Step right up! These astonishing yet accessible new gadgets, drugs, treatments, and advances are poised to make us all smarter, stronger, and healthier.
1. Your vitamin aisle is now cleaner.
When Naomi Whittel was 16, she resolved her head-to-toe eczema by taking Chinese herbs—only to discover in her 20s that her body was riddled with toxins. Doctors blamed it on contaminated supplements. Two decades later, supplements are still getting bad press for not always containing what they claim to. Lucky for weary, wary health seekers, Whittel is the founder of a rapidly growing supplement company, Reserveage Nutrition, that puts a premium on clean ingredients and science that vouches for their efficacy. “We wanted to cut through the jungle of ingredients to focus on what’s safe,” she says, “and, of course, what really works.”
2. Anyone’s heart can develop an electrical glitch, but how many get a mini pacemaker to fix it?
More, starting ASAP: This tiny miracle is still in clinical trials but could be approved by the FDA as early as next year. How cool is it? The wires that connect a traditional pacemaker to your heart can get infected, causing major complications. This new version, for people who need pacing in one chamber (not both), is wireless. Plus, it’s surgery-free: It gets implanted directly into the heart by steering a catheter through a femoral vein.
3. Women needed a vehicle of change, and it’s here.
One killer on the rise among American women is stroke. Although a drug called tPA can save your life if you get it within 3 hours of having a stroke, only 3 to 8.5% of people do. So it’s welcome news that mobile stroke units equipped with tPA, specialized staff, and diagnostic machines have slowly but surely started rolling out across the country. Two studies released in July found that these units significantly reduce the time it takes to diagnose and treat patients for stroke, greatly improving survival and recovery rates.
4. Your doctor is now smart.
So is your trainer. And your therapist. These days you can connect for good care anywhere:A trainer can still boss you over Wi-Fi. You’ll pay less if you get directed through a workout virtually: Companies like Lift Session and VirtuFit charge as little as $40 for a live one-on-one webcam session.Video chat is the new house call. In April, United Healthcare joined the ranks of insurance companies covering video-based doctor visits just like they do in-person ones. Half of all US hospitals now offer some form of telemedicine; call your doc’s office to see if you can spare yourself the trip in next time.Your therapist is in your pocket. Video chat with a therapist on platforms like Breakthrough (which accepts some types of insurance) or get unlimited texting with a shrink for $25 a week via Talkspace. Online therapy can be just as effective as the face-to-face kind, at least according to one recent study.
5. Those of us blowing out our knees can relax.
Martha Murray was an engineering grad student almost 30 years ago when a friend hobbled into a party on crutches, having torn his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). “I asked him if they would sew it back together, and he looked at me as if I had three heads,” she recalls. Murray was flabbergasted to learn that the repair always involved using a tendon taken from elsewhere in the body: “I couldn’t figure out why you couldn’t just sew the ACL together and let it heal, like so many other things in the body.” The question nagged at her so much she ultimately ended up switching from engineering to medical school, and since then she’s devoted her career to finding a solution. This year, she did. With an ACL tear, the blood clots that should help ligaments reconnect get dissolved by knee fluid. Murray’s workaround is a scaffold that’s sewn between the two torn ends. “We use it to hold the patient’s own blood between the torn ligament ends, and within 8 weeks it’s replaced by tissue,” she says. Early data suggests the method is as effective as the old one, with easier recovery. Given the 100,000 to 300,000 ACL tears that occur every year, just imagine the hours in physical therapy and the medical bills to be saved—especially by women, since we’re up to 10 times more likely to tear an ACL than men are. “This seems more natural than traditional surgery,” Murray says. “It’s basically using the body’s own tissues to heal.”
6. Smart! Don’t eat at night, lose weight.
The kind of fasting being popularized as “intermittent” may be all the rage as a weight loss strategy, but let’s be honest, eating hardly anything 3 days per week will never be truly popular. The awesomely easy alternative: fasting while you’re asleep, plus a little longer. A food break as brief as 12 hours will help you get a smaller waistline: It speeds up metabolism and lowers blood sugar and body weight, even if you don’t actually cut any calories. This is based on preliminary research, but if it’s true—and other ongoing research is looking to show that—you’ll burn fat by just changing when you eat. Your easy plan: Eat three meals as close together as possible—say, a 9 AM breakfast, a 1 PM lunch, and a 6 PM dinner—to stretch out your nighttime fasting phase as long as possible.
That’s how many of us will wear activity trackers supplied by our health care companies in the next 5 years. Expect possible insurance discounts in exchange for your data. Big Brother–ish or worthwhile incentive, it’s the new reality.
8. Make your LDL cholesterol something you used to worry about.
People with persistently high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol now have a powerful new ally. This summer, the FDA approved two drugs in a new major class of cholesterol medications called PCSK9 inhibitors. Both drugs, evolocumab (Repatha) and alirocumab (Praluent), are injections that silence a cholesterol-creating gene called PCSK9. Studies so far have shown that just about everyone who takes them responds, with LDL levels plummeting by 50%. As of now, PCSK9 inhibitors will be used for people who need big-gun treatment beyond statins—those who don’t respond to statins, have bad side effects from them, or have a genetic condition called hypercholesterolemia, which causes crazy-high LDL levels.
9. When you need real relief someday, thank her.
Morphine and hydrocodone have their issues, but when an effective narcotic is all that will get you through the pain and on the road to recovery, they are the best we have. Unfortunately, both carry side effects and are at constant risk of being in short supply, since they’re derived from the slow-growing poppy plant and can take more than a year to make. With that in mind, Stanford University researcher Christina Smolke has accomplished what many considered to be an impossible feat: She made both drugs in a rapid-fire 3 to 5 days. Her trick, if you can call it that, was to insert more than 20 genes (harvested from rats, bacteria, and plants) into a microbe similar to brewer’s yeast, coaxing it to synthesize the drugs. Smolke hopes to perfect the technique in a couple of years, giving us all access to cheaper, more abundant painkillers, tweaked for fewer side effects to boot.
10. Reverse-age your brain.
11. Your body on botox.
It’s a toxin that paralyzes muscles—and is a boon for you head to toe, per this new research. Learn how it can stop headaches, relieve depression, ease neck pain, and more with this Botox infographic.
12. Cholesterol and saturated fat: no longer guilty, so neither are you.
Hard to get your head around, we know. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee says you don’t have to treat cholesterol as a nutrient of concern anymore, hopefully paving the way for decades to come in which yolk lovers can come out of their shells. Meanwhile, many docs, including Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Steven Nissen, have been scaling back on the idea that saturated fat is the dietary devil; recent studies on people who eat full-fat dairy suggest it doesn’t have the ill effects we once thought—and in some cases could even be (gasp!) good for you.
The estimated number of current US medical marijuana users you would join should you want or need relief. How effective is medical marijuana? Here’s a closer look at 14 different uses. To date, 23 states and Washington, DC, allow pot for medical purposes.
14. Blind, now you see.
This year, a British octogenarian going blind with age-related macular degeneration became the first person with dry AMD (the more common form) to see again, thanks to his new bionic eye. The Argus II converts video images captured by the glasses (above) into electric pulses that are transmitted wirelessly to electrodes implanted on the retina’s surface, registering in the brain as light, dark, and shapes. It’s available in 18 US cities and counting.
15. We’re getting a grip on cancer.
We’re making mincemeat of melanoma. The 5-year survival rate for those with late-stage melanoma was an abysmal 15 to 20%, until the recently approved drug Keytruda arrived. Learn more about this and 5 more innovations in cancer treatment.
16. Sex, meet medicine.
Top three reasons it’s a productive match:
1. We have a drug. The FDA in August approved flibanserin (Addyi) for low sex drive in women. Whether it’s effective enough is up for debate, but there’s one thing everyone can agree on: The existence of a female libido drug is a big step forward in sexual medicine.2. We have toys 2.0. Fiera is a brand-new suction device that draws blood to the clitoris—a physiologic hack to get you in the mood. Next year, look forward to a dilating gizmo from medical device company Materna that gently counters the uncomfortable tightness that comes with a postmenopausal vagina.3. We have relief. Vaginal estrogen, long cast as risky by misleading labeling, is proving to be a safe and effective solve for pain and dryness. Estrogen-based vaginal capsule VagiCap improved sex in 2 weeks for 63% of women who had those symptoms. It’s currently in phase III clinical trials (i.e., close to ready). Until it’s FDA approved, ask your doc for an estrogen cream—which is likely just as effective.
17. Instead of treating your disease, you’ll delete it.
18. You can become strong, healthy, and hot all at once. Wow.
In case you haven’t noticed, the waif look is way out. What’s way in: a strong, toned body. Fitness trainers pushing this idea—like Holly Perkins (above), founder of the online strength-training program Women’s Strength Nation—have exploded into view, making it hard to ignore the strong = healthy = gorgeous equation. “Strength training is absolutely critical to your overall health and well-being,” says Perkins. “Don’t let intimidation keep you from the powerful benefits that can change your life.” Helpful evidence comes from a landmark review out of Middle Tennessee University that found being physically fit, no matter your weight, is far healthier for women than being super-skinny but of shape. Says Strong Is the New Skinny author Jennifer Cohen, a Los Angeles fitness trainer (who credits a surge in movies like the Mission: Impossible series and Salt for helping inspire the trend): “This is something that’s attainable for every woman. Not all of us can be skinny, but we can all be strong.”
19. “Forest bathing” is a thing.
Walking or sitting in nature, aka Shinrin-yoku, started in Japan but is spreading like (dare we say it) wildfire to US wellness spas. Here’s why you shouldn’t wait for a trip to Sedona to try it.It’s great for your heart. A few hours in nature lowers blood pressure—and the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.It soothes your brain. Being in greenery decreased anxiety, depression, anger, and fatigue for adults in one study. Other research shows that kids with ADHD who spend time in natural outdoor environments have a reduction in symptoms.It speeds recovery. People in the hospital given green views after surgery had shorter stays, took fewer painkillers, and had fewer complications than those who stared out at a cement wall.It beefs up immunity. When you inhale fresh forest air, you breathe in phytoncides, plant chemicals that have antibacterial and antifungal qualities and increase the immune system’s disease-fighting natural killer cells.
20. Let’s call this hot new drug Moveova.
When patients walk out of family medicine doc Bob Sallis’s office, nearly every one is clutching a prescription. For exercise. “It’s been proven to treat virtually everything that ails us: high blood pressure, depression, osteoarthritis, heart troubles, type 2 diabetes,” he says. “It’s time to start encouraging people to take advantage of this free medication.” This year, Sallis worked with the US Surgeon General to release a Call to Action on Walking to make walking easier and safer in every community. Seems like an obvious step, but it’s a necessary stride forward—and, as Sallis will tell you at the drop of a script pad, “as landmark as the 1964 Surgeon General’s report advising us to stop smoking.”
21. One day you’ll have brown fat galore.brown fat you have, the more calories you incinerate. Alas, you can’t control how much you’re born with. But scientists have identified a protein called UCP1, released when the body is under extreme stress, that appears to convert our regular fat into the valuable brown stuff. They’re now working on a drug to induce the effect, minus the stress.
23. Turmeric is trending for a reason. Or three.
It’s widely researched. Nearly 8,000 studies on the root or its powerful compound curcumin hint at its many benefits.It’s all-powerful. Studies suggest it stabilizes blood sugar, eases pain, and cuts heart disease and cancer risk.It’s easy to get. If you don’t eat it every day, take one to three 500 mg capsules. Look for labels bearing the CL Seal of Approved Quality.
You might be able to give up just one one-thousandth as much blood on future trips to the doc—no more syringes, no more parade of vials. Media darling health-tech company Theranos does its blood work using mere drops from your fingertip. Accuracy is still being ironed out; let’s bloody well hope it works.
25. A good doc is no longer hard to find.
26. If you’re part of the 40% of us who hate choking down pills…
…then please, a long slow clap for the new easy-to-swallow pill!Say good-bye to the gag reflex. These pills are much more porous, so they rapidly disintegrate with a sip of liquid, no matter how big the dose.Personalize ’em. They’re 3-D printed, allowing active and inactive ingredients to be laid down layer by layer. This makes it possible to custom-build a drug according to the exact dose you need, how quickly you want it to absorb, and how long you need it to stay in your system.Stay tuned. In August, the FDA approved the first such pill, an epilepsy drug called levetiracetam (Spritam). The technology is still developing, but multiple companies are aiming to take it to a wider set of drugs in 2016.
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