It’s the moment we’ve all been dreading. Initial findings from a massive federal study, released on Thursday, suggest that radio-frequency (RF) radiation, the type emitted by cellphones, can cause cancer.
The findings from a $25 million study, conducted over two-and-a-half years by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), showed that male rats exposed to two types of RF radiation were significantly more likely than unexposed rats to develop a type of brain cancer called a glioma, and also had a higher chance of developing the rare, malignant form of tumor known as a schwannoma of the heart.
This is one of those subjects that has been hotly debated, but this multi-year study suggests that there is indeed an increased risk.
Personally, I use a headset whenever I make a call more than a minute or so; not because I’m worried about radiation, but because holding a phone to my ear for a long time hurts my shoulder.
I’ve also wondered about Bluetooth radiation. Those wrist computers many of us are wearing now; could they be dangerous?
“I’m going to make you work hard,” a blonde and perfectly muscled fitness instructor screamed at me in a recent spinning class, “so you can have that second drink at happy hour!”
At the end of the 45-minute workout, my body was dripping with sweat. I felt like I had worked really, really hard. And according to my bike, I had burned more than 700 calories. Surely I had earned an extra margarita.
The spinning instructor was echoing a message we’ve been getting for years: As long as you get on that bike or treadmill, you can keep indulging — and still lose weight. It’s been reinforced by fitness gurus, celebrities, food and beverage companies like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, and even public-health officials, doctors, and the first lady of the United States. Countless gym memberships, fitness tracking devices, sports drinks, and workout videos have been sold on this promise.
There’s just one problem: This message is not only wrong, it’s leading us astray in our fight against obesity.
It’s interesting how wrong this thinking is, that exercise will make you lose weight. The multi-billion dollar diet industry is one of the biggest scams out there, constantly churning out new diet books, leading people to yo-yo as they lose weight, then gain it back.
One of the interesting points in the article is just how little of our caloric expenditure comes from activity.
There are three main components to energy expenditure, Kravitz explained: 1) basal metabolic rate, or the energy used for basic functioning when the body is at rest; 2) the energy used to break down food; and 3) the energy used in physical activity.
We have no control over our basal metabolic rate, but it’s our biggest energy hog. “It’s generally accepted that for most people, the basal metabolic rate accounts for 60 to 80 percent of total energy expenditure,” Kravitz said. Digesting food accounts for about 10 percent.
That leaves only 10 to 30 percent for physical activity, of which exercise is only a subset.
Exercise is certainly important; it has many health benefits. It just doesn’t help you lose much weight, in part because your body’s metabolism adjusts to your activity in order to maintain your weight.
I still wonder about the obesity epidemic. It’s not entirely about eating more; there aren’t that many people who necessarily started eating more and then became obese. Is obesity an inflammatory disease? Is our gut bacteria to blame? Is it caused by exposure to chemicals? I find that fact that obesity took off in the 1980s to be interesting, and wonder if it has something to do with environmental factors, such as new plastics that have been used since then, many of which are known to be endocrine disrupters.
Every year, the scientific community reveals exciting new information about what is and isn’t good for our health. But some of the most prevalent, obvious “facts” about how to live a fit lifestyle are actually myths, spread via misinterpretation or marketing departments until they become part of the vernacular. Below, we’ve traced the origins of five major health fallacies.
I’m highlighting this article because it points out a number of health myths that have been embraced by the techno-fetishists in their desire to quantify their lives. For example:
1. THE MYTH: YOU NEED EIGHT GLASSES OF WATER PER DAY, EVERY DAY.
It’s common knowledge that human beings require exactly eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day, lest they die of dehydration. But that knowledge is, in fact, a myth–one that nobody can determine the origins of, despite much research into the matter. […]
“You don’t have to consume all the water you need through drinks. You also don’t need to worry so much about never feeling thirsty. The human body is finely tuned to signal you to drink long before you are actually dehydrated.”
There are tons of apps on the App Store that help you count how much you drink, and that even discount things like tea and coffee because they, apparently, have a diuretic effect. Even Apple’s Health app can record water consumption. It’s foolish and useless, and it’s a waste of time. On top of that, it can be dangerous, even fatal, to drink too much water.
(An aside: in the US, the myth is that you need to drink 64 oz of water, or two quarts. In France, the myth says you should drink 1.5 liters of water, or about 1.5 quarts. Coincidentally, bottled water is sold in 1.5 liter bottles…)
2. THE MYTH: 10,000 STEPS PER DAY IS A MAGIC BENCHMARK FOR FITNESS.
Now that most of us carry smartphones with built-in step counters, walking 10,000 steps (about five miles) per day has become a de facto benchmark for living a fit lifestyle. But that’s not because 10,000 steps is a scientific gold standard for health; actually, the “10,000 steps” rule was invented by a 1965 Japanese marketing campaign for an early pedometer. Not that there’s anything wrong with 10,000 steps as a goal–in general, the more active you are, the better. But you’ll reap just as many health benefits by simply aiming to spend more time on your feet each day.
It’s true that a nice round number is an attractive goal. But the tyranny of the 10,000-step goal means that many people who can’t walk that much feel inadequate. To be honest, calorie counts are just as foolish, since the very concept and method of counting calories is wrong. It’s good to have a goal; find your normal activity, then increase the goal, a bit at a time, step by step. Don’t feel obliged to use a round number as your goal.
5. THE MYTH: AN ALL-JUICE DIET WILL CLEANSE YOUR BODY OF TOXINS.
If you want to rid your body of toxins, everything you need is already inside of you — in the form of a functional liver and kidneys, which work perfectly well on their own, at all times, to process and excrete anything that doesn’t belong. And if you’re trying to turn over a healthy new leaf after a period of overindulgence, there’s a good reason not to join the juice craze: Even fresh juices are usually loaded with sugar, which has a host of negative effects on the body. A whole fruit is much more nutritious (not to mention more satisfying to eat).
This one isn’t tech-related in any way; it’s just dumb. The idea that your body has “toxins” that need to be removed by some special procedure or treatment, and the idea that drinking juice – very high in sugar – is somehow healthy is just foolish. Yet tons of people believe, and spend a fortune on supplements and foods that will supposedly remove these evil “toxins” like an exorcist.
Some time ago, I started feeling a buzzing feeling on my right thigh. My muscle would twitch a bit, as though it were a tic. I wondered why this happened, then I realized that it corresponded to the place where I often carry my iPhone. And I almost never have the ringer on; I only have it vibrate when I get calls or texts, and not when I get notifications.
I asked Dr. Google, and, sure enough, this is a real medical condition called Phantom Vibration Syndrome. (You can read about it on Wikipedia.)
It came up again today when I noticed someone on Facebook mentioning that they often get muscle twitches and think it’s their phone buzzing. I find it interesting that this has been around for a while; the Wikipedia article cites a 1996 Dilbert comic strip which discusses phantom pager syndrome, saying “It’s common among technology workers.”
Have you ever noticed this? I don’t any more; it lasted a few months, and it stopped after I realized what it was. I found it interesting, though, that the brain could interpret some kinds of movement or other stimulus as though it’s a phone vibrating. And I wonder if there will soon be phantom haptic tap syndrome for Apple Watch users. Personally, I rarely feel the taps from my phone, since they’re so weak, and I’ve never noticed any phantom taps…
About a half-dozen years ago, I suddenly developed allergies and mild asthma. I had had mild hay fever in the past, but things changed notably in a short period of time. This is all fairly easy to treat, but I’ve been wondering why the sudden change occurred. I came across this book, An Epidemic of Absence – A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Auto-Immune Diseases, browsing on Amazon recently, and, since I’m curious, I thought it would be interesting to understand why this sort of disease has been on the rise. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)
Author Moises Velasquez-Manoff has an auto-immune disease himself: alopecia areata, a disease where his body has attacked his hair follicles, making him hairless. He begins the book by giving a glimpse of one possible therapy for auto-immune diseases: he has set out to Mexico to purchase some hookworms with the goal of infecting himself and rebooting his immune system.
But what’s going on? Auto-immune diseases have been on the rise around the world, first in industrialized countries, then in developing nations. Starting with diseases like hay fever, which was considered to be a disease of the upper class, these illnesses include multiple sclerosis, allergies, rheumatoid arthritis (and many other forms of arthritis), asthma, some types of thyroid diseases, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, and others. And the author also discusses the obesity epidemic; obesity is, he says, an inflammatory disease. Some 100 auto-immune diseases are known, and others are being discovered regularly.
Velasquez-Manoff ‘s thesis is that this epidemic is caused by the absence of something. It is well known that children who grow up on farms, and who are exposed to more pollen and a variety of microbes from various animals, have fewer allergies and less asthma. Taken further, it seems likely that our lack of contact with pathogens and microbes has caused our immune systems to overreact. If our immune systems have evolved to manage bacteria and parasites that have been part of the human landscape for tens of thousands, even millions of years, and those interlopers are removed, by our suddenly having clean water, for example, then our immune systems incorrectly recognize other proteins – those of our bodies themselves – as attackers. Our immune systems become hyper-reactive.
The author presents a detailed account of research into these ideas, from the gut microbiome (the bacteria that lives in our intestines),worms, to the overuse of antibiotics. Indeed, the prevalence of some auto-immune disorders can be mapped to show they are more common in areas with clean, parasite-free water. We tend to think of these little creatures as dangerous, and they certainly can be, but in the right balance, our immune systems react to hold them in check.
There’s a lot of detail in this book; sometimes a bit too much of the minutia of experiments carried out on different diseases and different parasites. But over time, one starts to see the pattern, and the hypothesis looks intriguing. This all started out as fringe science, and is becoming more mainstream. It is already accepted that children should no longer use anti-bacterial soaps as much as they do, and that their bodies are healthier with a good range of dirt. It is known that kids that grow up with pets have fewer allergies and less asthma. Perhaps all our children need even more exposure to pathogens.
Velasquez-Manoff then discusses the underground movement of people voluntarily infecting themselves with worms, and describes his own experiment. This gets into extremes, as the potential for harm could be substantial, but there is anecdotal evidence that some people treated this way find their symptoms improve radically.
This book raises some very interesting questions, and it documents research that may change the way doctors treat auto-immune diseases. It’s not one of those medical books that tells you how to cure yourself by eating specific foods, but rather a solid piece of science journalism that maps out an intriguing new field of research. If you’re curious about auto-immune diseases, or if you have one yourself, you’ll find this an interesting read.
Listen to Moises Velasquez-Manoff give a TED talk, Reshaping the Immune System:
“With saturated fat widely considered the primary culprit in raising blood serum levels of cholesterol, most experts are far less worried about cholesterol intake from low-fat foods like eggs, shrimp and other shellfish. Although a small fraction of the population may be sensitive to dietary cholesterol, for most people on an otherwise wholesome diet, cholesterol naturally produced by the liver is the main reason for rising serum cholesterol that prompts people like me to control it with a daily statin.”
It amazes me how wrong dietary guidelines have been for decades. That researchers couldn’t have figured out that dietary cholesterol wasn’t the problem. All these decades where people were afraid to eat eggs, and actually ate one of the most insipid foods every imagined, the “egg-white omelet.”
And what else is wrong in the current dietary guidelines? How much have the low fat and high carbs recommendations of the past contributed to the obesity epidemic?
Indeed, it is now widely believed that the fear of fat promulgated decades ago inadvertently led to the current obesity crisis when people seeking low-fat foods turned instead to ones overloaded with carbohydrates…
How can we trust any such guidelines any more? It’s clear that they’re not based on sound research, but either hunches (the cholesterol and fat recommendations), or lobbying (the lack of clear limits on certain things, such as soda).
“‘The freeze-dried poop method’ might not sound like a weight-loss strategy that would catch on, but–as some researchers are now testing–it may be an effective way to slim down.
In a randomized, controlled clinical trial starting this year, researchers will test out such a fecal formula for the treatment of obesity. They’ll also try to glean critical details about the human microbiome and its role in our health and metabolism.”
I find this whole microbiome thing incredibly interesting. I first heard about fecal transplants just over a year ago in a New Yorker article, and this study is going to see if feces with a richer microbiome can make a difference in weight.
I’ve long wondered about the obesity epidemic. It’s not just about people eating more or exercising less. When I was a teenager in the 1970s, we consumed massive amounts of pizza and Coke, and obesity was a rarity. In my high school, among about 4,000 students, there were only a handful of obese kids.
I think something external has changed us. Maybe it’s plastics, maybe it’s chemicals, maybe it’s high-fructose corn syrup, but there’s a lot of evidence that our gut bacteria may have changed, and that this bacteria may be one of the main regulators of weight.
Fitbit, the leader in fitness trackers, decided some time ago that they would not allow data to be exchanged between their app and Apple’s HealthKit. Apple’s HealthKit is the framework behind the iOS Health app, which allows apps to communicate, sharing data, and allowing the Health app to collate and present that data. The Health app serves as a traffic controller: in it, you can tell which apps are allowed to serve as sources – whose data will be collected – and which apps can read from the HealthKit data.
“We do not currently have plans to integrate with HealthKit.”
As time has passed, it is clear that this was just waffling. Since Fitbit is preparing to file for an IPO, they are clearly hoping to be a competitor to the Apple Watch, and to the Apple ecosystem in general. (Or they’re simply trying to cash in before Apple crushes the company.)
The problem is that Fitbit is making a big mistake. Fitbit misunderstands that the data in their app does not belong to them, it belongs to users. And they are holding that data hostage, while many other companies provide ways to access, download, and transfer their data to other apps and platforms.
Platform lock-in is a big deal for computers and mobile phones, but it is also a big deal for fitness trackers and related devices. Fitbit also sells a scale, and will probably release other devices, all of which collate data in the Fitbit app. In comparison, Withings make fitness trackers, scales, a blood pressure monitor, and more, and they sync their data with HealthKit.
I have both a Fitbit One and a Fitbit Aria Scale, and find the Fitbit app to be excellent, but I want to be able to easily export that data to the Health app. If the company continues to prevent this, it’s unlikely that I’d renew either of these devices, or buy new devices from the company. While I’m not indicative of the average user, the 99 pages, as of this writing, in response to Fitbit’s forum post make it clear that they have plenty of users who want interoperability.
We are living in a world of interoperability. When you refuse to allow users to take their data and put it where they want, you will alienate those users who are the most interested in using your product.
Last night, Apple pushed out iOS 8.2 to my iPhone, an update to its operating system. The blurb for the update promised “improvements to the Health app.” Finally, I thought. When HealthKit was first introduced last year, it came under criticism for not taking women’s health needs into consideration. The Apple app tracks an amazing assortment of possible health indicators: sleep, body mass index, number of times fallen, “electrodermal activity,” sleep, weight, sodium intake, copper intake, and even selenium intake. But it didn’t track the one thing most women want to track: their periods.
It seems kind of obvious that Apple should include this.
One note: it’s not HealthKit that the author of the article launched, but the Health app. The latter is an interface for the HealthKit framework. It might be possible for HealthKit to manage metrics other than those displayed in the Health app, allowing other apps to access that data. I’m not sure if this is the case, but I would expect that HealthKit might be extensible.
Apple’s Health app is one of the key apps in the company’s new strategy that’s built around the Apple Watch. Since the Apple Watch will record data such as your activity and heart rate, the Health app is the repository for this data. And you can also store lots of other data in the Health app: from blood glucose to weight; from calories consumed and expended to blood pressure; and much more. It can be the linchpin of an overall health and fitness program, as Federico Viticci showed so well in his MacStories article Life After Cancer: How the iPhone Helped Me Achieve a Healthier Lifestyle.
But the Health app is a data silo; you can put data into it, but you can’t get it out. This can be a problem for many users. I was contacted the other day with a question from someone who wanted to transfer their Health app data to another device. This is something that Apple doesn’t seem to have planned for, at least not yet. The data you enter and store on that device is stuck on your iPhone.
The Health app stores your data in an encrypted form; this is a good thing. Health data is very personal, and needs the highest level of security. But because of this security, it seems that Apple has locked down health data too much.
The only way to transfer this data from one device to another is to back up your iOS device (your health data is saved as part of a backup), then set up a device using your backup to restore all its data to that device. This isn’t at all practical. Let’s say you buy a new iPhone. You may not want to set up the device using a backup, but rather from scratch. If so, you cannot got any of you Health data back.
And what about sharing that data? For now, there’s no way to do this. You can certainly share it with other apps, but you can’t send it to your doctor. Imagine that you’ve been spending a lot of time recording your blood glucose level, your blood pressure, or another metric, diligently adding it to the Health app, and your doctor asks you for the data. You have to reply that he can’t have it. (Or, you can take screenshots and send them to the doctor; this isn’t very practical.)
(As two commenters point out, you can export all of your Health data. Tap Health Data, then All, then tap the Share button. This collates your data into a not-very-usable XML file, which you can then send yourself by email. However, you cannot do much with this data, and you can’t export a single data set from it. In addition, you can’t import this data into the Health app on another device.)
Yet one of the key uses of the Health app, I assume, is to be able to share the data with medical professionals. The fact that you cannot do so is surprising. Just as the Health app has a poor visual design, it seems that it also lacks one of the key features it needs.
Ideally, your Health data should sync to iCloud. Once it’s on iCloud, it should be accessible to other devices, and even other apps, from the cloud. It should be accessible on other iOS devices (the Health app only shows up on an iPhone or iPod touch, not on an iPad). And you should be able to access that data from your web browser, and export it, in case you want to send it so a doctor, or enter it into a spreadsheet.
I imagine Apple has hesitated with this syncing because of privacy issues. But, for now, the Health app is a data silo: data is simply aggregated on one device, with no way of using it anywhere else.