Do or Don't? 5 Bizarre Health Fads

SHAPE magazine
Healthy Living

by Charlotte Andersen

Experts reveal which trends to try--and which to skip!

1. Placental pills: Once considered the domain of hippies and ancient civilizations, eating the placenta gained mainstream attention, if not acceptance, when Mad Men star January Jones revealed she swallowed pills made from her placenta, the organ that provides oxygen and nutrients to a baby in utero. Jones explained her decision, saying, "Your placenta gets dehydrated and made into vitamins. It's something I was very hesitant about, but we're the only mammals who don't ingest our own placentas. It's not witch-crafty or anything. I suggest it to all moms."

Do they work?
Some makers of the pills like Fruit of the Womb assert that eating one's own placenta helps speed recovery from pregnancy, prevents post-partum depression, and restores energy. But according to Mira Calton, a certified nutritionist and co-author of Rich Food Poor Food, there's no research to support these claims. "The placenta is made to prevent potentially dangerous toxins from reaching the baby in utero, not for eating," she says. "Popping placenta pills supplies only minimal iron while delivering these same toxins to the mother again."

Are they safe?
"Placenta pills are not FDA-approved and my experience is that post-partum depression can be a severe and dangerous condition for which psychiatric treatment is critical," says Pamela Brar, M.D., an internal medicine physician in La Jolla, Calif. Calton adds that many placental supplements contain fillers or herbs that can cause negative reactions.

Final verdict: Deny it. "Just because you can doesn't mean you should," Dr. Brar says.

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2. Oxygen shots: Forget diamond-infused face creams and antioxidant-packed potions. The real secret to stop the aging process? Fresh air-in a fancy can, that is! That's what people were saying after Simon Cowell showed up on the red carpet with a few cans of inhalable oxygen. In addition to giving him a youthful glow, Cowell says the small bottles of gas help him manage stress, fatigue, and even the urge to smoke.

Do they work?
Quite the opposite. "This is a great way to accelerate aging!" says Shawn Talbott, Ph.D., a nutritional biochemist and author of The Vigor Diet, The New Science of Feeling Your Best. Introducing concentrated oxygen is likely to increase free radical generation, he says. Why is that bad? "Too much free radical damage can lead to wrinkled skin, stiff joints, elevated fatigue, memory problems, and a host of other chronic conditions associated with aging."

Dr. Dan Giuglianotti, osteopathic physician and creator of The Lean You, adds that while oxygen shots are said to boost mental agility, help with fatigue, and reduce headaches, the research just isn't there to support these claims. "From a medical standpoint, at best any perceived benefits of oxygen shots would last for mere seconds," he says.

Are they safe?
"Our lungs get us as much oxygen as we need," Dr. Brar says. "Oxygen, while essential to life, can be toxic in excessive doses, where it can actually cause cell damage. More is not always better."

Final verdict: Deny it.

3. Caffeinated lotion: Salma Hayek is known for her radiant skin so it wasn't surprising when the Latin beauty introduced her own line of skincare products. The caffeine on the ingredients list, however, raised a few eyebrows.

Do they work?
"Caffeine dehydrates fat cells and therefore can make the skin feel smoother," explains Dr. Len Lopez, a nutrition and fitness expert and author of To Burn or Not to Burn: Fat is the Question. "[Caffeine] also claims to tighten skin while applied and reduces dark circles." Preliminary research also shows that caffeine may help protect against cellular damage caused by sun exposure. The only issue, Dr. Lopez says, is that we don't know how much caffeine can actually be absorbed through the skin. More research is necessary before coming to any hard conclusions.

Are they safe?
"It can't hurt," Dr Brar says, so she gives the okay to try it.

Final verdict: Try it.

4. Aerated chocolate: You've seen the commercials: Happy, slim women indulging in delicious chocolate without a shred of guilt. But does aerated chocolate (chocolate with more air mixed in) live up to the hype? And is it even worth it?

Does it work?
"While aerated chocolate has a lower overall calorie content in each bite due to the up to 50-percent reduction in actual chocolate content, it represents a more processed chocolate option that in the end nearly doubles the profit margin for manufactures," Calton says. Plus, all major brands still contain loads of added sugars.

Is it safe?

It's perfectly safe to try, but traditional dark chocolate can give you the same satisfying experience with more antioxidants and minerals. "One-hundred percent natural, organic chocolate doesn't contain any added sugars and can be combined with a little stevia and nuts for a delicious, antioxidant-rich bark," Calton suggests.

Final verdict: Deny it.

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5. Hot pants: As evidenced by old-school "sauna suits," the idea of slimming down by increasing your core body temperature is not a new one. But the latest generation of hot pants, like Zaggora, aim to incorporate some serious style into getting your (extra) sweat on at the gym. Companies claim that the clothing, which now includes corsets, tops, shorts, pants, jackets, and even bras, torches fat and melts away inches through "thermogenesis."

Do they work?
"It's not possible to spot reduce," Dr. Lopez says. "So from that point alone, it's not a smart tool or investment to use." Dr. Talbott agrees. "All they make you do is sweat, so you lose water, not fat. The main problem with this approach is not that it's ineffective, but the dehydration they cause can lead to overeating later in the day and eventual weight gain."

Are they safe?
"Our bodies produce sweat to control our temperature, not to lose weight," Dr. Brar explains. "When we are hot, in order to regulate our temperatures, we produce sweat on our skin which evaporates and results in cooling. If the sweat cannot evaporate to cool you, you are prone to overheating, which can cause fainting or a form of heat stroke."

Dr. Lopez adds that "hot pants" could interfere with your body's natural process for eliminating toxins through your pores. "It's probably not too much to worry about if you are only wearing 'hot shorts,' but the more of your body that you cover up or keep from breathing, you could be creating problems," he says.

Final verdict: Deny it.

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Placental pills, oxygen shots, and more weird trends sweeping the nation.