When it comes to fighting chronic disease, there’s a lot of stuff out there that drains the ole pocketbook. Supplements, devices, medicine, and therapies can put a major dent in your finances. Which is probably why it isn’t all that unusual to go broke fighting chronic disease.
This isn’t to say that spending money on all of the above is a waste; there are plenty of worthwhile products, therapies, and practitioners. But the biggest problem most people face is determining if what they are doing is working. Most people with a chronic disease can’t just go by how they feel because they always feel pretty crumby.
Heart rate variability and chronic disease
One of the most effective ways to determine your progress is to assess heart rate variability(HRV). Heart rate variability measures how well the autonomic nervous system functions. The autonomic nervous system controls automatic processes such as alertness, mood, cognition, heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and immunity.
Autonomic tone refers to where we fall on a continuum from Rest/Digest to Fight/Flight. When we get stuck too far to either side, we feel and function poorly. Ideally we can transition in between Rest/Digest and Fight/Fight smoothly. Measuring HRV tells us where we fall on this continuum, and thus, gives us an idea as to how we’re progressing.
HRV4Training for assessing heart rate variability
There are a lot of tools out there to measure heart rate variability, but many of them are quite expensive. Some are upwards of $400 and require you to purchase extra tools. HRV4Training is affordable at $15 and allows you to measure HRV with a phone using its camera. I recommend the app for people that I work with as it gives them insight in to how what they’re doing is harming/helping them.
You begin by developing a baseline with your first few measurements. To start, you place your index finger over the camera on the back of your phone and click “Measure HRV”. You’ll notice the light on your camera turn on and a new screen appears. This screen contains a red dot, which assesses signal quality.
By default, the test runs for 60 seconds so you should remain still with your finger on the camera. You may increase the length of the test and other settings by clicking on the menu button in the upper left-hand corner.
Another screen gives your reading in comparison to other users your age. A word of caution: Most people that use the app use it to train for sport, so don’t be surprised if your readings are waaaaay lower than most if you have a chronic condition.
As with all products that measure HRV, HRV4Training spits out a proprietary number based off other HRV metrics. I recommend people pay attention to root mean squared of the successive differences, or rMSSD. The reason I recommend rMSSD is that it is validated for a 60 second reading in clinical trials.
Using your data to address chronic disease
There are many ways to use your HRV4Training data for chronic disease. From determining if an approach works to identifying your readiness to exercise. People often focus on the specific score, which really isn’t all that useful. Your trends over time are much better at giving direction. Generally speaking, a higher score is better, but a huge jump could be a warning sign or simply a bad reading.
The image below comes from a member of my Circadian Retraining Program named Denise who tried numerous approaches to fight mitochondrial dysfunction and ME/CFS.
On the left we see her scores before we began a new intervention on January 1st. Her week average was 27.8 which is really low, and her high was 38.8. After 3 weeks of the new intervention, her week average jumped almost 7 full points. And her lowest score was higher than her 3 lowest scores from pre-intervention.
Fast forward to now, and her new week average is 47.7 This is nearly 10 points higher than her 30 day average indicating clear progress. Furthermore, her lowest score this past week is almost equal to what her highest score was at the beginning of January. It’s also the same as her 2nd highest scores 3 weeks in. Note: The 30 day average is the average for the most recent 30 days in all pics, it doesn’t keep track of past 30 day averages.
HRV Data vs going by how you feel in chronic disease
People are often told to just go by how they feel. But when dealing with chronic disease that approach isn’t always that useful. I asked her if she thought she cold tell things were working without measuring and here is her response:
“There is no way to go by feel when dealing with severe gut issues. My gut was so severely damaged that it was hard to make sense out of anything – symptoms, blood tests, stool tests, etc…
Here was the real turning point. I lowered my fat intake dramatically while doing the Stop Leaky Gut Challenge and after six months my total cholesterol numbers were finally normal for the first time in six years. Then I showed my doctor the RHR measurements that Dave had us tracking and how they started trending downward (within 30 days of lowering fat) and she agreed there was clearly a correlation.
This finally gave me the confidence I needed to “experiment” a bit because I lived in fear for so long. Now I just got another confidence booster – my HRV values are finally trending upward (I learned that low HRV values are common with chronic illness). These measurement tools are so easy and convenient (and certainly costs less than testing), it’s almost absurd not to use them to see how your body is responding to various interventions.
I don’t plan on doing low fat forever (in fact, I have started to increase it a bit) and using the various measurement tools that Dave suggests, I will be able to see how my small experiments are working.
As you can see, this simple $15 tool provides incredible insight in to your progress to address chronic disease. This is why I recommend HRV4Training for people I work with and buy my programs.
Whether they have chronic disease or not, the data is useful. It also helps me individualize the program to the individual. We aren’t all properly represented by the middle of the bell curve.
HRV4Training provides feedback on what’s working, what’s not, and can also be used to identify the best times to build resilience by exercising or reintroducing foods. It’s also very useful to help people get a grasp on the things that stress the system too much and gives direction as to when you’ve been pushing it too hard in life and beyond.