The wellness movement is on the rise, and Netflix is doing its best to help you keep up. Going beyond açai bowls and quinoa, Netflix health documentaries often delve deeper into the various medical industries, wellness, and the links between health and diet.
The streaming giant offers an array of diverse health documentaries, with everything from topics like medical marijuana and Adderall abuse to wellness advice from hip-hop moguls and even a wild ride into the Russian Olympic doping program scandal. Here are the best health documentaries on Netflix.
The best health documentaries on Netflix
1) A Life of Its Own: The Truth About Medical Marijuana (2017)
Journalist Helen Kapalos explores marijuana use for medicinal purposes in A Life of Its Own: The Truth About Medical Marijuana. The audience is first introduced to Dan Haslam, an Australian who garnered national attention in 2014 when he was diagnosed with cancer and turned to marijuana for a semblance of comfort in his final year of life. Haslam lived in a conservative town where marijuana was vilified and seen as “demon drug.” His experience was a catalyst his town—and the rest of the nation—to see marijuana in a much different light. We see how marijuana changed the lives of others who, like Dan, need it for medicinal purposes. We also learn about the history of cannabis and meet a variety of experts to teach us the science behind it. Anyone who wants to be educated on medical marijuana, and how it’s different from recreational marijuana, should give this a watch. —Eilish O’Sullivan
End Game takes viewers inside a UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco that specializes in palliative care. The goal of palliative care is to help terminally ill people grapple with the realities of impending death. The documentary focuses on the efforts of Dr. B.J. Miller and his team. They provide the practical side of things, like explaining when the right time is to end treatments and explaining the nuts and bolts of dying with people in an extremely volatile place. Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman also show this process from the patients’ perspective. Mitra, Pat, Kym, Thekla, and Bruce are all in Zen Hospice Project, and it’s through them that the film’s points really land. End Game is tough to watch. Not only because it’s hard watching people at their most vulnerable, but because it wants you to reckon with your mortality in the same way the patients are. —Eddie Strait
3) Feel Rich (2017)
Feel Rich offers advice from a plethora of hip-hop moguls, athletes, and other influential individuals on how to be the best version of yourself. Spearheaded by Quincy Jones, Common, The Game, and Russell Simmons, this documentary sets out to explore how celebrities can use their massive reach to positively influence a whole generation of people who look up to them. This documentary refreshingly sets itself apart from the others by quickly acknowledging that not everyone has access to fresh produce. It also recognizes the disparities that exist in diet and lifestyle for minority populations. We meet celebrities and experts who explain how being healthy isn’t just for the rich and famous: viewers are taught alternative ways to attain healthy food, how to exercise, and even the importance of meditation. This is a must watch for anyone who wants an eye-opening and inspiring take on health and wellness. —E.O.
4) Forks Over Knives (2011)
In Forks Over Knives, Lee Fulkerson explores the connection between health and diet. This documentary talks to experts on both ends of the spectrum but makes a stronger case for a whole-food, plant-based diet. If you’re curious about taking on a plant-based diet for yourself, this documentary may give you just the push you’re looking for. —E.O.
“Director and co-writer Bryan Fogel starts off with a simple enough premise: He wants to expose the flawed testing process of WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). Fogel’s plan is to follow a doping plan designed to beat the tests and see how it enhances his performance in Haute Route, a grueling amateur cycling competition. This story takes a turn when the audience is introduced to a Russian doctor with flexible morality: Grigory Rodchenkov. Rodchenkov finds himself at the heart of the Russian Olympic Doping Program scandal. And, Icarus smartly changes course and follows the more interesting story it stumbles upon, wherever it may go. Fogel started out with the intention of making a documentary that exposes the flawed testing for doping. He succeeded in ways he never could have imagined.” —E.S.
6) In Defense of Food (2015)
With this documentary, director Michael Schwarz breathes life into Michael Pollan’s book of the same name. In Defense of Food sets out to simplify things for people who are confused by conflicting headlines that say certain foods like eggs are healthy one day and then unhealthy again the next. Pollan also takes on the food industry, which he claims processes foods that seem healthy but, in reality, aren’t. This documentary gives health-conscious viewers guidance on how to eat the right food—the simple way. —E.O.
“Unrest is an unflinching look at a disease that overwhelms both the stricken and the medical community. Brea gives viewers a first-person look at the harsh realities of chronic fatigue syndrome. One of Brea’s main goals is to help fight the stigma that people suffering from CFS aren’t really sick. She shows herself at some of her lowest points, laying on the ground and crying, unable to pick herself up. As Brea meets other people with CFS and learns their stories, she finds something that has eluded her: hope. While the struggle to find a cure has no end in sight, people are finding ways to make the best of their situation. Through activism, or FaceTime calls to stay involved, or reckoning with the damage the disease can wreak on a family, the documentary finds a hopeful note to end on.“ —E.S.
“Alison Klayman’s Take Your Pills begins with a description of the physical effects of Adderall as a routine and habit. There are quick cuts, swatches of color, cartoonish animations, and pulsing tunes. It’s a flood of information to match the film’s subject matter: our need for focus. Klayman interviews a software engineer who rides an electric unicycle; a mother who was wary of putting her son on it; former NFL player Eben Britton; and a music manager who says Adderall helps him be a “better capitalist.” There are other declarations from interview subjects about how we live in a ‘hypercompetitive order’ and are ‘human capital,’ which might seem benign until you start to look at the fringes of the billion-dollar Adderall and Ritalin industry, which, as the film shows, is insidiously marketing medications to kids, and parents, with the promise of better ‘performance.’” —Audra Schroeder
9) The C Word (2016)
Director and writer Meghan O’Hara, who’s a breast cancer survivor, takes a very personal journey in The C Word. O’Hara teams up with Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, another cancer survivor who is also a scientist and doctor. The duo explores what steps in health and diet viewers can take to prevent cancer. Through already existing research, Servan-Schreiber expands on the four pillars to preventing cancer before it strikes: nutrition, exercise, stress management, and avoiding toxins. The documentary is also narrated by Morgan Freeman, which in itself is a good enough reason to give this one a go. —E.O.
Netflix documentary The Bleeding Edge reveals the underbelly of the vast and laxly regulated medical device industry with a focus on just how devastating it can be for the patients who believed that this technology could help. Filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering (The Invisible War, The Hunting Ground) take on the $400 billion medical device industry with a sense of clarity and urgency as they unravel an aspect of the healthcare system many viewers might not know about. At the heart of The Bleeding Edge are the stories from people whose lives have been ripped at the seams by the products they were told would help them. The Bleeding Edge mostly succeeds in hooking its audience and showcasing the horrors of a problem they might not have known existed, although the stories that humanize the issue can sometimes get lost in the bigger picture. But what we do learn is enough to make anyone—especially anyone who already has a medical device implanted in their own bodies—squirm in their seats. —Michelle Jaworski
11) What the Health (2017)
Writer and Director Kip Andersen (Cowspiracy) is a self-described recovering hypochondriac due to his family’s history of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. In What the Health, Andersen sets out to explore the correlation between diet and disease, and he comes to believe that eating eggs and processed meat is just as unhealthy as smoking. As a hypochondriac who did everything he could to stay healthy, this was his biggest fear, and it’s these claims that drew ire from critics. The journey to his controversial conclusion is fascinating to watch. But watch wearily, because if not, you could easily find yourself never wanting to touch certain foods ever again. —E.O.
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