In this episode we take another look at longevity through the lens of aging biomarkers. This time taking a look at some of the most well research-supported biomarkers to predict how well we are aging. Or more to the point, how badly we may be aging, and get some early warning indicators, about having to intervene to assure we avoid shortening our lifespan.
Specifically we look at InnerAge, a new panel of aging biomarkers developed by the consumer blood testing service InsideTracker.
The panel provides an index estimating longevity based on a combination of biomarkers, and based on the results, makes recommendations to improve your longevity (AKA put the biomarkers back in the optimum zone, reducing the associated risks of shortened lifespan).
“…for each of those biomarkers, we have an intervention that you can take in order to optimize your InnerAge, and it’s very important for us to take markers that you can [have an impact on]. For example, we are not taking a marker of a disease like BRCA1 or other markers that show whether you have cancer or not, as you cannot do an intervention for that.”
– Gil Blander, PhD
Today’s guest is Gil Blander, the founder, president and chief scientific officer of InsideTracker. Gil has 18 years of experience in systems biology, computational biology, aging, metabolism and caloric restriction research.
During his career he has worked at MIT, the Weizmann Institute, and several systems-biology and computational biology companies. In this interview he walks us through the new aging panel, InnerAge, and the research and thinking behind why the company chose each of the biomarkers in the panel.
The episode highlights, biomarkers, and links to the apps, devices and labs and everything else mentioned are below. Enjoy the show and let me know what you think in the comments!
What You’ll Learn
- Gil’s interest in biomarkers arose at the age of 12 when the death of a close family member made him think about age and longevity. (5:12).
- Gil founded InsideTracker, with the aim of having a way of doing a monthly health check-up with optimal values for various biomarkers that are tailored to each individual (8:06).
- When we look at biomarkers in the blood, they can show us where we are in terms of health and based on that, we can find optimal zones for each biomarker. (9:30).
- The team of scientists and two year research process it took to cut down the aging biomarkers from hundreds to the top five (12:55).
- How InnerAge uses an algorithm to estimate your chronological age, and recommend interventions based on your biomarker results (17:06).
- Examples of some of the interventions including food supplements, exercise and lifestyle changes used to push biomarker values back into their optimum zones and reduce risk of shortened lifespan. (18:58).
- Other biomarkers included in InnerAge are vitamin D, testosterone for males, CRP (22:35).
- Why testosterone was included for men in the panel and why they have used different optimum ranges according to age and fitness activity (23:03).
- InsideTracker is building its own database with information from athletic populations that do primarily strength or primarily endurance training. They are mining the database to determine optimal biomarker levels for each population. The benchmarking tool can be used to tell you how you compare with the rest of the population For example, a large percentage of the population has low vitamin D levels, but InsideTracker can tell you what percentage of the population shares those levels (25:47).
- For benchmark levels of the biomarkers, InsideTracker shows the optimal range, which is their range, the normal range, which is what is used by the diagnostic companies and out of normal. For some biomarkers, even more ranges are shown (28:55).
- An interesting biomarker not included in the panel is cholesterol. There are no scientific papers that have shown the correlation between cholesterol, or LDL and longevity. New guidelines by the American Heart association state that cholesterol is not as important as was once thought (30:00).
- Cholesterol is a building block of testosterone, so if cholesterol is low it will be harder to make testosterone. If you have good metabolism, you can metabolize cholesterol (31:50).
- CRP is another biomarker included in the InnerAge panel to capture the inflammation dimension of aging. (32:38).
- InsideTracker should be used repeatedly so that you can see the trends in your values. Samples should be taken at least a couple of times a year for average users (35:09).
- Other scientists working on aging is Nir Barzilai from New York City and Cynthia Kenyon from UCSF (37:29).
- Currently, InsideTracker is developing an app that will help you maintain weight, biomarkers and activity (41:46).
- InsideTracker uses LabCorp request to send samples, but it also uses home kits. They hope that in the future, home kits will improve. (42:18).
- Theranos’ innovation in finger prick blood samples for a wide range of blood tests. (44:20).
- Gil Blander’s own personal routines for tracking his own biometrics with InsideTracker and other tools, and the current devices and other services he uses.
Gil Blander, PhD
- Gil Blander on twitter: @GilBlander1:
- InsideTracker: Gil’s company which provides a biomarker tracking and analytics interface and access to consumers to get standard blood labs done directly themselves.
- InnerAge: The new panel that InsideTracker has launched to help people track their longevity.
- Gil Blander’s About.me with more bio details
- Fasting Glucose: One of the most commonly used biomarkers. It is used as an indicator of blood sugar regulation and can be indicative of longevity as blood sugar disregulation lies behind many common health issues such as diabetes and obesity. Gil mentions that while blood glucose should be between 65 and 99 for everybody, his aim was to find optimal levels for different populations.
- Total Testosterone: Low testosterone has also been linked to depression and decreased cognitive ability. Since testosterone levels decline with age, it can be used as a biomarker of aging. Gil Blander included testosterone as one of the biomarkers in the InnerAge panel.
- Vitamin D (25 Hydroxy Vitamin D): Also referred to as Vitamin D 25-OH. InnerAge panel includes vitamin D as a marker of longevity. This is measured in ng/mL and InnerAge uses ranges of between 40 and 50 ng/ml depending on your profile.
- Total Cholesterol: Has long been thought to contribute to cardiovascular disease. However, re-evaluation of scientific evidence has shown that cholesterol is not harmful for most people. Cholesterol is a building block for steroid hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen and is an integral part of cell membranes. Since recent scientific data do not support the idea that high cholesterol causes heart disease, Gil Blander has decided not to include it in the InnerAge panel.
- High Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein (hs-CRP): We’ve discussed this common biomarker of inflammation often on the show. As a general rule, the closer your marker comes back to 0, the better. InnerAge includes CRP in its panel because they implicate higher inflammation as a dimension of aging. Gil Blander notes that because exercise increases inflammation, the test should not be taken for approximately one week after vigorous exercise.
- Alanine Amino Transferase (ALT): This biomarker of liver function is also included in the InnerAge panel. Normally, levels of ALT in blood are low, but increase if there is liver damage, which may be chronic and ongoing. The Liver is looked at for longevity in this case as its role in detoxification is considered an important predictor of health and longevity.
Lab Tests, Devices and Apps
- HRV from ithlete: This is an app for iPhone and Android that tracks HRV. It can be used to maximize athletic performance and maintain good health. Gil Blander uses this to track his HRV, as does Damien.
- MyFitnessPal: This is an app that is used to track nutritional intake. It can be used to track intake of calories, macronutrients and micronutrients as well as energy expenditure. Gil Blander uses MyFitnessPal to track his food intake
- Nutrino: Nutrino is a “virtual nutritionist” app that connects to wearable devices like Whitings and Fitbit and makes personal meal recommendations. It includes information on what to eat and when to eat it. Gil Blander uses it to track his nutrition.
- Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer: Gil Blander uses this scale to track his weight and store the data daily.
- Fit Bit Charge: FitBit is a wearable tracker used by Gil Blander. It monitors physical activity and sleep quality.
Other People, Books & Resources
- Simon Wegerif: was mentioned in the context of his interview on QBP and his app and HRV platform ithlete.
- Lenny Guarente, PhD: One of the leading researchers on aging and is considered to be the father of the new aging research.
- David Sinclair, PhD: David Sinclair is a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School is one of the leaders of aging research. He is also involved in the biotech community and has started several companies.
- Bob Troia: Bob Troia is known for his n=1 experiments in self-tracking and biohacking. He was a guest on episode 22 of QBP and is a user of InsideTracker.
- Nir Barzilai: Nir is one of the scientists involved in developing the InnerAge. He is the director of the Institute of Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is studying the effects of the environment, especially nutrition, on extending the lifespan.
- Cynthia Kenyon: Cynthia Kenyon is a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF and is one of the scientists who has helped develop InnerAge. She is one of the pioneers of research in genetics of aging.
- LabCorp: Laboratory Corporation of America provides lab testing and services. InsideTracker currently uses LabCorp for its lab processing.
- Theranos: A lab testing service that tests on very small amounts of blood, taken from the fingertip. Their tests promise to be a lot more affordable, convenient and faster than tests from traditional labs.
Full Interview Transcript
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Hi Gil, thank you so much for joining us today on the Quantified podcast.
[Gil Blander]: Thank you so much for inviting me. It’s a great pleasure
and I already listened to a few of your guests and I really appreciate it because the
quality is very good.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Thank you, that’s a great compliment coming from
you. As we’re going to see, you’ve been pretty busy yourself doing some good stuff.
So, could you share first why you got involved with your interest area—what is the
story about why you do what you do at InsideTracker today?
[Gil Blander]: It’s a great question. Apparently everyone is asking me this
question. My scientific journey started at the age of 12 when one of my closest relatives
passed away, triggering my quest and a thirst for knowledge in our body age. Basically,
at that time I decided that instead of being a physician or physicist, what I wanted to do,
I decided to become a biologist. The reason for that is that one of my relatives passed
away and I started to realize that I’m not immortal anymore, and I realized that one day I will be gone. I wanted to live forever; I wanted to stop the clock; I wanted to try to delay the aging-related diseases. So that basically pushed me to become a scientist and to focus and to have my lifetime goal in aging research.
So I’ll fast-forward a few years: I decided to study biology, graduated from Tel Aviv
University with an undergraduate in biology, PhD from the Weizmann Institute of
Science studying aging, and then I came here to MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts,
and I joined the best lab that studied aging in the world. I studied aging there for five
years, published a lot of interesting papers, did very cool research, but very early when I arrived here to Cambridge, I started to be exposed to what we call “the Kendall square
environment.” There are hundreds of start-ups in biotech, pharmaceutical, and high-tech. I started to be exposed to them and I started to talk with a lot of founders. I started to do some partnerships with them and I very soon realized that I will contribute much more to humanity if I would start my own company than to be a professor in the academia that publishes a paper once a year and maybe five people will read the paper. I realized that that should be my next step.
Even having realized that, it took me some time because I really like the work in the lab
and I did a very cool experiment. So after five years at the MIT, I left MIT and I joined a
couple of biotech companies and worked there just in order to learn and understand the
industry. Also, I really wanted to learn more about systems biology. So I spent a couple
of years there and then, during that time, I was exposed to two other PhD scientists that were really intrigued by the aging process as well, but also were trying to change the equation between healthcare—basically that the healthcare is taking care of the sick and not of the healthy.
We came at that time with the basic of InsideTracker. The basic is very simple. First of
all, all of us are a machine and like a machine, we need to take care of ourselves.
Today, we are not taking care of ourselves. If you look at that, you go to the physician
mainly when the machine or “us” is broken down. When we are breaking down then we
go to the physician. So we decided to find a way to have once a month to have a
check-up that we can basically check ourselves, find what is not completely optimized
with ourselves, then intervene, and then have our body good for a few more months.
I really like the analogy of the car: so every 5000 miles, you take the car to the
technician. The technician plugs a computer into the car, the computer tells the
technician exactly what should be done in order to make the car good for another 5000
miles, should he replace oil or the oil filter and so on. The technician does that and then
the car is good for another 5000 miles. There is a lot of research that shows that since
the time that this routine schedule of maintenance for the car was introduced, in the
80s, the lifespan of the car increased from around 100,000 miles on average to around
200,000 miles on average.
So we said let’s do something similar. We cannot obviously plug a computer into our
body, but we can plug a needle into our vein and extract the liquid gold that we have in
our veins, called blood. Then when we extract the blood, we can look at the biomarkers
that show where you are staying and based on that, you can find optimal zones for each biomarker. I can give you an example; let’s look at the most boring, maybe, biomarker that you know, which is glucose. For all of us, the optimal zone is between 65 to 99. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, young or old, Olympian or couch potato, someone that is obese or someone that has a BMI of less than 15; all of us should be between 65 to 99.
We said that that’s wrong; let’s find an optimal zone for each of us based on age,
gender, ethnicity, and athletic activity, and other criteria. Let’s find an optimal zone that
is matched, and then find whether you are within your optimal zone, above or below. If
you are not in your optimal zone, we can subscribe you an intervention that includes
food, supplements, exercise, and lifestyle changes, that basically will help you to bring
yourself to the optimal zone, and when you bring yourself to the optimal zone there is a
good chance that you will optimize your health, your performance, and hopefully, your
So that’s basically the background of InsideTracker. I just want to say that all of our
recommendations, the zones, everything, is extracted from peer-reviewed scientific
literature. We have a team of scientists that do that, so we are looking at it very
seriously and taking it very seriously.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: What are the most common use cases you have
today? You mentioned a few different things like athletes. What are your clients today?
What are they mostly using it for?
[Gil Blander]: We have three main segments of clients: we call them the
train, the gain, and the pain. The train is, as you said, is an athlete: someone that wants
to shave two minutes off his marathon time; someone that wants to play at the fourth
quarter; someone that wants, basically, to approve his athletic performance. The gain is
an interesting segment. People—that are more like me—that are trying to reach to their
forties, trying to stay in their peak performance, trying to reach the afternoon and have
enough energy and enough patience to play with their kids; people that are trying to
perform better in their work, so a lot of executives; those are the gain population. The
pain are people that are sick.
Currently we are mainly trying to serve the train and the gain, because we feel like the
pain, which are sick, have already someone taking care of them—that’s the physician,
and wishing that the physician is doing a good job. We also don’t want to get into all the
regulation—when you are sick, there is more regulation. We are trying to have a proof
of concept or to show to the train and the gain that we can help them a lot, and maybe
in the future, we’ll go also for the pain, but currently, the main customer segment that
we are trying to approach are the train and the gain.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Thank you very much for that. You have just
created this new panel, which is called InnerAge, and it’s specifically targeted at aging,
whereas the rest of your platform, as I understand, is a bit more general. When you
were looking at the criteria for selecting biomarkers, how did you go about that? What
kind of criteria were you looking for in order to select the biomarkers that you’ve put
into that panel?
[Gil Blander]: First of all, we built a team of scientists, and actually we
recruited new scientists and we work with our scientific advisory board. I want to
mention that two of those scientific advisors that we have, one of them is Professor
Lenny Guarente from MIT, who is considered to be the father of new aging research
era and is by far considered to be the initiator of the aging research in the world and
considered to be one of the five top researchers of aging in the world.
Another scientist is Professor David Sinclair from Harvard Medical School. He actually did his postdoc at the lab of Lenny Guarente. Now he’s also considered to be one of the leaders of aging research. He’s also extremely involved in the biotech community; he’s started a lot of companies, and one of them called Sirtris—which use what they call resveratol (which I assume that you’ve heard of), a small molecule that is in high concentrations in red wine and has been shown in a lot of studies to increase longevity—was sold to a big pharmaceutical company a few years ago for $720 million. So both David Sinclair and Lenny Guarente help us to do that.
As to your question, we basically spent almost two years looking at hundreds of
biomarkers and trying to see what is the effect of those biomarkers on aging or
longevity. Basically, we were trying to pinpoint, looking at the scientific publications,
which are the five that are the most related to longevity.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So, just to take a step back—when you’re talking
about longevity and aging, are we referring to mortality here? Some people when they
think about aging, they’re thinking about their skin and how they look and things like
that. Are we talking about longevity in terms of how long we’re going to live, or is it
other aspects also?
[Gil Blander]: It’s a good question, and the answer is yes. I can give you
again the example of glucose, which is one of the markers that we have in the
InnerAge. We looked at the data and we found a lot of data that showed, not surprisingly, that when your glucose is high, you might compromise your longevity. But
we were looking for better data and we found it in the scientific publication that was
published based on the Framingham Heart Study. I don’t know if you’ve heard about it?
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Of course, yeah.
[Gil Blander]: It’s basically a study that was done here in Massachusetts,
in a small lake town next to Boston. They followed up the population of this town for
tens of years and measured some biomarkers. What they found is that there is a strong
correlation for the level of glucose at a certain age and your final longevity. Let me give
you an example: if you are 40-years-old or 35-years-old and your fasting blood glucose
today is 70, you have a good chance to reach your 90s; if your glucose is a bit higher,
let’s say 80, you have a better chance to live to your 80s; and if your glucose is in the
90s, you have a better chance to live to your 70s; but if it’s 100 plus, you have a better
chance to live only to your 60s. So based on that, we took the data, we compiled it, and
then you can basically take a person and say, this person’s age is 40, his glucose is X,
so basically based on the glucose, the predicted longevity will be 80. He’s now only 40
so he has, just by the glucose, 40 more years to live.
Now we’re looking at a few other markers, so each of them show us what the effect is,
then we compile it all together using an algorithm and that’s what we show you as the
InnerAge. We show it to you in comparison to your chronological age, meaning what is
your age today.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So it’s an estimate of your longevity based on an
average person? The trendline I guess you’re showing is chronological age against this
biological age, and it’s showing it against, say an average 80-year-old or if you’re doing
better than the average, maybe you’re going to live to 100?
[Gil Blander]: Yes, so it uses the average but also, I want to say that it
shows what is happening with you today. It doesn’t say, and we’re not trying to say that
if you’re a 40-year-old male and your InnerAge is 30, we’re not trying to claim that you
will live 10 more years than what you’re supposed to or than the average. What we are
saying is that if you continue to stay like that, you have a chance to live ten years less
or ten years more. So that’s a very important point.
What is also very important is that for each of those biomarkers, we have an intervention that you can take in order to optimize your InnerAge, and it’s very important for us to take markers that you can intervene. For example, we are not taking a marker of a disease like BRCA1 or other markers that show whether you have cancer or not, and you cannot do an intervention for that.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right. We don’t have any ideas about what exact
tool we could use to change the fact that, apart from having surgery and having your
breast removed in that case, but there’s no specific intervention that you have linked to
those. So you stick to things that are actionable, which is great; that’s what we like to
hear on this show.
[Gil Blander]: They are actionable and more than that, they are simple
interventions. So it’s a food supplement, exercise, lifestyle changes, so similar to Inside
Tracker but a bit more simple. And the simplicity comes with the next feature that we
have in InnerAge, which we called “focus foods.” So focus foods are basically nutrient-
heavy foods that will help you to optimize all the biomarkers that are related to InnerAge that are not optimized for you. So basically, focus foods are foods that are personalized just for you based on the level of the biomarkers that you have and they will help you to optimize all the biomarkers that are not optimized just for you.
For those foods, you don’t need to change completely your routine. What you need to
do is pick a couple of them and start to integrate them into your diet. So for example, if
you need to consume more oatmeal, eat it every day; that’s it. You don’t need to
change completely your behavior. Or if you need to eat strawberries, just try to integrate strawberries. Don’t change all your diet. So what we’re trying to do here is very simple because, as you know, it’s very hard for us to change our diet completely. You have a lot of influence on your diet, you are at home or at the office, you are commuting, you are travelling—it’s not easy. But when you have only a few food items that you need to incorporate all the time, it’s much easier to do that.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Could you give us an example—you gave us a
blood glucose example—as to what kind of recommendations the tool would make: I’m
40-years-old and my blood sugar is currently at 95. My fasting blood sugar I guess
we’re talking about.
[Gil Blander]: First of all is nutrition. To optimize your blood glucose, it’s
very important to consume foods that are rich in fiber because the fiber helps our body
to absorb the glucose and then the level of the fasting blood glucose decreases, and
that has been shown to increase your longevity. So one thing that it’s very important to
do is to try and consume more food that is high in fiber. Another thing that it’s good to do is to exercise more. Again, depending on the person; if you are a professional athlete, don’t exercise more. But if you are not, exercise more. Also maintain a healthy weight. There is a lot of data that shows in the literature that if you are overweight, you tend to have higher blood glucose. So there are a lot of interventions like that.
Each of our users receives the intervention based on this information. So if you have a
high BMI or you are heavy, you will receive the intervention of lose weight. But if you
are not, you won’t receive it. Or if you are exercising five times a day, you won’t receive
a recommendation to exercise more. But if you are not exercising at all, you will receive
it. So there are a lot of interventions that are personalized and coming to you based on
your profile and based on what will help you to optimize yourself.
I just want to add that we are also taking into consideration your dietary preferences. So you can tell us that you are on the Paleo Diet; you can tell us that you are a bachelor, live in town and don’t know how to cook; you can tell us that you are gluten-free; so we have a list of a few kinds of dietary requirements that you just need to click and then the algorithm will provide to you the food that is good for you and will help you to optimize yourself.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Which other biomarkers have you looked at for the
InnerAge panel? Which other ones have you included today?
[Gil Blander]: We discussed the glucose, we also added vitamin D, we
added testosterone for males, we added CRP, which is a marker of inflammation, and
ALT, which is a marker of liver function.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Vitamin D, a lot of people talk about that today, so
that’s common about the benefits to the immune system and so on. Testosterone, I
think, is not so obvious for a lot of people—what’s the issue with testosterone? Why’s
that important when it comes to aging for men?
[Gil Blander]: That’s a great question. What we have seen, and I assume
that you’ve heard about it, that the level of testosterone is decreased by 1-2% every
year when we are getting old. Testosterone is important for our muscle tone, it’s
important for our sex drive, it’s important for our mood. So it’s very important to maintain a healthy testosterone in order to maintain the health and longevity.
What you eluded in your question is, is testosterone as important as glucose? and my answer is definitely not. So each of the biomarkers that we included has its own value or its own weight. So, if you ask me if you have low testosterone and have a high glucose, what is more important to take care of? I would say definitely start with your glucose, and then move to the testosterone. But the testosterone is also very important and there is a lot of data in the scientific literature that shows that.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: I believe there’s a lot of research on strength and
muscle: the higher the levels of muscle you have going on older in life, the better your
longevity chances. So that correlates also with the testosterone.
In terms of testosterone, what kind of ranges are you looking at? Because there are
obviously the lab ranges we often talk about here—you have the LabCorp range for
example—which isn’t necessarily, and I imagine is probably, not the same as the range
you’re looking at, so what kind of reference range are you looking to get people into?
[Gil Blander]: As I mentioned before, we have what we call the optimal
range or optimal zone, and that’s calculated exactly based on the papers, like I told you
before, looking at the population of thousands or hundreds of people and seeing what is the level of testosterone at specific ages. Then we can from that come with an optimal zone based on your age, based on your gender—obviously, because males and females are completed different—also based on your athletic activity. Those ranges come in based on all the demographic information and then we subscribe to you the optimal zone that is good for you. Your optimal zone might be completely different for a person completely similar to you but in a different age or ethnicity or so on.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: That’s interesting. Do you look at the difference
between someone who’s doing endurance training versus heavy-weight training, the
[Gil Blander]: Yes, we are extracting the information that we can from
the peer-reviewed scientific literature. For some of them we have data, so we are doing
that; for some others, we don’t. Basically, we are trying to extract the most that we can,
but I want to admit that we don’t have everything because not everything is published in
the scientific literature. In order to try to fill the holes of that, we are building our own
database and we are mining the database. We have a lot of athletic active population
who are doing either strength or endurance, so we are starting to extract information
from there and then help our customers to compare themselves more to their peers
than compared to a couch potato doing nothing.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Great, I understand. So I’m guessing it’s early stages
in terms of mining the information from the client base. When do you expect to bring in
the first bits of information from that and analysis to help improve the tool?
[Gil Blander]: We are actually doing that already. We have what we call
a benchmarking tool that shows how you stand compared to InsideTracker
community. So for example, we can see that a high percentage of our community have
a low vitamin D. But you want to know whether it’s 5% or 20% or 40%, so we are
showing and sharing it with our community. They like it a lot because sometimes people say, “Oh, I have low D but it’s 50% of the population. It’s not so bad.” So some people like to see, “Oh, everyone’s having this issue so I’m not…”
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, yeah, it’s not so bad.
[Gil Blander]: “… I’m not going to die tomorrow.”
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Are you able to tunnel down and say, it’s athletes
like me, say I’ve put into your system that I’m an athlete and I’m eating Paleo, would it
be able to position me compared to that population, or is it early stages for that still?
[Gil Blander]: We are doing it currently just for specific customers; we
are basically tailoring it for them. We have what we call an InsideTracker Pro, which
we’re working with some professional athletes, teams, some gym chains, and others.
For them, we are doing what we call a tailoring solution for them. But we don’t supply
that yet for the person that comes to our website. We are working on that and we hope
to have it soon.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: In terms of the number of users you need to make
this really useful, how many users do you have today and how many would you think
would be important to have to really make lots of statistical analysis? I guess you have
ideas about doing data mining and a lot more exciting and intricate things.
[Gil Blander]: We have many thousands of users. Obviously I cannot
expose the number. I have a statistician on the staff that helps us to analyze and to
evaluate each of them, so basically we are doing rigorous scientific work and statistic
work, and based on that we decide whether we have enough power to share it with our
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: In terms of the benchmarks you’re using, we’ve
already discussed that they’re different to the lab reference ranges, so when I go into
the system would it also show me for instance the normal reference ranges and how
yours are different? Or will people just get your reference ranges? So that they can
compare—say they’ve had tests outside of your system in other places before, when
they’ve been given other numbers.
[Gil Blander]: Yes, it’s a good question. We are showing base, what we
call the normal and out-of-normal, and then we are showing the optimal. For some
biomarkers, we are showing even more ranges. I can give you an example of
cholesterol. There is an optimal, then you have a normal, then you have a near-normal,
you have high, and you have very high. So, sometimes it’s more complex than just
optimal, normal, and the out-of-normal. But in most of the biomarkers, you see the
optimal, which is our range, you see the normal, which is the range of the diagnostic
companies, and then you see the out-of-normal, which is out of the diagnostic
companies. Most of the time, our optimal range is consumed by the normal so it’s a
subset of the normal.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, I understand. So out-of-normal range means
the standard labs like LabCorp or based on the research and so on; thank you. Which
other biomarkers did you look at that you decided not to include in your panel?
[Gil Blander]: In the InnerAge panel?
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: In the InnerAge one, yes.
[Gil Blander]: One interesting biomarker is cholesterol, which when we
started to work on that I was sure that cholesterol would be part of the panel. I asked the
scientist that worked on this marker after a couple of weeks that he was working on
that, “Okay, show me the papers.” He said, “Gil, I cannot find any papers.” So I told him,
“Are you kidding me?” Well, you have cholesterol, you have statins, and you have
lipidol, and a business of, I don’t know, ten billion dollars. So I told him, “You know what,
I will spend.” I spent four weeks on that and I couldn’t find anything. You could find old
papers but old and new papers haven’t shown a strong correlation between cholesterol,
or LDL, and longevity.
Very interestingly, exactly a year ago, the new guidelines of the American Heart
Association came out, and basically said that cholesterol is not as important as it used to
be. It is important if you are overweight, if you have high inflammation, if you are not
athletically active, if you have a family history of high cholesterol, or if you have blood
pressure, but someone that doesn’t have most of those, it’s not as important as it used
to be. That was a big surprise for me, but apparently we came to the same conclusion
that other agencies or all the scientific community came to, so that was a very big
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: There is definitely a lot of movement going on
around the cholesterol markers. One interesting thing with that in relation to your
testosterone is I found it’s easier to get my testosterone raised when I have higher
cholesterol. So I think if you’re on a lower cholesterol diet, it can be more difficult to
raise your testosterone, which you’ve included in your panel.
[Gil Blander]: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense because if you look at that,
testosterone is a derivative of cholesterol. So basically, cholesterol is one of the building
blocks of testosterone. So when you have low building blocks, it’s harder to build the
building. Actually, a couple of weeks ago, another news about cholesterol came out,
and what they’re saying now is that cholesterol is not evil. You can eat cholesterol as
much as you want if you have a good metabolism and your body can metabolize the
cholesterol. It’s not like everyone needs to run away from cholesterol. Again, don’t eat it
like crazy, don’t eat 50 eggs a day, but if you eat one or two eggs a day, you should be
all set, other than someone that has all the risk factors that we discussed.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: You’ve included CRP. The reason everyone was
focused on cholesterol was for heart disease, but it turns out that hs-CRP is a better
marker, correct? Is that why you’ve included it?
[Gil Blander]: Yes, but CRP is not only for that. CRP is basically a
marker of inflammation and it’s related to cardiovascular diseases, but it’s also related to
a lot of other diseases, including cancer, and even diabetes. So, CRP is a marker of
inflammation, and inflammation is more and more considered to be a big, big problem,
not only for after athletic activity that your inflammation is increased but also for the
average population. Definitely inflammation is very important.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: As you just mentioned, with athletic activity the
marker would go up, so I guess your tool comes in pretty useful in this situation because
you’re looking at those different populations and saying what’s normal for them.
[Gil Blander]: Exactly. It’s normal that your inflammation will go up after
athletic activity. For example, after a marathon run, I would suspect that your CRP
would be high. But it’s not normal that it would stay high for a week after that. So what
we are doing is we are asking our users to test themselves at a certain time when they
haven’t been running a marathon the day before, or maybe haven’t been highly
athletically active for a week before, and do it also after a day of rest. Then, if your
inflammation is high, that means you have some issue. It could be that you over-
exercise, could be that you have some injury, and it helps us and it helps our users to
pinpoint what the issues are that they have.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Great. It sounds like you’ve put a lot of controls in
there. Have you done the same thing with blood glucose? I’m just curious because we
had someone else on the show before, Bob Troia, “Quantified Bob,” and he’d been
tracking his fasting blood glucose daily and I was quite surprised to see how much it
went up and down most days. He was doing football practice some evenings, so he had
some correlation differences between the mornings after the night he’d been in football
practice and exercising versus a normal day when he hadn’t been exercising the day
[Gil Blander]: Yes. First of all, I know Bob very well; he’s a user of
InsiderTracker and he’s a very interesting person. I completely agree with you. A blood
glucose, even fasting blood glucose, can change based on what you have done the
night before. What we are reaching or trying to do with our user or trying to explain to
everyone, it’s not only one time point and InsideTracker is not a tool that you should use
once. You should use it and use it again and again and again, and then when you start
to use it again and again, you see where is your field—Is it running between 80 to 90? Is
it running between 90 to 110? Or is it jumping all over? And usually it should be more or
less flat. And you can also start to see the trend if during the aging process or when you
are becoming older and older, you’re starting to see a trend of increasing it. So I
completely agree with what Bob has showed, but what we are trying to do here is not
looking at one point, not even two points, in order to see a trend you need to have at
least a few points.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: How often do you recommend people take the
blood samples for the tool?
[Gil Blander]: We recommend that you do it at least a couple of times a
year. We have some users that are doing it four times a year; we have some athletes
that are doing it even once a month in order to really keep them in top performance, but
the average users that we have are doing it around twice a year.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Okay. That sounds about similar to me, actually—
what I do—so I’m glad to hear that I’m average in terms of how often I do these panels.
To learn more about InnerAge and any resources of our aging that you’ve come across,
first of all, where can we get information on InnerAge itself?
[Gil Blander]: Everyone can come to our website, it’s insidetracker.com,
and there we have a link to a page that we developed that shows what is InnerAge, an
explanation about focus foods, an explanation about the science, why those
biomarkers, and about the scientists who developed it. We developed a lot of
information for that because we know that it’s the cutting-edge and people need a lot of
information to understand what we are doing, so we devoted a page with a lot of
downloads that you can read PDF after PDF and spend maybe a full afternoon learning
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So you’ve mentioned the scientists you’re working
with on this tool. Is there anyone else you would recommend to get more information
about aging, or are there any references like books or particular presentations that you
found useful in your research?
[Gil Blander]: Yeah, there are a lot of good scientists that are studying
aging. I mentioned Lenny Guarente and David Sinclair. There are a few other leading
scientists that are studying aging. One of them, which is a very interesting person, his
name is Nir Barzilai, located in New York City, and he’s studying mainly long-lived
humans and trying to see what are the changes in their genome and their proteome
compared to the average human, so that’s an interesting person to look at.
Another very interesting scientist is Cynthia Kenyon, who is from UCSF in San Francisco. She’s
focused mainly on the insulin pathway, which is very related to glucose—insulin and
glucose. She started with the model organism slow worms, and now she’s also working
on other model organisms. So I think that if you are looking at, or your audience will
look at those four, you can find a lot of very interesting information.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Great, thank you very much for that. What would
be the best ways to connect with you personally? And you on Twitter, Facebook?
Where do people connect to you? Where are you most active?
[Gil Blander]: I actually like Twitter a lot so I’m on Twitter. They can find
me, it’s GBlander1 and they can find me there. If someone has any questions, they can
contact us via our website. On our website there is firstname.lastname@example.org and I
would be more than happy to talk with them.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Great, thank you, Gil. I just wanted to learn a little
bit about you before you go, are you using your tool every month? What are you doing
in terms of tracking your biology at the moment?
[Gil Blander]: It’s a great question. I’m using the tool at least four times a
year. There are some months that I’m maybe testing every day. There was one day
that I was testing myself like four times because I’m all the time trying to find new tools.
So we are using home kits and different labs, and often my arm is completely dotted
with blood stains.
On top of that I used to use other Quantified Self tools. I used in the past the HRV from
Ithlete, which you interviewed Simon, and I think that it’s a great tool for the athletically
active population. Currently what I’m testing every day, or all the time, is my activity,
and my weight. I’m trying to use some other tools, so we’re trying to develop now a new
nutrition tool for our users, so obviously I’m using some nutrition applications,
MyFitnessPal, Nutrino, and others. So I’m using a lot of different tools but in the day-to-
day and in the last year, I measure my weight every day by Withings, which is a
European company, which have a great wireless scale. And I’m measuring my activity
using Fitbit, but I did test it from the 23andme to measure my genome, so I’m trying,
because I’m working on that, I’m trying a lot of different tools.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: It sounds like you’ve got involved in a lot of them. Is
there any key insight; what have you learnt about yourself so far? Is there one important
thing that you’ve learnt from these activities?
[Gil Blander]: Yeah, I leant about myself that data is the key for me. For
example, when I’m measuring my weight, every day I’m measuring it here in the office,
after that I make a decision, should I eat that or should I eat that? Because it’s showing
me every day whether my weight went up or went down. So I succeed to maintain my
weight more or less stable. When I’ve seen that my weight is too high, I use some tools
to see if it’s helped me to decrease it. For example, I did an experiment when my weight
went up after the holidays. I started to log my food in MyFitnessPal and I lost like eight
pounds in a week and a half. The issue is that you cannot continue with it forever
because it’s very time consuming and annoying to add what you ate every day. So it’s a
good intervention but it’s for the short-term.
What we are trying to develop here in InsideTracker currently is find a tool that will
help you to maintain your weight, maintain your biomarkers, maintain your activity,
which is more seamless, and it’s not easy. We have a team of scientists, exercise
physiologists, coaches, and nutritionists who are trying to do that. But it’s definitely not
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, great. Well keep me updated if you’re
coming out with something interesting; that would be great. So one thing you did
mention right there, which I forgot to mention, is I think that InsideTracker, currently
you use LabCorp request to get people’s samples. So you give them some requisition
forms and the person runs down to LabCorp and it gets sent to you, but you said you’re
also using home kits. Is that something that’s going to change in the future or is that just
for you in experimentation?
[Gil Blander]: No we have home kits. So if someone wants to use the
home kits, we have them; we are using home kits. The problem with the home kits is
that we tested a lot of vendors and most of them haven’t had the precision of the
measuring of the biomarkers to be good enough for us. Because we are giving you an
optimal zone, you should have the precision. So we came with two vendors that are
precise enough, but the number of biomarkers is limited. So for one of them we have
only five biomarkers; the other we have seven. But we are still using it because some
people are too lazy to go to the lab, some others don’t live in the U.S., and currently the
lab availability is only in the U.S., so they can use our advanced home kit and we are
sending it all over the world. So because of those reasons we are still using the home
We also hope that in the future, the quality, the precision of those home kits will be
better, then we could use more and more biomarkers. I really hope, and I think that it
will happen that in the next five years, we won’t need to go to the lab at all, we can use
our iPhone. Basically we are saying that you can bleed on your iPhone, spit on your
iPhone, pee on your iPhone, and then receive a lot of information, so that’s our goal. I
think that it will happen and what is nice about InsideTracker is that we are a
technology diagnostic. We don’t care where the information comes from; what we care
about is the quality of the information because we are running it via our analytic and
then providing to you the ranges and the recommendations. So as soon as the
technology will be good enough, we will integrate it.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: I’m sure you are aware of Theranos and what
they’re doing. I don’t know if you know, but would you think that their services would be
accurate enough for you when they get to market? Or do you think they’re still focused
on being in or out of normal range and it’s not necessarily sharp enough for you?
[Gil Blander]: Theranos is very interesting. What is interesting is that
instead of taking the blood from the vein, you take it from the finger like the home kits
that we’re using. What is also interesting is the volume: because you’re taking it from the
tip of your finger, you cannot extract a milliliter; you are talking about microliters. What
is also interesting, that they promise, is that you can do it on time. So you receive the
information immediately, while when you do it at the lab it takes a couple of days, and
when you do it with the home kit it might take a couple of weeks. What is happening
with this—at least today, and I don’t know, I hope it will improve—is that even though
that they have a machine that can do it in place, they are sending it to a central lab. So
basically you go to one of the clinics of Walgreens. Currently only in…
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: I think it’s Arizona.
[Gil Blander]: Only in Arizona.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: There’s one in San Francisco I think, as well.
[Gil Blander]: There should be one in Palo Alto, yeah. So you prick your
finger, they fill a small vial, and then they courier it to the lab. The lab do their analysis
and then you receive the result, I assume a day later, I’m not sure I haven’t tested it. So
you lose the value of the immediate response, that we don’t have, but it sounds like (at
least what they claim is) it’s accurate, which is great. Also, another advantage that they
have is the price: their price, at least the sticker price—what they show on their
website—is much lower than the price that a biophysician would do it, which is great
value. But again, it’s only available in Arizona; it’s not immediate. I think that it’s still an
intermediate solution. So it’s nice progress but it’s not the end product. The end product
will be the…
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: The iPhone.
[Gil Blander]: … your iPhone, yeah.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Thanks for the commentary on that because it’s
hard to know actually what’s going on and how far the progress. So it’s still in a trial
[Gil Blander]: I assume so but my knowledge is the same as your
knowledge. I don’t have any internal knowledge about that.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Great, thank you. Well Gil, thank you so much for
answering all our questions today. You’ve given us some great insights into how you’ve
constructed your aging panel there.
[Gil Blander]: Thank you so much and I’m looking forward to really cool
entrepreneurs in your future podcast.