InsideTracker
A Blog From Segterra

Introducing InsideTracker’s New Bloodwork Page

- Apr 15, 2014

By Margie Ploch

Here at InsideTracker, we listen to what our customers say. Recently we incorporated our customers comments and suggestions into an updated, information-rich Bloodwork page. We are proud to unveil the new, streamlined page which gives an easy-to-read summary of your blood test results, while also allowing you to do a deep dive into analysis and recommendations for understanding and improving your results.image

To help you get the most from this new design, let’s tour the page.

Getting your biomarker results

The heart of InsideTracker is biomarker analysis. Each biomarker measured in your tests appears on the Bloodwork page in a simple frame. When the page opens, optimized biomarkers display the biomarker name and the latest numerical InsideTracker blood test result. If you want to see more detail, all you have to do is click the upside-down triangle in the top right corner to see an expanded view, as you see for LDL cholesterol below.

Biomarkers that are not optimized, however, appear first in the expanded view, drawing your attention to the data and the recommendations for simple interventions that can help you to optimize your results.

Click here to see a live demo of the new Bloodwork page.

InsideTracker has always provided information in graph, text, numerical, and image form to make it easier to understand your results. As part of updating the page design, we have also redesigned the biomarker result graphs to make them even easier to read.

Optimal, not just normal

The new graph clearly shows your green optimized zone inside the yellow normal zone. Values outside of the normal range are in the red zones on the graph. Only InsideTracker calculates your personal optimized zone based on your age, sex, gender, ethnicity, activity level, and performance goals. Research has shown that improving biomarkers to optimal levels can yield significant improvements in performance and outcomes, as compared to normal biomarker levels.

The new graph design highlights trends as the color of the data line changes to match the zone color. In the Vitamin D graph below, the latest results are in the optimized zone so the trend line and the data points are green. It’s easy to see the improvement from earlier results in the red and yellow zones. The color changes can quickly alert you to your successes as well as to biomarkers where you may want to step up your efforts.image

How can I improve my results?

If you want to improve your blood test results, what can you do? Follow the simple recommendations for nutrition, exercise, supplement, and lifestyle changes that appear next to the graph. Food images show you a sampling of healthy foods that you can add to or increase in your diet to help optimize the biomarker. For even more food recommendations, you can click the More button to view the Nutrition page. Below the food images are supplement, lifestyle, exercise and nutrition interventions to help you improve your results. Each recommendation is based on peer-reviewed studies; click the Reference link to read the research abstract. The Show More link provides more detail.image

Why is this biomarker important?

InsideTracker scientists identified key biomarkers from more than 3,000 possibilities. For a brief user-friendly explanation of the biomarker and its role, click the Science tab next to Recommendations. You’ll see a paragraph that explains the function of the biomarker in your body, what happens if the level is low or high, and how your well-being and performance might be affected by changes in that biomarker.

How can I learn more?

To get in-depth information that is tailored to your biomarker results, click the Read blog button. InsideTracker’s algorithm links you to the InsideTracker blog post best suited to the level of your biomarker. If your ferritin is low, you will be taken to a blog about the importance of ferritin, some of the symptoms you may experience when your ferritin is low, and advice on how to improve your ferritin level.

How can I zero in on key information?

The new Bloodwork page has two great tools to help you focus on the biomarker results and analysis most important to you - Search and Sort. Concerned about your Testosterone result? Just type Testosterone into the Search box. The display jumps directly to Testosterone - no scrolling necessary. The Sort menu allows you to look at biomarkers by category - Optimized, Needs Work (Yellow Zone), At Risk (Red Zone), or Biomarker Groups.

What are Testosterone:Cortisol Ratios?

The Ultimate Plan includes two ratios to help you understand your overall testosterone status. The Testosterone:Cortisol ratio and the Free Testosterone:Cortisol ratio are indicators of possible overtraining. Free testosterone is the biologically active testosterone in your body. Cortisol is a hormone that increases as your stress increases and your sleep decreases. A low score on your ratio of Testosterone and Cortisol or Free Teestosterone and Cortisol can show that you are training too hard with overly intense workouts and insufficient time for rest and recovery.

If you haven’t reviewed your Bloodwork page recently, take a look at the new design. And if it has been awhile since your last test, arrange a follow-up InsideTracker test today to see what progress you’ve made!

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Your Guide to a Healthy Liver: What To Expect From Your Blood Test

- Apr 09, 2014

By Kalyn Weber

Your liver is a pretty incredible organ. In fact, you can’t live without it. One of the most important things your liver does is filter harmful toxins, like alcohol and drugs, from your blood. Your liver also produces bile (a substance needed to break down fats), stores vitamins, minerals and sugars, breaks down old blood cells, and performs a number of other tasks needed for life. That’s pretty impressive! In fact the liver is so important that our body keeps it protected, tucked away on the ride side of our abdomen behind our ribs.

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As you can imagine, with all that the liver does, we put that tough organ through a lot in our lifetimes. Between the alcohol, the medications, household cleaners (especially aerosol sprays), pesticides, and herbicides, most of our livers are working overtime. It’s no wonder that more than 30 million people in the U.S. have liver disease. However, simply eating poorly affects this vital organ. According to the American Liver Foundation, up to 25% of Americans may have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD. NAFLD tends to develop in people who are overweight, have diabetes, high cholesterol or high triglycerides. Rapid weight loss may also lead to NAFLD.

Click here to learn how to InsideTracker can help you manage your liver health biomarkers today.

 What makes liver disease tricky is that there are often no symptoms! Many people with liver disease feel completely healthy. That’s why it is so important to check your biomarkers. InsideTracker added three new biomarkers to the Ultimate Plan to reveal the health of your liver, as well as the likely cause of any liver damage:

  • Alanine aminotransferase (ALT) is an enzyme primarily found in the liver; it plays a role in changing stored glucose into usable energy. When the liver is not functioning well, ALT can enter the bloodstream.
  • Aspartate aminotransferase (AST) is an enzyme primarily found in the liver. It is also found in the heart, muscle tissue, kidneys, brain, and red blood cells. AST helps to metabolize amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, which help provide you with more energy, digest food more effectively, and make you feel stronger. When the liver is not functioning properly, AST can enter the bloodstream.
  • Gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT) is an enzyme that is concentrated in the liver, and is also found in the bile ducts, pancreas, spleen, and kidneys. GGT helps to transfer amino acids across the cell membrane, and plays an important role in helping the liver metabolize toxins. Again when the liver is not functioning well, GGT can enter the bloodstream.

While some of these biomarkers are found naturally in the blood, elevated levels of any of these biomarkers indicate liver damage.

Preparing for your Ultimate Plan by Inside Tracker

Keep off the heavy weights for one week before your blood test. This is particularly important for individuals who do not regularly practice intense resistance training. Research suggests that individuals accustomed to moderate physical activity, but not to performing intensive muscular exercise on a regular basis, may have significantly increased liver function for at least 7 days after weightlifting.

Do not drink any alcoholic beverages within 24 hours of a blood test. Not even a little bit. Even a small amount of alcohol can cause GGT blood levels to increase. Smoking and medications like antidepressants, NSAIDs, and hormones such as testosterone, can also increase GGT.

Start tracking your biomarkers with the new Ultimate Plan from InsideTracker today.

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Controlling the Controllable: My Experience with InsideTracker

- Apr 02, 2014

By Bobby Robins

I believe in and practice a methodical approach to athletic performance. I control what I can control, and have faith in myself, my training, my body, and my craft. I believe in inspirational athletic feats and heightened states of athletic performance. I know these states exist and they are almost impossible to duplicate or explain. How do you explain what it means to be in “the zone”? It’s obvious to anyone watching when an athlete is in “the zone.” The athlete moves freely and effortlessly, transcending boundaries and defeating opponents. It’s a special thing to witness and a special thing to experience. bobby

But most of the time when I’m playing hockey, I’m not in the zone. I’m competing at my baseline or standard level of athletic output, and this level can be (and is) measured in terms of goals, assists, points, PIMs, and countless other statistics that get logged into the books after every game. 

I’ve been playing hockey since I was five. I’m in my 8th professional season and under contract with the Boston Bruins. I know my sport and I know where I fall in the spectrum of talent since I’ve competed against the best hockey players in the world, and am currently trying to make it to the NHL. 

I know that in order for me to reach my goal and compete in the top percentile of hockey players on planet earth, I must find ways to raise my baseline level of athletic performance as much as I can, and consistently reach this output over the course of a 76-game season, as well as season after season. 

So it seems that every year, I get more and more methodical with controlling the various factors that affect my athletic performance. It started with nutrition and putting the best organic meats, fruits, and vegetables into my body. I have nutrition down. It’s a work in progress and constantly evolving, but I feel that I know how to fuel my body at this point in my life. 

Then I cut out toxins, and tried to truly treat my body like a temple. I figured out my sleep patterns. I discovered how to recover most efficiently. I’ve tried all sorts of training regimens. 

I’m gaining a solid understanding of supplementation, and that is what led me to InsideTracker.

Watch the free demo from InsideTracker to find out how the program can help you perform better.

I was supplementing and putting all these nutritious foods into my body, but I never really looked at the exact numbers of the various biomarkers in my body. I knew that if I wanted to take the self-exploration and self-experimentation of my body and athleticism to the next level, I would have to do it at the cellular and biological level, and find out what was happening in my blood. 

I reached a point where I was eating healthfully, but I needed to see exactly what was happening in my body, to hopefully to discover any deficiencies.

I signed up for InsideTracker and filled out an online questionnaire that used my answers to build a personal profile for me that showed my optimal zones for each biomarker. 

The first time I got tested, I went to a local lab and had my blood drawn. The lab sent the samples to the company and in a couple of days, the results were online and ready to be read. The second time I got tested, a doctor actually came to my home and took the blood sample right there. 

The results are shown in a clear and easy-to-understand layout. InsideTracker shows you which of your biomarker level are optimized, and which of your biomarkers need work. For the biomarkers that need work, an analysis is given to explain what is happening in your body regarding that specific biomarker, and recommendations are given so that you can improve and bring this biomarker to an optimized level.

I knew that optimizing my levels would be one more factor that I could control to help with my athletic performance.

Some of the particular biomarkers that interest me are testosterone, creatine kinase, vitamin B12, cholesterol, hemoglobin, and glucose. I am keeping tabs on these particular readings and trying to optimize my levels so that I can hopefully get the most out of my athletic performance on the hockey rink.

InsideTracker is a valuable tool for an athlete who wants a better understanding of what is happening in their body. I use this tool so that I can get the most athletic output out of my body and raise my level of athletic performance. By controlling, monitoring, and making adjustments to the various levels of my biomarkers, I hope to methodically find a way to improve my health and athleticism, and find ways to reach “the zone” more often and be the best hockey player I can be. 

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Boost Your Brain Power with Science by Monitoring Your Blood Biomarkers

- Mar 26, 2014

By Perrin Braun

We all know that you have to train hard in order to take your physical performance to the next level. But the mental aspect of physical activity is just as important as keeping your body strong and fit. Good thinking skills are beneficial to everyone because making sound judgments can have a profound effect on maximizing your physical skills. Conversely, if you’re tired and unfocused, it can be difficult to make the right moves (both in sports and in life!). Fortunately, there are plenty of simple ways to improve your cognitive function, but you need to find out what’s going on inside of your body first. Blood analysis provides a unique window, as biomarkers are a great evaluation metric. Read on to learn about some of the most relevant biomarkers for your brain health.head

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is essential for a healthy nervous system, and for brain function. B12 works to strengthen the connection between the brain and the body’s nerve sensors, which include your toes, fingers, and the tongue. This helps to improve brain-body response time and ensure that your sensory reactions are up to par. Individuals who have low levels of vitamin B12 can experience slow reflexes and poor muscle coordination, which spells bad news for those of us who would like to perform at our physical peak. Studies have also shown that older people with higher levels of B12 are six times less likely to experience brain volume loss.

Watch the free demo from InsideTracker to find out how the program can help you think harder and perform better.

Your best bet for consuming adequate amounts of B vitamins is to stick to whole, unprocessed foods; for B12, animal products are the main source. Make sure you’re working animal-based proteins, such as salmon, beef liver, ground beef, haddock, milk, cheese, ham, eggs, and chicken breast into your diet. Even though you don’t need very much B12, those who avoid animal products (such as vegetarians or vegans) may have “beef” with this recommendation. Fortunately, many breakfast cereals are fortified with enough B12 to meet recommended needs without violating a vegetarian diet.  

Cortisol

Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, enables us to respond to both physical and emotional stressors. Long-term exposure to cortisol may cause the neurons in your brain to shrink, and can also interfere with their ability to send and receive information. This means that people who are chronically stressed may experience symptoms of “brain fog,” short-term memory loss, and inability to function. Fortunately, lifestyle modifications and stress management techniques can play a significant role in controlling cortisol levels. Identifying how you respond to stress, as well as your personal stressors and relaxants, is important. Consider the following tips for coping with stress:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a healthy diet (think whole foods!) with consistent meal timing
  • Get sufficient sleep and rest
  • Maintain positive, healthy relationships
  • Practice relaxation, whether through yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, listening to music, or laughing
  • Reduce or eliminate alcohol and caffeine intake

Folic Acid

Folic acid is another type of B-vitamin. It’s an essential vitamin, meaning that our bodies cannot produce it, and it’s vital for the production of new cells (aka the building blocks of life). It’s also crucial for brain function because it is required to make your DNA and RNA, which in turn create new cells. Folic acid also affects the production of neurotransmitters—which are substances that carry messages to different parts of your brain.

Folic acid is found in a variety of food sources. Some of the highest sources include beef liver, lentils, spinach, enriched noodles, great northern beans and asparagus. A federal law passed in 1996 mandated the fortification of enriched breads, cereals, flours, corn meals, pastas, rice, and other grain products with folic acid to prevent birth defects in women who weren’t consuming adequate amounts of the vitamin in their diet. Consuming a bowl of fortified breakfast cereal allows most people to meet their recommended daily intake.

Glucose

Glucose, also known as blood sugar, is delivered throughout our bodies and derives in part from the carbohydrates that we consume. After we eat foods that are high in carbohydrates, our digestive system breaks them down and turns them into glucose, which enters the bloodstream. From there, the glucose enters individuals cells throughout the body and provides them with the energy that they need to function. Your brain also needs a constant supply of energy in the form of glucose in order to work properly. In fact, your brain cells need much more energy than the other cells of your body because they’re always in a state of metabolic activity. Even when you’re sleeping, your brain cells are hard at work in repair and rebuild mode.

Some good examples of meals and snacks that are high in carbohydrates include:

  • Peanut butter on whole grain bread
  • Oatmeal or cereal with milk
  • Wheat pasta with garlic bread
  • Grilled chicken breast and brown rice
  • Any dried fruit (raisins, apricots, etc.)

Remember that not all carbohydrates are grain-based! Squash, potatoes, parsnips, carrots, and bananas are also good sources of healthy carbohydrates.

Magnesium

Unlike cortisol, magnesium is considered to be an “anti-stress” mineral because it works to calm the nerves and relax the muscles, which in turn can help people fall asleep. So, why is sleep important to maintaining optimal cognitive function? Most importantly, getting an insufficient amount of sleep can slow your reaction time. One study showed declines in split-second decision-making following poor sleep, and showed that subjects who were well rested had increased accuracy on tasks that required quick decisions. Conversely, getting enough sleep can have some great benefits: improved athletic performance, reduced appetite, and better memory function. When you are well rested, you are better able to focus and to learn more efficiently.

You can get magnesium from many types of foods, especially from leafy green vegetables. Other good sources of magnesium include: whole grain cereals, soybeans, nuts and seafood. Also keep in mind that magnesium absorption is primarily affected by the quality of your diet. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains contain phytate, which can inhibit the body’s absorption of magnesium. Avoid combining foods that are high in fiber with foods that are good sources of magnesium.

Take your knowledge to the next level by signing up for an InsideTracker plan. You will receive recommendations for lifestyle, exercise, and dietary changes that will help you achieve more focus and improve your cognitive performance.

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Stress Fractures: The Relationship Between Biochemistry, Nutritional Screening, and Biomechanics

- Mar 19, 2014

By Bruce E. Williams, DPM

Stress fractures are an important concern for athletes and everyday folks alike, as they can really make an impact on the ability to not only perform, but to move around with ease. What causes stress fractures? The literature will tell you that there are many potential causes, such as: the type of sport in which an athlete competes; the intensity of the athletic activity and if the athlete does too much too soon during training; if the athlete has high or low arched feet or chronic foot problems; what type of diet and nutrition the athlete has; what types of shoe gear the athlete uses; and finally, if the athlete is a woman (due to the female athlete triad, a syndrome marked by disordered eating, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis). Once you eliminate activity level and shoe type of the athlete, as above, what remains are primarily issues of biochemistry and biomechanics.leg and blood

From a biochemical perspective, much research has been done to validate the importance of calcium and vitamin D in the diet. Vitamin D and calcium are important for healthy bones, and good muscle function of the lower extremity (2). The relationship between calcium and vitamin D with bone health and stress fractures in athletes has been documented significantly in the literature as well (1-7). Many athletes are unaware of their calcium and Vitamin D levels until someone suggests testing after a stress fracture or injury. InsideTracker™ offers this testing as an entry-level screening tool for their most basic evaluation of blood biomarkers (https://www.insidetracker.com/customer/onboarding/choose-plan). Knowing Vitamin D levels in advance can allow for proper supplementation with Vitamin D3 products, which appear to work best (2, 7), and with follow up and regular tracking of the blood biomarkers to make sure that levels remain at their best. Additionally, InsideTracker™ provides nutritional supplement and dietary suggestions to maintain optimal levels of vitamin D.

So, how do biomechanical issues come into play regarding high impact and high activity levels with stress fractures in athletes? Is there a relationship between high pressures in the lower extremity and stress fractures in the foot and lower extremity? Are there structural and functional issues that can be identified or screened for and that can provide a reason for why these stress fractures occur?

It is well known that the use of pressure mats and in-shoe pressure devices can identify high-pressure areas of the feet. Dr. Scholl’s utilizes pressure mat technology in their kiosks at Wal-Mart to sell over-the-counter orthotics. What might be some of the causes of high pressures in the feet in athletes? Several studies have looked at high-pressure areas in low- and high-arched feet of athletes (8-11). High-arched feet tend to elevate pressures along the lateral aspect of the foot, and lower arched feet tend to have higher pressures along the medial aspect of the foot, i.e. the second metatarsal area in the ball of the foot. What about a restriction in ankle joint range of motion? A study of diabetics with 0 degrees of ankle joint dorsiflexion range of motion found significantly higher pressures under the ball of the foot or the MPJ areas (12). Athletes tend to have dorsiflexion restriction in their ankle joint range of motion (13), so higher pressures in the ball of the foot should be of great concern to the medical staff caring for athletes. Bending forces at the metatarsals in relationship to pressures at the foot are related to stress fractures as well (14). Prolonged pressures in the ball of the foot in conjunction with an increase in overall time spent on the ball of the foot can and will lead to stress fractures. It would be great if we could guarantee that athletic shoes would protect athletes from injury, but a recently released study of professional soccer players showed that their shoes caused an increase in lateral mid-foot and fore-foot pressures and are likely linked to an increased incidence in 5th metatarsal stress fractures (15).image

 

Finally, it is important to screen athletes that are prone to bone injury due to high-impact activity and risk of poor nutritional status. Soccer players are at high risk because of their shoe gear and because many athletes just don’t eat well when they are young. Young females may have poor nutritional status as well and are active in high impact sports, too. While screening tools are not perfect and some percentage of this population may still fall through the cracks and sustain a bone injury, it is still for the best to be proactive and to screen and intervene wherever possible. Nutritional screening, utilizing good foot and ankle screening analysis, and control of shoe gear are all essential.

Check out the nutritional screening options offered via InsideTracker today!

Bruce E. Williams, DPM is Director of Gait Analysis Studies, Weil Foot & Ankle Institute, Chicago.

References:

1) Vitamin D, Calcium, and Dairy Intakes and Stress Fractures Among Female Adolescents.  Kendrin R. Sonneville, ScD, RD; Catherine M. Gordon, MD, MSc; Mininder S. Kocher, MD, MPH; Laura M. Pierce, BA; Arun Ramappa, MD; Alison E. Field, ScD.  Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;166(7):595-600.

2) Should we be concerned about the vitamin D status of athletes? Willis KSPeterson NJLarson-Meyer DEInt J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2008 Apr;18(2):204-24.

3) Vitamin D: what is an adequate vitamin D level and how much supplementation is necessary? Bischoff-Ferrari HBest Pract Res Clin Rheumatol. 2009 Dec;23(6):789-95.

4) Evaluating the relationship of calcium and vitamin D in the prevention of stress fracture injuries in the young athlete: a review of the literature. Tenforde ASSayres LCSainani KLFredericson MPM R. 2010 Oct;2(10):945-9.

5) Vitamin D deficiency: a common occurrence in both high-and low-energy fractures.  Steele B, Serota A, Helfet DL, Peterson M, Lyman S, Lane JM.  HSS J. 2008 Sep;4(2):143-8. Epub 2008 Jul 19.

6) Prevalence of vitamin d deficiency in patients with foot and ankle injuries.  Smith JT1, Halim K, Palms DA, Okike K, Bluman EM, Chiodo CP.  Foot Ankle Int. 2014 Jan;35(1):8-13.

7) Current concept review: vitamin D and stress fractures.  McCabe MP, Smyth MP, Richardson DR.  Foot Ankle Int. 2012 Jun;33(6):526-33. doi: 10.3113/FAI.2012.0526.

8) Analysis of Foot Structure in Athletes Sustaining Proximal Fifth Metatarsal Stress Fracture.  Iftach Hetsroni, MD; Meir Nyska, MD; David Ben-Sira, PhD; Gideon Mann, MD; Ofer Segal; Guy Maoz, MD; Moshe Ayalon, PhD.  Foot Ankle Int. 2010 Mar;31(3):203-11

9) Foot morphology and foot/ankle injury in indoor football. Lauren E. Caina, Leslie L. Nicholson, Roger D. Adams, Joshua Burns. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport (2007) 10, 311-319.

10) Foot posture influences the electromyographic activity of selected lower limb muscles during gait.  George S Murley, Hylton B Menz and Karl B Landorf.  Journal of Foot and Ankle Research 2009, 2:35

11) Foot Type and Overuse Injury in Triathletes. Joshua Burns, BAppSc(Pod)Hons Anne-Maree Keenan, BAppSc(Pod), MAppSc Anthony Redmond, PhD, MSc, DPodM.  J Am Podiatr Med Assoc 95(3): 235-241, 2005

12) Ankle Equinus Deformity and Its Relationship to High Plantar Pressure in a Large Population with Diabetes Mellitus.  Lawrence A. Lavery , DPM, MPH David G. Armstrong, DPM  Andrew J. M. Boulton, MD.  J Am Podiatr Med Assoc 92(9): 479-482, 2002

13) Ankle Dorsiflexion in Adolescent Athletes. A Saxena, W Kim. J Am Podiat Med Assoc 93(4): 312-314, 2003

14) Soccer boots elevate plantar pressures in elite male soccer professionals.  Carl HD, Pauser J, Swoboda B, Jendrissek A, Brem M. Soccer Boots Elevate Plantar Pressures in Elite Male Soccer Professionals.  Clin J Sport Med. 2014 Jan;24(1):58-61.

15) Computer simulation of stress distribution in the metatarsals at different inversion landing angles using the finite element method. Y. D. Gu & X. J. Ren & J. S. Li & M. J. Lake & Q. Y. Zhang & Y. J. Zeng.  International Orthopaedics June 2010, Volume 34, Issue 5, pp 669-676

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Paleo diet: What does the NEW science say? Study suggests high protein intake linked to disease, early death.

- Mar 12, 2014

By Kalyn Weber

We love talking about the science here at InsideTracker… and we’re glad to see that our readers do too! Many of you provided some really great feedback to our last blog on the science behind the paleo diet. Here’s some more science-talk for your reading pleasure.

protein

A recent study published in the journal Cell Metabolism, may have interesting implications for paleo followers. The epidemiological study of 6,381 adults ages 50 and over, found that high protein intake is related to cancer and all-cause mortality for adults 50 to 65. Most fascinating? The major driver of this association was animal protein consumption. These results are in agreement with recent findings on the association between red meat consumption and death from all types of cancer (study, study). In fact, when comparing these outcomes for plant-based proteins, there was no relationship found. Previous studies have found that a low carbohydrate diet is associated with an increase in mortality, and that high intake of animal-based products increased this risk even further (studystudy).

All of this may be bad news for meat lovers… with one exception: seniors. For individuals 66 and over, high protein was actually shown to be protective against diseases of aging, like cancer and diabetes, as well as overall mortality.

This result could be explained by the change in body composition as we age. Aging is marked by a decrease in skeletal muscle, referred to as sarcopenia. Older adults therefore require more grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The authors’ conclusions are consistent with these recommendations, suggesting “low protein intake during middle age followed by moderate to high protein consumption in old adults may optimize health span and longevity.”

 Finally, research has long suggested that long-term calorie restriction may reduce your lifetime risk for developing certain chronic diseases and diseases of aging, such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Certain researchers believe these results may have to do with growth hormone receptor/insulin-like growth factor deficiencies (GHR/IGF-1). In studies, both mice and humans with growth hormone receptor/IGF-1 deficiencies are less likely to experience age-related diseases. In the current study, IGF-1 levels were positively associated with protein consumption in a randomly selected subset of the population. In other words, as protein consumption increased, so did IGF-1 levels.

Click here to sign up for an InsideTracker plan and start tracking your own biomarkers today.

What’s noteworthy about this study is that, unlike some of the studies discussed in our last blog on paleo, this study was highly powered. It used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), which is a nationally representative, cross-sectional study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

It is important to note that the study we are discussing was not about the paleo diet. In fact, the words “paleo,” “caveman,” or “hunters and gatherers” were never mentioned in the article. Paleo advocates may even argue that this study is not relevant to true paleo subscribers, who focus on a plant-based, whole foods diet, which is only supplemented by meat and animal products. In that case, this study is not ground-breaking. It supports what years of research have already told us: people who eat plant-based diets (albeit not necessarily vegetarian) tend to live longer, healthier lives.

Get started on your healthier life. Sign up for an InsideTracker plan today.

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How Daniel Rinehart Used Scientific Information to Preserve His Health

- Mar 05, 2014

By Perrin Braun

Even if you’re not a professional athlete like Sarah Haskins, Jarrod Shoemaker, or Ruben Sanca, it’s still important to maintain a nutritious diet, exercise regularly, and keep track of what’s going on inside of your body. Maintaining your health is a lot less effort than you might think: targeted changes in nutrition, based on the results of your unique bloodwork and the latest peer-reviewed research, can improve performance and turn a good effort into a winning one. Even better news is that InsideTracker also offers big benefits for everyday athletes. One example is Daniel Rinehart, an avid bicyclist and hiker who knows that a proper nutrition and fitness regimen can provide enough energy and nutrition for optimal growth and development.   daniel

Rinehart has always made it a point to stay up-to-date on the latest nutrition and fitness information. After hearing a talk by InsideTracker’s founder, Dr. Gil Blander, he was very intrigued by all of the evidenced-based health knowledge that the product could provide. As a software developer, Rinehart has a mathematic mind that was piqued by InsideTracker’s promise to help him quantify exactly what is going on inside of his body so that he could tap into his full fitness potential. Although his physician had given him a clean bill of health, Rinehart wanted to get detailed feedback about biomarkers that are not typically measured at the doctor’s office, so he signed up for a package of 4 Performance Plans.

Click here to learn how InsideTracker can provide you with personalized diet and exercise recommendations to fit your unique needs!

When the results of his first test came back, Rinehart discovered that he had low levels of vitamin D and high levels of ferritin. Rinehart, who lives in Boston, wasn’t surprised by his low vitamin D levels, since people who live in cold, northern altitudes are often low in this particular vitamin because it is derived from sunlight. However, having low levels of vitamin D can be problematic; vitamin D increases bone health, muscle mass, and strength, among many other health benefits. Rinehart’s high ferritin levels were also troublesome; some studies indicate a potential relationship between ferritin and heart disease.

“I expect that the preventive medicine aspect of InsideTracker will help me as I get older,” Rinehart said. “Personalized medicine is one of the most interesting parts of what InsideTracker can do because the biomarkers that it tracks might not be measured by your annual physical,” he continued.

Rinehart took a unique approach to his InsideTracker tests—he used the results of his first and second tests to establish a baseline number for his ferritin and vitamin D levels. Then, between his second and third and fourth tests, he started taking InsideTracker’s nutrition recommendations to see what impact the guidelines would have on his health. He completely changed what he ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and added a vitamin D supplement to his daily regimen. Adhering to these recommendations paid off – Rinehart’s third and fourth test results showed vastly improved vitamin D levels. In addition, he noticed that other biomarkers –which were not necessarily in his sub-optimal zone, but had room for improvement—were drastically boosted with his new diet.

Rinehart found that InsideTracker’s ability to customize recommendations based on his unique physiology really helped him to understand his body. What makes InsideTracker unique is its integration of an “optimal zone” in the blood analysis—a number that is specific to each person and takes into account his or her own unique demographic information such as: age, gender, ethnicity, activity level, as well as lifestyle and performance goals. InsideTracker’s sophisticated algorithm called B.R.A.I.N (Biomarker Research Analysis Integrative Network) determines the optimal zones for each marker based on the latest peer-reviewed research. So while Rinehart’s physicians may not have noticed his sub-optimal levels of vitamin D and ferritin because they were within the “normal” range for the general population, his levels were actually not high enough to meet his personal needs.

Daniel Rinehart - Quantified Self for Preventative Care - Boston QS from James Zhen on Vimeo.

Rinehart also remarked that he appreciated InsideTracker’s clear, user-friendly interface. “The charting and visual representation of your biomarkers, the history of your tests, and the areas of improvement were very good,” he said.

Does this avid cyclist and hiker have any advice for people who are looking to improve their physical performance? According to Daniel Rinehart, knowledge is power! “Additional knowledge is always valuable,” Rinehart remarked. “In order to attain your full physical capabilities, you need to have the right information going forward,” he added. Lesson learned: even if you’re exercising and eating healthfully, there’s always room for improvement with help from InsideTracker!

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The Science Behind Testosterone Biomarkers

- Feb 26, 2014

By Ray Nguyen

Testosterone is a steroid hormone that is essential for muscle development and strength, bone health, sexual function, overall energy, and athletic performance. Although both men and women produce testosterone, women normally have very little of this hormone - a fraction of the amount that men typically have. However, having too much or too little testosterone can cause problems. Excess testosterone decreases the levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, affects heart health, and impairs sexual and reproductive function. In contrast, low testosterone can make you feel tired, uninterested in sex, and less competitive, as well as diminishing your athletic performance. Possible causes of low testosterone include overtraining and low levels of zinc and magnesium.image

While it is helpful to know your total testosterone level, testosterone metabolism is complex. Therefore, this review will focus on four testosterone-related markers that, taken collectively, provide a more complete understanding of how testosterone is working in your body:

  • Total Testosterone - all the testosterone in the body.
  • Free Testosterone - the amount of testosterone that is bioactive, that is, ready for the body to use.
  • Sex-Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) - a protein that binds to, transports and inhibits the function of testosterone.
  • Albumin - the most abundant protein in your body, albumin binds to and transports hormones, including testosterone. When bound to albumin, testosterone is not as available for the body to use as when it is free, thus albumin inhibits the function of testosterone.

Consider getting an InsideTracker test to learn about your optimal testosterone zones and how to optimize with lifestyle recommendations!

Testosterone and free testosterone

Testosterone is produced predominantly in the testes of men, and to a lesser extent, in the ovaries of women. Testosterone’s androgenic effects include the maturation of male sex organs and the appearance of secondary characteristics such as body hair and a deepening voice. This hormone also has important anabolic effects, including the increase of muscle mass and bone strength. Maintaining muscle mass becomes more difficult as men age, because testosterone levels decline each year (by about 2% per year). Within the body, serum testosterone spends most of its time bound to other biomolecules, including albumin and sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). Binding inhibits the function of the hormone. Only about 2 to 3% of testosterone is unbound, and this “free” testosterone is biologically active (meaning it is being used by the body).

Click here to learn how InsideTracker can help you optimize your testosterone-related biomarkers today!

SHBG

Sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) is a glycoprotein produced mainly by the liver and released into the bloodstream. Its main function is to bind and inhibit the action of sex hormones such as testosterone. Approximately 45% of the testosterone within the body is bound to SHBG. Therefore the availability of testosterone for use in the body depends largely on the level of SHBG. High levels of SHBG reduce available testosterone, affecting your energy level, your muscle development, your sex drive, and your bone health. If a person with a normal amount of total testosterone has a high level of SHBG, which reduces the amount of free (active) testosterone, then he may experience the same physiological effects as a person with low total testosterone. High SHBG can indicate liver disease.

image

Albumin

Produced by the liver, albumin is the most abundant protein in human blood. This protein carries free fatty acids to the liver, transports medication, binds with calcium, and helps maintain blood acidity in a narrow range. In addition, albumin plays a key role in maintaining osmotic pressure, preventing plasma inside the blood vessels from leaking out into surrounding tissues. Importantly, albumin also acts as a carrier protein for steroids, including testosterone. About 50% of the body’s testosterone is bound to albumin. Although albumin-bound testosterone is biologically inactive, this binding is much weaker than SHBG binding. Thus in the interaction between these two molecules, testosterone bound to albumin spends less time in the inactive (bound) state and more time in the active (free state). Low serum albumin levels can be a sign of kidney or liver disease, or an indication that the body is not getting enough nutrients. High serum albumin levels can indicate dehydration or be caused by a high protein diet.

Why are the testosterone ratios important?

As mentioned above, testosterone is an anabolic hormone (build muscle). Anabolism is the set of metabolic pathways that utilize energy to construct molecules from smaller units. Catabolism is the opposite (break muscle); it is the set of metabolic pathways that breaks down molecules into smaller units to release energy. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone that increases protein breakdown, inhibits glucose uptake, and promotes the breakdown of lipids (fats). Therefore, the ratio of total testosterone to cortisol (T/C) can indicate the body’s anabolic/catabolic state. A high ratio suggests the body is in a state conducive to building muscle, and a low ratio indicates a state more conducive to breaking down muscle. The ratio of free testosterone/cortisol (FT/C) is similar. A low FT/C score can be an indicator of over-training, high stress levels, or poor quality sleep, any of which can result in muscle breakdown and fatigue. A high FT/C score can show that your body is getting enough sleep and recovery time to increase muscle mass and strength.

Why learn more about your testosterone-related markers?

While it is useful and important to measure your total testosterone level, knowing your levels of free testosterone, SHBG, albumin and testosterone/cortisol ratio gives you a much more detailed understanding of how much testosterone is active in your body, as well as your anabolism/catabolism status. For example, a high level of SHBG effectively reduces your free testosterone and may cause symptoms similar to those of low total testosterone. If you are seeking to achieve your peak performance, consider getting an InsideTracker Ultimate test to learn about your testosterone levels and how to optimize them.

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The Paleo Diet: What Does the Science Say?

- Feb 19, 2014

By Kalyn Weber

The Paleo diet is the latest craze in the world of nutrition and fitness. Supporters often describe this diet as a lifestyle, which is centered on eating similar foods and food groups to our hunter-gatherer ancestors and what they survived on during the Paleolithic era. Dieticians and other health professionals have criticized the movement for its denouncement of two key components of the MyPlate guide: grains and dairy. Like other diets, the caveman lifestyle has been described as overly restrictive and difficult to adhere to. paleo_science

What does the scientific literature reveal about the Paleo trend?

Here are some highlights from recent studies on the Paleo diet:

  1. Just last month, a study was published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition that suggests that a Paleo-like diet may lead to decreased waist circumferences and blood triglycerides after 6 to 12 months. At least it did in their population of 70 obese postmenopausal women. The problem? These outcomes were not observed at the 2-year follow-up mark, which tends to be the case for most diets. Individuals often do well early on with their diet plans, but then are unable to maintain success later on.
  2. A recent study of 10, healthy, postmenopausal women showed positive health outcomes linked to the Paleo diet. The women were instructed to eat a paleo-like diet ad-libitum (Latin for “at one’s pleasure”) for 5 weeks. The results? Women, on average, consumed fewer calories, weighed less and significantly decreased their waist and hip circumference, and diastolic blood pressure. Participants’ blood levels of biomarkers such as fasting serum glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides all decreased as well.  

Click here to sign up for an InsideTracker plan and start tracking your own biomarkers today.

  1. Another crossover study design compared participants’ health outcomes with their typical diet, to the health outcomes after consuming a paleo-type diet for 10 days. While participants did not lose weight, researchers concluded from the study that “even short-term consumption of a Paleolithic-type diet improves blood pressure and glucose tolerance, decreases insulin secretion, increases insulin sensitivity and improves lipid profiles.” 
  2. An earlier study examined the relationship between two different diet types – Mediterranean versus Paleolithic – and glucose tolerance. Impaired glucose tolerance, a pre-diabetic state of hyperglycemia that is associated with insulin resistance and increased risk of cardiovascular disease, actually improved to a greater degree in Paleo dieters. Mean waist circumference also decreased to a greater degree for the Paleo individuals.
  3. A follow-up study in 2009 found similar results, using a randomized cross-over design. Researchers assigned 13 diabetic participants to follow a Paleo diet, based on lean meat, fish, fruits, vegetables (including root vegetables), eggs and nuts for 3-month study periods. The study yielded similar results and the researchers concluded that the “Paleolithic diet improved glycemic control and several cardiovascular risk factors compared to a diabetes diet in patients with type 2 diabetes.

Conclusions

At first glance, this seems like good news for Paleo subscribers. Paleo critics have long cited that this diet promotes higher intakes of saturated fats – a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. However, these studies indicate that the Paleo diet may actually be protective against cardiovascular disease, at least in terms of risk factors such as glucose and lipid profiles, waist circumference, blood pressure and cholesterol.

Unfortunately, most of the studies cited above have serious limitations — the chief of which is small sample size. These studies are small and mostly non-representative of the average American, much less the average athlete (many use postmenopausal women or a sick population). For example, study 4 from above, albeit with the largest sample size, studied 29 individuals with both ischaemic heart disease AND glucose intolerance or type 2 diabetes (not exactly a starting point of perfect health). Because of this, the extrapolation of these findings, and their relevance to the average American, should be questioned.

The second issue with the majority of these studies is a short time period. The Paleo diet is often described as a “lifestyle change,” but there doesn’t seem to be any longitudinal data on its effects. While weight loss can happen relatively quickly, i.e. a few weeks or months, chronic diseases develop over long periods of time. Therefore, it is probably unwise to make certain types of life-long assumptions based on studies that were conducted over short periods of time.

What does this mean for me?

The evidence is not strong enough yet for health professionals to be changing the dietary recommendations. Does that mean Paleo is wrong for you? Maybe not. Individuals with gluten or dairy intolerances may still find great benefit. And as you have seen, there is fairly consistent evidence of weight loss and cardiovascular improvements stemming from the Paleo diet.

It is important to note, weight loss was not maintained in most of these studies. As with most low-carb, restrictive diets, rapid weight loss often occurs quickly in the first few weeks of the diet. This is because your body is breaking down muscle and fat to use as fuel. To dilute the breakdown of these tissues, you excrete more fluid and shed a large portion of your water weight. The weight you observe is just water weight! After this beginning phase, your weight loss will plateau and you are more likely to gain weight if you do not maintain your diet.

As with any change you make to your fitness plan, it’s important to monitor the effects of these changes. With InsideTracker, you can track important biomarkers of health and metabolism, like fasting glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides, as well as biomarkers for key nutrients, like sodium, potassium and vitamin D, no matter if you follow Paleo, Mediterranean, or any other diet.

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Love Your Heart This Valentine’s Day!

- Feb 12, 2014

By Perrin Braun

Our hearts take center stage in February! Since we celebrate both Valentine’s Day and American Heart Month in February, it’s only fitting that we spend a little time thinking about one of the most important organs in our bodies. First, the bad news: heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. In fact, half a million Americans die from heart disease every year. The good news is that most of the risk factors for this pressing health issue—including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, poor nutrition, and sedentary lifestyle—are preventable and reversible! A great Valentine’s Day gift is to show your body and your heart some love and appreciation by taking the steps that are necessary to live a longer, healthier life.heart

With just one small sample of your blood, the InsideTracker program can show you how your heart-related biomarkers can improve with nutrition and physical activity interventions.

Cholesterol 101

While high cholesterol is one of the major modifiable risk factors for coronary heart disease and heart attack, keep in mind that cholesterol itself isn’t bad. Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is found in all the cells of the body. You need some cholesterol to make hormones such as testosterone, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs, and it is also is found in some of the foods you eat. Cholesterol travels through your bloodstream in small units called lipoproteins, which are made out of both fat and protein.

There are two different types of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol throughout your body: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). High levels of LDL can result in a build-up of cholesterol in your arteries, which are the blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to your body. Eventually, LDL cholesterol can enter your blood vessel walls and begin to accumulate under the lining of your vessels, restricting blood flow. In contrast, HDLs act as cholesterol scavengers, carrying cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver, where it is processed and removed. Total cholesterol, LDL, and HDL are three of the many biomarkers that InsideTracker monitors, so if your levels are unhealthy, the program will provide you with tailored recommendations on how to optimize them based on the new guidelines from the American Heart Association.

Click here to learn how InsideTracker can help you optimize your biomarkers and keep your heart healthy with personalized diet recommendations!

How does stress affect your heart health?

While a little stress can be beneficial because it can act as an incentive to accomplish certain goals, constant stress can become a health issue. When you are chronically stressed, your body responds like it is constantly under attack. The long-term activation of your stress-response system can put you at an increased risk of health problems, including heart disease.

Cortisol is commonly referred to as “the stress hormone.” Elevated cortisol levels can often indicate high levels of stress. When the body faces a stressor (such as trauma, emotional exhaustion, or severe calorie restriction), cortisol is synthesized from cholesterol and released by the hypothalamus, which is a part of the brain. Cortisol then diverts energy away from low-priority activity, such as the immune system, and spares available glucose for the brain, putting all energy towards the more immediate threat. In the past, this stress mechanism served us well. After a stressful event occurs, however, it is important for the body’s function to return to normal, and for the relaxation response to be reactivated. In today’s world, while many stressors certainly exist, there are fewer threats requiring such immediate attention, and our bodies often remain in elevated levels of stress for extended periods of time. When we are chronically stressed, the body continuously releases cortisol, which may result in heart problems.

What are some steps you can take to protect your heart?

One of the most important steps you can take to improve your heart health is to know what’s happening in your body. The best way to determine your cholesterol and cortisol levels is to get a blood test done. What you eat also can have a huge impact on your heart, and you can decrease your risk of heart disease by avoiding foods that are high in unhealthy fat, calories, sugar, and salt. Some foods, on the other hand, help to decrease stress. To lower your cholesterol, you can replace unhealthy fats with healthy fats and replace refined carbohydrates with whole grains. Keeping Valentine’s Day in mind, you can treat your loved one to a heart-healthy meal that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein or spend some time together dipping fruit in chocolate instead of just buying a box of regular chocolates!

Most importantly, if your heart-related biomarkers are not optimal, make sure you work to monitor your progress. Eating nutritious foods, along with getting regular exercise, can go a long way in helping you to keep your heart healthy and happy this Valentine’s Day season!

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The Philosophy Behind Your New Personalized Optimal Zones

- Feb 05, 2014

By Gil Blander, PhD

My lifetime goal is to help humankind to live longer, delay the onset of age-related disease, and improve quality of life. Very early in my professional career, I learned that to do that we need to know what is happening inside our bodies. The best indicator for that is blood analysis, as it reflects the current status of our organs and body systems.

 

1)   They are most relevant for a healthy person looking to improve his or her health and performance;

2)   A high percentage of the healthy population is not optimized: I was not looking for markers where just one out of one million people is optimized; and

3)   They are actionable: marker levels can be modulated by food, supplements, exercise, and lifestyle changes.

My next task was to develop an optimal zone for each of these 30 biomarkers. The rationale was simple: before InsideTracker, all of us had the same normal zone for specific markers, regardless of if you were male or female, old or young, white or African American, athletic/active or a couch potato, or a heavy drinker or sober. We developed the optimal zone by extracting relevant information from peer-reviewed scientific publications about specific populations in relationship to specific markers. For example, the normal zone for ferritin for females is above 12, but young athletic females might need more iron due to monthly iron loss with the menstrual cycle, or exercise that depletes iron levels. That is why the optimal zone for ferritin for such a person is much higher than 12. The second method of developing the optimal zones was by using a large database of hundreds of thousands of data points from the American population that includes all of the demographic information (age, gender, ethnicity, athletic activity, and so on) connected to those biomarkers. That mega-database allowed us to find the zone in which the majority of your peers’ levels fall, and then based on that, create and draw the optimal zone for you. We use a mix of these two methods to calculate the optimal zone for each of our customers.

Click here to see your updated, personalized recommendations — or sign up for an InsideTracker plan today!

Recently, you may have logged into your InsideTracker account and noticed your personalized optimal zones are different. The reason your optimal zones have changed is that last year, we decided that we needed to re-evaluate the validity of each marker’s optimal zone in order to provide our customers with the most innovative information possible. To do that, we significantly expanded the size of the population database and in addition, we reviewed all of the rules extracted from the peer-reviewed scientific publications and updated them based on newer, more cutting-edge research. One area we specifically focused on was the impact of specific markers on the aging process and how that affects the optimal level for a specific customer (unique age, gender, ethnicity, athletic activity, and so on). Our goal is to provide personalized, powerful, and practical information to each customer, allowing you to live longer and delay the onset of age-related disease.

InsideTracker helps you maintain and kick up a notch your health and performance by defining your personalized optimal zones for a specific, relevant set of blood biomarkers. We still provide this service, but now, your zones are updated and even more relevant and accurate than before. The simple and natural recommendations we prescribe to you to bring your out-of-the-optimal-zone biomarkers in to your unique optimal zone are therefore also now even more valuable.

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Sugar Rush: Glucose Levels in Athletes

- Jan 30, 2014

By Gil Blander, PhD

One hundred million Americans are expected to watch the Super Bowl this Sunday, and one key player we are interested in watching is Seattle’s Skittles-fueled running back, Marshawn Lynch. In ESPN’s Sport Science, John Brenkus and colleagues tested Lynch’s glucose levels, reaction time, and strength before and after ingesting candy. Any scientific researcher knows that this overly simplistic test construction and small sample size is insufficient for publication, but we hope more teams will start following this model of experimentation. After all, internal experimentation drives innovation in sport forward, which we have seen firsthand with Super Bowl athletes.Sugar Rush: Glucose Levels in Athletes

An athlete’s resting glucose level is an under-appreciated biomarker, but it can reveal a lot about what’s going on inside an athlete’s body when tested repeatedly over the course of a season and throughout a career. For instance, we know from years of testing some of our best clients that a fasting glucose result above their optimized zone can indicate a problem complying with their nutrition program. A single test can’t reveal everything, but successive tests force athletes to see the effects of their behavior. Athletes may worry about developing diabetes in the future, but they are much more concerned about their energy levels during practice. Having great insulin sensitivity and a lean body cannot be overlooked, since we see athletes that make improvements in controlling their blood sugar to be the most alert and sharp when it matters, including the Winter Olympics.

Suggesting that eating sugary candy is a secret weapon or going sugar free is the path to excellence in sport is not accurate and is grossly oversimplified. Recently, nutrient timing has come under some scrutiny, with different sides showing the limits to liquid carbohydrate and protein consumption and the window of administration. What we do know is that we need to think about the other hours during the day that improve our bodies’ ability to handle glucose, such as the optimal mindset during the day to handle stress and the right sleeping environment to take advantage of our biochemistry. When coaches send us data from Heart Rate Variability (HRV) monitors like ithlete and Omegawave, we carefully look at sleep quality to ensure both energy and recovery are quantified with glucose levels and a player’s androgen scores (anabolic hormone metrics). The result? Those athletes who focus on superb sleep have the best recovery biomarkers.

Almost unlimited “metabolic mash-ups” exist when data converges with blood testing if athletes time their testing during key periods, something we share with our partnered clients. During the last two years we have made real discoveries on how all of the new technologies can expand their value when the right biomarkers are tested, and we expect more innovation to come in 2014.

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Eat like the Caveman Did? Determining if the Paleo Diet is Right for You

- Jan 28, 2014

By Kalyn Weber

Few would disagree that the evolution of the human diet has indeed been harmful for today’s society. The rise of processed, calorically dense, low-nutrient foods has spurred an epidemic of obesity and chronic disease. Could the solution to our woes simply be to return to the diet of our hunting and gathering ancestors?image

That is the founding principle of the so-called “paleo diet” (also referred to as the caveman diet, paleolithic diet, the stone-age diet, and the hunter and gatherer’s diet). This fitness trend emerged in the late 1970s but has resurfaced in recent years and is promoted by many health professionals, researchers and elite athletes as the most healthful way to optimize fitness levels while reducing the risk of developing chronic disease. However, like Atkins and other low-carb diets, the Paleo Diet has also been criticized for its extreme focus on nutrient restrictions and its lack of suitability for the general public.

What to eat on the paleo diet

The paleo diet emphasizes whole, unprocessed food and is based on the premise that we should only be eating foods that were available to our ancestors 10,000 years ago. The work of Loren Cordain, the founder of the paleo movement, suggests that the paleo diet is rich in the following:

  • grass-fed beef;
  • fish and seafood;
  • fruits and vegetables;
  • eggs; nuts and seeds; and
  • certain oils, such as olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, and coconut.

 Paleo followers are instructed to avoid or limit:

  • cereal grains;
  • legumes (including peanuts);
  • dairy;
  • refined sugar;
  • potatoes;
  • processed foods;
  • salt; and
  • refined vegetable oils.

What does all this amount to? The most striking difference is a smaller proportion of carbohydrates and a slightly higher proportion of fats and proteins. Paleo dieters end up consuming about 30% of calories from protein, 30% from fats (mostly unsaturated) and 40% from carbohydrates (mainly from fruits and vegetables).

The elimination of grains and dairy has received the greatest amount of backlash from dieticians and other health professionals. After all, the current dietary guidelines promote the consumption of whole grains and dairy as a component of a healthy diet. For most (those without gluten or lactose intolerance), grains and dairy are the most difficult items to add to the “do not eat” list. Many paleo subscribers make some modifications this basic tenet, simply for daily convenience. For example, butter is a dairy product and is often used in cooking as a fat source. Could you eliminate butter from your diet? What about coffee? If you are an athlete, what about sports drinks and supplements? You can begin to see the problem. Obviously we have an enormous amount of resources at our fingertips that were unavailable to our ancestors. Paleo eaters must themselves decide where to drawn the line.

Click here to learn about what Paleo-friendly foods are good for your body based on InsideTracker’s nutrition software.

Paleo for athletes

Because paleo prohibits the intake of grains and is relatively low-carb, many endurance athletes, like runners, cyclists and triathletes find it difficult to adhere to the diet during training. Traditional carb-loading becomes very difficult. Therefore runners and other endurance athletes should adjust their intake before, during, and immediately after workouts to include normal sugars. Strength and power athletes, who generally consume higher amounts of protein, may find it easier to comply with the paleo plan.

Biomarkers to monitor

Thinking of going paleo? Get a blood test, such as that offered with InsideTracker, to assess your baseline first. What changes can you expect? Due to the increased consumption of meat and poultry, you might see higher concentrations of vitamin B12, a nutrient only found in animal products. Iron status, which is measured by the biomarkers ferritin and hemoglobin, is also closely related to meat consumption. All of these biomarkers have shown to be critical indicators of health and athletic performance.

For most Americans, milk and other fortified dairy products are a key source of calcium and vitamin D — two nutrients that are absolutely essential for bone health. Followers of the paleo lifestyle should carefully monitor their calcium and vitamin D statuses, particularly if they choose to fully eliminate dairy from their diet. Replacing dairy with an alternative source of calcium, such as broccoli and collard greens, is a good way to ensure adequate intake.

Finally, although the mechanisms are not fully understood, the paleo diet seems to also have an impact on blood levels of glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides. These three biomarkers of metabolism are closely related to chronic disease, such as diabetes and heart disease, and are important to keep track of.

So…Is caveman eating right for you?

You and your healthcare team are the only ones who can answer that question. In the end, the paleo diet follows the basic tenet of most healthy eating plans: whole, unprocessed foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables. InsideTracker can provide you with essential information to help you manage and optimize your own health. Consider checking out which InsideTracker plan is right for you today.

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Master Sergeant Joseph Roberts' Transformation

- Jan 21, 2014

By Perrin Braun

It’s easy to see why InsideTracker can be beneficial for professional athletes like Sarah Haskins, Jarrod Shoemaker, and Ruben Sanca, who have to keep their bodies in the best condition possible to rival other world-class competitors. Even a small change in nutrition can improve performance and turn a good effort into a winning one. But InsideTracker also offers big benefits to other people—especially individuals like retired Master Sergeant (MSG) Joseph Roberts, who knows how important it is to stay healthy before, during, and after long military stints in Iraq. joseph roberts

For MSG(R) Roberts, nutrition and the military are fundamentally interconnected. Appropriate food, in terms of both nutritional quality and quantity, are required to ensure that the physical capacity and mental ability of military personnel remain at optimal levels. Wanting to learn more about his nutritional status, MSG(R) Roberts came across InsideTracker from an Internet search, and decided to give the program a try. The former Sergeant suffered traumatic brain injuries from a roadside bomb that went off in Iraq in 2007, and reported that nutrition recommendations from InsideTracker were a major contributor to his healing process, as well as influenced his subsequent rehabilitation.

Click here to learn how InsideTracker can provide you with personalized diet and exercise recommendations to fit your unique needs!

Despite being in the military for twenty-one years and having access to Army doctors, Roberts’ had not had a thorough testing of his hormone levels, as this type of testing is not standard under doctor care. His physicians correctly said that his testosterone levels were within the “normal range” for the general population, but InsideTracker told him something new: each person has a different “optimal zone,” which is a number that is specific to each person and takes into account his or her own unique demographic information, such as age, gender, ethnicity, activity level, as well as lifestyle and performance goals. Roberts’ InsideTracker results let him know that his testosterone levels were definitely below optimal for his unique physical needs, which is especially problematic for someone in the military because testosterone plays a key role in development and maintenance of both muscle mass and strength. Roberts brought his InsideTracker results to his doctor, who took action on his low testosterone levels once they discerned that his abnormal hormone levels were caused by the explosion in 2007. 

Moreover, ever since he began adhering to the personalized nutrition recommendations that were provided by InsideTracker scientists, Roberts was able to reduce the number of medications that he was taking from five to just one. He also witnessed improved cholesterol and reduced creatine kinase levels, which shows that even simple changes in diet can really make a huge difference in impacting overall health.

“All the InsideTracker results continue to be very helpful,” Roberts explained. Because the information from his first blood test was so useful, he scheduled three different follow-up tests using the Performance Plan, which provides customers with personalized results for 20 different blood biomarkers.

So, how does MSG(R) Roberts rate the InsideTracker program? “My experience has been beyond positive,” he proclaimed. Roberts also mentioned that the InsideTracker program is “very simple” to use, and loved that fact that he could access his personal information at home, on vacation, or anywhere with Internet access. And now that he has a deeper understanding of the importance of individualized blood analysis, he’s even planning on urging his military friends to sign up for an InsideTracker plan, and may even go so far as to encourage the Army to conduct pre and post deployment bloodwork on its current members.

Does this former Sergeant have any advice for people who are looking to improve their physical performance?  “Use InsideTracker and follow their guidelines. There’s no way to cheat the system; your bloodwork will show what you’re doing right and doing wrong.” And, if you’re following all the nutrition and physical activity recommendations and still see some irregularities in your biomarkers, you can take the results to your doctor to see if there’s a deeper problem—just like Roberts did!

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Why Iron is So Crucial to Your Body

- Jan 15, 2014

By Ray Nguyen

Why is iron important to the body?

The human body requires iron to perform many vital physiological functions. For instance, iron is the key component of hemoglobin that allows red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body, and it plays a key role in cell growth and differentiation. According to the World Health Organization, up to 80% of the people in the world may be iron deficient. Premenopausal women, particularly those who exercise regularly, face a great risk of iron deficiency, or even anemia. Athletic, active males are also at high risk for iron deficiency. Low levels of iron can leave you feeling physically tired and weak, impair mental function, and weaken the immune system. Having too much iron in the body, on the other hand, can poison certain organs and even cause death. Maintaining the optimal balance of iron within the body is therefore essential to one’s health. iron cropped

InsideTracker’s Fitness and Performance Plans measure two iron-related markers, hemoglobin and ferritin. Our new Ultimate Plan adds four more iron-related markers to give users a systemic view of this essential nutrient, allowing for a better understanding of any iron imbalances.

How does the body acquire and expel iron?

The body cannot make iron; you must acquire it through your diet. Dietary iron is processed and absorbed by the mucosal cells of the small intestine. Only about 10% of the iron we consume each day is absorbed into the body, however. The process of iron absorption is tightly regulated because the body does not posses any biochemical mechanisms for removing iron. Instead, iron is lost through processes such as bleeding, menstruation, and breast-feeding. Additionally, iron within the body is constantly being recycled and reused (e.g., in red blood cell turnover).

What happens once iron enters the body?

After being absorbed into the mucosal cells of the small intestine, a portion of the iron is stored in the protein ferritin. Each ferritin molecule is capable of binding to around 4,500 iron molecules at a time. Ferritin binds and releases iron in response to fluctuating amounts of iron in the blood, thereby maintaining a relatively constant serum (blood) iron level. Ferritin is found in all cells, but is most common in bone marrow, the liver, and the spleen. The liver, heart, and pancreas typically have high levels of ferritin and are therefore susceptible to disease or damage from iron overload.

Iron not stored within ferritin is exported from the intestinal cells and released into the bloodstream. Once the iron enters the blood, it is bound by the protein transferrin. Proteins like transferrin prevent iron from forming cell-damaging compounds such as free radicals and aid in the transportation of iron to various tissues throughout the body.

Some iron is also shuttled to the bone marrow where it plays a key role in the formation of new red blood cells. Iron-bound transferrin binds to the transferrin receptor on the surface of newly forming red blood cells, then moves into the cell where the iron is separated from the transferrin. The transferrin protein returns to the bloodstream, and the iron is available in the cell for use. Since red blood cells have such a short lifespan (about 120 days), the body requires a constant supply of iron to rebuild hemoglobin. As a result, dying red blood cells are recycled by white blood cells known as macrophages. Old hemoglobin is broken down to replenish the blood’s iron supply.

Why might my iron be low?

One reason you may be low on iron is that your body’s demand for iron may have increased. This often occurs in young children undergoing rapid growth, pregnant women, and people who lose blood through blood donation, intestinal conditions, menstruation, or very intense endurance activity. Another reason for low iron is decreased iron intake or absorption. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences recommends that men aged 19-50 consume 8 mg of iron per day and premenopausal women consume 18 mg of iron per day. After menopause, women’s iron needs drop to the same level as men’s: 8 mg per day.image

How can I improve my body’s iron status?

Dietary iron takes two forms: heme (meat, poultry, and fish) and nonheme (beans, spinach, and fortified foods). Although nonheme iron is the more abundant form, the body more readily absorbs heme iron. Therefore you can increase iron absorption by consuming more heme iron. In addition, vitamin C helps to increase the amount of iron that your body absorbs; consuming foods or beverages rich in vitamin C at the same time that you are eating foods high in iron will boost iron absorption. Other compounds inhibit the absorption of iron, so you should avoid consuming foods or beverages containing these substances at the same time you are eating iron-rich foods. For example, for improved iron absorption, don’t drink coffee or tea during a meal or for one hour following a meal. Similarly, legumes and whole grains contain compounds that reduce iron absorption - so avoid consuming beans or whole grains with an iron-rich meal.

InsideTracker’s essential iron measurements 

The InsideTracker Fitness and Performance Plans measure ferritin and hemoglobin, two essential iron markers. Ferritin is the protein that binds iron for storage. Ferritin’s main function is to keep the levels of active iron in the body relatively constant by releasing or binding iron. If the body is low on iron, it can access iron stored in ferritin. If the body is high on iron, it can store potentially damaging excess iron within Ferritin. If your Ferritin is low, you should pay close attention to your iron levels. Hemoglobin is the iron-containing oxygen-transporter in red blood cells. Its primary function is to carry oxygen from the lungs to the muscles, brain, and digestive system where it releases the oxygen for cell use. Optimal levels of hemoglobin improve strength, increase endurance, and enhance overall aerobic performance.

InsideTracker’s new Ultimate plan

The four new iron-related markers included in the Ultimate panel give a detailed picture of iron in your body:

  • Serum Iron - the amount of iron in the blood
  • Total Iron Binding Capacity (TIBC) - measures the maximum amount of iron your blood can carry, and is an indirect measure of transferrin, which transports iron to various tissues and prevents iron from causing damage in the body.
  • Unsaturated Iron Binding Capacity (UIBC) - is TIBC minus serum iron
  • Transferrin Saturation (also called Iron Saturation) – is Serum Iron divided by TIBC and then multiplied by 100. It shows how much iron in the blood is bound by transferrin.

Why should you know more about your iron levels? 

InsideTracker added these four iron markers to the Ultimate panel because Ferritin and Hemoglobin alone cannot give you a comprehensive understanding of your iron status. Serum iron, transferrin saturation, TIBC, and UIBC all reveal information about iron in your blood. Changes in these markers can show early signs of iron deficiency or excess even when your Ferritin is optimal. With six iron-related markers, the Ultimate Plan gives you a deep dive into your iron status that can help you to optimize your iron levels and thus increase your energy and focus, improve your aerobic performance, and strengthen your immune system. To find out more about your iron status, sign up for the Ultimate Plan today.


For more information about ferritin, check out our blog: https://www.insidetracker.com/blog/post/56962740603/got-fatigue-increase-your-ferritin


For more information about heme v. nonheme iron, check out our blog: https://www.insidetracker.com/blog/post/38863886706/pump-some-iron-do-you-know-the-difference-between-heme

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Fish oil: can it keep your brain sharp and your heart fit?

- Jan 08, 2014

By Perrin Braun

Fish oil has become increasingly popular in the last couple of years, as more people have started to understand the importance of omega-3 fatty acids in growth and development. Thanks to extensive amounts of scientific research and reporting by the media, fish oil is one of the most popular and widely-accepted supplements in the country. Americans spend nearly $1 billion per year on over-the-counter fish oil supplements.  Should fish oil become a part of your nutrition regimen?fish oil

To decide whether fish oil is right for you, you need to know which nutrients your body needs. The best way to discover this is through a blood analysis service, such as InsideTracker, which measures key blood biomarkers and then provides nutrition recommendations based on a database of over 7,500 foods. Read on to learn more about fish oil and whether it deserves a place in your grocery cart!

What are omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of dietary fat; specifically, they are a polyunsaturated fat (PUFA). Research shows that eating foods rich in polyunsaturated fats improves triglyceride and blood cholesterol levels, and may help decrease the risk of heart disease. Polyunsaturated fats may also protect against irregular heartbeats and help lower blood pressure levels. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats; as the body cannot naturally produce these essential fatty acids, it is necessary to obtain them through either diet or supplementation.

Click here to find out what others foods contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, and how InsideTracker can help you optimize your diet!

Fatty fish like mackerel, tuna, salmon, sturgeon, mullet, bluefish, anchovy, sardine, herring, trout, and menhaden are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, providing about 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acids per 3.5 ounces of fish. In addition to being a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, fish is a good source of protein that does not contain high amounts of unhealthy saturated fat, unlike many meat products. There are also plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids. While fish oils contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), plant sources provide alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is converted into omega-3 fatty acids in the body. Studies have generally used fish oils to examine the effects of omega-3s. While plant sources with ALA may provide the same health benefits as DHA and EPA, not as much is known about them.

What are the health effects of taking fish oil?

You can boost the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet by increasing your intake of fish or by taking a supplement. This is good news, as omega-3s play an important role in brain function, normal growth and development, and in preventing inflammation. Deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to a wide variety of health problems including cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, mood disorders, arthritis, and more. Still, it may be possible to have too much of a good thing. For example, a study published in July 2013 at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle linked eating a lot of oily fish or taking potent fish oil supplements to a 43% increased risk for prostate cancer, and a 71% increased risk for aggressive prostate cancer. Because of research like this, some experts take the position that the government should establish a dose limit for DHA. Overall, evidence linking fish oil to cancer has been mixed—some research shows that diets high in fish oil or fatty fish may reduce the risk of certain cancers, while other studies show no such connection.

Should I eat fish oil?

While there is no standard dose for the amount of omega-3 fatty acids that you should be consuming, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that people with heart disease take 1 gram per day of EPA+DHA. Higher doses — between 2 to 4 grams per day — are used to lower triglyceride levels. The AHA also recommends that people consume at least two servings of fish per week.

According to the National Institutes of Health, fish oil is likely safe for most people, including pregnant and breast-feeding women, when taken in doses of 3 grams or less per day. High doses of fish oil may reduce your body’s immune system activity and its ability to fight infection (the U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies intake of up to three grams of omega-3 fatty acids from fish daily as safe). It is also important to note that consuming large quantities of fish can expose you to mercury and harmful industrial or environmental agents (fish such as shark, king mackerel, and farm-raised salmon are more often the culprits). Removing the skin and surface fat from fish prior to cooking can reduce potential exposure to some of these contaminants. We don’t know yet whether the benefits of fish consumption come entirely from omega-3s, but it is more than likely that all of the fats, vitamins, and minerals found in fish are involved, rather than just the EPA and DHA alone.

While expert opinion may remain divided, it is best to speak to your doctor about omega-3 fatty acids. It is also important to get your blood tested in order to make sure that it’s safe for you to consume. In general, you may be a good candidate for fish oil supplements if you have high cholesterol or high levels of inflammation in your body, which are biomarkers that the InsideTracker program monitors very closely.

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Step Up to Ultimate Performance

- Jan 02, 2014

By Rony Sellam, CEO of InsideTracker

The InsideTracker team is driven by innovation and a desire to empower individuals with the essential information they need to live longer, healthier lives. We are continually seeking more and better ways to enable the InsideTracker community to optimize their health, wellness and performance. For the past two years, InsideTracker customers, from professional athletes to executives, and Olympians to health-conscious consumers, have made life-changing improvements based on the analysis and recommendations from InsideTracker. Again and again, our customers have told us how much they love our platform and the detailed, actionable information our system provides based on blood analysis.ultimate

Far and away, InsideTracker’s most popular plan has been the Performance Plan. With insight into energy and metabolism levels, bone and muscle health, strength and endurance capacity, brain and body function, and mineral concentrations and inflammation measurement, the Performance Plan is a comprehensive 20-biomarker test that offers the full power of InsideTracker’s analysis and recommendation engine.

Some of InsideTracker’s most committed customers have asked us to open the window inside their bodies even wider, to give them more detailed information that will enable them to improve their health and performance even more. They want to dive deeper into understanding their biochemistry. To give our most elite customers the data-rich analysis they crave, the InsideTracker scientific team has developed a new plan geared towards ultimate performers. We are now proud to announce our most comprehensive blood analysis package: the InsideTracker Ultimate Plan.

Click here for more detailed information about the Ultimate Plan.

The Ultimate Plan: The next step in full-body optimization

The Ultimate Plan is now our most advanced plan. Building on our Performance plan, the Ultimate Plan analyzes all the same areas of the Performance plan (energy, metabolism, bone, muscle, strength, endurance, brain, body, mineral and inflammation levels). But the Ultimate plan dives deeper into your physiology to give you a more complete picture of your biochemical status by additionally focusing on three key areas:

  • Liver Health
  • Iron & Energy
  • Strength & Endurance

The Ultimate Plan drills down into these three essential areas to offer analysis and recommendations critical to optimal performance. For the everyday consumer, such deep analysis is not required to improve general health and wellness. For the ultimate performer, however, who focuses on peak physical performance, razor sharp mental acuity and complete optimization of every aspect of his or her life – the Ultimate Plan offers deeper insights and powerful interventions that will help you achieve the pinnacle of performance. Whether you perform on the court, on the field, on stage or in the boardroom, the InsideTracker Ultimate Plan offers analysis and insight that will satisfy your most demanding expectations. Such deep analysis and scientifically based insight is not easily or economically obtained anywhere else.

Key Areas in the Ultimate Plan

Liver health. InsideTracker added three new markers to the Ultimate Plan to reveal the health of your liver and the likely cause of any liver damage. The second-largest organ in your body, your liver filters harmful compounds from your blood, removing fat, alcohol, and other toxins. In addition, the liver controls hormone and blood sugar levels, stores energy from food, and produces proteins, enzymes and bile. Alcohol, fatty food, and excess weight might compromise your liver health. Given the importance of your liver, optimal performance is difficult to achieve if your liver is not optimized.  

But how do you know if your liver is unhealthy or optimized? You probably won’t. Liver damage or disease may progress without any symptoms at all or with vague ones such as feeling tired or weak. Only a blood test will reveal the true health of your liver. Therefore, the Ultimate Plan tests three key liver enzymes:

  • Alanine aminotransferase (ALT) is an enzyme primarily found in the liver; it plays a role in changing stored glucose into usable energy. When the liver is not functioning well, ALT can enter the bloodstream. There is normally a small amount of ALT in the blood; higher amounts of ALT in the blood typically indicate liver damage.
  • Aspartate aminotransferase (AST) is an enzyme primarily found in the liver, and also in the heart, muscle tissue, kidneys, brain, and red blood cells. AST helps to metabolize amino acids to provide you with more energy, help you digest food more effectively, and make you feel stronger. Higher amounts of AST in the blood typically indicate liver damage.
  • Gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT) is an enzyme that is concentrated in the liver, and is also found in the bile ducts, pancreas, spleen, and kidneys. GGT helps to transfer amino acids across the cell membrane, and plays an important role in helping the liver metabolize toxins; higher amounts of GGT in the blood typically indicate liver damage.

Ironing out your problems. Our current Performance Plan measures two iron-related markers, hemoglobin and ferritin. Our new Ultimate Plan adds four more iron-related markers to give customers a systemic view of this essential nutrient, allowing for better understanding of any iron imbalances.

According to the World Health Organization, up to 80% of the people in the world may be iron deficient. Premenopausal women, particularly those who exercise regularly, face a great risk of iron deficiency or even anemia. Athletic, active males are also at high risk for iron deficiency. Iron is an essential component of proteins involved in oxygen transport, and it plays a key role in cell growth and differentiation. If you are low in iron, your muscles and brain may not receive enough oxygen, which can cause you to feel tired and weak, affect job performance, and undermine your immune system. On the other hand, excess iron can be dangerous as it can damage organs and even cause premature death.

Because iron is so important, all InsideTracker plans check ferritin and hemoglobin levels. The Ultimate Plan gives you a more comprehensive view by also testing:

  • Serum Iron - the amount of iron in the blood
  • Total Iron Binding Capacity (TIBC) - measures the maximum amount of iron your blood can carry, and is an indirect measure of transferrin, which transports iron to various tissues and prevents iron from causing damage in the body.
  • Unsaturated Iron Binding Capacity (UIBC) - is TIBC minus serum iron
  • Transferrin Saturation (also called Iron Saturation) – is Serum Iron divided by TIBC and then multiplied by 100. It shows how much iron in the blood is bound by transferrin.

Strength, endurance and stress hormones. Our current Performance Plan includes Total Testosterone, a key hormone for muscle development and strength, bone health, and overall energy. But Testosterone metabolism is complex. InsideTracker scientists have added to our new Ultimate Plan three testosterone-related markers that taken collectively provide a more complete understanding of any possible Testosterone deficiency. In addition, the hormone Cortisol indicates stress levels.

  • Total Testosterone - all the testosterone in the body
  • Free Testosterone - the amount of testosterone that is bioavailable, that is, ready for the body to use
  • Sex-Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) - a protein that binds to, transports and inhibits the function of testosterone. High levels of SHBG reduce available testosterone, affecting your energy level, your muscle development, your sex drive, and your bone health.
  • Cortisol – sometimes called the stress hormone, cortisol performs important functions such as providing quick spurts of energy, maintaining blood glucose levels, regulating blood pressure, and aiding in metabolism
  • Albumin – the most abundant protein in your body, albumin binds to and transports hormones, including testosterone. When bound to albumin, testosterone is not as available for the body to use as when it is free, thus albumin inhibits the function of testosterone. Albumin also carries free fatty acids to the liver, transports medication, binds with calcium, and helps maintain the blood acidity in a narrow range. In addition, it plays a key role in preventing plasma inside the blood vessels from leaking out into surrounding tissues.

What markers are measured in the Ultimate Plan?

The Ultimate Plan tests and analyzes:

Energy and Metabolism Levels

  • Glucose
  • Cholesterol
  • LDL
  • HDL
  • Triglycerides

Bone and Muscle Health

  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D

Brain and Body Function

  • Magnesium
  • Folic Acid
  • Vitamin B12

Essential Mineral Levels

  • Potassium
  • Sodium
  • Zinc

Inflammation Measures

  • C-reactive Protein
  • White Blood Cell Count

Strength and Endurance Capacity

  • Creatine Kinase
  • Total Testosterone
  • Free Testosterone
  • Cortisol
  • SHBG
  • Albumin

Oxygen and Performance Levels

  • Hemoglobin
  • Ferritin
  • Total Iron Binding Capacity
  • Iron
  • Transferrin Saturation

Liver Health Analysis

  • AST
  • ALT
  • GGT

The Ultimate Plan goes far beyond our current Performance Plan to provide an unparalleled deep dive analysis of performance and health. Our algorithm is more sophisticated, providing more analytical horsepower. Our scientists have gone beyond measuring biomarker levels; we are measuring the complex ratios and relationships between complimentary and synergistic biomarkers to give a much more in-depth analysis. For example, we measure your anabolic rate, the complex ratio between testosterone and cortisol. And of course, given the additional biomarkers we are analyzing and the ratios we are calculating, our science-based nutrition and lifestyle recommendation engine has been completely overhauled to support our newest and most comprehensive plan. We have developed the Ultimate Plan as our new flagship plan, which represents the culmination of our drive for innovation, science-based focus and our years of research building the most comprehensive personalized health analytics platform available. 

The Ultimate Plan is available today. You will receive personalized ranges and analysis of 30 biomarkers, with recommendations for sophisticated nutrition, lifestyle, exercise and supplement interventions to help you reach your optimal levels and maintain ultimate performance. 

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Mighty magnesium: how one mineral can improve your sleep, memory, and mood

- Dec 31, 2013

By Perrin Braun

Many people spend a considerable amount of time and money trying to find the right sports drink, nutrition bar, or supplement that could help them get through their day and feel more energized. Here’s a little secret: knowing your biomarker status might be a more efficient way of improving your sleep, memory, and mood than any other product on the market. Whether you’re a professional athlete or a busy parent, getting a sufficient amount of good sleep can help improve your memory and mood, which is where magnesium comes into play!sleep

What is magnesium?

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body! Every part of your body, from your heart to your bones, needs magnesium to stay strong. Roughly 50 percent of the magnesium in your body is stored in your bones, and the other half is mostly located in your organs and tissues.

One of magnesium’s more important roles is to help build endurance by increasing the body’s oxygen needs. Aside from increasing physical endurance, magnesium plays the following important roles in the body:

  • supports healthy blood pressure
  • decreases your blood glucose levels and risk of diabetes
  • boosts your immune system
  • helps to contract and relax your muscles
  • assists in the production of energy and protein in the body
  • improves the quality of your sleep

Click here to learn how InsideTracker can use the results of your personalized blood analysis to make nutrition recommendations that will boost your magnesium levels!

How does sleep affect your mood, memory, and physical performance?

Not only can an insufficient amount of sleep make you feel tired the next day, but it can also have a big impact about what’s going on inside of your body. Sleep is the time for your body to complete all the phases that are needed to repair your muscles and release hormones that regulate your growth and appetite. If we don’t get enough sleep, we cannot perform at our best. Here are the specific ways that sleep deprivation can ruin your game:

  • Decreased energy – when you’re sleep deprived, your body’s ability to store glycogen is compromised. Your body converts glycogen to glucose (a type of sugar), which your muscles use as a primary source of fuel during exercise. Glycogen is particularly important for giving your body the energy that it needs for endurance events, so if you don’t get enough sleep, you will probably feel less energetic than usual.
  • Poor reflexes – getting an insufficient amount of sleep can slow your reaction time. One particular study illustrated declines in split-second decision-making following poor sleep, and showed that subjects who were well-rested had increased accuracy on tasks that required quick decisions.
  • Hormone changes – some research suggests that sleep deprivation increases levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that can impede healing, increase the risk of injuries, and worsen memory. Additionally, it decreases levels of growth hormone that helps repair the body, which could prevent an athlete from recovering adequately from heavy training and further increase the risk of injury.

Conversely, getting enough sleep can have some great benefits for athletes. A 2011 study at Stanford University tracked the sleep habits of the school’s basketball team and found that players increased their speed by 5 percent when they added an average of two hours of sleep each night. Other studies show similar benefits for athletes. Overall, sleep plays a very important role in physical functioning.

How can magnesium help?

Magnesium has long been considered a key mineral for optimal brain function. It is considered to be an “anti-stress” mineral because it works to calm the nerves and relax the muscles, which in turn can help people fall asleep. One particular study from 2010 found that increasing magnesium improved learning abilities, working memory, and short- and-long-term memory in rats. The magnesium also helped older rats perform better on a battery of learning tests. This study suggests that magnesium-based treatments may be useful in helping to alleviate the symptoms of age-associated memory decline.  The researchers found that in both the young and old rats, magnesium increased the strength of synapses, the junctions between neurons that are important in transmitting nerve signals. Since magnesium strengthens those synapses, it can play important roles in spatial navigation and long-term memory.

How can I tell if my magnesium levels are low, and how can I fix it?

Your bloodwork results from InsideTracker will let you know if your magnesium is below your optimal levels. Although it’s fairly common for people not to get enough magnesium in their diet, a true deficiency is much less common. Certain medical conditions inhibit magnesium absorption, such as diarrhea or vomiting, diabetes, kidney disease, and hyperthyroidism. Drinking too many caffeinated or alcoholic beverages may also lower your body’s levels of magnesium. Symptoms of a magnesium deficiency include muscle weakness, muscle cramps, nausea, irritability, abnormal eye movements, convulsions, fatigue, and numbness.

The good news is that because magnesium is found in so many different types of foods, it’s pretty easy to reach your recommended daily allowance (RDA). If you consume a sufficient amount of calories and eat plenty of whole foods, you will be well on your way to performing at your best! Magnesium absorption is primarily affected by the quality of your diet. You can get magnesium from many types of foods, especially from leafy green vegetables. Other good sources of magnesium include: whole grain cereals, soybeans, nuts and seafood. For even more food suggestions that will help you to optimize your magnesium levels, explore your InsideTracker Nutrition and Food Menu pages. If your magnesium level is still low, supplementation might be beneficial; consult your health care practitioner if you think a supplement might help you.

Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains contain phytate, which can inhibit the body’s absorption of magnesium. Avoid combining foods that are high in fiber with foods that are good sources of magnesium. Women who consume less than 30 grams of protein per day, African Americans, and older individuals (who generally tend to excrete more magnesium through urination) are at a greater risk of having difficulties absorbing magnesium. If you fall into one of these groups, you might want to consider taking a supplement.

 

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Watching Your Weight Over the Holidays: How Booze Affects Your Fitness Goals

- Dec 24, 2013

By Kalyn Weber

While studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption may be associated with improved cardiovascular-related biomarkers, we all know that our consumption (of everything!) tends to be a little more than “moderate” throughout the holiday season. So what happens in our bodies when we over-indulge?beer

Liver Health

Many of us are aware that chronic and heavy drinking has an array of health consequences, with fatty liver and other liver disease at the top of this list. However, even light drinkers can experience warning signs of liver disease, such as higher blood levels of one of the liver damage biomarkers—ALT. That’s why it is important to monitor your liver’s health through a blood test. InsideTracker’s new Ultimate panel lets you test your ALT level, in addition to other useful liver enzymes like AST and GGT. Here is some more information about the three key liver enzymes that our new Ultimate panel tests:

  • Alanine aminotransferase (ALT) is an enzyme primarily found in the liver; it plays a role in changing stored glucose into usable energy. When the liver is not functioning well, ALT can enter the bloodstream. There is normally a small amount of ALT in the blood; higher amounts of ALT in the blood typically indicate liver damage.
  • Aspartate aminotransferase (AST) is an enzyme primarily found in the liver, and also in the heart, muscle tissue, kidneys, brain, and red blood cells. AST helps to metabolize amino acids to provide you with more energy, help you digest food more effectively, and make you feel stronger. Higher amounts of AST in the blood typically indicate liver damage.
  • Gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT) is an enzyme that is concentrated in the liver, and is also found in the bile ducts, pancreas, spleen, and kidneys. GGT helps to transfer amino acids across the cell membrane, and plays an important role in helping the liver metabolize toxins; higher amounts of GGT in the blood typically indicate liver damage.

Blood Glucose

Research has shown that acute consumption of alcohol can cause very low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia. It is believed that alcohol increases the secretion of insulin (the glucose-lowering hormone), but it may also impair the hormonal response that would normally remedy low blood glucose. While we normally focus on hyperglycemia, high blood glucose, as a metabolism biomarker, low blood glucose is just as dangerous. Remember: all cells, particularly your muscle cells when you exercise, require glucose for fuel. That’s why it is important to keep your blood glucose levels in the optimal range!

Click here to learn how InsideTracker can help you stay healthy and fit during the holiday season by offering you personalized diet and exercise recommendations!

Muscle Damage

Alcohol consumption may also compromise sarcolemmal integrity. Evidence suggests that people who drink alcohol have greater increases in the intracellular enzyme creatine kinase (CK) following exercise than those who do not drink. This biomarker typically shows up in your blood as an indicator of muscle damage… and that’s bad news for your training.

Weight Gain

Clearly, boozing over the holidays is not great for your fitness goals…but what about your waistline? Well, just to put the cherry on the holiday sundae, it seems consuming alcohol can lead to overeating — and subsequent weight gain — in more ways than one. For one, alcohol itself contains calories. Containing 7 calories per gram, alcohol is more calorically dense than other nutrients, such as carbohydrates and protein.

What does this say about your favorite holiday beverage? Well, just one shot (1.5 oz) of the average 80-proof liquor contains roughly 100 calories. Add together a few of those special holiday drinks, not to mention the extra syrups, liqueurs, cream etc., and you’ve got yourself the (empty) calories of a small meal!

The problem is, our bodies seem to respond differently to liquid energy compared to solid food. Calorie-containing beverages, such as alcohol and soft drinks, are simply not as psychologically or metabolically satiating as their solid caloric equivalents. As a result, we fail to compensate for the extra energy found in beverages and are more prone to overeat.

Alcohol differs from soft drinks because, unlike soda, alcohol is a toxic substance that can affect the way we perceive appetite. Alcohol suppresses fatty acid oxidation (fat metabolism), increases thermogenesis, and stimulates a number of other neurochemical and peripheral systems involved with appetite control.  

All of these effects can lead to overeating. In fact, studies show that moderate alcohol consumption prior to a meal will increase caloric intake for that meal. In addition to its effect on appetite, the most visible effect of alcohol is reduced inhibition. Scientists often point to this as the leading culprit. Our mildly intoxicated selves feel less guilty about going back for seconds of the chocolate cake or deviled eggs.

Finally, alcohol has been shown to have strong inhibitory effect on lipoprotein lipase (LPL) activity. Because LPL breaks down triglycerides, sometimes hypertriglyceridemia (high blood levels of triglycerides) will follow heavy alcohol consumption. Over time, hypertriglyceridemia can lead to obesity and other negative health outcomes. The effect of alcohol on LDL seems to be especially detrimental when done alongside a high fat meal. Suddenly that third glass of wine with the roast goose isn’t looking so great…

Choose Your Poison

Not all alcoholic beverages are the same. While calories found in beer, wine and the average cocktail are comparable, a recent systematic review shows that the consumption of spirits is more strongly associated with weight gain than beer or wine.

Here is a cheat sheet of the number of calories per serving in various alcohol beverages:

  • 1.5 fluid ounces of liqueur (% alcohol varies) = 165 Calories
  • 12 fluid ounces of regular beer (about 5% alcohol) = 153 Calories
  • 5 fluid ounces of table wine (about 12% alcohol) = 123 Calories
  • 1.5 fluid ounces of hard liquor (about 40% alcohol) = 97 Calories

As always, moderation is key. It’s unrealistic to expect that you won’t indulge more than usual over the holidays. Being mindful of your consumption, including what you drink, is one way you can stay on track with your fitness goals this holiday season.

Happy Holidays!

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Barefoot running: is it right for you?

- Dec 18, 2013

By Perrin Braun

Most of us consider sneakers to be an essential part of our workout gear, but one group of runners has decided to forgo this mainstream piece of exercise equipment entirely. Barefoot runners are quickly gaining in numbers, and this trend doesn’t show signs of slowing! Barefoot running, also known as natural running or minimalism, is simply running without shoes or running in thin-soled shoes. Barefoot runners claim that this is the most natural way of running, and that it can even correct an imperfect form, which may result in fewer running injuries than those who run with shoes. But is barefoot running all that it’s cracked up to be?running

What is the physiology of barefoot running?

Here’s what we do know: research shows that running barefoot forces your feet to hit the ground differently than if you were wearing shoes. Specifically, sneakers make runners strike the ground with their heel first, whereas running barefoot changes the gait to a forefoot strike. This is because without the heel cushioning provided by running shoes, runners tend to naturally gravitate towards landing near the balls of the feet, which can actually put stress on the Achilles tendon and lead to injuries.

Click here to learn how nutrition and fitness recommendations from InsideTracker can make you faster and more flexible!

Is nutrition related to barefoot running?

There is also the question of whether landing near the front of the foot when you run is more physiologically effective than striking the ground with the heel first. Many barefoot runners purport that landing near the front of the foot will require less oxygen and effort and allow you to run faster for longer periods of time. However, one study showed that this may not be the case. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that heel-striking was the more physiologically economical running form, meaning that these runners burned fewer carbohydrates as a percentage of their energy expenditure when they struck first with their heels.

Here’s where food comes in: carbohydrates are one of your body’s best fuel sources due to the efficient way they use oxygen. In fact, they use less oxygen for every kilocalorie of energy produced than either fats or proteins, which make them an important part of your diet if you are physically active, especially if you are an endurance athlete. Your ability to exercise is limited by the amount of glucose (which comes from the carbohydrates that you eat) in your body. After about 90 minutes of exercise, your body’s supply of carbohydrates is completely depleted, which puts you at a risk for “hitting the wall,” or feeling lethargic during your endurance event. If your body doesn’t have enough glycogen to sustain you, it will start to burn fat for energy. Fat burns at a much slower rate than carbohydrates, which will slow you down. So, the heel-striking runners who burn fewer carbohydrates during exercise will have less energy than those who burn more! An InsideTracker blood analysis plan will tell you if you’re low on glucose, as well as suggest foods that will help you to fuel up optimally.

Are there any downsides to barefoot running?

For those of you who are wondering if barefoot running helps prevent or promote injuries, researchers at Brigham Young University did not find any evidence that running without shoes helps to reduce running-related injuries. However, barefoot running does come with its fair share of risks. For example, puncture wounds and infections may be more likely to occur in barefoot runners.

No matter if you’re a barefoot runner or prefer to wear sneakers, you may have encountered some amount of sarcomeric damage if you’re a runner. This just signifies that you’re muscles and skeletal system are being worked hard. Marathon runners put the greatest amount of stress on their muscular-skeletal system, and evidence of the damage can easily be found in the body. Creatine kinase (CK) is an enzyme that is located in several tissues in the body, mainly in muscle. When you are healthy and uninjured, there is a small amount of creatine kinase circulating in the blood, but when muscle damage occurs, the amount of CK in the blood can spike. Therefore, the CK in your blood can show the extent to which your muscles are over-exerted.

InsideTracker takes into consideration your age, gender, ethnicity, type of athletic activity (swimmers should have lower level of CK than soccer players), and determines your personalized range of CK. If you are too high, InsideTracker will give you several personalized options for reducing your levels of CK, including dietary changes, exercises, and supplements. You can choose the option that best fits your lifestyle and preferences.

If you’re considering switching to barefoot running, incorporate it into your routine slowly instead of ditching your shoes completely. No research exists that proves that barefoot-style running is either advantageous or harmful—it just depends on your level of comfort and personal preference. Take it easy, and monitor your bloodwork to make sure that you are not increasing your risk for injury!

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About the blog

The InsideTrack is a blog about taking control of your well-being and athletic performance with the knowledge you gain from InsideTracker blood analysis. Check here for practical fitness and nutrition information that will give you a roadmap to achieving your athletic and personal wellness goals.

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About the authors

Perrin Braun

Perrin is a nutrition and public health graduate student at Tufts University. In her spare time, she enjoys running, hot yoga, and thinking about her next meal.

Meghan Johnson

Meghan is a dual-degree nutrition and public health masters student at Tufts University. She hails from Philadelphia, by way of DC, and has finally stopped calling the T 'the metro.' You can usually find her restaurant-hopping, runnig or tweeting about food policy and health (and occasionally doing all three at once).

Emily Wei

Emily is a dual-degree public health and nutrition graduate student at Tufts University. A California native, she’s a lover of running, traveling, Bay Area sports, culinary pursuits, and the great outdoors.

Kalyn Weber

Kalyn is a nutritionist and public health graduate student at Tufts University. She also teaches a health and wellness class to MIT undergraduates. Kalyn is a fan of running, hiking, and craft beer.

Erin Moore

Erin is InsideTracker's client services manager, a holistic wellness coach, and an alum of Bates College as well as the Emerson/Tufts health communication graduate program. She enjoys travel, yoga, 5Ks, and all things food-related.

Ray Nguyen

Ray received his undergraduate degree in biology with a minor in chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He describes himself as a long-distance runner, a foodie, and an avid sports fan.