Xconomist of the Week: Larry Smarr’s Quest for ‘Quantified Health’

11/22/11Follow @bvbigelow

A couple of months ago, the publisher and CEO of the weekly Strategic News Service Newsletter introduced an article by San Diego Xconomist Larry Smarr, saying, “This issue may be the most important Special Letter we have ever published.”

Smarr’s 23-page article, which takes up the newsletter’s entire Sept. 26 issue, is part scientific paper and part personal odyssey into what Smarr calls his “Quantified Health.” In the 10 years since he moved to San Diego to become founding director of the UC system’s California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (CalIT2), Smarr has scrupulously measured and analyzed his own biological data. In his paper, Smarr writes, “What I have learned about myself both illustrates and foreshadows the ongoing digital transformation of medicine.”

Xconomy Biotech Editor Luke Timmerman previewed this personal experiment last year after Smarr gave a presentation in Seattle. Smarr tells me he initially began by simply charting his weight. “I really wasn’t paying attention to my weight and general health until I came to San Diego from Illinois in 2000,” he says. “Once I looked around at all the fit people here I realized I better pay attention or I might get sent back to the Midwest!”

Through the years, however, Smarr has expanded his survey to include regular blood tests to monitor more than 60 biochemical markers. He now keeps meticulous notes on his diet, exercise, and supplemental vitamins, saying, “I routinely use food and supplements to ‘tune my numbers’ to more optimal levels.” Smarr says he uses the BodyMedia armband and the Fitbit clip to measure his physical activity, caloric burn, and sleep efficiency. He uses the Zeo device to monitor his sleep patterns and the HeartMath‘s emWave Desktop program to measure his stress and train himself to relax.

In 2005, when Smarr detected unusually high levels of a key blood marker for inflammation, his scientific quest escalated to a whole new level of detail—one that included tracking multiple biomarkers in his own stool samples and even obtaining an analysis of his DNA. “Yet this is precisely what the digital revolution in healthcare is all about,” Smarr writes. “The combination of trend-revealing graphs of time series of individual biochemical markers, with population-wide comparisons to people with different health outcomes is transforming biomedical research and ultimately clinical care, into an entirely new paradigm. In this new world, we become personally responsible for … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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