The 9 Biggest Lies in Wellness

Between Instagram influencers, Reddit zealots, and the pushy guy at the supplement store, some seriously ridiculous—and sometimes dangerous—wellness trends have moved from fringe theory to health gospel. Here are the new health virtues that shouldn’t be—and a few tactics you can use to actually improve your life, minus the hype of all those wellness lies.

Wellness Claim #1: Sitting Is the New Smoking

Promoters say that sitting all day can kill you (or, at the very least, pile on the pounds); as a result, every office has at least one person with a mild standing-desk superiority complex.

The truth: Standing won’t burn more calories. “The difference in metabolism between sitting and standing is almost zero,” says David Rempel, M.D., a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Standers also have more foot, leg, back, and joint pain, “especially when people go from never standing to doing it for eight or more hours a day,” says John-Paul D. Hezel, M.D., a sports-medicine physiatrist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Try this for wellness: Instead of thinking “stand,” think “don’t sit all day.” Get up and move for five or ten minutes after every 45 spent sitting. Treadmill desks aren’t the solution. Research found that people’s memory and concentration were worse when they used them.

Wellness Claim #2: Vaping Cannabis Is the Ultimate Natural Medicine

The claim is that you can enjoy all the benefits of marijuana, like relaxation and pain relief, without any of the toxins that result from burning it.

The truth: If the vaping deaths this past summer haven’t made things clear, how about this: “Vaping any compound isn’t healthy,” says Michelle Peace, Ph.D., an associate professor of forensic science at Virginia Commonwealth University. And while cannabis may be useful for certain medical issues, vaping it puts you at risk for others.

Try this: There are other ways to take cannabis, such as in edibles. Though if sleep, anxiety, and pain are your problems, figure out what’s causing them and tackle that before turning to a drug.

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Wellness Claim #3: Corporate Meditation Programs Help You Work

Meditation and mindfulness reduce the mental chatter that can leave you exhausted and unproductive. And these practices can be helpful. The question is whether they truly provide the benefits when corporations—including Google, Apple, and Nike—provide opportunities to learn and practice these.

The truth: When companies offer these programs, the message employees hear is that stress is their fault, says Ronald Purser, Ph.D., author of McMindfulness. This takes pressure off the higher-ups to truly reduce burnout, he says.

Try this: Take advantage of a corporate meditation class to learn the techniques. But then use some of that newfound clarity to ask the company if there are other ways it can help cut down on employee stress overall.

Wellness Claim #4: XYZ Food Prevents Cancer

Study after study reports very small, isolated findings, like how a fill-in-the-blank superfood fights the Big C.

The truth: No single food will end cancer. And these studies tend to “involve taking some extract from a fruit or vegetable and injecting it into mice,” says Saad Khan, M.D., an assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

Try this: Eat produce. Don’t smoke. Exercise. It’s not sexy, but it works.

Wellness Claim #5: Oil Pulling Can Help Your Teeth and Breath

Practitioners say that using a tablespoon of oil—most often coconut—like mouthwash for about 20 minutes pulls out toxins. This whitens teeth, prevents cavities, and freshens breath.

The truth: That’s a long time to do something that’s too unconvincing for the American Dental Association to recommend.

Try this: Fewer than a third of Americans floss daily, so invest your time in that.

Wellness Claim #6: IV Vitamin Drips Fend Off Disease

IV lounges want you to sit back, relax, and have nutrients injected into your bloodstream for more energy and better immunity.

The truth: “Unless you’re severely malnourished and in a hospital, there’s nothing superior about getting IV vitamins,” says Abby Langer, R.D., owner of the Toronto-based Abby Langer Nutrition.

Try this: Eat decent food. “People who have actual deficiencies can benefit from taking a vitamin, but everyone else is getting adequate nutrients through the food they eat,” says Langer.

Wellness Claim #7: MCT Oil Manages Your Energy and Weight

Can a splash of MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) oil in your morning coffee give you more energy, help you focus, and trim your waist?

The truth: MCT-oil fervor is a case of a little good science taken way too far. Though your body absorbs MCTs easily, this does not mean it will use them for energy instead of storing them as fat. “The only people who would benefit from eating more MCTs are those with health issues like Crohn’s disease or colitis, since they are easier on the digestive tract,” says Saroja Voruganti, Ph.D., at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The oil isn’t dangerous; it just doesn’t have the powers people hope for.

Try this: Add milk or cream to your coffee. Both have vitamins and even some protein.

Wellness Claim #8: You Have to Keep a Water Bottle Handy All the Time

The best way to treat your body like a temple, banish fatigue, ace your workout, and end headaches for good is to keep it well watered, some wellness influencers claim. Preferably from a trendy water bottle that you sip from every few minutes.

The truth: “Hydration is important, but it’s been made far more complicated than it needs to be,” says Douglas Casa, Ph.D., a sweat and hydration researcher at the University of Connecticut.

Try this: Listen to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine: “The vast majority of healthy people adequately meet their daily hydration needs by letting thirst be their guide.” Which means drink when you’re thirsty and stop when you aren’t.

Wellness Claim #9: Eating Activated Charcoal Is a Smart Way to Detox

The claim goes like this: The charcoal in ink-colored croissants, soft-serve cones, and lemonade will remove toxins.

The truth: “Activated charcoal is used in emergency rooms for people who have been poisoned, but charcoal smoothies or charcoal whatever isn’t going to detox your body,” says Langer. Your liver handles toxins. And activated charcoal can interfere with certain meds.

Try this: Treat your liver right. Nourish it with minimally processed foods to keep it healthy.

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