Convenient, affordable blood tests seem to be important tools for improving health. See my review of The End of Alzheimer’s for hints about why they’re important.
Talking20 and Theranos raised some hopes, then they failed.
Now comes Baze. They shipped me a device that I pressed against my arm. I waited a few minutes, took it off, and shipped it back. I was a bit uncertain about my ability to read the light that changed color to indicate the device had collected enough blood, but I seem to have gotten it right.
Half the time that it took to complete my test involved walking to the nearest FedEx drop box, which is a good deal closer than the nearest LabCorp or Kaiser lab. I had no need to worry about unpredictable delays waiting for a technician to be available to extract my blood.
I got 10 nutrient levels tested for a sale price of about $50. Many of those tests aren’t available on privatemdlabs.com, and the ones that are available are around $50 per nutrient. Life Extension has more of the tests, including Selenium (list price $88, but I normally wait for their spring sale), and Omega-3: $79 for a test that requires me to extract blood from my finger on my own. I had trouble getting enough blood that way, and never got a result, presumably because I didn’t do it well enough. So if I tried to test those 10 nutrients without Baze, I’d have paid maybe $500 and only gotten 7 or 8 results.
Are Baze’s results accurate? I’ve been tested for several of the nutrients previously, and the Baze results for those are similar enough to be reassuring. Their technology seems to have a decent pedigree.
So far, it sounds almost too good to be true. Is there a catch? Maybe. Baze does have a business model that makes me a bit nervous.
Baze is part of Nature’s Way, and tests nutrients in part in order to sell us vitamins in order to correct any deficiencies that it detects.
That does bias Baze away from providing the tests that are most valuable for influencing health-related decisions.
It also biases Baze toward recommending more supplements than is optimal. I don’t see any clear signs that they’re erring in that direction. I also see a distinct shortage of strong arguments in favor of their recommendations.
For vitamin D, they classified my level of 58.3 as excessive, when it’s only about 10% above the level I was aiming for, and there are many people advocating higher levels. That’s a clear sign that they’re not pushing too many vitamins on us.
Yet for choline and omega-3, they classified my blood levels as optimal, yet are still sending me those supplements. There’s at very least something wrong with their explanation here. Yet in both cases, I see some plausible arguments from independent sources that my levels are a bit below ideal, and I had been mildly concerned that I wasn’t consuming enough.
Maybe they’ve got a good explanation hiding somewhere on their blog, but the easy-to-navigate parts of their website are written more for people who want simple and convenient answers from a respected authority. Something feels wrong with their attempt to act like such an authority without providing more evidence of competence than I’ve seen.
They’re also sending me vitamin E and magnesium. I’m pretty confident that I’m consuming a bit more than the RDA for both of those, yet my test results say I’m a bit low in both.
I’m concluding that they have not yet given into the temptation to sell too many vitamins, but they’re putting little effort into reassuring me about this.
Their choice of which tests to do reassured me a bit. They test B12 via methylmalonic acid rather than the less sensitive direct test, and they avoid some nutrients that are more risky to supplement (iron, B6, A, calcium).
Potassium is an important nutrient that many people don’t get enough of. Baze doesn’t do anything with potassium, because potassium supplements are heavily regulated, and because low potassium levels can have causes that ought to be treated by doctors.
Fiber is another important nutrient that many people eat too little of. But that’s rather tricky to evaluate via a blood test – insulin resistance measures say something relevant, but it’s hard to quantify the connection, and doing so might raise novel regulatory issues.
With pretty much all of the nutrients that Baze sells, the evidence for benefits from supplementing is underwhelming, resting mainly on correlations. Where I’ve seen RCTs that test supplementing, only vitamin D seems to show a clear benefit.
I hope Baze focuses more on increasing the variety of biomarkers that it tests for, and less on selling vitamins. I would like to use them for more testing, but not for getting more vitamins. Optimizing our vitamin pill consumption is far from the most valuable goal that this new technology can accomplish.
I suppose the more valuable uses of the technology work best with a fair amount of doctor involvement, and the medical system changes slowly enough that Baze might have needed to introduce the less valuable uses first.
Baze seems good enough now that most people with below-average health (that includes most people over 60) will get a bit of benefit from Baze.
Warning: they report results in different units than I’m used to, so I needed to look up several conversion factors to compare my Baze results to my prior results.