There are numerous studies that demonstrate the benefits of periodic, short-duration fasting, such as weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity and brain function, immune system regeneration, and longevity. I’ve been a fan (and practitioner) of intermittent fasting for several years, but other than an occasional 24-hour liver cleanse or protein fast, I had never done any extended fasting. My original plan was to do a “traditional” water fast, where nothing but water is consumed for a period of 3-5 days. However, during my research I began looking for ways to get all of the benefits of a water-only fast, but in a way that was “easier” (both mentally and physically), safer, and would minimize catabolic effects (loss of muscle mass). Enter the “fasting mimicking diet”… [Read more…]
The new year is always a time for both reflection (mostly thinking about all of the things you didn’t accomplish!) and setting new goals. The problem I have with goals are that they are often too… binary. You will either succeed or fail. Perhaps your goal was to lose 15 pounds, but you only lost 10. While yes, you didn’t meet your goal, you got 66% of the way there!
As an entrepreneur with a background in marketing, and a popular term I see most business-types throw around is “KPI”, which stands for Key Performance Indicator. Companies ultimately focus on the bottom line (“ROI” – return on investment), but KPIs allow different business units to establish their own set of success metrics for their activities (customer acquisition, customer satisfaction, awareness or “buzz” of a marketing campaign, etc.). The benchmarks for “success” are often arbitrary (“We need a million Facebook fans!”), given there will be little history or accepted industry benchmarks to compare to, so KPIs are usually refined over time. Why not use the same logic and apply KPIs to your goals? Having KPIs will also allow you to track progress both during and at the end of the year. And who says you can’t recalibrate a goal if you realize in 6 months that it was over- or under-ambitious, based on data you have collected? Below I’ve outlined a number of my goals for this year, broken up by category. On a binary scale, I will most like “fail” more often than succeed, but at the end of the day bettering oneself by any capacity is still a “success”!
Below I have listed several (but not all) of my goals for this year, along with some KPIs and tools that can be used. Feel free to copy or adapt them to suit your needs.*
* Yes, I realize I am posting this in late January, but that was intentional, as I didn’t want this post to get lost in all of the post-New Year’s madness : )
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? [Read more…]
How InsideTracker Works
You begin by signing up and selecting from one of their four plans, which vary from a $49 “DIY” plan (where you supply/input your own biomarker data) to 3 other plans/tiers that provide increasing levels of biomarker analysis (from $99 to $299). Each of the non-DIY plans include 2 sets of bloodwork/analysis (so you can establish a baseline, then track progress). They recommend having a new blood test every 3 to 6 months.
Once you have purchased a plan, you then arrange to have your bloodwork done (either by scheduling an appointment online with a local LabCorp lab, or, for an additional fee, they will send someone to your home to draw blood). Note that you are supposed to fast for 12 hours before your appointment (water only!).
After you’ve had your bloodwork done, it’s sent off for analysis, and after a few days you’ll receive an email saying your results have been posted, and you can log onto InsideTracker’s website to view.
The “Bloodwork” section provides a summary of your latest biomarker readings, followed by more detailed analysis showing your historical readings and where they fall in relation to their “optimized zones”, and recommendations for how to improve each result. For example, if your calcium level is low, they might suggest you take a calcium supplement and/or avoid eating high-oxalic foods such as spinach at the same time as your calcium sources.
My InsideTracker Experience
I first came across InsideTracker via the Quantified Self LinkedIn group, where they had posted a discount offer to try out their service. I signed up for a single-test plan (no longer offered – they only offer multi-test plans now), and set up an appointment with LabCorp to have my bloodwork done. However, the next day, InsideTracker contacted me to offer the at-home test option at no charge so I took them up on the offer (I arranged to have someone come by my office). The entire process took probably 10 minutes (albeit a bit awkward, having my co-workers watch me get blood drawn in our conference room!)
A few days later, I got an email from InsideTracker saying my results were ready to view, followed by another email from their founder and president, Gil Blander, offering to schedule a call so he could walk me through my results.
On our call, Gil did a very thorough job explaining the significance of each biomarker result, and areas that he thought needed particular attention – low Vitamin D, slightly elevated LDL, elevated Creatine Kinase (typically a sign of overtraining – I explained I had been working out pretty intensely over the past few weeks), low Testosterone (wtf?! I assured Gil I felt fine!), and white blood cell count.
While he was able to provide some general guidance, he made it a point to say that for certain results like white blood cell count, I should follow up with my doctor. In fact, his emails contained the following disclaimer:
InsideTracker is not a disease management product. To ensure these values do not pose any health risk for you, we request that you discuss these matters with your Primary Care Physician soon. In addition, you should also discuss your participation in the InsideTracker program with your doctor.
5 Months Later…
Admittedly, I waited much longer than I had planned to have my follow-up test, but this gave me time to attempt to get several of my low/elevated biomarkers within the optimal zone (including testosterone! I’ll save details of this for a separate blog post, as it’s tied to another experiment but in a nutshell). Since I had only purchased a single plan to begin, I had to purchase the 2-test “Performance” plan, made an appointment with LabCorp, and once my follow-up results were ready, I logged in and could now see 2 data points for each biomarker – now I can start to correlate!
At the time of this writing, I am 2 weeks into my 30-day Bulletproof Diet and intermittent fasting experiment, after which time I will use my remaining Performance plan test to help measure any impact the diet/program has made. Beyond that, I plan on continuing with ongoing quarterly blood tests.
InsideTracker is a great, easy-to-use service that makes it easy for you to track and attempt to optimize your key biomarkers. While not cheap, you are paying for the ease and convenience their service provides. They continue to make improvements to their service, particularly with regards to their website. However, there is still no iPhone/Android app, and it would be nice to have a basic API (or just a JSON feed) so I can integrate my biomarker data into other projects.
Their key competitor at this time seems to be WellnessFX, so it will be interesting to see how InsideTracker continues to evolve and differentiate their service. Gil mentioned that they were already looking to integrate other physiological data into their platform, such as heart rate variability (HRV) via ithlete.
(save 10%! Use code BOBTRO11012)