If you’ve listened to or read any of Dave Asprey or Mark Hyman's work, you've probably heard of the term biohacking. In short, it's a term used to reference quick and efficient ways to improve, or shall I saw ‘maximize’, your health and fitness to make you feel your best and live the longest. Intermittent fasting, bullet coffees, HIIT and ketosis are all examples of this trend, and at its core it is about about making shifts to your daily habits and routines to help you achieve longevity. It also focuses on the concept of nutrigenomics, which is the diet’s influence on your genetics.
And while we might see acute results from these trends, like weight loss, clearer skin or more energy, the real question is what does it ultimately mean for our health long-term? Does it actually keep us younger longer, does it lengthen our lifespan, and does it truly prevent disease. Lets break down this biohacking trend and explore the answers to these questions. What does Biohacking your diet involve? Biohacking trends like intermittent fasting or the ketogenic diet differs from traditional diets in that it doesn't focus on counting calories or limiting the types of food you can eat—it's more about encouraging your body to be in its most optimal state. Dave Asprey, who created the Bulletproof Diet, coined the term. His diet advocates consuming only grass-fed butter and ghee (clarified butter) along with other "healthy" fats like coconut oil and avocado oil. He also suggests drinking Bulletproof Coffee daily: coffee blended with MCT oil (medium chain triglycerides) and grass-fed butter or ghee. While this diet might sound extreme, many people are embracing this biohacker lifestyle and claiming to reaping the benefits of better health, such as improved blood flow and blood pressure, increased energy level, and weight loss. These changes can also help lower the risk of certain conditions, such as heart disease. What does the research say? The data for biohacking your diet seems to show the most promising results occur when the timing of food consumption aligns with our biological clock. Unlike dietary restriction, which reduces caloric intake, intermittent fasting does not. It merely limits feeding to specific hours of the day. Studies on flies showed an extension in lifespan of 18% in females, and 13% in males when following an intermittent fasting schedule, but was only seen when food was consumed in accordance to their circadian rhythm, not just the duration of their fasts (1) (Ie. the flies that followed the same fasting window but fasted all day and ate all night did not see these same results). This is remarkable, since is provides a big clue into how fasting influences longevity. The data shows that autophagy, which is like a cellular cleaning process involving the breakdown down and elimination of cellular resources, only occurs when fasting is done at night, suggesting an important relationship between your circadian rhythm and fasting in order for it to benefit your health and longevity. Autophagy to date has been intimately linked to slowing the aging process and promoting a healthier lifespan, its exact mechanism still remains unclear (2). Is Biohacking Only Diet Related? No. The ultimate biohacking strategy can also include optimizing your sleep patterns, your movement and exercise routines, your mood, and your blood sugar/metabolic hormones. All of these factors influence the length of our telemetres, which is a component of our chromosomes that protect our DNA from damage & provide an estimate of cellular aging and influence of oxidative stress on our cells. To biohack your sleep pattern, sleep at least 7 hours per night. Sleep is essential for brain health, hormone balance, and immune system function, but more specifically, research suggests sleeping more than 7 hours per night is associated with preserving telomere length (3). To biohack your exercise, bone health, and mood, incorporate exercises such as yoga or pilates into your daily routine. These exercises are great for improving body function and muscle strength, as well as reducing stress to support our mental health. In related studies, it was reported that telomere length shortening can be reduced with moderate levels of physical activity, compared to inactivity (4). They are also beneficial to our mood, as studies show just two 60 min yoga classes per week were as effective at managing depression as the leading SSRI therapies. Moreover, the available literature suggests that inflammation significantly contributes to telomere breakdown, and that mood disorder patients are more vulnerable to low-grade inflammation and shorter telomeres, compared to healthy individuals (5). Lastly, maintaining a stable blood sugar level also appears remarkably important. Studies found that 2-h post prandial (after eating) blood glucose, but not fasting blood glucose, was inversely associated with telomere length (6). This means that its more important to focus on the volume of glucose you consume in a serving as well as what you pair it with to influence how it absorbs, vs your blood sugar in a fasted state with respect to your ‘healthspan’ (the state of your health over your lifespan). Biohacking your diet and lifestyle certianly appears to optimize all aspects of your wellness to produce better results than just focusing on one or two elements that are know to be ‘bad for you’ or are sabotaging your own efforts (like exercising more but eating junk food). However, each person is unique and not all of these recommendations apply to everyone. To learn more about ways to optimize your health, energy, and metabolism, reach out to Dr. Courtney Holmberg , ND at (647) 351-7282 to book a consultation today. References:
Ulgherait, M., Midoun, A.M., Park, S.J. et al. Circadian autophagy drives iTRF-mediated longevity. Nature 598, 353–358 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03934-0
Aman, Y., Schmauck-Medina, T., Hansen, M. et al. Autophagy in healthy aging and disease. Nat Aging 1, 634–650 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43587-021-00098-4
Lee KA, Gay C, Humphreys J, Portillo CJ, Pullinger CR, Aouizerat BE. Telomere length is associated with sleep duration but not sleep quality in adults with human immunodeficiency virus. Sleep. 2014 Jan 1;37(1):157-66. doi: 10.5665/sleep.3328. PMID: 24470704; PMCID: PMC3902878.
Song S, Lee E, Kim H. Does Exercise Affect Telomere Length? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Medicina (Kaunas). 2022 Feb 5;58(2):242. doi: 10.3390/medicina58020242. PMID: 35208566; PMCID: PMC8879766.
Squassina A, Pisanu C, Vanni R. Mood Disorders, Accelerated Aging, and Inflammation: Is the Link Hidden in Telomeres? Cells. 2019 Jan 15;8(1):52. doi: 10.3390/cells8010052. PMID: 30650526; PMCID: PMC6356466.
Khalangot M, Krasnienkov D, Vaiserman A, Avilov I, Kovtun V, Okhrimenko N, Koliada A, Kravchenko V. Leukocyte telomere length is inversely associated with post-load but not with fasting plasma glucose levels. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2017 Apr;242(7):700-708. doi: 10.1177/1535370217694096. Epub 2017 Jan 1. PMID: 28299976; PMCID: PMC5363693.