Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Just Call Me the Lazy Biohacker

Time for an update! I bit ago, I posted about my offseason in which I'll be pursuing personal goals, and in that I mentioned biohacking. I'm doing plenty to achieve my personal goals, but in the process I got to thinking about what biohacking actually means vs. just doing things to be better off, i.e. people workout to lose weight and get fit, and it makes them better, but that's not really biohacking.

So what's the difference with biohacking that sets it apart? Basically you're looking at using the scientific method for DIY experiments; in other words, taking control of your biology (mind, body, health, wellness, specific ailments, etc) through self-experimentation to achieve optimal health, kick ass every day and become the best version of yourself. Each biohack has specific variables to manipulate to achieve a desired outcome. Keeping it controlled as possible is ideal. Certain technologies, tools and practices can be carefully used in the process, and sometimes this involves a lot of $$$. Personally, I'm willing to invest a little here and there (like an HRV app for $5 or quality coffee that's mold-free), but by no means can I drop cash like your Dave Aspreys of the world (who's spent hundreds of thousands).

As a result, I realized I'm not necessarily doing pure biohacking. Dang it! Failed already haha... But here's what I am doing: I am listening to a lot of biohacker podcasts, reading their blogs, doing further research, etc, and then applying what the biohackers have had success with to my life when it makes sense to my specific goals. In other words, I let them do the hard sciencey DIY experiments to see what works and reap the benefits. Smart, right!? I'm hacking the biohackers!!  As such, I have quite a few variables at work here and am not really controlling for many of them as you do in legit research. I am still kinda/sorta tracking and measuring my results, but it's hard to pinpoint success to one or even a few variables.

Conclusion? We'll call what I'm doing "lazy biohacking" - I highly recommend it :) The bottom line for the lazy biohacker:
1) Research what other biohackers have done that apply to your needs/desires.
2) Have the patience to practice these biohacks and let them sink in (nothing happens overnight).
2) Be consistent.
3) Be committed.

My "Lazy" Biohacks
These are a few I've been focusing on. You'll see how involved they are. A scientist's worst nightmare with like 30 variables haha.

1) Gut Health
Our gut is literally our second brain. Hence the term "gut feeling" - that's not just made up. A healthy gut can do wonders for us everything from good digestion to better brain function. It affects immune health, hormonal balance, mood, susceptibility to autoimmune disorders, and so on. I personally don't have glaring problems with my gut health (i.e. no leaky gut that I'm aware of), but have had symptoms of what could be considered gut problems, and am quite frankly far from perfect from achieving true "clean gut" status. So, I'm testing things out and making some changes in regards to gut health to see if that improves my quality of life and such.

Where to start on the quest for a clean gut? Namely adopting "clean eating." Yea yea, we've heard that term. but what does that actually mean? It doesn't mean trusting what's on the shelves of Trader Joe's or the like because they carry it and it looks healthy. Even be careful at Whole Paycheck. You can use the concepts of Paleo and Bulletproof for basics on a clean diet. Or look into books like Clean Gut, which is a great resource; here's a good guide for a clean gut diet from the author of that book. Personally, I use those "diets" and lists as guides but not end-all-be-all's. I'm still debating if I want to do Clean Gut's full 21-day detox. Hm. In the meantime, some simple things I'm testing:

-Hot water with lemon every morning on an empty stomach. Here are 10 reasons why.
-Less frequent intake of those things that can be addictive/harmful i.e. coffee/caffeine, alcohol and sugar
-On that note: No more beer. Did a little experimenting, and it turns out the yeast and gluten in beer really was not settling well with me, and its effects were something I once shrugged my shoulders at, but I was noticing even just a little beer would throw me off big time. Trying craft beers is fun, but I'm better off without it and don't miss it one bit.
-Less fruit - only organic berries, and the occasional apple.
-More probiotics
-Digestive enzymes, especially if a meal is going to be a little "harsh" on the gut.
-Eating slowly and not gorging myself to being uncomfortably full (simple idea, but very important). Clean Gut guy recommends eating until you're about 80% full. Hm.
-Clean protein all the time. At this point, I'd rather be vegetarian for a night than eat a sketchy piece of meat or farmed fish. Or things like eggs, which we love: I'm adamant about buying them from the farmers market from folks with whom I've spoken to on how the chickens are treated, what they eat, etc. If buying from the store, I only get organic/free-range/soy-free/omega-3. (I'll admit, just over a year ago I was still eating that liquid egg substitute or only doing egg whites - whaaaaat?!?!)
-Awareness of mycotoxins - toxins from molds found in foods, drinks like coffee, etc. I'm mot perfect here, but I conscious of the issue and trying to lessen my exposure.
-Drinking juice more often; not fruit juice, but things like this.
-Gastrointestinal profile test. To come....
-Abiding by key words on my shopping list: organic, grass-fed, free range, pasture-raised, wild, soy-free, gluten-free, full fat, local, fermented, etc.


2) Hormonal Balance
I'll admit, I've suffered from some hormonal imbalances this year, and while nothing is extremely serious, it definitely has affected my quality of life. I refuse to take the band-aid route by getting prescriptions and pills. Heck no. I'll cure this one on my own without the drugs, thanks. I won't go into details of my specific issues just yet, but this quest to regain balance is about more than just me. Why? because I know I'm not alone! This year especially, I've heard from so so so many women (and men!) about their own hormonal problems (athletes and otherwise), and if I can figure out some solutions or increase awareness on achieving healthy hormonal status, I'm in!

Before my list, a little rant: It's not surprising to see all these hormonal problems in folks this day in age, as there is so much crap out there that can ruin your endocrine system and throw you off balance. Things we may not even have on our radars as threats, like absorbing unfiltered water from our showers, or the gut health stuff that I mention above. We can also disrupt our hormones by our own personal issues, namely stress. Of course, in my case, it's likely the "stress" of triathlon training played a role in making things off too, but I've done that extreme stuff in past years and have been fine. I know that, for me, endurance training is not the sole culprit. Still, I'm obviously scaling back for an extended period to see what that will do (and resisting the urge to start training again already!). I've already noticed improvements in my morning HRV readings -- lower stress, higher HRV -- with less training (and worrying about fitting in training), not surprising. And ya know what? I don't even care that I'm out of shape endurance-wise. Honest. 

Anyway, here's the evolving list of things I'm doing to take control of my hormone health and see how I can get back to a good baseline:

-Reading and education is of utmost importance (and also a relaxing activity). This may or may not improve my hormonal status, but it gives me the tools I need to effect change. I'm a firm believer in taking charge of your health and not always trusting your doctor. For example: Know what your blood test numbers mean. Read books, (ladies: check out this book by a natural doctor who's been there and gets it). Listen to podcasts on relevant issues. Research peer-reviewed journals/articles.
- Getting blood work and saliva tests. This was step #1 in understanding and awareness (did this back in June; will repeat in ~Dec). Do this, and please don't self-diagnose based on a google search. Please.
-Taking an extended offseson, as mentioned above, and still exercising for good health and for fun but not training or looking at performance.
-(Near) daily HRV. This keeps me in tune with my stress and nervous system. The goal is to be chiiiillllll. Almost every morning these days I'm 10-20 points higher in HRV than I was in Aug/Sept.
-Stress management. So many things to do here, and I'm just scratching the surface: Scheduling breaks in the work day to chill, deep breathing exercises, using positive language, HRV measuring, taking walks, recognizing that feeling of being overwhelmed and managing it/preventing it rather than letting it spiral out of control, healthy social interactions, not rushing, not letting the little things get to me...heck, I'm even taking up painting again as a stress-free fun activity.
-Bikram yoga. See above on stress management; although, I think Bikram deserves its own bullet point. I'm obsessed with this 90min practice! It has known benefits for hormonal health, among other advantages (see #3 on posture and shoulder issues). I've been doing it ~2x a week. Bliss.
-Eliminating as many endocrine disruptors as possible. Huge.
-On the topic of eliminating and/or buying new things: Incorporating more organic and natural products beyond food i.e. toiletries, makeup (although, I don't even wear much), house cleaning products, laundry detergent, etc. Yes, a tad more costly, but really not that bad!
-Also, an improved water filtration system (later Brita, hello reverse osmosis). Additives and chemicals in our water can screw with your health, and yes, fluoride is NOT good, so avoid it. Next up will be getting a filtration fixture for the shower (sadly we rent so I can't get a whole-house system).
-Appointments with the right specialists. For example, I had an eval of my root canals to see if there are any underlying infections and/or toxicity that could be contributing. (Dental health is a big culprit in not just hormonal health, but in overall health. I heard a stat that 90+% of terminal cancer patients had some sort of dental problem. Not all cases are that extreme; google "dental meridians" to see how each tooth is tied to something else in your body.)
-Allergy testing (foods, etc). Haven't had a complete exam yet, but it's on my list.
-NO fasting. The reason I bring this up is not because I was doing it, but because fasting, and intermittent fasting, is actually recommended for gut health (see #2) and in Paleo/bulletproof, but won't do it because it definitely can have adverse effects in women. Read more here.


3) Better Posture/Shoulders
Last but not least. This one's definitely a little more random unique to me, and a problem I've had for life,. I'm kyphotic with a terrible forward shoulder roll. Postural kyphosis is an abnormal curvature of the thoracic spine and differs in severity. Mine is not uber severe but imagine slouching gone bad to the point where shoulders are set in the wrong place and your thoracic spine hunches out slightly and has terrible mobility. I also have some degree of anterior pelvic tilt, which is related, but I've improved that from what it was at one point. The kyphosis causes several symptoms from back pain and soreness to muscle imbalance, scapular winging and the inability to fire the right muscles at the right time (swim!). My upper traps and neck are always tight and in some level of discomfort or pain. This makes cycling painful, and more so it hinders my ability to swim well -- that imbalance combined with less than stellar technique, and I'm swimming poorly. I've done some corrective exercises for a long time fairly regularly, but apparently not enough to solve the issue. But that's it. I will no longer live life, swim, sit, whatever, in a way that reinforces bad habits/form. What needs to be done is CHANGE. I'm determined now.

This is possibly my most sciency biohack, as there are fewer variables, and I'm paying close attention to what each is doing for me:
-Bikram yoga 2x a week, this is SO helpful for body awareness, posture and alignment. Already noticing subtle differences. (Do you see a recurring theme with this yoga stuff - I'm a convert!)
-Using a stability ball as a chair or standing on my knees more often when working/podcasting
-Breaks from the desk. We fatigue, revert to old habits and screw with muscles/form when sitting or in one position for a long time; I'm getting up to move around more frequently to get my attention back to posture, even if for a minute!
-Changing sleep habits and not rounding out shoulders when laying on my side. This is tough since I'm sleeping, but I'im trying, and have noticed myself making it happen.
-A professional functional movement screening (with a normalized scoring system and all) and followup "homework" with corrective exercises. I will have a followup blog dedicated to this FMS soon! Very cool stuff!

Maybe all that isn't so lazy!


  1. Great post! I didn't realize I have been bio hacking for so long myself! You touched n so many great points, I will be busy checking it all out for awhile. What I admire most is the realism you have in identifying issues and possible problems and being proactive about it. I have struggled with gut issues for a couple years now, in part to antibiotics I was prescribed and like a dummy took, which did some major damage. It is MUCH harder to repair than it is to prevent. As an athlete, so many little things need to work together for good performance and it is sometimes so frustrating when your best is 60% because all the duckies aren't in a row correctly. Thanks for a great post!

  2. hello, first i would like to congratulate you on a very informative blog..i read your post and am wondering on your opinion on a problem i've been having for a couple of years. ive told my doctors i think it is my exercise regimen that is causing my hormonal imbalances but they deny that has anything to do with it. As a consequence, i have been receiving regular iron infusions by IV, now going on 4 years. i deplete my iron stores and that causes me to be very anemic. they have checked everything and there's nothing wrong with me..yet,without these IV treatments i would not be able to survive. As you know low iron affects everything at the cellular level i have looked at my diet & exercise and i can only assume its something hormonal affected by the strain of a busy life.
    any thoughts on this? im 39 mother of 3, full time job and active (swim,bike, run,yoga,bikram,gym etc)
    Thank you for your time