Hacking (and Tracking) My Glucose

I never paid much attention to my blood sugar (aka blood glucose, or as I will simply refer to it, glucose) until a few years back, when I started getting more interested in self-tracking/biohacking and my 23andMe DNA analysis showed that I had a genetically elevated risk for type 2 diabetes, which has been shown to be preventable by maintaining low levels of glucose. Elevated glucose can also contribute to a number of other health issues such as cardiovascular disease.

23andMeType 2 Diabetes

The current “accepted” recommendations by the American Diabetes Association for fasting glucose (i.e., no food or drink in the previous 8 hours) are between 70 – 130(!) mg/dL. The exclamation(!) mark is there for a reason. The upper bound is being hotly disputed – in fact, the ADA has a term called “impaired fasting glucose” that was lowered from 110mg/dL to 100mg/dL in 2003. That means that many people that are classified as “normal” are, in fact, pre-diabetic. Organizations like the Life Extension Foundation (a leading organization focused on advancing research on longevity and anti-aging) suggest keeping fasting glucose at or below 85 mg/dL (and optimally even below 80!).

My most recent blood test showed my fasting glucose level was 85mg/dL, considered “good”, even by Life Extension Foundation guidelines. But what I wanted was to better understand how various factors affected my levels, and then be able to proactively control them. Even though my glucose is considered good, I wanted it to be optimal. Why take any chances?

Krebs Cycle

(source: Wikipedia.com)

Oxaloacetate

Last year I watched a presentation at a biohacking conference that discussed the benefits of oxaloacetate supplementation. It has been shown to both lower and more tightly regulate fasting glucose. It does this by mimicking what’s known as caloric restriction, but without actually having to reduce one’s calorie consumption by 30%-40%. Several studies have shown it to also increase lifespan by nearly 40% in mammals (there are some primate studies are being debated, but results have been replicated in mice), in addition to increasing endurance and protecting neurons from environmental toxins. Oxaloacetate is a key component of the citric acid cycle (also known as the Krebs Cycle). It’s found naturally in apples, bananas, peas, potatoes and spinach in low concentrations. It’s non-toxic (as safe as vitamin C). Oxaloacete can be purchased in pill form, for about $50 for a 30-day supply.

Glucose Monitor Test

Taking and Recording Readings

After doing some research on the accuracy of home glucose monitors, I picked up a Freestyle Lite glucose meter on Amazon for about $12, along with glucose test strips (can be pricey!) and lancets.

Shortly after waking up each morning (but before eating, drinking, or exercising) I would take a fasting glucose reading by pricking my finger with the lancet to draw a drop of blood, inserting a test strip into the glucose meter, and in about 10 seconds obtaining a reading. I created a Google spreadsheet, and originally set out to take a bunch of readings each day – fasting glucose, glucose before each meal, 2 hour post-prandial (after meals) readings, as well as daily blood pressure, waking pulse, etc., and quickly realized this would not be easy to manage so had to simplify things. I decided to focus only fasting glucose, because those conditions are most consistent and controllable day-to-day – I don’t ‘have to worry about variability in meal times or what was eaten (not to mention the cost of all of those glucose test strips!).

Fasting Glucose Baseline Readings

My Oxaloacetate Experiment

The first thing I did was establish a 30-day baseline of daily fasting glucose levels (first thing in the morning, immediately after waking up and before drinking or eating anything). My daily readings fluctuated between 78mg/dL – 107mg/dL, with an average of 93.5mg/dL.

Fasting Glucose Post 30 Days Oxaloacetate

After establishing my 30-day baseline, I began supplementing with oxaloacetate (100mg in the morning, 100mg in the evening with dinner). The chart above shows my daily fasting glucose readings both prior oxaloacetate supplementation (in white), and after (green – there were a few days where I was traveling and accidentally ran out, which are indicated in red). The thicker orange line is a 7-day moving average. There was an immediate, noticeable change after a few days, and after about two weeks things stabilized both in lower average daily value and there was less of a daily swing in day-to-day readings. Very cool!

Fasting Glucose By Day of Week

Understanding Daily Fasting Glucose Levels

With a few months of data collected, I went back to see if I could identify other trends and isolate other factors that impact my glucose levels. The chart above shows my daily average fasting glucose. At first glance, it would seem that the numbers are highly work/stress-related, with Mondays being the worst (first day back in the office) and Saturdays the best.

Statwing Fasting Glucose By Day Of Week

I popped this data into Statwing, and sure enough there was a statistically significant relationship between day of week and fasting glucose.

Statwing Basis Moves Steps

Next, I grabbed my historic steps data from both my Basis B1 band and the Moves app on my iPhone and was surprised to see that steps had no significant statistical relationship to fasting glucose.

Fasting Glucose By Day Of Week, Soccer

Soccer!

I always thought the chart showing daily fasting glucose looked odd – mainly, why did it go down by so much on Thursdays and Saturdays? I play soccer several days a week. When I play, I can’t wear my Basis band (referee won’t allow it), nor can Moves track my activity (since I can’t hold my iPhone while playing).

Statwing Fasting Glucose / Soccer

I pulled up my soccer calendar and added a column to my spreadsheet indicating days where I competed, and sure enough, that was the missing link!

Fasting Glucose Oxaloacetate Repeat Readings

Repeating My Oxaloacetate Experiement = FAIL

A few months later I tried to replicate my Oxaloacete experiment, but was not able to achieve the same results as my first experiment. After poring over the data and scratching my head for a bit, it finally hit me. We had a brutal winter in New York City this year – I typically play soccer, outdoors, all year round but both of my winter leagues were cancelled. This had a big impact on my level of intense, intermittent physical activity.

Soccer Field - winter

Additionally, after years of walking/commuting to an office and spending a good chunk of my day on my feet and moving between meetings, I was working from home.

Fasting Glucose Steps

I was clearly becoming more sedentary as illustrated by the chart above. Based on this data, I am convinced that in order to see the benefits of oxaloacetate, one needs to also incorporate short-duration, intense exercise a few times per week.

Fasting Glucose - Travel

The Effects of Travel

I continued taking daily glucose readings, and now armed with close to 7 months of data I wanted to start identifying larger trends. An interesting insight was the effect of travel on my glucose levels. Looking at my San Francisco trip, it appears that oxaloacetate has an effect of giving me some resiliency? What’s interesting is that my most physically active trip (snowboarding in Jackson Hole) had the largest negative impact. Could the act of flying followed by a major altitude change create stress on the body?

What About Diet? And Intermittent Fasting?

I’ve written pretty extensively in the past about changes I made to my diet and intermittent fasting (eating all of my daily meals within a 6-8 hour window), and for the past 1.5 years I have maintained a very consistent (low-carb, high saturated fat) diet. Even when I travel, I avoid airplane food, travel with my own MCT oil, and stick to my eating plan as closely as possible. I’d rather wait a few hours to eat than eat something questionable. That being said, I do plan to further investigate the effects of daily carbohydrate intake (i.e., “low”= fewer than 50g/day, “medium” = between 50g and 100g/day, and “high” = over 100g/day).

Statwing Alcohol and Fasting Glucose

Alcohol

Surprisingly, alcohol consumption appears to have no impact on my fasting glucose readings the following day (in fact, days where I’ve consumed the most alcohol are after I play soccer games!)

So, What Did I Learn?

  • Oxaloacetate works (for me)… but only see benefits in conjunction with intense, interval-type exercise
  • Based on daily glucose trends, Mondays suck, weekends are awesome!
  • Playing soccer has an effect on lowering fasting glucose the following day
  • Alcohol does not seem to have a significant effect
  • Travel seems to negatively affect glucose for several days – oxaloacetate may help
  • All glucose monitors have a moderate to severe margin of error. Sometimes I would take multiple concurrent readings if something seemed “off”
  • Failure != FAIL – still provides valuable info (or force you to look at your data in other ways)

What’s Next?

I plan on continuing to study/understand/hack my glucose and will post new insights as I discover them. Additionally I will explore:

  • Continuous monitoring – 24/7 readings, before/during/after meals, exercise, sleep, sex, etc.
  • Effects of sitting all day vs. standing
  • Impact of low vs. medium vs. high carb days
  • Correlations with sleep
  • Stress/HRV, mood
  • Test out other natural supplements known to regulate glucose (berberine, pterostilbene, etc.)
  • Track other diet variables (low/med/high carb days), specific ingredients, meal times, etc.
  • Environmental stressors (indoor air quality, EMFs, time outdoors)

Useful Links*:
Freestyle Lite Blood Glucose Meter (Amazon)
Freestyle Lite Blood Glucose Test Strips (Amazon)
Freestyle Lancets (Amazon)
Oxaloacetate (packaged as “Upgraded Aging”) (Bulletproof Executive)
Statwing

(* Disclosure: If you purchase any items through the links above, I may earn a (small) commission that helps offset some of my hosting costs. I appreciate your support! Rest assured, any content I post reflects my own opinions and are in no way influenced by any affiliate relationships.)

  • deathbyglucose

    It’s hard to tease out the effect from the Oxaloacetate. Wouldn’t the fact that you’re on a low carb diet blunt any effects from oxaloacetate supplementation anyway (as in you’re blood glucose is already fairly low and controlled).

    Nice use of tracking though. It would be cool to follow along with the blog. I can’t find an RSS feed though. Is there one available?

    • http://www.quantifiedbob.com/ Bob

      Yes, before I started the experiment I spoke to the creator of the oxaloacetate supplement (and author of several studies) and he thought the same thing. But while my glucose is “controlled”, and I do eat a low-carb diet, the range of my glucose readings definitely tightened up after supplementing with oxaloacetate (with drops in readings when paired with exercise). But I agree it will take some more work to truly isolate the effects. I plan on doing another round of off/on supplementation now that spring is here and I will be exercising a lot more.

      There’s an RSS feed link at the top of my sidebar navigation, but you can also access it directly at http://www.quantifiedbob.com/feed/ . Thanks for following!

  • persistentone

    You have the right idea to measure glucose, but I think you have selected the wrong marker. Fasting glucose by itself is almost meaningless. What actually matters is A1C, which is the average glucose levels in serum.

    Consider three people who rise with fasting glucose of 110. The first – Peter from HyperLipid – has an A1C of 4.4%, which is freakishly low. Consider me: I often have fasting glucose of 110, and my A1C of 5.7% seems to imply that my average glucose is somewhere over 100 mg/dL. Finally consider an extreme type 2 diabetic who rises with fasting glucose of 110, but whose A1C is an astronomical 10.2. That’s a medical emergency and that person needs to be hospitalized.

    So there you have three people with totally different glucose metabolism, yet they rise with identical fasting glucose. Fasting glucose actually tells you almost nothing. It’s the average that matters. If you want to do this kind of tracking, a realtime monitor is best, but at minimum you want to test before meals, one hour after, and two hours after.

    In my own case, as a prediabetic, on my worst days I can rise with fasting glucose of 85, then within two hours of rising the “dawn effect” will take my glucose over 130 mg/dL. Measuring 10 times a day has taught me that the fasting measurement on rising is a misleading number and it says almost nothing about your glucose metabolism while you are awake.

    • Mike

      Hi…Actually bob has in effect a view of his A1c with all those daily FBG readings…that’s what A1c is an average. His average of 93.5mg/dl = 4.9% A1c by using this handy lil calculator here: http://professional.diabetes.org/glucosecalculator.aspx

      • persistentone

        Mike, you didn’t understand what I said. Taking a single fasting reading of your glucose does NOT establish anything close to an average value for the day.

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