In addition to their must-attend annual Quantified Self conferences in the US and Europe, the QS team also puts on an annual research symposium that brings together researchers, policy leaders, clinicians, toolmakers, and self-experimenters such as myself. This year’s symposium was held at UCSD (University of California San Diego) and the theme was cardiovascular health. The goal of the QS CVD Symposium was to support new discoveries about cardiovascular health grounded in accurate self-observation and community collaboration.

Quantified Self CVD Symposium
QS CVS Symposium (photo credit: Quantified Self)

It was an amazing event full of inspiring talks and knowledge sharing! Several great recaps have already been written, so I recommend you check them out

QS Blood Testers: A Collaborative QS Project

One of the highlights of the symposium was sharing the results of a (first-of-its-kind), participant-led research project that I was involved with over the past year called “Blood Testers”. The goal was to have a small group of self-trackers (~n=25) construct their own experiments around collecting high-frequency cholesterol data about themselves and share their findings.

Personal Cholesterol Tracking – My Daily Variation and Circadian Lipid Response to Different Foods and Diets

Bloodtesters cholesterol testing
Testing out different cholesterol measurement devices at home.

Following in the footsteps of my prior glucose experiments, my personal experiment involved taking high-frequency cholesterol readings (LDL, HDL, triglycerides, total cholesterol) to understand my body’s acute lipid response to different foods and diets (LCFH vs. vegetarian/high carb) over the course of a day. I took measurements using a CardioChek Plus Lipid Analyzer, which requires a (relatively) small amount of blood drawn from the finger and can measure total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides (and calculates LDL, TC/HDL ratio, LDL/HDL ratio, and non-HDL cholesterol).

Baseline: Low Carb, High Fat (LCHF)

My baseline diet was my normal Paleo/”Bulletproof” diet and the chart below shows my cholesterol trends throughout a typical day:

Circadian Cholesterol Variability Baseline

Total cholesterol is in blue, LDL is in gray, triglycerides are in yellow, and HDL is in orange. I do a “cheat” intermittent fast where all of my meals are consumed within a 6-8 hour window, but I will consume 1-2 cups of “Bulletproof Coffee” (high-grade coffee with saturated fats including grass-fed butter, coconut oil, and/or MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oil. I ate a light early afternoon snack of some corn chips and salsa, then some beef chili in the mid-afternoon, and for dinner I had ground lamb with mixed vegetables. I cycled off all supplements during this experiment.

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A Few Interesting Observations:

  • My total cholesterol can vary by as much as 30% throughout the day! What does this say going for your checkup first thing in the morning to get a blood test vs. maybe waiting a few hours?
  • LDL levels fluctuate to a lesser degree than total cholesterol, and the change is more gradual
  • However, my LDL and total cholesterol levels actually dip after consuming saturated fats, while there is an uptick in HDL
  • Triglycerides have the most acute variability/fluctuation throughout the day as fats from foods consumed go into the bloodstream, and seem to almost mirror my glucose trends
  • HDL gradually rises throughout the day

After: 2 Weeks Vegetarian/High Carb

I then switched to a “mostly” vegetarian, higher carb diet (I allowed myself a non-vegetarian meal for dinner) with more frequent meal timing and after two weeks and here is what my cholesterol trends looked like:

Circadian cholesterol post 2 weeks (mostly) vegetarian

These were very different meals than I was used to! On this day I had mangoes and pea protein drink for breakfast, a cup of white rice for late a.m. snack, sweet potato, broccoli, and lentils for lunch, a large serving of homemade coleslaw in the late afternoon, and some lamb with coconut milk for dinner (my non-veg meal).

My Observations:

  • In just two weeks all of my cholesterol numbers went down
  • However, HDL (“good” cholesterol) levels tanked by almost 40%
  • Eating fat and animal protein in the evening spiked my triglycerides (no surprise there), but did not really affect my other numbers
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After: Return to Baseline LCHF DIET

Lastly, after switching back to my original diet for two days I took another day’s worth of measurements. I also threw in some infrared (IR) sauna in the evening.

Circadian cholesterol after returning to LCHF

My Observations:

  • After two days of returning to a LCHF diet, my HDL levels came back up to baseline
  • Infrared sauna appears to cause an immediate spike in HDL, while reducing LDL and triglycerides!
  • Although switching to a (mostly) vegetarian diet lowered my total cholesterol, it also lowered my HDL (good) cholesterol by nearly 40% and resulted in worse CVD markers. I think it had less to do with eating vegetables and more to do with meal timing/frequency, increase in simple carbohydrate consumption, and lack of fats. My body definitely prefers a LCHF diet!
  • After switching back to my original diet and reintroducing more saturated fats and proteins, my HDL did not immediately rebound to its prior levels.
  • Infrared sauna appears to rapidly improve my HDL levels while simultaneously lowering LDL
Quantified Self "Bloodtesters" group
Some of the QS Blood Testers project group at the QSCVD Symposium (photo credit: Quantified Self)

Resources and Tools

Quantified Self QS CVD Symposium (website) 
Quantified Self Symposium 2018 (Medium)
Quantified Self (website)

Cholesterol Meters
CardioChek Plus Lipid Analyzer (website)
Alere Cholestech LDX Analyzer (website)

About Bob

Bob Troia is a technology entrepreneur and citizen scientist who is focused on the intersection of data-driven citizen science, health and wellness, human performance, longevity, and self-optimization. He has been featured on CBS News Sunday Morning, PBS NewsHour Weekend, National Geographic Explorer, CBC (Canada), SBS-TV (South Korea), Fast Company, Men's Fitness, Outside Magazine, and on many leading health and wellness podcasts.