Health Breakthrough

Photo: Travis Rathbone

Bionic limbs, 3-D printed body parts, face transplants—modern medicine is constantly blowing us away with game-changing medical solutions that seemed impossible just ten years ago. But scientists, doctors and entrepreneurs have also been quietly uncovering solutions to the smaller questions: Isn't there anything better for a pounding headache? What about for a runny nose? And why is there nothing nutritious in the vending machine? Behold, five promising advances that help make healthy living so much easier.
Allergy Pill

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2. The New Allergy Pill
Until this year, coping with seasonal allergies has meant a host of less-than-ideal options—from submitting to shots administered at the doctor's office over the course of many months (a time-consuming process pursued by only about 5 percent of sufferers) to toughing it out with prescription or over-the-counter antihistamines. Now Oralair, a pill developed by scientists for a French drugmaker, is providing relief for those allergic to grass. Each capsule contains tiny amounts of five freeze-dried grass allergens; exposure to the allergens helps build the body's immunity, working in a similar way to the shots. The pill proved effective in a clinical trial published in 2012, in which people who took it daily reported a 28 percent improvement in symptoms and supplemental medication use compared with those who took a placebo. The first dose is administered at a doctor's office (to ensure you don't have an adverse reaction), but after that, you can take the pills at home, dissolving one under your tongue daily. Start treatment four months before allergy season and go from "achoo!" to "aah".
Vending Machine

Photo: Travis Rathbone

3. The Junk-Free Vending Machine
A typical vending machine snack can pack 245 calories and a whopping 14 grams of fat. But what if you could eat better on the go? Enter Farmer's Fridge, a vending machine introduced in Chicago last fall that sells selections like kale salad, hummus with veggies, and Greek yogurt with berries. Ingredients are carefully layered in a recyclable BPA-free plastic jar formulated to let in less oxygen, keeping the produce fresh longer—which means no wilted lettuce. (Anything not sold by the end of the day is donated to local food pantries.) "I want healthy options to be as convenient as possible," says Farmer's Fridge founder Luke Saunders, a manufacturer turned foodie who helps develop all the salad recipes. Saunders runs 20 kiosks in Chicago, in public spaces, hospitals, universities, offices, and apartment buildings. He plans to go national later this year, so check for upcoming locations.

Photo: Anatoliy Babiy, iStock/360, Thinkstock

4. Therapy By FaceTime
Lisa Kudrow's Showtime series Web Therapy may be tongue in cheek, but therapy via Web cam can offer substantial benefits. Mental-health start-up Breakthrough, which currently operates in seven states and Washington, D.C., is one of several online therapy sites connecting clients with therapists for video sessions. (If you don't have a Web cam, Breakthrough will send you one for free.) Web therapy has the potential to help extend care to the 59 percent of mentally ill Americans who don't receive treatment—and according to one study in the journal Psychiatric Services, it may be just as beneficial as traditional therapy. "When a client's depression is pervasive, it can often feel insurmountably exhausting to get dressed, drive to a therapist's office, sit in a waiting room with strangers, have the session with the therapist, and then travel back home," says Beth S. Pumerantz, a therapist in Upland, California, who's seen a 41 percent increase in Web therapy clients over the past year. "It's easier to convince people to get help when it means logging on from their living room."

Photo: Monkey Business Images Ltd, Thinkstock

5. The Migraine-Busting Headband
An estimated 30 percent of women have at some point suffered a migraine, a condition that the World Health Organization has determined to be one of the ten most disabling diseases or disorders on the planet. And while there's no cure, long-lasting relief may finally be here. In March, the FDA approved Cefaly, the first topical device for preventing headaches. The Star Trek–esque headpiece, which relies on nerve stimulation technology that's been used to treat knee pain for decades, targets the largest nerve in the brain thought to be responsible for transmitting pounding pain. (An electrode in the center of the device sends electrical impulses to the nerve, altering its pain signals and prompting it to release feel-good endorphins.) While Cefaly may be helpful during an attack, it's meant to be used as a preventive measure: Wearing it for 20 minutes every day may lessen the frequency of future migraines. Mirella Funaro, a 33-year-old mom in Quebec who's used the device since 2009 (it was approved earlier in Canada), can attest to its healing powers: "I've had migraines since I was 14 and have tried nine different medications to prevent them, yet I would still get one or two a month that were so crippling, I'd have to miss work," she says. "Now I get them only about three times a year." (Available by prescription only; Cefaly retails for $299.)

Photo: VILevi, iStock/360, Thinkstock

6. A Lifesaving Registry
Nearly 123,000 Americans are waiting for an organ transplant right now, and each day an average of 18 people die before their names can be called. Why? We don't have enough donors (90 percent of Americans say they support organ donation, but only 45 percent have actually signed up, according to the nonprofit Donate Life America). And the registry system is disjointed: Each state operates a separate database, which can make it difficult for organ procurement organizations to track down proof of a donor's consent across state lines. If that process takes too long, an organ that could otherwise save someone's life would be wasted. More than 8,000 potential organ donations are estimated to have gone unused in 2012.

In 2013, Greg Segal, whose father waited nearly five years to receive a heart transplant, teamed up with social activist Jenna Arnold to launch Organize—a nonprofit that aims to create a searchable central registry, allowing states to easily locate donors around the country. "This system has the potential to save so many lives," says Bryan Sivak, chief technology officer for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Soon we'll wonder how we ever did it any other way." The database is still rolling out nationwide, but visit to register now.


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