This is the first in a series of glucose tracking-related posts. Click here to see my other posts that cover topics including tracking personal glycemic response to foods, glucose and fasting, and more.
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.
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?
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). Oxaloacetate can be purchased in pill form, for about $50 for a 30-day supply.
Taking and Recording Glucose Readings
After doing some research on the accuracy of home glucose monitors, I picked up a Freestyle Lite glucose meter on Amazon for about $20 USD, along with glucose test strips (can be pricey!) and lancets. (UPDATE: while the FreeStyle Lite is a great meter, my current go-to meter is the Precision Xtra meter (which works with both glucose and ketone strips).
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!).
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.
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!
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.
I popped this data into Statwing, and sure enough there was a statistically significant relationship between day of week and fasting glucose.
Next, I grabbed my historic steps data from both my Basis B1 band (RIP) and the Moves app (RIP) on my iPhone and was surprised to see that steps had no significant statistical relationship to fasting glucose.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
The Effects of Travel on Glucose
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).
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)
I plan on continuing to study/understand/hack my glucose and will post new insights as I discover them. Additionally I will explore:
- Continuous glucose monitoring – 24/7 readings, glycemic response before/during/after meals and specific foods, meal times, exercise, sleep, sex, etc.
- Effects of sitting all day vs. standing
- Correlations with sleep, stress, HRV, mood
- Test out other natural supplements known to regulate glucose (berberine, pterostilbene, etc.)
- Environmental stressors (indoor air quality, EMFs, time outdoors)