In the development of new technologies, the increasingly vital “next step” is finding creative ways for specific technologies to be applied to real-world problems. It’s easy to forget that on both sides of any technology – developers and users – are human beings. And the basic “tech” of our bodies runs on what we put into it.
Today we’ll be talking about the intersection of tech and health, specifically within the area of nutrition and dietary supplements.
Here are some of the specific subjects we’ll be looking at:
- The impact of devices on our health and an example how nutrition can address that risk.
- How tech is facilitating research.
- Health education and personalized health services via apps and the internet.
- The benefits of cooperation between the tech industry and medical/scientific professionals.
TechSling contacted Ursula Munoz-Najar, Senior Research Scientist and Clinical Research Coordinator for Lang Pharma Nutrition, to discuss these topics in detail.
Blue light harm
Let’s briefly touch on one of the objectively negative effects that technology has had on a huge number of people: the effects of blue light and the harm it can cause.
Dr. Munoz-Najar explained that light rays from the blue side of the visible light spectrum naturally contain more energy. Due to the way the human eye operates, this blue light requires our eyes to work harder to focus on it.
Unfortunately, as many of our readers already know, just about every common tech device outputs blue light, from computer and monitor screens to smartphones, tablets, and smart watches. Even the small screen in your car’s dashboard almost definitely uses blue light.
When our eyes have to process blue light for extended periods of time and on a regular basis, eye strain is the result. This is the reason healthcare providers have started to ask members about how often they use computers and smartphones.
We still don’t fully understand how this persistent eye strain will affect people over the extreme long-term, but we do know that the short-term effects are undoubtedly negative.
Tech groups have offered potential solutions sporadically, including the well-known f.lux software which slowly transitions the color spectrum of your screen to move toward orange colors as afternoon turns to evening and night.
Researchers have also been developing solutions, and Dr. Munoz-Najar worked with Lang to create a supplement product that can help alleviate negative effects.
“We were able to create a daily supplement formulation with clinically studied ingredients proven to address the effects of prolonged blue light exposure on eye fatigue while also being able to support visual function by improving visual acuity and contrast sensitivity.”
In the end, the blue light problem serves as another example of how tech can have tangible downsides that no one was able to anticipate.
When both the technology and scientific communities work under this assumption, it can help to anticipate a greater number of problems and expedite the development of solutions.
Dr. Munoz-Najar formerly conducted basic research into cellular senescence (more details below) but now leads impressive clinical research for Lang Pharma Nutrition, based in Newport, Rhode Island, where she has also helped develop clinical research protocols for the company.
Cellular senescence and how research is changing
To begin, let’s look at how tech has been used over the past several years to streamline and optimize scientific research.
Before beginning her work with Lang Pharma, Dr Munoz-Najar conducted basic research on cellular senescence.
What is cellular senescence?
In the most basic sense, cellular senescence occurs naturally and can help to suppress tumors while also contributing directly to aging. When the process is triggered, it can cause health problems specifically related to aging.
Research has shown that the food we eat can encourage cellular senescence. If your diet is especially poor, you could be actively inviting more health issues as you age.
Dr. Munoz-Najar commented on her specific work within this area:
“My research was focused on Telomere Induced Senescence. Telomeres are specialized structures that protect chromosome ends. Progressive telomere shortening and damage is one of the mechanisms that leads to cellular senescence. Lifestyle factors including nutrition can increase or decrease the rate of telomere attrition. Nutrition interventions have great potential to prevent critical telomere attrition, leading to delayed onset of age-related conditions. This, in turn, could lead to and increased and healthier lifespan.”
As you would suspect, this kind of research involves collecting and analyzing very large amounts of data, and researchers also need to consider many variables that could be affecting or shaping that data.
Not so long ago, this process would have been plagued by issues of organization and opportunities for human error.
But now data collection, organization, and analysis can largely be handled by computer systems and software.
Then there’s the communication and sharing aspect. Multiple research locations can share data more quickly than ever before, and that data sharing can make use of contemporary encryption technology to improve security.
To put it simply, technology has improved research methodology in many ways, which not only improves efficiency and accuracy but also lowers costs for research operations.
This immediately makes new research efforts much more financially feasible and therefore more likely to be greenlit.
As the gravity of cellular senescence demonstrates, the focus of each research effort is important not only to the scientific community but the human race as a whole.
We’re learning more about the human body faster than before, and that’s thanks in large part to the tech now being used by researchers.
Online education and care planning
But technology isn’t only changing the way researchers operate; it has also presented some wonderful tools for the average individual.
Rather than going about their normal routine and keeping their fingers crossed that they don’t encounter new diseases or health issues, people with access to any kind of internet connection can find a great deal of information that will help them to make intelligent decisions about elements of their lifestyle that could have a negative or positive impact on their health now and for many years to come.
Healthcare professionals and researchers are well aware that online education is a powerful tool, whether that information addresses nutrition and eating plans or helps individuals identify factors that could put them at risk for any number of conditions.
Tools and apps designed by healthcare providers use a wealth of existing information to help create personalized health plans for specific users.
While the positives here are staggering, Dr. Munoz-Najar also understands that there’s actually more easy-to-access information out there than is necessary. Sadly, some of that information does its best to present itself as legitimate while not having a scientific basis or evidence to support its claims. This is especially common in the world of nutrition and nutraceuticals.
“Some online nutraceutical businesses can be dishonest about many aspects of their products. Consumers need to learn how to navigate this information and focus on evidence-based information and products with proper scientific backing. As scientists, it’s our responsibility to develop better approaches for translating research outcomes into clear messages and push for regulations aimed at online sources so consumers can make informed decisions on when and which product to include in their healthcare routine.”
These pitfalls speak to broader issues surrounding online publishing and the lack of regulation of nutritional supplements. The benefits online connectivity offer us very often come with dangers and misinformation.
It’s not unrealistic to imagine a system by which Google and other major search engines could evaluate and tag specific resources as legitimate. The implementation of this kind of private-sector regulation wouldn’t be very different from website security certificates or Facebook’s renewed attempts to manage untrustworthy news sources.
In the meantime, consumers need to stay wary of this intersection between tech and health. Help is on offer, but neither the tech sector nor the federal government have been able to completely eliminate instances of misinformation.
Benefits of cooperation
If the tech and research communities continue to work together, it’s possible for emerging tech to help scientists prevent certain health conditions and understand the ways in which our lifestyle choices and diet impact our current and future wellbeing.
“The partnership between the tech community and the clinical research community is only going to grow and strengthen in the years to come. Both communities will greatly benefit from each other in the ultimate common goal to improve population health. I’m sure the tech industry will keep delivering new products with great potential for the clinical research community, helping to lower costs and improve results.”
Dr. Munoz-Najar briefly discussed how AI is being used to recruit participants for studies. It could also be used to clearly determine how specific ingredients interact with each other, which would be an indispensable tool for the nutraceutical industry.
Dr. Munoz-Najar also described the possibility of virtual clinical trials. These trials would not be virtual simulations but instead real-world trials with human participants, but the trials and data collection could take place during a participant’s daily life.
Wearable tech such as smart watches are a great example of how small monitoring devices could collect crucial information while the individual engages in different activities.
At the very least, overcoming the need for participants to visit a lab or test site would almost definitely encourage more people to participate in studies like these, giving researchers more options to choose from. Participants could then be selected based on any number of identifying factors.