DISCOVERY APRIL 14, 2017

New Wearable Tech Helps Users Hack the Body

Posted by Rachel Riederer

Wearable health monitors are on their way to revolutionizing the healthcare industry, marrying technology and our well-being in a way never before imaginable.

Geoff Woo has been wearing a blood glucose monitor for nearly six months, but he doesn’t have diabetes. Instead, the self-proclaimed biohacker is tracking his blood sugar levels to optimize his health and mental acuity, keeping track of how his eating and activity manifests in blood sugar levels, and how those numbers track with his energy and productivity levels throughout the day. Trained in computer science at Stanford, Woo looks at the body in a particularly analytical way. “I look at the body as a system, from an engineering approach. You can measure and quantify certain things going in, and then measure output, whether that’s productivity, or energy, or whatever else.” The same approach to gathering body data can be used to optimize performance or to manage serious health risks.

Woo is the CEO of Nootrobox, a company that makes dietary supplements designed to help increase cognitive function. Lots of people on his team have taken to wearing the devices, creating a blood glucose monitor trend. Woo sees Nootrobox supplements and the wearable biometric devices, like his blood glucose monitor, as part of the same movement: biohacking, a movement in which individuals apply biological metrics and science in their own lives, to improve their health or enhance their bodies. Woo sees this as more than an extension of the larger interest in activity trackers. “It’s a populist revolution for healthcare,” he says, “arming people with the tools and know-how to take their health and wellness decisions into their own hands.”

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Carol Lucarelli, Director of Marketing and Product Development at Omron Healthcare, takes a similar view. Omron manufactures a wristwatch that doubles as a blood pressure monitor, useful for patients at risk for a stroke or cardiac event. Ideally, says Lucarelli, users of the device don't just keep an eye on their numbers, but take action and use the knowledge they gain to change their behavior and improve their health. But in addition to understanding their own blood pressure data and taking action individually, Lucarelli sees the technology as a way to facilitate communication between patients and their healthcare providers. “We’re giving people the opportunity to open a dialogue with their doctors,” she says, noting that the Omron devices don’t just share the readouts with the users—they can also be uploaded and shared with a doctor’s office with the push of a button.

Though the tech itself is new, some of the products draw on wellness strategies that are ancient. The BCX Zen from XYZlife is a shirt with a sensor to not only track the wearer’s activity and sleep but also detect stress and alert the wearer when it’s time to take a moment to breathe. The shirt is programmed to guide the wearer through a round of 4-7-8- breathing, a technique from the yogic tradition of pranayama, which practitioners say helps with relaxation and sleep. The shirt also gives a read-out of the wearer’s stress levels throughout the day, helping them analyze the stress triggers in their routine. Koichi San, the Director of XYZlife, says this process helps users to “adapt and learn how to deal with these situations in a more mindful manner.” Knowledge is key, says Koichi: “Many people are unaware when they are stressed, which can lead to unhealthy habits and behavior.” It’s one more tool that allows people to unlock data points from the body and make lifestyle choices accordingly.

“I look at it this way,” says Woo. “The way most people approach their health right now is as if you were driving, and only opening your eyes every ten seconds. That’s what it's like if you only get information about your health when you visit the doctor once every year or every few years.” Wearable health monitors gives people access to that data all the time.

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