By Scott LaFee

September 11, 2019 6 min read

Nearly 52 million people in the U.S. wear some sort of device with a heart rate tracker, such as a Fitbit or Apple Watch. New research suggests these devices may not necessarily be accurate for persons of color.

The reason: Some devices rely on green light optical sensors, which emit shorter wavelengths than the infrared sensors used in, say, hospital heart monitors. More melanin in one's skin means the green light is absorbed faster, resulting in inaccurate heart rate measurements.

Fitbit and device makers like Garmin and Samsung all use green light technology. Apple does, too, but its smart watches simultaneously track heart rates using a second method as well.

Apart from the devices' perhaps not serving all consumers equally well, the deficiency has some scientists concerned. They use the devices in studies and clinical trials, and if they aren't accurate for everyone, the resulting data is less useful.

Body of Knowledge

Anything inhaled by your lungs, such as smoke or vaporized medicine, reaches your brain very quickly, thanks to the lungs' intimate and expansive relationship with the blood vessels around it. How quickly? In under seven seconds.

Get Me That, Stat!

Most traumatic brain injuries in persons under age 19 occur because a youth hits their head against a common household fixture such as furniture or sports equipment, according to new research.

Almost 1.7 million TBI cases occur every year in the US, with approximately 700,000 involving youths. Among infants and kids age 1 to 4, hits to the head from beds and other furniture were most likely. Among older children, TBIs were more commonly related to bicycling, football and basketball.

Doc Talk

Medial tibial stress syndrome: Otherwise known as shin splints (inflammation of tissues around the shinbone or tibia).

Phobia of the Week

Pteromerhanophobia: An unwieldy term, which is probably why Erica Jong named her novel "Fear of Flying."

Never Say 'Diet'

The Major League Eating record for Taco Bell soft beef tacos is 53 in 10 minutes, held by Joey Chestnut. Chestnut is the reigning superman of speed-eating. In this contest, the others were, well, fillers.

Best Medicine

A man gets hit by a car.

The paramedic asks, "Are you comfortable?"

The man replies, "I make a good living."


"Sometimes you climb out of bed in the morning and you think, I'm not going to make it, but you laugh inside — remembering all the times you've felt that way." — German American poet Charles Bukowski (1920-1994).

Medical History

The week in 1978, the last recorded smallpox death was British medical photographer Janet Parker. To completely eradicate the disease, all stocks of smallpox virus at research labs were destroyed. One exception was to keep samples at two World Health Organization laboratories with level 4 biosafety security. Parker worked in the Birmingham Medical School Anatomy Department, located a floor above a laboratory doing research using smallpox virus. One conjecture is the virus somehow escaped the lab and infiltrated her offices via a service duct. She died after a month of illness. Her body was quarantined until cremated. She was 50.

Ig Nobel Apprised

The Ig Nobel Prizes celebrate achievements that make people laugh, then think. A look at real science that's hard to take seriously, and even harder to ignore.

In 2011, the Ig Nobel Prize in medicine went to an international team of scientists who demonstrated that people make better decisions about some things-and worse about others-when they have a strong urge to urinate.

Sum Body

Seven body parts once used for medicine, mostly in the 16th and 17th centuries:

1. Any part of a mummy, which was pulverized and added to tinctures or plasters for ailments ranging from bleeding wounds and bites to joint pain.

2. Likewise, skulls of any age. One remedy called for soaking a skull in alcohol to produce a tincture that was supposed to be good for gout, edema and all fevers "putrid or pestilential."

3. Brains, mashed and marinated in wine, were a treatment for epilepsy.

4. Human fat, applied as a salve for bruising, muscle cramps, nerve damage and joint pain.

5. Blood was dried and powdered to treat nosebleeds and bleeding wounds, but more often, it was drunk in liquid form for presumed general health benefits.

6. A tonic called "liquor of hair" was applied topically to encourage hair growth.

7. Teeth were used to alleviate toothaches — by wearing them in a bag around one's neck.

Medical Myths

For thousands of years, ancient Chinese medicine has prescribed the use of gingko tree leaves as a remedy for preserving memory and preventing dementia. But a 2008 study definitively showed that gingko supplements were useless for this much-advertised purpose. And yet, gingko supplement sales top $249 million annually.

Last Words

"I feel great." — Basketball legend "Pistol" Pete Maravich (1947-1988) during a pickup game, seconds before he collapsed and died as the result of an undiagnosed congenital heart defect.

To find out more about Scott LaFee and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: TheDigitalArtist at Pixabay

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