Are you like me, wanting to be healthier and to have more energy, but not sure exactly what nutrients and vitamins you might be lacking in? Or maybe you are training for that marathon or bicycle race and you want to make sure you are at peak shape.
InsideTracker, a personal health analytic company located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is here to help. Ian Twinn, managing director of Tandem Communications, described Inside Tracker as offering information that previously only celebrity athletes had access to.
"Experts in biology and aging from Harvard and MIT have culled their knowledge and research to bring advanced sports medicine to a web-based platform for mere mortals," Twinn said. "The results can help us change and modify our behavior."
InsideTracker has been offering people a way to take their health into your their hands with an "Ultimate Plan" analysis — and now, they are offering a new analysis called "InnerAge". InnerAge gives you a window into what is happening inside your body and calculates your true biological age.
In an effort to see how user-friendly the system is and how helpful the advice, I gave up some blood to try out InnerAge. (Yes, I am that dedicated to my job.)
What is the Ultimate Plan?
InsideTracker's Ultimate Plan tests 30 key biomarkers including metabolism, strength and endurance, cognitive functions, and energy. Your blood is analyzed for these biomarkers and then the platform uses a powerful algorithm to give you your personal optimal levels of biomarkers. Through graphs and charts, you are offered diet and lifestyle suggestions to optimize your health and to provide education on why certain levels like that of iron are so important. As you go on to test your blood again and again, you will also be able to see visually on a chart your progress as you adopt healthier lifestyle changes.
What is InnerAge?
InnerAge, a subtracker of InsideTracker is similar to the Ultimate Plan but the algorithms are different.
"Some of the leading people in aging research like Dr. David Sinclair, have been looking at which biomarkers are associated to longevity. Through InnerAge, they will give you five focused foods to incorporate into your diet to help slow down the aging process," Twinn, said. "It is a warning and indication of what is to come."
InnerAge has been developed over the past two years by some of the world's leading authorities on aging, nutrition and exercise physiology including Professor David Sinclair from Harvard Medical School and Professor Lenny Guarente from MIT's Biology Department.
"The team spent a year just looking for the five biomarkers that seemed to influence aging the most and discovered that glucose, hsCRP (a mark of inflammation), vitamin D, testosterone and ALT, a liver damage indicator were all important to the aging process," said Twinn.
They analyzed hundreds of studies to see which biomarkers weren't as important to the aging process.
"Some of the ones excluded like cholesterol didn't see a strong correlation to aging and longevity. That doesn't mean to ignore it, just that for our purposes it was more important to focus on different things," Twinn said.
Following a simple blood test, the InnerAge intuitive dashboard provides a wealth of information on the results as well as nutrition advice to improve outcomes. By following its recommendations, people can optimize their InnerAge to be up to 15 years younger than their actual age and also catch early warning signs that could negatively impact their longevity.
Most people are about 3.37 years older than their chronological age but it can be as extreme as 10 to 15 years older. Getting results like this can be shocking, like it was for me when I discovered that my biological age was older than my chronological age. The team at Inside Tracker has found that a higher inner age tends to spur people to make changes more than they would just with their biomarkers levels. As Twinn says, blood physiology doesn't lie.
One of the most surprising findings that the scientists involved in InnerAge discovered was that glucose levels are a big indicator for a person's longevity. It definitely was in my case.
Twinn cautions that the purpose of the test is not to screen for disease, but to look for how to optimize your health. Any time any of your biomarkers are really out of whack, you will receive a screen alert to take another blood test and see your physician. You should also receive a follow-up e-mail.
"Everybody should take responsibility for their own health," he said. "We have so much information out there about what effects our inner age that you owe it to yourself to make the smartest decisions about your health."
The good news is that unlike your genetics, biomarker levels can be changed. If you make the needed changes to your diet and lifestyle and get your blood drawn again, the hope is that your levels will be more optimized. It is recommended that you get your blood tested two or three times a year because it can take two to fourth months for your blood to renew.
Dr. Gil Blander, the founder and Chief Scientific Officer of InsideTracker talked to me in further detail about the research and inspiration behind InnerAge.
"I am a biologist in training and always fascinated by the aging process. In 1995 I began study aging, wanting to delay onset of diseases and improve longevity and more importantly quality of life," he explained.
Dr. Blander referred to some interesting research from the 1960s where residents in a small town had their blood levels tracked looking at inflammation and glucose among other things and found that glucose levels could strongly influence longevity.
"A 35 year old with a glucose level of 70 has a much better chance to live to 95 than if you have a level of 65 at that age," Blander said.
"Once we found the five biomarkers that affected aging the most, we then hired analysts to determine the algorithm for InnerAge to determine how your inner age compared to your biological age. We are not claiming that you will live shorter or longer. Our goal is to give a health indicator like an oil light in the car. We regularly take our cars in for a checkup, but don't do so for ourselves."
Once your inner age is determined, you will be offered a list of individualized focus foods that you should eat at least once a day as well as lifestyle interventions to help you optimize your biomarkers.
"Food is the drug of choice instead of supplements or drugs. We always try to make the focus on food items that you can easily find in your local market or at least within a 20 mile radius. It is not practical to have to fly to China for special ingredients," Dr. Blander added.
My experience with InnerAge
Through InsideTracker, I scheduled my blood work with LabCorp and then anxiously awaited my results for both the Ultimate Plan and InnerAge analysis. It still took less than a week to get my results. I then received an e-mail that asked me to set up passwords and to answer a questionnaire that included questions about my ethnicity, weight, height and lifestyle choices like if I smoke or drink and how much I exercise. In order to help the algorithm suggest appropriate food choices, I was also asked about food allergies and preferences.
When I finally gained access to my results, the dashboard had tabs for blood work, nutrition and food basket. On the blood work tab, my biomarker levels were listed using charts to indicate whether they fell into high, normal or low ranges. Red indicates high or low levels, yellow normal and green optimized.
According to the Ultimate Plan, out of my 30 biomarkers analyzed, the ones that need some attention are Iron Group levels, Vitamin D, triglycerides and cholesterol. My calcium, liver enzymes, hsCRP (inflammation indicator), white blood cells, vitamin B12 and others were either normal or optimized.
Alongside my numbers, suggestions were given for what to eat more of and how to increase exercise to improve my biomarkers. For example, it said that to increase my HDL cholesterol I should eat more black beans, salmon, avocado, almonds and that I should be doing at least 15 to 20 miles/week of brisk walking or jogging. To reduce my iron group levels, I need to eat less red meat, leafy greens and cereals, bread and pasta. All of this sounded fine, but when it suggested I eat more eel to raise my vitamin D I admit I balked a little. I have never eaten eel in my life and probably never will, but the other suggestions were definitely doable and were changes I was already trying to incorporate into my life.
The nutrition tab offers you extensive suggestions on what foods to eat more and less of for each of your biomarkers, and the food basket is where a sort of grocery list of recommended foods is generated for you. I had trouble with the food basket because some of my biomarkers conflicted when it came to nutrition suggestions.
The biomarkers I need to work on didn't surprise me all that much because I already know what my weaknesses are, but it was encouraging to see my other levels like for white blood cells, liver enzymes and inflammation were within normal range. I found the amount of resources offered to help you optimize all your biomarkers to be very helpful, but I can't help wondering how much of this can we get at the doctor's office. Although with insurance limits on how often you can get a checkup and blood work, having the ability to track your own health every few months is convenient.
It was when I clicked on the InnerAge tab, however, that I had the biggest surprise of my life. I knew I could do better when it came to nutrition and exercise, but I would never have guessed that although I turned 40 just two weeks before I took the test, that my biological age is closer to someone in her early fifties. Apparently my glucose and vitamin D levels were the big culprits in making me older than my years. I was given five personalized focus foods – yellow wax beans, chia seeds, raspberries, oats, and blackberries to eat to help me lower my biological age to the optimal age of 29.6. Oh, to be in my twenties again.