The Wellness Dictionary (bc what actually is gluten anyway?!)

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an ancient treatment hailing from China, in which super-thin needles (so thin, you can hardly feel them!) are inserted into the skin at specific points. Acupuncture can be used both proactively and in response to things like pain, migraines, nausea, and stress or anxiety, and more!

Acupuncture is a rare case in which Eastern and Western medicine actually align. We know it’s effective, but different practitioners have different theories to explain why—traditional Chinese medicine tells us that acupuncture needles break up blockages in the energy that flows throughout the body, while modern researchers hypothesize that acupuncture works because it wakes up the central nervous system, prompting your body to release chemicals that reduce pain and stimulate the healing process.

Apple cider vinegar (ACV)

ACV is a type of vinegar made from fermented apple juice that’s become a wellness staple—it’s inexpensive, generally safe, and great for anything from salads to helping balance the digestive system. People who consume it regularly—in the form of a one-tablespoon “shot” or diluted in a glass of water—have reported lower blood sugar and cholesterol, less dandruff, better skin complexion, help with healthy weight loss, and more. But before you start using ACV as a skin toner, supplement, and salad dressing, just know that researchers are not all aligned on these results.

Adaptogens

Adaptogens are plants that help your body handle stress or boost your immune system. If you ever forget what the word means, there’s a clue right there in the name…”adapt!”  These help you adapt to your surroundings and better handle stress.  The science around adaptogens isn’t 100% clear, but it’s possible that these plants work with your hormones to lower your body’s physical “fight-or-flight” response to everyday stress.

Examples: ginseng, reishi, ashwagandha, ginger, Goji berries, and turmeric, sipped in the form of a tea or added to food or drinks as a tincture or powder.

Additive

Technically, an additive is any ingredient added to food to make it last longer on the shelf, improve its taste or texture, or make it healthier. Everyday ingredients like salt or sugar are additives, and are perfectly safe (though best consumed in moderation, as you’ve probably heard).

But what people usually mean when they say “additives” are the ones that have negative or unknown impacts on your health. One example is manufactured food dyes, which often contain small traces of chemicals that have been linked to cancer.

Other additives to be wary of include: artificial sweeteners like sucralose or aspartame, trans fats, preservatives like nitrates or BHA/BHT, and corn syrup (especially the high fructose variety).

Adrenal fatigue

The adrenal glands, which sit on top of each kidney, produce a hormone called cortisol in response to stressful situations. Imagine you’re asked to give a last-minute presentation at your company’s board meeting—cue the cortisol, compliments of the adrenal glands!

The idea behind “adrenal fatigue” is that these glands can become overworked due to long-term stress; in theory, this can cause low energy, mood swings, depression, digestive problems, cravings, or unexplained weight loss. But there’s no real evidence that this illness exists. Endocrinologists (hormone specialists) actually warn that pinning your symptoms on a self-diagnosis of adrenal fatigue could mean you don’t get a real explanation—or treatment—for the true underlying issue.

Agave syrup

Agave syrup or “nectar” is a sweetener made from the sap of the blue agave plant. It’s kind of like maple syrup, except instead of coming from a tree, it comes from a large succulent in Mexico. (Fun fact: it comes from the same plant used to make tequila. Cheers!)

Agave is marketed as a healthier alternative to sugar because it is derived from a plant and is completely vegan–in contrast with honey, for example, which comes from bees. But before you load everything up with agave, you should know that it has 60 calories per tablespoon to table sugar’s 40, and it can cause tooth decay and raise bad cholesterol just like any other sugar-based sweetener. Plus, agave actually contains more fructose (fruit sugar) than any other common sweetener (even high-fructose corn syrup), and fructose is converted into fat in the body faster than other types of sugar.

Alkaline water

“Alkaline” means this water has a higher pH level (AKA, it’s less acidic) and a higher mineral content than pure water. Natural alkaline water is created when water picks up minerals as it flows over rocks, but most commercially available options are produced in a lab.

While proponents believe that alkaline water can neutralize acid in the body and prevent disease, there’s not a lot of evidence to suggest it’s much more beneficial than regular water —which, let’s be honest, we could all use more of.

Anxiety

Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. When you encounter a stressful situation—like, say, seeing your ex at the grocery store while you’re wearing no makeup and sweats—your body releases hormones that increase your heart rate, breathing rate, tension in your muscles, and blood pressure. This is supposed to help you escape a life-or-death situation, though most of the stressful situations we encounter in everyday life are not quite that dramatic (even when they feel that way).

Feeling a little anxious now and then is totally normal. (An anxiety disorder, in contrast, is when you feel symptoms of anxiety that are overwhelming, constant, or happen without a reason, making everyday life difficult.) If you’re looking to reduce your anxiety, try therapy, exercise, a good diet, sleep, yoga or meditation, or supplements like CBD or ashwagandha. Medication can also be a helpful option for people with anxiety disorders.

Archetype Diet

The Archetype Diet was developed by nutritionist Dana James. It’s based on the idea that women fall into one of four “archetypes”—Nurturer, Wonder Woman, Femme Fatale, and Ethereal—based on their patterns of behavior, emotions, eating habits, hormones, and body fat. The diet uses these emotional and physical characteristics to guide you toward weight loss and a healthier lifestyle.

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy uses the scents of specific plants—in the form of essential oils that you breathe in or apply to your skin—to improve physical and mental health. It’s believed that the ancient treatment works by stimulating the nerves in your nose to transmit messages to the part of your brain that manages your emotions. There’s pretty good evidence that aromatherapy is a simple, safe way to improve sleep, lower anxiety, and maybe even reduce pain.

Aromatherapy is widely applied, even in the mainstream health and beauty industry. If you’ve ever seen a lavender-scented product intended to help babies (or even adults!) settle down for sleep, you’ve seen aromatherapy in action.


Ashwagandha

This plant is an example of an adaptogen, meaning it can help your body manage stress. It is also believed that this adaptogen can help lower blood sugar levels (especially for those with type 2 diabetes), increase fertility and muscle mass for men, and decrease inflammation in the body.

It’s usually a powdered form of the ashwagandha root that’s taken as a supplement. If you want to get super traditional, try mixing some ashwagandha root powder and honey into your choice of warm milk and drinking it before bed. V calming.

Astrology

This refers to the belief that the way the planets move can influence or predict human affairs, relationships, and personal characteristics or emotions. Different forms of astrology have been practiced in cultures across the world for over 4000 years.

The astrology we’re most familiar with in 2020—the one that’s central to magazine horoscopes and apps like Co-Star—is Western astrology. This type of astrology bases your horoscope, a forecast of your attitude and circumstances for a given period of time, on the current position of stars and planets as well as their position at the time of your birth (called your “chart”). Astrology is definitely fun, but it’s best described as a pseudoscience.

Atkins Diet

Probably the most popular fad diet of the early 2000s, Atkins is a low-carbohydrate plan used primarily for weight loss. The theory behind the diet, developed by Dr. Robert Atkins, is that:

  1. Eating excess carbs (as we generally do on the “standard American diet”) can mess with your blood sugar, causing weight gain
  2. Limiting the amount of carbohydrates you eat forces the body to find alternate sources of “fuel”—namely, fat stores, helping you lose weight.

The five principles of the Atkins Diet are high-protein, high fiber, low sugar, an emphasis on vitamins and minerals, and the elimination of trans fats. You’ll want to focus on meat, poultry, and fish; beans; eggs and dairy; low-carb vegetables and fruits; and nuts, seeds, and healthy oils, while avoiding grains, sugar, and trans fats. Unlike many diets, Atkins doesn’t restrict calories or require calorie-counting, but merely limits your carb intake in favor of eating more fat and protein, which keep you fuller longer.  Theoretically if you’re more full, you may end up eating fewer calories.

While the Atkins’ diet may be rooted in some fact, it has some fundamental flaws. It has little emphasis on vegetables, which are undeniably part of a healthy, well-balanced diet. Furthermore, like any “deprivation” diet, it can derail long-term success—and particularly given its focus on protein and fat, may cause other health issues, like high cholesterol.

Ayurveda

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian system of holistic wellness, meaning it takes into account the whole body and lifestyle, including diet and medicine. The theory behind Ayurveda is that within each of us are three energies (called doshas): “vata,” meaning air, which controls movement; “kapha,” meaning water, which is responsible for strength, immunity, and growth; and “pitta,” meaning fire, which regulates hormones, hunger, and the digestive system.

We each have our own personal balance of doshas, and one is often dominant; this is associated with certain personality traits. For example, an Ayurvedic practitioner may tell you that you're a vata, which can indicate a flighty nervous system, inconsistent behavior, and light-heartedness. A kapha typically has a slow, steady demeanor and strong loyalty, while a pitta is associated with a strong personality, great leadership, and intense emotions.

People who live by Ayurvedic principles choose the types of foods they eat, the times at which they rest, and even the workouts they choose to “balance” their dominant dosha. For example, if you're a pitta, you’ll want to load up on cooling, raw foods to counteract your fiery energy. Ayurvedic teachings can also be used to explain imbalances or illness. Say you’re having muscle twitches/spasms—according to Ayurveda, that would be a sign of a vata imbalance, since vata is the energy responsible for movement (and twitching is uncontrolled movement). The imbalance would be corrected with behaviors that counteract that energy, like rest and meditation.

Biofeedback

This is a technique that helps you learn to control involuntary responses in your body. If you’re in a stressful situation or in pain, your body reacts by releasing hormones that increase your heart rate, breathing rate, tension in your muscles, and blood pressure. This is your primitive fight-or-flight response, but it’s not always the most helpful for dealing with everyday stressors or chronic pain.

In a biofeedback session, you’re hooked up to sensors that measure these physical signs of anxiety or pain. A therapist will help you practice exercises, like deep breathing or intentionally tensing and relaxing your muscles, that can reduce your body’s natural responses. When done properly in a controlled and monitored environment, you’ll know right away if it’s working.

Biohacking

Biohacking is the idea that it’s possible to optimize or even “upgrade” your body and brain. Ring, ring ring. “Yes, hello? Is biohacking there? I’d like to upgrade my body for the Giselle model please?”

Some types of biohacking use information we already have about how our bodies work to gain a little more control over their function. Something as simple as sweating, raising your heart rate, and intentional movement could be considered biohacking. Another example is the craze of “bulletproof” coffee; this modified coffee recipe pairs coffee with fats (such as butter and coconut oil) to better fuel your brain and slow down caffeine digestion, giving you more energy for longer with no jitters or crash.

Other types of biohacking are a little more high-tech. Biohackers often treat their bodies as “experiments” and use wearable devices to collect data like heart rate, sleep quality, and more. One of the more extreme versions of biohacking involves literally incorporating technology into your body—by implanting a computer chip that’s constantly monitoring your biological functions. It’s important to understand that many practices deemed “biohacking” have little or no evidence supporting their effectiveness, and varying levels of safety.

Blood type diet

This is the idea that your nutritional needs—and therefore your ideal diet—vary depending on your blood type. The foundational concept is that people with different blood types process food differently, and one person's medicine could be another's poison. Foods are divided into three categories, based on blood type: beneficial, neutral, and avoid. Eating “for your type” is said to improve digestion and absorption of nutrients, improve overall health, and prevent disease.

Those with type A blood, for example, are believed to have more sensitive immune systems, so organic fruits and vegetables should make up most of their diet. That’s not awful advice, but a 2014 study myth-busted this diet when it found that there were no differences between the way people of different blood types process nutrients.

Bloating

We all know what it feels like to be “so bloated”—but why does it happen? This uncomfortable swelling in the abdomen is due to gas or water retention (a term for when the body holds onto water more than it needs to).

Gas-related bloating can be caused by eating certain foods that don’t digest fully and ferment in the intestines, like broccoli or cabbage, or by eating too much or too quickly. Water retention bloating on the other hand, often happens if you’ve eaten a lot of salt, which binds to water in the body, or alongside the hormonal changes of your period.

Blood sugar

Our blood contains sugar, also called glucose, that's an important source of energy for our bodies' organs, muscles, and nervous system. Our body gets glucose from the foods we eat.

You may have low blood sugar after a spike of insulin causes too much sugar to be sent out of our blood. Counterintuitively, it can happen when you’ve just eaten a lot of carbs or sugar, because our bodies often overreact with too much insulin (a so-called “sugar crash”). Low blood sugar can make you feel hungry, shaky, spacey, and lightheaded; this can mean you’re more likely to reach for foods that’ll give you quick energy, like (surprise surprise) carbs and sugar. Think of a kid at Disneyland that’s gorging on candy—they then crash and want more sugar! By reaching for the sugar (again), it actually just starts the cycle all over again.

High blood sugar, on the other hand, is when ypur body is unable to transport enough sugar out of our blood. When you have high blood sugar, you may experience headaches and fatigue. This can happen for people with diabetes, whose bodies don’t create enough insulin. Balanced blood sugar is optimal, and can be achieved by eating a well-rounded diet low in carbohydrates and sugar that includes healthy fats, fiber, lean protein, and veggies at each meal.

Blue light glasses

Blue light is the term for the short, high-energy wavelengths that are found naturally in sunlight, as well as in the light emitted by electronics like your TV, computer, and phone. Blue light lets your body know that it’s daytime, so overexposure to blue light—especially at the wrong time of the day—can keep you awake. (It's the reason you might have a hard time dozing off after you’ve gotten yourself into a deep Instagram hole before bed.)

Blue light glasses are non-prescription specs that block this specific type of light, helping you maintain normal sleep cycles. Many people who wear blue light glasses to use their computer or phone also report that they have less eye strain and fewer headaches, though the evidence is only anecdotal for now.

Blue light therapy

Have you ever found that your skin is actually better in the summer, or with a tan? It’s not just because you’re feeling extra pretty thanks to the sun-kissed glow—sunlight, made up of blue light, can actually help improve acne. The only problem is that sunlight also comes with UV rays, which we know have a slew of harmful side effects.

Enter blue light therapy, which uses blue light waves, applied to targeted areas, to stimulate healing in sun-damaged skin or acne-prone skin. The light destroys the bacteria that cause acne, without the harmful side effects of UV rays.

There’s also been some good results using blue light therapy to treat seasonal affective disorder. Because blue light in natural sunshine is what lets your brain know it’s daytime, exposure to artificial blue light can help fight the chemical changes in the brain that lead to winter depression.

Blue Majik

Blue Majik is a form of spirulina, a supplement made from freshwater algae that’s high in protein and lots of vitamins and minerals. Spirulina also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, is said to help increase metabolism, and help manage diabetes and high cholesterol. (Basically, it’s super good for you in lots of different ways.)

Blue Majik contains an extract of spirulina, called phycocyanin, that has fewer calories than spirulina but similar benefits. Sold in the form of a powder, Blue Majik is the natural source of color in those aqua-blue smoothies that are so popular on Instagram.

Blue Zone diet

“Blue Zones” are areas of the world where people are more likely to live longer—we’re talking a hundred years or more. There are five Blue Zones: Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Ogliastra Region, Sardinia; Loma Linda, California; and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.

Analyzed by writer-athlete Dan Buettner, these areas have nine characteristics in common:

  • Natural movement, meaning that exercise is an organic part of people’s lives.
  • A sense of life purpose.
  • An emphasis on rest and relaxation, which the researchers have termed “downshifting.”
  • Adherence to the 80% rule (that is, calling a meal quits when you’re 80% full).
  • A plant “slant” to the diet, with an emphasis on beans and low meat consumption.
  • Moderate and regular social drinking (think “wine at 5”).
  • Strong belonging, often in the form of a faith-based community.
  • A culture that puts loved ones first.
  • An emphasis on finding the right “tribe” of long-term friends.

The Blue Zone diet, based on this research, centers around plants and beans (which should make up at least 95% of your diet), and is low in meat, dairy, and sugar—not only to help with weight loss, but to improve overall function for a longer, healthier lifetime.

Bone broth

Technically, it’s stock, not broth—but that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Bone broth is created by boiling bones, such as chicken, beef, or lamb bones, for a very long time (anywhere from 6 to 18 hours or more). Cooking for this long breaks down the bone and cartilage and allows collagen, the protein that makes up these parts, to seep out into the broth.

Why do people love it? Adding collagen to your diet is said to improve and restore hair, skin, and nails, all of which are made up of collagen. It’s also been shown to benefit your intestinal lining and your joints. You can make bone broth at home, or—if 18 hours by the stove doesn’t tickle your fancy—you can buy it premade.

Botox

This is a cosmetic and medical treatment made from a toxin in the bacteria “botulinum.” The botulinum toxin is deadly (it’s actually what causes botulism, a type of potentially fatal food poisoning from contaminated canned foods). It also causes muscle paralysis.

Okay, so why are people injecting themselves with this stuff? It sounds crazy, but when the toxin is injected in extremely tiny doses, this paralysis can be cosmetically and/or medically beneficial—it prevents and reduces fine lines and wrinkles in the face and treats muscle spasms and overactivity, excessive sweating, and chronic migraines.

“Botox” is just one brand name for this treatment; Vistabel, Dysport, Bocouture, Xeomin, and Myobloc are all different versions of the same idea. These injections are thought to be safe and effective when administered by a licensed professional, but the impact of long-term use is still somewhat unknown.

Bisphenol A (BPA)

This chemical is used in the production of certain plastics, like food packaging and reusable plastic water bottles. Food or drinks (especially hot ones) stored in containers made with BPA can absorb the chemical from the plastic, meaning we’re consuming BPA when we consume these foods and drinks. Yuck, no thank you!

BPA is classified as an “endocrine disruptor” because it interferes with the normal balance of hormones in your body, contributing to obesity, infertility, diabetes, and other issues. This is why there’s been such an emphasis, recently, on BPA-free products. Other ways to reduce your exposure to BPA is to avoid packaged food products and switch to reusable glass or stainless steel containers for food and drink.

Burnout culture

Burnout is a feeling of exhaustion and disinterest in life and work as a result of long-term stress. You’ve probably been there; it’s that overwhelmed, foggy level of drained that might hit you if you’ve been spending long work at the office working on a frustrating project or haven’t taken a vacation day in way too long. Burnout can actually impact your decision-making skills, compromise your immune system (meaning you’re more likely to get sick), and cause you to feel apathetic about your job—even if you loved it before.

Burnout culture is the work and societal conditions that make this feeling more common than ever. Burnout is more common in workplaces without ample support (maybe there are too few employees, meaning each employee feels stretched thin) and too little emphasis on work-life balance. Millennials are more likely to experience burnout than any generation before, an unfortunate consequence of lower wages, fewer benefits like vacation and sick time, and the expectation—thanks to technology—that they’re available 24/7.

Calories

A calorie is a unit of energy that powers the body. We get calories from the food and drinks we take in, and “burn” or use them through our everyday body processes (like digestion and breathing) and physical activity. How many calories your body requires depends on your age, sex, activity level, and body size/makeup. The amount of calories you need is known as your basal metabolic rate or BMR.

Counting or tracking calories may be used to gain, maintain, or lose weight, but not all calories are considered equal; calories from different foods are broken down and used differently in the body, leading many to prioritize quality over quantity.

Candida

This is the fungus that causes yeast infections. Candida is found naturally on your skin and in your mouth, gut, and vagina, but it’s usually kept in check by its bacterial neighbors. It doesn’t cause issues until it begins to grow out of control—like when medication taken for a bacterial infection in one part of the body also kills the bacteria that usually keep candida from flourishing. (That’s why we’re more prone to yeast infections when we’ve been on antibiotics.)

Candida infections are usually known as yeast infections when they happen in the vagina, and as thrush when they happen in the mouth.

Candida diet

This diet tries to limit the overgrowth of candida (yeast) in the body by limiting or eliminating sugar, gluten, alcohol, and dairy—foods that are believed to “feed” yeast or upset the body’s natural pH balance. The idea is that, by starving the candida, you can prevent yeast infections.

While there’s not a ton of evidence yet to back up the infection-prevention power of the diet, the foods it promotes—non-starchy vegetables, lean proteins, plant-based fats like avocado oil, fermented foods, and whole grains—are pretty healthy choices for anyone.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the sugars and starches that provide a key form of energy for powering the body. We often think of “carbs” as bread, rice, or pasta, but carbohydrates are in everything: fruits, vegetables, and even dairy.

Cannabidiol (CBD)

If you feel like you’re seeing CBD everywhere lately, you’re not wrong. This is the second active ingredient in cannabis (AKA weed). Weed is made up of THC, the chemical that makes you feel “high,” and CBD, which doesn’t. Instead, CBD, isolated without the THC, is said to be relaxing, and can help with anxiety and insomnia. CBD has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. Research into CBD is pretty new, and its benefits have definitely been over-promised by some companies, but it’s got a lot of potential for being a natural treatment for pain and inflammation-related conditions.

If you’ve tried CBD before and feel like it didn’t work for you, you might want to try experimenting with your dosage (how many mgs of CBD) or method of delivery (gummies, oils, tinctures, and vapes are all options). Some users report that it’s helpful to let CBD build up in your system by taking a specific dose regularly over a period of time, so you can feel it really work its “magic.”

Celiac 

Celiac is an autoimmune disease that causes your body to be intolerant to gluten, a protein found in wheat-, barley-, and rye-based foods as well as many processed foods and even toiletries. If a person with this condition eats gluten, their immune system responds by mistakenly attacking and damaging their intestines, making them unable to properly absorb nutrients from their food.

Symptoms of Celiac include low iron levels in the blood (called anemia), fatigue, weight loss, digestive issues, irritability, joint pain, and more. Good news: diagnosis of Celiac can be confirmed with a simple blood test. Slightly less good news: the symptoms are so individual that doctors don’t always know to test for the disease in the first place. But Celiacs rejoice—with the craze of the “gluten-free” trend, there is more awareness, foods, and options for those with Celiac today than ever before.

Cellular beauty

This term refers to a focus on optimizing the function of your cells to promote healthier and more beautiful skin. As opposed to treatments that are merely topical (applied to the skin), cellular beauty treatments—such as vitamin supplements that support healthy cell function—hope to improve the appearance of the skin from the “inside out.”

Chakra

A chakra is a focal point of the body, considered by people who practice Tantra, Hinduism, and many forms of yoga to have specific physical and emotional functions. In the Western world, you’re most likely to come across the seven-chakra system, with the following points:

  1. The root (muladhara), located at the base of the spine and responsible for feelings of security and stability;
  2. The sacral (svadhisthana), located below the naval and responsible for creative and sexual energy;
  3. The solar plexus (manipura), located below the chest and responsible for self-esteem and willpower;
  4. The heart (anahata), located in the center of the chest and responsible for love and self-love;
  5. The throat (vishuddha), located at the center of the neck and responsible for communication
  6. The third eye (anja), located between the eyebrows and responsible for intuition; and
  7. The crown (sahasrara), located at the top of the head and responsible for higher consciousness and spiritual connection.

In yoga, it’s believed that certain poses can activate, strengthen, or balance your chakras, using the physical body to affect the spiritual or emotional self. So, if you’re feeling particularly low self-esteem, try a bow pose to open your solar plexus; if you want to feel more connected to a higher power, try a headstand.

Chemical peel

A chemical peel is a skin treatment that uses a chemical solution, such as an acid, to remove the top, dead layer of skin. It’s an alternative to physical exfoliation (like using a scrub) that in some cases is gentler, since it’s less likely to tear your skin. Those in favor of chemical peels say that the skin revealed after a peel is smoother and younger-looking, free from scarring and with reduced fine lines and wrinkles.

Cholesterol

This waxy substance is naturally produced by our body, and we do need some cholesterol to help us function day-to-day—it actually helps you build cells and produce hormones and vitamin D. But we also take in cholesterol from the animal products we eat, like meat and dairy. When your cholesterol intake is too high, it can build up in your arteries (the tubes that carry your blood) and make them harder and narrower, increasing your blood pressure and putting you at risk for a heart attack or stroke.

Crohn's disease

Crohn's is an illness in which inflammation in the intestines causes pain, diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, malnutrition, and other issues. We don’t know what causes Crohn's, but we do know it can be aggravated by stress and diet.

If your doctor thinks you might have Crohn’s, they’ll diagnose you based on the results of several tests, including a colonoscopy (a procedure in which a tiny camera on a long tube is used to view the entire large intestine). Treatment varies based on what triggers the inflammation in a specific person, but can include diet changes and anti-inflammatory medications.

Clean beauty

This term—though officially undefined and therefore open to interpretation—generally refers to beauty and skincare products that are:

  • Natural or naturally derived,
  • Organic,
  • Free from potentially harmful ingredients (whether in part or full),
  • Environmentally friendly,
  • Ethically produced or free-trade, and/or
  • Vegan and cruelty-free (meaning it doesn’t contain animal products, and it’s not tested on animals).

Be aware that “clean” is a marketing term that’s not regulated by anyone. To really know what it means for a particular brand, you’ll need to do some research into their ingredients and practices.

Clitoris

Located between the labia (vaginal “lips”), the “clit” is the female body’s most sensitive zone, packed with more than 8,000 nerve endings. This sex organ is thought to be responsible solely for pleasure.

Collagen

Collagen is the main protein ingredient that makes up the physical structure of the body: bones, tendons, ligaments, skin, hair, and nails. Taking in additional collagen—in the form of a supplement or consuming collagen-rich foods like bone broth, chicken, and eggs—benefits your joint bone, and intestinal health, and may help your skin, hair, and nails grow more healthfully, by replenishing collagen levels. Because collagen is found in the tissues of animals, collagen powders and tablets are not vegan—something to be aware of if you follow a plant-based diet.

Another important note: while the label on your collagen supplement may list a certain amount of protein, it shouldn't replace your protein intake, because it’s not a “complete” protein—meaning it doesn't contain all nine essential amino acids that help us build muscle and fuel metabolic functions.

Cryotherapy

Cryotherapy is a treatment in which your body is exposed to very cold temperatures (-150ºF or even colder) for a few minutes at a time. Cryotherapy can be used to combat muscle pain and reduce inflammation, and it may even help prevent cancer or dementia, both of which are associated with inflammation. The most popular type of cryotherapy is “whole-body cryotherapy”; during this treatment, you sit or stand inside a booth that’s cooled to a very low temperature with liquid nitrogen.

Cupping

This is a therapy in which suction is applied to the skin, typically by heating the air under a small cup to create a vacuum and then applying the cup to the skin. You may have been introduced to the concept after seeing the bruises it leaves behind on a friend (or a celebrity, like Michael Phelps). Proponents of cupping believe it can relieve pain by pulling on the muscles and promoting blood flow.

Dairy-free milk

“Dairy” refers to foods made from the milk of a cow, goat, sheep, or pretty much any mammal. (Remember the cat in Meet the Parents?) Dairy-free alternatives to milk are often eaten as part of a vegan (plant-based) diet, for health reasons, or due to lactose intolerance (the inability to properly digest lactose, the main carbohydrate found in dairy products). Examples include soy milk, oat milk, nut milk (like almond, cashew, macadamia etc.), and coconut milk.

Depression

Depression is a mood disorder that causes long-term, persistent feelings of sadness and disinterest. It can be hard to distinguish depression from a regular bout of “the blues,” but generally speaking, depression lasts longer than a few weeks, prevents you from finding joy or happiness in things you used to love, and makes everyday tasks feel difficult or more difficult.

While depression can be caused by many (or a combination) of factors, psychologists believe genetics, brain chemistry, and hormones all play a part. There are many options for treatment, including therapy, lifestyle changes, and medication.

Detox

The premise of a detox is that, as you go through your everyday life, you accumulate toxins—substances that are poisonous to the body—and their influence is making your health less than optimal. “Flushing” those toxins from your system, or stimulating your body to do so, is supposed to make you feel better, aid in weight loss, clear up skin, promote better sleep, and more.

Examples of diets and activities believed to help you detox run the gamut: juicing, supplements like charcoal and magnesium, hot yoga or saunas (you’ll often hear of “sweating it out”), dry brushing, colonics, apple cider vinegar shots, teas, or simply avoiding processed foods or animal products for a period of time.

Skeptics argue that the premise of detoxing is unscientific; your body has its own detoxification system—your liver and kidneys—and there’s not a lot of evidence that “detoxes” improve the function of these key organs. Plus, more extreme detox activities (think fasting, juice-only diets, or yoga in extremely hot rooms) are potentially unsafe.

Diffuser

A diffuser is a tool often used in aromatherapy that takes essential oils and turns them into a mist, making it easier to access their benefits by breathing them in. There are several types of diffusers, including:

  • Battery- or electric-powered devices that turn oils and water into vapor using vibration, heat, or a fan, and
  • Simple “reed” diffusers in which wooden straws inserted into a bottle of essential oils wick the essential oils up and into the air.

Digestion

This is the term for the process by which your body breaks down food and turns it into energy. Digestion begins before you’ve even swallowed a bite; your saliva actually contains an enzyme that kick-starts the process in your mouth. Chewing is the next integral part of digestion, as the more you break up your food with your teeth, the easier it is to digest (AKA, less work for the other organs involved in digestion).

Your food then travels down your throat and esophagus, the tube that connects your throat to your stomach (anyone else imagining this as an episode of The Magic School Bus?!). Once in your stomach, the food is completely broken down by acid; the resulting puree passes through to your intestines, where nutrients are absorbed by the body and anything leftover becomes waste.

Digital detox

This is the term for a period of time when you intentionally choose not to use social media, the Internet, or even your phone or computer. Digital detoxes have gained popularity as we spend more and more of our time staring at screens. Increased screen time brings with it increased eye strain and headaches, more anxiety, less focus, fewer IRL connections, and poorer sleep—hence the push towards a much needed break. Going “cold turkey” can help you break your bad habits and rely less on your smartphone in social settings, though psychologists agree that learning moderation is more effective than a temporary detox for long-term behavioral change.

Diva Cup

See “menstrual cup.”

Dopamine fasting

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter hormone that our brains release in response to something good. Dopamine is responsible for the positive feelings we associate with something and how motivated we are to get it. Imagine your roommate tells you there’s leftover cupcakes in the kitchen—YES PLEASE! Dopamine is what will get you off the couch and into the kitchen, and what will trigger your brain’s happy dance as you take the first bite.

While researchers believe dopamine evolved to help motivate us to find food and sexual partners (both necessary for the survival of the species!), our brains also release dopamine in response to things like drugs or even social media likes—so it can be the foundation for addiction.

Dopamine fasting is the practice of temporarily abstaining from activities that make you feel good—like sex, junk food, your phone, or TV—in order to “reset” the brain’s reward system. It’s hypothesized that this practice can change your brain’s dopamine response, reducing your feeling of “addiction” and actually making the activity feel more pleasurable when it’s reintroduced. It’s controversial, but it has roots in well-established addiction management and behavioral therapy techniques.

Dosha

This is a word used in Ayurveda, a holistic wellness system, to refer to “energy” or “life force.” There are three doshas: vata, which controls movement; kapha, which is responsible for strength, immunity, and growth; and pitta, which regulates hormones, hunger, and the digestive system.

We each have our own personal balance of doshas, and one is often dominant; this is associated with certain personality traits. For example, an Ayurvedic practitioner may tell you that you're a vata, which can indicate a flighty nervous system, inconsistent behavior, and light-heartedness. A kapha typically has a slow, steady demeanor and strong loyalty, while a pitta is associated with a strong personality, great leadership, and intense emotions.

People who live by Ayurvedic principles choose the types of foods they eat, the times at which they rest, and even the workouts they choose to “balance” their dominant dosha.

Doula

A doula is a support partner for difficult medical experiences, especially childbirth. While a doula isn’t a medical expert, they do receive training on how to best complement health professionals and help their clients feel safe, listened to, and informed, which is a common complaint in the US healthcare system. Research has shown that those who use birth doulas have shorter labors (by up to 25%) and are less likely to need a C-section.

A doula usually starts working with a pregnant person or couple before the birth, helping them figure out and plan for their ideal birth experience. Then they’re bedside during the experience itself, providing massage, translating medical jargon, and encouraging the pregnant person throughout labor. Many doulas even continue working with parents after the birth, assisting with breastfeeding, postpartum healing, and more.

Dry brushing

Dry-brushing is a form of body massage that uses a stiff-bristled brush to exfoliate the skin and increase blood flow. While dry brushing is generally safe and it’s an effective way to scrub away dead skin, there’s no evidence that it aids in digestion or can eliminate cellulite, as diehard dry-brushers claim.

Dry brushing can also serve as a method of “lymphatic drainage.” This type of massage uses gentle pressure, like the pressure of dry brushing, to promote the flow of lymph—an immune system fluid— around the body, potentially helping your body fight off or recover from infection.

Dukan diet

This low-carb, high-protein diet plan for weight loss was named for its founder, French doctor Pierre Dukan. The diet has four phases. In the first phase, you eat only lean protein and a tablespoon of oat bran; other healthful foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are added slowly over several months. A daily 20-minute walk is also included in the plan.

Because it’s so low in carbs (and because you’ll probably be eating less than usual), the Dukan diet does usually result in weight loss in the early phases, but there’s no evidence that it’s better for weight loss or maintenance than any other low-calorie diet—like other diets, long-term results are varied.

Ear seeds

Ear seeds are small beads placed on the ear at specific points to help relieve illness or anxiety. The placement of ear seeds are based on the “map” of the body’s energy pathways used in acupuncture. Practitioners believe blockages along those pathways can result in illness, and that the pressure of these beads at specific points can eliminate energy blockages.

As opposed to acupuncture needles, which are inserted into the skin, ear seeds are usually adhered to the surface of the skin and then massaged throughout the day to apply the necessary pressure. Ear seeds can also stay on for several days, unlike acupuncture needles, which are inserted and removed within the same appointment.

Eco-friendly

This is a term used for a product or practice that’s not harmful for the environment. Eco-friendly products are often:

  • Non-toxic
  • Organic (meaning they don’t contain pesticides)
  • Biodegradable (meaning they break down easily once they’re thrown away)
  • Made from recycled materials, or
  • Manufactured in a way that results in less pollution or waste.

Much like clean beauty, eco-friendly is a broad term that can be used for legitimately great products—or conversely, can be used as a marketing tool that masks facets of a product you should still be wary of. There are no specific regulations behind the term, so it’s important to do your research.

Elimination diet

This type of eating plan temporarily eliminates a specific food or group of foods and in many cases slowly reintroduces them to test the body’s reaction. An elimination diet is often used when a person or their doctor suspects that a food sensitivity or intolerance is causing health problems. For example, if you think dairy might be the culprit for your breakouts, you might try cutting out dairy to see if your skin changes. If eliminating that food group eliminates the breakouts, then voila! You’ve completed a successful elimination diet that highlights intolerances.

Low-FODMAP diets—used to identify specific triggers for irritable bowel syndrome—and the Whole30 diet—used to reveal sensitivities to the common food groups—are types of elimination diets, when done properly.

Elixirs

Traditionally, elixirs were sweet-flavored liquids that contain an ingredient meant to boost health or treat an illness. Elixirs were originally made with alcohol that was infused with the active ingredient; in pharmaceutical elixirs, that active ingredient was a medication (such as an antihistamine to treat allergies), while non-medicated elixirs were typically infused with an herb or other ingredient with health benefits, such as ginger.

But today, the definition has expanded to include basically any beverage—cold or warm, like tea—with health benefits. A common recipe uses tea as a base along with herbs, fruits, and supplements (like collagen or mushroom powder), pulsed together in a blender for a frothy, uplifting alternative to a latte. But the beauty of a modern elixir is that you can really throw in whatever it is your body needs.

Essential oils

Essential oils are concentrated liquids that contain the compounds and scents of a specific plant, used for aromatherapy or natural medicine. They’re called “essential” because they contain the “essence” of the plant—not because our bodies necessarily need them.

While the use of essential oils has been shown to aid relaxation and sleep—and they make a great natural perfume!—there’s no evidence that they can treat or prevent any illness.

Exfoliating

Exfoliation is the process of removing the outer layer of skin cells (which is the oldest) to reveal brighter, smoother skin underneath. Exfoliation can be done physically, with scrubs and brushes, or chemically, with acids and peels that dissolve the top layer of skin.

Fasting

Fasting is the practice of abstaining from food and/or drink for a period of time for health or spiritual purposes. Fasting has been part of many religious traditions for millenia, and has more recently been explored as a way to help weight loss (see “intermittent fasting”) and prolong lifespan.

Fat

This word may have negative connotations—but thanks to things like avocados, we’re starting to shed them. Fat is an essential part of the human diet. This nutrient helps us store energy and vitamins, regulates our hormones and our immune system, and facilitates nerve impulses in the brain. Fat can be found in animal products like fish, meat, and dairy as well as plant foods (like oils, nuts, seeds, and avocado).

What we refer to as fat on our bodies is actually called “adipose tissue,” and it’s a way for our bodies to store excess energy we’ve taken in (in the form of excess calories) so we can use it later. Body fat is also important for cushioning our vital organs and keeping us warm.

Fermented foods

“Fermented” means that yeast, bacteria, or other microorganisms are breaking down carbohydrates in these foods. Fermentation is used to make many familiar foods and drinks like beer, wine, vinegar, and yogurt. The process often results in bubbly carbonation and a sour flavor. Certain fermented foods contain bacterias that are beneficial to the delicate balance of our digestive system (called “probiotics”); examples include yogurt and kefir, kimchi, kombucha, some pickles, miso, and vinegar.

Fiber

Fiber is a certain part of plant foods—veggies, fruits, whole grains, beans, and nuts—that can’t be digested by our bodies. While that sounds like a negative, it’s actually very beneficial! Because we don’t digest it, fiber has zero calories and zero carbs. As undigested fiber passes through the body, it helps “clean out” our digestive systems, making bowel movements easier and pushing excess cholesterol and other harmful stuff out of the body.

Fiber also helps us feel fuller, since it slows digestion and absorbs water like a sponge in your stomach; plus, it may “rev” your metabolism as it forces your digestive system to work harder. That’s why diets high in fiber are helpful for weight loss. The American Dietetic Association recommends women consume 25–35 grams of fiber and men eat 38 grams of fiber per day.


F-Factor diet

This diet is named for its focus on carbohydrates high in fiber (the so-called “F” factor). It’s different from many weight loss plans because it not only allows eating carbs, but also permits dining out, having alcohol (in moderation, of course), and working out less. If you’re like “What magical diet is this?!”, keep reading.

Fiber is the zero-calorie, non-digestible part of a plant food. Because fiber absorbs water and swells in the stomach, it helps you feel full after eating—so you’ll generally eat less throughout the day. And because your body has to work harder to try to digest fiber, it’s believed this magic ingredient can boost your metabolism, too.

The F-Factor plan is based on research that links high-fiber diets with weight loss, not to mention better heart and gut health. An F-Factor diet would be made up of beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, high-fiber fruits and veggies, and whole grains, paired with a lean protein at each meal.

Financial wellness

“Financial wellness” means feeling good about where you are financially—and where you’re going. Financial wellness looks like low or no debt, good credit, strong and growing savings and retirement funds, a steady flow of income, and a general awareness of your financial position and confidence in your ability to understand it… so basically, not discovering at the end of the month that all of your money has gone to boutique studio workouts and smoothies without you even realizing it.

While we don’t often think of finances as part of our health, our financial wellbeing can directly correlate to our overall well being. Having debt or insufficient savings can contribute to feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression, and these emotions can trickle into our diets, sleeping patterns, and more. If you’re hoping to improve your financial wellness, it often helps to start by learning more about money and debt management, investing, and saving.

Flexitarian

A flexitarian diet centers around plant foods without completely eliminating meat. This term is the marriage of “flexible” and “vegetarian.” This style of eating helps people reduce how many animal products they’re consuming, which can be good for their health and for the environment—but is more accommodating than strict vegan or vegetarian diets. If someone introduces themselves as a flexitarian, think “flexible”—as in they’d prefer the veggie option at the dinner party, but they’re flexible.

The term has come to be more widely used by people who simply aren’t into labeling their eating behaviors (despite ironically providing a label themselves). If someone doesn’t adhere to a specific diet like Paleo, keto, or vegan, you may also hear them say they are a “flexitarian.”

FODMAP

FODMAP is an acronym for “fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols.” (#Grateful for the acronym!) This is a type of carbohydrate found in many grains, vegetables, fruits, and dairy. For most people, naturally occuring FODMAPs have some benefits to your body—for example, they help regulate the bacteria along your digestive tract. However, these carbohydrates are not fully absorbed by the body, and as they sit in the intestines, they can start to ferment (hence the first word in the acronym).

This chemical reaction causes bloating and gas, and can aggravate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other digestive problems. This is why you may hear some people with chronic bloating issues or IBS try a low-FODMAP diet, avoiding foods containing these carbohydrates, to reduce their symptoms.

Folic acid

This form of vitamin B9 helps carry out many key functions in the body, such as creating red blood cells (which bring oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body), repairing DNA, and aiding with cell division and growth.

The last one on that list makes folic acid especially important for pregnant people. Since a fetus is growing rapidly—meaning lots of cell division and growth—folic acid can help ensure proper development of the brain and spine. This vitamin is found naturally in leafy greens, citrus fruits, and beans, but it’s recommended that pregnant people take a folic acid supplement (or a prenatal vitamin with folic acid) to ensure they’re getting enough.

Food combining

This concept is based on the idea that, because different foods with different levels of fat, protein, and carbohydrates require different digestion processes, times, and enzymes within your body, combining something like a burger (protein) with bread (carbohydrate) means you’ll need more energy to process your food. It also means some food is just waiting around to be digested, which may cause bloating as the food begins to ferment in your digestive system.

The rules of food combining are as follows:

  • You should eat fruit only on an empty stomach. It's digested the fastest, according to the diet.
  • Choose a protein or a starch for each meal and avoid mixing starches and proteins in the same meal (tacos, burgers, pasta and meatballs—basically all of our favorites, LOL). You can pair the starch or the protein with non-starchy “neutral” foods (see below).
  • Neutral foods—meaning they can be paired with anything—include non-starchy veggies like leafy greens, zucchini, broccoli, carrots, and beets, plus oils and butters. PHEW!
  • Nuts and dried fruit should only be paired with each other (or neutral vegetables).
  • Eat your meals from “light to heavy,” meaning your lightest meal of the day should be breakfast while dinner should be your heaviest.

Skeptics of this theory believe that our bodies are actually designed to process different macronutrients at the same time—and in fact, most dietitians recommend it. 

Functional foods

Functional food are those that have health benefits beyond providing our body with basic macronutrients. Benefits of functional foods may include preventing or treating illness or helping with specific bodily functions. This term can be used to refer to foods with natural health benefits, like oats that reduce cholesterol, or to those with added ingredients, like orange juice fortified with calcium (a mineral that’s essential for bone health).

Functional medicine

This alternative, holistic form of traditional healthcare focuses on finding and resolving the “root causes” of illness. Typically, a functional medicine treatment plan will include a chart of all potential factors contributing to an issue, taking into consideration the patient’s personal lifestyle, medical history, and biology. Treatments often include nutritional changes or supplements, “detoxes,” stress management techniques, or exercise plans.

It’s noteworthy that functional medicine doctors typically spend an hour in an appointment with a patient (compare that to your most recent check-up with an MD, which was likely just a few minutes). And unlike in most traditional healthcare, the doctor and patient act as collaborators in care. Things to be wary of: some functional medicine treatments, like detoxing, aren’t evidence-based (meaning there’s not a lot of research to support their use), and most people practicing functional medicine are not medical doctors but naturopathic doctors (NDs), who often have less training.

G-spot

The G-spot is a super-sensitive zone within the vagina that’s believed to be responsible for heightened sexual pleasure and orgasms. Named for German gynecologist Ernst Gräfenberg, the G-spot is located 2–3 inches into the vagina on on the front “wall.”

There’s disagreement among experts over whether the G-spot actually exists, if it exists in all vaginas, and how it’s structured (some believe it to be connected to the nerves of the clitoris)—so if you don’t experience G-spot orgasms, don’t freak out. That’s totally normal.

Gluten

First, let’s clear up some misconceptions: gluten is not a carb and a carb is not automatically gluten. Someone who is gluten-free is not inherently carb-free.

Rather, gluten is the name for the protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and oats. You may think of “protein” as being meat, eggs, or tofu, but actually, many food groups contain some kind of protein, and gluten belongs to the grains. Gluten is what gives foods made with wheat a stretchy, elastic quality—think pizza dough—and is also the ingredient responsible for bad reactions in people with Celiac disease (read more on that above!).

Gluten sensitivity

This term refers to a negative reaction to gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and oats. While Celiac disease—an autoimmune illness in which gluten causes the body to attack its own intestines—is the most extreme version, many people have other reactions to gluten, like headaches or migraines, abdominal pain or digestive issues, joint pain, and fatigue. Beyond Celiac disease, gluten intolerance isn’t super well-researched just yet, so it’s not completely clear if the protein itself is causing these issues or if they could be blamed on something else about these grains.

Glyphosate

This herbicide—plant killer—is used to destroy weeds in both small applications (like treating crabgrass on a lawn) and large (such as eliminating native grasses over hundreds of acres of crops). Glyphosate was originally marketed as Roundup by the Monsanto company, who also created versions of corn, soybeans, and other crops that were resistant to this herbicide. This combo made it possible for farmers to spray an entire field, quickly eliminating unwanted plants without impacting their crops.

Unfortunately, glyphosate is a threat to a lot more than just weeds. It’s been shown to kill honey bees and other insects, causing environmental issues. It’s classified as a probable human carcinogen (cancer-causing compound) and may also be an endocrine disruptor, meaning that it interferes with the normal balance of hormones in your body, contributing to obesity, infertility, diabetes, and other issues. Humans—especially those who live near farms that use this herbicide—can be exposed to glyphosate in their drinking water, air, or soil. We can also be exposed by consumption of non-organic produce that may have been sprayed with this herbicide.

Genetically modified organism (GMO)

A genetically modified organism is a plant, animal, or bacteria whose DNA has been altered, usually to make it more plentiful or easier to grow. Examples include canola and corn, both altered to make them resistant to herbicides, and cotton, which has been made impervious to certain common pests.

While the GM foods currently available have been studied and are considered safe, there are concerns that altering the genetic make-up of a food could impact the way we process it or could have negative environmental effects. Additionally, crops are often genetically modified to make them resistant to herbicides or pesticides used in their fields, so consuming GM corn or soybeans makes you more likely to be exposed to these leftover toxins.

Grain-free

A grain-free food or diet eliminates all grains, including wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt, kamut, triticale, corn, and rice. 

Grapefruit diet

Apparently this is a real thing?! This is a 12-day, high-protein diet (somewhat counterintuitive given the name, but it’s true) in which grapefruit or grapefruit juice is consumed at every meal. There are a few different versions of this diet, all of which purport the fat-burning power of certain enzymes found in grapefruits.

Many grapefruit diet plans amount to less than 1,000 calories a day (about half the amount necessary for an adult human male). The diet is likely to result in weight loss not because grapefruits have some magical power, but because you’re consuming an extremely low number of calories—this means that you’re more likely to gain the weight back once you return to normal eating.

Gratitude practice

This refers to the intentional, everyday act of acknowledging something(s) you’re thankful for—large or small—in order to cultivate a more positive attitude toward life. Psychological research says that gratitude is actually a skill, not a temporary emotion, and that by purposefully taking time out of your day to experience gratitude, you can train your brain to feel more joy, enthusiasm, and satisfaction.

There’s really no wrong way to build a gratitude practice. You could simply set aside time each night or morning to think about a good thing in your life: a friend, a pet, your health, or even a particularly delicious meal. Or, you could take the next step and record your thoughts in a gratitude journal (that’s just a regular journal where you write about your gratitude!), which means you’ll be able to read it when you need a pick-me-up in the future.

Greenwashing

Greenwashing is a sneaky advertising tactic or PR-spin on a product or company that’s marketed as environmentally friendly, despite not actually adopting environmentally conscious practices.

An example is the “Eco-Shape” bottle advertised by Nestlé to use 15–30% less plastic—and disregarding that over 70% of plastic water bottles end up in landfills. You sneaky dog!

Gua sha

In this type of massage, a flat stone tool or a spoon is used to rub the skin and muscles on the body or face in a particular motion to stimulate collagen production. An ancient Chinese healing technique, gua sha is supposed to break up stagnant energy in the body that could be causing illness. There is some evidence that this practice can reduce inflammation and pain, especially neck pain and migraines—but it can also be pretty painful or even cause bruising.

Guar gum

Guar gum is an extract of guar beans used in food manufacturing as a thickener, often found in yogurt, gravy, salad dressing, and non-dairy milk. While large doses can cause gas and abdominal pain, guar gum is thought to be safe in small doses and may even have health benefits, since it’s high in fiber.

Gut

“Gut” is a shorthand term for the human digestive tract, including the stomach, intestines, and all the microorganisms (bacteria, yeast, and more) that helps the digestive system function.

Gut health

This term refers to the status of your digestive “microbiome,” the balance of both harmful and beneficial bacteria in your intestines. That balance can be upset by stress, diet, or taking medications like antibiotics. If your gut health is off, it can not only cause digestive issues like bloating or diarrhea, but can also have far-reaching impacts on the skin, mood, and immune system.

Health coach

A health coach is a professional trained to work with clients to support their diet, exercise, and health goals. Health coaches don’t have medical training, so they shouldn’t provide medical diagnoses; instead, they’re often used as a supportive mentor to guide someone to feel their best through individualized food and lifestyle changes based on their unique set of health goals.

While there are several schools that are qualified to give health coaching certifications, there are no specific regulations on who is able to use the term—so it’s important to do your research and ensure whoever you choose to work with has adequate certification.

Herbalism

Herbalism is the study of plants and their medicinal benefits. It’s not only herbs, although they are a big part of the practice. Herbalism is considered “folk” or “holistic” (in contrast with traditional medicine and “big pharma”) but many of our modern medical treatments—such as aspirin—have roots in ancient herbalism. Herbal remedies have varying levels of effectiveness and safety; if you’re considering an herbal treatment, do your research and talk to a professional.

High intensity interval training (HIIT)

HIIT is any workout that alternates periods of intense activity, like sprinting, with periods of recovery. HIIT workouts are considered by many to be more “efficient” than lower-intensity, steady workouts; twenty minutes of HIIT, for example, might burn two to three times more calories than twenty minutes of walking. HIIT also results in higher “afterburn,” which is the term for the increased calorie burn you get in the three hours or so following your workout. Plus, HIIT generally gets your heart rate up higher than other types of exercise, improving your circulation and heart health.

Tabata training and Orange Theory workout classes are all HIIT-based, but it doesn’t have to be complicated—you can DIY by using a timer on your phone or smart watch to work out hard for 40–45 seconds and then rest or walk for 15–20 seconds. (Be sure to warm up before and cool down after to avoid injury!)

Hormones

Hormones are substances in the body that signal your organs to take certain actions. There are about 50 different hormones in the human body, and the levels of those hormones change based on environmental factors (like stress and sleep) and specific cycles in the body.

For example, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), produced by the pituitary gland in the brain, tells the ovaries to start maturing eggs each month in preparation for ovulation. FSH levels rise in the first half of the menstrual cycle, before ovulation, and drop off after an egg is released—only to start the process over again the next month without you even lifting a finger.

Since hormones are really the “directors” of the body, not having enough—or having too much—of a particular hormone could have wide-ranging effects in your body, from weight gain to acne and hair loss to infertility.

Hormone diet

This six-week plan uses food choices, supplements, and exercise to balance hormones and aid in weight loss. Developed by naturopathic doctor Natasha Turner, the diet has three phases. The first is a “detox” phase in which you eliminate foods that may cause inflammation; in the second phase, you reintroduce some of these foods, paying special attention to how they affect your body. The final phase focuses on cardio exercise and strength training. This diet’s emphasis on whole foods, avoiding sugar, and movement makes it generally healthy, but its claims to treat hormone imbalances may be exaggerated.

Hypnosis

Also known as hypnotherapy, modern hypnosis is far from the whole “monotone magician repeating ‘you’re feeling sleepy’ while waving a pocket watch in front of your face.” It’s not a mystical power—it’s actually a technique of relaxation and focused concentration that a therapist can use to produce a trance-like, meditative state in their client. Once in this state, you may be more open to suggestion and introspection. Hypnotherapy can be used to support goals like losing weight, managing pain without medication, or quitting smoking.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

IBS is a chronic disorder of the large intestine that causes diarrhea, gas, bloating, and abdominal pain, especially after eating. The exact cause of IBS isn’t clear, but it may be related to abnormalities in your nervous system, problems with the muscles in the walls of the intestines, or inflammation in the intestines. IBS symptoms are often triggered by specific foods or stress, so a change in diet and lifestyle changes to manage stress levels are typically part of treatment.

Immunization

Immunization is the process through which your body develops its own form of protection against a specific germ. There are two ways to become immune. The first is to actually contract a virus; as your body fights it off, it develops the “tools,” in the form of specific antibodies, to protect you against that virus in the future. (Think about how you may have gotten chicken pox as a kid—once you’ve had it, it’s unlikely you’ll get it again.)

But some illnesses are so dangerous that we don't want to risk contracting them. That’s why vaccines, the other method of immunization, were created. Vaccines contain a weak, dead, or incomplete form of the germ they’re intended to protect against—enough to stimulate your immune system to create antibodies for the illness and prevent future infection, but not enough to actually make you sick.

Inflammation

Inflammation is a side effect of the body’s natural immune, or sickness-fighting, response, which usually involves swelling and pain. The easiest-to-explain, most visible version of inflammation is what happens when you get a splinter or a small cut: as soon as the body notices that the protection of the skin has been breached, it sends immune cells to the injury to fend off infection and repair the damage, a reaction that results in swelling, warmth, redness, and pain in the injured area. In most cases, inflammation is an uncomfortable but important sign that your immune system is working like it’s supposed to.

But in other cases, it’s a little more complicated. Sometimes, our bodies overreact to “triggers” that aren’t actually harmful (basically they’re being DRAMATIC). Our immune systems unnecessarily produce inflammation, which, in turn, can set off a series of unpleasant symptoms. One example is seen in Crohn's, a condition in which stress or certain foods can trigger inflammation in the intestines, leading to pain, diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, malnutrition, and other issues.

Chronic (AKA persistent) inflammation is associated with auto-immune diseases, arthritis, and asthma, but even otherwise healthy people can experience long-term, low-level inflammation as a result of an unhealthy diet. Research is limited, but it's believed that long-term inflammation could contribute to cancer, heart disease, and more. You can combat this risk by loading up on foods that have been identified as anti-inflammatory, like turmeric, olive oil, and spirulina.

Infrared sauna

A traditional sauna—a small room or booth in which your body is exposed to heat—uses dry or steam heat to raise the temperature of the air. An infrared sauna, on the other hand, uses light (think about those big red lights used to keep food warm at a buffet) to heat the body. An infrared sauna will help to increase your heart rate and circulation, mimicking the reactions your body manifests during a workout.  These sessions can be relaxing, mood-boosting, and pain-relieving.

Intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting is the practice of alternating between periods of fasting (AKA, not eating) or low-calorie eating with periods of normal eating. Popular fasting patterns include what’s called 16/8 fasting—that is, eating during 8 hours of the day and fasting for the other 16—and the 5:2 diet, in which you eat very low-calorie for 2 days per week and normally for the other 5.

Fasting can flip what researchers call the “metabolic switch,” the point at which your body begins to burn available fat stores for fuel; this state is also known as ketosis. So IF works (and is pretty sustainable) for weight loss, but that’s far from the only benefit. The practice, when done healthfully, helps stabilize blood sugar, reduce cholesterol, and lower inflammation in the body. Because it gives the digestive system a break, it specifically helps reduce inflammation in the gut, which can be beneficial for people with IBS.

Fasting puts your body’s cells under mild stress, which can actually help them adapt to become better at handling other types of stress, like disease or aging. IF has also been shown to be good for your brain. The practice can help protect your brain’s ability to remember and learn, and reduce your risk of brain disease like Alzheimer’s.

That being said, there are some potential side effects, especially when you’re first getting used to fasting, like fatigue, mood changes (hangry, anyone?!), and changes to your sleep patterns. If you want to do IF healthfully, it’s really important to ensure you’re consuming the same amount of calories—no more, no less—during your “eating window” that you normally would.

Intuitive eating

This approach to eating requires you to listen deeply to your body and trust it to guide your food choices. Intuitive eating is more of a mindset than a diet. In fact, it’s pretty much a rejection of the idea of a diet—with intuitive eating, no food is “off limits,” and the idea that you’re giving yourself unconditional permission to eat is integral to the approach.

The concept is based on the fact that we are born with the signals that tell us when we’re hungry, full, and (if you’re listening hard enough) what our individual bodies want to eat.  However, we lose the ability to really hear these signals when we’re raised in a diet culture, brought up seeing foods as “good” vs. “bad,” taught to finish our plates even if we’re not hungry,  counting calories, or following rules and restrictions around food.

By guiding you to ask simple questions like “Am I hungry/full?” and “What do I really want to eat?”, an intuitive eating approach helps you gain back that mind-body awareness to develop healthier and more satisfying eating habits.

Intrauterine device (IUD)

An IUD is a long-term birth control device inserted into the uterus (hence, intrauterine) by a healthcare provider. These devices come in two types, both of which have a signature “T” shape—the top of the T stays in your uterus, while the bottom of the T is in your cervix, with strings hanging into the vaginal canal for easy removal. The copper IUD (brand name Paragard) prevents pregnancy by releasing tiny amounts of copper, creating a toxic environment for sperm. Hormonal IUDs, like Mirena and Skyla, release low levels of hormones that thin your uterine lining (preventing a fertilized egg from implanting and becoming a pregnancy), in addition to killing sperm.

While they come with some risks, like the potential to dislodge and changes to your menstrual cycle, IUDs are one of the most reliable forms of birth control—both types are over 99% effective. Part of the reason they’re so effective is because you can’t forget them like you can the pill or the patch. 

Jade roller

Jade rollers are an ancient Chinese artifact recently brought back into vogue by New York City facialists and influencers alike. This tool resembles a mini paint roller made from naturally cool jade stones; it’s used for facial massage, called “facial rolling.” Proponents of facial rolling say it decreases puffiness ((like you might experience after a salty meal or late night out) and undereye bags, and boosts blood flow to the face, improving skin and muscle tone. It’s also super relaxing.  Pop it in the freezer and let the good times… roll.

Kegels

The one exercise you won’t find at a boutique studio in Manhattan (yet!). Kegels refer to a type of exercise that strengthens the muscles of the pelvic floor, which support the uterus, bladder, and intestines. Pelvic floor weakness—often a result of pregnancy and childbirth—can lead to loss of control of your bladder. Yikes.

Kegel exercises are easy once you identify your pelvic floor muscles. Imagine you needed to stop mid-pee—the muscles you’d use are the ones you’re targeting with Kegels. Squeeze them for 3–5 seconds, then relax and repeat. The great thing about Kegels? You can practice them any time, any place, and no one will know.

They’re not just for post-pregnancy either. Having control over these muscles can also lead to better sex, so get squeezing.

Keto (ketogenic diet)

Keto promotes a high-fat, very low-carb diet. When you're not eating carbs—which your body will use first as it's source of energy—your body will instead burn stored fat. This switch is known as “ketosis,” and it’s the focus of a keto diet.

To accomplish a state of ketosis, 80% of your calorie intake must be fats. Keto dieters usually eat around 20 grams of carbs per day; for comparison, a single slice of bread has a carb count of 40. This means most people on keto diets cut out grains altogether, fulfilling their minimal carb requirements with veggies instead. It typically takes a few days of eating this way for the body to achieve a state of ketosis, and the diet only works if followed exactly.

Proponents of the diet have found that it's been extremely helpful for children with epilepsy (as it lessens the frequency of seizures) and for quick weight loss. On the other hand, it's not the best for people who don't exercise, as you need to be burning energy to enter ketosis. It also may be difficult to sustain for long periods of time, and—if not done with healthy foods in mind—can lead to nutritional deficiencies.

Keto-tarian

Keto + vegetarian. Instead of relying on bacon and butter as primary sources of protein and fat, this version of the keto diet centers plant-based foods such as nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut cream/milk/oil, and veggies, alongside eggs. This diet was created by Dr. Will Cole, who calls it “clean keto” and developed it in order to avoid the pitfalls of conventional vegetarian (carb-heavy), and ketogenic (heavy on animal products, which contribute to heart disease and high blood pressure) diets.

Ketone strips

These paper strips can be used to identify when someone has entered ketosis. Ketosis is the goal of a low-carb keto diet, in which the body is burning fat stores for energy, rather than carbohydrates. During ketosis, the body produces ketones, a byproduct of the fat-burning process. Ketone strips measure the ketone levels in your urine, typically via a changing color indicator, to indicate if your diet is working as it should—kind of like a pregnancy test for keto dieters.

Kundalini yoga

This yoga practice is specifically focused on the “root” chakra, the center of energy located at the base of the spine and believed to be responsible for feelings of security and stability. “Kundalini” is the term for energy that lives within the root chakra; this type of yoga hopes to pull this energy throughout the whole body by using exercises, breathing techniques, and meditation.

Unlike vinyasa yoga—a style in which you “flow” through a set of poses quietly, breathing in sync with your movements—kundalini uses loud mantras (chants), fast breathing, and quick, repetitive movements in addition to the slower poses and breathing of other yoga techniques.

Lectins

Lectins are a type of protein that binds to carbohydrates in many beans, nuts, and grains. Experts think lectins developed as part of a plant’s defense mechanism. In large amounts, they can be toxic—“active” lectins interfere with our body’s absorption of the nutrients in the food we’re eating, and can trigger an autoimmune response.

The good news is that lectins are destroyed and become inactive when we cook these foods at high temps. Foods that contain lectins also have tons of other health benefits, like fiber and healthy fats, and experts say that these pros outweigh the small risks of harm from lectins.

Lubricant

Lubricants or “lube” are liquids used to reduce friction during sex or masturbation, increasing pleasure and avoiding chafing (ouch!). Lubricants come in three types: water-based, silicone-based, and oil-based. Water-based lubes are compatible with all toys and types of sex, but can evaporate quickly; oil-based lubes last longer, but will break down latex condoms; silicone-based lubes also last longer than water-based, but can be irritating for some people.

Because lube is applied to one of the most sensitive parts of your body, it’s important to look for “body-safe” versions free of toxic or irritating ingredients. What to avoid: glycerine, flavoring, any kind of sugar, petroleum jelly, preservatives like parabens, propylene glycol, benzocaine (a “numbing” ingredient in some lubes), spermicide, and antibacterial ingredients like chlorhexidine gluconate.

Lymphatic drainage

The lymphatic system is an extensive drainage system in the body that is used to balance fluids and defend against bad thangs (AKA infections). The lymphatic vessels carry lymph—a clear, watery fluid that contains proteins, salts, and other key substances.

Lymphatic drainage is a type of massage that uses gentle pressure to assist the flow of lymph around the body, supporting your body’s natural immune processes. This reduces swelling of the lymph nodes and may help your body fight off or recover from infection. (Plus, it’s super relaxing!)

Maca

Maca (not to be confused with maTCHa) is a root grown in the high Andes Mountains of Peru that’s used in traditional herbal medicine. Typically dried and taken as a powder or tablet, there’s some evidence that maca can have an impact on your hormones; studies show it can increase your sex drive, improve male fertility, and relieve the side effects of menopause.

Macros

This is shorthand for macronutrients, AKA protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Macro means large, and these three are called macronutrients because we need large amounts of them to survive. If someone is “counting macros,” it means they’re keeping track of how many grams of fat, protein, or carbs they’re consuming in a day.

Each macronutrient has a specific, fixed number of calories: protein and carbs both have 4 calories per gram, while fat has 9. To determine your personal macro needs, you first need to calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the number of calories you need each day according to your sex, age, body size, and activity level. From there, you can figure out what percentage of your calories should come from each macronutrient, and plan your diet accordingly.

The National Academy of Medicine suggests that you get 45–65% of your calories from carbs, 20–35% from fat, and 10–35% from protein. This formula should be adjusted based on your specific needs and goals. For example, if you’re trying a keto diet, you’ll want 80% of your calories to come from fat; if you’re trying to gain muscle, you might want to increase the percentage of your daily diet that comes from protein, the macro responsible for building muscle.

Manuka honey

This honey is created by the bees that pollinate the manuka flower, native to New Zealand. Because it can only be sourced from New Zealand Manuka honey often has a hefty price tag.

Fun fact: All raw honey has antibacterial and healing properties, thanks to an enzyme that, when combined with body fluids, produces hydrogen peroxide. Honey from the manuka plant is extra special because it also contains higher levels of methylglyoxal, another antibacterial ingredient. You can use this honey—in its sterile, medical-grade form—to dress a cut or burn.

While proponents claim that manuka honey is sort of a “cure-all” treatment for a myriad of illnesses like cancer, diabetes, and digestive issues, there’s no evidence to support uses other than to help heal wounds (or, in its edible form, to add a little sweetness to your tea or toast).

Masturbation

Masturbation is the stimulation (AKA, touching) of your own genitals for pleasure and/or orgasm. Having an orgasm releases endorphins, feel-good chemicals in your brain. Masturbation has many benefits: it can reduce stress and pain, help you fall asleep, and help you understand what turns you on.

Matcha

Match is a finely ground, bright-green powder made from dried green tea leaves. Like other types of green tea, matcha is an antioxidant, meaning it helps fight cell damage within the body. It has a bit more caffeine than regular green tea, too, which boosts metabolism and burns calories. Typically, matcha powder is mixed into hot water or milk and drank as a tea or latte. (Be careful with versions they sell at Starbucks and other coffee shops, though—those are usually packed with sugar, which pretty much offsets the nutritional benefits of the matcha.)

Medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) oil

MCT oil is a supplement derived from coconut or palm oil. Studies show that MCTs stimulate the hormones that make you feel full, so it can help you manage cravings and stick to a lower-calorie diet. Because MCTs help you achieve ketosis—a state in which your body burns fat stores—it’s often part of a ketogenic diet. It’s also been shown to improve memory and overall brain health.

MCT oil can be added to smoothies, salad dressings, or taken by the spoonful (if you’re brave), but it’s most popularly an ingredient in so-called “bulletproof coffee.” This recipe pairs coffee with MCT oil and butter to fuel your brain and slow down caffeine digestion, giving you long-term energy with no jitters or crash.

Meditation

Meditation refers to mental and physical techniques used to achieve a calm, clear mind; common forms include breathing exercises and visualization. Meditation practices, used in many different religions and traditions since the beginning of history, have been shown to reduce anxiety, stress, and pain, and may even have a physical effect on the body.

Mediterranean diet

People who inhabit the countries around the Mediterranean Sea are known to live longer, healthier lives with lower levels of obesity and disease. The Mediterranean diet is based on the cuisines of these countries, focusing on whole foods, primarily seasonal vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and plant-based fats like nuts and olive oil, and wild fish. Dairy and red wine are consumed in moderation, with very little meat, sugar, or processed foods.

Lifestyle is a big factor in the diet as well. The Mediterranean culture prioritizes leisure, relationships, pleasure, and physical activity, all of which lower stress levels and improve overall wellness. The Mediterranean diet is considered by nutritionists to be one of the healthiest, most sustainable approaches to eating and living.

Menstrual cup

Most period products, like tampons and pads, absorb menstrual flow in cotton-esque materials. Menstrual cups are a little different. These small silicone bowls are inserted into the vagina, up under the cervix, to collect period blood. Menstrual cups collect more blood than other methods of period hygiene and can be worn for up to 12 hours, including while the user is sleeping or during sex. Plus, they’re reusable, helping users reduce their carbon footprint. The only caveat is that the process of inserting, removing, and cleaning a menstrual cup can take a little practice.

Menopause

Menopause is the point at which a person's period stops, signaling that they have no remaining eggs in their ovaries and are no longer fertile. The average age of menopause is ~51. When a person is no longer ovulating, their ovaries stop producing as much estrogen and progesterone, the hormones used to regulate the cycle. These hormonal changes come with their own set of side effects, including hot flashes, trouble sleeping, mood swings, vaginal dryness, and hair loss.

Mercury in retrograde

Mercury’s orbit is much shorter than Earth’s (a year there is about 88 days to our 365), so every 3–4 months, for a few weeks at a time, it looks like Mercury is going “backwards.” This is known as Mercury in retrograde. To astrologers—people who believe star and planetary movements can impact or predict what happens to humans—Mercury rules communication, travel, and technology, so going “retrograde” can signal a period of confusion, miscommunication, and mishaps. Basically, people will blame anything on “mercury in retrograde”!

Meso-dosing

Meso-dosing is the practice of supplementing your diet with nutrients that are difficult to get from food alone. So-called “super” foods get that title because they contain an active ingredient that has health benefits; in turmeric, for example, it’s a compound called curcumin that gives the root its inflammatory properties. It's difficult, though, to get high doses of curcumin unless you’re eating turmeric for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That’s where meso-dosing comes in; by taking a concentrated supplement containing the active ingredients in superfoods, you can complement your diet and get the largest health benefits.

Metals

In the wellness world, metals are toxins (AKA poisons) that we may be exposed to through our food, water, or technologies. Metals, including lead, cadmium, mercury, and arsenic, enter the soil and groundwater as the result of the disposal of industrial and household waste, as well as the use of pesticides and fertilizers. Food grown, caught, or raised in contaminated environments will also contain small amounts of these toxins. While the trace amount of heavy metals in one meal might not have any immediate effects, our bodies can accumulate large amounts of these toxins over time, eventually leading to disease.

For example, fish who live in polluted water may have unsafe levels of mercury that we then absorb when we eat them. Another surprising example is protein powders. A 2018 study found that, of 134 protein powder brands tested, every one contained detectable levels of one or more heavy metal. Plant-based varieties were actually the worst offenders, possibly because the soy and hemp plants used for protein powder are especially prone to absorbing metals from the soil.

Metabolism

Technically, “metabolism” includes all of the processes your body uses to keep you going, but the term is most often used to refer specifically to the speed at which the body burns food for fuel. Having a “higher” or “faster” metabolism means your body uses energy, in the form of calories, more quickly than others, making you less likely to store excess energy (body fat). Your metabolism is influenced by your age, weight, sex, activity level, and body composition.

Microdermabrasion

This an exfoliation procedure, meaning it removes the oldest outer layer of skin to reveal smoother, younger-looking, skin with reduced scarring, fine lines, and wrinkles. (Other versions of exfoliation include dry brushing and scrubs.) Microdermabrasion uses a tool that gently blasts the skin with superfine crystals that are then quickly vacuumed up, along with the dead skin they’ve polished off.

Microbiome

The microbiome is the collective network of all the microorganisms—bacteria, fungi (including yeast), and viruses—living in or on the human body. It’s a mixed bag; some of these microorganisms are essential for your body, others are neutral unless they’re allowed to flourish, and others can make you sick. Different parts of your body have very different communities of microorganisms. A healthy microbiome has a good balance of these microorganisms, and an imbalance can lead to illness.

Mindful eating

This approach to food uses elements of mindfulness—a practice of bringing your attention to the thoughts, sensations, and emotions of the current moment—to increase your satisfaction while eating and to help you gain control over your eating habits. Mindful eating isn’t a diet; instead, it’s a set of behavioral changes around eating that help you slow down, savor your meals, and listen more closely to your body’s cues (when it’s hungry or full, for example, or how it really feels about your food choices). Mindful eating can help you lose weight, if necessary, but it can also help you cope with food anxieties and make the whole process of eating more pleasurable.

The most common “beginner” mindful eating exercise traditionally uses a raisin (though it doesn't really need to be a raisin—any small individual food item will do). The process of consuming a single raisin is drawn out dramatically; for example, you might observe the raisin, looking at it, smelling it, and touching it for several minutes before you eat it. Once it’s in your mouth, you’ll take time to pay special attention to the taste and feeling of the raisin on your tongue and while you slowly chew. Finally, you’ll consider how you feel after you’ve swallowed it. Now, those who practice mindful eating don’t do this entire exercise each time they take a bite—but it does serve as a great crash course in being more thoughtful about your food.

Mindfulness

Based in Buddhist traditions, mindfulness is the practice of bringing your attention to what’s happening—your surroundings, sensations, thoughts, and emotions—in the present moment. The philosophy of mindfulness encourages you to simply observe the world, and yourself, without judgment.

Mindfulness exercises are a big part of meditation techniques to calm and clear the mind. You can think of mindfulness as a sort of mental “training”; by practicing the skills during regular meditation, it becomes second nature, creating a sense of calm that’s important in stressful moments. Mindfulness practice has been shown to improve mental health and help stave off anxiety by preventing you from ruminating on past events or future plans.

Minerals

Minerals are chemical elements that play an essential or supporting role in the way the human body functions. Our bodies can’t create minerals on their own, so we need to take them in through the plants, animals, and water we consume (or, less ideally, from supplements).

Examples: calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, magnesium, iron, zinc.

Monk fruit

Monk fruit is a melon grown in Southeast Asia that’s used to create a naturally sugar-free sweetener. Because monk fruit extract is 150–200 times sweeter than table sugar, only a tiny amount is necessary to get the desired sweetness, so it’s effectively calorie-free. It doesn’t contain any actual sugar, so researchers believe that it does not spike blood sugar in the same way as traditional sugar—making it safe for people with diabetes.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

MSG is a savory flavor enhancer that’s added to processed foods, like flavored chips and soup, as well as to some Chinese food. MSG is made from glutamic acid, found naturally in cheese, mushrooms, and other foods. Some people believe they have an intolerance to it, with symptoms like headache, sweating, or nausea, but MSG is classified as a safe ingredient.

Mushroom water

Mushrooms have high concentrations of vitamin D and antioxidants, and some varieties are being explored for their extra powers: chagas may boost energy and improve mood, cordyceps may increase exercise endurance, lion’s mane may improve brain function, and reishi may support the immune response and help fight cancer. Mushroom water, a drink created by mixing water with a powdered mushroom supplement, is an easy way to get the health benefits of fungi.

Natural flavors

“Natural flavors” are food additives derived from a natural source, typically a plant or animal product. Despite the name, these ingredients are often not as “natural” as we’re led to believe—they can be pretty processed, and can contain preservatives or byproducts of the factory process used to distill them (not to mention potential allergens). 

Nightshades

This large and varied family of plants includes many healthful vegetables—like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers—plus some toxic plants such as nightshade, the flowering bush that gave its name to the whole family (that one person who gives the whole group a bad rep!).

Because many nightshades naturally contain toxic compounds called alkaloids, which protect them from pests and mold, there have been concerns about the human health impact of the vegetables in this family. Experts reassure us that the levels of alkaloids in these foods is too minimal to cause issues for most people.

Nomophobia

Named as an abbreviation for “no-mobile phobia,” this term describes the fear of being without your phone or unable to access phone service. This is a specific type of separation anxiety experienced by those who rely on their smartphones for constant connection and entertainment, and to self-soothe in social situations. If you’re feeling anxious when your phone dies or if you’re in an area without connection, you might be experiencing nomophobia—and it might be time for a digital detox.

Numerology

Numerology is the belief that there’s a mystical connection between numbers and the world around us. Many cultures—including Chinese, Greek, Indian, and Babylonian—have used a version of numerology at some point.  Even today, some people use numerology-based beliefs to make decisions, such as choosing a date for an important event.

One common version of numerology is centered around what’s called the “life path number,” which—similar to your zodiac sign—is supposed to give you a prediction of your characteristics, experiences, and emotions. Your life path number can be found by adding the digits of your birth date until you get a single number. If you were born June 29, 1989, for example, you’d do the following calculations:

  • June = 6
  • 29th = 2+9 = 11; 1+1 = 2
  • 1989 = 1+9+8+9 = 27; 2+7 = 9
  • 6+2+9 = 17; 1+7 = 8, the final life path number.

Other numerology systems are based on the numerical translations of letters, for example the letters in your name. Like astrology, there’s no evidence that numerology—while fascinating—has any real power to predict or influence the present or the future.

Nutritionist

A nutritionist teaches others about food, and often helps clients create a diet plan in order to achieve certain goals. You might see a nutritionist if you wanted to lose weight, delve into plant-based eating, or simply understand what constitutes a healthy, balanced diet.

It’s important to note that there’s a difference between nutritionists and registered dietitians. Dietitians (also known as RDs or RDNs, for registered dietitian nutritionists) are professionals who have received a bachelor’s degree or higher in nutrition, passed a certification exam, and have gone through regular continuing education.

Nutritionists may or may not have formal training or certification; in many places, there’s no legal requirement you need to fulfill in order to call yourself a nutritionist, and some use this word interchangeably with the term “health coach.” Nutritionists with a degree and board certification often refer to themselves as certified nutrition specialists, or CNS, a protected and regulated title.

Orgasm

An orgasm is the climax of sexual pleasure. An orgasm is marked by powerful contractions in the genitals, increasing heart rate, and flushing of the skin and, for men (and 10–50% of women), ejaculation. Having an orgasm releases endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals in your brain that can reduce stress and pain and help you fall asleep.

Paleo

The Paleo diet is based on the foods believed to be eaten by our ancestors during the Paleolithic era (the Stone Age, which ended about 11,000 years ago). Paleo dieters eat mostly vegetables, nuts, roots, and meat/eggs, and little to no added sugar, grains (which we didn’t start cultivating until about 10,000 years ago), or dairy (which we didn’t start consuming until about 5,000 years ago). The Paleo diet puts an emphasis on the importance of organic and grass-fed meats. Fruits are allowed in the diet, but are recommended in limited quantities, since cavepeople would have encountered these “treats” infrequently.

Its focus on whole foods and eliminating added sugars means it’s more or less aligned with expert nutrition advice. However, the large amounts of meat often eaten by those on the Paleo diet has some people skeptical, as high meat consumption is associated with heart disease and other issues. Based on this, some adapters of the diet adhere to the principles while minimizing meat intake.

Parabens

Parabens are preservatives used in cosmetics and personal care products like deodorant, shampoo, lotion, and more. Parabens are classified as endocrine disruptors, meaning that they interfere with the normal balance of hormones in your body, contributing to obesity, infertility, diabetes, and other issues.

While the level of parabens in one product may be low enough to be “safe,” researchers worry that the cumulative effect of the parabens in all the health and beauty products we use could be harmful. Look for “paraben-free” labels on products to reduce your overall exposure.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS is a disorder in which the ovaries don’t ovulate as they should. Symptoms include irregular periods, cysts on the ovaries that can be seen during an ultrasound (often described looking like a string of pearls AKA fancy ovaries!), and too-high levels of androgens (“male” hormones, like testosterone) in the blood.

Because pregnancy depends on ovulation to mature an egg and move it to the fallopian tubes, where it can be fertilized, those with PCOS can have difficulty getting pregnant naturally. 

Pegan diet

Paleo + vegan. Like veganism, the Pegan diet centers around plant foods (though occasional meat and eggs are permissible); like the Paleo diet, it’s based on the diet of our cavepeople ancestors, so grains, dairy, sugar, and legumes are a no-go. Dr. Mark Hyman, the creator of the diet, backs this approach to eating because it helps lower inflammation and balances blood sugar. However, the Pegan diet is pretty restrictive, and some experts say it’s hard to do it healthfully without the help of a professional nutritionist.

Petrochemicals

Petrochemicals are products that come from petroleum. Put simply, petroleum is “crude oil” found naturally underground, usually via oil drilling. It’s the basis for natural gas, gasoline, and methane. More surprising, however, is that the same thing that creates gasoline is also the main ingredient for many household products, toys, and more, from plastics to preservatives and even crayons.

pH balance

pH is a scale used to categorize substances by how acidic or base/alkaline they are. The scale ranges from 0, most acidic (like battery acid) to 14, most alkaline (like liquid drain cleaner); the center of the scale, 7, is neutral, like pure water. Everything has a pH, including your body—and there’s a narrow ideal pH for different parts of your body that allows them to best do their jobs. This is known as pH balance.

Your skin functions best at a pH of 5.5 (slightly acidic, to protect you by killing some bacteria and viruses). The vagina is acidic for the same reason; its pH should be around 3.5–4.5. Your stomach acid is, as its name might indicate, very acidic, with a pH of 1.5. Your blood is more or less neutral, with a pH of around 7.4.

Your body works hard to maintain these ideal pH levels, but it’s possible to disrupt the balance with external factors. Soap, for example, is a base, so using it on your skin or in the vagina can throw off the pH in that area, leading to illness (like a yeast infection, which is when fungi found naturally in the vagina overgrow and cause irritation). Some believe that particular foods can change the body’s pH, and have promoted specific “alkaline diets” or alkaline water to combat this issue—but there’s not a lot of evidence behind this theory.

Plant-based

Plant-based describes a diet or a product that’s primarily derived from plants and free from animal products. Plant-based is similar in meaning to vegan, though it doesn’t necessarily come with the entire lifestyle often associated with veganism—avoiding leather, buying products that aren’t tested on animals, etc.

Another important distinction between plant-based and vegan is that those who follow a plant-based diet often focus on eating just that: plants, AKA whole foods derived from the earth (including vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, and grains). An Oreo, for example, is vegan, but not plant-based.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics are a form of fiber that serve as food for the good bacteria in our digestive system. Prebiotic fiber can be found in fruits and veggies as well as beans. It passes through the stomach undigested and is broken down by bacteria (a process called fermentation) in the intestines, allowing these beneficial microorganisms to flourish.

Not to be confused with probiotics, which are surprisingly different: probiotics are actually live bacteria and yeasts that can be found in certain food or taken as a supplement, in order to “boost” the bacteria colonies in your stomach and intestines. To remember this, think about the fact that prebiotics are food for bacteria that needs to exist before they can grow.

Pressure points

These are specific, small areas of the body that are believed to be strongly connected to the flow of energy in your body. Common to traditional Chinese medicine as well as Ayurveda, pressure points are based on the map of the body and its energy pathways used in acupuncture. The study of these points on the hands and feet is called “reflexology.”

The idea is that, by stimulating certain points, you can influence the flow of energy to other, deeper areas of the body. Applying pressure to a point in the “web” between your thumb and pointer finger, for example, is believed to reduce stress and relieve pain from migraines or sore muscles in the shoulder and neck. There’s not a lot of evidence for the energetic connection between pressure points and the organs they’re said to affect, but there is scientific support for the idea that massaging these points can relieve pain, increase blood flow, and promote relaxation—so if you’ve got a migraine, it can’t hurt to try.

Protein

Protein is the building block of most substances and tissues in your body, including bones, muscles, blood, skin, hair, nails, and hormones. Proteins are made up of a combination of 20 different smaller compounds called amino acids. Nine of these are “essential” amino acids, meaning our bodies can’t create them independently, so we need to get them from the foods we eat.

Animal products like meat, eggs, and dairy are the easiest way to get “complete” proteins that contain all nine of the essential amino acids. But many plant foods contain one or more amino acids, and can be combined with complementary foods to create a complete protein.  For example, beans alone are not a complete protein, nor is brown rice, but together, they include all of the nine essential amino acids and create a complete protein.

Raw food diet

Much like it sounds, this diet consists 75–100% of live, uncooked, or lightly warmed (not more than 118º) foods, including fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. It’s based on the idea that cooking food destroys its nutrients and makes it less beneficial for the body. Some who follow a raw diet also eat raw eggs or meat or unpasteurized dairy, but this has lots of health risks. The most popular form of the diet is the raw-vegan diet, consisting primarily of raw plants.

Self-proclaimed “raw foodies” say that the diet helps improve overall health and immunity. They also vow that it slows the effects of aging (bye, bye Botox!), provides an energy boost, and balances emotions.

While it’s true that certain methods of cooking, like boiling, can lower the nutrient level in some foods, in general, cooking actually makes some foods more digestible and their nutrients more available—not to mention killing bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Counterintuitively, a raw food diet is more likely to be missing key nutrients, since followers can’t easily eat proteins like meat, beans, or grains.

Reflexology

Reflexology is a type of massage in which a therapist massages specific points on the hands and feet that are believed to be connected to internal organs. The practice is based on a set of maps of the appendages, outlining the “zones” that correspond to, for example, the thyroid (just under the big toe) or the liver (palm of the right hand); massaging these zones is intended to relieve discomfort or address illness in the associated organ systems.

Registered dietitian

Dietitians are professionals and experts in the world of food health and eating behavior. In addition to teaching about and researching dietetics—the field concerned with how diet affects health—a dietitian can design an eating plan to address a certain medical condition and diagnose eating disorders and malnutrition. You might see a registered dietitian if you have high blood pressure and want to lower it, or if you’re pregnant and not sure the best way to “eat for two.”

Designated with the abbreviation “RD” or “RDN” (registered dietitian nutritionist), registered dietitians have received a bachelor’s degree or higher in nutrition, passed a certification exam, and done regular continuing education. This distinguishes them from nutritionists, who may or may not have formal training or certification.

Reiki

This healing practice originated in Japan. Its name translates to universal (rei) energy (ki). Reiki is based on the idea that each of us contains spiritual energy, and that we can give or take that energy to/from others by touching or coming in close contact. During a reiki session, a healer attempts to transfer some of their energy to their client by resting their hands on or just above the client’s body. The healer may target specific areas to help address pain or illness.

There’s evidence that “touch healing” like reiki releases endorphins (so-called “feel-good” chemicals) in the brain, helping us feel relaxed and happier, as well as relieving pain. So while the theory of energy transfer may not be supported by science—and it’s not going to treat or cure any illness—reiki still may benefit you.

Retox

A detox is a temporary diet or activity that’s believed to help remove toxins, or substances that are poisonous to the body, from your system. (See the entry for “detox” to understand the beliefs, and misconceptions, behind detox practices.) Examples of detoxes include juice cleanses, fasting, and hot yoga.

“Retox” is the opposite. It’s the point at which you reintroduce the less healthy foods or habits you were avoiding during the detox, sometimes in the form of a binge. This isn’t necessarily the healthiest pattern of behavior; experts pretty much agree that it’s better to incorporate unhealthy, but enjoyable things—like wine or French fries—into your life in moderation, vs. yo-yoing between strict abstinence and no-holds-barred consumption. (You might hear this term in the context of a detox-retox event, where participants do a “detoxing” activity, like hot yoga, followed by a “retoxing” activity, like drinking a beer.)

Sage cleansing

Burning sage, also known as “smudging,” is a ritual that’s supposed to clear away negative energy from a person or a space. This energy could be caused by negative interactions with other people, or by the lingering impact of those who were in the space in the past, and practitioners believe it could affect relationships and emotions, or even causing physical illness. You might smudge a new home or apartment to clear out any negative energy from past occupants, for example. While it’s been sort of co-opted by New Age healers and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, smudging has roots in Native American cultures.

The ritual usually uses white sage that’s been dried and tied in a bundle. The sage is lit with a flame, and the smoke is allowed to waft over the person or space it’s cleansing. Unless you’re sitting in a room of sage smoke all day (or you have severe asthma), it’s unlikely that burning sage will be harmful. Like other forms of spiritual clearing, the benefits of burning sage more or less depend on how deeply you believe in the practice.

Saturated fat

Saturated fats are a form of fat found mostly in animal foods like meat, eggs, and dairy. (A quick shorthand—if a fat is solid at room temp, it’s probably saturated.) They’re called saturated because of their chemical structure, which contains more hydrogen atoms than other types of fat—in other words, they’re “saturated” with hydrogen. Diets high in saturated fats are associated with higher cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, so it’s generally recommended that they make up only about 5% of all the calories you eat.

Sauna

You may have a sauna or “steam room” at your gym, or have tried one at a spa after a massage. A sauna is a small room or booth in which your body is exposed to heat; types of saunas include:

  • Steam room or Turkish bath, an approximately 120º room in which steam is piped.
  • Finnish sauna, similar to a Turkish bath except that the steam is created by pouring water over hot rocks inside the sauna.
  • A dry sauna, which has no steam or humidity but is warmed to up to 190º by an electric or wood-burning heater.
  • An infrared sauna, which uses infrared light to heat the body without heating the rest of the room.

Heating the body in a sauna mimics the beneficial effects of exercise, like increased heart rate and circulation, and is often relaxing and pain-relieving. A sauna session can benefit skin health (thanks to increased circulation) and help you recover after a hard workout.

Seed cycling

Seed cycling is the process by which women can support their menstrual cycles by eating certain seeds at specific times of the month. The idea is that nutrients in seeds can impact the production of hormones—estrogen and progesterone—that have a hand in regulating the body’s cycle of ovulation and menstruation. This is believed to result in more regular periods, improved fertility, and fewer PMS symptoms like acne and mood swings.

The following seeds are often used as part of a seed cycling practice:

  • Flax and pumpkin seeds, taken during the 14 days following the period—called the follicular phase—to support the ovaries as they produce mature eggs.
  • Sesame and sunflower seeds, taken during days 14–28 of the cycle (known as the luteal or post-ovulation phase).

There’s not a ton of evidence behind whether seed cycling really works—or why it would—but there are plenty of positive anecdotes from people who have tried it. And since these seeds are great sources of healthy fats, fiber, and vitamins and minerals, there’s really no harm in giving it a go.

Social anxiety

Anxiety is defined as your body’s natural response to stress. When you encounter something stressful, your body releases hormones that increase your heart rate, breathing rate, tension in your muscles, and blood pressure. If you experience social anxiety, you’ll have these symptoms in reaction to situations where you’re likely to (or expected to) interact with others, like classrooms, parties, stores, or work meetings.

Psychologists believe that social anxiety can be blamed on the fear of being negatively judged and evaluated by other people. The impact this fear has on your life could range from mild—maybe you find yourself blushing or sweating more when you’re introduced to someone new—to severe, as with those who have difficulty leaving their homes or making a phone call. Social anxiety can be overcome with the help of therapy.

Sound healing

Sound healing is a type of therapy that uses musical instruments to create repetitive noise that can help you feel calmer. You may have experienced sound healing, without even seeking it out, if you’ve ever taken a yoga class that ended with a “gong bath”—not something that happens in a tub, but a term for the experience of the gong’s sound and vibrations “washing” over you.

In addition to gongs of different sizes, practitioners might use crystal “singing” bowls or metal tuning forks, both of which produce different pitches when they’re struck. Sound healing is a form of meditation, a technique that helps you clear your mind, and like other types of meditation it can help reduce anxiety, stress, and pain.

Spiritual clearing

Spiritual clearing or cleansing is a ritual that you might perform to eliminate negative energy in your body or your space. Practitioners believe this energy—which could be caused by literal spirits (AKA ghosts), as well as negative people—could be affecting relationships and emotions, or even causing physical illness. Say you had a run-in with a cranky, frustrated person on the subway, and you’re still feeling the mental impact of their negativity. Maybe you’re agitated or stressed out. That might be a great time to do a spiritual clearing.

Spiritual clearing rituals are varied, but could include:

  • Meditation or visualization to clear your mind.
  • Burning incense, dried sage, or palo santo wood (sometimes called “smudging”).
  • Bathing in water that’s blessed or infused with flowers, herbs, salts, or crystals.
  • Using crystals to absorb and filter negative energy.

The effectiveness of this type of cleansing will really depend on how much you, personally, believe it works. If nothing else, there’s something about a symbolic ritual, especially a relaxing one, that lets us feel like we’re “resetting”—which can definitely combat any bad vibes you may have encountered in your day.

Spirulina

Spirulina is a bright blue-green dietary supplement made from freshwater algae, often sold in the form of a powder or tablet. Spirulina is high in protein and contains many important vitamins and minerals. It’s been shown to have antioxidant properties and help increase metabolism and manage diabetes and high cholesterol. Spirulina is also a natural anti-inflammatory, and is helpful for reducing the symptoms of seasonal or environmental allergies, like congestion (which is caused by inflammation in the nasal passages). Plus, it’s a fun natural food coloring!

Stevia

This natural sugar substitute is derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. Because stevia is 100 times sweeter than table sugar, only a tiny amount is necessary to get the desired sweetness, so it’s effectively calorie-free. It contains no actual sugar, so it doesn’t cause tooth decay and doesn’t spike blood sugar—meaning it’s fine for people with diabetes.

Sucralose

Marketed as Splenda and found in many diet or sugar-free foods and drinks, this artificial sugar substitute is actually manufactured from sugar, but it can’t be digested. As a result, it offers zero calories to the body. Despite where it comes from, sucralose contains no actual sugar, meaning it doesn’t spike blood sugar—making it safe for people with diabetes. It’s safe in small amounts, but is believed to potentially alter your gut health, the ideal balance of bacteria in your digestive tract.

Sulfate

Sulfates are chemical cleansers that can be found in many household cleaning products, detergents, and shampoo. Their purpose in shampoo is to create lather that washes away dirt and oil; if your shampoo foams up when you scrub, it likely contains sulfates.

While not harmful to your long-term health, sulfates are pretty harsh. They can strip your hair and scalp of their natural oils, causing skin irritation, dandruff, outbreaks of eczema or rosacea, frizz, and damage to your actual hair strands. Sulfate-free shampoos are much gentler, though  they may not give you the “squeaky clean” feeling you’re used to, but with patience, people claim their hair adjusts. The reason though for that squeaky clean feeling - it’s actually a sign that the protective oils on your hair and scalp are being washed away!

Sulfites

Sulfites are preservatives most commonly used in wine and dried fruits. Sulfites are added to wine in order to stop the fermentation process—if you didn’t add them, your red wine would pretty quickly become red wine vinegar. They’re also produced naturally within the wine as it ferments. For that reason, all wines include sulfites. Organic wines, however, may be free from added sulfites and therefore contain lower levels.

Contrary to popular myth, sulfites are usually higher in white wine than in red, and they’re not the culprit for your post-wine hangover headache. Unless you have a specific sensitivity to sulfites, they’re generally fine; studies have indicated that these preservatives don’t cause long-term impacts on your health (though lots of alcohol might!).

Sulfite intolerance

A small minority of people (about 1% of the population, according to the FDA) are sensitive to sulfites, the preservatives most commonly used in wine. For reasons currently unknown, sulfites are a trigger for about 5% of people with asthma, and can cause wheezing and constriction of the airway. It’s also possible, though rare, to be severely allergic to sulfites. For most people, though, sulfites are just fine; they’re actually found naturally in garlic, onions, peanuts, and many other foods, and even created inside of our own bodies.

Superfood

This is a term for a food that has an extraordinary level of nutrients or health benefits, such as anti-inflammatory or antioxidant properties. “Superfood” is more of a marketing term than anything else, but many of the foods with this label truly do have strong evidence to support eating them regularly.

Examples: wheatgrass, goji berry, açaí, kale, green tea, ginger.

Supplements

Supplements add specific nutrients to your diet for their health benefits. Most nutritionists agree that it’s best to get all your nutrients from eating whole foods, but that’s not always feasible or easy in reality. A supplement can help fill in gaps in your diet or support specific health goals.

Examples: protein powders, drinks, and bars; vitamins C, D and B; minerals like calcium or iron; probiotics; echinacea; nootropics (supplements intended to boost brain function).

Sustainability

In the world of environmental science, if a practice or a product is sustainable, that means that we can keep doing, making, or consuming it without harmful impacts on the earth. The idea is to look past the immediate effect of some small action—like throwing a single plastic bottle into a landfill or dumping one ton of industrial waste into a river—and to consider whether we as a human race can continue taking that action without destroying ecosystems, depleting natural resources, or posing a serious threat to the future of humans and the earth.

Thyroid

The thyroid is a gland in your neck that controls growth and metabolism, also known as the speed at which your body uses energy. If you’re experiencing unexplained weight loss or gain, that could indicate a problem with your thyroid. Hyperthyroidism refers to an overactive thyroid, which causes weight loss, while hypothyroidism means an underactive thyroid, resulting in weight gain.

Tinctures

A tincture is a liquid that contains the extract of a plant infused and preserved in alcohol. Vanilla extract is actually one familiar example of a tincture, but the term is used more commonly to refer to extracts of plants with medicinal properties, like ginger, elderberry, echinacea, rosemary, or ginkgo biloba. Tinctures are very concentrated, and you usually only need a few drops—you can simply place them under your tongue or dilute in a glass of water.

Tonics

A tonic is a concentrated liquid, often made with herbs and roots steeped in water or vinegar, that you might drink to increase your health and wellbeing. One example would be a “digestive tonic” made with ginger that might be sipped after a big meal or if you have an upset stomach. Tonics are similar to elixirs and tinctures, though typically they’re less sweet and don’t contain alcohol.

It’s not exactly the same as the “T” in a G&T, but you might be surprised to know that that tonic water originally had medicinal value also. It contains quinine, a tree-bark extract that’s a treatment for malaria. (Most modern tonic water, though, has more sugar or corn syrup and less quinine, making its health benefits basically zero).

Toxin

A toxin is any substance that’s poisonous to the human body. While some toxins, such as snake venom, result in immediate illness or death, other toxins can eventually cause disease after building up in the body over time. One example is heavy metal such as mercury, sometimes present in polluted water. If you drink contaminated water or eat fish that swam in it over a long period of time, small amounts of mercury can enter your bloodstream and accumulate in your body, eventually causing health problems.

Vaccines

A vaccine is an injection that helps prevent serious illness. Vaccines contain a weakened or incomplete form of the germ they’re intended to protect against. Exposing your body to this version activates your immune system—not enough to actually make you sick, but just enough to teach your body how to deal. The flu shot, for example, contains a dead form of the flu virus or some proteins from the virus. When it’s injected into your body, your immune system creates antibodies to fight the virus. Afterwards, if you’re exposed to the flu, your body already has the tools to prevent it from flourishing.

Vaccination is essential for “herd immunity,” a term for the elimination of a disease from a population thanks to a high percentage of that population being vaccinated.

Vampire facial

Seen those kinda frightening photos of celebrities in robes with blood all over their faces? That’s the so-called “vampire facial,” a treatment in which plasma from your own blood is applied to your skin to boost its health and appearance. The process is as follows: your blood is drawn and spun in a machine to separate out one specific component, called platelets. The resulting liquid, known as platelet-rich plasma (PRP), is slathered across your freshly exfoliated face. Sounds gross—so why would they do this?

The idea is that, because platelets contain substances that stimulate cell growth, PRP can help your skin replace old, dead cells with fresh new ones. In some versions of this facial, PRP is injected directly into the face, or applied after microneedling—a process in which tiny needles are used to make a series of small puncture wounds in the skin. There’s not a lot of evidence supporting the use of vampire facials, and they’re usually very expensive (think $1,000 or more).

Vegan

A vegan diet eliminates the use of products that come from animals, such as meat, dairy, eggs, and honey, in favor of plant-based foods in someone’s diet. Often, a person who practices veganism will extend this philosophy into other areas of their life, choosing not to wear leather (made from cowhide) or use products tested on animals, for example.

People may choose a vegan lifestyle for many reasons, including touted health benefits, ethics (the belief that using animals as a food source is wrong or cruel), or environmentalism (as animal agriculture contributes greatly to global warming and other environmental issues).

Vegetarian

A vegetarian is a person who doesn’t eat meat, including poultry, seafood, beef, or pork. Unlike vegans, vegetarians typically still consume dairy and eggs. (Technically, those who eat eggs and dairy are “ovo-lacto vegetarians.” “Ovo-vegetarian” means you eat eggs, but not dairy; “lacto-vegetarian” means you eat dairy, but not eggs.) Like veganism, people may choose a vegetarian diet for health, ethical, environmental, or taste preference reasons.

Vibrator

A vibrator is used to boost pleasure during sex or masturbation by “massaging” and stimulating the genitals. The vibrators on the market are as varied as sexual desire itself! Some are intended for use on the outer genitals, like the clitoris (where you might use a “wand”) or penis (where you might try a vibrating sleeve); others are meant to be inserted inside the vagina or anus. Some are meant for single-user pleasure, while others are meant to be enjoyed by a couple simultaneously. When considering any sex toy or tool, it’s important to buy a high-quality device made of a material that’s easy to disinfect, like medical-grade silicone, hard plastic, or stainless steel.

Volumetrics

This approach focuses on choosing foods that have a low calorie density such as fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, so that they can be eaten in greater quantities. This is most suitable for "volume eaters." Developed by Dr. Barbara Rolls, the diet emphasizes choosing low-calorie, high-fiber foods, like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and lean meats, that will allow you to feel full even while keeping your overall intake down.

Vulva

The vulva is the external female genitalia, including the clitoris (the sex organ primarily intended for pleasure), the labia minora and majora (inner and outer “lips”), and the urethra (the tube through which urine leaves the body). What most people refer to as the “vagina” is actually the vulva. The vagina is technically only the internal canal that connects the uterus to the vulva and the outside world (AKA the birth canal). Let’s all get comfortable with anatomically correct terms for our bodies, shall we?

Weighted blanket

A weighted blanket is a tool for decreasing anxiety and insomnia. They’re typically filled with glass or plastic beads to add extra pressure on the body when they’re used. This pressure has been shown to create a sense of calm and well-being, possibly because it increases the release of serotonin, the brain’s “happy chemical.”

Whole grain

A “whole grain” is a grain that includes the entire kernel of the plant, even the fibrous, hard outer layer known as “bran.” This is as opposed to refined or “white” grains, which contain only the starchy internal tissue of the grain. 

Whole grains are generally higher in nutrients and fiber (which aids in digestion and makes you feel fuller longer) than their refined counterparts. They also digest more slowly, preventing the spike in blood sugar that accompanies a plain white bagel or a bowl of white rice and causes you to be hungry soon after.

It seems like an easy shorthand, but not all brown carbs are whole grain, and not all white ones are refined! To further complicate matters, some grains contain gluten while some are gluten-free. Check the ingredients to be sure. Examples of whole grains include whole grain wheat, whole grain and wild rice, barley, oats, quinoa, and buckwheat.

Whole30

As its name implies, Whole30 is a 30-day elimination diet plan that focuses on whole foods. The purpose of the diet is to rid the body of common allergens and test for sensitivities to food like non-naturally occuring sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, soy, and dairy. Melissa Hartwig Urban created the Whole30 method to promote stronger awareness of how the foods we eat, often without even thinking about them, really affect our bodies and minds.

Though the diet has become synonymous with New Year's Resolutions, Dry January, and weight loss tactics, its true value really comes into play AFTER the 30 days. (Many people neglect this, viewing it as a diet rather than a food sensitivity test and treating day 31 as a free-for-all.) After following the diet for 30 days, participants should slowly reintroduce the foods they’d restricted one by one, in a very particular order, paying careful attention to the impact of those foods on their bodies. You may find that some foods you had previously consumed regularly have a pattern of causing headaches, joint pain, etc.

While Whole30’s focus on lean protein and whole ingredients makes it generally healthy, it’s been criticized for its overly restrictive guidelines as well as its focus on animal-based proteins (nearly all forms of plant-based protein are prohibited—beans are a no-no because they are in the legume family, tofu is another no because it is soy, etc.). It’s important to remember this diet is not meant to be an ongoing method of eating, but simply a 30-day “experiment” to increase our understanding of why and how we eat.

Xylitol

Xylitol is a natural sugar substitute derived from plant fibers. It’s actually a “sugar alcohol,” a substance with a similar chemical structure—and therefore a similar sweetness—to regular sugar. Because sugar alcohols are partially indigestible, they net fewer calories; xylitol has about 40% fewer calories than table sugar.

Unlike regular sugar, it doesn’t contribute to tooth decay or gingivitis, which is why you’ll often see xylitol as an ingredient in chewing gum or toothpaste. Additionally, xylitol doesn’t spike blood sugar, making it safe for people with diabetes.

Yoga

Yoga refers to spiritual and physical practices with roots in Hinduism. Nearly a dozen different forms of yoga exist, but nearly all use specific body positions and stretches (known as “poses”) connected in a sequence known as a “flow,” breathing techniques, and meditation to improve physical and emotional health.

Yeast infection

If you have a vagina, you may be familiar with the symptoms of a yeast infection—itching/irritation, burning, and discharge—but what actually causes this condition? It results from an overgrowth of the fungus candida in the body. While candida is found naturally on your skin and in your mouth, gut, and vagina, it’s usually kept in check by its bacterial neighbors. When those bacteria are killed by antibiotics, or when the body’s natural pH is changed (if you use harsh soap on the vulva/vagina, for example), the candida flourishes.

Yeast infections are most often associated with the vagina, but they can occur anywhere in or on the body that candida lives, including the skin (where they often manifest as a rash) or the mouth (where the most common symptom is white bumps on the tongue or inner cheeks).


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