Welcome to Interesting If True, the podcast that shines so bright, you gotta wear shades!
I’m your host this week, Aaron, and with me is
I’m Shea, and this week I learned that the soup of the day implies another, possibly seductive, soup of the night.
Starts with an apology for a late episode. We had some technical trouble and got it sorted out but I’m afraid it didn’t leave enough time for editing, so… late episode. Hopefully, it’s worth it.
A quick plug for some of the shows in our orbit, Scathing Atheist and Cognitive Dissonance has started Vulgarity for Charity 2021! You know the drill, donate $50 or more to Modest Needs — a fantastic charity that operates the same way WyoAIDS does — and email your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org with a request for a hilarious and outrageous roast. The donor can request anyone or anything to be roasted and the podcast crew will select 200 roasts of all of the roasts! It’s a good charity and the roasts are hilarious!
Friday Night Lights
Get it, cause this comes out on Fridays and it’s about light!
Whatever, I’m funny.
So I was getting my beard trimmed and my barber asked if blue light filters were really a thing — presumably interested in anything that might dim the incandescent-cacasity of my visage.
We chatted briefly about low-light modes, red and blue filters, night-shift apps. The usual. Until she mentioned something I’ve never come across — the belief that blue light, indeed any blue light — is harmful to humans.
Now, I’ve heard of some woo. Jump back in the archive past Spooktober and you’ll find things like “soaking and breathing in Radon will prevent or cure any illness”, or “wearing pigeons as shoes will prevent or cure any illness”, or a personal favorite, “attempting to prevent or cure illness is pointless because it’s demons all the way down.” Not sure who to attribute that quote to, let’s just say anyone who’s woo is somewhere between “germ theory is wrong” and “lower fourth-dimensional alien lizards.”
So, intrigued I did the usual. I opened Chrome logged into the show’s Google account — the one I use to Google, subscribe, and interact with crazy — to see what the Google Bubble would generate. And I was not disappointed.
Before I get to the fun stuff, let’s get a new things out of the way. Blue light is just light in the 380 to 500 nm range. It’s also known as high-energy visible, or HEV, light. And if you know anything about energy, words like “high” are just hippy-science-jerk speak for “will probably give your soul cancer-aids.” Can’t trick me Big Visible Light Spectrum!
Aside from being a portion of the visible spectrum of light, we’re all exposed to, use, and kind of depend on all day, “blue light” is the boogieman of the electronics industry and, by proximity, the cause of innumerable, made-up, woo-woo illnesses like Electromagnetic Spectrum Disorder. You may be familiar with ESD from Better Call Saul, which the titular character believes himself to suffer from, much to the chagrin of the rest of the cast. To be clear, ESD is not a thing and has been thoroughly debunked. I’ll probably do a show on it when I need some low-hanging research fruit. Until then and for our purposes today, we simply need to know that some blue light woo’s use ESD-esque arguments to explain refusing to use some kinds of light bulbs, apply overly aggressive blue-light filters to their tech, or simply refuse to go outside during the day.
What we do know is that the cold-blue light of many electronic devices can cause eyestrain, particularly at night or in dimly lit areas. This has spawned a wealth of red-shifting apps for nearly every kind of device. It’s a promoted new feature in the upcoming Kindle, and Apple has baked Nightshift Mode into all its devices. Android and PC users can call on hundreds of options, my favorite has been an open-source app called f.lux.
There is some research that the use of bright, blue light-heavy, devices at night can affect sleep. The basic reasoning goes that your circadian rhythm is controlled by melatonin (among other things, also, melatonin does other stuff too), which is in turn controlled by exposure to light. That is, if your body registers day, it will help wake you, if your body registers night, it will help you sleep and suppress your feelings of hunger, and holding a light source up to your light detectors causes all kinds of sleepy-time confusion.
All of this is wildly oversimplified of course, but that’s the basic argument.
Feeding on this trend, less-than-scrupulous, but perhaps well-meaning, product developers have turned blue light filtering glasses, covers, shields, and so on, into an industry valued at 28 million dollars a year in 2020 and an estimated 38 million by 2026. Not the multi-billion dollar GOOPy wellness industry to be sure, but a sizable subset.
Most of these products target fairly specific, industry-hyped, health risks. So… back to the fun stuff and my lack of disappointment.
What does blue light exposure cause? Well, according to for-sure, realzies, sources of fact-stuff like www.bluelightexposed.com and it’s ilk…
- Disrupted sleep (this one we’ll semi-yield, but come back to),
- Digital eyestrain syndrome,
- blurry vision,
- difficulty focusing,
- dry and irritated eyes,
- back and neck pain,
- an increased willingness to buy nonsense Ben Stein sells,
- Yeti-like hairy palms,
- you know, blind-stuff!
- increased risk of cancers,
- increased obesity, heart disease, and diabetes,
- increased depression, and,
- possible permanent eye damage like age-related macular degeneration,
Also, it’ll do the usual scary things like making your children stupid; your parents’ grotesque homunculi; your dog a cat; and your precious, Faberge-masculinity all pink.
Blue Light Exposed explains this by conflating correlation with causation. The obliquely reference two American surveys — couldn’t even muster a bullshit study — that said kids of 12 to 15 nearly 3/4 spent at least two hours on a TV/Computer/Phone a day. In other news, water is wet. Still, that doesn’t stop Dr. Marjorie Hogan, a pediatrician who “helped write the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on kid’s screen time” let the site user her name and attach it to the vague assertion that “parents have a tough task limiting TV and computers.” So the smoking gun here is that a survey was done about… something, we don’t get anything more than what I said, and that a Dr. somewhere agrees parents are shit at turning on parental controls. Therefore, blue light gives you breast cancer.
According to WebMD blue light can cause eye strain and we need more studies on the effects of light in the 400 to 490nm range, but, astoundingly, blue light might be the only thing on WebMD that doesn’t cause cancer!
Meanwhile, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) offers expert advice on worry about, and using cool glasses or whatever to alleviate blue light risks. Essentially, their advice is “stop treating woo-woo fb groups as medical advice” or, if we wanna be all science-talking about it
There is no scientific evidence that blue light from digital devices causes damage to your eye.
Which is, to my mind, pretty open and shut. Still, if you’re feeling a bit off from too much screen time, it’s likely eye strain or dry eyes. Dr. Khurana at the AAO offers the “20–20–20” rule. That is, every 20 minutes take a moment to look at something about 20 feet away for about 20 seconds. That will help reduce eye strain and eye drops are a solid solution for the rest.
Of course, there’s that pesky 30-ish million dollar industry and it’s well marketed, vastly more expensive, solutions. Like blue light glasses, you know, as a first step.
In 2019 the show CBC Marketplace, that’s the Canadian version of the BBC, sent reporters with hidden cameras into major eyeglass vendors and found opticians promoting all manner of blue light protection from $20 (CND) “computer glasses” to very expensive blue light lens coatings. A similar investigation in the UK lead to Boots Opticians being fined £40,000 for almost identical anti-blue light marketing. Still, you can get them anywhere from $2 on AliExpress to thousands for blue light-filtering intraocular lenses that can be surgically inserted into your eyes during a cataract or other surgery.
The implantable lenses stem from the idea that, based on cell culture and animal studies, filtering blue light will protect the rods and cones in your eyes. A larger systematic review of human studies solidly concluded no demonstrable effect on patent outcomes. Basically, stuff in a petrie dish doesn’t always transfer. In fact, of the number of “scientists are excited about” things you hear about each year, about 1% manage to become potential human treatments. Because, you know, you’re not a fucking singled celled organism — or a mouse for that matter.
Meanwhile, back to glasses and their ilk. None of the glasses you’ll find claiming to block blue light are FDA approved, or even evaluated. Other countries like the UK chalk these things up to false advertising, or as a spokesperson for the UK Association of Optometrists said, “current evidence does not support making claims that they prevent eye disease”.
The claims by places like Blue Light Exposed are all vague and rarely reference an actual study. But they mention years and some figures, which is often enough for people smarter than I to find them. So, a brief wrap up from Science-Based Medicine:
A small study of 10 radiology residents monitored their eye strain and headaches while looking at x-rays all day, swapping out their glasses for blue light filters and random non-filtering control glasses, and found a minor effect. Of course, it wasn’t at all a blinded study, included 10 people, and the subjects where the testers. So their conclusion was, this is anecdotal at best and someone should do a real study. Still, they’re often quoted by woos.
Other studies looked at device usage before bed. One gave users blue light filters or placebos in a properly blinded, but still problematic, study. Later a similar study looked at Nightshift apps on phones. Both found that reducing blue light before bed helped with sleep. Of course, this is, again, not really testing light in the 350 to 500nm range so much as it is testing a light source vs. that light source dimmed, as they tested consumer electronics which use the entire visible spectrum and LEDs.
LEDs, it is claimed, produce more white and blue light, especially as they age, than the incandescent light bulbs our parents are familiar with, and places like the Harvard Medical Review… blog… agree. Though, this is the same group of people with placebo studies dept., so let’s take with a grain of salt anything that doesn’t come with sources listed eh.
Still, this isn’t a complete picture. Sure LEDs are very bright and very white, but they’re also low energy technology. You get far less of any part of the visible spectrum, including blue, from LEDs than you do from common lights, especially fluorescence.
If we’re going to be honest about exposure, the only real source of light you should concern yourself with is the freaking sun. In addition to the infrared light that gives you sunburns, it kicks out all the light, including blue, in amounts that Super Bright LEDs.com can only hold a candle to. Also, candles produce blue light, it’s just part of the visible spectrum ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
So it’s everywhere and it’s not hurting you and people selling you the idea that it is, are actually selling you something else. But before I close out I want to offer this last though… Lack of blue light has documented, negative, health effects.
From PreventableBlindness.com blue light is helpful for boosting alertness (again, the melatonin thing) which in turn has positive cognitive and emotional effects.
It affects circadian rhythm and this can be good or bad depending on the circumstance.
Finally, lack of exposure to full-spectrum light (aka, the sun) in children can impact growth and development in the eyes and vision. This is another “more studies need to be done” kind of deal, but at least it makes a logical sense, or more so than “the light all life depends on for survival has become bad for you since anyone could start selling anything online.”
So, here’s the deal. If you find yourself suffering from eye strain, maybe turn on Nightshift mode or install F.lux on your computer. Ideally, stop staring into the sun. And if you’re not sleeping well, don’t get blue light filtered glasses or screen protectors for your electronics. Instead, consider putting your toys down before bed and reading a book or talking to your partner or, you know, just going to bed.
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Splish Spash, I Was Take’n A Foot Bath…
So, while we’re on the topic of my facial stylings and why I do a radio show, my barber was also waxing my eyebrows.
Shut up, it’s awesome. I also get a deep-pour facial because I’m a manly-man and I deserve to look my best.
Also, Ulta’s Hemp lotion is fantastic. You should get some of it.
Anyway, having covered the blue light topic and run out of Oreo’s, for reasons I don’t fully understand, the topic quickly changed to detoxifying footbaths.
Which, of course, I scoffed at and explained that it’s nonsense and you can do the same thing with an onion instead of your foot.
Here’s that story.
So, detoxing your feet. You can buy detoxing foot bath tools, the most common being “Ionic foot detoxification” devices. Typically, these are plastic bins that you can put your feet and just enough water to cover them in. Often they have a little pump that sits at the back, or heel, of the device that plugs into the wall. The other common kind of foot detox are adhesive pads and patches that are meant to do the same thing but of course don’t require power because they’re made of magic.
The goal, according to Kinoki Detox Food Pad, one of the more popular brands — or at least it was — foot detoxing removes “toxins” from your body of course, but also restores “balance” within the body, whatever that means. And of course it will boost your energy, strengthen the immune system, reduce stress, improve circulation, sleep, and mental focus, and of course, relieve headaches, arthritis and other pains. Like most woo, it does whatever you need it to, even if you didn’t know you needed it.
The patches go on the soles of your feet. The footbath… well, your feet go in the water don’t they.
With these devices on, the toxins are supposed to simply leach out of your system… transdermally… in the face of everything we know about human anatomy and physiology. Basically, if your skin is that porous, you’ve got much, much bigger problems.
As evidence for cleaning out your toxins most manufacturers offer the results of large, double-blinded, clinical trials with precisely recorded patient outcomes that… ha! No, of course not, what they offer as evidence is the water or pad changes color.
The generally accepted breakdown of watercolor meaning is:
- White foamy water, your lymphatic system,
- Yellow, the kidneys, bladder, urinary tract or “prostate area”,
- Orange, the joints (yep, just, “the joints” I guess… all of them?),
- Dark Green, the gall bladder,
- Red with flecks, Blood clot material,
- Black, The liver,
- Brown, the liver, cellular debris and tobacco,
- Black with flecks, heavy metals…
So there ya go, based on what color the water turns you’re either dying of heavy metal poisoning or some random parts of your body are all full of gunk. Terrible, toxic, chee-blocking, gunk.
And so people use these things and of course when the water turns colors they believe it to be working.
For example, popular detox foot bath IonCleanse advertises that it can clean out your body safely with a relaxing, ionized, foot bath. And while I’m sure soaking your feet in a nice, warm, bath after a long day doing whatever you do is indeed relaxing, it certainly isn’t removing “toxins” from your body, ionized or otherwise.
In the ionizing part of the process, the bit you either plugin or in the case of pads… is just there already I guess… is said to give the hydrogen in the water a positive charge. The charge, they say, attracts the negatively charged toxins in your body. Of course, they mean the hydrogen is positively charged in the electron-physics sense, and the negative “toxins” are bad for you, so, negative in the not-physics GOOP sense. Why these two then attract each other is beyond me or the IonCleanse marketing but I’m guessing it has something to do with the polarity of the bullshit they’re slinging.
Among the most popular claims is that it will remove heavy metals from your system. Both pads and baths will turn brown or black after being used as evidence they’re sucking the bad stuff right out of you.
Of course, this is crazy nonsense, but hey, the water changes color and that can’t be because of nothing!
And it isn’t. It’s because chemistry and as should surprise no one doesn’t require afoot at all.
As Ben Goldacre points out in his 2008 book Bad Science you can easily color water with two nails and a small electric current. Basically, it causes rust. Of course, he’s got some of his own fantastical theories about things like the Placebo Effect, so let’s find a few others.
In 2008 20/20 investigated Kinoki Avon pads and found that they do change color, but lab tests of unused and color-used pads contained the exact same amount of heavy metal, so that wasn’t it…
Later, a California radio reported had her husband wear pads overnight then took them to a lab for testing. Surprise of surprises, there was no meaningful difference in the new and used pads aside from color.
Shortly thereafter the BBB gave them an “unsatisfactory” rating.
In 2009 the FTC charged Yehuda Levin, Baurch Levin, and their company Xacta 3000 Inc with deceptive advertising. They had claimed thier pads got rid of heavy metals, toxins, and the usual fare, but also parasites, “chemicals”, and cellulite. It… doesn’t.
Back to Goldacre, he decided to test his brown, detoxed, water samples for creatinine and urea, two of the smallest breakdown molecules the body makes. Of course, none were in the water. All he found was, as expected, iron oxide.
The samples came from a friend’s “spa treatment” before and after. They were sent to the Medical Toxicology Unit at St. Mary’s Hospital in London for analysis. Fun fact: that’s the hospital I was born in. The water sampled before the detox foot bath was activated contained only 0.54mg per liter of iron and after the treatment was complete it contained 23.6mg per liter.
So, it’s full of the material that flakes off of cheap metal when it’s submerged in water and electrified.
If that wasn’t enough, the magnesium and calcium in human sweat increases the electrolytic reaction.
After finding the water turns brown slowly even without a foot, Timothy Caulfield, research director at the University of Alberta’s Health Law Institute, concluded that “this is a really good example of what’s ultimately nothing but a marketing scam.”
As for the pads, there’s no electricity of course but they contain essentially the same materials. As such, you can simply steam one and it will change colors as the contents react with moisture, not foot.
Since Goldachre’s book and articles about the topic were published a number of foot detox manufacturers have changed their marketing. Many now admit that the discoloration of the water is caused by the corrosion of the electrodes. Of course, this doesn’t stop them selling the product or promising it will cure you of… whatever. What it has meant though, is that they can now upsell you on replacement electrodes.
Some of the studies I looked at suggested that the process combined with the material the bath bucket is made out of could be releasing PTEs into the water. It’s not exactly huffing radon, but you still don’t want it.
So is it bullshit? Yeah, it’s 100% bullshit. Or, as the conclusion of the 2012 study “Objective Assessment of an Ionic Footbath (IonCleanse): Testing Its Ability to Remove Potentially Toxic Elements from the Body” found:
In this proof-of-principle study, we found no evidence to suggest that ionic footbaths help promote the elimination of toxic elements from the body through the feet, urine, or hair. While unlikely to cause harm or result in any increased uptake, the use of ionic footbaths may release minute quantities of PTEs into the aqueous environment.
You already have a liver and kidneys, they work just fine, you don’t need to detox. Like at all. Anything offering to reduce or remove “toxins” in your body is bullshit.
I’m Aaron, and I’d like to thank all our listeners, supporters, and my co-hosts.
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Music for this episode was created by Wayne Jones and was used with permission.
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