By Cliff Harvey PhD, DipFit, DipNat

The idea of bio-hacking was once the domain of small groups of nerdy types, trying to manipulate genes, mushrooms, plants and other living things (including the human body) to boost productivity and performance. Now, the concept has grown to encompasses the growing movement towards a more ‘quantified self’ and ‘hacking’ one’s own body to increase performance, or health. While a lot of the ‘hacking’ movement has become (or always was!) a little silly. Many of us, without buying into the ‘woo’ have, for a long time, striven to improve our health, performance, effectiveness, and overall human potential with various diet, movement, and supplement ‘hacks’.

The quantified self

A lot of biohacking involves the use of gadgets to measure body systems and their functions, to make improvements. This ranges in complexity from measuring body-composition with body-fat scales, through to the use of fitness, sleep and activity trackers (like Fitbit, Apple watch, and other similar wearable devices), through to meditation aids like ‘Muse’ and highly complex, emerging technologies such as continuous blood glucose and other blood measure trackers.

Hacking diet and lifestyle for improved performance

Often though, when people talk nowadays about bio-hacking, they’re referring to the use of  various supplements or lifestyle techniques to improve health and performance, and especially to boost mental and cognitive function.

Some of the key benefits claimed are:

  • Improved body composition (less fat, more muscle)
  • Improved mental focus and cognition
  • Reduced risk of disease, especially diabetes and neurodegenerative disorders (like Alzheimer’s)

How to hack the diet…

Start with the basics

When a lot of people start delving into bio-hacking for health and performance, they miss the forest for the trees! No amount of ‘hacking’ using supplements or gadgets will make up for a poor diet…

SO, the first step in hacking the diet, is to focus on the basics. Many people nowadays are not getting all the vitamins and minerals that they require from diet alone. And so, focusing on a few, key basics is the most important hack of all!

  1. Make sure ~80% of your diet is based on natural, unprocessed foods

The evidence is now pretty clear, that more important than the type of diet you follow (i.e. low-carb, vegan, paleo, primal, Mediterranean), the greatest protective effect on health from diet is one that reduces or eliminates most processed and refined foods and focusses instead on whole foods rich in essential nutrients.

  1. Eat at least 6 servings of vegetables and berries per day

There is a linear association between improved health and intake of vegetables, fruits, and berries!1 Veggies and berries in particular are powerhouse sources of prebiotic (gut-supporting) fibres, and vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant chemicals that not only support health, but are cofactors for optimal physical and mental performance.

  1. Drink two large glasses of water upon rising

So many people try to ‘hack’ other aspects of health but forget about hydration! Dehydration will affect mental and physical performance more, and faster, than anything else. By having two large glasses of water, first thing upon rising, you offset night-time dehydration and get back to full function much faster.

  1. Don’t snack!

Snacking rives poorer eating behaviours which can sabotage energy levels and cognitive function. Studies also show that snacking drives eating patterns that lead to poorer weight maintenance.2 You’re better off sticking to 2-4 proper, balanced meals per day, than snacking.

  1. Take a whole-food based multi that includes a wide array of ‘secondary’ nutrients

Many people simply do not get all the vitamins, minerals, and secondary nutrients they need, each and every day and some foods may not have the same amounts of nutrients as they once did. 3, 4  A whole-food based multi-nutrient that provides your daily requirement of the essential vitamins and minerals, along with adaptogenic herbs, health-promoting mushrooms, vegetables, and berries (like Nuzest Good Green Vitality), can help to support your overall health,5, 6 reduce stress,7 improve sleep,8 and boost brain function.9

Then look into ‘ergogens’ and ‘nootropics’

Once your diet overall is pretty much ‘on point’ you might want to look into other, more esoteric supplements to help boost your physical performance (an ‘ergogenic supplement’) or to boost your brain power (a ‘nootropic’). There are plenty of supplements that can help, and a lot of them have pretty strong scientific evidence. These are a few of my favourites:

  • Lion’s Mane mushrooms: Shown in studies to increase focus and cognition, physical performance, and to help brain-cells to repair!10-17
  • Medium chain triglycerides: A type of fat that is absorbed differently to others, going straight to the liver where it can be converted to ‘ketones’ a type of fuel that the brain and body can use very effectively. MCTs are also associated with improved satiety, and increased fat-burning.18
  • Coffee! Despite the bad rap that coffee gets from many in the health world, it’s actually associated with improved health outcomes up to around 3-5 cups per day!19 Of course, some people are more sensitive to caffeine and should avoid or reduce it, but overall, it provides a great brain-boost, reduced perceived exertion, improved fat-burning (and ketone creation) and it’s a rich source if antioxidants. (Coffee lovers….you’re welcome.)
  • For an added ‘boost’ try either Cordyceps Coffee or Lion’s Mane Coffee

…and don’t forget about lifestyle!

Just like with diet, no amount of supplements will make up for poor sleep or lack of exercise. So, make sure that you are getting around 7-9 hours of good quality sleep, exercise, including daily walking, movement and mobility, and a few strength sessions per week. Mindfulness is also a critical ‘biohacking’ technique with a host of benefits ranging from improved sleep, better eating habits, reduced stress, and positive benefits for the huge range of health conditions for which it’s been studied.

 

References

  1. Aune D, Giovannucci E, Boffetta P, Fadnes LT, Keum N, Norat T, et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality-a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. International journal of epidemiology. 2017.
  2. Berteus Forslund H, Torgerson JS, Sjostrom L, Lindroos AK. Snacking frequency in relation to energy intake and food choices in obese men and women compared to a reference population. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2005;29(6):711-9.
  3. Davis DR, Epp MD, Riordan HD. Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2004;23(6):669-82.
  4. University of Otago and Ministry of Health. A Focus on Nutrition: Key findings of the 2008/09 New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey. Wellington; 2011.
  5. Huang H-Y, Caballero B, Chang S, Alberg AJ, Semba RD, Schneyer CR, et al. The Efficacy and Safety of Multivitamin and Mineral Supplement Use To Prevent Cancer and Chronic Disease in Adults: A Systematic Review for a National Institutes of Health State-of-the-Science Conference. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2006;145(5):372-85.
  6. Alexander DD, Weed DL, Chang ET, Miller PE, Mohamed MA, Elkayam L. A Systematic Review of Multivitamin–Multimineral Use and Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer Incidence and Total Mortality. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2013;32(5):339-54.
  7. Macpherson H, Rowsell R, Cox KHM, Scholey A, Pipingas A. Acute mood but not cognitive improvements following administration of a single multivitamin and mineral supplement in healthy women aged 50 and above: a randomised controlled trial. AGE. 2015;37(3):1-10.
  8. Sarris J, Cox KHM, Camfield DA, Scholey A, Stough C, Fogg E, et al. Participant experiences from chronic administration of a multivitamin versus placebo on subjective health and wellbeing: a double-blind qualitative analysis of a randomised controlled trial. Nutrition Journal. 2012;11(1):1-10.
  9. Harris E, Macpherson H, Vitetta L, Kirk J, Sali A, Pipingas A. Effects of a multivitamin, mineral and herbal supplement on cognition and blood biomarkers in older men: a randomised, placebo-controlled trial. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental. 2012;27(4):370-7.
  10. Mori K, Inatomi S, Ouchi K, Azumi Y, Tuchida T. Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytotherapy Research. 2009;23(3):367-72.
  11. Liu J, Du C, Wang Y, Yu Z. Anti-fatigue activities of polysaccharides extracted from Hericium erinaceus. Experimental and therapeutic medicine. 2015;9(2):483-7.
  12. Park YS, Lee HS, Won MH, Lee JH, Lee SY, Lee HY. Effect of an exo-polysaccharide from the culture broth of Hericium erinaceus on enhancement of growth and differentiation of rat adrenal nerve cells. Cytotechnology. 2002;39(3):155.
  13. Nagano M, Shimizu K, Kondo R, Hayashi C, Sato D, Kitagawa K, et al. Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks <I>Hericium erinaceus</I> intake. Biomedical Research. 2010;31(4):231-7.
  14. Wong K-H, Vikineswary S, Naidu M, Keynes R. Activity of Aqueous Extracts of Lion's Mane Mushroom <i>Hericium erinaceus</i> (Bull.: Fr.) Pers. (Aphyllophoromycetideae) on the Neural Cell Line NG108-15. 2007;9(1):57-65.
  15. Wong K-H, Naidu M, David P, Abdulla MA, Abdullah N, Kuppusamy UR, et al. Peripheral Nerve Regeneration Following Crush Injury to Rat Peroneal Nerve by Aqueous Extract of Medicinal Mushroom Hericium erinaceus (Bull.: Fr) Pers. (Aphyllophoromycetideae). Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2011;2011:10.
  16. Wong K-H, Naidu M, David RP, Abdulla MA, Kuppusamy UR. Functional Recovery Enhancement Following Injury to Rodent Peroneal Nerve by Lion's Mane Mushroom, <i>Hericium erinaceus</i> (Bull.: Fr.) Pers. (Aphyllophoromycetideae). 2009;11(3):225-36.
  17. Moldavan M, Grygansky AP, Kolotushkina OV, Kirchhoff B, Skibo GG, Pedarzani P. Neurotropic and Trophic Action of Lion's Mane Mushroom <i>Hericium erinaceus</i> (Bull.: Fr.) Pers. (Aphyllophoromycetideae) Extracts on Nerve Cells <i>in Vitro</i>. 2007;9(1):15-28.
  18. Harvey CJdC, Schofield GM, Williden M. The use of nutritional supplements to induce ketosis and reduce symptoms associated with keto-induction: a narrative review. PeerJ. 2018;6:e4488.
  19. Harvey C. 2017. Available from: https://www.patreon.com/posts/is-coffee-poison-13896499.

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