When speaking to people about digital health I often use the car dashboard analogy to illustrate that we often know more about the health of our cars than we do about the inside of our bodies. Everything from oil level, fuel level, tyre pressure and break fluid levels are each alerted to the driver via the car’s dashboard should any of these vital components be low. And rightfully so as the incorrect level can be detriment to the car’s health and of course more importantly to the driver’s health too.
What about the human body though? What about the nutritional markers that should their levels be too low (or too high) they can affect physical and cognitive performance? Where is the dashboard for those?
InsideTracker is a bioanalytics service which analyzes your blood for up to twenty biomarkers (see image to the right). The blood is a window of information in to the human body and there are numerous biomarkers in it that can be both measured and tracked to ensure that optimal levels are present for peak performance. For example, having the correct levels of haemoglobin, folic acid and creatine kinase helps strength and endurance. Glucose, total cholesterol and triglycerides can aid the body’s energy and metabolism, and optimal levels of vitamin D and calcium maintains bone and muscle health.
InsideTracker has a number of partner labs around the U.S. where a user visits to have their blood samples drawn from a trained professional. The biomarker levels in the blood are then analysed and uploaded to your InsideTracker dashboard. They also offer an in-home testing service where a representative will take your blood from the comfort of your own home. For anyone that doesn’t live in the U.S (like myself) InsideTracker offers a DIY service where you can upload your biomarker data to their online platform for $49. This is the service I used since I got my blood samples taken in the U.K.
Once you’ve created your account and paid subscription fee you’re then prompted to fill out a series of questions relating to your health, fitness and sport preferences so InsideTracker can make more personalised nutritional recommendations.
Inputting the biomarker data
If you’re on the DIY plan and based in the US inputting the biomarker data should be relatively straight forward. If you’re in the UK (and elsewhere I presume) however it may not be so easy as we use different measures for most biomarkers so I had to convert over from UK units to US using online sources which took around a day of my time (including a few moments of panic when I converted the units incorrectly). As you can see below I’m missing around four of the twenty biomarkers InsideTracker provides analysis on due to difficulty in getting them measured in the UK. Analysis of sixteen biomarkers is still comprehensive enough to provide an in-depth insight in to my blood and body performance.
Once you have inputted the data InsideTracker analyses each biomarker alongside its optimized zone. I assume the optimized zone is based on two things including the user’s personal stats such age, weight and preferred sport alongside third-party nutritional research on the optimal levels of blood nutrients.
According to InsideTracker twelve of my sixteen biomarkers analysed are in the optimal zone with my testosterone levels bordering on falling in to the yellow zone. Testosterone levels change throughout the day so this does not concern me too much and I assume that due to the 12 hours of fasting requirement before having my blood taken played a part in this. However, most men lose around 1% – 2% of testosterone each year as they age so I should keep an eye on this for peace of mind and make necessary changes to boost testosterone levels.
Click on the image for a larger version
At 204.6mg/dl my Total Cholesterol is high according to InsideTracker’s analysis and it is recommending I aim for the optimized zone of 100mg/dl to 190mg/dl. This doesn’t concern me too much as new research is coming to light about cholesterol not being the killer we once thought it was.
Vitamin B12 deficient
According to InsideTracker, “dequate levels of B vitamins are important to ensure optimal energy production and the building and repair of muscle tissue. Vitamin B12 is required for the production of red blood cells, for protein synthesis, and in tissue repair and maintenance.” I am now supplementing with B12 tablets.
Hemoglobin is essentially the iron in your blood and without it our bodies couldn’t transport oxygen around it. According to InsideTracker “there is a correlation between low Hemoglobin and lower VO2 max, an indicator of endurance capacity, and of physical fitness” meaning that if your Hemoglobin levels are low then you aren’t meeting your full potential in endurance activity as not enough oxygen is getting to the blood. I am now supplementing with iron tablets.
Vitamin D deficient
I’ve written about how important Vitamin D is for sleep before and also according to research a quarter of the UK (and the US) population are Vitamin D deficient but of course it depends on what level people deem deficient. According to some reports it could be as high as nine in ten people that are Vitamin D deficient. I am now supplementing with Vitamin D tablets of 5,000IUs in strength.
Based on your analysis InsideTracker then gives you nutritional recommendations in terms of foods to eat and of course foods to avoid. You also have the option to specify if you have any dietary requirements in case you are vegan, vegetarian or are lactose intolerant.
The platform also gives you a range of recommended foods to help you reach your optimized zone among the biomarkers that are out of my range. In my case it recommends foods to help increase my Vitamin B12, Vitamin D and Iron, and decrease my Total Cholesterol. I’m not exactly sure what the difference is between this and the Nutritional Recommendations sections except it goes in to the nutrition more in-depth and more specifically to certain foods. Perhaps InsideTracker should merge the two.
InsideTracker is a fantastic service for anyone that is looking to optimize their health and understand what is going on inside their bodies. Perhaps more importantly InsideTracker allows people to benchmark, track and see the benefits of making changes to their bodies both from a nutritional and physical point of view.
While still only used by the upper end of health professionals and enthusiasts InsideTracker and services like it (WellnessFX for example, which I’ll be reviewing soon) will increasingly be used by people from all walks of life as our understanding of bioanalytics and its importance grows among the general population.
There is still a high price barrier to entry however, particularly speaking for someone like myself who lives in the UK where costs for a full 20 biomarker analysis can total as much as £700 ($1080) from a private clinic plus the £49 to use the InsideTracker DIY service. InsideTracker is very much a US centric service at this moment in time.
On a personal level I will continue to track my blood variables using InsideTracker to hit the four optimized zones I am currently missing. It’s comforting to know that my blood data is stored on their platform and in six months time when I get my blood taken once more I can see if the changes I’ve implemented in my diet and supplementing has made a difference to my optimized zones.
Having spoke to a number of people involved in the personal trainer industry in the last few weeks I know that this kind of offering excites them as it’s a new kind of service that PTs can offer to clients. Expect your personal trainer to analyzing your blood data in the very near future.
You wouldn’t drive a car that’s lacking the important elements for it to work properly so why would you do the same to your body?