When the first Covid-19 vaccines rolled in and people were encouraged to take the shot, there were rumours. Many thought that the government, with the help of companies making these vaccines was slipping sensors into our bodies. Some were petrified.
Two years later, health tech companies like Ultrahuman and HealthifyMe have been trying to encourage people to put on blood glucose sensors so that sugar levels can be tracked all day, on demand. Now, they have takers. From being afraid of sensors to willingly pinning one on, we seem to have come a long way. Clearly, nothing is off the table when it comes to health.
What are these sensors and what do they do?
These coin-sized white sensors (the FreeStyle Libre CGM) are blood glucose monitors or, more precisely, CGMs (continuous glucose monitors). Unlike BGMs (blood glucose monitors) that give you the glucose value at a certain point in time by reading a blood drop, CGMs can track glucose volumes real-time and show you data whenever the sensor is scanned. CGMs also don’t need blood drops for readings; they take readings from the interstitial fluid (ISF) - a thin layer of fluid that surrounds cells of the tissues just below your skin.
These CGMs are paired with your smartphone via an app and need to be scanned through these apps to get the readings. The two apps we’ve used to try these sensors out are Ultrahuman and HealthifyMe.
Each sensor lasts for two weeks and needs to be put on early in the morning on an empty stomach. Once installed, the sensor takes about an hour to activate and then you can dive straight into scanning it to get your readings.
Once your sensor is on, there’s a performance patch you can stick to cover it up. This patch is like a big sticky band-aid. The sensor can be worn comfortably throughout the day and even while working out, but in case you go swimming. It cannot be submerged for more than 30 minutes underwater.
What do you do with this data?
Data from these sensors will give you an insight into how your glucose levels change over the day based on what you eat and how much you eat. Glucose levels are tied directly to your food intake, so these apps need you to manually feed in data about what you are eating, and when you are eating, in as much detail as possible.
Additionally, you also need to add details about your workouts. The Ultrahuman app, for example, can detect a workout via the activities, on HealthifyMe this data needs to be fed in manually.
Both apps take about a week to give you an insight into your daily glucose levels and you are encouraged to take as many readings as possible throughout the day. Scanning the sensor right after a meal will help you understand how the food has affected you and what needs to be done next. For example, carb-heavy and sugary meals will lead to a glucose spike, and the app will ask you to go for a walk if you can to bring glucose levels down to normal.
What some of these apps also do is that they give you an idea about when your body’s glucose levels are best suited for a workout. This information, ideally, should be used as a time frame to head to the gym for a session or play a sport, if that’s your thing.
The main idea is to keep an eye on glucose levels and control your diet, your lifestyle, and your workouts in tandem. The apps offer trainer and dietician support as well to help you make the changes you want.
So, what’s the problem?
There’s really no problem except the fact that manually adding food and workout data every time is tedious, and that some people will not find these sensors cost-effective.
Essentially, the more data you feed in, the better it is for the apps to recommend a diet and a fitness program for you. For someone like me, I just manage to pull myself to the gym every day, manually logging in food and workouts feels like too much. But then, if you are paying around Rs 5,000 for two sensors that last you a month, maybe that is inspiration enough to do this whole thing right.
HealthifyMe offers its sensors as a part of its Pro program and they also throw a smart scale in alongside. This smart scale can track your weight, BMI, skeletal muscle, and subcutaneous fat. The company is looking to provide you with a more wholesome program with all this data put together, including reminders to drink more water and work out. And they are also better with their diet suggestions and know their Indian foods better than other apps doing the same thing. This is one of the main reasons why I found the HealthifyMe Pro program better than others. However, it’s data, at the end of the day. The more you feed in, the better it gets.
Does it really help?
If you are looking to really put in that extra bit of work, it helps. Keeping an eye on glucose levels on a daily basis is not a bad practice at all. And if this data can help you eat better and workout better - there’s literally nothing to complain about.
But the main caveat here is the “extra bit of work”. And the extra bit of work here involves the fine details - What did you eat? When did you eat? How much did you eat? What workout did you do? For how long? If just reading these questions sounds tiring to you, doing it in real life is going to be a million times worse.
Also, everything, particularly the changes you want to see, will depend on how closely you can follow your trainers’ suggestions - as is the case even with private trainers in gyms.
Simply slapping that sensor on won’t change your life. What you do with the data will.
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