Health issues are a leading cause of human suffering and mortality, so any improvement in health can lead to a huge improvement in quality of life. The typical approach to resolving health issues has, until recently, consisted solely of visiting medical doctors and relying on medical interventions. However, despite the use of invasive procedures such as prescription drugs and surgery, the established medical system cannot always provide a solution. In fact, it is becoming more and more apparent that medical interventions are often more concerned with treating and managing symptoms rather than diagnosing and eradicating their underlying cause.
Professor Aaron Blaisdell, one founder of this website, suffered throughout childhood from a genetic disorder Erythropoietic Protoporphyria (EPP). This is a metabolic disorder, one symptom being that the skin will develop a severe, painful rash when exposed to the sun. This led him to spend most of his childhood indoors, away from the harmful effects of the sun’s rays. To this date, there are no medical treatments for this genetically-based, highly-heritable disorder, although there is intense research devoted to finding a cure. After switching to a low-carb, gluten-free, paleo-style diet, however, his EPP went into complete remission, and he is now able to enjoy the outdoors as much as any person.
Recent anecdotes suggest that many health issues are caused by, or at least exacerbated by, lifestyle choices such as poor nutrition and unhealthy behaviors. By addressing these lifestyle choices, health benefits can be achieved without needing to rely on the strong interventions that the medical establishment so often recommends. However, the challenge is to determine what are and are not healthy lifestyle choices.
Unfortunately, there is so much conflicting evidence at present concerning what is a healthy diet, a healthy exercise regimen, and other behaviors that may contribute to better health. Low-fat or high-fat, low-fiber or high-fiber, eat whole grains or avoid grains, eat meat or avoid meat, intermittent fasting or frequent small meals? To make the situation worse, there is increasing evidence that health interventions are not a one-size-fits-all approach. Good advice for one person can be bad advice for another, and health interventions need to be tailored to the individual.
A medical doctor is unlikely to know which diet or supplement to prescribe, much less the best course of action for an individual, leading to a problem not being resolved and, in some cases, recommending an inappropriate treatment that causes more harm than good. How many of our broad-based medical prescriptions and health policies are actually doing harm to a significant subset of individuals?
It was until recently recommended to treat all pregnant mothers with folate to reduce the incidence of neural-tube defect in their babies. While this nutrient has reduced the incidence of neural-tube defect, many women carry a variant of the MTHFR gene that actually makes them much worse when they receive folate supplementation. This has only been discovered recently, while folate has been broadly and unconditionally recommended for decades.
The goal of this website is to use crowd-sourced health information to better identify good-health behaviors and effective treatments for symptoms, aggregating people’s experiences and then matching this information to individual users, allowing people to better understand their health and how it may be improved. That is, HealthCrowds can be used to discover which treatments are likely to work for you depending on your genetic background, childhood upbringing, and other physical and lifestyle factors unique to you.
Doing a Google search works very well in many situations. But it does not do well when you are searching for health treatments or to identify healthy behaviors. This is because Google gives you pages that match your search terms and are linked to other webpages, not treatments that have been endorsed by the most people. You might find a list of 5 possible treatments for a health problem. But these 5 treatments may not be enough to help everyone. The list will also not be ranked from most to least effective based on data collected from a large group of people, and it will not take into account specific characteristics of the person doing the search.
Dr. Dennis Garlick, another founder of this website, found that he was suffering from stiff finger joints when he woke up in the morning. A Google search revealed numerous webpages identifying osteoarthritis as the likely cause, suggesting the need for analgesic and anti-inflammatory drugs, and perhaps even corticosteroid injections into the joints. Being worried about the cost and discomfort of these treatments, he evaluated other possible causes. He had been taking glucosamine and MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) tablets at night before bed. Using self-experimentation, he stopped taking the tablets at night and found that the joint stiffness went away. No amount of searching in Google revealed that taking glucosamine and MSM tablets at night could have been the cause.
Given the myriad of different causes of health ailments, what is needed is for all possible causes to be listed in a single location in an easy-to-use order. Google tries to provide a single solution and multiple pages will return the same information. Information that is personalized or unique is ranked down by Google, even though this information could be the information a person needs.
Due to the recognition that symptoms and treatments are not a one-size-fits-all approach, there has been a growing movement called variously self-experimentation, personal science, quantified self (QS) and bio-individuality (or biohacking). Such self-experimentation typically involves manipulations of lifestyle factors such as diet, nutrients, supplements, activity and exercise, sleep and stress-management, and a myriad of other factors within our personal control. This trend has been motivated by the lack of success of traditional medical advice for many health ailments, instead finding greater success when sufferers themselves try different proposed treatments and evaluate their effectiveness.
But the limitations of self-experimentation are clear. No-one has the time or resources to try the thousands of possible diets, supplements, health behaviors and drugs that could be the solution. Even if the correct treatment is being tried, its effectiveness may be missed due to delays in its effectiveness, taking an incorrect dosage, and other factors that may confuse the relationship and prevent the treatment from working.
Not just what supplements to take, but when to take them can also have an effect, as we’ve seen above in Dr. Garlick’s experience with taking glucosamine. Some have also found that taking Vitamin D, an important vitamin and hormone, at night can cause insomnia, while taking the same dose in the morning can lead to restful sleep while enabling them to optimize their Vitamin D status.
HealthCrowds is intended to be an online, searchable database that aggregates the results of self-experiments from many users on a wide array of lifestyle manipulations. From this data set, users can discover relationships between various types of inputs, such as supplements, activity, mindfulness practices, etc. and various outputs, such as symptoms and conditions. By aggregating individual user experience from many, many individuals, previously unappreciated relations can be discovered, thereby allowing everyone to better improve their health. Ultimately, HealthCrowds allows users to take their health and wellbeing into their own hands. Our mission is to help you live longer and prosper.
Aaron Blaisdell
Aaron Blaisdell is currently a Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a member of the UCLA Brain Research Institute, the UCLA Integrative Center for Learning and Memory, and the UCLA Evolutionary Medicine Interdisciplinary Center.
His own experience with self-experimentation and the role of diet in health has led him to become disenchanted with the current medical establishment’s dietary guidelines and its ability to deal with many modern health ailments. He believes that we need to rethink many long-standing health beliefs, and we need data that go beyond the preconceived notions of health that are dominated by current medical thinking. This led him to co-found the Ancestral Health Society in 2011 and serve as its first President. He is also an Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Evolution and Health. His current scientific research focus is on the role of diet and supplements on cognition.
Dennis Garlick
Dennis Garlick is what may be termed a hard-scientist, but has been frustrated at the lack of information available concerning the role of supplements and other interventions on health. He has had to rely on self-experimentation to discover the positive and negative effects of supplements such as vitamins, glucosamine/MSM, and ginkgo biloba. Aware of the limitations of self-experimentation in terms of providing reliable results and comprehensively evaluating options, he hopes that a crowd-sourced database will be able to take much of the guess work out of curing many health ailments. This would lead to faster and better solutions than the present lottery where getting help for many ailments is largely dependent on luck in terms of discovering the right solutions.