefits including hydrated skin, heartburn and migraine relief, heightened mental clarity and increased energy levels. Essentially, it’s Tiger Balm for a new generation.
It’s hard to imagine that something as innocuous as a power nap could propel a radical paradigm shift, but the idea that resting is resistance from the adverse effects of “hustle culture” has recently made the rounds thanks to The Nap Ministry’s Tricia Hersey. According to Dr. Ruchir Patel, medical director and founder of The Insomnia and Sleep Institute of Arizona (sleeplessinarizona.com), lack of quality sleep manifests in myriad maladies including low productivity and motivation, irritability and increased risk of accident or injury. He also adds that taking designated time to disconnect from digital devices allows the mind to rest and reset. “The concept of taking a rest in day-to-day life is important, whether you take a nap or just sit quietly and close your eyes and meditate for 10 minutes,” he says. Patel has several rules of thumb when it comes to resting the right way. Seeking out a quiet environment without external distractions is vital, and he cautions against napping after 3 p.m. or for more than 30 minutes. However, for those who don’t sleep well at night, catching some quick midday Zs can also be critical for long-term brain health, he says. “There’s a lot of emerging evidence showing that sleep deprivation and poor-quality sleep can contribute to dementia, memory issues and even Alzheimer’s,” he says. “Even though your brain won’t make up 100 percent of what it’s lost, catching up on 60-80 percent is better than not catching up at all.”
Drinks for the Sober-Curious
America’s current alcohol consumption is a bit paradoxical, according to The Nixer (thenixer.com) co-owner Brad Bridwell. “The pandemic saw a rise in drinking, but at the same time, younger generations are drinking demonstrably less,” the Phoenix resident says. It was Bridwell’s own sobriety journey during the early part of the pandemic that spurred the pop-up “(so)bar” concept, which provides alcohol-replacement products and elevated adult beverages for “the sober-curious, the mindful drinker and the non-drinker to create a more inclusive atmosphere in traditional settings where alcohol plays center stage.” The Nixer makes complex cocktails that replace liquor with healthy alternatives containing things like adaptogens, nervines, nootropics and even CBD and kava, which can elicit a controlled “buzz” and reduce stress without the negative side effects of alcohol. These mocktails also provide what Bridwell refers to as ritual benefits, healthy substitutes for common drinking habits like having a cocktail after a long day. “Nootropics and adaptogens specifically will work on elevating your focus mentally and work with your body’s stress levels and overall provide a calming sense,” he says. “You can achieve the same calming nature of the feeling you’re desiring with other elements that will directly do it, or simply by the ritual.”
Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? Ilona Bleaman, a physician assistant at Arizona Wellness Center (az-wellness.com) in Mesa, challenges this notion that society has long deemed a nutritional law. “If you skip breakfast, you’re saving money to buy better quality food when you do eat. You’re also giving your body time to go into fat-burning mode,” she says. “If we’re always eating, we’re never giving our bodies a period of time to get to the fat-burning.” Bleaman is a passionate proponent of intermittent fasting, an eating pattern she insists is more about mindful mealtimes than a restricted diet. She suggests starting by pushing a patient’s first meal back an hour or not eating three hours before bedtime before they commit to fasting for 24 or 72 hours at a time. “There’s a difference between calorie restriction and intermittent fasting. If someone does calorie restriction without looking at the time that they’re eating, they’ll initially lose weight, but because their body’s meant to survive, it suspects it’s going into starvation mode,” she explains. “Whereas when you’re looking at the timing of what you’re eating, it reverses the insulin resistance and resets the hunger hormones.” Bleaman explains intermittent fasting as “looking at the times that you can eat and then focusing on what food is going to support your health.” She does not recommend intermittent fasting to patients with adrenal fatigue or a history of disordered eating and says to stray from junk food when breaking the fast. “The goal is to eat a whole-food diet,” she says.
Its remarkable metamorphosis from ’90s club drug to trending clinical treatment makes ketamine the breakout star of alternative medicine in recent years. In fact, it was only eight years ago that Valley ER nurse Kevin Nicholson opened the first Ketamine Wellness Centers (ketaminewellnesscenters.com) clinic in Downtown Phoenix. Though he wasn’t the first in the Valley to administer the controversial drug in a clinical setting – Depression Recovery Centers started trial treatments in November 2012 – it is now the largest outpatient ketamine therapy provider in the country, with 13 clinics in nine states. It focuses on low-dose IV infusions to treat symptoms of chronic pain and complex mental-health maladies like severe depression and suicidal ideation. Nicholson addresses the stigma of fringe remedies like ketamine, MDMA and psilocybin making their way into conventional medicine circles by assuring patients that these therapies are “managed like any responsible medication being administered in a clinic-type setting.” The recent FDA approval of Spravato, an intranasally administered ketamine isolator for treatment-resistant depression, PTSD and suicidality, legitimized the drug within the larger medical community. “The biggest thing for us is making it mainstream and getting the insurance covered, getting the third-party payers recognizing it as a valid option and allowing people who are paying good money for their benefits to get an alternative treatment that works for them,” Nicholson says. “And we’ve been able to save lives by doing this.”
For better or worse, COVID-19 served as a catalyst for significant restructuring in the health and wellness sphere and beyond. “We were already kind of on this wellness trend and inundated with wellness messaging through social media on a daily basis,” says Dr. Ravi Chandiramani, chief medical officer at Soul Surgery Integrative Medicine Addiction Centers (soulsurgeryrehab.com) in Scottsdale. He says he has seen a sudden spike in “sober tourism” over the last several years, and that the pandemic allowed people to reflect and reevaluate their relationships with alcohol and recreational drugs. As more people are seeking mindful, substance-free vacations, dozens of businesses solely dedicated to sober tourism have developed, allowing people to deliberately plan their trip around immersing themselves in the culture, cuisine and experiences of their destination. “What you’ll find is that you’ll really have the true meaning of that vacation manifested where you’ve appropriately fed your body, mind, spirit and soul in a way that you can’t do and would not have been able to do had alcohol or drugs been part of the picture,” Chandiramani says. Just as people are being more intentional about abstaining from alcohol on vacation, they’re pursuing places that allow them to unplug and be present in other ways. Remote retreats like Castle Hot Springs (castlehotsprings.com) in Morristown boast the healing properties of natural hot pools, mindfulness, yoga and meditation classes, and no TVs on property to encourage people to disconnect and commune with nature. Not to mention, a 7-mile dirt road separating the wellness oasis from civilization serves as a tangible reminder of that disconnection. “Castle Hot Springs has the added benefit of being isolated, even though we’re so close,” says general manager Kevin Maguire. “You’re a world away, and we embrace that.”
Breast Implant Removal
On the heels of the FDA’s latest warning about squamous cell carcinoma and various lymphomas in scar tissue around breast implants, a new, perhaps more perplexing issue has emerged. Although there’s no official diagnostic criteria, an increasing number of women with breast implants have been reporting a slew of unexplained symptoms including weight gain, inflammation, menstrual changes and thinning hair. This broad range of baffling symptoms has been dubbed Breast Implant Illness (BII) and received widespread attention when Phoenix resident and former racing superstar Danica Patrick appeared on Good Morning America last year with her plastic surgeon, Dr. Shaun Parson (drparson.com), to discuss her personal breast implant removal journey. “It’s usually that their bodies have this chronic inflammatory response to this implant. So, your body’s fighting something, just like if it had an infection,” Parson said. “I’ve seen too many times people get better after you remove their implants, and I think we have work to do to figure out why.”
As the world continues to heal from the coronavirus pandemic, health equity remains a pressing issue. This disruption in the health care field led to a shift in the public’s perspective on not only how providers give care, but how – and which – patients receive it. Though value-based care (VBC) was conceptualized nearly a decade ago, it has recently gained considerable traction among consumers. As an alternative to standard fee-for-service reimbursement, VBC correlates the cost of care to the patient’s outcome, meaning if a physician prevents a prediabetic patient from developing diabetes, the patient is charged less for their treatment, instead of a one-size-fits-all-approach. Phoenix-based Equality Health (equalityhealth.com) is leading the charge locally with a heightened focus on culturally competent care, which addresses environmental factors such as housing, transportation and access to healthy food that could impact an individual’s health, and acknowledges the distinct needs of different populations including LGBTQ+ and people of color. “When combined with the tenets of VBC, both are powerful tools to drive better outcomes for individuals and population health, especially in underserved communities,” Equality Health’s Arizona market president Lisa Stevens Anderson says.
Vegan and vegetarian diets have been trending for the last few decades. But for some, a fully meat-free lifestyle just isn’t feasible. A plethora of studies have proven the health benefits of eliminating red meat, but rigorous or restrictive diets can be detrimental to a person’s health in other ways, according to Suneil Jain, a naturopathic doctor, owner of Rejuvena (werejuvenate.com) in Scottsdale and lifelong vegetarian. “If it’s stressing you out on what to eat, that’s worse than anything that you’re eating,” he says. Jain recommends a reducetarian diet – decreasing a person’s meat intake in whatever capacity feels comfortable or healthy for them – to optimize his patients’ holistic health. There are, however, a few caveats to his clinical nutrition counseling: Seek out high-quality animal proteins, steer clear of overly processed mock meats and don’t underestimate the benefits of fruit, vegetables and fermented foods. “The push toward going vegetarian on the synthetic side of it is very bad,” he says. “The main thing to keep in mind at all times is to eat a real, balanced diet.”
According to a survey conducted by the Picker Institute, 75 percent of patients describe the health-care system as “fractured” and afflicted by duplications of effort, lack of communication and conflicting advice and treatment plans. Much of this medical disconnect can be attributed to the fact that patients typically receive care from a series of specialists at different facilities. Comprehensive health-care systems like Valleywise (valleywisehealth.org), which has 16 medical centers in the Greater Phoenix area, and Neighborhood Outreach Access to Health (NOAH, noahhelps.org), with six Valley locations, assemble local specialists and subspecialists under one roof to collaborate and better serve each patient’s whole health. These all-in-one clinics fall under the umbrella of federally subsidized safety-net health-care systems, which allow low-income and uninsured patients access to care. It’s the same seminal, scalable model that Mayo Clinic created more than 150 years ago, but with a bigger tent. “Addressing our patients’ needs from a whole-person perspective allows our providers to work as a team to develop the best plan of care for every patient,” says NOAH CEO Wendy Armendariz. “When our patients are seen by a team of [providers], they can share any questions or concerns about their overall health and participate in creating the plan for their health care going forward. This unique approach is the foundation of NOAH’s mission to provide compassionate, quality health care for all.”