Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Health Awareness Bracelets Could Actually Save You

These are some of the meanings of the colors
We've all seen them - the colorful silicone bands people wear to promote awareness of a cause. They started with the yellow LiveStrong bracelets and then in place of lapel ribbons of every color, those wristbands - each color representing a different cause - became the new way to announce your support. For a while there I thought it might be a passing fad, but they seem to have held strong.

Many of the colors represent health issues from cancer to heart disease and more. Ironically, in a good way, it turns out wearing them could be good for your own personal health in addition to raising awareness of others' health issues. Environmental Health News reports that 'researchers at Oregon State University outfitted volunteers with slightly modified silicone bracelets and then tested them for 1,200 substances. They detected several dozen compounds – everything from caffeine and cigarette smoke to flame retardants and pesticides.'

There are various things that could be done with this discovery, not least of which is the bracelets serving as a sort of canary device, able to let the wearer know when they are becoming overexposed to a chemical.

Kim Anderson, a professor and chemist who was senior author of the study published in Environmental Science & Technology, said 'the bracelets are a big step up from stationary air monitors, which only capture a snapshot in time and may not be near people. Measuring individuals’ exposures usually means monitors worn in backpacks, which are difficult to use and expensive.' Devices like smartwatches have also been looked into, but the cost and maintenance of such devices would put them beyond the average person's ability to obtain. These could be inexpensive, throw away wearable detectors well within most people's budgets.

They are currently being looked at as passive devices that could be measured after the fact, but what if a color-changing aspect could be baked into them? Could they be made to change color, like toys and mugs that change color when wet or cold or hot, when they have absorbed a certain amount of a chemical? Could they absorb UV rays and change color when exposure is too high? Could they detect certain allergens and notify the wearer with a change in color?

The possibilities are endless, and the practicality of such an unobtrusive device off the charts. It will be interesting to see what develops from this discovery. In the meantime, we can still wear them to promote awareness of health issues, which is good for your mental health, even if they don't quite yet actively monitor your physical health.