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Is the COVID lockdown the perfect opportunity for biohacking? (Includes interview)

The aim of gaining greater insights into what makes us tick as humans is so people can make optimal lifestyle decisions obvious in the pursuit of ‘Metabolic Fitness’. To understand what this might involve and what the wider concept of ‘biohacking‘ entails, Digital Journal spoke with Josh Clemente of Levels.

Digital Journal: What is biohacking?

Josh Clemente: Biohacking can be thought of as an individual attempting to improve some area of their health and performance through the use of data and technology. This typically involves a process of self-experimentation, self-observation, and iterative refining of the intervention. Biohacking can focus on cognitive function, physical performance, longevity (increasing lifespan),and more. The methods used range from harnessing data from wearable devices, to trialing of dietary, exercise, and supplement strategies, to use of therapies like sauna, cold tanks, and infrared light exposure. It is a broad concept and some choose to engage in practices that may not be scientifically verified through peer reviewed research, yet are based in well-established biochemical or physiologic principles.

DJ: Why is biohacking important during the current coronavirus pandemic?

Clemente: We are currently navigating a global pandemic in which healthcare systems are strained to their limits, and preventative resources are minimal. Biohacking is by nature a “DIY – Do It Yourself” concept, in which people take actions each day to better themselves and are constantly working to improve their methods through information from their own data or other educational sources. In times like these, this sort of renewed individual focus on making informed health decisions is an important way for all of us to do our part to try to bolster our immunity against the virus and to alleviate the medical system.

DJ: Why did you form Levels?

Clemente:I was inspired to create Levels after my own experience using a continuous glucose monitor to track my blood sugar, during which I unexpectedly discovered underlying metabolic dysfunction in myself.

I previously worked at SpaceX, developing pressurized life support systems for astronaut spacecraft, during which I came across some really compelling research on the potential benefits of higher fat, ketogenic diets for protecting the nervous system in extreme environments. I’ve been interested in health for a long time, but my personal perspective was that physical fitness was synonymous with health – this research was so startling to me because it demonstrated that a dietary protocol might produce amazing protective adaptations in the body.

This came at a time when I was personally feeling a noticeable decrease in my energy levels, with fatigue setting in by mid-afternoon every day. My performance at work and in the gym began to suffer because of this feeling of lethargy, needing more coffee, and just generally lower mood. I was familiar with the metabolic system, which is the set of cellular mechanisms that produce energy from our food and environment to power every process in the human body”, so I decided to self experiment and build a dataset to better understand my own metabolic condition.

Glucose was one of the first tests I wanted to perform because it is the primary energy molecule in the human body and drives this whole cascade of hormones that in turn affect our day to day experience, and both short term and long term health. I had a really hard time getting access to a continuous glucose monitor, but when I eventually got one I quickly found that my glucose was highly erratic and I was spending a large percentage of each day in the prediabetic blood sugar range. This led to a few hundred hours of personal research and crystallized into a realization that this problem is very widespread, affecting over 120 million people in the US alone, and that this datastream could be transformative if leveraged effectively.

DJ: What does Levels offer?

Clemente:The Levels program connects people with their own biological information in real time. We enable access to “biowearables” like continuous glucose monitors which, when combined with the Levels analytics and insights software, close the loop between our lifestyle decisions/actions and our body’s metabolic responses or reactions. We call this experience “Metabolic Awareness”.

Once Metabolic Awareness is sparked, the Levels platform helps guide toward Metabolic Fitness through a steady stream of actionable insights. These insights can help with a range of decisions we grapple with each day: dietary selections, meal timing, stress management, exercise, sleep hygiene, etc. You can think of these as opportunities for “micro-optimizations” based on your personal biological data.

The end goal is a transformative shift in the relationship between cause and effect. Because so many of the ill health effects we see in society are chronic in nature, building up with time and not showing acute symptoms until much of the damage is done, this real time data can shift our focus to short-term daily adjustments that compound to long-term benefit.

DJ: What is useful about Levels during the coronavirus lockdown?

Clemente:There is a large body of emerging evidence that coronavirus affects people with metabolic dysfunction more aggressively than those without. The exact mechanisms remain unproven but when combined with the existing literature on the damaging effects of poor blood sugar control on the immune system, it seems appropriate to focus our attention on maintaining stable blood sugar levels. The Levels program is designed to help people identify and take action on those daily decisions that contribute to poor blood sugar control as well as to reinforce the habits that are positively affecting metabolic fitness.

DJ: How does Levels differ to competitor products?

Clemente:Levels is the first Metabolic Fitness Program. We are enabling access to devices that provide real-time glucose monitoring for general wellness purposes while simultaneously developing machine-learning models to generate actionable insights from the many thousands of data points they produce. We take a meticulous approach, providing deeply researched context for the concepts underlying core features of our product.

DJ: How do you ensure Levels stays up-to-date?

Clemente:There is a great deal of attention on the personalized digital health space and we expect transformational advances in the near future. A few years ago continuous glucose monitoring technology was far too expensive even for those with immediate need due to life-threatening conditions like Type 1 diabetes.

Recently, we’ve seen device accuracy, cost, and supply improve by orders of magnitude, but we have not seen a corresponding increase in the usefulness or “actionability” of the data the devices produce. For this reason, Levels has assembled a world-class team to build the first actionable wellness platform atop continuous glucose monitoring technology. As biowearable device tech continues to improve and branches out to measure other molecules, Levels will continue to break new ground on enhancing the practicality of the data produced. Our metabolic models will make data-driven behavior change easy and obvious far into the future.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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