Smartwatches Track Our Health. Smart Toilets, Too.
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Smartwatches Track Our Health. Smart Toilets, Too.

Commodes that measure your health and might even diagnose Covid-19 are in the works.

By BRIANNA ABBOTT
Mon, Sep 6, 2021 11:07amGrey Clock 4 min

The next frontier of at-home health tracking is flush with data: the toilet.

Researchers and companies are developing high-tech toilets that go beyond adding smart speakers or a heated seat. These smart facilities are designed to look out for signs of gastrointestinal disease, monitor blood pressure or tell you that you need to eat more fish, all from the comfort of your personal throne.

“All of the things that have come with smartwatches and phones, you can imagine that on another scale,” says Joshua Coon, a bioanalytical chemist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Morgridge Institute for Research, who published a 2019 study exploring the potential of continuously monitoring a person’s health by looking at molecules in their urine samples. “You could really start to understand disease risk.”

Doctors have long used fecal and urine samples for clues to people’s health, but there has been a renewed interest in recent years as scientists have begun to better understand how the microbes in our gut influence our well-being. In the Covid-19 pandemic, more communities launched wastewater surveillance initiatives, enabling health officials to hunt for early signs of the virus in cities and neighbourhoods and track its spread.

Some researchers want to harness that wealth of information on the individual level and have come up with models to peer into the toilet bowl remotely. Some smart toilets are geared toward helping doctors monitor patients with chronic conditions or heightened risk for certain diseases, whereas other companies aim to sell the toilets—with price tags in the hundreds or thousands of dollars—directly to consumers as a tool to track or improve their own health and wellness.

Researchers at Stanford School of Medicine have outfitted a toilet bowl with cameras and trained a machine-learning algorithm to analyze the waste against a diagnostic chart. The toilet can also track the flow, colour and volume of urine. It is equipped with a urine test strip similar to a pregnancy test that detects specific molecules that can provide insight into a person’s health. To tell users apart, the toilet has both a fingerprint scan when a person flushes and a scan of their anus’s characteristics, or an anal print.

The Stanford team has signed an agreement with Izen, a Korean toilet maker, to manufacture the toilet. They hope to have working prototypes that can be used in clinical trials by the end of this year, says Seung-min Park, who leads the project, which was started by Sanjiv Gambhir, the former chair of radiology at Stanford, who died in 2020.

Another prototype smart toilet developed at Duke University also deploys cameras and machine learning to analyze waste after it has been flushed. It uses other sensors to capture consistency, presence of blood and specific proteins and extracts a small vial of stool that can be shipped off to a lab for further analysis. The smart toilet, along with others in development, is designed to connect with an app on a person’s phone.

“[You could] get personalized alerts for having more fibre or avoiding certain foods to avoid flare-ups,” says Sonia Grego, founder of the Duke Smart Toilet Lab and Coprata Inc., a startup that she and two other team members launched in 2021 to commercialize the technology.

A remote smart toilet could help doctors monitor patients with chronic conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or spot early signs of disease, says Dr. Grego. Another plus is that it could allow for frequent measurements that can be tracked over time, which could be a more effective, non-invasive way to track certain metrics and quickly identify and flag changes than sporadic readings during doctor’s visits.

“What your blood pressure is at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday doesn’t matter. To get that information with real trends behind it is super valuable,” says Austin McChord, the chief executive of Casana, a home-health monitoring startup working on a toilet seat that can measure vital signs including blood pressure, blood-oxygen levels or heart rate.

The company said in February that it had raised $14 million in Series A funding and is working toward getting clearance from the Food and Drug Administration for the seat to measure a handful of vital signs, Mr. McChord says.

Some diagnostics experts argue that the value in a smart toilet would come from being able to analyze the molecular substances in patient samples and that other devices, including smartwatches, can easily monitor blood pressure and heart rate. Mr. McChord and others working on smart-toilet technology say that advantages to using a toilet seat over another wearable device are adherence and ease-of-use.

“If you want someone to use something, it has to be incredibly simple,” says Chad Adams, president and chief executive of the company Medic.Life, which is working to get FDA clearance for its Medic.Lav smart toilet. “Everybody has to go to the bathroom.”

Medic.Life first plans to sell its toilet to assisted living facilities, where it could help track residents’ vital signs, bodyweight or even the sugar or sodium levels in their urine, among other metrics, before expanding to general consumers. A future version for assisted living facilities, pharmacies and healthcare providers would diagnose certain infections, such as urinary-tract infections or Covid-19.

Google LLC also has a patent for a toilet seat that doubles as a cardiovascular monitor, filed in 2015, although it isn’t clear whether the company is pursuing the project. Google Health declined to comment. Toilet maker Toto is designing a toilet that could analyze people’s waste and provide recommendations to improve wellness, such as drinking more water or adding something to their diets. The company anticipates launching the toilet in the next several years.

Toilet makers say that their products can provide medical-grade results for some vital signs and urine tests, but a smart toilet that can analyze the broader chemical makeup of waste is likely further off. Developers will have to work out how to prepare samples for analysis and refill the chemicals needed to run the reaction, as well as make the toilet cost-effective, biochemists and diagnostic experts say.

Another key barrier is privacy. A 300-person survey conducted by the Stanford team found that one third of respondents were uncomfortable with the concept of a smart toilet that collects health data, with many citing privacy as a chief concern. Respondents were especially uncomfortable with the camera-based approach. More than half, however, were at least somewhat comfortable with a smart toilet.

“I have now heard every toilet pun or joke you can imagine,” Casana’s Mr. McChord says. “A toilet seat is something that everyone is going to giggle about, but you have that moment to explain what it really does, and people really do see the value there.”



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Anger Does a Lot More Damage to Your Body Than You Realise

We all get mad now and then. But too much anger can cause problems.

By SUMATHI REDDY
Fri, May 24, 2024 3 min

Anger is bad for your health in more ways than you think.

Getting angry doesn’t just hurt our mental health , it’s also damaging to our hearts, brains and gastrointestinal systems, according to doctors and recent research. Of course, it’s a normal emotion that everyone feels—few of us stay serene when a driver cuts us off or a boss makes us stay late. But getting mad too often or for too long can cause problems.

There are ways to keep your anger from doing too much damage. Techniques like meditation can help, as can learning to express your anger in healthier ways.

One recent study looked at anger’s effects on the heart. It found that anger can raise the risk of heart attacks because it impairs the functioning of blood vessels, according to a May study in the Journal of the American Heart Association .

Researchers examined the impact of three different emotions on the heart: anger, anxiety and sadness. One participant group did a task that made them angry, another did a task that made them anxious, while a third did an exercise designed to induce sadness.

The scientists then tested the functioning of the blood vessels in each participant, using a blood pressure cuff to squeeze and release the blood flow in the arm. Those in the angry group had worse blood flow than those in the others; their blood vessels didn’t dilate as much.

“We speculate over time if you’re getting these chronic insults to your arteries because you get angry a lot, that will leave you at risk for having heart disease ,” says Dr. Daichi Shimbo, a professor of medicine at Columbia University and lead author of the study.

Your gastrointestinal system

Doctors are also gaining a better understanding of how anger affects your GI system.

When someone becomes angry, the body produces numerous proteins and hormones that increase inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can raise your risk of many diseases.

The body’s sympathetic nervous system—or “fight or flight” system—is also activated, which shunts blood away from the gut to major muscles, says Stephen Lupe, director of behavioural medicine at the Cleveland Clinic’s department of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition. This slows down movement in the GI tract, which can lead to problems like constipation.

In addition, the space in between cells in the lining of the intestines opens up, which allows more food and waste to go in those gaps, creating more inflammation that can fuel symptoms such as stomach pain, bloating or constipation.

Your brain

Anger can harm our cognitive functioning, says Joyce Tam, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. It involves the nerve cells in the prefrontal cortex, the front area of our brain that can affect attention, cognitive control and our ability to regulate emotions.

Anger can trigger the body to release stress hormones into the bloodstream. High levels of stress hormones can damage nerve cells in the brain’s prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, says Tam.

Damage in the prefrontal cortex can affect decision-making, attention and executive function, she adds.

The hippocampus, meanwhile, is the main part of the brain used in memory. So when neurons are damaged, that can disrupt the ability to learn and retain information, says Tam.

What you can do about it

First, figure out if you’re angry too much or too often. There’s no hard and fast rule. But you may have cause for concern if you’re angry for more days than not, or for large portions of the day, says Antonia Seligowski, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who studies the brain-heart connection.

Getting mad briefly is different than experiencing chronic anger, she says.

“If you have an angry conversation every now and again or you get upset every now and again, that’s within the normal human experience,” she says. “When a negative emotion is prolonged, when you’re really having a lot more of it and maybe more intensely, that’s where it’s bad for your health.”

Try mental-health exercises. Her group is looking at whether mental-health treatments, like certain types of talk therapy or breathing exercises, may also be able to improve some of the physical problems caused by anger.

Other doctors recommend anger-management strategies. Hypnosis, meditation and mindfulness can help, says the Cleveland Clinic’s Lupe. So too can changing the way you respond to anger.

Slow down your reactions. Try to notice how you feel and slow down your response, and then learn to express it. You also want to make sure you’re not suppressing the feeling, as that can backfire and exacerbate the emotion.

Instead of yelling at a family member when you’re angry or slamming something down, say, “I am angry because X, Y and Z, and therefore I don’t feel like eating with you or I need a hug or support,” suggests Lupe.

“Slow the process down,” he says.

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