Today’s episode is about practical tools that we can use to improve our biology and how we can track those results to make sure we are getting the right answers. This episode can serve as an important source of information about N=1 experiments and biohacking.
N=1 experiments involve a single subject and they are entirely capable of providing statistical inferences about the efficacy or side-effects of treatments specifically on that subject alone. The aim of this episode is to provide very practical tips that are really accessible to you. Some of the topics covered are the Bulletproof diet, intermittent fasting, and the impact of oxaloacetate supplements.
– Bob Troia
Bob Troia’s quest for self knowledge, betterment, and optimization inspired his own self-tracking, biohacking, and n=1 experiments. Some of Bob’s experiments have included glucose hacking and tracking, telomere analysis, bulletproof diet (cholesterol/bloodwork), and central nervous system (CNS) training. He has had the opportunity to give several Quantified Self talks on his glucose tracking experiments.
Bob is also a successful tech entrepreneur, and is currently working on a new venture, HuMend, which is developing a solution to treat musculoskeletal injuries using 3D printing technology. Bob holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Pennsylvania State University in Agricultural and Biological Engineering.
The show notes, 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!
- Bob’s interest in quantified self and biohacking results from trying to uncover and understand what makes him tick and how to optimize and improve it. (Time 5:58)
- N=1 experiments are implemented on one person. They are not scientifically applicable to the whole population. (Time 8:00)
- One of Bob’s earliest n=1 experiments involved a paleo-like diet called the Bulletproof diet. (Time: 9:00)
- There are a number of online services that can facilitate your bloodwork testing. (Time 12:55).
- There is a big difference between traditional and functional medicine. The normal ranges for traditional medicine may not be applicable to individuals based on their unique genetic composition. Services such as InsideTracker and WellnessFX may give you a “range” for your results, but you may need a functional medical practitioner to further investigate the details. (Time 14:00).
- Part of a low white blood cell count is not that your immune system isn’t kicking up; it’s that it’s being suppressed. (21:00).
- An underactive thyroid is linked to elevated LDLs. Bob was introduced to some programs that support thyroid and adrenal functions, and that was a shortcut which led to improving numbers such as total cholesterol, LDL, and testosterone. (28:00)
- Bob’s recommendation is to find a medical practitioner with more of a functional medicine background. (29:50)
- Another of Bob’s recommendations is to find a medical practitioner who has an investigative mindset.(31:16)
- Bob sees the philosophy of “Quantified Self” evolving into “Quantified Team.” (33:00)
- Bob gets testing every three months. He is still investigating having more short-term testing, for instance on a monthly basis. (37:00)
- The biomarkers Bob tracks on a routine basis range from basic panels, cholesterol markers, glucose, nutrients like calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, white blood cells, C-reactive protein, and an MDL test that can check for chronic infections. (38:00)
- As part of a longevity strategy and to maintain optimal glucose levels, Bob recommends a supplement called oxaloacetate. (48:00)
- Other recommendations include the Calm app and binaural beats (Holosync) as tools for meditation. (54:30).
- Bob’s biggest recommendation is to prevent your data from becoming a hindrance. It is ultimately more about how you feel. People have the tendency to over think it, instead of just starting to do it. (1:34:20)
- quantifiedbob.com: Bob Troia’s personal self-tracking, biohacking, n=1 experiments, and Quantified Self tools and resources.
- Bob on Twitter @QuantifiedBob
- Cortisol to DHEA Ratio: Cortisol is a stress hormone and DHEA is a precursor to testosterone and estrogen. Both are produced by the adrenal glands. Since they work in an opposing manner, they are more efficiently measured as a ratio. A normal ratio is approximately 5:1 to 6:1. An abnormal ratio indicates a problem with the adrenal glands.
- hs-CRP (high sensitivity C-Reactive Protein): A marker of inflammation. The hs-CRP test accurately measures low levels of C-reactive protein to identify low but persistent levels of inflammation which is an indicator for cardiovascular disease (CVD), overtraining and other systemic inflammation issues. In a previous episode (episode 19), Dr. Garry Gordon notes hs-CRP may or may not be a sensitive enough marker of inflammation as it depends on the location and type of inflammation. Also, C-reactive protein is discussed previously in Episode 7 for tracking CVD risk.
- Fasting glucose: Fasting glucose is one of the clinical markers for blood sugar regulation and can indicate a progression toward diabetes. In order to establish a baseline, Bob performed a fasting glucose measurement with eight hours of fasting before each morning.
- HRV (Heart Rate Variability): HRV is one biomarker that is a good indicator for overall health and fitness. A high HRV shows that the parasympathetic response is dominant, and vice versa for a low HRV. A high HRV score – greater variability in the time gap between heart beats – is a good thing because it indicates a healthy, fit, well-rested heart. Damien has found it beneficial to take his HRV readings every morning because a dip could be an indicator of additional stress load. We’ve covered HRV in many episodes (see here)
- Telomere length: Telomeres are the protective DNA structures at the ends of chromosomes. Over time these protective structures shorten and degrade, as a result of the aging process in general for instance. By measuring telomere length, we’re able to identify how short they are against benchmarks, such as the societal norm, or sub-groups, for a typical age and gender, and use as a proxy for the aging process and how we are faring against it.
- LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein): The traditional measure of ‘bad cholesterol’ that many doctors still use to evaluate cardiovascular risk, but for which research has now determined not to be the best predictor of cardiovascular risk. However, LDL is also associated with other risks can be a useful marker in general – such as an underactive thyroid as mentioned by Bob in this episode.
Lab Tests, Devices and Apps
- InsideTracker: InsideTracker is a personalized health analytics company with a platform that tracks and analyzes key biochemical and physiological markers, and applies sophisticated algorithms and large scientific databases to determine personalized optimal zones for each marker.
- WellnessFX: WellnessFX is a platform that visualizes your blood test results over time, as well as detailed descriptions of each biomarker for an easy interpretation of your overall health. WellnessFX also offers personalized consultations with licensed health practitioners for even more insight into your health.
- 23andMe genetic testing: A service that provides a DNA kit for collecting samples and analyzing DNA.
- MDL (Medical Diagnostics Laboratories) testing: A one vial test that can expose different pathogens. Bob referred to this test as one that extends more than the traditional panel and can indicate the presence of chronic diseases.
- LabCorp: Laboratory Corporation of America provides lab testing and services, with expertise in esoteric testing, genomics, and clinical and anatomic pathology.
- DirectLabs: DirectLabs offers blood chemistry tests directly to you online at extremely discounted prices with results available in as little as 24 hours for most tests.
- GeneticGenie: Shows your free methylation and/or detoxification profile after sending a saliva sample to 23andMe genetic testing.
- Promethease: Compares a person’s DNA data with entries in SNPedia, a public wiki on human genetics. Also can use data imported from 23andMe.
- TeloMe: A company that offers saliva-based telomere length testing and analysis.
The Tools & Tactics
Diets and Nutrition
- Intermittent Fasting: Involves consuming most of your calories during a very small window, typically 6 hours and fasting the remainder of the day.
- Paleo Diet A diet that mimics the nutrition of early hunter-gatherers, and consists of all lean meats and fish, fresh fruits, and nonstarchy vegetables.
- Bulletproof Diet: A diet that involves skipping breakfast, not counting calories, eating high levels of healthy saturated fat, working out and sleeping less, and adding smart supplements.
- Holosync: A form of audio technology that is said to induce brain wave patterns such as those of deep meditation.
- Oxaloacetate: Oxaloacetate, the common name for the molecule 3-carboxy-3-oxopropanoic acid and synonymous with oxaloacetic acid (depending on acidity. is an intermediate of the Kreb’s cycle and the stage immediately prior to the formation of pyruvate (viapyruvate carboxylase) and immediately after the NAD+-consuming conversion from L-malate (via malate dehydrogenase). It is thought to help with glucose metabolism and reduce variability as well as promote longevity due to being an intermediate of the Kreb’s cycle of energy production.
- Muse Calm: A consumer EEG device and app that is designed to help you meditate effectively. Damien refers to his use of this.
Other People, Books & Resources
- Dave Asprey: Dave Asprey, Founder and CEO of bulletproof, was mentioned by the guest as someone whose talks on the principles and logic of the “bulletproof” diet attracted him to the paleo-like diet.
- Jimmy Moore: Jimmy Moore, a previous guest, is an expert on measuring ketones and optimizing ketogenic diets. Moore also spoke about intermittent fasting during his episode.
- William J. Walsh: Walsh was a previous guest (episode 2) who is an expert on brain-related disorders. He was mentioned in this episode as helping to do certain labs that help assess micronutrient deficiencies or differences that are out of functional ranges including vitamin B6.
- Ray Kurzweil: An American author, computer scientist, inventor, and futurist. Author of the books on longevity and extending lifespan Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever and Transcend: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever. Ray is mentioned in this episode as one of the proponents of solving a problem before going to sleep.
- Aubrey de Grey: Chief Science Officer for the SENS Research Foundation, a not-for-profit organization funding research into longevity around the world. Aubrey de Grey is featured in episode 14.
- Tim Ferriss: An American author, entrepreneur, angel investor, and public speaker. The Four Hour Body, authored by Tim Ferriss, is one of the early books that helped Bob.
Full Interview Transcript
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Hello Bob, thanks so much for coming on the show.
[Bob Troia]: Thanks for having me.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: How did you get into all of this Quantified Self (QS), biohacking, n=1 experiments? Is this something you’ve been doing for a while? Give us a quick background on what led you to this.
[Bob Troia]: Sure. I’m very different to some of your past guests, in that I’m more like your typical listener. I’m not an expert in a certain field; I’m an entrepreneur who’s been working with emerging technology for about the last twenty years and I just naturally had this curious mind. Even back in the time I was a little kid, it was always about taking things apart and figuring out how things work or putting them back together in a different way.
For me, going back to my teenage years and into college, I was an athlete, so I was always tracking aspects of workouts and training and diet, trying to figure out what had an effect on certain performances and just general improvements, whether it’s trying to gain weight or strength or run faster.
As I got older, out of college and began joining the workforce in the real world, I never got too out of shape, in terms of putting on tons of weight or anything like that, but I definitely wanted to get back into a better shape and I experimented with different diets and training, and again, I was logging a lot of these meals, workouts, and just trying to understand those effects.
So really you went from tracking for performance to getting back to a certain state, and now as you get older, you’re really looking to do it from the standpoint of longevity and maintenance. Because, for example, I had a program I did fifteen years ago where I gained a bunch of muscle and put on some weight, but it was just from a lifestyle perspective, I couldn’t maintain it from playing other sports.
But from a QS perspective, I was always tracking everything, whether it was notebooks, spreadsheets, etc., and about maybe five years ago I found a group of folks—I’m in New York City—like-minded people who were starting a meet-up around Quantified Self. I had never really heard the term before, but when I got together with these folks and they were exchanging stories, I was like, “Oh, these are my people.” I didn’t realize there were other people doing things similar to me in terms of trying to really track and understand and then optimize areas of their life. And so, for me, it really opened the door to this and from the standpoint of, even though we were doing this ourselves, our own n=1 experiments and tracking, when you’re meeting with other people, you can share tips and advice and stories and you can really connect around that.
So you have Quantified Self and then you’ve got biohacking, and they’re very similar but they’re also different in ways. So biohacking, there are people who might be in that school of thought who aren’t necessarily Quantified Self people. They’re just looking to somehow manipulate or get an advantage or optimize a biological impact, whereas Quantified Self people might be tracking non-physical elements of their lives. I found those groups sort of overlap, and for me, it was through some of the conferences that were out there, meeting people—whether it’s the first Quantified Self conference or there’ve been several biohacking conferences.
My interest in this has purely been from really trying to uncover and understand what makes me tick and then figure out ways to optimize and improve it. I’m no smarter, faster, more intelligent than anyone out there, definitely not. I’m still dealing with a number of issues like lingering infections and health issues, but I think it’s trying to achieve that state of being optimal is just something we can all strive for, whether or not we can actually get to it.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, absolutely. And how old are you? Just to give a bit of context.
[Bob Troia]: I’m just going into my forties.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Ok, cool. That’s pretty much the same place as I am. That’s interesting. So, just to give you a background in terms of your education and your work because I think that may have an influence.
I came from a business background and a lot of finance, and then management consulting, which is a lot of analytics, so I was doing a lot of this stuff in my work. And just like you, it naturally filtered in to fitness and then it started evolving into longevity and also into health issues when I got some health issues. So I’m just wondering how that compares to your background and if you think it influenced it, maybe your studies or your career? Because some people at home may be thinking, “Well I don’t have a degree in maths,” or “I don’t have an education in consulting or analytics,” or anything, but I think anyone pretty much from any kind of background can get into this stuff and at Quantified Self meetings you see a big variety of different people.
[Bob Troia]: Yes, so my background: I went to a school of engineering, so I definitely have a technical background. I’ve been programming since I was nine or ten years old just writing my old programs. Back in those days, you had to kind of make your own games, they didn’t really exist. So I have a technical background, that helps me from the standpoint of I can figure out a way to solve something, but I don’t have a data analytics background by any means.
From a scientific background we talk about experiments, and there’s a debate about the experiments we’re doing and are they following traditional experimental design? How accurate is the data? And I think when we’re talking about our own experiments, you have to sort of say, “Well look, I’m trying to structure this and control it in a certain way but it’s for me, I’m not trying to release this in an academic paper.”
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Let’s take a step back, n=1 experiments, I’m not sure if we’ve brought up the term before on the actual podcast, but basically, it’s an experiment just on one person. It doesn’t mean that it’s scientifically applicable to the whole population as in the experiments and studies that are typically done. They’re trying to extrapolate things to say they apply to more than one person and they can be used, but with an n=1 experiment, you’re just trying to see what works for you.
Is that how you’d sum it up or would you look at it a bit differently?
[Bob Troia]: Exactly. So we could run the same experiment, for example, and your results can be different from mine, but it doesn’t mean that either are wrong, it just means that we’re all individuals. Our results apply to ourselves and we go after a different way in terms of how we want to improve or optimize something.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So, the reason I contacted you is you’ve already done a lot of different, interesting experiments, basically, and you’ve put those up on your blog, so I wanted to talk about a few of those.
Where would you like to start? Which one was your first major experiment? Was it the diet or the blood glucose?
[Bob Troia]: Yes, my entry point into Quantified Self and biohacking was starting a blog to essentially just share the information I was collecting. I thought maybe it could help other people or inspire them, get feedback on what I was doing.
One of the early experiments I was running was around diet. I hate to use the word “diet” because I wasn’t trying to lose weight. Again, being an entrepreneur, a CEO of a company, and being very active, playing sports, and working out, I got to a point a couple of years ago where I just was basically exhausted; I was broken down. Even though physically I was in shape, I was being successful in my work, everything was great, I couldn’t figure out why I just wanted to curl up in a ball on the weekend and do nothing.
And so I was looking at my diet, what I thought was a healthy diet, meaning there was lots of protein through like chicken, and low-fat, and lots of pasta and carbohydrates and all that, and it was working for me, but as I delved into looking at different diets—and this was when the Paleo movement was taking off and people were looking at rethinking the traditional food pyramid and saying, really you need to incorporate more healthy saturated fats and quality proteins—and so, for me, that was the kind of beginnings of that experiment.
I actually posted about it before I’d even started. I was like, “I’m going to try this and I’m going to post about my first 30 days.” Because you’re not going to see huge changes, but I think even just seeing how you feel as a result of making a minor change, and if it didn’t work, I would just have stopped and done something else.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So you set a period of 30 days and you selected a diet. How did you go about choosing the diet? Was it just one you were drawn to or were you looking for something specific, very different from the diet you currently have? I don’t really like the word “diet” either; I think we should really call it nutrition, which is more about what it’s about. But that’s where it is; everyone says diet. How did you go about selecting a diet and the period of 30 days?
[Bob Troia]: In terms of the diet, I was researching, again, the Paleo movement and let’s call it nutritional plans related to the Paleo movement, and I happened to come across the Bulletproof diet—one that I think a lot of people are talking about these days—which is the sort of tweaked version of a Paleo diet.
I’d encountered Dave through various conferences and he himself was running a podcast, so he was talking a lot about the principles behind the diet and the logic behind certain choices and how you structure it all. For me, that’s what attracted me, it was sort of mapped out, there was a lot of information that he had put together and again, it’s similar to a Paleo diet, and I said, “Okay, well let’s look at it. How am I going to change what I’m eating in terms of incorporating protein and protein sources?”
So we’re talking about grass-fed, grass-finished beef and lamb; getting adequate seafood; cutting out sugars and pretty much all grains; no gluten; which interestingly, I realized through blood testing—I had an allergen test and it showed that apparently I was allergic to wheat and barley, not chronically in a bad way, but there was an allergic reaction that kind of went up there, and beer is something that’s my favorite thing in the world.
So just even having to start making changes about what I was eating, people thought I was punishing myself, but I was like, “No. I’m eating this big, great, awesome steak and I’m having butter on it and I’m eating tons of veggies and oils.” So the diet itself, that’s the nutritional side of it, and then there’s also exercise and how do you support that.
Going to the gym six days a week, working out for 2 hours a day, can also contribute to being exhausted. I know you’ve done podcasts on HRV and things like overtraining, that’s very common and so by changing a workout program as well, to something that’s more high-intensity but shorter, you can get a lot of the benefits out of it.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Did you do both of these things at the same time? And did you do some kind of control before? Did you take your blood markers before based on your initial diet, which was what you were talking about before, the kind of low-fat chicken, whole pastas? I guess I’d call it the typical body builder’s diet, it sounded a bit like it.
[Bob Troia]: Yeah, I had been getting regular bloodwork prior to doing this so I had some data, not like every month or three months, it was six or twelve months, but I had a good baseline.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Where did you get this data from? Where did you go to get your labs? How did you do that, did you do it through your doctor or some service?
[Bob Troia]: A little of everything. The older bloodwork was tied to past doctor visits, physicals; they weren’t as comprehensive but they had some of the basic markers in there. Before I started with the diet, I did a round of bloodwork. There are a number of online services that facilitate your blood testing. You can basically go online and buy this sort of package, then they will set up an appointment. Depending on what state you live in, some of it you can do from home, so you can mail it in; some you go to a lab and they draw it and send it to them.
I used a service called Inside Tracker early on, so that was, I think, for some of the before bloodwork.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So that’s very similar to Wellness FX, which is the other well-known one. I think those are the two major ones in the U.S. There’s just a new one in the U.K. that’s trying to follow the same example. But, basically, they’re self-service labs, which try to give you a bit of package of advice with it as well? But you don’t necessarily have to buy that package of advice.
[Bob Troia]: Yes, it will take your results, and when you go to look at them online, they’ll give you suggestions. For example, if a marker is out of optimal range, it will say, “You might want to consider eating more leafy greens,” or some dietary choices.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So what’s good about those services is they give you those ranges, which are a bit more functional generally than others. Compared to the standard—if you go to LabCorp or some of the standard things—the ranges they give are probably wider in most cases. Is that what you’ve experienced? I don’t know if Wellness FX try to keep it a little bit tighter.
[Bob Troia]: Yeah, and that’s the big difference between when you talk about traditional medicine and functional medicine. The reference ranges are typically built around our population, which is a generally unhealthy population. So you might be in the optimal range for the general population, but you’re not really… So something like a vitamin D level, you might be considered in range, but a functional doctor might say, “No, you want to be way higher than that.”
The reference range is to some degree—Inside Tracker, Wellness FX—if you’re switching to like a Paleo diet, you might see your total cholesterol number jump up and it will kind of go in the red, but a functional doctor will be like, “That’s not important. What we actually want to look at is your LDL cholesterol and, in particular, the particle size analysis of it.”
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So this is where even when you do have a service like Wellness FX or Inside Tracker, where they’re trying to provide this online information and support for your understanding of the markers, it’s not necessarily going to give you the best responses. There are, basically, more complex situations like you’ve brought up, where you can have high cholesterol and it’s not an issue at all; it’s just based on the type of diet you’re having, but in other scenarios it might be a problem. I’m sure Inside Tracker is the same, like Wellness FX, is like, “Uh, your LDL is too high,” but in its own conditions, it’s not necessarily so. So this is where it becomes really helpful if you have a functional medicine practitioner working with you or someone who’s aware of this stuff.
[Bob Troia]: Exactly, and I also think—not to single out those services—any service that’s providing just a syloid [check 0:15:39] snapshot of your overall lifestyle health, they don’t have access to all the information. They can show your bloodwork, but they don’t have like for example your genetic information, in 23andMe or something, so maybe there’s an issue there that’s genetic versus tied to a diet. Or having access to other bloodwork is great, but I support it with other types of testing that maybe will be something that was picked up through a saliva or urine or a stool test. So when you have all the information together, and that’s what your doctor will be able to look at with you, versus a service that only has one silo of information.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So when you started this, was there anything out of range or something that you focused on from the beginning in your results before you even changed your diet? Or was everything kind of standard and normal?
[Bob Troia]: Well no. Maybe I didn’t go back to the earlier bloodwork and notice it too badly, but when I put it all and tried to look at it side-by-side, things like testosterone were way down, really low.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: What kind of level were you at?
[Bob Troia]: The 400s.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So is that the bottom of the normal reference range?
[Bob Troia]: Yeah, even lower. I probably had it tested and it even dropped below that, but it was considered very low. I think some of the reference ranges I’ve seen, they want you over 600; it just depends on what service you’re using.
I was noticing that my white blood cell count was consistently low, really low. My doctor—I had in my lab results, it showed the white blood cell count and usually they bold something if it’s out of range, to notify you like, “Hey, this is out of range”; it was in red and it said something like, “Bring it to the doctor’s attention,”—he was like, “okay, I’ve never seen that before.” And so that was something that we can talk further about.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: I had a very similar situation that came up. My white blood cells were basically depressed, but they weren’t crazy out of range; they weren’t acutely problematic. My experience was that traditional doctors didn’t know what to make of that and it was basically, “Well your immune system isn’t responding as well as it should for some reason,” which isn’t so defined. I don’t think, in traditional medicine, if it’s slightly out of range—I don’t know how much you were, if you were just under the reference range or something?
[Bob Troia]: No, it was pretty low. Basically, under 2.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, that is pretty low, pretty severe. It’s interesting because did you discover this stuff when you started testing? Or did you feel like, you said you were feeling exhausted, but it doesn’t sound like you felt like you were sick or anything like that?
[Bob Troia]: Yeah, that’s one of those things where I’m a person who’s never sick, I don’t miss work, I had to function at a certain level every day; essentially, what I was doing was I was getting through life almost with like a parking brake on. When you actually look at the information and see how it can change with time, so a lot of it, you sort of uncover it, but yeah, you might feel great.
I felt good until I was hitting those moments of just exhaustion. On a day-to-day level, I think otherwise—like emotionally and everything else—I felt fine. It was this exhaustion, which we can talk a bit later about, things like addressing thyroid and adrenal problems, which can really tie into that.
But just to get back to the story on the diet, so I did it for 30 days. I got my results and my total cholesterol went up about 100 points; my HDL, which is good cholesterol, went up, it was actually really high which is great; and triglycerides stayed in a pretty good range.
The doctor I was working with at the time kind of looked at it, we did some other testing—this doctor is actually someone who had some background working with people who are eating these sorts of diets and Paleo—but even there he was like, “Well, it’s a bit out of range but we’ll do some additional testing.” They thought the cause was purely that it was a fat malabsorption issue, meaning you’re eating all these saturated fats and your body needs to be able to process them and quit them out, if they stay in your body and float around, it will elevate your LDL.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So what was funny about that was when I started the Bulletproof diet—I’ve been following pretty much the Bulletproof diet, with some modifications here and there but mostly that, for about three years now—and I got exactly the same LDL number as you. Mine jumped to 232 and I went to see a traditional doctor to get my results in Bangkok and he was like, “You’ve got to stop eating saturated fat,” and that’s the traditional line on it.
So you had a doctor who understood a bit more about what those kinds of levels can mean. But it actually did freak me out a little bit when it went up to 232, I don’t know how you felt about it?
[Bob Troia]: I wasn’t too worried because I was expecting that to happen and then when we actually went in, this doctor knew to do a more detailed LDL test. There are different types of LDL in your body: there are these larger particles, which can float around your body, they’re not going to cause any issues; and the smaller LDL particles. When you hear about people having heart issues and just chronic heart disease and all that, it’s because these little particles are getting wedged inside of your veins and arteries. So when you look at the LDL particle size analysis, for me, it was completely the large fluffy ones, so it was actually not an issue.
But, when we looked at the white blood cell count, this doctor sent me to a phlebotomist, who’s a blood specialist, and we did a whole bunch of other blood tests. This was a renowned doctor and he looked at the results and saw it was low and started asking me questions about, have you been working around solvents and chemicals?
Part of a low white blood cell count is not that your immune system isn’t kicking up; it’s that it’s being suppressed. There could be something at play that’s keeping your immune system from activating, so when you think about it, well why was I never getting sick? Because being sick is an expression of your immune system kicking into action?
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, this is interesting. I think this is something that a lot of people don’t understand. Let’s explain this a bit.
[Bob Troia]: I know people, it’s the wintertime, and they’re always sick, they’ve got a cold or the flu. I never got colds or the flu or anything, and I’ve always thought of it as being a sign of resilience. But really what it was doing is my body just isn’t mounting any response to anything.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So if your body’s not fighting, you don’t get any inflammation, you don’t get all the symptoms because there’s no war going on, basically, where there should be a war going on with you trying to beat the thing down.
I went through exactly the same thing, and I haven’t really been sick for a very long time also. But we’re talking about it being a negative, which most people think, “Wow, it’s great that you never get sick.” Do you get sick now? Have you started to get sick yet?
[Bob Troia]: No.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: I mean, me neither, but I think it’s a good thing. I think it has something to do with all the stuff I’m doing to keep things at bay, although— maybe we could talk about it—I think you were taking reishi, we could talk about that a little later; maybe you’ve noticed some of the stuff I did.
So anyway, you went through this process and after the 30-day diet, was LDL the only thing that changed or was there a whole bunch of other stuff as well?
[Bob Troia]: Definitely there was a difference in testosterone level; it jumped up. There were other reference markers, things like C-reactive protein, which is an indicator of inflammation—I’ve always had it pretty low; that remained low. There wasn’t anything else that was too out of range, other than the white blood cell count after that and the cholesterol numbers changing. And there are a number of ratios. I had done some research and found you can do things like the HDL to total cholesterol ratio, or triglycerides to HDL, or HDL to LDL, and you’ll get a ratio. They’ve figured out certain ranges that if each ratio is below a certain amount, your risk for things like heart disease or other ways of being a predictor of those types of things can be diminished. In those cases, I was in the green for everything. So, even though my total cholesterol and LDL went up, my HDL had gone up so high and my triglycerides were low enough that the ratios were actually good ratios.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: I think what you’re illustrating is that when someone goes and gets a bunch of these labs or something, sometimes if we find something out of range, if it’s an LDL or triglycerides or something like that, that’s kind of like the first step. Because after that that’s going to be like, “Okay, this is something to look into,” and then you look into more detail of that. So there are different types of LDL, as you were explaining earlier, or there are ratios of triglycerides, which are more important. So, often when we have something out of range, it’s really like a starting point versus a final point.
[Bob Troia]: And then to follow up on that testing, that doctor basically was saying that I had some fat malabsorption issues, so we did some follow-up tests, some stool tests basically, and it did show that there was a fat malabsorption issue happening.
Then we did some microbiology work on it, as well, which shows you your gut flora, certain bacteria that could be good bacteria or bad bacteria in your gut. It showed that, for example there’s a good species of bacteria you often see in probiotics, lactobacillus; I had like none, which basically allows for some other bad bacteria to maybe grow or thrive in your gut.
So you had to then start going back through time, and I’m like, “Well, I probably didn’t receive any probiotics back in the day.” Maybe ten years ago I had been bitten by a tick that I was getting treated for. I didn’t have chronic Lyme disease symptoms, but I spotted the bite mark and I went to a doctor right away and basically, he gave me a bunch of antibiotics to treat it. But those are the types of things that can just wipe out all your gut flora because antibiotics get rid of the good stuff and the bad stuff.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So, you decided after this 30-day test to continue with the same diet, the Bulletproof diet?
[Bob Troia]: Yeah, exactly. So I was like, “Okay, I like how I’m feeling, even just in 30 days. Let’s keep doing it.” Basically, I think it’s been a little over a year and a half, almost two years now since that first post when I was about to start it, so I’ve got a lot more history now, I’ve gone down that rabbit hole of looking at different issues and seeing what’s linked to what.
Because what they started uncovering was, we’re looking at things like cholesterol and elevated cholesterol and other things like might show up in bloodwork, but really there was combination of things happening, and it wasn’t diet related. Diet almost uncovered it; the diet didn’t cause it.
Related to some chronic infections that were lingering, as well as some thyroid/adrenal issues, so talking about things like energy and being exhausted, it wasn’t necessarily chronic fatigue but there are tests that can show your body’s response, and like I said, everything is connected to each other. So you kind of go down this path where you start with the bloodwork on the macro-level, and now you’re working your way towards like, “Okay, if we could fix this one thing, that’s going to help ten things.”
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah. So I’m sure all of the people at home are like, “Wow, that sounds like a lot of different stuff and it’s complicated, and how do you figure out that you have to look at all these things” if you want to either resolve health symptoms or improve your performance?
Just take a step back here, since you went on this journey—so it’s about one a half years ago, maybe a bit more—how do you feel in comparison to when you started?
[Bob Troia]: I feel great. I used that analogy earlier: you always think you feel okay or you have moments where maybe you didn’t feel great, but you still feel like generally, “I’m okay, I’m not getting sick.” And as you remedy some of these issues, you realize that you kind of had that parking brake on, you were getting by. If you were able to be achieving things at that level with those conditions, once you take that parking brake off you just feel even more amazing.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: I’ve got a very similar story to tell. It’s like I didn’t realize my full potential, pretty much the whole of my life because there were some lingering issues all the way through. As you work through this stuff, you realize that your performance, your functionality, just your general well-being can be potentially at a much higher level than you’ve been used to and you’ve accepted this lower standard, and you don’t realize that you can really feel really great and really operate at a really high level if you get there.
I feel way, way better after—I was talking to you just before about—taking steps up; you fix one thing and it takes you a step up in terms of energy or whatever is lacking for you, and every time you fix one thing it takes you up that other step, and slowly you get more and more out of life and out of performance and everything.
So, in terms of the diet now—you’ve been doing it one and a half years—has that really worked for you? Has that changed other things? You were talking about testosterone; have there been any benefits that you’ve noticed or that have been recorded? And how often have you been tracking your progress with that?
[Bob Troia]: We fast-forward now let’s say a year and a half from when I started, again, we talked about the initial 30-days or so and seeing things like total cholesterol going up a hundred points or so and LDL. After the year and a half, I did a round of follow-up work and my numbers actually went down to levels that were lower than before I even started the diet. Things like total cholesterol and LDL; my HDL still was higher, and testosterone was almost double from before I started.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So these are all positive changes by the sounds of it.
[Bob Troia]: Exactly, and this was really due to introducing some program around thyroid and adrenal support because an underactive thyroid has been linked to elevated LDL. It’s almost like that’s a shortcut that I had to spend a year and a half trying to get to because we had to try out and figure out a bunch of different things.
My doctor was basically, “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to support your thyroid while we deal with these chronic infections because it’s putting too much stress on your body and we need to support your adrenals and thyroid,” and sure enough, those numbers went right up.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: We were talking about this just before the show and how important it is: you found a doctor that could work with the things that you had uncovered. You got these tests that weren’t kind of right and you wanted to explore them and find how to fix them and work on them, probably in quite a bit of detail. You sound like a guy who is really interested in performance and stuff, and you were trying to optimize.
That isn’t normally what doctors are there for, and so most of them would be like, “Well, I don’t normally work on this stuff.” So how did you go about finding a doctor that had the same mindset as you and was going to work with you on the way you wanted to with this?
[Bob Troia]: Yeah, it was a long process. When I first got into the biohacking side of things and looking at getting some of those tests and data, I was working with my local primary care physician, just someone local, and I could do some of the testing but the person wasn’t necessarily experienced in digging into those numbers; they just knew reference ranges. Then I moved on to another doctor.
Through research I was trying to find people with more of a functional medicine background. I know you’ve done some interviews around functional medicine, but it’s basically going from treating the symptoms to treating the causes or identifying the causes. So I found someone that was local, and when I first started doing some of this bloodwork and some of this testing, he was good at identifying certain things, but I think there was a point where that was it, he couldn’t really dig deeper.
Then, just by talking with other people I know and introductions, I came across another doctor who within a 15-minute phone call was like, “Okay, I’ve seen this ten times before. We’re going to test for these things, I’m pretty sure that this is the issue at play,” and sure enough, more just because that person was so used to seeing that.
And what’s great, even with a functional doctor, is they don’t have to be in your town. My doctor is in Austin and I’m in New York. We set up Skype calls every month; we can do a lot of this stuff virtually. We still see each other a couple of times a year face-to-face, if we run into each other at a conference or something like that, but it’s been great.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, I’m the same. I work with several doctors on different issues based on their expertise, so it’s kind of bringing the point that you just referred to, is when they get something and they’re like, “Oh, that looks like something I’ve seen before.” If you have an initial discussion with a doctor and they can get that feeling for it, that’s really good.
The other thing I look for is someone who’s got this investigative mindset because—if you’ve got some just small issues and you’re not sure what they are and there’s no clear answer, or you’re trying to improve your performance or energy levels and you’re not sure what’s there—if there’s not a straight answer, you need someone who’s going to try to sift through the data, have a bit of an investigative approach to it, and maybe even go and check out some research or something.
So I’ve got a bunch of friends who’ve come across problems in their lives and they’ve eventually found a doctor who’s got a bit more of a detective, investigative mindset and will go and do homework and look around and look at different tests until they find an answer, which isn’t necessarily everyone’s mindset when they’re looking at this. I don’t know if you’ve come across that kind of mindset before with someone you’ve worked with?
[Bob Troia]: From the standpoint of having a different experience with different tests?
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, just having “I don’t know what the answer is right now,” but let’s investigate and just keep working on it until we find some kind of answer. Because I think the reality is, the world of biology is really complex. A lot of the terms we’ve brought up today and a lot of the things you’ve been talking about, it can be really, really complex to uncover little things that are holding you back in different ways. So it’s a bit like a maze and a puzzle sometimes that you’ve got to solve.
If you just look at the straight tests sometimes, you’re not going to get any clear answer. We were talking earlier about stool tests and I’ve probably done about ten stool tests right now, and sometimes an answer comes out. So sometimes you need someone to look through and dig through the data and keep going for a while, rather than relying on something they’ve seen before.
Whereas you brought up the example where if you find someone who’s had direct experience with your specific problem, I find it’s a kind of specialized approach. If you look at the business world of consulting for instance, they have specialized consultants versus general consultants, and the general consultants are problem solvers, they go in there and investigate, they’re like detectives; whereas the specialized guys really know their stuff really well.
I kind of see the world of doctors as a bit similar. You can find the general guy who’s going to investigate, maybe he’s a functional medicine doctor and he’s just going to keep investigating and looking at stuff, and he’s going to figure it out by problem solving; whereas the guy who will really be specialized in one area will really know it really well and he’s seen 500 different patients, or perhaps they’re athletes, trying to achieve the same goal and helping them with that.
[Bob Troia]: Yeah, where I see everything with Quantified Self going ultimately, is this concept of a “quantified team.” You’ll have your doctor, and your doctor can look at data and give you some information; you’ll have someone who can analyze data, like we were talking earlier, we’re not all data scientists. We can collect this information and have it, but to do correlations and really in-depth analysis, most of us don’t know where to start with that.
Having almost a coach or an interpreter of that information can sit between you with your doctor, or if you’re an athlete or something you can articulate that with other coaches etc., and I do see this idea of almost like a team. Instead of it just being you and your doctor, you’re going to have a group of people that will all work together to be that sort of team, but I think they each bring a different skill set to the table.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, that’s a great way to put it, I hadn’t heard that before, but that really is a great way to put it and it will be interesting how that takes place. I guess I kind of already have some kind of team going, I don’t know about you, but I hadn’t thought about it like that. I guess that’s just the way it’s evolving naturally.
Okay, it sounds like you were just frustrated that you weren’t solving things and you kept on looking and meeting people, and it was more like networking that you managed to meet someone that was relevant to you.
[Bob Troia]: Yeah, in my case it was. For me, I also have a really strong personal interest in understanding how human physiology works. So I’m sitting there reading books, consuming information; I’m not a scientist, I’m not a doctor, but I like to be able to understand. If someone shows me the lab tests, the doctor is going to explain things to me but I want to understand it at a deeper level. That’s just my curious nature. I think a lot of folks probably don’t want to dig that deep, but that’s just an interest of mine.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: I’m the same way. For me, I kind of see it as my responsibility and, depending on what you want to get out of your body and your life, I see it as a really good investment of time. The more you understand your biology…
When I think back to four years, five years ago, and I was already working on fitness stuff like you and optimizing it with numbers and stuff, but now I have so much control over my body, just all sorts of functions that I didn’t realize that you could control; I thought they were things that just happened. We were talking about energy dips; I have my own adrenal fatigue documented that I’m working with. But when you learn a few tricks and things, even if you do have adrenal fatigue and you’re working on recovering from that, you can actually avoid those periods of exhaustion—which I guess some of your exhaustion you talked about before was either thyroid or adrenal related?
[Bob Troia]: Yes. You were talking about a certain test you take; it’s like a saliva test that, over the course of 24 hours, you basically can plot a curve to show your cortisol and DHEA response. I had a similar situation where it was showing my cortisol levels were actually pretty close to what the reference should have been, it mapped pretty closely, but when you looked at the ratio of cortisol to DHEA, it was completely out of whack. It rings an alarm saying, “Okay, there’s something going on with adrenals here,” and supporting it.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: I found that a really valuable test and I feel like everyone should do it, especially driven entrepreneurs, anyone who’s just working too hard, basically. Too many hours a week or too stressed, and I think that’s pretty much everyone these days. It seems like everyone is stressed that I talk to, they don’t sleep enough and they work too hard, and often they’re working the weekends or the evenings as well, or in the mornings, if they can fit it in.
So when you think about all of that, I think a lot of people could maybe check that test out and they might find that there’s something they can do there to improve their energy levels and so on.
[Bob Troia]: Yeah, and with regards to the diet, I was also incorporating intermittent fasting. Essentially consuming all of my meals in a six-hour window each day.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Just out of interest, we’ve talked a little bit about intermittent fasting with Jimmy Moore a little bit when we were talking about ketosis, but which hours of the day do you choose to eat at and why?
[Bob Troia]: My window for intermittent fasting is probably I’d say between 13:00 and 19:00 or noon and 18:00; it depends. You try to time it so that you start right after your workout, but the way I was doing it was you sort of cheat because in the morning if you do a sort of special coffee, which I’m sure you’ve talked about before, with butter and MCT oil, because you’re getting fats in your body, you’re getting the calories but you’re still in ketosis.
But with regards to intermittent fasting, if you had adrenal/thyroid issues, you should not be doing it. I’ve had to cut it down to a day where it was on a weekend or a day I wasn’t working out because it is stressful on the body, and for me it was like, why add the stress that you don’t need right now until you’ve fixed the other issues?
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: I think that’s an important thing because intermittent fasting has become a bit of a trend. It seems very much in fashion these days, but for some people it’s not right for, or at least not right to be doing every day. Like you could do it from time-to-time, but doing too much of it, like you said, depending on where you’re at, can be a bit problematic as can the type of training that you did.
I was just wondering, how often do you get your blood labs done now? I guess you started to do it more routinely when you started the diet and everything, but how often do you do them? And which markers are you keeping an eye on primarily?
[Bob Troia]: I would say in terms of ongoing testing, every three months. If I’m addressing something more short-term, I can test on a monthly basis, but I would say three months is my good window because if I’m addressing something, that’s usually enough time to get an update and see where my markers are at.
In terms of what I’m checking, so those can range from basic panels, where you’re doing like we talked about, cholesterol markers, glucose, nutrients like calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, all those sorts of micronutrients, then getting into things like white blood cells, [and] C-reactive protein; that’s more of a traditional panel.
When I’ve had to dig deeper, I would do these additional tests. One is called an MDL test, where they can check for chronic infections and stuff, but it’s all done through bloodwork, so you can dig a little deeper. The main issue is these tests cost money. You either need a good insurance plan or you have some way to get those costs down.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So is that what you recommend? For you, three months is about right cost-benefit for those sorts of labs?
[Bob Troia]: Yeah, and I think you could basically, there are these at-home services that we were trying to launch that you could draw it every day if you want. Maybe there is a case where you are trying to do a before and after of something, but to go to a lab and do a full panel, for the average person, I think even six months is fine. But if you’re trying to deal with any issues or you need an update, I think for me, three months is a pretty good window.
Also, some of the testings, so Wellness FX or Inside Tracker, they have certain panels and for even the most expensive panel of the highest n=1 they have, there’s a limit to what they can provide. So what I’ve found through my doctor was by him ordering some of the tests, we can do much more comprehensive panels.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Had you been using Inside Tracker for those basic blood markers most of the time? What have you been doing for the routine tests you do?
[Bob Troia]: The routines had been on and off with Inside Tracker. I don’t know if you talked about the weird laws that exist in this country about all these testing services?
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: The weird laws that exist everywhere.
[Bob Troia]: So for example, with Inside Tracker, I was using that for the basic panels and when I needed to do some additional things, they would send me to a LabCorp facility, which is like a big chain of laboratories—you go there and they can do it all. In New York State, they can’t do it.
So there are rules about what they can and can’t do. I couldn’t just go there and set up the appointment; my doctor, however, could arrange and say, “Go to this lab,” and he could actually negotiate lower prices for certain things. So you might see on your bill that this bloodwork cost 2500 dollars, but you’re going to pay 100 dollars or something out of pocket, and suddenly you hit your insurance thresholds.
My point is, it’s tough because I love the convenience of those types of services, and it’s just that I happen to live in a state where it’s really difficult.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So New York is a bit more difficult. As far as I know, I think there’s one other state. New York always comes up as a specific state where this self testing is more complicated. There are also a bunch of other services you can use, like DirectLabs and other self-service websites that basically you can hit up and order testing. In fact, I found most tests these days I can order.
But as you say, sometimes it’s worth either you working with a functional doctor or someone from your kind of team and he’ll be ordering them for you. There is a cost-benefit to that often, I think, versus ordering them directly. And of course, he’s going to be checking them and looking at them, and he’s got his experience looking at tons and tons of tests of these types and he’s also probably got a mountain of data in all of the tests he’s stacked up over time, which I found this kind of thing is really valuable as we’ve talked about before.
But it is changing and that’s one of the things we’re going to look at in this podcast. Things do change over time and all these new services start coming out more and more.
So in terms of intermittent fasting, that’s something you cut down to fit with your personal situation, where it kind of comes back to an n=1 experiment thing, where it’s really a personal thing and what suits you. How did you know to change that? Was it because of one of your tests? Or was it a feeling and then you looked at it?
[Bob Troia]: No, and in that case, actually, intermittent fasting worked great for me in terms of body composition and I was able to confine my meals into that window and still get everything I needed to eat. It was more just after talking with my doctor, we said, “Hey, let’s do everything we can to support your thyroid and adrenals. Let’s take as much stress as we can take off your body.” And so we decided to cut back the intermittent fasting just for the sake of let’s just remove a potential stressor.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: It sounds like a great idea, so that’s some of the stuff I do as well, try to reduce all stress. So, that’s intermittent fasting. One of the other interesting things you’ve played about was blood glucose.
[Bob Troia]: Yeah, I was one of the early 23andMe customers, so I know that now if you sign up for them to get your genetic testing done, they don’t give you access to these research and tests that can say you’re more likely to develop this condition or have this response to this medication.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So, just to be clear on that because I bought in the early days like you, so I still have the health interface. I think the difference is just the interface they present to you; they don’t present the information summarized about your health, is that correct?
[Bob Troia]: Well I thought they ran into some FDA issues where they can only show people their ancestry information now.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: I think it’s in terms of display but you can still download your whole…
[Bob Troia]: Yeah, you can download your raw data, but there’s no interpretation of it.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: That’s right. Basically, we see a health panel because we got in early and they’d already shown it to us so they’re still allowed to show it to us, or I guess they promised us so they made some deal with the FDA that they’re allowed to keep showing us it. But they’re not changing it; it’s just what we saw from the start.
And then you guys, if you do download the data, then you can run it through some open source tools, but they’re not as nice and summarized, you have to do a lot more work with those if you want to get to some of your health issues.
[Bob Troia]: I’ve used Promethease, is one, and Genetic Genie.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Genetic Genie is a bit more simple actually, but Promethease is a lot of detail and a lot of work to get through it. Did you find it the same?
[Bob Troia]: Yeah. I thought the Genetic Genie was interesting though because it got more into a methylation analysis, which was for me kind of an interesting set of data that I wasn’t getting from anywhere else.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: But you can get that from Promethease. You get everything basically from Promethease because it’s a bigger open source thing. The Genetic Genie guys are focused on a few different issues like detox and methylation, so they’re looking at specific panels. And there’s another website Ben Lynch mentioned, which looks at specific panels like that.
Anyway, so there are ways you can use this data from 23andMe and you can get different sets of health issues looked at by going to different sites basically, and putting your diet in there. So the data is still there if you want it; it just takes a bit more work than it used to.
In terms of the blood glucose, you found an issue that you wanted to look at?
[Bob Troia]: So going back to the blood glucose, my 23andMe data showed I had an elevated risk for Type 2 diabetes. It was about a 10% higher probability, meaning the average person has I think 26%, so it’s already a pretty high likelihood, and mine was 36%, and I know I have a few members in the family, like uncles and grandparents, that have developed it over the years. So I just got interested in looking at my glucose response and wanted to understand the effects on glucose and what affects me, and I’m going to take whatever proactive steps I can because I don’t want to develop it at any point in my life. So really this experiment just started as, let me just understand my blood sugar.
I went and bought a 12 dollar blood glucose meter, I ordered it off of Amazon, and you get the test strips and you prick your finger every morning. It’s a little meter that just says your blood sugar level. So I would do what’s called a fasting glucose measurement, that’s basically, I think you have eight hours of fasting before. Every morning, the first thing as soon as I wake up, I would just take a reading. I started establishing a baseline just to understand and get some basic levels.
I was reading up about different supplements and things people have been taking to better regulate glucose, both stabilizing it—so you have less swing of fasting glucose—but also overall, just bringing it down. My fasting glucose was around 85 mg per deciliter which is considered okay, but when you see these organizations like Life Extension Foundation, they actually want people down and closer to 75 – 78.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Jimmy Moore, when he was on, he was saying that his is pretty low, it’s around 80 and that’s where he keeps it. So when I looked at your data, what I found was interesting is that’s the blood test you got initially, 85 was it to start off with? And then when you started tracking it, what did you see? Because I was really surprised. I didn’t know that it worked like this when I saw your numbers.
[Bob Troia]: I did a 30-day baseline and in some days, I’d wake up and it could be 80 or so, and then there were other days where I would wake up and it could be about 105, there’s a bit of a swing.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Do you think that’s the accuracy of the device? Did you look into it? Because I didn’t expect big swings like that. When I’ve had my tests done in the past, which is just the three-month routine like you, I will have 85 and then maybe there were some times where it was 95, and I’d be like, “Oh, I don’t like that. I don’t like the fact that it’s up there.” But it seems from your data, that it’s actually swinging up and down every day. Is that normal or was that the device? Or is that just kind of how we are generally?
[Bob Troia]: I think in terms of the device, I did a bunch of research and listen, none of these are going to be completely accurate. I think the one I chose was probably within 5% accuracy. Because when you think about it, who are the people who are using these devices? They’re people who have diabetes, typically, so their glucose is so high that whether it shows them that they’re at 160 mg per deciliter or 150, they’re still too high. So the lower ranges that we’re talking about, you know, 5% is still okay, but some of these meters can be 10% or more.
And to your point, yeah I think that if you’re not controlling it consistently each time in terms of I take it almost the same time in the morning and I’m taking the sample from the same location, I’m not squeezing my finger too hard because if you squeeze the blood out of a little prick you give your finger, that can affect it. So I took a baseline and then I started supplementing.
I came across this supplement called oxaloacetate and it’s all natural, it’s part of the Krebs cycle, which is a whole cycle of conversion going into vitamin C, and it’s found in a lot of plants. It’s concentrated into a pill form so you take one every morning. I took one every morning, and over the course of the next 30 days I kept doing those fasting glucose readings, and I actually saw, “Wow, it actually reduced that swing that we’re just talking about. It condensed and the overall trend went down.” So it actually stabilized and lowered, which is really cool.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So why do you find this cool? Because I guess we’ve got to take a little step back. We talked about blood regulation with Jimmy Moore, but what kind of benefits were you looking for from this, yourself? Is it because of your genetic profile that you were basically managing your risk as you saw it? Is that what you feel the benefit is for you?
[Bob Troia]: I think long-term, it’s part of a longevity strategy. I can say very easily that today my glucose was in what’s already considered a good range, but it wasn’t optimal. I was trying to understand not just how could I bring it down into an optimal range but also what things affected it. Because once you’ve collected all this data, you can then look at other aspects of your life and go, “What affects these values?”
So for example, plotting your values on a chart over time is one thing, but if I average out what does Monday look like versus Friday, there’s a difference. Monday’s the beginning of the work week, more stressful; Friday’s end of the week; Saturday’s the weekend. For me, I could see it just very visually, there were these trends. I also noticed that if I exercise—I play a lot of soccer—and if I have a soccer match—I usually play in the evenings—the next day, no matter what, even if I went out with the team and had drinks or did whatever, my value the next day goes way lower. I only uncovered that by taking other data from other areas of my life or looking at my calendar and going, “Huh, that’s pretty interesting.”
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Well you said you’ve got this detective mindset. How did you go about that? Was it you were looking for ideas?
[Bob Troia]: Yeah, because you have the data—now you have this repository of these values—and now you’re trying to figure out ways to correlate it with other areas of your life. For example, I was looking at exercise. I decided to look at my calendar and I superimposed dates that I had to travel cross country, like fly, and guess what? During those windows of time, I was taking measurements throughout the entire process, it definitely spiked. So travel for me is stressful, it actually took a few days to get back to those pre-existing baselines.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Wow, because that’s a big deal. And travel is something we say is stressful but it’s not often we hear some data on it. This proves that travel is stressful for you. But that sounds like a pretty clear case for you. An n=1 experiment you could probably say that you are going to be stressed next time and you can kind of prepare for it.
[Bob Troia]: And then with the experiment, I then stopped taking that supplement for example and just kept taking markers for another 30 days and I tried to replicate it, and when I replicated it—the beauty of these n=1 experiments are you often fail or maybe you set up to prove a theory and you fail but you learn something different so it’s not a failure per se—it didn’t work.
What I realized was it was a combination of things. It was last winter, we had gotten a bunch of snow in New York so our soccer season had basically gotten cancelled because we play outdoors all year round and the field is covered in ice and snow and so they were like no games. So that exercise that I was getting, I wasn’t getting. Also I had changed my commute from going into an office and having to walk to the subway and walk to the office, to working from home for a period of time.
So I actually then looked at my step data, not that I ever bothered tracking steps or looking at my step data for a health related reason, but I did notice that my activity was actually decreasing. So what does that say? The low hanging takeaway there is: if I exercise my glucose will go down, which is probably a “No, duh,” kind of thing but for me, it just showed the direct benefit, a short-term and a long-term trend.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: You’re just making me think of something, and we’ve kind of touched on this before in podcasts, but when you were shown that direct benefit, it makes it clearer for you and it makes you more motivated to act upon it. Now you feel like you’ve got this extra additional motivation—tell me if this isn’t you, just me projecting—but I feel when I understand something a lot clearer, when I’ve seen the data, then it’s a lot easier for me to keep up that habit because I understand it to a clearer point of view.
[Bob Troia]: Absolutely. I think part of the folks like us who are doing all of this, I guess we’re like these A-type personalities and we’re trying to not only understand all this but we want to reduce this to the most simple terms, like what’s the one thing I can do to get to the same result? It’s not about creating more headaches, you’re trying to optimize and gain more time in your life, not take up more trying to do all this tracking.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Exactly, yeah let’s talk about it because it probably sounds like a lot of work. Do you feel like it’s a lot of work? Could you talk a little bit about how much time it takes to get the labs or track things or analyze it?
[Bob Troia]: I would say what takes the most time is probably the analysis, just sitting down with the data, because like you said, you have to have this sort of detective mindset often times because you have information until it makes itself clear to you in some way or you want to test out a theory. Most of the things I’ve done are almost in retrospect, where I collected information already and then I’m trying to figure something out versus I’m constructing an experiment and these are the variables. I’m pretty bad at that; I’m almost better at the reverse—here are the results; let’s figure out what created that result and go backwards.
From a time perspective, I think even collecting information, so going for a lab test and getting your blood drawn takes a few minutes; it’s not that big of a deal. For most of my data, I’ll wear a device on my wrist that’s collecting a lot of passive biometric information all day. I think the goal is to not create a lot of burdensome things on yourself.
I know there are a lot of people who track all the meals they eat, like they use MyFitnessPal or something, and they know a lot about the meals and track their calories, and I’ll do that every once in a while for a few days, just as a gut check. I’m not going to do it every day, it takes too much time. For me, it’s a headache. I eat consistently so I’m not too worried about it. Once I do a gut check or a sanity check, I know its okay.
But I think that’s the problem, I think a lot of people feel like this becomes so burdensome and takes up so much time, I think you have to pick your battles. There are certain things that you want to do every day and if it takes you a minute to do it, that’s great. Other things are being done passively, so you’re collecting that data and it’s just a matter of finding the time to sit down and analyze it.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: There are very few things I do. I saw you noted on your blog, I think, you’re interested in meditation and you were looking at doing some—I don’t know if you’ve done any yet.
I’ve been using Calm for a few months now, I got it in September or something, and so I try to do that every day. I’ve, over time, been able to improve my scores with this EEG device, basically it’s a consumer EEG device and it’s got an app which shows you when you’re in one state versus another. I found it useful because I want to meditate anyway, but going back to what you were saying, I want to make sure I’m spending my time productively, and for me, the extra effort of tracking it has a huge impact in terms of improving my meditation.
Meditation is different for different people, but for me, I’ve been experimenting with binaural beats, which I think you mentioned too, the Holosync one, and I found that’s working for me. But I like to know stuff is working for me before I commit to it and I put that extra energy in it, so I did a few experiments and it seems to be working for me so I’m sticking with it. I’m just trying to give people a mindset in terms of time like you were saying.
But if something doesn’t seem to be working, you just kind of drop it, and then the stuff that does work, you’ll keep it because it’s beneficial. So some of this just kind of works out itself: you’ll keep the stuff that is beneficial, so it’s worth the time. Like I take my HRV readings every morning because when I see a dip, I know there’s some kind of problem coming or I should chill out for a day if I don’t want to get really tired or something.
The things that are beneficial I think you find that they stick and you make the time for them automatically, and the things that aren’t, you just kind of work them out of your routine. Is that similar to the way you found it? Or how have you gone about it?
[Bob Troia]: Exactly the same. I think there are certain tasks you can do that take up very little time. Like I had a little routine in the morning, when I wake up I’d do a handful of things or before I go to sleep, but then there are other things I’ve done where whether it was a piece of technology or I was trying to understand myself better, but once I did the analysis or once I gathered data, I have a box full of devices, you throw it out and you’re like, “Great, that was useful.” I think people get hung up on the gear a lot of time, and I think often you can figure out solutions that don’t require the technology per se. You could take a spreadsheet and something like little body fat calipers can give you a body fat measure and you don’t need a 200 dollar scale to do that.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: That’s right and there’s all this excitement around the devices and everything at the moment; all the companies are investing in it. Of course because that’s what the market is, but so far, there aren’t any crazy, awesome devices yet; there are a few interesting ones here and there and it’s a thing in progress.
I’ve done some of the similar ones to you, I had the Basis watch. I wore it for a year, it broke and then I didn’t buy a new one because, honestly, I didn’t do that much with the data. It would be kind of nice to know my activity levels just to check that I’m keeping up and it’s a nice convenient way just to know that. Do you still use your Basis watch?
[Bob Troia]: Yeah, I have it on right now, and for me I was looking for something that gathered the metrics, and I felt it had the most robust set of data, even though they didn’t give you the data. We can talk a bit about it—I figured out a way to get to the data and I wrote a script. Given my technology background, I was able to write some code. I put it up on an open source website that people can use to download their Basis data.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah thank you for that. I think that’s how I first found you, actually, because I was looking trying to get my data and I found your website, and I was like, “Oh, thank God someone’s solved this.”
[Bob Troia]: For something like that, that’s just passively collecting so I might not look at some of those numbers for a few months. Like right now, I’m actually about to go over all of my sleep data from 2014 and I’m going to do an analysis on looking at trends—how is my sleep by day of week or different sleep stages. I’m going to factor in when I look at things that happened in my life and did it affect my sleep. I don’t know what the answers are going to be, I’m not going into it with any preconceptions so that’s almost for me it’s going to be more like developing more self-awareness. I might be like, “Well look, I have this many sleep cycles but I don’t remember my dreams. What’s going on there? Why am I not remembering dreams?”
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Has that been happening to you lately? Because I’ve had that a year and I’ve only just recently come across information that’s been helping me to figure it out.
[Bob Troia]: I have no problems sleeping. I’m actually a solid sleeper—I get eight hours a night—I have friends who are jealous of me, but does it mean I have quality sleep? I think it’s good, but for me, with dreaming, it could just be as simple as I started keeping a notebook next to the bed. As soon as I wake up in the morning I would try to think, and it was really hard for like the first week. And then maybe after a week, in the morning I’ll remember some minor detail of one dream, but then in the afternoon, other things will start coming back to me. So you have to almost train yourself.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So in your case, it was trainable? You could basically get your dreams back and it was a focus on dreams?
[Bob Troia]: I almost think it has a little bit of intent when you go to sleep of putting yourself in that mindset of you want to dream and then waking up and just being able to recall that information; it’s almost like an attention thing. It’s no different than you’re talking and I’m tuning you out.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: That’s interesting. So the information I came across was a little bit different. It was through Tess actually. We had this guy called William J. Walsh—I don’t know if you’ve come across him before—on the podcast on episode 2. He does these labs that help you to assess basically micronutrient deficiencies or differences that are out of his functional ranges, and mine came up out of range. One of the things that it shows is an imbalance of B6, and when you have an imbalance of B6 then you tend to stop dreaming. So I think once I’ve rectified mine, it might kind of fix itself. But it’s interesting; I might try the experiment myself with the intent thing to see if that helps as well.
[Bob Troia]: Yeah, let me know how it works. Again, it’s something that I’ve started probably since the beginning of this year. I’ve just been more aware of trying to develop, but I think there will be value in it regardless, and it’s not something that really takes any money or time. You just need a pen and a notebook.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: I’ve always loved that idea of trying to think of a problem you need to solve before going to sleep. I think Ray Kurzweil does this and he’s one of the guys who says he always does that. Just solving things in your dreams is a great way to do stuff efficiently that you wanted to do.
Coming back down to the practicalities; you’ve been doing this for quite a while now, what are the biggest time wasters you’ve found in the experimentation process about learning about stuff that works for you and what doesn’t, basically, and collecting data? Have you found that there are things that you were doing that are time wasters and you decided not to do them anymore? Or what have you learned about n=1 experiments? What do you do today that might be different to when you started out?
[Bob Troia]: Obviously on the testing side of things, I wish someone had given me the shortcuts and said, “Do this, this, and this.” I have a lot of people come to me asking, “Just give me a list of five things I need to do.” It’s often not that easy because we are all different, so it’s not like it’s a clear linear path; it’s very branched.
For me, it would have been if someone early on could have identified some of the issues, it would have saved me a lot of trial and error just trying to uncover. That was probably why I started doing a lot of it myself in terms of trying to understand it better.
Time wasters, this is more just from the standpoint of looking at your data, everybody wants this hub: “Upload all your data and we’ll be the place for you to access all your information.” The problem is, for most people, like we said earlier, we’re not data scientists; we don’t know how to run correlations, we don’t understand all that. And so, you’re uploading your data to these places but then what? It’s just there.
Or I look at it from the standpoint of, if it can’t collect all of my data it’s useless to me. Take Wellness FX, they might be like “Okay, you can manually input all of your blood lab tests in here,” but maybe I’ve got some additional fields or something in it that it doesn’t support. Well now it’s not my complete record, so now I’m like, this isn’t really valid for me. I feel like I’ve wasted some time going through the process of getting data and massaging it and uploading it to certain places to try to have this hub. So I’ve had to do a lot on my own, make my own little ways of gathering it.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Do you use Excel?
[Bob Troia]: Yeah, and I’ve got things imported into databases so I can run correlations against it.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: But I guess for the people at home, they should stick with even a Google Docs spreadsheet, anyone can use that; it’s very similar to Excel. I have a huge monstrous Excel, which is scary. A database would probably be a better way to do it if I could get my head round that.
[Bob Troia]: Spreadsheets are a perfect way to get certain data. Pretty much anything you collect you can import into an Excel doc or a Google Doc and then chart it and do whatever you need to do with it.
But in terms of time wasters—well it’s not so much time but it’s almost like a money waster I’d call it—there are a couple of things. There’s the shelf-life of a lot of this technology and tools. You buy this new cool gadget or whatever, and it’s like planned obsolescence. You know in a year it’s going to be outdated or someone’s going to come out with something new, or you just wanted to be the first one to have this shiny object.
I got a device that analyzes your posture throughout the day, and it was fun, I did it, it kind of showed me some insight on understanding that better, but at some point I’m like, “I’m done. I’ve used it. I’m done with it. I’m not going to wear this every day.” It happened with the Zeo sleep tracking, they were an EEG-based sleep monitor. The problem with their business was more from a consumer issue, where people were buying the product because they had sleep problems and the device said, “Yes, you have a sleep problem,” but it didn’t really give them a solution so people were like, “Well, thanks.” There’s that level of things and then I’ve also been burned a number of times on these crowd-funding campaigns with companies, and it’s not so much it’s their fault that they were doing anything shady…
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: It’s the nature of it. It’s like a pre-startup situation.
[Bob Troia]: Yeah, and so my policy now is literally I’ll just wait for the thing to come out because you know what, you’re still going to get it if it’s out.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So just to outline what you’re talking about; what are the issues that come up when you’re buying those things?
[Bob Troia]: I think there are a number of issues. Like you said, they’re startups typically, so if they’re developing a product, they probably have no experience building a piece of hardware, so they don’t realize all the issues that can happen along that process from manufacturing to distribution, so when they say we’re going to ship in March and it’s January, they probably mean March the following year. Nothing ships on time.
I’ve also had issues where there was a blood testing service that was coming out that was doing blood spot tests, so you have these little index cards and you can put a drop of blood on it and you can send them in at any time you want. I bought the top of the line pack because it gave me three years of blood tests and they started letting us send in our samples and they were collecting them, so I wasn’t doing other bloodwork because I was sending them monthly samples. And then they got into trouble with the FDA, who were basically “You cannot operate,” and so the company has just been in limbo.
There was another company—did you ever talk about telomeres?
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Actually, I did want to talk to you about that. We touched on it with—do you know Aubrey de Grey? We talked about it a little bit. It hasn’t been published on my podcast, but by the time this comes out it will have been, so it’s kind of time travelling here. He’s been on and we talked about that, and he was pretty pessimistic about the use of this, but I’d love to hear your experience with the practical experience of that because I was wanting to get mine tested, and I think I still will just to see where they’re at compared to the norm.
[Bob Troia]: So a telomere is basically if you look at your DNA strands—just to give an analogy, it’s the one I’ve always been given—if you think of a pair of shoelaces and at the end of your shoelaces there’s a little plastic tip. Think of your DNA strands as having those little plastic tips but as you get older, they’ll fray and eventually fall apart and then your strands will shorten. So it’s kind of a sign or a marker of aging, because at some point your cells can only divide so many times and then they just die.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: It’s the idea of this countdown. You know those little countdown timers that start at a hundred or something and then it chips away one each time, and when it gets to a certain level you don’t have any life. It’s like losing lives on a videogame.
[Bob Troia]: Exactly, you see the health wearing down. But in this case, this company was providing a service where you basically spit into a tube, you mail it in, and through your saliva they do a telomere analysis.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Which company was that?
[Bob Troia]: They were called TeloMe.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: You say TeloMe; are they not here anymore? Or are they still here?
[Bob Troia]: They’re here—well I’ll get to that part—but basically, there’s a parent company that was more clinical, they would do testing more for labs and all that, and this was a consumer initiative they were doing. So the idea was you would spit in this test-tube, mail it in, and then you get a report and it shows you the analysis of certain telomeres that they’ve identified and it says where you sit in a reference range. So I got my results, the problem is, they can only compare me to other people who have used their service.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: And who has used this service?
[Bob Troia]: That’s the thing. So I wrote them back, they sent me my results and I was like, “Uh, these don’t look too good. So you’ve got me compared to my age range, well how many people have you had so far that are my age range?” And they were like, “I think five or six.” I’m like, “Great. So you’re giving me results on a small sample size.”
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Are the markers they’re using—this is something I’m always interested in—that have a lot of research behind them? So you can at least go and look at the studies, or they should be giving you the information of those studies, “In the studies this is shown to be good in healthy populations and bad in people with cancer,” or whatever, some kind of data on it.
[Bob Troia]: Well again, this was a case where I crowd-funded this initiative, which got me like a three-test pack. The idea was that I was going to do an experiment. I was going to send in my sample, do some things, wait a few months, and send in another sample to see if I was able to change the expression, or the markers of aging. When I went back to do it, I found out that the company no longer existed. Well the parent company still exists, they can’t operate in the U.S. though, [and] they got shut down by the FDA. So I was like, “Give me my money back,” and they don’t respond to you. They’re in Europe doing their thing but they won’t acknowledge or give you any information about the testing service.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: I guess it’s not even the cutting edge, it’s a bit of the bleeding edge of all of these labs. Because the FDA is still figuring out what it’s going to do with stuff and what it’s going to allow, and as you’ve pointed out, already three companies have been told they’re not allowed to do stuff at least for the moment until they figure more things out.
There’s a lot of that going on and so I find sometimes a test will be available and then it’s not available and then it’s available again. That’s happened to me on several occasions, where a place I’ve got a test initially isn’t available there anymore and I have to go somewhere else to get it. It’s kind of like the bleeding edge right now, and if you’re going to get into the more specialized stuff, like telomeres or stuff like that, it’s going to take some navigation, I guess, and expect some of these problems.
[Bob Troia]: Like I said, I don’t necessarily fault the companies all the time because they’ve run into some regulation or things like that, but I guess from my standpoint it’s like you are gambling. Funding these initiatives, they may come out some day, but it’s often not going to be what they were positioning themselves as, whether they pivoted or did something different.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: We should look at crowdfunding as a bit of a gamble because it’s a pre-startup, it may not come out. And the thing I’ve had it there’s often a huge delay. I think I’ve bought a couple of things and it just took about six months to a year longer than I thought. I got Biomine Basis when they first went to crowdfunding. I don’t know if Basis was crowdfunding or if it was just pre-orders, anyway, it was a pre-order and it took about a year and a half to get it. It was a long time but I got it eventually, and maybe it wasn’t exactly what I wanted.
I think now the way I look at it is it really is the bleeding edge and if you want to play around with some of this stuff, I guess at the moment you’ve just got to consider that’s going to happen a lot. You’ve got to do more due diligence.
We were talking about the markers and the lab tests, the surprise you had with the telomeres, and I think that’s a pretty key thing because you could be getting useless data as well.
[Bob Troia]: Absolutely, and they wouldn’t have told me that unless I asked them, and I think with regards to crowdfunding, I’ve met a lot of great people in the space of QS and biohacking, and if it’s a company that I think is working on something cool and I’m happy to support them. But when there’s something where it’s a new technology or a new service, and it’s almost like do you want to be the first, but does it mean being the first today? You make that payment or crowdfunding donation and then you’re like, “Alright well I’ll see you in a year and a half.” I’d rather just be like I’ll wait a year and a half and then I’ll pay 20 dollars more for it.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: That’s what I’m doing now. Every time I catch myself going to click on a crowdfund, I’m like, “Look, why don’t you just wait. You can buy it in a year when it’s actually there.” That’s kind of the way I’m looking at it these days, I think it’s from us tried and tested people. I don’t know if everyone’s going to start feeling in that way soon.
There was one called the Omega I was pretty excited about, I don’t know if you saw that one. I don’t think it’s come out yet still because it tracks a few more things.
[Bob Troia]: There was also one called Angel Sensor, which basically is creating a wearable, like a wrist-worn, almost like a Basis, but the entire platform is open source. So it has a bunch of sensors and then you can build your own apps. You can just grab the raw data, and so I was like, “Wow, this is cool,” so I crowdfunded it, and apparently, they were sending out some updates a few months ago about it but I think it’s one of those things were they’re like, “Oh we will be coming out in March,” and then they’re like “We will be coming out in July.” So I think it’s ongoing to come out at some point, but I crowdfunded that over a year ago, maybe a year and a half ago.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: I guess the other way we could look at it is, this area is going to grow and we’re helping it. If we contribute to crowdfunders, we’re helping it happen faster. Eventually these wrinkles and bleeding edge is going to start calming down as bigger companies get more involved and the environment gets better for these devices as the market grows and so on, and we’re kind of helping to fund for the startup if we’re contributing to these crowdfund campaigns and so on.
[Bob Troia]: Absolutely, and even from a technology standpoint, like you said, it’s moving along so fast. This is what we call planned obsolescence. You buy something now that you already know in a year it’s going to be smaller and better and faster, so you just want to have access to it.
The analogy I use, I’m a musician, so people have home studios and they’re into music and musical equipment, and they can go down this same kind of rabbit hole where they’re buying more gear, more expensive things, they’re like, “If I get that microphone, I’m going to sound so much better,” and I see that happening with biohacking. I see this new gadget comes out or a new tool and they think it’s going to make them better in a certain way. But ultimately, it’s up to them and their behavior that’s going to affect it. So I think sometimes we get too caught up in just the bright lights and shiny things. I think there’s always a simpler way to do it.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: And even the lab tests, there’s like tons and tons of lab tests you can get down and they can be really specific and complicated, and sometimes it just takes the most basic ones to figure stuff out. And lab tests can start really racking up if you get into specialty tests; you can be paying thousands of dollars just for one lab, so you have to be careful. That’s what I’ve learnt over time as well, I’ve spent a fortune in specialist labs and sometimes I was tracking them too frequently and things like this. We were talking about the cost-benefit earlier; I had to really learn how to spend my money wisely when it comes to those things.
So in terms of other people that you would recommend to talk about practicalities, is there anyone else you’ve come across like you that’s done a lot of this stuff in real life? Or other people that you’ve learnt a lot from in this area who you think would be great people to talk to?
[Bob Troia]: I’ve come across and met so many awesome people over the last few years. Are you talking more about people that have some sort of public presence?
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, someone other people could connect with them and find their stuff.
[Bob Troia]: The first place to look would be just going to the Quantified Self website, quantifiedself.com and they tend to show meet-ups from all around the world and they film them, and so you’ll see lots of great talks. Those will typically then link out to that person like they have a blog or a website or something where you can get more information on it.
When I got started in all this, I think some of the early folks that I was reading, folks like Tim Ferriss, Four Hour Body was a big thing for me to kind of start peeling back the layers of the onion.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Tim Ferriss is a good guy to follow. He still talks about different stuff he’s doing here and there.
[Bob Troia]: I know he’s got a podcast that deals with a lot of other things, but I was talking more around when I started reading that book, and a lot of people that are out there doing podcasts, they’re branching out into other areas. If you’re talking just on the biohacking/QS side, there’s one guy who basically does nothing but talk about HRV. He’s done all sorts of n=1 experiments around understanding himself through how is HRV affected based on other parts of his life.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: That sounds cool. Do you know his name? Or we’ll put it in the show notes afterwards.
[Bob Troia]: Yeah, quantlafont.com. I’d have to look up the spelling of that. There’s another guy, [unclear 1:13:16] in New York, he’s got a blog called Measured Me. He’s blogged on and off over the past few years and the thing you’ll see is that different people tend to focus on certain areas, so I think he’s more into tracking mood and understanding emotions and those types of things versus other people that might be getting more into the biohacking, getting into data from the physiology standpoint of things.
In terms of others, are you looking for specific names of blogs?
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Whatever comes to mind. If those are the ones you’ve come across or if you have other examples that might be useful to the audience basically, if they’re interested to learn more about this kind of stuff.
[Bob Troia]: I think a great resource for understanding this more is quantifiedself.com. They have forums as a community and a Facebook group. I know Bulletproof Executives, so if you go to bulletproofexec.com.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So he’s been talking about his diet and his coffee today for example.
[Bob Troia]: Yeah, but there’s a really, really active forum there that’s all broken up by anything you could think of. If you want to talk about any little sub-topic of biohacking, there’s going to be some conversations in there because the community itself is aggregated there. So beyond coffee, you can get some really great conversations there. And those are like the main places. I think look for meetups in your city or nearby; connect with other people that are like-minded. That for me has been the greatest. When you meet people face-to-face, you build those relationships.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: And there’s a conference, you mentioned you’ve been to a few conferences. So you went to Quantified Self and did you go to the Bulletproof one?
[Bob Troia]: Yeah. Quantified Self tend to do two conferences a year. They do one usually in the Bay Area—I think there’s one this May—and they’ll do one in the fall in Europe, usually in Amsterdam, so that happens twice a year. And then the Bulletproof biohacking conference just happened a few months ago in L.A. I’ve been to the first one was a couple of years ago where there was a group of maybe 30 or 40 people, it was really small, and this year it was probably like 400 or 500 people. To me, it’s not that more people are into it. I think everyone’s always been into this stuff, I think they’re just finding each other.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah it does seem like that and when you were talking about the forum on the bulletproofexec site, there is a lot. I was looking at it a couple of days ago and there are some really heavy post threads, with 10,000 posts or threads. There’s a lot of information in there now; it’s been going for a few years so like you said, there’s a lot of information and you can connect with a lot of different people there as well. But I found, like you, that conferences I can interact more with people face-to-face. It’s a great way to meet people into this stuff as well.
So you did mention your routines, I wanted to ask you if you have some kind of daily routine about tracking metrics, like first thing in the morning or in the evening? Or is there anything you do every day which you find useful in terms of tracking data or doing any of this stuff?
[Bob Troia]: I would say on a daily basis the trick is to allow as much of it to be passive as possible, so things like having some devices collecting biometric data or having something in my home that can measure my indoor environment passively, just those types of things are happening so I can always go back. Even just your smartphone is tracking my position so I can actually map out where I’ve travelled throughout the day. I’m just collecting that data, whether or not I use it.
But in terms of the morning routine, today for example, I woke up, and the first thing I’m doing is part of my thyroid program is I have to check my morning temperature every morning, so I have a thermometer right next to my bed. So as soon as I wake up I pop in the thermometer. I actually was using an old-school, non-mercury thermometer, it was like a glass one, but now I’ve moved to this Kinsa, which hooks to your smartphone and it takes it really fast so instead of having that thermometer in your mouth for five minutes, you can just do it in thirty seconds.
I do that, I get my temperature done; it’s already in my phone, I don’t have to write it down anywhere.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Wow, that’s a nice little hack, I didn’t know you could do that.
[Bob Troia]: It’s pretty cool. And then if I’m doing something like we talked about HRV, so while I’m lying in bed, I have a dresser next to my bed and have my Polar chest strap and my phone’s already there, I put on the chest strap and do a three-minute reading. We talked about HRV, you want to see where you are in relation to your baseline.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Do you do the standing or the lying down?
[Bob Troia]: Lying down. When I wake up in the morning I try not to even shift. If I’m under the blankets or over the blankets, I don’t change it, I don’t’ want to affect it. And then I’ll get out of bed and I’ll weigh myself because I have scales in the bathroom. Again, I have one of those wireless scales so automatically the data is uploaded and you don’t have to think about it.
Then if I’m doing any glucose related tracking like I’m in a window where I was like, “Okay, this is the month I’m going to track again,” I’ll take a quick reading right then. And then throughout the day, I guess depending on my schedule, in terms of what I would track, if I had blocked out time on a given day to work on any kind of mind-training, so it could be things like space repetition or dual n-back, there are pieces of software that help improve short-term memory or recall, I’ll use tools and do that for maybe 30 minutes. The trick is just finding the time to do that.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So me personally, I’ve gone through phases of n-back and also the luminosity; right now for instance, I don’t do either. Have you done these in phases like you’ll do for them for a while and then other times you’re not doing them? Or is it just a constant ongoing thing that you’re doing?
[Bob Troia]: I would say more with the dual n-back. Space repitition it comes down to what I’m studying with it. One of the things I’m actually working on right now, it’s more of a long-term experiment, [and] I’m trying to get better at playing poker. I’m trying to come up with ways of memorization techniques and try to become better at it. I’ve been going through a lot of exercises and reading these books and doing these tests. Take away any of the actual active playing cards, you have to build your working memory up.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: That’s pretty cool. I’ve actually been looking at that stuff recently myself and starting to work on it. Like minds.
[Bob Troia]: For example, if you go to the gym or you’re working out, you might just be tracking your heart rate. My workout itself, it’s still for me either a notebook and a pen just writing down what am I doing today, or I type it into my phone.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So are you still doing the Body By Science? We had Doug McGuff on a while back and I saw you were doing that as well. Are you still doing that or are you doing something a bit different now?
[Bob Troia]: So I started off doing the Body By Science type of workouts, and then through that and through meeting folks in the biohacking space, I got connected with these folks that are doing a different type of training that’s built off what’s called isoextremes, which is essentially mostly body weight-type exercises where you’re pulling into a position. So the idea would be you have to do a wall sit where you basically go against a wall and you get down to a squat and you’ve got to hold yourself there for five minutes. But what you’re really doing though is you’re trying to pull yourself down not hold yourself up, and so there are a whole bunch of workouts around that. It’s more neurological training.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: It sounds like you’re really intensely holding the muscles. It’s really intense effort.
[Bob Troia]: We could have a whole other conversation about that stuff because it also involves an electronic modality that you basically hook up these electrodes that are in very specific positions in certain polarities that allow your muscles to lengthen while you’re doing these exercises. Basically what you’re doing is you’re training your muscles but you’re also training your nervous system. Over time, it has a lot of impacts, everything from reaction time and speed, not just the physical benefits.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: I find all of that stuff awesome.
[Bob Troia]: To me, that’s more like the bleeding edge stuff because I actually go to the gym with this stuff and people look at me. I always have someone coming up to me like, “What is that?” I have to explain it and eventually you start seeing the same people there so then they leave you alone, but you always get these funny looks.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: One time I was in Bangkok and I was doing this specific exercise, and I actually came from the Body By Science guys, which was a very slow pull-up of one minute—I don’t know if you saw that before. Anyway, I was doing this one minute pull-up and this guy came up to me at the start and he starts asking me, “What are you doing?” I was in the middle of my exercise and it takes a lot of effort because it’s really intense, and he wouldn’t leave me alone, he was like, “Tell me what you’re doing,” literally for the whole minute. Afterwards I was like, “Man, seriously I’m exercising. I know it looks kind of different but…” So it does look different, and it does get people asking what the hell are you doing, you’re looking a bit strange in the gym.
[Bob Troia]: Yeah, I was doing an exercise where I was doing, imagine doing a curl, like you have a curl bar, and let’s assume you’re at the top position, you have to slowly lower it from the top position down all the way to the bottom but you have to do it over the course of five minutes. So people are looking at you like, “What the heck?”
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, exactly, and it’s so hard. That’s very similar to what I was talking about. It’s really, really hard in terms of mental. That’s what I love about those things, like you were talking about the neuromuscular part, it’s really charging your mental capacity and you learn to push yourself way beyond where you start from and it’s just a mental game at first I find, and so they’ve looked into benefits of concentration and things like that once you learn to push yourself further than you thought you could go.
This has been such a great practical chat. I think this is the most practical chat we’ve ever had in terms of real life stuff and people doing it every day, so it’s great to hear about your routine. Also, just because that’s really useful to people like how could I implement this in my daily life.
If you were to give someone one recommendation that you think would be useful to them in their use of data to make better decisions about their bodies, health, performance, longevity; what would that one thing be?
[Bob Troia]: The biggest recommendation, I would say, don’t let it become a hindrance, meaning I think it’s ultimately how you feel. Its one thing to say I have a goal and I’m trying to achieve something, how do I get there. But if you’re going the opposite way and trying to understand your current state and what got you to that current state, I think as we talked about, figure out is there a way to do it without it becoming a burden. It’s like say even exercise; there’s no such thing as bad exercise, technically, as long as you don’t hurt yourself. So I think people can over think it, instead of just starting to do it.
I think if you’re just looking to improve your health or longevity, those are very different things, so I could give you a tip that’s diet-based where I would say, “Cut out sugar,” or something, but I think, for me, it’s more like the mental state you’re in to do it. These are people that have already made the decision they want to do this so start off and don’t let it become a hindrance; don’t try to do 20 things at once.
That’s a big answer but I was talking more like I think there’s a lot of information out there; I think you have to assess where you’re at and what your goal is. I think health is a very general thing, everybody wants that longevity, but there might be some people who are looking for a performance-based performance versus other people who are more focused on longevity.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So I guess what you’re saying is try and focus on what’s really important to you to start with to keep it simpler.
[Bob Troia]: Yeah I think people might even be coming at this not from the standpoint of “Something’s wrong with me and I need to fix it.” There might be people who are just “I like where I’m at and I want to be better.” And I think that mental state, I think you’re still striving to become better but I think you’re just coming at it from a different angle.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: And the beauty of this is I think it’s really like this long slope. When you think of it as black and white, unhealthy healthy, but it’s really not; it’s this long slope and I think all of us can do better. You can push yourself up further to be better and you can be quite good like you’re saying.
[Bob Troia]: And I think people they’ll see something that doesn’t look quite in line, and instead of freaking out or stressing themselves out, if they feel okay I think ultimately that’s the gut check you always have to take: How do you feel? It could be physical, it could be mental, maybe your stress is due to things like your job or relationships or friendships, so the things that are outside of that, and so actually your biohack itself might be “Improve your relationships.”
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Yeah, exactly. Great point. Okay Bob, so where would we find you? Where’s your blog? And is there anywhere else you’re hanging out online where we can find you and learn what you’re up to?
[Bob Troia]: Yeah, I detail all these happenings on my blog, at quantifiedbob.com. I have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, all under Quantified Bob, Google + as well, if you’re into that.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Where are you most active? Would it be the Twitter?
[Bob Troia]: Yeah, Twitter is the most active. And if you ever want to connect to my real life persona, myself, it’s just bobtroia.com. I tend to keep more of this stuff on the other account just to separate. That way, there are people who care about this that don’t care about my business stuff. But it’s very clear that I’m the same person but I just split my conversations up.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: That’s cool. It seems like you’re a pretty diverse person—fitness, music, entrepreneur, tech—all this stuff going on.
Bob, it’s been great to have you on the show with all this practical information. It’s great for the audience at home. Thank you so much for making the time for it.
[Bob Troia]: Great, thanks so much for having me.