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Personal Science Week - 7 Jul 2022
Nutrition science book reviews, predict health changes with wearables, and more
Skeptical science-minded readers will enjoy Red Pen Reviews, a free web site that offers detailed, quantitative critiques of popular health and nutrition books. With a staff of expert contributors who scour each book an average of 40 hours, the site scores content for scientific accuracy, reference accuracy, and healthfulness. Each book gets a final overall score that is intended to help guide comparisons so you’ll know, for example, that Walter Willet’s Harvard Medical School Guide (97%) or Justin Sonnenberg’s The Good Gut (86%) are based on better science than David Asprey’s Bulletproof Diet (49%) or Paul Saladino’s Carnivore Code (38%).
Predict health changes with wearable data
It’s long been speculated that wearable data might be useful for detecting health changes before they appear. The COVID pandemic has been a useful catalyst to additional research, with promising results.
Researchers at WVU’s Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute reported that Oura ring data, combined with an app to measure cognition and other symptoms, can predict up to three days in advance when people will register a fever, coughing or shortness of breath. It can even predict someone’s exact temperature, like a weather forecast for the body.
So far, nobody can beat researchers at Stanford University’s Snyder Lab. Based on changes in heart rate from Fitbits they’ve been able to detect the coronavirus 3 days in advance of a positive test. In their study of about 3300 people using an app called MyPHD and Fitbit/Apple Watch/Garmin, 84 ended up having confirmed infections. The system provided pre-symptomatic alerts in 80% of the confirmed cases. Mean frequency of 3.42 days / infection
Here’s a typical positive case:
Past studies have been able link wearables data to undetected issues like high blood pressure, arrhythmia and early stage cancer, and use it to improve real-time tracking of seasonal flu outbreaks.
Counterarguments against personalized nutrition
Dr. Nicola Guess from the University of Oxford, summarizes the argument against microbiome-based precision nutrition products like Zoe or Viome. “if you designed a diet based solely on the glycaemic responses to foods,” she concludes, you’d get exactly the high-protein, reduced carb-diets recommended by these complicated machine learned algorithms.
About Personal Science
Professional scientists practice science as part of their job, often investigating ideas or problems with no particular benefit to their daily lives. A physicist working on nuclear fusion, for example, might apply rigorous scientific techniques in his lab work without any particular consequences to his daily life. As far back as the Bible, “Physician, heal thyself” has been good advice, often obeyed in the breach.
Personal Scientists, on the other hand, try to use the principles of science to understand and solve personal problems. Often, these personal investigations relate to health or wellness, but the same techniques can be applied to other daily issues, like personal productivity. Often, but not always, Personal Science involves quantitative or statistical reasoning based on self-collected raw data, but the overall thought processes can apply to every aspect of daily life. In general, Personal Science requires a skeptical, yet open-minded curiosity about the world, humility in the face of incomprehensible complexity, and a constant desire to be proven wrong. Personal Scientists, above all, rely on their own direct experience, never taking somebody else’s word for it. Nullius in verba — take no one’s word for it.
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