Famous for biohacking himself down 100 pounds by exercising 15 minutes per week and brewing addictive butter-powered coffee, Dave Asprey now advises top executives on using existing tech to make lifestyle changes, handle stress and sleep better.
We talked with Asprey about using big data, how to design killer biofeedback apps that can improve your health, and why it’s still tricky for providers to tap into personal health innovation.
What is the difference between the “quantified self” and biohacking?
Quantified self looks at long feedback times: data is collected, you look at it at the end of the day or the end of the month, and you cognitively try to change. In biohacking you get the data and you try and drive change in that second, based on the nervous system. It’s just a question of speed of the feedback. With biohacking you can get better results from the faster feedback loop. With the quantified self, you get amazing knowledge, but you have a harder time getting the knowledge back to the nervous system because of the timing of it.
What are some services you recommend for consumers?
WellnessFX is a lab testing company where you get to pick what lab tests you want and you choose them for performance and longevity, not just whatever the doctor said. If you test yourself every six months or every year, then you get a graph that shows ‘Oh I stopped eating gluten and my inflammation went from here to here.’ So now we’re mixing long-cycle feedback data from lab testing, targeted at consumers, with real-time data from heart rate variability, to more long feedback data from sleep sensors.
And those things translate into real, measurable benefits in people’s lives?
Managing stress that has a direct and measurable effect on cortisol, which has a measureable impact on how many times you’re likely to get sick. If you have lower cortisol levels and you’re in the healthy range, you will feel better. You can control cortisol with all sorts of things and you can measure that with saliva.
The thing that should be amazing and scary for readers of HealthBiz is that, for many people biohacking themselves, there wasn’t a doctor involved at first. I am only suggesting it to people as a performance coach as an option they can get online or from a doctor, but some clients go out and they order their own tests, they get these devices, and then they see a doctor when the data tells them to.
Should providers be wary of these devices? There are so many new ones on the market all the time.
Doctors already have a gazillion lab tests that they aren’t familiar with because people are making up new lab tests like crazy. Now they’ve got patents coming in with these weird gadgets that may or may not have any scientific validity and the patient maybe was drinking oil, silver, and magic fairy water or something. Where does the physician draw the ‘that’s probably BS’ line? It’s very physician-specific and it’s very easy for them to dismiss new-edge, quantifying-self type of technologies.
It’s getting harder and harder to be a physician without Google open in front of you, and it’s the same Google window your patient has seen.
But I already work with doctors who recommend devices, things as simple as a scale with a little radio that goes over Wi-Fi and sends your weight into a centralized app that you can show to your doctor. Then your doctor can walk in the room and say, ‘hmm, your weight’s fluctuating monthly, that’s hormonal’ or ‘hmm, there isn’t really a pattern here, are you eating strange things?’
I don’t know any doctor, who wouldn’t like a little bit more time with each patent to really practice their art, and I interact with physicians quite frequently.
So someday soon we may see providers prescribe devices for patients?
When someone in a high stress, high performance, very demanding job like a physician, figures out that they can lower their stress without marring their performance and improve sleep, improve blood pressure, lower cortisol, they’re going to do it. What’s preventing them from recommending that to patients is a combination of regulatory bodies, insurance requirements, and antiquated “standard of care” policies.
So we have all this innovation out there and no physician, except at the very cutting-edge of innovation and risk for their license, is going to be able to stand up to the patient and say ‘you know what? I saw this neat device online, pick up it up and come back in a month and tell me what happened.’
Too much liability, too much risk, too much at risk of you being accused of being a quack or not knowing what you’re doing and the device you recommended wasn’t “medical grade.” Companies are going out of the US where they can make legitimate medical claims. One company that I am an incredible fan of, something that every physician should be aware of is called Zona.
Zona is a device that has an integrated sensor and USB upload, you squeeze it with your grip on your hand, not too hard, not too light, and the little computer screen on it tells you to squeeze harder or squeeze less. You do this for two minutes per hand everyday for a few weeks and for more than 80 percent of patients it normalizes high blood pressure by reprogramming the bodies vagal response.
If you got to Zona.com, it simply makes vague claims about cardiovascular health. You go to Zona.co.uk, they put all the science and research up, because different regulatory bodies in Europe allow different claims. You look at that, this device, which is $499, I’ve seen it, how it affects a lot of people. It’s totally amazing technology but there’s two very different pictures depending on what country you’re seeing the website from. I’m really hoping that for med tech devices like that, that really do have cardio claims, that somehow we opened up a dialogue between physicians who really ought to know about this for their own usage and not for their patients, on the regulatory side of things.
I respect what the FDA is doing to protect people from devices that are electrically ungrounded and unsafe, but we’ve got to turn up innovation because otherwise all these are going to be sitting in London or Mumbai, unknown and unheard of in the U.S. where they could probably do the most good given our insanely high healthcare costs versus outcomes.
It’s a bit of a black hole, fuzzy line there, but honestly any time your patients are more aware of their health, you are going to be able to make a better diagnostic decisions, or treatment decisions and your patients are probably going to be more compliant and better patients. Everyone wins when there’s more info there. That’s why big data and quantified self are ultimately good for physicians and for their patients.