To successfully hack your health & well-being you’re going to need data.
The data you gather will depend on what you are trying to heal (or optimize), and what strategy you are using to get there.
Data comes in 2 flavours: quantitative & qualitative.
Quantitative data quantifies; qualitative data describes.
- Keeping a journal about your biohacking experience is qualitative.
- Using technology to measure your brain activity or heart rate is quantitative. As is filling out an assessment form that includes pre-determined response options.
Biohackers like the quantitative, because it generates numbers & numbers are easy to compare over time.
So here’s a quick introduction to some approaches for gathering quantitative data for your biohacking experiments.
More on qualitative data for biohacking soon~.
Gary Wolf co-founded a company called The Quantified Self. His 5-minute video exemplifies the quantitative ethic in biohacking:
Dave Asprey, in his recent book The Bulletproof Diet, is devout about technology for biohacking, both for self-optimization and to gather data.
Dave suggests the app Sleep Cycle to track sleep patterns, as well as other tech-hacks for improving sleep quality. (If you decide to try the app, follow his advice & put your phone in airplane mode).
Because substandard sleep aggravates systemic inflammation, and (in my opinion) reducing inflammation is the goal for biohacking health, sleep is a high-leverage area of focus.
Sleep quality is especially critical for people with autoimmune conditions. But given enough inflammation, I believe we’ll all end up in autoimmune response, so sleep is a great prevention for autoimmune as well.
But despite the typical biohacker’s obsession with gadgets, high-tech methods aren’t required to gather useful quantitative data.
Any standardized measurement system that rates wellness in one or more domains can be compared over time, and therefore used to track progress.
Here are a few low-tech examples:
Spoon theory is used by people with chronic illnesses, including autoimmune conditions, to describe the amount of energy available on a given day for life tasks. Although spoons are a subjective unit of measurement, and therefore can’t be compared between people, they can be used to quantitatively track fluctuations in one person’s energy over time.
Spoons also enable chronically ill people to quickly assess & quantitatively communicate about their energy levels to others. As a healthy person, I have found spoon theory really useful as a way to understand my husband Matthew’s reality (& why he sometimes can’t cook dinner or unload the dishwasher. Literally.)
Spoons are a small enough unit of measurement that you can also track subtle improvement trends (or declines) that may not show up in other measurement systems.
The Medical Symptoms Questionnaire
Many Functional Medicine practitioners use the Medical Symptoms Questionnaire (MSQ) for assessment purposes.
You can use the MSQ to generate quantitative data, and with repeated use of the questionnaire, you can then chart your progress by comparing your scores in particular domains, as well as your scores for overall well-being.
Find a printable pdf of the MSQ here.
If you get a low score on the MSQ, you know your health is on-track, and you can start biohacking for optimization (because ‘good’ health is just the beginning~).
I like the MSQ because it measures both frequency and severity of symptoms, enabling tracking across a couple of dimensions at the same time. However, it is of little use to people whose health is already fantastic and who are therefore seeking optimization data. In that case, you might need to customize.
You’ll want to track symptoms or capacities that are of particular interest to you.
Biohacking for healing:
- the number & type of of painkillers or other pharmaceuticals you take;
- the size & range of psoriasis or eczema patches; or
- where you feel pain & its severity (give it a rating between 1-10);
Biohacking for optimization:
- the amount of time you spend in a state of flow each day;
- how long it takes to fall asleep each night; or
- the number of sprint intervals you do.
Design your own questionnaire to gather this data.
Use a diagram of a human to keep track of the location of particular symptoms. Colour code them for severity (green, yellow & red work well) & use the same colours at each assessment, to enable comparison over time.
Whatever quantitative data you gather: standardize your system for best results. Create your personalized assessment strategy, then write it up & duplicate it, to ensure consistency.
Gather data at regular intervals.
Whether you are using spoons, a sleep app, the Medical Symptoms Questionnaire or a combination of methods, be sure date (& file) each quantitative assessment for comparison purposes.
It’s also also important to document what interventions (hacks) you are implementing (and any other variables that may be impacting your well-being).
But that’s another blog post~.