As a vegan and a female, I often wonder whether I'm getting proper nutrition—especially when it comes to things like iron, vitamin D, calcium, and B12, since these important nutrients are found in high concentrations in animal products. While I can make guesses as to what I'm not getting enough of based on how I feel, I've never really felt certain whether I really need this supplement, or whether I ought to be eating more lentils or what. Because the real way to figure that out is to get a blood test, and I'm not a doctor and getting blood tests for personal reasons in the US sounds expensive and like a lot of work.
That's why InsideTracker caught my attention. It's a service where you sign up for a blood draw, and they perform a lab analysis on your blood for what they call "biomarkers"; basically a measure of the level of certain nutrients in your blood. Then their websites gives you nutrition suggestions to improve your results. As a person with a science background, and someone who wants to be in charge of my health and maximize my well-being and energy, it sounded perfect.
I gave it a shot. Here are my initial impressions.
- Simple product choice. They only have two products, and are very honest about the fact that this is because the B12 and D analyses are a significant additional expense. I appreciated this explanation, and still opted for the "Fitness Plus" product because I'm particularly interested in those two markers.
- 24-hour turnaround from blood draw to data on the website. Wow, I'm impressed.
- God I love data. It's enough to get me excited about needles.
- Their website still has a few rough edges. I got distracted in the middle of the signup process on the first go, and ended up in a multi-day email back and forth with someone on the team there who kept forwarding my problems getting my password reset to the engineering team. And I never got any notification that my problem was finally solved. A suggestion to the team: treat your early customers like gold, especially when they bring a problem to you rather than walking away. They'll be your biggest asset if you do.
- They sometimes have marketing deals, but they seem poorly put together. They were running a promotion for a while for free home blood draw, which they normally charge $80 for, but I either just barely missed it because I was dealing with account problems, or couldn't figure out how to actually apply for the promotion. So I ended up trekking from Cambridge to Newton to visit a LabCorp office instead.
My results were part unsurprising, part surprising. I have low blood iron ("ferritin" and "hemoglobin"), low vitamin D (thanks Boston winter), and elevated B12. I'm guessing the B12 is a combination of my nutritional yeast obsession, fortified cereals, and the multivitamin I take daily.
I came up with a few things I plan to do based on my results.
- phase in a vitamin D supplement, at least until it gets warm enough to get sunlight exposure
- buy a big bag of red lentils and use them as a base to add vegetables to for meals
- phase out the multivitamin I currently take daily, and cut back on breakfast cereal (which I don't usually eat for breakfast, but rather as a snack when I'm feeling too lazy or too hungry to cook or in the mood for something a bit desserty)
- increase my leafy greens intake
I'll aim for the lower end of the 3-6 months recommendation for my next blood test. I particularly want to make progress on the low blood iron levels.
I wonder how much blood levels of these "biomarkers" fluctuate on, say, a day-to-day basis. I would love to be able to get faster feedback, and I wonder how much the immediate context of when you get your blood drawn affects results (despite the required 12-hour fast). I was on my period when I got my blood drawn this time. Does that affect my results? Unfortunately, getting more frequent blood draws at this point is prohibitively expensive.
Even the 3-6-monthly blood draw is a fairly big expense, but if you're someone like me who can spring for a $30 monthly supplement that you might not actually need, the cost savings from the feedback might make it cheap. And if it makes you healthier, that may be worth the cost.
We'll see what I think after I get my next test in a few months.