Many of us face challenging health conditions or simply want to protect our health in an increasingly complex world. Understanding how the body works and learning ways to support our health are the objectives of a biohacker. But what is biohacking? We’ve heard about hacking computers and cell phones, but hacking the body is all about empowered self-improvement. There is no single definition, but here is a reliable one from Dr. Josh Axe, “Biohacking is the process of making changes to your lifestyle in order to “hack” your body’s biology and feel your best.” The goal is to achieve the best possible version of yourself. Think of it; How can I be the best version of myself in the way that I look, feel and perform? The key word there is MYSELF. That’s powerful. Everyone is unique and goals should always be personalized.
We can learn from the biohacking mindset and use it to make changes in our daily lives. Meaningful actions, and sometimes shortcuts to support health, start with data and knowledge. Think about your top two health challenges. How much do you know about the root cause of the conditions? Were all possible causes considered when and if treatment began? Was a risk vs. reward scenario for each treatment option explained to you and do you understand it? Are you armed with data about the condition, and the data specific to yourself? These are some of the factors to think about when beginning to gather information and formulate a plan.
So let’s go. Here are three biohacks to get started:
Biohack #1: Mindset
The most powerful biohack is mindset. A biohacker seeks information and data to solve problems, create an action plan, and execute the plan. Biohackers view themselves as the person in charge of their health. Who can afford to be a passive spectator watching from afar when our health and happiness is at stake? Call it a CEO, captain of the team, or quarterback. Health and wellness providers are viewed as members of your team and are subject to hiring and firing by the CEO (You!). If you view yourself as the CEO of your own health, mindset is changed. All problems do not have to be tackled at once. As the CEO, your job is to understand what’s happening with your body. Decide that it’s time to take some positive action.
Start with empowerment. Hire yourself as the CEO of your own health
Gather information. Become familiar with your electronic health records (EHR). Most providers participate in some form of EHR where your office visit notes and diagnostic results, such as labs and imaging studies are recorded. Factor in information from personal monitors like fitness trackers, blood pressure monitors, heart rate variability, sleep cycles, etc.
Think about your team of wellness and healthcare providers. Who is helping you achieve your goals? Time to hire and fire your team and continually evaluate them. Also consider your interaction with them. Are you a good partner and are you maximizing your time with them?
Formulate a health improvement plan with input from your team. Concentrate on a few items at a time. Think about how you will measure progress. Find a helpful blog and/or podcast specific to your condition; there are so many. Ask a member of your team for suggestions. Where do they learn? What do they listen to?
Time to dive in and start making changes with your newly empowered knowledge. Be kind to yourself throughout the process. Recognize your achievements and challenge yourself to do more. Become familiar with an interesting phenomenon that practitioners see frequently. As significant improvements are made, people tend to forget where they started. For example, if there are five issues to be worked on and three are resolved, sometimes people get frustrated with the two unresolved issues and forget about their progress and success. Keep things in perspective and refer back to the original plan as improvements are made and the body is adjusting to the new normal.
Biohack #2 Take the bad stuff out and put the good stuff in
This is a basic principle of naturopathic medicine. It’s really a simple concept to help bring balance back to the mind and body. One way to put the good stuff in is to learn about nutrient deficiencies caused by prescription and over-the-counter drugs taken currently, or even in the past. A good example is oral contraceptives, or birth control pills. Birth control pills can cause deficiencies in a number of essential vitamins and trace elements. Key nutrient depletions include folic acid, vitamins B2, B6, B12, vitamin C and E and the minerals magnesium, selenium and zinc. Many women take birth control pills for years before attempting pregnancy. Consequently, they can start a pregnancy in a nutrient deprived state. This is certainly not optimal. Talk to your doctor about testing for and replacing any key nutrients depleted by medications.
An important resource to help discover which of your over-the-counter or prescription medications might be causing nutrient deficiencies is www.MyTavin.com, a free and easy-to-use web-based tool. Simply enter the name of the medication to find any known associated nutrient deficiencies. According to the website, developed by Dr. Jeff Gladd, MD, pharmaceutical drugs can affect the nutritional status of patients and contribute to nutrient depletions, even when they are prescribed according to the label instructions. Certain drugs may:
Impact the absorption of nutrients in the digestive tract
Accelerate the metabolism of certain nutrients
Impact the excretion of nutrients
So what will you take out and put in as you start the new year?
Always discuss any potential medication changes with your doctor. It is never recommended to discontinue/alter medications without consultation with your provider.
Biohack #3 Sleep Chemistry
There are many factors that contribute to poor sleep, yet also many solutions to consider. It is common sense to know that sleep is important to our health since we have all felt the effects of a bad night’s sleep. There is still so much that we don’t understand about sleep, but a recent discovery about a lymph system in the brain, known as “glymphatics,” indicates the brain “takes the trash out” when we sleep. The brain is actively clearing metabolic waste that accumulates normally during wakefulness. It’s hard to feel good when waste is stuck in your brain.
Sleep hygiene is a broad category that refers to factors that can affect sleep which include the bedroom environment, light, temperature, use of electronic devices, lifestyle factors and many more. Many turn to nutritional supplements for help in addition to sleep hygiene considerations. Supplements can be in the form of single substances or combination products. According to Dr. Michael Murray, ND, the best dietary supplements for sleep are: Melatonin, Methylcobalamin (Vitamin B12), 5-HTP, L-theanine, Magnesium, and Valerian. See below for Dr. Murray’s description of each supplement along with his recommended dosage.
Melatonin is by far the most popular natural sleep aid. Melatonin has been shown to be very effective in helping induce and maintain sleep in both children and adults. It is most apparent in improving sleep when melatonin levels are low. Melatonin supplementation appears to be most useful in improving sleep quality in people 40 years of age and older as it is more common to find low melatonin levels in this age group.4,5
A dose of 3 to 5 mg at bedtime is more than enough for adults. Children 6 years of age and above should take a dosage range of 1 to 3 mg. Although melatonin appears to have no serious side effects at recommended doses, melatonin supplementation could conceivably disrupt the normal circadian rhythm in hormone secretion if taken in excess of recommended amounts. Hence, unless there is a specific need to take higher dosages, stick to the recommended dosage.
Methylcobalamin (Vitamin B12)
The active form of vitamin B12, methylcobalamin, can make melatonin more effective, especially in people over 40 and in shift workers. Methylcobalamin has been shown to help some people suffering from what is referred to as sleep-wake disorder. This disorder is characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness, restless nights, and frequent nighttime awakenings. It is very common in shift workers and the elderly. In people with sleep-wake disorders, taking methylcobalamin has often led to improved sleep quality, increased daytime alertness and concentration, and improved mood.6,7 Much of the benefit appears to be a result of methylcobalamin reducing daytime melatonin secretion and helping to set the stage for nighttime melatonin secretion. The recommended dosage is 3 to 5 mg of methylcobalamin upon arising.
Magnesium produces a calming effect, relieves stress, and promotes overall relaxation and restful sleep. Magnesium supplementation is especially important in improving sleep in the elderly and reversing age-related alterations in brain wave tracings and brain chemistry.8,9 The recommended dosage is 250 to 300 mg at bedtime. Magnesium citrate, malate, or bisglycinate in powdered drink mixes is a great choice at this dosage level vs. tablets or capsules.
5-HTP is converted in the brain to serotonin, an important initiator of sleep. It is one step closer to serotonin than l-tryptophan and has shown more consistent results in promoting and maintaining sleep.10,11 One of the key benefits of 5-HTP is its ability to increase REM sleep (typically by about 25%) while increasing deep sleep stages 3 and 4 without lengthening total sleep time. The sleep stages that are reduced to compensate for the increases are non-REM stages 1 and 2—the least important stages. The dosage recommendation to take advantage of the sleep-promoting effects of 5-HTP is 50 to 150 mg 30 to 45 minutes before retiring but is also useful to take 5-HTP at a dosage of 50 to 100 mg three times a day before meals is an important consideration if its mood-elevating or weight-loss promoting effects are desired. Start with the lower dose for at least 3 days before increasing it.
L-theanine is a unique amino acid found almost exclusively in tea (Camellia sinensis). Clinical studies have demonstrated that L-theanine reduces stress, improves the quality of sleep, diminishes the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, heightens mental acuity, and reduces negative side effects of caffeine.12 L-theanine is a great consideration for children at a dosage of 200 mg at bedtime. In adults, the typical dosage of 200 mg, L-theanine does not act as a sedative, but it does significantly improve sleep quality. It can be used at that dosage as a gentle way to improve sleep. For a sedative effect in adults, a higher single dosage of 600 mg L-theanine is required.
In terms of herbal medicine, there is no question that valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is the most popular and well-studied sleep aid. Detailed clinical studies have shown valerian to improve sleep quality, reduce the time required to get to sleep, and promote restful sleep throughout the night. All without producing “hangover feeling” in the morning.
As a mild sedative, take valerian extract (0.8% valeric acid) at a dosage of 150 to 300 mg thirty to forty-five minutes before retiring. If morning sleepiness does occur, reduce the dosage. If the dosage was not effective, be sure to eliminate those factors that disrupt sleep such as caffeine and alcohol before increasing dosage.
Your Biohacking Journey
We began with some biohacking fundamentals to get you started, the most important of which is mindset. If you do not believe that you are in control of your health and empowered to take action, then it’s difficult to move forward. The process is not always easy and is often frustrating. For all of the newly empowered personal health CEOs, WEforum is here to help. Let us hear from you. What are you trying to biohack?
Linda Edwards, RN, MSN is the owner of ResilientMe, Inc. in Little Silver, NJ. She has extensive experience in finding solutions to health and wellness challenges from all sources, especially safe and effective products, services and technologies. Linda’s philosophy is simple: she is only interested in things that work.
ResilientMe, Inc offers Microcurrent Neurofeedback services which help optimize brain performance for people who have suffered concussions, endure high levels of stress, athletic and professional performance demands, and experience difficulty with memory, concentration and focus.
Linda’s experience includes not only clinical practice but also managing Human Capital Health Management programs for Fortune 100 companies. www.Resilient-Me.com