We’re all painfully aware that, despite the abundance of data supporting the benefits of a healthy diet, regular exercise, and moderate alcohol consumption, Americans are increasingly challenged by excess weight, limited physical activity, and bad eating habits. These risk factors routinely lead to such conditions as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, depression, and cancer. Exercise and diet are critical parts of an individual’s lifestyle, but attempts to change lifestyle are notoriously problematic in terms of compliance.
Next generation blood analysis can help
For many people, having more information about the state of their health can motivate them to make lifestyle changes and empower them to maintain those changes over time. One innovative company that aims to provide that motivating data is InsideTracker. Their next-generation health management tools are tailored to the biochemistry of an individual. We had the opportunity to speak with InsideTracker’s founder and Chief Scientific Officer, Gil Blander, about how detailed information on key blood biomarkers can be used by individuals to manage and optimize their own health.
“Blood analysis is a powerful indicator of your current health condition,” Blander explains, “but most people don’t get the full benefits of testing that they’ve already done. Do you have an annual blood test at your doctor’s office? If you do, then you’re probably used to getting a follow-up postcard in the mail that says your blood test was ‘normal.’ You may not know which blood tests your doctor ordered, let alone what your results actually were.”
Know your actual data
Blood tests measure biomarkers that can give you a detailed picture of what is happening inside your body. But if all you get is that postcard that says your results are “normal,” you don’t learn very much. If you know exactly what your results are over time, you can see where you are in the normal range and whether the level of a particular biomarker is increasing or decreasing. The key is letting proven science guide an individual’s nutrition and behavior choices. If consumers are provided the data and context they can take appropriate action based on objective and precise insights.
Go beyond “normal” to “optimal”
The “normal” range for a biomarker typically applies to all adults. That means “normal” may be the same for everyone from a 22-year-old who regularly competes in triathlons to an inactive, 78-year-old retiree. “Why do we accept ‘normal’ for our health results,” asks Blander, “when in all other aspects of our professional and personal lives we want to be the best we possibly can be?”
To make meaningful changes to your health risk behaviors you need to know not just your “normal” range for each biomarker, but also your personal “optimal” range, based on your unique characteristics, including age, gender, ethnicity, height, weight, activity level, and lifestyle goals.
Research has shown that improving your biomarkers into your optimal zone can increase your well-being, performance, and, in some cases, longevity. Knowing your optimized level gives you data to identify which behavioral changes can decrease your long-term risk for chronic health conditions. For example, your glucose may be “normal,” but higher than optimal. Lowering your glucose level to your optimal zone can improve your longevity and reduce your risk of developing diabetes.
Representative blood work graph comparing an “optimized” zone versus a “normal” zone.
Focus on health, not on sickness
Blood work, and healthcare in general, has traditionally focused on identifying and treating current illnesses, rather than prevention and overall wellness. Some important biomarkers that are not typically tested during yearly physicals include C-reactive protein (CRP), vitamin D, and testosterone. CRP can indicate low levels of chronic inflammation, which has been linked to a variety of conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Your CRP levels may rise before you have any visible symptoms. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with low energy, poor immune system function, and difficulty in losing weight. Low testosterone can affect your overall energy and muscle development, making it harder to increase your physical activity.
Implement lifestyle changes
Measuring how “optimized” you are for essential biomarkers is important. Knowing how to further optimize them is even more important. That’s where nutrition and exercise physiology science come into play. In addition to showing your blood results and how they compare to your optimal zone, new health management tools can give you recommendations for food, exercise, lifestyle, and nutritional supplement changes that you can make to improve any biomarkers that are out of your optimal zone.
Unfortunately, there is a deluge of unsupported “advice” for what to eat and how to lose weight. You need recommendations for changes tied to your biomarkers, and recommendations that are based on evidence from peer-reviewed research. Blander explains, “sophisticated blood analysis should serve as a decision support system, empowering you with huge amounts of scientific knowledge to understand precisely what you should eat, and do, to get yourself optimized.”
Your annual blood test isn’t enough to support an effort to change your health risk behaviors. With appropriate modifications, some biomarkers may change in just 2 months, while others may take 3-4 months. Blander suggests “to stay on track, to fine-tune your program, and to continue to make progress, you should have your blood tested 2-4 times a year.”
Not only can regular blood analysis give you the data to help decrease your risk of chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity, and diabetes, but it can also empower you with the insights to improve your overall health and well-being.