Thriva Home blood testing and Hashimotos

Back in 2014 I posted about my newly discovered autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I’d acquired the diagnosis rather opportunistically while I was taking up an offer of a performance blood scan and I responded with suitable outrage and a desire to make lifestyle changes that might put my body back on an even keel.

Automimmunity feels to be the scourge of the modern age and I’ve become an ardent advocate of the role of diet in the control of inflammation. The kitchen is full to overflowing with assorted microbial foodstuffs and we cycle our way through recipes in books like the The Paleo Approach and the Weston A Price bible.

I came away with my new diagnosis and then immediately started my first round of the Whole 30. This is a rather strict, paleo style elimination diet. No alcohol, no dairy, no sugar, no grains. It’s tough but I have never felt so fantastic. Full of energy, drive and awareness. Apart from maybe the first week when I felt flat, grumpy and lethargic.

Having completed the 30 day program, feeling totally amazing, you’d think I would just continue on to the Whole Forever. I didn’t of course. Instead I fell right back off the wagon and added almost everything back into my diet.

Fortunately some habits did stick. I rarely have milk in my drinks now and I am approximately 80% gluten-free. Cakes, bread and pastries are a very rare component of my diet, having been replaced by home-made fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi.

I went back for another blood test shortly after finishing the Whole 30 and there were some very satisfactory improvements noted in the blood markers. My antibody levels had dropped by half and @sportiedoc was quite impressed. The top box shows my initial results with the thyroglobulin antibody levels showing values well above the normal range. It’s this marker that indicated Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. The lower box is from the test about 3 months later and although it is still abnormal the antibody levels have dropped to 209 from 529.

Hashimotos blood test
It had been my attention to keep a regular eye on my blood results. I wanted to see quite how relaxed I could let my diet go while still keeping the antibodies in check but private blood tests are pretty pricey and 3 years passed before I knew it.

This is where Thriva makes its entrance. I noticed an ad in Outdoor Fitness mag for a home blood testing service and was amazed that they have an advanced thyroid scan available via the DIY kit for £69. You can of course get blood tests for free via your GP but getting them to do the right ones is challenging. I’m a bit of a cynic and think that our health service would be better called an illness service, my experience is that my GP is only interested in basic thyroid function tests that will alert us to catastrophic failure of the thyroid, that can then be treated with external hormone replacement. They are less interested in indicators of future problems, knowledge of which may empower us to make healthier choices.

Rant over. Hopefully it explains why I pay for my own blood tests. If you follow this Thriva home blood test link you will get £10 off as well.

The kit arrived promptly and when I plucked up courage I had a go at filling the vial. It requires quite a lot of blood from a finger prick and I made a bit of a mess of the job. It’s not really a hard task but it was challenging to take the video and collect the blood. Try not to let this video put you off (and listen on mute if you are sensitive to cursing!).

Thriva blood test resultsI dropped the vial in the post box and 2 days later the results were emailed back to me.

And what fantastic results they were. Antibody levels are right back to normal. In fact if this was my first test I would no longer get the Hashimotos diagnosis.

Obviously I am really happy about that. It’s great news but what can you learn from my experience?

You can be absolutely sure that the last 3 years have not been run as a perfectly controlled experiment. I have been chopping and changing my diet and exercise routines, left right and centre. I’m a starter-leaver by nature and rarely follow any protocol fully or for the prescribed length of time. The most significant actions I’ve taken are as follows, any of which may have affected my immune response:

  • reduced gluten consumption
  • increased fermented food products
  • low processed food intake
  • no alcohol for the last 3 months (and counting)
  • heavy weight training
  • reduced cardio
  • cold water swimming and cold showers
  • Wim Hof breathing

It’s all been a bit ad hoc and not terribly consistent but the message I am left with is that you can influence your body’s response by your actions. Maybe you just need to do your own experimentation, perhaps you could pick one from the list and see how it goes. Now that home blood testing is a reality you can monitor the impacts on a regular basis.

Here’s a final chart showing the 3 readings (R1 = first reading, R3 = latest reading) for each blood test.

A smashrun for the last day of Juneathon

I’ve dabbled with the “gamification” of sports but the joy of a new badge and an animated high five rapidly slips into the arena of vaguely irritating notifications.

I was therefore quite surprised at just how quickly I become absorbed in smashrun, the latest app for accumulating, rewarding and hacking running statistics. I’ve even been encouraged to go on an afternoon run, in a heatwave, just so I can get my first badge.

Smashrun was billed as a geeky dashboard for the runner and self-quantifier. Just my cup tea, so I headed over to the homepage and lost myself in the fascinating array of charts. Within minutes I had signed up, connected my account to Garmin and then watched as it sucked 8 years of running history and 3295 km of running goodness into my dashboard.

This is my favourite chart so far, it shows that I was totally rocking in 2007, possibly asleep from 2008/2009 and could do to pick up my running shoes a little more often for the rest of 2015.

smashrun dashboard

I also found out that Sunday’s 5km pootle around Mitcham Common was the longest run in 3 months and that’s just a little bit embarrassing.

On the smashrun website they explain their reason for being with this snippet:

It’s cold. It’s raining. You drag your butt out of bed, pull on your sweats and a windbreaker. You feel like phoning it in after the first three miles, but instead you lock it down and dig deep for that last mile. You get home, shower quickly and rush to work only to show up 5 minutes late. Your boss peers over his coffee. Nice to see, you managed to make it in.

Now, it wasn’t easy to make that run happen. And at the end of the day, it can be hard to say what it accomplished. Maybe you’re in a little better shape? Maybe it’s helped you maintain your internal discipline? Maybe you feel more balanced?

What Smashrun is designed to do is to give you a context for your run. Finishing that run today meant that you’ve run 280 miles this year. That puts you in the top 20% of the runners on Smashrun. It’s more than 50 miles farther than you’d run last year at this time. And it was the 3rd fastest 4 mile run you’ve ever run. You’re running twice as many miles a week as your friend Joe, and when it comes to sheer discipline — showing up day in and day out — you have few peers.

That resonates with me, data and statistics can be mighty powerful if they are displayed in the right way and incredibly motivational. I’ve recorded just about every single run of my adult life and smashrun looks like the tool to bring those runs to life again.

Come and join me, I could do with some friends.

Revealing AutoImmunity

I love collecting data, in fact if running didn’t lend itself so well to data collection and analysis I may well have made a different choice back in 2005 and taken up watching baseball instead.

I’ve jumped onto every method of self quantification since taking up the sport – gps, pace, heart rate, weight, body fat, blood pressure, pulse oximetry, almost all of which have required the purchase of some whizzy new gadgetry. So when I was offered the chance of looking a little deeper to understand my performance, or lack of it, I jumped at the chance.

Curoseven seem to be one of the few practices in the UK that offer functional blood testing for performance and recreational athletes. They have a fairly flexible approach and can provide a number of packages with a range of blood markers. I opted for the weight management package, just in case it revealed any top secret clues that could help me shift a few stone.

A standard performance screen would differ slightly but you would expect to see a variety of biochemistry and hormonal values reported against functional ranges (different to the disease ranges used by your GP) alongside a report that indicates any areas of concern along with recommendations that may include dietary, supplement and/or exercise advice. The tests are quite expensive, ranging from £299 – £599 but as yet I haven’t found a cheaper way to access my blood results.

Dr Tamsin Lewis (@sportiedoc) is one of the founders of Curoseven and as the Ironman UK Champion and medical doctor, she is appropriately qualified to advise on performance.

I was keen to set this first test up as a benchmark from which I could monitor changes in any future test, so I nipped into London to have my blood samples taken at an extremely efficient Harley Street clinic and was out again in about 15 mins.

Hashimoto's blood resultsThe results took about week but when they arrived I was rather surprised to discover that I’d acquired a disease. Apparently my immunology results revealed that I have an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. My body is slowly attacking it’s own thyroid and not surprisingly this doesn’t help my performance.

I wasn’t really expecting that sort of news, although in retrospect I have been able to remember all sorts of symptoms and ailments that I can now pin on my new disease. The fact is, if I had not been fascinated by the thought of collecting my own blood data, I would not have found out about this for a long time.

The usual progression in Hashimoto’s is for the thyroid to be increasingly damaged by the bodies own immune system. It responds initially by working harder to produce thyroid hormones until eventually it can’t keep up and you go hypothyroid. I currently have very low level symptoms but my level of inertia would have meant my thyroid would have been pretty much eradicated before I decided to see the GP. Then I would have had to factor in further delays while they fathomed out what was up with me.

Thanks to this blood testing I now have the opportunity to research the condition and take action to hopefully prevent the decline in my function and possibly arrest the autoimmune response. As it happens, conventional medicine isn’t in any great rush to treat Hashimoto’s. They tend to ignore the autoimmune element and wait until the disease has wrecked your thyroid so they can top you up with replacement hormones.

I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been given the heads up on this. I must have been given months (possibly years) of a head start and I’m making the most of it by adjusting my diet to reduce the inflammatory response and I’m just about to go and get a second blood test to see if a month of going gluten free will have had any impact on my antibody levels.

Here starts a whole new world of n=1 experiments (aka self experimentation). I’ll document most of these on one of my other blogs: