Having access to the proper tools that support a healthier life is fundamental for overall well-being. Signos is aiming to tackle the obesity epidemic in the U.S.by offering a new way for people to act on their body’s unique response to what and when they eat to lose weight and kickstart a healthier life. The company takes what is traditionally prescribed for diabetics and makes it possible for anyone to use a continuous glucose monitor (CGM,) alongside its AI-powered app, to educate wearers what is best for their own bodies.
I recently had a chance to sit down with Signos co-founder and CEO Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer to discuss the health and wellness space, specifically weight loss, and how innovative companies like Signos are more effectively supporting people through weight loss journeys.
Gary Drenik: Tell me about your background and what led you to start Signos?
Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer: Growing up, I struggled with my weight. I got to a place where I was very unhealthy. As a last-ditch effort, my mom encouraged me to participate in sports, and I got hooked. Turns out I was very athletic, even receiving a couple of offers to play in the National Hockey League (NHL). I tell this story because even just a few years ago, I found myself overweight again.
A member of my family, a diabetic, inspired me to create Signos. He showed me his glucose monitor and he explained how it worked, and I thought — wow! What if we could take this piece of technology to extend the benefits of glucose insight to the masses? Why do we wait until people are “sick” before enabling them to learn from their own bodies’ natural signals? I wanted to know how to reverse this trend and help as many people as I could in the process.
Professionally, my background is in building companies focused around AI. I graduated with honors with a BS in Computer Science from Princeton University and have an MBA from Harvard Business School. I live with my family in California.
Drenik: How is what Signos brings to the table different from what is already available for consumers?
Fouladgar-Mercer: Until Signos, people with diabetes were the only ones who had a chance to access their own glucose information, and yet, understanding glucose levels is key for everyone to unlock how their bodies work best and individualize weight loss. We’re seeing this growing thirst for knowledge and understanding around glucose, and its significance to individuals for everything from specific food pairings and the most beneficial timing of exercise to specific improvements in one’s sleep.
According to a recent Prosper Insights & Analytics survey, over 36% of Americans turned to telemedicine in the pandemic, up from just 12% in early 2020. Americans have never had more access to healthcare professionals at our fingertips. However, as a nation, obesity remains one of the biggest health concerns that can lead to more serious health problems.
Prosper – Telemedicine Users
Signos uses the latest Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM), which is the only FDA approved CGM that offers real-time alerts without fingerstick calibration and is exclusively available to non-diabetics through our company. The app builds accountability and instigates sustainable lifestyle change that results in weight loss. We’ve taken a technology that’s been lifesaving for diabetics, the CGM, and combined it with artificial intelligence algorithms to help people better predict their glucose responses and help the millions of people who are on the path to diabetes ultimately reverse course. In other words, we can help people quantify the effect different foods have on their unique metabolisms, helping them make data-driven decisions when choosing what to eat. We’ve raised a total of $17M, including a Series A round led by GV (formerly Google Ventures) in support of these efforts.
Drenik: What are some of the most commonly misunderstood assumptions about glucose and glucose monitoring?
Fouladgar-Mercer: Out of the gate, I’d say the most common assumption is that only diabetics need to worry about glucose levels. According to the CDC, over 75% of American adults are overweight or obese and approximately 96 million American adults – more than 1 in 3 – are prediabetic. Of those with prediabetes, over 80% don’t know they have it. Prediabetes puts you at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Based on the stats – we could all do a better job at minding our metabolic health at any weight. Another common assumption would be that individuals really aren’t all that different when it comes to specific foods and glucose. However, glucose response can vary significantly between individuals. Some people can eat rice without experiencing a big glucose response; others consume rice, a simple carbohydrate, as a staple of their diet without effect. And finally, many assume glucose levels only rise in response to food triggers. Stress and sleep quality play a huge role in glucose stability, and we all have different hormonal factors that affect our bodies.
Prosper Insights & Analytics research has shown as a result of the pandemic, over 25% of Americans have become more anxious and almost 21% have become more depressed, which are both linked to weight management challenges. As many people are getting back into the gym and routines, we’re hoping to help individuals with weight management long before they develop other more serious health problems.
Prosper – Well-Being
Tracking glucose may be one of the best preventative measures that one can employ to gain visibility into how one’s daily habits affect the body. It is a game-changer in that this practice enables people to take charge of their health. Instead of viewing glucose tracking as a reactive approach to ailments, people can be a viable way to be proactive and prevent avoidable diseases. You can see, in real time, the effects of food, and sleep exercise on your glucose and make data-driven choices on how to make changes to live in a healthier way.
Drenik: Can you share a few common tips for food pairings that glucose levels may unlock?
Fouladgar-Mercer: Food pairings are definitely individual. We had a user learn that adding under-ripe bananas to his oatmeal each morning would keep his blood sugar in check and help him lose weight. He’d been eating oatmeal for years before he learned how significantly it spiked his glucose when he’d eaten it plain.
Another important piece of education for our users is pairing carbohydrates with healthy fats may be beneficial to help slow their insulin spikes. Eating a slice of toast in the morning is notorious for raising blood sugars. However, adding avocado on top, full of healthy fats, may actually regulate the spike. In extension, we recommend avoiding eating any naked carbs, or carbohydrates on their own. As a reminder, carbohydrates include grains/starches, starchy vegetables (potatoes, peas, corn), fruit, and dairy. Try pairing a piece of fruit with a couple of tablespoons of nut butter and/or mixing the fruit in plain full fat Greek yogurt.
We recommend balancing meals with all three macronutrients: protein, fats, and carbohydrates. When carbohydrates are combined with protein and/or fat, the glucose is absorbed more slowly and evenly into the bloodstream. The addition of protein and fat also help to delay digestion, which stabilizes your blood sugar and keeps you fuller longer.
Drenik: How do you think your technology might change the world?
Fouladgar-Mercer: Who among us doesn’t wish to be healthier? Yet, as much as we try, how many of us struggle? Diabetics aren’t the only people who can benefit from tracking glucose. If you are overweight or obese, you are at an increased risk for dangerous health outcomes like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and strokes. Care for the effects of obesity costs upwards of $150 billion a year. The Signos platform can help people short-circuit the cycle of glucose spikes, insulin release, and the storage of excess glucose as body fat. By doing this through proactive food choice recommendations and real-time prompts for physical exercise at the right time, we can help people maintain better blood sugar stability and if it is right for them, to lose weight. If we can help just one person stop the progression from elevated glucose spikes to insulin resistance to pre-diabetes and type two diabetes, we’ve started to make real progress. If we can do this at scale, we’re improving the health of millions of people.
Drenik: Thanks for taking the time to discuss innovations in the health and wellness space. It’s clear Signos wants users to have a long and healthy life, so giving individuals an alternate option to traditional weight loss programs may be a big step in the right direction for our country. I look forward to seeing how Signos continues to support its users through their health journeys.