Non-diabetics are using diabetes technology to track their blood sugar and improve their health

About two months ago, grad student Azure Grant began wearing a glucose monitor every day.

These devices track glucose, also called blood sugar, which comes from food and which the body subsequently uses for fuel. Diabetics have trouble regulating their glucose levels, and thus must track them closely.

Here’s the catch: Grant doesn’t have diabetes. But she began to be more curious about glucose after working with a group of diabetic individuals. She wondered: how reliably can it be measured? How did it change over time? What factors affect it, and what might it have to say about human health?

So she made herself into the guinea pig, she says, laughing.

In the last week, both she and her fiancé have embarked on an experiment to see whether glucose explains why she gets hungrier much faster than he does. While wearing monitors that track the measure in real-time, they have been eating the same foods at the same times each day — everything from morning beverages to dinner — to see how their glucose reactions may differ.

Separately, Grant is also tracking how her glucose levels may vary depending on where she is in her ovulatory cycle.

She has found out all kinds of things, including that a banana, for example, is “one of the things that will spike my glucose the highest” — more than a cookie, she says. “It’s raised more questions than answers, honestly.”

As glucose monitoring technology has improved in recent years, with new continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) making it easier and less invasive to track glucose levels comprehensively over the course of days or weeks, non-diabetics have also seen an opening.

Because the devices require prescriptions in the U.S. and insurance coverage varies, it can be a troublesome and expensive endeavor. But Grant and others believe the effort is worth it. Glucose tracking can help people understand their health, they say, gaining insight into things like diet, exercise and energy levels. And research has begun to suggest that the information could also help people who are at risk of diabetes or heart disease.

With industry leaders like Apple Inc. AAPL, +1.47%   reportedly developing glucose monitoring technology, many believe it is only a matter of time before glucose tracking becomes as widely available as activity and heart rate trackers.



Why they do it

Tech entrepreneur Bob Troia first began paying close attention to his glucose levels a few years ago, after a 23andMe genetic test showed he had a higher risk for Type 2 diabetes.

Troia is an active person — he has run the New York City Marathon, and plays in soccer leagues a few times a week — and a glucose test suggested there was no cause for concern.

Still, he wanted to be safe. So he bought some finger-prick tests, which require manually pricking one’s finger, and then testing that drop of blood. Until recent years, those tests were the main way to monitor glucose.

About two years ago, Troia moved on to a continuous glucose monitor, or CGM, called a FreeStyle Libre that he ordered from Europe, where it’s available without a prescription. The FreeStyle Libre is sold by Abbott Laboratories ABT, +0.03%  , and other CGMs are available from DexCom Inc. DXCM, +1.34% and Medtronic PLC MDT, -0.05% Those devices are intended for diabetics, but a San Francisco-based startup called Sano is working to develop a continuous monitor that anyone could use.

CGMs harvest glucose data using a small wire under the skin, making it possible to monitor glucose much more frequently — in intervals of every few minutes, both during the day and overnight — and transmit the data to a monitor.

“My goal was to figure out what factors make those values jump around, how you stabilize them and get into that range that’s optimal, where there’s really no debate about it,” Troia said. “You can take something like [Type 2 diabetes] on actively, years in advance.”