August is National Wellness Month in the United States. During this time of a global pandemic and social distancing, the pursuit of wellness has surfaced as many of us around the world have been altering to a new “normal”. What is wellness? Can some neurotech aid in that process? This month we will explore the elements of wellness, neurotechnology applications and some additional educational resources.
What is wellness?
Wellness is often confused with well-being, but they are related. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health within the National Institutes of Health views wellness as a multi-dimensional paradigm of pursuit and well-being is defined as individual dimensions within that paradigm such as emotional well-being and physical well-being.
Alternative definitions also exist. The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as “the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.” The National Wellness Institute derives their definition from the following framework:
- Wellness is a conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential
- Wellness is multidimensional and holistic, encompassing lifestyle, mental and spiritual well-being, and the environment
- Wellness is positive and affirming
The National Institutes of Health takes a broader approach defining wellness as the “healthiest self”. One area of cohesion is plotted in the dimensions or elements of wellness. They include physical, intellectual, environment, spiritual, social and emotional.
Thought to be a modern concept and movement, wellness has deep roots from ancient times. The origination is believed to date back to between 3000–1500 B.C. with four sacred Hindu texts from the Ayurveda regimens. There are also accounts from traditional Chinese medicine between 3000–2000 B.C. guided by Taoism and Buddhism. Both concepts apply harmony and holistic approaches toward balance to prevent illness and to heal. There are also traces of the wellness concept in ancient Greece and Rome. The modern evolution of wellness gained global popularity in the 1960s & 1970s to be a movement toward healthy-living, self-help, self-care, nutrition, fitness, emotional balance and spiritual practices.
Modern wellness has blossomed into a $4.5 trillion global market. With sectors in self-care, tourism, physical activity, and public health among others. The premise of the wellness movement is an active process rather than a passive one. Applying technological applications as tools for wellness can be construed as a means to infuse passive behavior into an active pursuit. This was a topic at the Global Wellness Summit 2020. On the topic of mental wellness and technology, panelist view emerging wearables, apps and other innovations as either aiding in the active pursuit to be more convenient and/or more accessible. Regardless, technology has emerged into the wellness industry. Here we will review some of the latest neurotechnologies as modern tools of the trade.
Technologies are simply tools for the journey toward wellness. More specifically, neurotechnologies are electronics that interact with the human nervous system. This can be interaction with the brain, spinal cord or peripheral nerves. Most neurotech wellness applications are considered non-invasive or for external use. The current state of wellness neurotech falls into two main categories, coginitive or emotional health and physical performance or physical health.
One word of warning: not all devices are cleared by the FDA. The expansion of the wellness industry, in particular devices, has caught the attention of regulators. The FDA has provided some regulatory guidance which was published in the Fall of 2019. Even if a device does not fall within the purview of the FDA in the U.S., there is still the Consumer Product Safety Commission. In Europe, devices are still required to gain a CE mark.
There are several different modalities of neurotech wellness devices and they are highlighted below:
Brain stimulation involves some input of electrical or magnetic stimulation to the brain. Pulsed electromagnetic frequency therapy (PEMF) has been used in various research studies. Two commercial devices are the Neorhythm OmniPEMF and the Curatron PEMF. The use of the device has been observed to help with pain management, sleep and even meditation. Another area of brain stimulation is the use of either transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) or transcranial alternative current stimulation (tACS). Both methods provide a light stimulation to the human brain with various claims such as a therapy for better sleep, lowering anxiety, cognitive focus or physical performance. Companies such as Halo Neuroscience, Fisher Wallace and Humm each offer devices. Some claims have been cleared by the FDA while others have not. A new modality of wellness devices is the stimulation of the vagus nerve and Nemechek Technologies has been pursuing this area as a consumer wellness device.
Brain sensing through electroencephalography (EEG) is a modality to monitor electrical activity in the brain. It has been used in the medical field for decades to sense seizure activity for people living with epilepsy and other conditions of the brain. Advances in this field have lead to another area of wellness devices which couple EEG technology with cognitive training or other activities to “train the brain”. There are many choices on the market for consumer-based EEG applications. Companies like Bit Brain, Emotiv, BrainCo and Advanced Brain Monitoring/B-Alert are some. Still other brain sensing devices also use EEG but for behavior monitoring like Mindwave from Neurosky and the EEGO from ANT. Finally, the device offered by Neurable couples EEG with virtual reality for cognitive training.
Physical stimulation is yet another element of the neurotech wellness category. These are typically devices or tools used along with physical exercise to promote the peripheral nerve connection. Vibration systems are devices that claim to stimulation the peripheral nerves with vibrating inputs to the musculoskeletal system. Devices such as the PowerPlate, Galileo Therapy, bioDensity and Genesis are some. They can be found in specialized gyms or can be purchased for home-use.
Neurotechnology is one aid on the journey to wellness. Here are some other guidance resources.
- NIH toolkits : https://www.nih.gov/health-information/your-healthiest-self-wellness-toolkits
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/wellness-and-well-being
- National Wellness Institute Free Tools: https://nationalwellness.org/resources/free-wellness-tools/
- Global Wellness Institute: https://globalwellnessinstitute.org/what-is-wellness/