De meest belachelijke (en gevaarlijke) technologische wellnesstrends van 2019


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Did 2019 show what the future of health will look like? Really?!
Did 2019 show what the future of health will look like? Really?!

Image: Getty Images

By Rachel Kraus

Have you considered tracking your poop? Do you already record your steps, your heart rate, your macros? Maybe you’ve thought about microdosing, or intermittent fasting, or ditching the birth control your doctor prescribed in favor of an “all natural” app. If so, you’re not alone: aided in part by Silicon Valley’s crunchy, holistic vision of wealth, tech-adjacent wellness trends have swept through the decade like a Kardashian-endorsed tummy tea rips through a colon.

It’s not all Jack Dorsey’s fault. The proliferation of sketchy products and information in the health and wellness industry (see: the morass of dangerous “all natural cancer cures” that flourished on Facebook) represents just one facet of society’s crumbling faith in facts and institutions — whether political, legal, and economic, or scientific and medical. As healthcare access continues to be a challenge for people in need and social media fuels the need to present a curated version of our lives, countless supplement, diet, and exercise companies have stepped directly into our Instagram feeds, promising that they can give you more energy, make you more beautiful. 

And who’s to say they’re lying? Your doctor, whom you can’t afford to see? The federal government, whose integrity feels long since compromised? Not these days.

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As the last year in this particularly cursed timeline, 2019’s products and trends included some of the most outrageous manifestations of the need to improve and control our bodies, often with high-tech or pseudo-scientific language and justification.

Some may seem harmless (if superfluous); some may be a waste of money; some may impede progress by undermining science; some may be physically dangerous. All are thoroughly ridiculous. And with that, here are some of the most ludicrous wellness products and trends of 2019.

So many “smart” fitness products

The tech industry entered the fitness arena long ago by way of wearables like Fitbit and internet-connected exercise machines like Peloton. By 2019, many of the obvious ways to combine the internet and exercise had already been taken, so companies got creative. JaxJox is a good example: Its smart foam roller is controlled by an app that will supposedly give you insights on the needs of your body and vibrates based on the muscle areas you want to target. A basic foam roller costs less than $10 bucks, but this “smart” one costs $99. That’s downright reasonable compared Hyperice’s vibrating foam roller, the Vyper 2.0, which sells for $199. A long, vibrating tube for your whole body sounds nice. But, really? 

Even more established companies got in on the action. A company called LifeFuels, bankrolled by Keurig Dr. Pepper, started selling a smart water bottle that tracks your hydration and tells you when and what kind of nutrient “pods” to consume. Mmm, nutrient pods.

Products that have been around longer, like internet-connected fitness machines or resistance bands that track your workout, went even more mainstream. In 2019, Best Buy announced it would start selling those products on its store floor. 

The death and re-birth of Ambrosia

A company called Ambrosia is the stuff of Silicon Valley legend (or horror): It offers clients transfusions of plasma from “young blood,” which allegedly helps prevent aging-related ailments like Alzheimer’s. There’s no evidence to back up this claim and the practice is also dangerous: Some experts say it’s only a matter of time before a transfusion goes terribly wrong and causes injury or death. In February, the FDA agreed, and issued an informal letter of warning against the company.

That prompted Ambrosia to shutter in August in an attempt to assuage the FDA’s concerns. But just three months later, in November, Ambrosia was back in business. Basically, it realized its blood-thirsty clients didn’t care about the FDA’s warning and would pay the thousands of dollars for treatments anyway. Oh, and Ambrosia’s founder has no plans for official tests or clinical trials. 

THC vaping illness

The Juul and vaping craze may have taken off in the second half of this decade, but 2019 was when the backlash went mainstream. That, in large part, was thanks to an outbreak of vaping-related illnesses this year. 

With a crackdown on vaping pod sales, a thriving black market emerged. The illnesses recorded have been linked to off-brand THC vape pens. Doctors are now beginning to suspect that the inclusion of vitamin E acetate — used as a filler — could be the culprit for the illness.

Vaping was supposed to be a healthier alternative to smoking and an aid to get people to cut down on cigarettes. While it may help some adults quit smoking, it’s also gotten a new generation of kids hooked on nicotine. And its even less reputable underbelly is actually killing people. Ah, health.

Biohacking hydration 

Performance beverages were big this year. A new hydration-focused startup, called Hydrant, launched in 2019 by two millennials and backed by the Philadelphia 76ers, says it takes a more scientific approach to hydration. It sells a powder you’re supposed to mix into water and drink first thing in the morning. My Instagram feed has been flooded with its ads.

The company behind another drink launched this year, called Liquid Focus from More Labs, raised $8 million in funding. Liquid Focus is trying to offer a scientific alternative to chugging a cup of coffee when you need to get some work done. To that end, it’s working on a drink that would activate the production of neurotransmitters. Yum?

Dopamine Fasting

The damn kids and their neurotransmitters! 

One of the most memorable “can you believe what they’re doing in Silicon Valley” pieces to come out in 2019 centered around a practice called “dopamine fasting.” 

The idea is that adherents, who feel so overstimulated by everyday life that they’re unable to enjoy the “normal” things, could abstain from those activities and thus re-up their levels of dopamine: the chemical responsible for pleasurable behaviors.

Dopamine “fasters” deprive themselves of the things that would ordinarily give them a dopamine rush, including seeing friends, reading, talking — most everything that involves human or technological interaction, really. The theory being that this then replenishes their usually depleted stores of dopamine, so the next time something excites them, they can fully enjoy it (or so the theory goes). 

It’s not actually clear how widespread this practice is. But its bubbling to the top of the internet certainly made you feel sorry for the “fasters” who mostly seemed like burned-out startup kids; when the author suggested they just take a weekend off from work instead, they scoffed.

5G fear-mongering

As companies began to unveil their first 5G networks this year, cries about the alleged dangers of radiation from these networks grew. There has long been (unwarranted) concern about the danger of WiFi routers and cellphones for emitting “Electromagnetic Frequency” (EMF) radiation. Unlike radiation emitted by X-rays or the sun, however, there’s no solid evidence or scientific basis for these fears. 

Still, fear persists, and grew with the build out of 5G networks. 5G networks operate on higher radio wave frequencies than 4G and other cellular networks do. This causes people to think it’s in some way more dangerous. Again, there’s no evidence for this, but that hasn’t stopped products like “energy deflecting” crystals, cellphone stickers, and bracelets from cropping up to protect against it.

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