Debugging My Allergy
food tracking | sleep
Thomas Blomseth Christiansen
Thomas Blomseth Christiansen is the co-founder of Mymee. He's made a lot of observations of his own health conditions specifically his grass pollen allergy. In this video, he talks about how he has debugged his allergy for the past four years, and shares his big breakthrough this summer and where he was able to enjoy the smell of grass again.
Hi everybody my name is Thomas Blomseth Christiansen and I’m the co-founder of Mymee. So I want to talk about how I’ve been debugging my allergy four years or so, and how I have had a big breakthrough this summer.
Since May, I’ve been making a lot of observations of my own health condition, and today I’ll be passing my 9000 observation mark. And I’ve been tracking some symptoms over the summer, which are the most important symptom for my allergy which is sneezing; I have grass pollen allergy. I also have some symptoms where I feel cold like I have a flu, or I can feel tired and I also have some eczema as part of this whole complex situation’s.
Then, I’ve been tracking my food, my water and beverage intake, supplements, bodily processes, some of the important ones like sleep, urination, bowel movements, I’ve been measuring my waist size and I’ve also been looking at the environment; looking at the pollen levels in the air over here.
I have just put if you visualizations of some of the data, so you have sleep at the top. You have some data about when I felt tired during the summer, and the symptoms of feeling cold. To the left you have the Mymee app, our own product that I’ve been using. These are some of my major personal results from doing self-tracking and debugging my health condition.
So this summer of 2011 was the first summer in 30 years that I didn’t have severe grass pollen symptoms, and I didn’t use any medication; I’ve been using medication for 30 years and it didn’t really work. Then I had some red sensitive skin around my eyes, also for around 30 years. It’s gone now, and I can now control the eczema I have on my hands. I know how almost to produce it, and how to remove it again. I didn’t know that for like 15 years, and then just overall my energy level and quality of life has improved significantly.
So this is a bit about the story, it was that in my early 30s, my allergies started getting worse and it really impeded in my performance in a lot of areas. So I started going to my doctor, but I wasn’t really believing in that method, because I didn’t see a really problem-solving method.
I also do consulting with process improvement and a lot with Toyota and how they improve their processes, and then I found out that they learned it from Edward Stemming, an American. What he taught Toyota was to teach the factory workers to use the scientific method for improving their processes, and I didn’t see that when I went to my doctors. They can’t help me, so I’ll try and find these methods of my own health condition.
We had so many attempts during the years, and so to the left ear is 2008 I started tracking some things about my allergies in a mind map. This is some data from the summer of 2008 where I started trying out some things with taking photos of meals and using some file-based things in trying to record the data.
Already in 2008, something kind of interesting surfaced from these experiments and was it seemed there was not really a linear correlation between the pollen levels and how I felt. Some days there was a lot of pollen in the air and I felt okay, and other days there was little pollen and I felt bad.
So having worked with computer systems for many years, and knowing something about systems in general. I had this what I called my thrashing hypothesis, that in some sense my system was just off the level of thrashing, and it doesn’t take much pollen or some food to go into this allergy state, so that is the hypothesis I’ve been following for some years.
This summer I wanted to try out a hypothesis, a more specific one, and I started researching one on my system. I said okay, if I was to build an immune defense system myself as a software engineer, how would I build it, and what was the kind of general components of an immune system be that an immune system is an information-processing system. So I thought well, it will have to kind of monitor the incoming material, you know food, viruses, bacteria, common pollen, whatever. Then they has got to be some kind of system to stay monitoring, which is kind of looking at what is the overall state of the body, and then some kind of third integrin looking at what’s the correlation between what is coming in and how the body is feeling; is it under attack or not.
Then of course is the adaptive part of the immune defense system, where you keep a kind of a threat database saying, last time I saw this thing coming in, it didn’t feel good and I had better put it in the database and mark it as a threat.
So my idea was from an elusive perspective, it didn’t really make sense if the system couldn’t kind of re-calculate those threats because it might make errors along the way, and that was basically what allergy is. It’s an error in the threat assignment to some benign substance that doesn’t really threat the body.
So my hypothesis that I tried out this summer was that if I kept my body in overall good shape, and stayed that way during the grass pollen season could I make my immune defense system recalculate the threat levels assigned to grass pollen.
Then there was this auxiliary thing that I found out during the years that the performance of my digestion is critical for my immune defense system and overall body as a state, and also like 80 to 90% of the immune defense system is in your digestion. So I wanted to keep my digestion in a well-known state during the summer to see if that could make a difference.
So, here we have some sneeze data, so I will know exactly where and when and how many sneezes and I did this summer and that is the best indicator of my grass pollen allergy. So I had my first symptoms here in Mountain View, California, and that was the first symptoms this summer was outside the computer history Museum in Mountain View during the Quantified Self conference. So that is what you are seeing here that I had some symptoms out in California. But then I noticed that after day to. It kind of wear off and I felt kind of fine and I didn’t take any medication. I was like, well, this is an experiment and stay away from medication. The next peak that you see there, that is me returning to New York City after the conference, and being exposed to the pollen in New York, I suddenly get this eruption. But after a couple of days it disappears again.
Then I went back to Copenhagen, to my native Denmark and some of the grass pollen that I have been exposed to for many years and I saw a big reaction but it also wore off after some days. Then, I went to my hometown at my parent’s cabin where there is a lot of grass. I saw the same thing, it disappeared again. And there I had five weeks where I stayed at that cabin without taking any medication, and without barely having any symptoms and being able to enjoy that place for the first time in 30 years.
Then, you might want to ask, what is that the question mark, that’s when I came back to my apartment in Copenhagen after five weeks of being away from it, I started sneezing. So there was something in that apartment and I had some ideas.
What you see over here is the grass pollen level in Denmark here this summer, and what you can see is that now we don’t really have a correlation; the grass pollen level is going up towards 1 July, but my symptoms are disappearing much more rapidly and usually in July I had symptoms even when taking medication.
So, there are a lot of specific learnings in these experiments, but the biggest learning I think is that suddenly, I went from having symptoms of grass pollen to these kind of empowering data. Instead of having sneezes that our something I am objected to, suddenly it was empowering data and now I feel like a hunter tracking this animal, like when I get a sneeze. Now it is more like ah, interesting. The system just revealed something about itself and that’s a much more empowered feeling than I had before.
So I have been using our app and we are continuing to use all of these experiences that we have our self and trying to put into products so that in the future we can help people getting rid of these kind of conditions and kind of live a fuller life, that’s what I feel right now.
So thank you.