A Self Experimentation Protocol

4 min read

This was originally posted on my newsletter.

This past month, I’ve been chowing down on globs of spirulina, chlorella, and other nutritious micro-algae every day. I’m sane I swear — these algae are some of the most dense and bioavailable sources of protein & nutrients available. There is also some promising research showing that they might protect the brain and improve metabolic function.

A problem innate to health & nutrition research is that the human body is finicky, and what benefits one person will not necessarily benefit another. This is why I champion personal experimentation through self-administered n-of-1 trials in which you determine for yourself whether a treatment jives with your particular biology. However, even with self-experimentation, it’s difficult to extract meaningful insight without a rigorous and well-designed protocol.

So… that’s what I’ll be discussing in this month’s newsletter. Instead of doing what I set out to do (write about my experience using algae) — I decided to zoom out and procrastinate by creating a robust system for myself to aid in self-experimentation.

source: xkcd

source: xkcd

Randomized Controlled Trials (RCT)

A well-designed RCT is the gold standard for modern scientific & clinical research. The intent is to reduce bias, balance unknown factors, and isolate the exact variables being measured. How can we take the best aspects of RCTs and apply them to our own self-experimentation?

Now that we’ve got a basic pseudo-scientific framework for a self-experimentation protocol, how would we apply this to the aforementioned dinner of delicious algae?

  1. Creating a placebo algae will be tough. One option would be to use a kind of algae with no proven health benefits as the control group and a mishmash of “healthy” micro-algae as the test group.
  2. The health benefits of algae take roughly ~1 week to kick in, so we can collect data from the ~1 week after this initial loading phase.
  3. Thus, I’ll need to create a set of test & control algae baggies with 14 globs in each. At the beginning of a 2-week window, I will randomly pick a baggie and take the algae daily until I run out, while collecting data for the latter 7 days.
  4. During this data collection period, I’ll measure a broad swath of health factors like sleep through Oura, general aerobic and athletic performance through my Apple Watch, level of focus during the day through Rize, and subjective levels of well-being and energy.
  5. Finally, I’ll run a few regressions to see if there was any statistically significant increase in my measured health factors by eating algae. Doesn’t that sound fun? I think so. 🦠