We live in amazing times. There is technology which is highly specialized and seemingly nothing short of magical. As doctor and scientist, I pride myself on keeping up-to-date on the latest medical developments so I can present them to my patients. This also places a significant burden on me to present those things which are scientifically proven, effective (or as the pharmaceutical industry likes to say, “efficacious”) and of course, affordable. Hard to believe, but people are the same today as they were 150 years ago when traveling salesmen went from town to town in our agrarian society presenting incredible cures brought from the orient, developed at undisclosed laboratories and secret universities. The vast majority of the time, these ‘cures’ were nothing more than extremely potent narcotics like heroin or cocaine which simply masked the person’s symptoms and/or altered their mind long enough to convince the patient they were better. The Placebo Effect was no doubt just as strong back then as it is now. In fact, the Placebo Effect is the number one reason new drugs costing many millions of dollars to develop simply fail in double-blind trials and never make it to the market.
The Duke University Rice Diet preyed on wealthy families to send their obese children to essentially be nutritionally starved. Any low-calorie diet will improve most measures of health, but “most people simply cannot follow low-calorie diets for extended periods, much less their lifetimes, as they are continually hungry,” said Loren Cordain, the author of “The Paleo Diet,” which advocates for eating like Stone Age humans and shunning cereal grains, potatoes and salt. High-protein, low-carb plans like the Paleo Diet tend to do better at increasing the full-stomach feeling, reducing appetite and causing weight loss, said Cordain, also a Colorado State University health and exercise science professor. “Hence the tenets of the Rice Diet are inconsistent with the best science of the 21st century,” Cordain said in an email. The Duke Rice Diet Center has finally been closed after opening in 1930. Amazing it kept its doors open that long with no true scientific basis – only a big name University to ‘sell’ its diet.
Today, people are supposedly more educated and sophisticated. However, too much blind faith is placed into technology just for technology’s sake. A perfect platform for the modern tech-savvy salesperson to exploit is the smartphone. From games which make the creators millions overnight, to dating applications to apps which purport to help the purchaser sleep better, exercise more efficiently, have better sex, lose unwanted pounds, think faster and yes, even get rid of your eyeglasses. Yes, smartphones are technological marvels. They contain a mind-numbing amount of technology when compared to what existed only 20 or 30 years ago. Yep, far more computing power resides in the palm of your hand than the best computers in the world in the 1970’s. And the phones are connected to the amazing internet and ‘cloud’. Most people have no clue what it took to develop and program a smartphone. We take it for granted. Therefore, it is easy to ascribe far more capability to these devices than they are able to perform. Let someone else think for you and you have lost the ‘upper hand’.
Let’s look at a new application being pushed onto unsuspecting users called “Glasses Off” developed by Innovision Labs. As of 2014 the app team had managed to raise over $15 million. If you go the website, you are greeted with slick, three-dimensional computer graphics representing a brain’s neural network under high magnification. For only $59, the application essentially promises to allow you to get rid of your glasses – or at least reduce reliance on them. This approach greatly reminds me of a classic snake-oil sales technique pioneered by an ophthalmologist over 100 years ago – Dr. William Bates. Despite continued anecdotal reports of successful results, including well-publicised support by Aldous-Huxley, Bates’ techniques have not been objectively shown to improve eyesight. His main physiological proposition—that the eyeball changes shape to maintain focus—has consistently been contradicted by observation. In 1952, optometry professor Elwin Marg wrote of Bates, “Most of his claims and almost all of his theories have been considered false by practically all visual scientists.” Marg concluded that the Bates method owed its popularity largely to “flashes of clear vision” experienced by many who followed it. Such occurrences have since been explained as a contact-lens-like effect of moisture on the eye or a flattening of the lens by the ciliary muscles. The Bates method has been criticized not only because there is no good evidence it works, but also because it can have negative consequences for those who attempt to follow it: they might damage their eyes through overexposure of their eyes to sunlight, put themselves and others at risk by not wearing their corrective lenses while driving, or neglect conventional eye care, possibly allowing serious conditions to develop.¹
Back to Innovision Labs and their “Glasses Off” app. The website quickly points to decades of neuroscience which have allowed them to develop this application. It is patented (big deal – along with thousands of other useless patents). It says it was backed by the American Academy of Ophthalmology. I could find no evidence of this. I could find no evidence of the technique even being presented to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. They DO state the obvious when noting that vision is the combination of the eye’s ability to capture an image paired with the brains ability to process said image. Upon further analysis, this is what the application may (if anything) do: The user is instructed to use his/her distance glasses to undergo training at least three times a week looking at the phone running the app at a distance of 40 cm (14 inches). One is instructed NOT to use multifocal/bifocal/progressive glasses. At BEST this app is trying to help you read better without the help of accommodative assistance (think plus power or ‘magnification’). You will NOT be able to ditch your distance glasses. And, truthfully, there is no evidence you will be able to ditch your reading glasses for folks over the age of 40. Why do people need reading assistance after age 40, you ask? Simple. Has nothing to do with a weak eye muscle and everything to do with the loss of elasticity of your internal lens used to accommodate. You can exercise that cilliary body muscle inside your eye all day long until the cows come home and you won’t have a more elastic lens. As we ALL age, the lens adds layers to itself and undergoes transformational changes whereby it loses its pliability. This natural aging process continues until ultimately each one of us will have a cataract. That is when the lens has become so dense and in-elastic that even light has a difficult time getting through the lens. What this application “Glasses Off” at best does is it simply ‘trains’ your brain to better interpret blurred letters as understandable text. You learn how to read blurry print, in essence. This is akin to satellite imagery analysts learning to figure out what blurry blobs on photographs taken from space in the 1960’s and 1970’s were. Perhaps a tractor, perhaps a missile launcher. They would piece together information based on context, the mind’s ability to make sense of nonsense, training and other clues. I don’t know about you, but given the choice I’d far rather look at a movie in High Definition versus 1970’s broadcast standards. So – if you wish to see a blurry world like a Monet painting up close just so you can brag that you didn’t need your bifocal/reader/progressive lens while STILL needing your distance glasses and be $59 poorer – have at it! I am secretly jealous so many people are suckers for this app while the app’s creators take expensive vacations and live in grand houses. Follow the science, folks! Oh, and listen to the experts in science not the experts in fleecing Americans via the new gold rush – mobile phone application developers.