Exploring Signos: How AI and Glucose Monitors Foster Healthier Eating Habits

As it turns out, exercise is good for you. So is sleep, and unfortunately, so are vegetables.

I’ve heard these health adages hundreds of times before, but they truly began to hit home for me this winter as I tested out a metabolic health platform from the startup Signos

Signos offers a subscription service featuring a small continuous glucose monitor (CGM) that you stick on your arm or abdomen. This device sends data to the Signos app, which aims to assist in weight loss by monitoring blood sugar levels.

Subscription prices vary depending on the plan you select. The one-month plan starts at $449, while a 6-month plan starts at about $143 per month if paid upfront. Such services, once exclusive to diabetics, are poised to open new revenue streams for health companies.

Dexcom, for instance, recently obtained FDA clearance for its over-the-counter Stelo product, slated for launch this summer. In the meantime, Signos faces competition from firms like NutriSense, Veri, and Levels.

Exploring Signos: How AI and Glucose Monitors Foster Healthier Eating Habits
CGMs monitor blood sugar in real-time, providing valuable data on dietary impacts. (Credits: X- formerly Twitter)

Founded in 2018, Signos employs continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) alongside an AI-powered app to enhance users’ understanding of their metabolisms. The company offers personalized insights into how individuals react to specific foods and the optimal timing for exercise to achieve weight loss goals.

Glucose, derived from food, serves as the body’s primary energy source. CGMs, small sensors inserted into the skin, monitor blood glucose levels in real time. Typically worn on the upper arm or abdomen, these sensors wirelessly transmit data to smartphones.

While CGMs are commonly utilized by individuals with diabetes for emergency alerts, Signos’ CGM system targets the general consumer market and is not designed for diabetes management. Other companies, such as Abbott Laboratories, are also introducing consumer-focused CGM systems in the U.S. this year.

Signos’ platform educates users on how daily habits like diet, hydration, exercise, stress, and sleep impact glucose levels and can induce spikes. Glucose spikes occur when blood sugar rapidly increases, often after meals.

In the short term, spikes can lead to lethargy and fatigue, while sustained high blood sugar levels can contribute to serious health issues like diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease, as noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Exploring Signos: How AI and Glucose Monitors Foster Healthier Eating Habits
The platform educates on optimal glucose ranges, empowering users to make informed lifestyle choices. (Credits: X- formerly Twitter)

Given the variability of glucose levels among individuals, spikes, and dips are inevitable. Signos aims to assist users in minimizing the intensity and frequency of these fluctuations. The company suggests that maintaining stable glucose levels can enhance metabolic health, facilitate weight loss, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

To commence my Signos experience, I completed a brief questionnaire providing basic biological information and details about my medical history. Upon submission, an independent physician reviewed my responses, and my prescription for the CGM was promptly approved, initiating the shipment process within a few hours.

Within a couple of days, my package arrived in a discreet brown Signos box. Inside, I found an instruction manual, the CGMs, alcohol wipes, and athletic patches for application over the CGM. Following the manual’s guidance, I downloaded the Signos app and set up accounts with Signos and the CGM manufacturer, Dexcom.

Although Dexcom manufactures the CGMs utilized by Signos, their products are typically tailored for diabetes patients. However, Signos integrates Dexcom’s CGMs into its platform as part of a clinical study approved by an institutional review board sanctioned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer, Signos’ co-founder and CEO, disclosed this information to CNBC in October. Additionally, Dexcom Ventures is an investor in Signos, having participated in the company’s $20 million funding round last autumn.

Signos’ platform is compatible with both Dexcom’s G6 and the newer G7 CGMs. During my trial, I tested the platform using the G7, which Signos introduced in January. Each G6 and G7 sensor lasts for 10 days, and throughout my trial, I used three G7 sensors.

With my accounts established, it was time to apply my first sensor, a task that made me a bit apprehensive. Despite being generally comfortable around needles, I tend to avert my gaze during injections at the doctor’s office.

However, the CGM’s needle is relatively small – comparable to clicking a mechanical pencil a few times – though I still felt some reluctance to insert it into my arm.

Thankfully, the sensor application process proved to be straightforward and painless. The Signos app guided me through each step with a one-minute instructional video and a series of GIFs.

Exploring Signos: How AI and Glucose Monitors Foster Healthier Eating Habits
Signos promotes awareness of lifestyle influences on glucose levels, fostering healthier habits and understanding. (Credits: X- formerly Twitter)

After cleansing the back of my left arm with an alcohol wipe, I positioned the applicator and pressed the button to affix the CGM, needle included, onto my arm. The G7, about the size of a quarter and half an inch thick, appeared white.

Following the application, I paired the CGM with the Signos app by enabling Bluetooth and scanning the corresponding QR code on the applicator. Once paired, I secured the sensor with a purple athletic patch to safeguard it from tugging, sweat, and water.

It took approximately 30 minutes for the sensor to acclimate to my body before it was fully activated and operational.

The CGM turned out to be far less bothersome than I anticipated. I often forget about it entirely, and it’s easy to wear regular clothes and jackets over it, even ones with snug sleeves.

Initially, I experienced some sensitivity, particularly when sleeping on my left side, especially after changing the sensor. My upper arm felt slightly tender, akin to a light bruise. However, I consistently placed the CGM on my left arm, and I suspect I could have avoided this sensitivity by alternating between my left and right arms.

Interpreting glucose data was entirely new to me, but the Signos platform did an excellent job explaining concepts and simplifying them. The app guided me through a series of brief articles and activities to kick-start my journey, such as logging meals and exercise.

One key concept introduced was my “optimal glucose range,” where Signos encourages users to maintain their glucose levels. Initially set at an upper bound of 120 mg/dL and a lower bound of 80 mg/dL, the app’s algorithm adjusted this range based on my body’s patterns. For instance, my upper bound was eventually modified to 126 mg/dL.

On the Signos homepage, I could view my real-time glucose reading, a graph displaying my glucose levels (with a shaded area indicating the optimal range), and the percentage of time spent within that range each day. This feature could be particularly beneficial for individuals at risk of prediabetes, allowing them to monitor their levels over time.

Once I grasped the basics, Signos prompted me with additional activities and articles to experiment with and deepen my understanding of my blood sugar. For example, one activity encouraged me to exercise immediately after a meal, which significantly reduced the spike I was experiencing.

Another activity involved guessing my glucose levels at different points throughout the day. I was surprised at how quickly I began to discern the connection between how I felt and my current reading. While users have the option to skip activities, I found them both intriguing and beneficial overall.

Signos also employs registered dieticians who are available for questions via chat, email, or phone consultation. After wearing the CGM for a week, I arranged a meeting and found it incredibly helpful. I asked numerous questions about my data and the Signos app itself, receiving valuable tips on areas to focus on next.

I anticipated a personalized experience, but I’ve never encountered such detailed insight into my body’s functioning before. It was fascinating to observe my responses to various foods, and there were some eye-openers along the way.

For instance, I often opt for instant oatmeal for breakfast, considering it a healthy choice. However, I was surprised to discover that oatmeal caused a significant spike in my glucose levels. On February 9, it elevated my levels from 88 mg/dL to 167 mg/dL. While oatmeal may suit some individuals, it’s not the optimal breakfast option for me.

The reactions to many other foods were less surprising, yet the reinforcement of these concepts through data was invaluable. Processed foods like chips and sweets led to sharp spikes, whereas fruits, vegetables, and protein-rich meals had a more gradual impact. For instance, Greek yogurt hardly affected my glucose levels when consumed as a snack.

Witnessing how my body responded to nutritious food was empowering and made me more mindful of my dietary choices.

Interestingly, blood sugar spikes can be triggered by factors beyond food, which was news to me. The Signos app’s “Tags” feature allowed me to note over 60 possible spike-causing factors, including stress, travel, medication, illness, crying, and even a hot shower.

I discovered that my glucose tends to spike while writing a breaking news story, and I spend less time in my optimal range when feeling fatigued. Reflecting on a particularly stressful week at work in January, I could see its impact on my readings.

Visualizing how various factors, whether within my control or not, affect my blood sugar underscores the profound influence of the world around us.

As a bonus, the CGM sparked numerous conversations with friends, family, and colleagues who were intrigued by the device and my insights. Since wearing CGMs is not yet commonplace for the average person, there was an element of novelty that piqued their interest.

Finally, removing the CGM when it expires is a breeze. After the 10 days, you simply peel off the adhesive like a sticker.

Signos’ user interface is generally user-friendly, but certain features proved more intuitive than others.

For instance, it took me a few days to grasp how to input my sleep data correctly, as I struggled with logging the hours accurately. Similarly, determining the level of detail required when logging meals posed a challenge; I often kept my entries brief, possibly missing out on more specific insights that could have further refined my algorithm.

Furthermore, engaging with the platform’s alerts and activities, particularly during the workday, wasn’t always feasible for me. After meals, I frequently received “Fast Rise” notifications from the Signos app, suggesting brisk walking or high-intensity exercise to reduce glucose spikes.

However, as someone working in person at CNBC’s newsroom three days a week, fulfilling these recommendations was often unrealistic.

Exploring Signos: How AI and Glucose Monitors Foster Healthier Eating Habits
Users gain insights into their body’s responses to food, sleep, exercise, and stress levels. (Credits: X- formerly Twitter)

Upon inquiry during a meeting with a Signos dietitian, I learned that any movement, even a brief walk up or down stairs, could be beneficial. It would have been helpful to receive this information upfront.

Subscription costs for Signos are high, and CGMs are often not covered by insurance for many users. While the website mentions the possibility of insurance coverage for individuals diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, those without this diagnosis may face difficulties. Some users may utilize Health Savings Account reimbursement funds to cover Signos expenses, but the responsibility for reimbursement falls on the individual.

I found myself checking the Signos app frequently, almost treating it like another form of social media. This raised some concerns for me.

Although I have a relatively positive relationship with food and minimal health anxiety, I was conscious of my mindset and attitude toward the platform. While I treated Signos as a tool for learning, I made an effort not to overly fixate on the numbers. However, I did experience occasional feelings of guilt over significant spikes.

Reflecting on these experiences, I realized how the platform could potentially be detrimental to some users’ mental health, especially those with body image or eating disorders.

Signos claims to screen prospective members for disordered eating in the initial medical questionnaire and offers metabolic health coaches for support. Nonetheless, individuals must trust themselves and consult with their doctor to determine if CGM technology is suitable for them.

The Signos experience is highly individualized, depending on the user’s level of engagement and willingness to make lifestyle changes.

The app itself won’t facilitate learning or implement lifestyle adjustments on your behalf. Therefore, if you’re not committed to logging meals and completing activities, you may not derive significant benefits from the platform.

As a young and generally healthy individual, I entered the Signos experience with some uncertainty. However, I emerged with a wealth of insights into how my body reacts to various factors such as diet, sleep, exercise, and stress.

The CGM serves as a window into the inner workings of my body, highlighting its value as a tool for understanding overall health. In just one month of usage, I gained a deeper comprehension of why I experience feelings of sleepiness, lethargy, or energy fluctuations.

Given this experience, I wouldn’t be surprised if I revisit CGM systems at different life stages to further comprehend how my body responds to nutrition and environmental factors.

Sajda Parveen
Sajda Parveen
Sajda Praveen is a market expert. She has over 6 years of experience in the field and she shares her expertise with readers. You can reach out to her at [email protected]
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