For more than a year, Daniel Rossi has been hitting the gym several times a week, boxing, taking long walks, going in for genetic testing, talking and texting with a nutritionist and dietician, dramatically changing what he eats, using workout apps, and even once getting his body scanned.
He has also willingly subjected himself to public scrutiny. In this year-long series, we’ve been tracking GeekWire’s chief business officer in his quest to transform his health, taking advantage of the latest advances in science and technology. His experience is a case study in the ways that data can shed new light on our health, but it’s also a reminder that lasting change takes a long-term mindset.
As we conclude the series today, Daniel has made major progress toward his most important goal, but he isn’t done with his overall quest. And in many ways, he never will be finished. He contrasts his outlook now, at age 39, to his past mindset when training for marathons in college.
“Back then, I just wanted to conquer something,” he said. “Now I need to do this every day, all the time, for the rest of my life.”
Reducing diabetes risk
Here’s the most promising result. Since starting on his quest, Daniel has been able to reduce the long-term health risk from his diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes, a condition that influences the way the body metabolizes sugar.
His blood sugar levels were a sky-high 260 mg/dL when he was diagnosed and about 160 mg/dL when he started his quest in the fall of 2016. By changing his diet and exercising regularly, he has now reduced his fasting blood sugar level to about 120 mg/dL, which is considered in the “prediabetic” range. Daniel has also reduced his Hemoglobin A1C, a measure of blood sugar over time, and appears to be headed out of the diabetic range by that metric.
In addition, Daniel’s blood pressure has dropped, from 134 over 90 at the beginning of the process to 108 over 72 at his latest measurement. He has improved his levels of Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids, and decreased his overall inflammation.
Daniel’s biomarkers across the board are showing “impressive changes,” said Ginger Hultin, aka “Coach Ginger,” a registered dietitian and nutritionist who is Daniel’s coach as part of the Arivale scientific wellness program. This has translated into some very practical benefits. Hultin recalled a conversation in which Daniel marveled at the fact that he had run across the street without giving it a second thought.
And yet Daniel expresses mixed emotions about his progress, saying he wishes he could see the effort translate more significantly into weight loss. At 5-foot-11, he started his quest at close to 260 pounds. As of this morning, he’s at 239 pounds, with an ultimate goal of reaching 200 pounds.
“I wish I’d have been further along than I am now,” he said. “It’s a longer process.”
But this, too, is a matter of mindset and “looking long,” as Coach Ginger encourages Daniel to do. “Some of my most important work with people that are trying to lose weight is to actually pull back from losing too much too fast and then bouncing back,” Hultin said. “I really want to help people get off the rollercoaster and have stability in their weight loss, and Daniel has really succeeded there.”
Insights from genes
One of Daniel’s advantages has been genetic testing, which has helped to shape Hultin’s recommendations.
For example, prior to Daniel starting on the Arivale program, the physician who diagnosed him with Type 2 Diabetes suggested he start eating more fatty foods, which can be one method of balancing out blood sugar. However, Daniel had implemented this recommendation by drinking whole milk a day. As it turns out, his genes make him predisposed to gaining weight through a diet high in saturated fats.
So he was able to start balancing carbohydrates with healthier, monounsaturated fats in his snacks and meals, to balance his blood sugar without the saturated fat he was getting from the milk. Sliced veggies and hummus became a regular part of his diet, providing fiber and the healthy types of fats that will help to balance out his blood sugar.
Hultin explained, “What all medical providers have been going on for a long time is generalized recommendations based on large population studies, so having the genetics for an individual is really powerful, because all of a sudden we can say, ‘Oh, actually, for you, saturated fat is not the best answer. Let’s go in a different direction.’ But how could you know without that data?”
Daniel was also diagnosed with sleep apnea and has started treatment as a result of working with Hultin and using a Fitbit to monitor his sleep.
“Obviously he’s achieved these successes through a lot of hard work on his part over an extended period of time,” said Dr. Jennifer Lovejoy, Arivale’s chief translational science officer. “When folks are dealing with things like diabetes or sleep apnea or trying to lose significant amounts of weight, it’s not a quick fix. I realize we live in a quick fix society, but what Daniel’s journey exemplifies is that it takes consistent effort, over time, working with someone who’s going to support you during that time, and not something that’s going to happen in a month or two.”
The Seattle-based company, co-founded by biotech pioneer Dr. Leroy Hood, is one of a growing number of startups using genetic insights to provide new insights into personal health.
As part of this series, GeekWire paid for Daniel to participate for a year in Arivale’s program. This was first time a media outlet has followed one of Arivale’s members so closely through the program. Arivale provided information about its program and access to its representatives, but this has been an independent editorial project.
Arivale has gone national and lowered its pricing since the program was first introduced. Daniel has signed up for another year on his own, and he’s continuing to work with Hultin and in pursuit of his long-term health goals.
“I have learned things about myself that will be life-changing,” he said. “I’m way different than I was a year ago.”
Listen to our podcast with Daniel Rossi and Ginger Hultin above.