Top Ten Technologies for Improving Metabolism

New HorizonsThe Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab held an open house to celebrate the first exploration of Pluto as New Horizons spacecraft zipped past 9.5 years after the unmanned spacecraft’s earth launch. The team speaking to us hadn’t slept for a week but they couldn’t have been happier and in the packed auditorium the edge-of-the-seat excitement for science was tremendous.

For a moment the audience fell unexpectedly silent as they searched for an answer to the speaker’s question. What do New Horizons and a smart phone have in common?

The answer – 8GB data storage.

Within a decade the technology of the galaxies was scaled to fit into a back pocket. This prompted me to reflect on how technologic advances of all kinds are being used to improve human metabolism, the underpinnings of health.  Colleagues and I listed the biggest metabolism boosting technologies and generated this eclectic list.

SMART PHONE – The data storage technology that embarked on a decade-long interplanetary journey, traveling 36,000 mph, can now store the inner workings of the approximately 70 trillion cells of the human body. There’s another reason it’s worth knowing about apps for metabolism and health. Often preinstalled, they may be collecting and exporting your data to be anonymously incorporated into some larger database even if you haven’t knowingly agreed to it.  Some people are okay with that, while others rather not participate.

PARO – Scientists agree that stress is a metabolic monkey wrench, and we create ways to deal with that stress. But, how do you help someone with alzheimers or autism to reduce stress without reaching for a pill bottle? One answer, pets. Animal therapy shows great potential where animals can be cared for and don’t pose physical harm to those in fragile states of health.  That’s where high tech has found a breakthrough with PARO, a robotic therapy that looks like a harp seal pup. PARO was approved as a medical device by the FDA in 2009 and accompanying the statistics are caretaker testimonials of stress reduction, improved appetite and social engagements which result from the metabolic turnaround PARO awakens. I was so impressed that I met PARO’s inventor and, of course, gave PARO a hug myself.

FREEZE-DRYING – Even though behavioral science found that people eat chips for the salt and the fat, chip-lovers usually say that it’s “The crunch!”  Now these chip-lovers have a healthier crunch available to them. Freeze-drying is a food technology that gives chip-lovers a more healthful crunch. Freeze-dried fruits and vegetables have the crunch of chips without the salt and fat.

COPENHAGEN WHEEL – Active living is vital to a healthy metabolism and getting that daily dose of exercise requires resourcefulness. Technology now overcomes one of the common barriers to exercise, “If only my workplace were one mile closer or not uphill, I’d commute by bike.” That’s when a Linked-In group member told me about the Copenhagen Wheel which converts a bicycle into an electric hybrid. A back wheel with motor, sensors, electric batteries and a control system flattens hills and shortens distances, making that daily bike commute possible.

SOLAR SYSTEM TECHNOLOGY – Technology doesn’t have to travel at rapid speeds within Earth’s solar system for the sun’s benefits. Solar cook stoves are simple technologies with tremendous global good. Single-handedly these stoves help poor communities avoid gathering ever-shrinking supplies of firewood, breathing in the soot from wood and dung burning stoves and dung, and going to bed hungry.

Another important technology relating to the solar system is the vitamin D research that was greatly advanced by the need for preserving bone strength in astronauts.  Now vitamin D is known to be part of the metabolic underpinnings of many metabolic pathways. And in the absence of direct sunlight, its levels can be boosted by exposure to full-spectrum light with measured benefit to human health.

NANOPARTICLE DRUG DELIVERY SYSTEMS – Nanoparticles can mess up metabolism in ways our society hasn’t yet studied.  For example, how long do those nanoparticles in sunscreen last?   Or are the nanoparticles that make dairy products “creamier” safe even though they are considered too small to be an ingredient and are therefore unlisted in the food label? But focusing on what we do know, medications loaded with side effects can now be delivered at remarkably smaller doses using nanoparticle technology, thereby minimizing the medications’ adverse impact on metabolism. Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute is bringing this technology to their corneal transplant patients and Johns Hopkins is conducting studies of nanoparticle-sized curry extract in the treatment of cancer and alzheimer’s disease.

GOLDEN RICE – GMO technology is used to create agricultural short-cuts with inadequately studied impact on human health and the environment. In contrast, golden rice was developed as a genetically modified crop for its health benefits in the 1990s as an alternative to biofortification in regions with vitamin A deficiency. Tragically because of the cloud hoovering over the GMO technology, golden rice has not been able to be fully developed to improve human metabolism as originally envisioned.

MEASURING THE MICROBIOME – It’s a rather humbling notion that in the human body microbes outnumber human cells. A century of scientists have waded through you know what to help us make sense of gut microbes. Now laboratory testing can tell us what medications, foods and dietary patterns can get our metabolism back on track.

HAPI – Listening is important especially when it comes to metabolism. Eating slowly is a way to listen to the body’s satiety message. Often called mindful eating, slowing down with food is among the 10 health messages for NutriBee, a program which engages 10-12 year olds in mindful eating they participate in an activity where they eat Cheerios with chopsticks. By vibrating in response to quick movements, the HAPI fork is a robotic technology that reminds people eat slowly in our grab-n-go society.

WIKIPEDIA – Internet resources enable us to leverage sight and sound technology to find new smells and tastes to engage our metabolism.  Wikipedia provides morsels for our mind that embolden us towards new and nutritious tastes. And through wikis we can share our multisensory food experiences without being a chef or food blogger.


Space Age technology is being applied to nutrition and medicine in order to improve human metabolism. That way not only does the technology fit into the back pants pocket, it can help us keep fitting into that favorite pair of pants, too.