Eat, Pray, Love Your Health — A Guide to Quantified Health
It’s Friday, you are finishing out the work week strong with 4 meetings, that presentation due by 3pm, happy hour plans at 5, and you tell yourself you’re going to squeeze in a quick workout at lunch. To most people, this is a busy day. To your body and health, this is everything.
As you race between meetings, you feel a sense of anxiety building up in the background. What’s happening under the hood?
A small part of your brain called the hypothalamus begins a cascade that releases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which in turn flood your bloodstream with immune substances called cytokines. This acute and, over time, chronic stress can lead to long-term suppression of your immune system, putting you at risk for repeated infections and chronic inflammation. Sustained elevations in cortisol can have far-reaching implications throughout the body, including impaired cognition, decreased thyroid function, depression, anxiety, abdominal fat deposition, and harm to the cardiovascular system.
We have a tendency to romanticize constantly being “on the go” but society often downplays the devastating long-term effects of the workaholic lifestyle on our wellness, while encouraging short-term approaches to stress relief…like post-work drinks!
You show up at happy hour and finally get a chance to relax. As the bottomless margaritas start to flow and your outward personality begins to show, your internal biology is seeing a different story. Your liver is hard at work, metabolizing the ethanol into acetaldehyde and acetic acid, the consequence of which includes oxygen deficits to the liver, formation of harmful oxygen free radicals (what antioxidants combat), tissue and fetal damage, development of some cancers, and can cause serious medication interactions. In addition, alcohol has been shown to decrease the time it takes you to fall asleep but has serious disruptions on the restorative slow-wave sleep that is so crucial to many of the body’s functions. That’s why after a particularly rowdy night on the town, you might “pass out” almost immediately after Ubering home, but you wake up still feeling like you didn’t sleep a wink.
As you recover the next morning, the detoxifying orchestra of your liver continues to clear these poisons. You decide to try and “sweat it out” on the pool deck not knowing the UVA and UVB light that bathes your epidermis (the outer layer of your skin) is slowly damaging the collagen in your skin and causing deleterious DNA damage. Usually, when cells undergo damage to their DNA structures, a complex mechanism called apoptosis (often regulated by the p53 pathway) is the body’s way of inducing programmed cell death. Apoptosis is an honorable kamikaze mission by the mutated cell that is trying to avoid proliferating into a serious cancer. p53 has often been labeled as the “guardian of the genome” and repeated exposure to UV spectrum light can induce mutation errors in this pathway that can eventually lead to the development of cancers like basal cell carcinoma or, worse, melanoma (which kills over 10,000 Americans per year).
From Insight to Action
Luckily, most informed patients are aware of the potential self-harm occurring on a daily basis and there are plenty of actions we can take to minimize the impact. Practices like meditation or even something as simple as a few deep breaths have been shown to relieve stress and lower blood pressure. Alcohol consumption in moderation (1–2 drinks per day) is actually shown to have health benefits with vasodilatory effects opening up the peripheral blood vessels and reducing the amount of pressure your heart has to pump against. Regular use of sunscreen (SPF 30 and above), sunglasses, hats, or delaying your fun in the sun until after the highest UV index hours of the day, can reduce the risk of skin cancer up to 78%.
Some of us have learned how to unwind and manage our lives without adversely impacting our long-term health. But many more of us have not. As much as we’d like to believe we are in control of our decisions, most of our choices are intertwined with subconscious, social, and psychological biases that we respond to in the moment. Fortunately, the digital health industry is turning the corner on developing new tools to help us understand and manage our behaviors and our options for healthy living. Smartphones are tethered to our minute-to-minute lives, presenting an unprecedented opportunity to quantify variables like stress, fitness, weather, social habits, and much more.
With the advent of digital technologies such as Spire, Gmail, Mint.com, DrinkTracker, and SunSmart, we now have a rich trove of data with which to understand ourselves on an intimate and meaningful level. Each of these services help shed light on the 70% of our health made up by our behaviors, lifestyle choices, and socio-economic status.
Understanding the correlation between our behaviors and the pathophysiologic basis of disease is one of the cardinal goals of Sherbit. More than 80% of American adults aged 18–49 own smartphones and many check them upwards of 50 times per day, providing an incredibly powerful tool to begin linking our lives to our health. The promise of these devices comes from the ever-growing and improving repertoire of useful apps, sensors, wearables, and connected solutions. Sherbit brings all of this together into one platform that informs you of your patterns and your life, provides novel insights and recommendations, and ultimately, helps make you the expert on you.
by Sameer Sood M.S.-4 and Sandeep Palakodeti M.D.
Originally published at www.sherbit.io on March 30, 2016.