This year, 'being healthy' was all about following the latest fashions - and some were more beneficial than others. Anastasia Stephens examines 2004's favourite fads

Designer waters

The hype: These bottled wonders slow aging, and enhance mental and physical performance.Penta Water (£1.40 for 500ml) is cited in particular for its physical benefits. It has a special molecular structure that, claims the manufacturer, super-hydrates the body. In tests on athletes, Don MacLaren, Professor in Sports Nutrition at Liverpool John Moores University, found it rehydrated the body 16.7 times faster than bottled water. Fiji Water (£1.95 per litre), meanwhile, comes from a virgin ecosystem and is rich in silica - a mineral that maintains healthy bones, skin and hair. It's favoured by the likes of Jennifer Aniston and Halle Berry.

If your life is going badly, or if you just want a taste of the latest celebrity-endorsed spiritual craze, Kabbalah water (£3.90 per litre) might be the answer. A Rabbi imbues this spring water with meditations from the mystical teachings of the Jewish Kabbalah, and gives it a blessing. All this gives the water "positive energy", which then rubs off onto you.

The reality: While it sounds faddish, Penta Water is drunk by top athletes such as Andy Johns, Darren Campbell and Laurence Dallaglio - and it has the research to back it. When scientists at the University of Minnesota gave triathletes the Water, they reduced their race times by an average of 15 per cent. "Penta does have a very effective hydration effect," says MacLaren. "It leads to improvements in performance and recovery, but we have to do more studies to find out why." Research is thin on the ground for the other waters, however - but there's no doubt they're pure, physically and metaphysically.

Worth trying? I'd drink Penta if I was an athlete or had too much money to spend. Otherwise I'd stick to plain old tap.

Cholesterol-busting pills

The hype: A decade ago it was HRT, but this year cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins were all the medical rage. In the US, statins, which include Lipitor (atorvastatin), Mevacor (lovastatin), Zocor (simvastatin), Lescol (fluvastatin), Crestor (rosuvastatin) and Pravachol (pravastatin) earnt their makers more than $20bn (£10bn). In the UK, a big push by pharmaceuticals companies means these drugs are now available over the counter. Soon we may all be taking them - doctors are even talking of using the drugs preventively.

The reality: Statins lower total cholesterol, but nutritionists and biochemists warn that it's not total cholesterol that matters, but the ratio between LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, and HDL, or "good"cholesterol. Critics say that, in the absence of known cardiovascular disease, there's no actual evidence that statins cut the risk of death from a heart attack.

Worth trying? If I were simply trying to lower my cholesterol I would change my diet, cut out processed foods, and eat more wholefoods and veg. Additionally, I would try to eat loads of garlic and ginger (trials have shown theyeffectively lower "bad" cholesterol).

The South Beach Diet

The hype: Hailed as "the New Atkins", promising weight loss without giving up carbohydrate, this diet is all about sorting good carbs from the bad, and fattening fats from those that may actually slim you down. Devised by a cardiologist, Dr Arthur Agatston, the diet works in phases, the first two for a specific time frame and the third phase for life. In the first phase you can eat specific lean meats, such as chicken or fish, and certain vegetables. Later, you reintroduce more foods. The diet promises you won't need to count calories or portion sizes again.

The reality: It's not rocket science - this diet basically follows healthy dietary guidelines. The focus is on cutting out junk food, refined carbohydrates and high sugar sources, and sticking to healthy fats such as fish and vegetable oils. Fluctuating sugar levels, rather than eating moderate levels of fat, is more likely to make you put on weight. This diet encourages weight loss and weight stabilisation by helping people keep their blood-sugar levels fairly constant.

Worth trying? You wouldn't find me trying any prescriptive diet. I'd read up on what constitutes a balanced diet, stick to that - and keep fit.

Power-bleaching teeth

The hype: With celebrity bleached smiles glossing every issue of Hello!, the trend for bright white teeth has been creeping across the Atlantic. "The numbers of women and men wanting whiter teeth has almost doubled in the last year," says Mervyn Druian of the London Tooth Whitening Centre. "A new procedure means I can do the job for them in their lunch break."

The reality: The UltraSonic method, fresh from America, lightens teeth by about six shades in only 20 minutes, instead of the normal three hours. It uses a peroxide solution far milder than is currently used onto the teeth, while ultrasonic waves enhance the lightening effect. Clinical trials show that it is both safe and effective.

Worth trying? Depends how bright you want your smile to be. The treatment costs £775, the same as standard tooth whitening. Available from the London Tooth Whitening Centre, 93 Haverstock Hill, London NW3 (020-7722 1235; www.whiterteeth.co.uk).

Bikram yoga

The hype: Bikram yoga, endorsed by countless celebrities including Madonna, is practiced in a room heated to more than 100F. The sauna-like atmosphere is intended to warm up the muscles so they're easier to stretch without injury. It's billed as a great all-around workout that builds cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength while giving a powerful detox. The founder, the Indian yogi Bikram Choudhury, set up his Yoga College of India in Los Angeles seven years ago. It now has 314 certified centres worldwide, including eight in the UK. Spin-off "hot yoga" classes are also appearing on the timetables of many gyms.

The reality: The heat is supposed to prevent injury, but practitioners have reported torn hamstrings, lower back pain and damaged cartilage. Dr Robert Gotlin, the director of orthopaedic and sports rehabilitation at the Beth Israel Medical Centre in New York, has been tracking the rise of Bikram-related problems and says that he sees up to five cases a week. Justin Henry, a London-based physical trainer, says: "In the heat, people are lulled into a false sense of security - they push themselves further than they otherwise would."

Worth trying? Only you can judge. The heat can definitely protect against muscle strains, but only if you work within your own body's limits - and don't push too hard.

Anti-cellulite shoes

The hype: Thousands of Britons are now "walking away" their back pain, arthritis and cellulite in shoes that encourage them to move in the same way as Masai tribespeople. Masai Barefoot Technology (MBT) Footwear, sold through chiropractors, pilates teachers and other specialists, has uneven soles, producing the same effect as walking barefoot. It forces you to engage core postural muscles to keep your balance, giving you the equivalent of a pilates class without even trying.

The reality: They've been used widely in European orthopaedic clinics for years. "I've found the shoes effective on sports injuries and chronic back, hip and knee problems for many patients," says Dr Olaf Then, an orthopaedic specialist at the Bavarian Red Cross Hospital in Austria. Karen Inghams, a 35-year-old pilates teacher from Cardiff, found they improved her chronic back pain. "Wearing them every day, they keep all my core muscles that much stronger," she says. "Now I rarely get back problems."

Worth trying? They genuinely seem to help a wide range of musculo-skeletal problems. For information, visit www.mbt-uk.com.

Pedometers

The hype: Clipped to the hip, pedometers are making their way from the jogging pants of fitness geeks to those in the know. This latest must-have is becoming so popular that many sports shops in London have sold out of their lowest-price models (about £5). Earlier this year, Kellogg's gave them away via packs of Special K for £3.99.

The reality: Counting steps - and calories - has been deemed effective by several US studies showing that walking 10,000 steps a day is an effective way to combat obesity. Basically, these gizmos track each footstep, counting the calories you burn in the process, meaning you can incorporate even a walk to the shops into a fitness regime.

Worth trying? Yes. Pedometers are an easy way of monitoring basic fitness.

Injectable cheekbones

The hype: The new botox, but instead of paralysing your face, Restylane Sub-Q injects into it a gel containing hyaluronic acid, a form of connective tissue, to plump out wrinkles from below. It's also the only treatment that can promise new, enhanced cheekbones. Injections last a year, and several treatments may lead to permanent results.

The reality: These jabs are effective, clinically tested and safe - hyaluronic acid is found naturally in skin and it breaks down over time. Thanks to Restylane, you can pretty much guarantee a growth in celebrity cheekbones and pouts in the coming year.

Worth trying? Like all such procedures, these injections are likely to be highly addictive. Have one, and you'll probably want more - and with a new set of cheekbones costing between £800 and £1,200, they don't come cheap. If you're ready to risk it, call call 0800 015 5548 or visit www.restylane.com for information.

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