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

11/22/11Follow @bvbigelow

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monitoring our bodies, noticing deviations from trends, and making appropriate changes.”

I’ve heard Smarr describe CalIT2 as a “time machine” that offers a peek at the future of what IT technologies will be like in 10 years. Now he is providing a similar view into the future of digitally enabled genomic medicine with what he calls “a 10-year detective story of quantifying my body.” He recently agreed to answer a few questions about it.

Xconomy: You didn’t begin this as a scientific odyssey. Yet the extraordinary lengths and level of detail you’ve gone through is amazing. Was it a purely scientific inquiry, or did you feel a personal imperative to find answers to questions about your own health?

Larry Smarr: I really just followed my nose step by step. I started by getting a UCSD trainer and getting back into exercise, which I had neglected for 25 years. Then I read 30 or 40 diet books to better understand nutrition. Once I read Barry Sears, a PhD biochemist and author of the Anti-Aging Zone and related books, I began to realize there was a science of how your body works. That is what began my scientific odyssey.

X: You describe a series of revelations about key blood markers that to you were early warning signals, but were not embraced by your doctors. You also raise serious questions in your paper about the wisdom of taking powerful antibiotics. What were the most significant findings to you?

LS: It never occurred to me that you could easily follow dozens of chemical levels in your blood on a regular basis. Of the 60 or so I track, only one was way out of range, 5 times higher than the recommended upper limit. This was the complex reactive protein (CRP), which is a generic measure of inflammation. What struck me is that I was on a very low inflammatory diet and so how could my CRP be that high? Then I started taking stool samples as well, mainly just to get different chemicals to track. Imagine my surprise when I found my fecal Lactoferrin was 25 times higher than the recommended upper limit! I didn’t know what Lactoferrin was, but thanks to Google, I quickly found out that it was the definitive marker to determine if you had inflammatory bowel disease. When the CRP and Lactoferrin both lined up behind chronic inflammation, I knew I was onto something important.

X: You dryly note that a couple of your doctors called your findings “academic.” But there are no clinical studies that show charting CRP would be an early warning signal for anyone else, right? So how should we think about this?

LS: These are early days in the digital transformation of medicine. Fortunately, medical devices are getting much cheaper and more sensitive, so over the next few years it should become … 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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