Seeing my blood sugar spike for the first time after a cold beer on a sweltering summer night, I felt a special kind of awe, then panic. It was the biological push notifications from the bodily fluids just under the skin that were hampering my efforts to maintain my health and weight.
For years, people with type 1 diabetes have worn continuous glucose monitors (CGM) to track blood sugar spikes and make sure they’re getting enough insulin. A CGM is a small patch with a small sensor needle that sticks into the skin and is usually worn on the abdomen or back of the arm.
A series of technology companies are now marketing CGM to the public. It made me curious: Will this work for me? What will I learn?
An app-linked device with personalized analytics and meal plan advice is your path to improved health and athletic performance, consistent energy, and a behavior-changing path to conquering the dreaded weight loss-weight gain cycle once and for all. It is advertised as
By tracking blood sugar responses to meals, people without diabetes can identify which foods cause blood sugar levels to rise significantly, then plummet and lethargic. Excess insulin and glucose in the bloodstream can also signal the body to store excess sugar, causing weight gain.
The new-age health-monitoring ecosystem extends far beyond CGM, and traditional pedometers are in the dust. Made by Ultrahuman, the tracker, in the shape of a sleek titanium ring, monitors movement and sleep and can be paired with a glucose monitoring patch. Hoop’s wearable tech that tracks breathing rate, blood oxygen and other health metrics could be incorporated into a sports bra. Another device, Lumen, analyzes breath to determine if the user is burning carbs or fat.
The market for this technology is huge, ranging from Olympic athletes to office workers who want to avoid a post-lunch lull. The country has long struggled with the scourge of what is often called the obesity epidemic.From 2017 to 2021, an average of 26% of Americans said they were “seriously trying to lose weight,” according to a Gallup survey. Answer, more than half said they want to lose weight. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 96 million American adults have pre-diabetes, putting them at an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Obesity increases the risk of diabetes, while pre-diabetes affects lean and overweight people.
Investors are watching. About $3.5 billion was poured into U.S. weight loss digital health startups from 2020 to early 2022, according to analysis by KHN venture fund Rock Health. In total, he has raised more than $140 million in funding from CGM startups Levels, NutriSense, Signos, and January, according to the company’s funding database, Crunchbase.
There’s a lot of hype about all the data they provide.
Active 20-somethings are often featured in online and podcast ads. They provide unique insights into how an individual’s body responds to diet, exercise, and sleep in real time by focusing on metabolic health and how users keep their glucose levels in check. “We are committed to weight loss by giving every body a voice,” says CGM-based company Signos. Lumen Strain Promotion: “You’ve got the secret of sustainable weight loss in your lungs.”
But even if incorporating these tools into a weight loss program yields “significant” results, those in the field admit that no single approach seems to do it all. For example, Eric Kusher, a chiropractor who runs an intensive weight loss program at Compass Fat Loss, relies on staff dietary advice rather than app-provided dietary guidance, and still relies on the human element. says it depends.
The layer of reality is also important, says Dr. Nirav Shah, a senior researcher at Stanford University’s Center for Clinical Research. “If you’re a busy mom trying to take care of three kids and keep working, you don’t have time to monitor and create the perfect green shake.” And they will eat anything the kids won’t eat.”
For weight loss and flare-ups of inflammation, Sarah Schacht, a 42-year-old government innovation consultant from Seattle, has tried all sorts of health tech, including Levels and Lumen. Her generalized “eat less, move more” — advice that’s wrong for many — didn’t work for her. The Levels app allows users to log meals, exercise, and other notable events. Combine the information with her CGM data. It then provides insight and advice on how users can promote a more gradual glucose curve. Since starting her Levels a year and a half ago, she has lost her five pounds, her weight has stabilized and her inflammatory response has decreased, but her body hasn’t changed dramatically. she said.
“Some of the success stories I’ve seen — people who have radically changed their bodies — feel like they spend a lot of time on their dietary strategies,” Schacht said. We don’t have the capacity, the time, or the budget.”
Since these devices are not covered by insurance, the associated data subscriptions can cost hundreds of dollars per year. Studies on his CGM’s efficacy in improving health in people without diabetes, let alone promoting weight loss, are also scarce.Without solid results, many health care providers are skeptical. Some experts also worry that the constant stream of data can lead to eating disorders.
Dr. Caroline Apovian, co-director of the Center for Weight Management and Wellness at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said people without diabetes would not use expensive CGM, especially in new weight loss drugs. within reach. Of course, these drugs also come with a hefty price tag.
“It’s a lot of work to lose 10 pounds,” said Apobian. “CGM wipes your money, so you can’t join a gym.”
According to BioCoach co-owner Logan Delgado, most people with insulin resistance and metabolic disorders tend to be low-income or minorities who cannot afford CGM. BioCoach has his FDA clearance for glucose and ketone meters that check blood sugar levels and test for ketones in the blood. The more traditional finger prick technology keeps the subscription price down to $30 a month, but it’s not continuous data, but it can tell you about your metabolic health, even if you don’t have diabetes. The company has amassed a large following on his TikTok, with Delgado and others raising awareness about sugary foods and diabetes.
CGM startups typically offer one of two CGMs. Abbott’s FreeStyle Libre is cheap and requires manual scanning of sensors by a smartphone, and his Bluetooth-connected Dexcom G6 automatically updates to the smartphone. The FDA has yet to approve the tool for the general population, so the monitor will be available to people without diabetes through an “off-label” prescription.
Since CGM is available over-the-counter in Europe, companies are betting that the FDA will approve its availability on drugstore shelves in the United States. This should bring down the price of sensors that can cost hundreds of dollars.
But already in January, it said it could use artificial intelligence to predict a user’s blood sugar level after wearing a CGM for two weeks. Backed by published research and a library of food-nutrition data, the algorithm can predict human glucose responses to thousands of foods before the user decides what to eat. According to Jan’s CEO Noosheen Hashemi, this will cut costs and essentially create a virtual CGM. The company is rolling out a new version of the app this fall.
By and large, startups are mostly working on kinks, doing research to back up their marketed claims, and some taking different approaches to using technology. However, a common theme among startups is to sell directly to consumers first, target those who can afford the concept, and ultimately seek coverage from insurance companies, says Rock Health Capital. founder and general his partner Bill Evans.
These companies are also looking to put a novel twist on how their apps use data to help you reach your health and weight loss goals, and each has a library of informational blogs, lessons, and activities. , fees that cover hardware prices, wraparound service subscriptions, and possibly nutritionist support, which vary from a few hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars a year. Businesses rely on the idea that customers sign on for the long term.
NutriSense is taking a more holistic approach and is heavily committed to building an 80-person nutrition team that works closely with its customers, according to Kara Collier, the company’s vice president of health.
Signos, which focuses on weight loss, uses artificial intelligence to set customers’ “weight loss ranges” according to their general glucose range and level of fitness.
Out of curiosity, this reporter stuck a CGM on the back of his arm for 10 days and signed up for the Levels app. At first, the indicators were jarring. As a non-diabetic, I have never thought about my blood sugar before.
Then I started to recognize patterns that made sense. Drinking beer always spiked my blood sugar, but eating a bagel after a long morning walk kept my blood sugar relatively stable. , the lunch’s chickpea, tomato, and turkey salad received the highest marks.
Digesting the data with each meal made me think more seriously about what I ate and when I exercised.
This article is reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. An editorially independent news service, Kaiser Health News is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health policy research organization independent of Kaiser Permanente.