In the last couple of years awareness about the impact that our health has on how we respond to infection and disease has increased. The pandemic has shown that those with pre-existing conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and metabolic syndrome have poorer outcomes if they get coronavirus. We now know that taking steps to reduce the chances of getting these diseases is likely to have multiple benefits to mental and physical health on an individual and societal level.
Supporting long term health and prevention of disease are likely to be on trend this year with key areas for attention being mental well being, immune health and healthy ageing.
The past decade has seen a huge upswing in awareness and understanding of mental health issues. The pandemic has meant that people who previously hadn’t experienced mental health problems may now have a taste of anxiety, stress or depression. Mood altering ingredients and those that support adrenal health, sleep and concentration are likely to be popular. For example, CBD oil is starting to show promise in the treatment of depression, anxiety, epilepsy and sleep problems.
As modern medicine and psychiatry struggle to find solutions to the mental health crisis, psychedelics are emerging as possible adjuncts to the available treatment options.
Microdosing means taking a fraction of the dose of a drug that would be required to have a full blown trip. Research so far supports the efficacy of MDMA in the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and psilocybin in the treatment of depression and cancer-related anxiety. Psilocybin is the active psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms. It does not seem to have the emotion blunting effects that conventional anti-depressants have. Research is also being done into the use of LSD and ayahuasca in the treatment of psychiatric disorders (1).
Although there are potential risks in using psychedelic assisted therapy to treat mental health problems evidence so far suggests it may be more effective than current treatments and may even be the start of a paradigm shift in how we think about mental health.
The Immune System
The past two years have brought into focus the importance of the immune system for health. We can only control what enters our body to a limited extent so supporting the immune system’s capacity to adapt is the key to not becoming really ill when infections arise. New variants of coronavirus are sure to arise but a healthy immune system is likely to be our best bet for reducing the severity and duration of symptoms should we become infected with COVID or any other pathogen.
Supporting immune health with the use of natural ingredients and botanicals along with lifestyle habits is likely to grow as a trend. Immune building nutrients include vitamins A, C, D, E and K, zinc, quercetin, echinacea, resveratrol and omega 3 fats.
Dietary strategies to support the immune system include reducing sugar, refined oils, and ultra processed foods. These may all increase inflammation and have a negative effect on the microbiome.
Healthy Ageing – From Lifespan to Healthspan
The ageing process can be described as progressive functional decline. This is why the likelihood of getting diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases and neurodegenerative diseases increase as we get older. Cellular senescence and mitochondrial dysfunction are part of the ageing process, but slowing these down could help to slow the signs of ageing.
Healthspan refers to the years of life in which we are healthy and free of disease, rather than just alive. Diet, lifestyle, and supplements can all help to improve the chances of a healthy old age. These practices are best started as early as possible, rather than waiting for the body to start to decline. Key areas of focus include modulating inflammation, regulating blood sugar and insulin levels, reducing free radicals, supporting the immune system and liver function and maintaining muscle mass and range of motion.
Ingredients and supplements used to support healthy ageing include protein powders, branched-chain amino acids, hyaluronic acid, collagen, hydrolized collagen, acetyl-L-carnitine, CoQ10, and alpha lipoic acid. Taking moderate, regular exercise is important, including strength, flexibility and balance training along with aerobic exercise.
Air pollution is a serious health hazard that is associated with millions of deaths worldwide every year. Exposure to air pollution may cause or exacerbate asthma and lung dysfunction, neurological damage, heart disease, cancer, and all-cause mortality. Conventional agriculture is a major source of air pollution meaning what we eat can have an impact on air quality. We can all make a difference by choosing organic foods and regeneratively farmed or pasture-raised animal products.
Whether we’ve had COVID or not, we’ve all had to adapt to the changing circumstances and uncertainties brought on by the pandemic. Over time this can lead to adrenal fatigue or burnout with symptoms of exhaustion, irritability and lack of motivation. The importance of being able to build emotional and physical resilience so that we can handle the things that life throws at us has never been more apparent. Resilience can be built through practices such as meditation and mindfulness.
Adaptogens are herbs that can help to balance the adrenals. They include rhodiola, ginseng, ashwaghanda, cordyceps mushrooms and maca. B vitamins, phosphatidyl serine, magnesium, zinc and vitamin C may all support the adrenal glands, energy and motivation.
Most of us have had to get used to functioning in a virtual world during the pandemic with virtual meetings and webinars becoming the norm. It’s now our screens that we turn to for resources that help manage our physical and mental health including yoga classes, fitness training, guided meditations and webinars on health and well being.
The pandemic triggered an increase in the number of people with pets. Pet owners are now seeking to support their pet’s health in the same way they look after their own health. The demand for organic pet foods and treats is on the increase. Supplements and fortified foods for pets are increasingly available with the aim of supporting digestion and joint health.
See also the blog post on Food Trends which gives an idea of the way foods and cooking might be heading this year and the post on Nutraceuticals which gives an overview of these nutritional powerhouses.
1. Am J Psychiatry. 2020 May 1;177(5):391-410. Psychedelics and Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy. Reiff CM et al.