The ability of the human population to produce unending reams of utterly nonsensical health and wellness trends is unparalleled. Never content to rest on our laurels, humankind feels compelled to come up with some wellness trend or another. Some of the motivation is financial—it’s hard to sell the old tried-and-true methods that really do work. Some of the motivation is curiosity—people love trying new things, no matter how silly they sound. And most of the motivation is probably sheer frustration—most people get health and wellness wrong, and very little of it actually works, so there’s always plenty of consumers ready to consume wellness content.
But still, you can’t write it off. You have to bust the wellness myths, and not just to steer people away from the stuff that doesn’t work, but also to sift through the garbage to find the nuggets of truth that occasionally emerge.
So today I’m going to cover a few of them. If it works out, if you people like it, I’ll do some more in the future.
I don’t trust kombucha as a “health elixir” very much. I trust kombucha about as far as I can throw it, which isn’t very far. I once threw a glass of kombucha and the liquid fell out almost instantly and became a mist that sprayed the ground 8 feet away. Like I said: not very far.
Anyway, you know I’m not a stickler for studies. While I do like to cite my assertions and back up my opinions with research, I’m also open to anecdotes and speculation, especially when it makes intuitive or ancestral sense. However, kombucha has very little of either.
There’s one human study on kombucha.1 It’s inconclusive.
It’s plausible that it offers health benefits. It’s a probiotic beverage, and it’s made out of tea. But in the studies that find that kombucha contains compounds that have been shown to improve human health (particularly liver health), they admit that these same compounds are also found in the base tea.2 Could you drink green tea and improve liver health? Possibly. That’s been shown repeatedly. Could you drink kombucha green tea and improve liver health? Potentially, but it hasn’t been shown to be any better than the green tea you started with.
However, historically, kombucha wasn’t an everyday drink. It was medicine doled out by healers. You didn’t have kids drinking it instead of water. You didn’t have pregnant women chugging it. That’s not to say it’s bad for you. Enough people drink it that I doubt it poses any serious acute danger to human health. But as a health panacea, I don’t see the evidence.
I definitely don’t trust alcoholic kombucha. I can drink good quality wine and feel great, assuming I avoid drinking entire bottles of the stuff and stick to the natural, lower-alcohol dry-farmed wines. I can have a couple beers with dinner or on a hot day and have no ill effect. But if I have even one hard kombucha, even a low alcohol kind, I don’t feel right. It “seems” toxic, if that makes sense. And it’s not the alcohol content, because if I have more alcohol by volume via good wine the effect is absent.
Coffee with Lemon Juice for Fat Loss
Coffee can help with fat loss, particularly if you pair with low level physical activity. You see, coffee/caffeine liberates fatty acids from fat cells—this is called lipolysis—and then if you go for a long brisk walk, take a little jog, or even do some strength training, you will burn some of those newly liberated fatty acids. It’s not magic, of course, and the majority of people who take this to mean that they can get a Triple Caramel Pumpkin Garbage Latte Frap and lose weight will be sorely disappointed (and fatter). But smart use of coffee can support improved body composition.
However, lemon juice does nothing to help with the weight loss. All it does is make the coffee taste bad. I know because I just tried it. Awful.
Cabbage Soup Diet
This thing has been kicking around for decades. I remember people back in the 80s going on the “Cabbage Soup Diet,” and pretty much all of them failed miserably.
The most popular iteration I’ve seen isn’t really even a cabbage soup diet. It’s a fat-free cabbage soup diet supplemented with, depending on the day of the week, bananas, skim milk, brown rice, skinless chicken breast or lean beef, and non-starchy vegetables. 2-3 times a day you eat a plain cabbage soup—cabbage cooked in water with salt, carrots, onions, mushrooms, parsley, and spices. And then you get to add a few of those other foods listed each day.
If anything, eating too much cabbage can make weight loss harder. Cabbage is a good source of goitrogenic compounds that are great in small to moderate doses but in high doses can reduce thyroid activity, which makes it harder to lose body fat and depresses the metabolic rate.
This could be a decent basis for a short-term protein-sparing modified fast, but instead of emphasizing the cabbage soup I would emphasize the lean meat and non-starchy vegetables and I would make a few modifications. I would bump the protein up super high. I wouldn’t add any extra fat but I wouldn’t freak out about fat that comes attached to the meat. Instead of skim milk, do low-fat kefir to provide better nutrients and probiotics; also, in observational trials, low-fat dairy is linked to worse health outcomes unless it’s fermented. Instead of boring cabbage soup, I would do a bone broth-based vegetable soup that includes cabbage but isn’t solely comprised of it.
These changes would make the “cabbage soup diet” actually effective as a short-term option.
The Master Cleanse: Lemon Juice, Cayenne Pepper, Water and Maple Syrup Detox Tea
You know why it’s popular, right? Because it tastes good. I’ll admit that. You warm up some good water, stir in some lemon juice, a little cayenne, and a healthy dose of high quality maple syrup, and you’ve got yourself a tasty warm sweet spicy sour tea. But it’s not cleansing you. It’s not detoxing you. It’s just some polyphenols, some potassium, some fructose, some capscaicin, and some water. There’s nothing wrong with those things, and I would say that they can form part of a healthy diet. They just aren’t magic, nor are they the master key to a body free of toxins and heavy metals and all the other evil things our corrupted animal bodies supposedly harbor.
This is just the most prominent example of a “detox” or “cleansing” drink. There are hundreds of others out there.
I will say that all those “skeptics” (who are actually cynics) who say “detox doesn’t work, just let your liver and kidney do it” get it just as wrong as the people who drink expensive cleansing teas and juices. You can absolutely augment the efficacy of your inborn detoxification capacities. Here’s a post detailing how you go about supporting those organs and systems. No cayenne or maple syrup required.
If you’re set on it, though, there is something you can do with cayenne pepper, lemon juice, and maple syrup. I learned this in Thailand once when some backpacker staying at the same place as us showed me his morning pick-me-up: He was dumping a sack of red powder into a small glass of water. He mixed it together and tossed it back, making a face reminiscent of a teen trying cheap gin for the first time. Turns out he was taking shots of powdered Thai chiles. Said it was better than coffee and offered me a shot. I accepted, of course. I took it, shot it, and probably made the same face he did, but it woke me up. It may have been placebo (though I wasn’t expecting much), but I swear I felt buzzed, really calm yet energized for an hour or two after. I’ve since learned that adding lemon juice and a touch of maple syrup to the cayenne (or powdered Thai chili) shot takes the edge off the spice. This won’t detox you but it does wake you up.
Alright, folks. That’s it for today. If you want to hear me deconstruct any other wellness trends, let me know down below and I’d be happy to make this a regular feature of the blog.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.