Maybe you have one. Smart wristbands count beats, steps, calories consumed. It's a fashion. But the mania of quantifying our metabolism is very old. I had a friend from Galileo: Santorio Sanctorius, the forerunner of smart bracelets.
It was in the 17th century. Santorio Sanctorius devised a new branch of medicine. It was called iatrophysics or iatromechanics and focused on the importance of measuring and quantifying the functions and mechanics of the body. He applied those numerical values to medical research.
Ahead of its time
Santorio invented measuring devices that are precursors of some of the auscultation instruments used by modern medicine. For decades he recorded and tabulated exactly his exercise and breathing, in addition to everything he ingested, as well as everything he evacuated. Including sweat. He is considered the father of quantitative experimentation in modern medicine.
Also known as Sanctorius de Padua, he was a physiologist, doctor and Venetian professor. He studied at the University of Padua, in 1582, where he also served as a professor of medical theory in later years. It was part of the circle of the famous physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei.
It was discussions with Galileo, about the experiments of the astronomer with pendulums, that inspired Sartorius to adapt this apparatus to the practice of medicine. He described it in his book «Methodi vitandorum errorum omnium«.
In that text the pulsilogium or heart rate monitor It is one of several measuring instruments that he adapted from Galileo's inventions. Santorio Sanctorius, the precursor of smart bracelets, made the first precision machine in the history of medicine. Extensive experiments with the pulsilogium They allowed him to quantitatively describe several regular and irregular pulse frequencies.
Another of its adaptations includes the thermoscope, precursor of the thermometer. He also invented the wind measurement anemometer.
Quantifying the body
His most spectacular creation was due to a long and committed experiment that he himself underwent. I wanted to test the theory of the ancient Greek doctor and surgeon, Galen. He said that breathing also occurs through the skin in what he called "insensitive perspiration."
Santorio attached a large iron to a huge scale on which he placed his desk, his bed and all the other necessary everyday items.
He ate, worked and slept on this device. Every day he measured his weight, just as he weighed the amount of food and drinks he ate. Also your body evacuations, urine, feces, sweat.
After more than 30 years of taking measurements, he could realize something important. There was an appreciable difference between the weight of the food and drink he consumed and the weight of what his body discarded in feces and sweat.
The insensitive perspiration
Thus he devised his theory of "insensitive perspiration" in an attempt to explain this difference. He described it in his 1614 book «Statica Medicine»(On medical measurements), effectively the first systematic study of basal metabolism.
Basal metabolism is the minimum energy value consumed by an organism at rest. Thus it maintains cellular activity, respiration and circulation. The knowledge accumulated by their experiments is applied in current hospitals in the treatment of patients who may have lost fluids through insensitive perspiration and whose consequences may be critical.
The formulation of intravenous fluids is now routine to compensate for that loss. Beyond hospitals, every time we use portable technology to quantify our body and functions, we should think about the huge Sanctorius scale. Perhaps the first prototype of those devices that today we casually wear as wristwatches. One that you may wear on your wrist right now.