A couple of months ago bioanalytics company Inside Tracker tweeted a nice one-time discount on their services, so I jumped at this opportunity and purchased their DIY plan. The cheapest of all (after discount, I paid $34.30 instead of regular $49), DIY plan allows you to upload your blood test results to receive personalized nutrition, lifestyle and exercise recommendations. I finally got a chance to test drive their services, and will share my personal experiences in this post.

NOTE: this post was originally published on this blog in February 2013. I am unarchiving and reposting it as a part of the Measured Me 2.0 initiative. You may see comments that date back to the time of the original posts. Please note that the services/features described in this post may have changed since then.

The whole process begins with you registering on the www.insidetracker.com and filling out a brief questionnaire, in which you provide your gender, age, ethnicity, height/weight, and some lifestyle information (supplements taken, current athletic condition, how often you are physically active, and what in what activities do you typically engage, etc.). The next step is to enter the blood test results.

Now, InsideTracker analyzes data for up to 20 biomarkers:

hacking metabolism and diet - personal analytics and quantified self tools review by Measured Me blog

During my recent visit to the doctor, I showed him the list of biomarkers and asked which of these tests are covered by my insurance. He suggested that based on my overall health status (no major complaints or symptoms), anything beyond the regular blood test would raise a red flag with my insurance company, and I would have to play for the tests. Some of these tests can cost up to 200 dollars. So I went ahead with the regular blood test; it cost me only 20 dollars in copayment and covered the following 5 biomarkers:

  • Fasting Glucose
  • Total Cholesterol
  • HDL
  • LDL
  • Tryglicerids

Interestingly, these are the same biomarkers, related to energy and metabolism, that are also covered in Inside Tracker’s “Trial” plan, which costs $99. So if you have insurance, it may be much cheaper to purchase a DIY test and then get regular blood analysis, instead of using their “Trial” plan. At least in my case, it helped me to save $99- ($34 + $20) = 45 dollars (after discount).

diet and metabolism optimization using quantified self tools As soon as I got the printout with my lab results, I entered the numbers and almost immediately got my detailed Bloodwork Profile. For each biomarker, its optimal range and my current levels were shown along with the very detailed description of what that biomarker represents, and how it is related to my energy levels and/or metabolism. My glucose and triglycerides were within the normal range, but total cholesterol and LDL levels were alarmingly high. Of course, I already knew that: the lab report also had “healthy” ranges, and my doctor called me to warn me of the high cholesterol levels.

personal analytics and personal informatics tool Inside Tracker - review by Measured Me blogThe high cholesterol numbers came as a big surprise to me. Perhaps, it has to do with my high-protein, low-fat diet? My doctor suggested revising my diet, but was not specific enough (beyond common “eat fewer eggs” advice). Luckily, my detailed Nutrition Profile from Inside Tracker had more helpful information on how to optimize my total cholesterol, LDL (“bad cholesterol’) and HDL (“good cholesterol”) levels. The “eat less” section of the profile immediately helped me to identify the culprits of high cholesterol levels: ground beef, chicken thighs, and shrimp. Indeed, my diet for the past couple of months consisted of beef chili, roasted chicken thighs and quarters, and grilled shrimp. The “eat more” section suggested including more fish, bran cereal and oatmeal, legumes and nuts in my diet. The profile also listed foods to maintain my current optimal levels of glucose and triglycerides.

Each of the foods had an explanation of how it affects essential biomarkers and body and recommendations on how to cook and eat it. If you have certain food allergies, dietary preferences or religious restrictions (e.g., vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, pork free, paleo, minimal preparation, etc.), the additional “dietary requirements” filter allows you to further narrow down the list. Alas, there was no “low fat/low carb/high protein diet” filter, which could be very handy in my case.

personal analytics personal informatics health optimization tools reviews by Measured Me blogFinally, the Food Menu part of the generated report listed foods to include in my everyday menu. I think of it as a grocery list, automatically prepared for you. This list made planning my shopping and cooking much easier! The list can be further customized by specifying the total daily caloric intake. Interestingly, Inside Tracker set my personalized “default” total intake at 2,700 calories a day. I think they calculated this value based on my physiological (age, gender, ethnicity, height, weight) and lifestyle (physical activity levels) characteristics. Of course, you can always change that number (I turned mine down to 1,500 calories a day).

In the end, I was very satisfied with my Inside Tracker report. No doubt, the information provided to me was very useful and actionable. I am already following nutrition recommendations and giving myself 6 months to lower my cholesterol levels. With my results already stored online, tracking my progress should be easy. Would I go for a more comprehensive plan next time? I have to think about it. The “Fitness” plan certainly looks interesting. It includes analysis of 12 biomarkers that cover energy and metabolism, brain and body, strength and endurance, and bone and muscle health, and the cost ($149) seems reasonable. If I request an analysis of those additional seven biomarkers (hemoglobin, ferritin, creatine kinase, calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and folic acid) through my doctor, it would easily cost me over 250 dollars, so using Inside Tracker lab services will save me money. But testing for more biomarkers will also require giving up more blood (up to five tubes!), and even with the specialist coming to my house to draw blood, I find it somewhat inconvenient.

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