Is Wearable Tech Bad for Your Brain?

written by Skye Sherman - Jul 25, 2022

Photo Credit, by Pixabay, Pexels.com
Photo Credit, by Pixabay, Pexels.com

In this modern day and age, wearable tech is all the rage. From heart rate monitors to fitness trackers, meditation headbands, smart watches, and more, it seems there’s a tool to measure any part of your physical or mental health that you may want to track and improve upon.

The whole point of wearable tech is to track, monitor, and have the opportunity to improve your overall health. But do these new gadgets have any downsides that may harm your health or cause issues? And if so, can you use wearable tech without doing more harm than good?

Wearable tech you need to know about

Are you up with the latest wearable tech craze? If not, here’s a quick summary.

According to 42 Gears, “Smart watches are likely the most commonly known and most commonly used smart wearables in the workplace today. Connecting a smart watch to a smartphone enables the wearer to read and send new messages from their watch, eliminating the need to hold and view one’s phone…Apple’s Apple Watch enables users to obtain an electrocardiogram heart reading without any additional accessories, while the Matrix PowerWatch Series 2 can charge from solar power and body heat in place of electricity.”

Impressive, right? But it doesn’t end there. Smart watches are perhaps the most common form of wearable tech, but they’re not necessarily the smartest. There’s also smart jewelry such as smart rings, bracelets, glasses, and earrings. Have you ever heard of the Oura ring? Users can wear it just like a normal ring but it obtains health data like body temperature and heart rate variability.

Another common piece of wearable tech is the fitness tracker. Fitness trackers come in all shapes and sizes and functions. 42 Gears calls them the “modern successor to pedometers.” Fitness trackers are typically used mostly for insight into your physical activity level and can monitor relevant data like heart rate, calories burned, number of steps taken, and various other metrics important to fitness fanatics. One example is the Fitbit. Fitness trackers have fewer functions than smart watches but they tend to be cheaper.

Smart clothing is another category of wearable tech that can provide a lot of data. 42 Gears states, “By making contact with a larger amount of one’s body, smart clothing can provide deeper insights than other examples of modern wearable technology can, enabling advanced tracking for both medical care and lifestyle improvement. … Samsung may soon release smart shirts capable of diagnosing respiratory diseases and smart shoes that monitor running form. Consumers can already purchase Siren Socks (smart socks that can detect developing foot ulcers), Nadi X smart pants by Wearable X (yoga pants that vibrate to improve form during yoga exercises), and Naviano smart swimsuits that provide alerts when the user should apply sunscreen, among many other kinds of smart clothing.”

Can you believe that? Pants that adjust your yoga form and swimsuits that remind you to reapply SPF? The future is now! If all of this sounds overwhelming, not to worry: you could always use a meditation headband to help you calm your anxious thoughts and help ease depression.

Medical Futurist takes a look at the Muse headband, reporting, “the brain-sensing headband helps you get the most out of your meditation practice by giving you real-time biofeedback of what is going on in your mind.” The device is not meant to program your brain but rather to help you program your own brain.

Medical Futurist continues, “The routine is simple. You put the Muse headset on, you complete the breathing exercises to the sound of waves (neutral), storms (bad) and tweeting birds (good) which indicate how focused and calm you are. If your mind is too active, the Muse gives you feedback to help you clear your thoughts.”

There is more wearable tech on the market now and even more arriving every day, but the last category we’ll cover in this article is implantables, which make contact with the user’s body from the inside, rather than sitting on the surface of the skin or tracking from outside.

42 Gears provides an example: “The now-bankrupt company Proteus produced sensor-containing pills that could monitor blood pressure and other health metrics; after the patient swallowed the pills, they could wear an external device to easily monitor the data generated from within the body.”

They also report, “In the near future, smart tattoos may also become available for patients who want an easy way of ensuring that they always remember to bring their monitoring devices with them.”

Most of these items are available at affordable prices from Best Buy or Amazon, and every year, gadgets get both smarter and cheaper. As the years march on, all of us will face some important decisions about which wearable tech we want to incorporate into our daily lives and routines, and which we don’t. Is all wearable tech good for you? How do you decide?

Should you beware of wearable tech?

Obviously, wearable tech devices have the power to do a lot of good for the users that wear them. They can provide valuable data, actionable insight, and even life-saving alerts. There are devices to help you sleep better, eat better, breathe better, exercise better, and live a more healthy and long life overall. They are built to help with anything from managing stress to walking more.

But what are the drawbacks and consequences of wearing a tech device that constantly monitors you or sits on your skin (or even inside your body) at all times?

UL Solutions puts it this way: “Since medical or wellness wearable devices may be in close contact with patients’ bodies for extended periods of time, physical harm is a concern, and if developed without sufficient risk analysis from the start, wearables can carry potential risks.”

Some of these risks include chemical reactions, electric shock, burns, and acoustic sound pressure that can produce unsafe sound levels if and when they malfunction. This is to say nothing of the security risks that are associated with allowing anyone, much less large companies, access to your most personal and intimate data. These devices and apps have to function somehow, and your data is linked back to the company providing them to you, one way or another.

But there are other potential risks, too. Nearly all forms of wearable tech use sensors of some sort, and they usually rely on technology like infrared light, radios that pick up and emit electromagnetic signals, and internal gyroscopes to detect motion.

Innovative Medicine writes, “A massive number of us are now plugged into devices beyond our smartphones. Smartwatches, fitness trackers, sleep monitors, and more have become tools of both the ‘Quantified Self’ crowd – or individuals who use self-tracking technology – as well as large numbers of folks who just want to be more informed on what their bodies are doing. But these devices can add real harm to our lives, and not just from their wireless functionality. Even having too much data itself can decrease our quality of life.”

One main concern is Electromagnetic Fields, or EMFs. EMFs are somewhat natural because they are created by the body itself and also occur from natural phenomena such as electrical storms. However, as Innovative Medicine points out, we are also exposed to “man-made EMFs from the electrical grid (power lines and wiring in buildings) as well as from many of our electronic devices, from smartphones to wearables.”

Research is showing that EMFs can have very negative effects, with Innovative Medicine reporting, “Two of the mechanisms that EMFs are thought to do harm is through mitochondrial disruption and changes to calcium channels in cells. Some studies have linked EMF exposure to increased incidence of a certain kind of brain cancer, disruptions in melatonin production (both up and down), damage to DNA, increased incidence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and even depression in certain individuals.

It’s virtually impossible to use wearable tech without exposure to EMFs. So is it worth it? There’s also the potential harm of having too much data. Maybe we are getting more information than we need or pressuring ourselves to perform at unnaturally high levels. Are we losing the ability to tune into how we naturally feel? Can we gather data on our own without relying on an electronic device?

These are the questions more and more humans will have to face and answer for themselves as the future marches forward.

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DISCLAIMER

While the above article is based on thorough research, we do not claim to offer a substitute for medical advice from a qualified healthcare provider. The article was written for information and educational purposes only. We aim to provide helpful information to our readers, but cannot provide a treatment, diagnosis, or consultation of any sort, and we are in no way indicating that any particular drug is safe or appropriate for you and your individual needs. To receive professional medical attention, you must see a doctor.