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Elemental
Your life, sourced by science. A publication from Medium about health and wellness.

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Illustration: Matija Medved for Elemental

The truth about the new class of hair care products

In 2006, Sachajuan, the cult Stockholm hair care brand, debuted a scalp shampoo, expecting it to be a niche product. But in recent years, the shampoo — made with a scalp-tingling peppermint and packaged in an apothecary-like bottle to evoke medicine for hair — has become the brand’s top seller, says co-founder Sacha Mitic. Little wonder, then, that Sachajuan subsequently released a scalp treatment, a scalp conditioner, and, last month, a scalp scrub and scalp brush, the latter of which sold out almost instantly.

“It’s very important to clean the scalp,” says Mitic, who has also been a hairdresser since…


A closer look at copper, cryotherapy, compression, and float tanks

Photo: jacoblund/Getty Images

Every year, it seems, something new comes along promising to decrease our pain and stress while improving mood and sleep. Almost as quickly as these magical fixes arrive on the scene, many of them disappear — either because they lose their novelty and notoriety, or because they are displaced by the next great hope.

From copper bracelets to spinal braces, oxygen bars to cryo spas, soak tanks to you name it, there is no shortage of “wellness products” that enter with a splash and exit with a whimper, promising to make quick work of complicated problems. …


1950s housewife chores have been rebranded as meditation and self-care

An illustration of three women characters cleaning, gardening, and doing other household chores.
An illustration of three women characters cleaning, gardening, and doing other household chores.
Illustration: Virginia Gabrielli

Fresh Roberson, a Chicago chef, kept hearing the same thing from her club’s newest members: Dough was their savior.

Fresh co-directs the Chicago Bread Club, an organization that runs workshops on making sourdough, biscuits, and babka. While the club welcomes members of all ages, it was this new class of millennial attendees — many of them female college graduates — who echoed a very specific sentiment. Bread-making, the physical action of mixing ingredients and kneading dough, was a stress reliever.

“There’s something about following a procedure — putting things together, then watching it rise,” says Roberson, 37. …


Wellness advocates say chelation works wonders. Doctors disagree. The truth may be somewhere in between.

Photo: Tridsanu Thophet/EyeEm/Getty Images

When former NHL player Chris Tschupp was first diagnosed with ALS last year and given two to five years to live, he went on a search for answers beyond his neurologist’s office.

Tschupp traveled to Salt Lake City last fall to attend an alternative medicine conference on how to manage his incurable disease. That’s where he first heard about chelation therapy, a process where people take drugs that draw out heavy metals from the body. “Everyone [at the conference] says you should get tested for heavy metals and then remove them,” Tshupp says of chelation. “That’s a big thing with…


The electrolyte-boosting tablets are an alternative to sports drinks for endurance athletes. But what do they do for the rest of us?

Photo: Nuun

Countless companies have tried to reinvent water. They’ve infused it with vitamins, electrolytes, or rock salt for “better body balance.” Most of these, as Elemental has previously reported, are plain old H2O in an overpriced bottle. But what about hydration that doesn’t come in liquid form at all?

Nuun is a Seattle-based brand that has a loyal following of endurance athletes. Its electrolyte and vitamin-infused tablets dissolve into water and create what the company calls a “refreshingly effervescent hydration beverage.” …


Drug trips, under controlled conditions, break down the barriers between people and bring users closer to nature

Photo: jhillphotography/Getty Images

This is a remarkable moment for psychedelics. Elite universities, including Johns Hopkins and Imperial College in London, have opened centers to research the medical benefits of drugs such as psilocybin, a hallucinogen found in certain mushrooms.

The nonprofit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is recruiting people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder to participate in FDA-approved clinical trials using MDMA, better known as molly or ecstasy. CBS News’ 60 Minutes last fall reported on life-changing psychedelic journeys.

So far, the psychedelic renaissance has focused on the potential of these drugs to address mental illness and rightly so. A growing body…


Why therapists are worried that calorie restriction is now a productivity hack

Illustration: Nan Lee

In December, on the day after Christmas, an entire segment of Good Morning America was devoted to intermittent fasting.

Pioneers of human longevity science have long embraced the eating pattern, which they sometimes refer to as caloric restriction. Ingest less food, they say, and the body shuts down a crucial pathway for regulating cellular metabolism, putting cells into repair mode. The thinking is that humans age less quickly while cells are shoring up their defenses instead of growing and dividing.

Now a diet favored by people questing to live longer was getting airtime on a popular morning show. The message…


Trading wine for weed is redefining society’s longtime relationship with alcohol — and possibly even sobriety

An illustration of many diverse characters standing in line at a wellness/cannabis store, while the line at the bar is empty.
An illustration of many diverse characters standing in line at a wellness/cannabis store, while the line at the bar is empty.
Illustration: Zack Rosebrugh

For Lisa (name changed), the decision to stop drinking was a long time in the making. Though she was only a social drinker, the 40-year-old freelance writer and mom found herself drinking more than felt healthy. In early 2019, she made a decision to stop.

“I was like, ‘All right, let’s cut out the booze and just stick with weed,’” she says. “And I’m really surprised at how great it’s been. I’ve been a drinker my whole life. I don’t know why I never thought about just switching to weed instead of wine.”

There are many reasons for the (mostly)…


Illustration: Kieran Blakey

The Nuance

There’s not much evidence that playing chemist with your body’s pH levels will do you any good

In the 1999 film Fight Club, Brad Pitt’s character dumps a skin-searing powder onto the hand of the character played by Edward Norton. “This is a chemical burn,” Pitt’s character explains. “You can run water over your hand and make it worse… or you can use vinegar to neutralize the burn.”

While the scene is dramatized, to put it mildly, experts say that the chemical science it depicts is more or less accurate. “The basic material he puts on his hand is lye, and he neutralizes it with vinegar, which is acidic,” says Adam Friedman, MD, a professor and interim…


‘TikTok is our way to be accessible and transparent — to connect with people’

Photo: Peter Byrne — PA Images/Getty Images

Dr. Magnolia Printz, a 38-year-old Wisconsin-based anesthesiologist, stumbled across TikTok in late 2019. She’d always liked dancing, and karaoke was a big part of her Filipino culture, but she soon became strategic about using 15-second videos and trending soundbites to educate people about the world of medicine.

“Another one of my doctor friends used it to talk about vaping, so I saw there was an educational opportunity,” Printz says.

Seizing the opportunity worked. Printz, who works in private practice and at a local hospital, has more than 300,000 followers, many of them high school or college students who want to…

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