Thriva: I Took My Own Blood Sample – What it’s like to use the Thriva kit

Founded in 2016, Thriva’s mission is to prevent health issues before they occur by sending customers an at-home blood sampling kit each quarter. Available in the United Kingdom, customers self-draw blood into small collection tubes and mail them back to be analyzed. Even for folks who get yearly physicals, regular blood tests aren’t very popular, and this service provides an easy way to monitor changes in biomarkers (e.g. cholesterol buildup) before they manifest into more serious issues (e.g. blocked arteries).

Thriva has partnered with large, accredited private pathology labs in the U.K. — including TDL Pathology, Synlab, and County Pathology — to analyze these finger-prick blood samples sent from customers’ homes. Blood tests are the most common method to check for levels of biomarkers (or chemical indicators) such as cholesterol, glycated hemoglobin, and levels of vitamin B12. Abnormally high or low concentrations of biomarkers in the blood over long periods of time can be leading indicators of disease onset and progression.

Kits can be ordered online and Thriva offers three different plans that differ based on the number of analyzed biomarkers. Thriva’s packaging is superb – the instructions are easy to follow, and the Company provides tips for drawing blood more efficiently — for example, blood should be taken after a hot shower or bath, since warm water dilates blood vessels for faster blood flow.

The Thriva kit is nicely packaged and the instructions are very clear.

Although I reside in the U.S., Thriva provided me a kit to test the blood sampling process. After disinfecting my finger, I used the lancet on my left ring finger. While the Company states that the spring-loaded lancet makes it easy to prick your finger, I will admit that it wasn’t easy for me to push the lancet down on my finger, and it did hurt. Thriva provides three lancets, and it took me two tries to get all the blood needed to reach the tube fill line. Because of the awkward angle of massaging my finger while positioning it to drip blood into the tiny tube opening, I lost a couple of drops to the outside of the tube and had to re-lancet myself once the first pierce coagulated. The whole sampling process took about 3-5 minutes.

More than one drop, the Thriva blood sample took a few minutes to collect and two attempts.

Once done, I inverted the tube a few times and placed it inside a protective casing, ready to mail back. In total, the process took about 15 minutes to set up and complete. If you are in the U.K., you’ll get your personalized results within 48 hours. Another point which I’ll mention is that I did get a little queasy and light-headed after doing my own blood sampling. I actually think that if someone else had helped me and I didn’t have to look at my own blood while massaging my own finger, I would have felt fine.

After the sample is processed, a general practitioner reviews the results and if there is an opportunity to, will suggest health and lifestyle improvements. The levels of each biomarker are compared to recommended optimal levels, and Thriva subscribers have access to all their data in a secure online dashboard where results are tracked over time.

 

Proactively getting regular checkups is a great way to diagnose and combat diseases in their early stages. And as Thriva states, “monitoring your results over time gives you a better picture of your overall health.” This mail-order blood testing system is promising, as it is convenient. However, since samples are sent by mail, environmental and human factors may affect sample integrity and therefore the validity of test results. For instance, high summer temperatures or unforeseen delays may induce sample degradation.

Thriva co-founder and CEO Hamish Grierson has also acknowledged on the Company blog the differences between Thriva and Theranos. The biggest being that Theranos spent years developing its own blood testing abilities, “At Thriva, we have made the decision to partner with the leading pathology lab here in the UK whose tests, equipment and reliability standards have already been heavily scrutinised by the industry regulator and have passed with flying colours.” Also, Thriva collects more than a single drop of blood because its partner labs need more to run the tests with today’s machine accuracy.

As diagnostic techniques improve and become cheaper, biomarkers for other diseases (perhaps cancer and Alzheimer’s) can be added — subscribers may even have the chance to customize test kits. While meeting the optimal levels for each biomarker does not guarantee perfect health, it is a good start to diagnosing many common illnesses that affect people in the developed world like heart disease and diabetes. Thriva isn’t trying to reinvent lab testing, but it is reinventing the way people think about disease prevention through ease, data, and education.

Ritual: A Smart Daily Vitamin for Smart Women

In the perfect world, you wouldn’t need to take a multivitamin. You would have all the time and resources to get in your daily fruits, vegetables, and protein, which would provide all the B12, iron, and slew of other essential nutrients found in a well balanced system. But say you aren’t Beyonce, what’s the right vitamin to take?

It’s a tough question, but Ritual has worked mercilessly for two years to find an answer. Founder and CEO, Katerina Schneider, started the company during her first pregnancy, becoming aware of everything she was putting on her skin and eating — including her vitamins.

To set the stage, you should know that by law, the FDA does not approve dietary supplements. So it shouldn’t be a shock to know that many supplements have filler ingredients and every year, Americans are spending billions on unregulated supplements and vitamins. However, the FDA does regulate both dietary supplements and dietary ingredients, and Ritual follows FDA guidelines in their material sourcing, evaluation, and testing. The Company narrowed down the number of essential ingredients to 9 (that’s a quarter of the ingredients found in most women’s multivitamins), all found in their Essential for Women pill.

The 9 ingredients: Ritual’s Essential for Women daily vitamin, contains iron, magnesium, omega-3, folate, boron, and vitamins K2, D3, B12, and E. Schneider and her team of doctors found that most of the vitamins in an average 40-50 ingredient multi were unnecessary – many vitamins like C are found in abundance in most diets. It was these 9 that were typically harder to find and ingest consistently.

The look: The pill itself is transparent, much like the company’s mission to be transparent in its methods and sources – every scientist and source is listed on their website.

In an effort to cut waste, the packaging recently changed from the instagrammable box to an eco-friendly mailer, made with 30% recycled material.

The taste: After the initial release, Ritual has since included a clear tab inside the clear plastic bottle, a food-grade insert infused with pure peppermint, which keeps the vitamins smelling minty fresh – a scent you wouldn’t know is necessary until you’ve tried vitamins that smell like fish (often resulting from algal oil).

The habit: Ritual made a bottle that you would want to keep it on your counter, not tucked away in some drawer – it’s attractive. And things that are on display are used more. So the habit forming-ness starts from the look. And of course, like all silicon valley startup brands, there’s a Facebook Messenger bot to help, aptly named Habit Helper.

Having raised $15.3 million total in VC funding in less than two years, Ritual is well on it’s way to finding healthy habits everywhere to make more transparent and actionable.

A word from Ritual: Consistently good nutrient levels = great foundational health. Ritual helps fill the gaps in your diet and keep your levels steady. Common (and awesome) side effects of Ritual include better mood and glowier skin. But it’s what’s going on beneath the surface that really gets us jazzed. Each month you take Ritual, your bones stay strong, your heart remains healthy, and much more. – Ritual

Candid Clear Aligners: Ready for All Smiles?

Smiling can have noticeable health effects and boost confidence. Not only does the simple act of showing your pearly whites lighten mood, but it also relieves stress, releases endorphins, and stimulates the human immune system. Studies have even shown that by forcing yourself to smile, you can trick the brain into thinking you are happier than you really are. And adults with straight teeth are more likely to get a raise, go on a second date, and exude more confidence.

So why don’t we smile more? A study done by the American Association of Orthodontist showed that one-third of American adults are unhappy with their smiles. Due to the high cost ($5,000 on average for orthodontics work), or unattractiveness of some options, it’s easy to forget aligners.

Candid is now making it simpler, more cost-effective, and less time consuming to get a perfect smile. Instead of months of dentist visits, all it takes is $95 and 15 minutes in the comfort of your own home to make a mold for your treatment plan. The treatment plan includes top and bottom aligners, and each set makes slight adjustments to the position of your teeth, according to a Candid-affiliated orthodontist in your state. Most importantly, not everybody is a good match for aligners, and Candid will refund your modeling kit purchase if the company decides you aren’t a suitable candidate. It’s always a good idea to consult your dentist in person on the right plan for you and to understand the risks of orthodontics before getting the home molding kit, like potential root shortening and bone or tooth loss.

The system:

For $1,900 upfront or as low as $88/month for 24 months, you can have a top-tiered doctor send aligners right to your door. Candid also provides personal and friendly customer support twenty-four hours a day. No more picking at and choosing braces-friendly foods to eat for the next two years, no more hiding your smile, and no more time spent waiting in the dentist office. Candid is taking the lead in healthy radiant smiles. Making a product that is affordable, easy to use, and technologically advanced, Candid is taking teeth straightening out of the dentists’ office, and into the home.

WHOOP: Pushing Performance, Preventing Injury

WHOOP has found a niche in the wearables world. It’s not worn by the average FitBit user (a self-directed classification) – instead, it’s used by elite athletes, coaches, and trainers to bring their performance to the next level. To these athletes, even the slightest physical improvements can reduce injuries. To them, seconds can break records, and accurate recovery time can win games. In April of this year, WHOOP became the officially licensed recovery wearable of the NFL Players Association – the first time a players association in professional sports has partnered with a wearable tech company.

The team at WHOOP is a mix of athletes, physiologists, and engineers. They realized that while more than 60% of Americans track their health daily, elite athletes need more than steps counted to improve, and the technology at the higher performance level was lacking.

WHOOP collects and processes an impressive amount of data. Five sensors collect information 100 times per second, making it the most technical of it’s kind. All of the data builds into three easy to understand metrics: strain, recovery, and sleep. Measuring strain is vital for workouts and daily activities to positively build upon each other, and sleep and recovery time are essential to preventing stress and overtraining. WHOOP also measures resting heart rate and heart rate variability.

The Company claims that only a few months of using WHOOP can lead to visible results, including a decrease of injuries by 60%. The Company’s testimonials cover athletes, albeit male heavy, from all major sports. WHOOP is winning the favor of professional athletes, and if they get this right, could dominate in the broader consumer market in the years to come.

Elysium: Is Basis the Supplement of Youth?

Though it may sound elusive, it seems that Elysium Health is determined to find the fountain of youth. A star-studded venture, the Company has seven Nobel Laureates on its scientific advisory team, and research partnerships with the University of Cambridge, Harvard University, and the University of Oxford.

Elysium’s first product is Basis, a supplement targeted towards cellular health. Most of our cells have mitochondria, little factories that provide energy to power them and also regulate cellular metabolism. As we grow old so do our mitochondria, which could be devastating – for example, our heart muscles have 5,000 mitochondria per cell, more than any other organ. Basis contains components to help mitochondria stay healthy and help cells overcome the oxidative stress that may alter the expression of some genes known to affect lifespan.

The two critical components in Basis are nicotinamide riboside and pterostilbene. Nicotinamide riboside is a precursor of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+), a newly discovered form of vitamins B3. NAD+ is thought to be much more efficient than vitamin B3, with no known side effects. It is a compound that increases cellular energy level, protects against stress, and also protects DNA from mutations and breakages. NAD+ also has been linked to an improvement in insulin sensitivity and stabilization of circadian rhythm. Pterostilbene is chemically quite similar to resveratrol (antioxidants that protect the body against damage correlated to cancer and heart disease) but with a better pharmacokinetic profile, meaning that it is better absorbed and more efficient when taken orally. Since pterostilbene is said to work best in individuals with high level of NAD+, combining it with nicotinamide riboside creates enticing synergies, making a potentially potent formula for prolonged energy levels, youthfulness, improved resistance to stress, and the additional protection of one’s DNA and neurons.

Although the components of Basis are approved by the FDA to be safe, like all supplements, it is not regulated by the FDA. The Company uses a third party vendor to source its materials, which is causing on-going issues. Still, Elysium has a robust and exciting pipeline of products reaching clinical trial, and a buzzing community that can’t wait to get their hands on these life-extending compounds.

Zipline: Drones Save the World

During a routine C-section, a patient loses consciousness. The medical staff discovers that compatible blood for a transfusion is unavailable in the hospital. They put in an urgent call to a blood distribution center, which then sends a flying drone carrying the correct blood type within minutes. The life-saving blood is given to the patient, who regains consciousness. This may sound like an episode from a TV hospital drama, but it is a reality in Rwanda.

Many diseases can be prevented by improving access to treatments and medication. Postpartum hemorrhaging and malaria can lead to anemia (a shortage of healthy red blood cells), which requires a blood transfusion. With traditional methods of delivering blood from transfusion clinics to hospitals often difficult due to treacherous terrain and underdeveloped infrastructure in countries like Rwanda, using drones to bypass obstacles can save lives.

Since October 2016, an American start-up called Zipline has been using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to transport blood, plasma, and coagulants to 21 medical facilities across western Rwanda. Lead by CEO Keller Rinaudo, the California-based company’s vision is “to build an instant delivery system for the planet,” which it has begun implementing with the help of the Rwandan government and their Ministry of Health. So far, more than 2,600 units of blood have been delivered in over 1,400 flights, with drones traveling a total of 100,000 km.

Now Zipline is aiming to establish a delivery network in Tanzania — a country 35 times larger than Rwanda — by 2018. Land-based deliveries are often impractical for rural hospitals, especially in large countries such as Tanzania where only 8% of its roads are paved. By using drones, delivery times are cut from 4 hours to 30 minutes or less. According to Dr. Diane Gashumba, the Rwandan Minister of Health, “every second you gain is critical. The fact that Zipline was a solution… we didn’t hesitate.” The Tanzanian government evidently agrees as it plans to make 2,000 blood deliveries per day to over 1,000 medical facilities. HIV and anti-malarial drugs, antivenoms, and medical supplies are also being considered for delivery.

Health workers can request Zipline deliveries via text or Whatsapp. Items are then packed with a parachute at a distribution center and loaded onto a fixed-wing UAV. The 12-kilogram drone is catapulted into the air and navigates to a pre-programmed location using GPS. Upon reaching its destination, the UAV drops the 1.5-kilogram package in a designated zone, and the aircraft then returns to base for its next delivery. With an operational range of 150 km, each drone can fly up to 110 kph, only landing to charge its nose-mounted battery for the next flight. The drones can also fly in light rain and 30-kph winds.

Fast and convenient drone-based deliveries are highly practical during medical emergencies. However, non-ideal weather such as heavy rain and winds can prevent flights; additionally, the small size of the drone limits its package size. Therefore, improving infrastructure for land-based deliveries is still crucial, as a developed road network also has long-term benefits for the economic development of these developing nations. Also, a country’s economic growth will affect Zipline’s ability to deliver medicines. Rwanda and Tanzania both have adequate resources to set up and maintain drone and blood storage centers. Conversely, poverty-stricken countries like Somalia and Ethiopia are less advanced.

While there are still major hurdles, this drone-based delivery system of medical necessities saves lives by automating and streamlining the health care system by first addressing the “low hanging fruit” medical needs of these nations. In an age where UAVs are associated with military operations and unwanted surveillance, dropping much-needed medication and supplies is a great use of this technology.

Nimb: A Smart Ring That Calls for Help

Nimb was built from experience. CEO and co-founder Leo Bereschansky, couldn’t believe that his friend was attacked on the street, and although she had a can of pepper spray and a phone, there just wasn’t enough time for her to use them to call for help or defend herself. Another co-founder, Kathy Roma, was stabbed multiple times by a man she refused to talk to. Statistics say that in the United States, someone is attacked every two minutes, and the team at Nimb wants to change that.

The ring connects to a mobile app where you can set up safety circles. Preset contacts can include friends, family, emergency responders, and nearby Nimb members. Pressing the concealed panic button for three seconds sends vibration feedback that lets all emergency contacts know that you need help. It’s important to note that Nimb is not a tracking device. Your preset contacts will only be told your location once you’ve pressed the panic button, adding an additional layer of privacy. Nimb also has an audio recording function that allows you to automatically collect evidence from your smartphone as soon as the panic button is activated. With this feature, you’ll have additional situational evidence, should you decide to file a case against your attacker.

Nimb can also be used for tracking the safety of older loved ones who live alone or who may suffer from medical conditions where timing is key. Unlike other safety devices, Nimb doesn’t look anything like an alert device. It’s made from high-quality glossy metal and matte plastic, available in stealth black or classic white.

While there are lots of things to love about Nimb, one drawback is that it’s still hugely dependent on an operational smartphone with Bluetooth enabled. Still, especially for folks who work long hours or are often walking alone at night, it’s one of the fastest ways to get help during an emergency.

The Pip: Can This Little Device Decrease Your Stress?

Pip, an Irish company, has created a product of the same name, to help people handle their stress, or at least be aware of it. According to the American Psychological Association, short-term stress can trigger heart and stomach problems, while long-term stress may lead to fatigue, heart disease, and depression. Professor Ian Robertson, the Chair of Pip’s Scientific Board and a Professor of Psychology at Trinity College in Dublin, says that the Pip allows users to “externalize internal [levels of stress]…and also [gives] the ability through biofeedback to control it and reduce it.”

The body responds to stress by activating the sympathetic nervous system, which increases sweating. As glands in the skin secrete more sweat, the body’s electrodermal activity (EDA) increases, and conversely, EDA decreases when the body activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which decreases sweating. To measure stress, the Pip biosensor checks electrodermal activity by detecting changes in a user’s fingertips.

The Pip looks like an avocado half. Stress levels are measured by holding the unit between the thumb and index finger; the device applies a small current on the skin at a rate of 8 times per second. The EDA data obtained by the wireless Pip unit can be sent via Bluetooth to multiple apps. iOS and Android users have access to four different apps, each with different stress management goals:

  • Clarity adjusts sound volumes based EDA feedback during sessions
  • The Loom changes a displayed landscape based on EDA feedback during sessions
  • Relax and Race guides users through an artificially induced stressful situation. One game lets the user race a dragon through mountainous terrain – the more relaxed you are, the faster your dragon moves.
  • Stress Tracker encourages users to lower their stress levels without external cues

After each session, the user is given a “Pip Score,” which is a percentage based on the session type, length, and events. A greater drop in EDA (and theoretically stress) results in a higher Pip Score. Scores, session types, and durations are logged each day. For new users, the Company recommends starting with a five-minute session each day for seven days.

According to Pip, “After completing an app relaxation session, your data will be uploaded to My Pip, our HIPAA compliant cloud platform,” and confirms that all user health information is protected and confidentially handled.

The product seems geared towards people who are interested in practicing meditation and relaxation techniques. While the device should be used over a few weeks or more to see results, the Company hopes that people can eventually manage their stress (and therefore improve their health) without using the device. Perhaps because of this, a leasing option of the device plus a subscription fee for the apps might be better to convert tentative consumers than an outright purchase, which at $179 is more expensive than most consumer wearables.

While the Pip may not be a one-size-fits-all device — stress is caused by different factors, and simply “relaxing” may only provide temporary relief. Hopefully, users will realize that the product is not a panacea for stress but rather provides insight into how it can affect behavior and health.

HumanCharger: A pocket-sized bright light brain energizer

HumanCharger sends bright light directly to the most light-sensitive regions of the brain. Created by Finnish health technology company Valkee, the company claims that HumanCharger is the answer to fighting winter fatigue, improving mood, increasing mental alertness, and even fixing jet lag.

In 2005, biology student Juuso Nissilä began research on human brain photosensitivity. He shared his findings with childhood friend Antti Aunio, and together they created Valkee two years later. Valkee prides itself on promoting the benefits of bright light therapy around the world.

What is HumanCharger and how does it work?
As research has shown, the human brain is susceptible to changes in the amount of light it gets. HumanCharger is designed to boost brain activity by targeting photosensitive receptors in the brain. This small device sends bright light beams through proprietary LEDSet earbuds into the brain through the ear canal. The light stimulation triggers the release of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline, positively affecting mood and decreasing fatigue.

HumanCharger is easy to use. Every bright light therapy session lasts just 12 minutes, the ideal amount of time to achieve desirable effects. HumanCharger does not require much charging itself — it works for 12 full sessions before needing a recharge. The product comes in two colors – black and silver. At 9mm thick, with dimensions of 75mm x 36mm, the device is compact enough to be carried in a pocket, or a small bag. The frame is made out of a single piece of aluminum, making it almost indestructible.

While HumanCharger was originally marketed as a cure for the winter blues, Valkee soon presented the device as a cure for jet lag to boost year-round sales. Since then, the product has been widely marketed as a travel essential, and multiple media outlets have tried to determine whether or not HumanCharger is actually capable of reducing the effect of time differences in travel. Some reviewers admitted a positive impact on their sleep patterns during travel; others deemed it inclusive. One dissatisfied reviewer criticized the device as overpriced, calling it “at best, a very expensive flashlight.”

Nevertheless, online commentary aside, the positive effects of light therapy have been long established by a range of recognized scholars. What Valkee has done is reinvent the traditional methods of light therapy, turning the large, heavy, non-mobile lamp into something quite sleek.

Swimmerix: Personalized Swim Tracker With Real Time Feedback

Swimmerix is a new swim efficiency and training tracker that uses both a lightweight wristband and a waterproof base to create a full feedback environment for swimmers.

swimmerix

The portable base station connects to the wristband using wireless low-frequency communication, and can be mounted on any pool wall. The base tracks 6 parameters, including speed, calories burned, and heart rate. Calculating the swimmer’s heart rate with speed data and number of strokes, the base station then sends feedback to the swimmer via the wearable wristband. The wristband displays clear color codes to encourage the swimmer to speed up, slow down, or keep pace. A connected app also takes data from the base and with the swimmer’s individual goals, pairs the user with complementary training programs.

swimmerix features

Here’s how the company describes Swimmerix:

  • Swimmers are guided thoroughly and can get information about their progress on the go — even underwater — with color-coded instructions or on the base display.
  • The smart-tracker is not another smart watch or tracker. We have separated the screen from the wristband and built in the signal lights in the wristband to deliver just-in-time training information.
  • Swimmerix was made for swimmers at all levels, not just athletes.
  • We’ve implemented basic training programs in the app such as weight loss, muscle building, to train heart, spine and lungs and so on.

At time of publication, Swimmerix is available for purchase on Kickstarter.

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