By Noelle Faulkner
ALL OUR LIVES, WE’VE BEEN TOLD AGEING IS INEVITABLE, BUT WHAT IF IT WASN’T? AND WHAT IF YOU COULD TAKE IT INTO YOUR OWN HANDS? ENTER: THE BRAVE WORLD OF BIOHACKING
Just a few years ago, if you had said the road to the fountain of youth was paved with ice baths, salt juice, supplements you’d never heard of and bouts of self-induced starvation, people would have thought you were mad. But, biotechnology moves fast, and these alternate practices, among many others, are starting to show real clinical promise — especially when it comes to not only slowing ageing but seriously reversing the clock. Science fiction, right? No, biohacking.
Biohacking can be defined as the practice of optimising the body’s chemistry or physiology through science and/or self-experimentation. Putting your phone down 30 minutes before bed? Biohack. Macronutrient counting, pregnancy folate supplements, fitness apps, HIIT workouts, and even taking the contraceptive pill to help regulate hormones are all biohacks. Don’t let the buzzy name fool you, biohacking is a modern umbrella term for something women have been doing for decades, as much as it is the method used by the team of scientists, nutritionists, sleep experts and trainers working in the shadows of professional athletes. In fact, athletic performance enhancement is a precursor to the concept of longevity biohacking. We know now that athletes and fitness enthusiasts who use these methods to enhance their performance live longer, enjoy a better quality of life and will exhibit a younger biological age.
However, as science evolves and gets more advanced, so does the concept of biohacking, especially within anti-ageing space. Evidence suggests that while we can’t change our genetics, we can change the systems that control gene activation by making major lifestyle changes. This is known as epigenetic programming.
“The major driver of ageing, put simply, is a loss of epigenetic information,” says Dr David Sinclair, an Australian biologist, professor at Harvard Medical School’s department of genetics and the author of Lifespan: Why We Age ― and Why We Don’t Have To. “We are complicated creatures, but if you boil it down, you can write it out as one mathematical equation: it’s the loss of information due to entropy … That is what’s lost over time, what leads to disease and what eventually causes us to grow old.” It sounds crazy, but by reprogramming this epigenetic information, Dr Sinclair’s research has shown that, yes, turning back the cellular clock can be done.
The major driver of ageing, put simply, is a loss of epigenetic information
Think of it like this: if there’s a history of cancer in your family, avoiding carcinogens and free radicals won’t change your DNA, but it will greatly reduce the likelihood of those cancer genes being activated. It’s the same with ageing. Your skin is the body’s largest organ, and experts in this space insist that by addressing health on the inside, it will show on the outside — so long as you pair the methods with SPF and regular exercise.
The world of biohacking can be confusing and intimidating. It encompasses everything from neuroplasticity and brain training for better mental clarity to hyperbaric oxygen chamber therapy and DNA data mining. Ageless will explore these methods even further in the following pages. We attended Dave Asprey’s 2021 Upgrade Labs Virtual Biohacking Conference and rounded up the basics, the safest and most scientifically supported biohacking methods to get you started on your longevity journey.
Charge Your Cellular Batteries
Think of mitochondria as the batteries that power every cell in the body. They are very sensitive to their environment and are highly influenced by what you put in your body and how you treat it. When we talk about free-radical damage, it’s the mitochondria that can suffer the most. If they’re not happy, your body is more susceptible to fatigue, excess fat, disease and brain fog. They also play a crucial role in general ageing and age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, so supporting your mitochondria should be your first port of call.
1. Hack the System
Red light therapy and infrared saunas help stimulate collagen and elastin production, increase blood circulation, and reduce inflammation, but they can also energize the mitochondria for cellular production. Consider adding in some high-quality CoQ10, Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA), L-carnitine, vitamin C supplements and upping your antioxidant intake. Avoid sugar, alcohol, tobacco, and refined carbohydrates to reduce free-radical attacks that speed up ageing.
2. Power Up
NAD (or NAD+), known as nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, is a critical coenzyme that decreases with age, diminishing our cellular ability to perform essential functions. There are NAD+ supplements on the market, but its building-block cousins, NR (nicotinamide riboside; related to vitamin B3) and NMN (nicotinamide mononucleotide), have shown clinical clock-altering success when supplemented and can help to reduce inflammation. NMN can also be found in broccoli, cabbage, cucumber and avocado.
“Inflammation exacerbates ageing and age-related diseases,” says Dr Sinclair. It’s a sentiment echoed by many experts worldwide and one of the key pillars of Asprey’s Bulletproof lifestyle. Studies have shown that reducing inflammation can be a high-yielding, long-term anti-ageing tool, though there’s no point in treating inflammation if we don’t also address our body’s immune functions. Prolonged stress will exasperate inflammation, so think like a biohacker and get the best out of this lifestyle: adopt a view that looks at stress, immunity and inflammation as a holistic age-smashing strategy.
1. Hack the System
Supplement or consume plenty of healthy fats, selenium, vitamin A, marine oils (such as green-lipped mussel oil), curcumin (found in turmeric) and L-theanine (in green tea). The mushrooms Lion’s Mane, Chaga and Red Reishi are also gaining serious traction for their superpower immunity and stress-lowering and anti-inflammatory properties. Dr Sinclair also recommends the super-supplement Resveratrol for its organ-protective properties. (Take it with some fat for optimal absorption.)
2. Power Up
Cold therapy has been shown to drastically improve immunity, support the lymphatic and circulatory systems, raise the metabolic rate up to 16 per cent, and improve mental clarity. While this could mean starting the day with a cold shower or swimming in a non-heated pool, many biohackers invest in commercial ice machines to facilitate a daily ice bath.
Fasting for Longevity
Ever since bestselling books The 5:2 Diet Book by Kate Harrison and The Obesity Code by Dr Jason Fung put intermittent fasting on the mainstream map, more and more people are seeing its benefits not only for weight loss but also for disease prevention and longevity. So don’t write it off as a trend, as a body of research shows it to be a very promising tool. It can lower insulin levels, increase cellular repair (particularly post-virus or disease), reduce inflammation and decrease stress hormones.
1. Hack the System
Intermittent fasting comes in different forms. There’s the 18:6 method (18-hour fast, six-hours eating), 16:8, 13:11 (sunset to sundown), OMAD (one meal a day), 5:2 (500-600 calories two non-consecutive days of the week, normal eating the other five days) and 24-hour fasts. Some evidence shows that long fasts can negatively disrupt hormones in some perimenopausal and postmenopausal women. In this case, the recommendation is to start with an OMAD or 13/11 (sunrise to sundown) fast to see how you feel.
2. Power Up
Because 20 per cent of our fluids come from our food, it’s essential to stay extra hydrated during your fast. Black coffee, tea and non-caloric drinks are all fine, but be sure to up your water intake too. Fasting also depletes your electrolytes, which you need for bodily function, preventing muscle cramps and fatigue. Keeping this balance up will also help prevent the urge to binge once the fast breaks. Sip on an electrolyte powder or make your own by mixing 1 tsp pink Himalayan salt, 1 tsp potassium chloride with 1L water — just don’t consume more than two servings of this a day.
Lifespan: Why We Age ― and Why We Don’t Have To, by Dr David Sinclair (Atria Books); Super Human: The Bulletproof Plan to Age Backward and Maybe Even Live Forever, by Dave Asprey (Thorsons); In the Flo: Unlock Your Hormonal Advantage and Revolutionize Your Life, by Alisa Vitti (HarperOne).
Zero Fasting, Brain.FM for focus music, Headspace for mental health, Sleep Cycle, Lumosity for brain training, Exist.io for comprehensive bio-data tracking, Moodnotes for mood logging, Track My Stack for keeping on top of your medication, treatments and supplements.