Every week, we’re bringing you a roundup of the latest health and wellness news to hit the wire. This week, we cover news that popular smartphones are exceeding the legal limits on radiation, a case of picky eating with permanent health implications, and new research on the connection between plant-based diets and risk of chronic kidney disease.

Just how safe is that smartphone?

A new investigation by the Chicago Tribune covered by Healthline has sparked lawsuits and calls for federal regulators to reassess the amounts of radiation allowed to seep out from radio-emitting mobile devices, particularly as the U.S. looks to expand 5G coverage, which would expose people to more radio frequencies.

Using accredited lab tests that mimic human tissue, the Tribune tested 11 smartphone models from four companies: Apple, Samsung, Motorola and BLU. The Tribune found that most exceeded the legal limit set by the Federal Communications Commission of 1.6 watts per kilogram averaged over 1 gram of tissue.

Radiofrequency exposure from the iPhone 7—one of the most popular smartphones ever sold—measured over the legal safety limit and double what Apple reported to federal regulators.

After reviewing the lab reports from the Tribune’s tests, the FCC said it would take the rare step of conducting its own testing over the next couple of months.

“We take seriously any claims on noncompliance with the RF (radiofrequency) exposure standards and will be obtaining and testing the subject phones for compliance with FCC rules,” agency spokesman Neil Grace said.

The FCC’s rules were set in 1996 when cellphones were not smart and people did not spend a reported three hours daily on their devices. Technology has become a boon in so many ways, allowing us to connect with others, access resources and advance on our goals, including fitness. So with “all good things in moderation” in mind, some reminders for best practices to take to reduce your risk of exposure include:

  • Unplug from your device as much as possible.
  • Don’t keep your phone in your pocket or next to your body.
  • Use a speakerphone or headset when making calls.
  • Don’t sleep next to your phone.
  • Keep the phone in airplane mode when you’re not using it.

A cautionary tale about picky eating

A British teenager who ate just five foods—fries, Pringles, white bread, and processed ham and sausage since elementary school—went blind from nutritional deficiencies, despite not looking malnourished, according to this widely circulated article in Newsweek based on a case study recently published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

The boy visited his family doctor, complaining he was tired, and was found to be anemic and deficient in vitamin B12.

By age 15, his hearing and vision started to fade, despite tests revealing no structural problems with his eyes or ears. His vision continued to deteriorate, and by 17, doctors discovered damage to his optic nerve and 20/200 vision, considered legally blind, from a combination of nutrient deficiencies, including B12, copper, selenium and vitamin D. Diagnosed with avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder because of his sensitivity to food textures and worries about eating, the teen still eats a limited diet, according to the authors of the report from Bristol Eye Hospital.

About 2 billion people globally are affected by nutrient deficiencies—a type of modern malnutrition—and while most aren’t this severe, dietitians say it’s important for people to understand that a poor diet and lack of fruits and vegetables can have serious consequences, beyond weight and cardiovascular risk.

Some plant-based diets are better than others for preventing CKD

Plant-based diets are associated with lower incidence of a variety of chronic conditions such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, so researchers wanted to find out whether such a connection existed for chronic kidney disease. And according to their findings published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, some—but not all—plant-based diets are associated with a reduced risk of CKD.

The study followed more than 14,600 middle-aged adults in four U.S. communities. Researchers evaluated four types of plant-based diets: overall plant-based (comprising all plant-based foods), healthy plant-based (composed of only healthy plant-based foods), less healthy plant-based (including only less-healthy plant-based foods such as refined grains, potatoes, fruit juices, sweets and desserts, and artificially sweetened beverages), and vegetarian (all plant-based foods except juices, sweets and desserts, and artificially sweetened beverages).

Researchers found that in general, plant-based diets were not associated with risk of developing CKD, although 4,343 of the participants did develop the condition. But the study did find that the people who stuck to the “healthy” plant-based diet were less likely to develop CKD, while people who consumed the “less healthy” plant-based diet were at greater risk of developing the disease.

Some of the mechanisms the researchers cited as possible factors in the reduction of risk included lower dietary acid load and greater consumption of fiber and micronutrients. Previous studies have found that reducing dietary acid load by eating more fruits and vegetables led to improvement in the markers for kidney damage. Other research has found that the risk of CKD drops by 11 percent with every 5-gram increase in daily fiber intake.

Photo credit: Jonathan Borba, Unsplash