Chapter 1 - experiment
“Knowledge is a function of being. When there is a change in the being of the knower, there is a corresponding change in the nature and amount of knowing.” — Aldous Huxley
Growing up in the small town of Lenox, Massachusetts, as the son of a divorced mother and an enlisted Navy father on a paltry salary, I often felt like I was on the outside looking in. Lenox was a suburban tourist destination in the Berkshires for the wealthy and beautiful elite; prosperous New Yorkers would visit to listen to the symphony at Tanglewood, watch plays at the Berkshire Performing Arts Center, hike at Canyon Ranch and eat dessert at Cheesecake Charlie’s. Lenox had an air of affluence...heck, our school team name was even pretentious—the “Lenox Millionaires”—and I kid you not, our mascot was the Monopoly guy.
To make matters worse, I was the “fat kid.”
I was pretty smart, but when it came to playing team sports, I was usually picked last. Girls never passed me letters, exchanged looks with me or whispered to other girls about asking me out; nope, instead they would whisper the types of things to each other that made them laugh. And, of course, the popular boys would join in.
I remember waiting at the school bus stop, dreading what the day would bring and the cruel things they would say, like “You fat f*ck” or “Sit down, fat ass.” Even teachers would point out my weight and laugh—encouraging, if not instigating, the bullying.
I felt ugly. I struggled to find any self-worth. I was not the alpha male like Glenn Hoff, who killed it at every sport. I was not the boy who the girls hoped would ask them to dance or to the movies—that was Ryan Thomas, the tall, handsome soccer star and salutatorian.
One thing I had going for me was that I was funny. Maybe that was my way of coping and deflecting the bullying. I got good at making people laugh, but there was a cost: I learned to make fun of myself—before others could. It was my way of surviving and, in a strange way, connecting.
Deep down, I lived with pain. I didn’t take drugs, watch porn or drink alcohol to soothe my pain. Instead, I self-medicated with soda, candy, chips, junk food and video games. And to no surprise, my struggles with obesity only got worse. Any short-term relief was fleeting, compounding the depression.
I was living with a major lack of love, for myself and from others. As I learned over time, the opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s fear. I lived in constant fear—fear of other kids, fear of school, fear of looking in the mirror and seeing that chubby kid looking back.
When I say I struggled with my weight, let me make something clear: I wasn’t just fat; I also had a large rear end—fat ass, as they called me. Scientifically, it is known as a “gynoid fat distribution,” a pear shape that’s more common among females than males. But that was me. Skinny up top, disproportionately fat in the butt and legs—so much so, in fact, that my legs would rub together. The short shorts they gave me for gym class…well, they took the laughter from snickers to unabashed heckling. Added to that, my life at home was chaotic with both of my brothers running away. One was a model and one was a star athlete, both of which I looked up to, but fell short of. On top of all that, I also had lots of acne, so as you could imagine, I wasn’t brimming over with self-esteem, especially next to my “rock star” brothers.
Despite my lack of self-confidence, crappy nutrition and the relentless bullying I endured, I managed to make it through high school with good grades—but I knew I had to change. I didn’t want to be the fat kid or the bullied kid for the rest of my life. Just as I’d found ways to be funny to make up for whatever I lacked, I knew I’d find a way to fix everything else, too.
In 1992, I decided I would study business at Babson College, the number one ranked business specialty school by U.S. News and World Report. It was in Wellesley, Massachusetts, outside of Boston. Meanwhile, I’d started reading Muscle Media 2000 and Muscular Development magazines to get to work on changing my body. There were pictures of guys who were absolutely shredded with huge muscles—but there were also example workouts and supplements to try to help you build muscle.
I’d known about supplements since I was really young, because my mom was one of the first people I knew who touted the use of high-dose (orthomolecular) vitamins. She made me and my brothers take vitamin C when we were young and she kept up with various health trends. Even though I knew from a young age that vitamins could be highly effective, discovering creatine was something entirely different—it gave me real, serious energy and helped me power through my workouts. After tinkering and experimenting with different exercises, supplements and proteins, I started finding out what worked for me. My clothes became looser and I put on 10 pounds of muscle in a month. This is really working, I thought.
In 1993, everyone was talking about a book called Optimum Sports Nutrition by Dr. Michael Colgan, which contained all kinds of stacks with supplements and dietary tricks to enhance athletic performance used by the Olympic athletes he was working with. I absolutely devoured it, reading it probably 100 times through. Another book that made an impact on me was Sports Supplement Review by Bill Phillips. He went through different supplements and rated them, and I couldn’t wait try some of them for myself. Creatine, Vanadyl Sulfate, Glutamine…the doses, stacks, timing, ratings…I was learning so much and felt a sense of hope and enthusiasm that was new to me. The idea was planted in my mind that this was something I could dedicate my life to—I could be a sports nutritionist or an ingredient formulator myself and share my discoveries with the world!
Before enrolling in school each year, students were required to get a routine physical—and in 1994, before my junior year, I made an appointment to see Dr. Daniel Johnson, my physician in Boston. When I got there, I started rambling on to Dr. Johnson about some supplements I had been using and how helpful they’d been. I was telling him all about the difference I was seeing with creatine, as well as whey protein isolate. As I told him back then, “Someday, I believe people will rely more on supplements and diet than medication.” Instead of scoffing and being dismissive like most doctors would have been (and can still be), Dr. Johnson listened as I shared my passion. What he did next not only stunned me but changed my life.
He quietly turned away, grabbed a piece of paper and drew a line on it with two hash marks on each end, one at 20 (my age at the time) and one at 80. “Why not be happy between here and here?” he said, referring to the 60-year span, or “dash” between those two points. I was looking towards a future when my passion would be appreciated, but Dr. Johnson was suggesting something radical: why not work towards pursuing my passion right now, day in and day out? I was dumbfounded. Did he just give me permission to pursue my dream? A dream I didn’t even know I had until it poured out of me?
During that brief visit, it became clear to both of us that I wasn’t as thrilled about business school as I was about nutrition and supplements. At that time, no one around me was encouraging me to “chase my dreams.” Yet here was my doctor, telling me I could be happy right now. I could embrace the “dash” between birth and death which is where life is lived. That day radically changed my career path; a formerly fat-reared, bullied kid began to dream of becoming the best supplement formulator in the world. I dreamt of creating the world’s most effective, cutting-edge, talked-about supplements that were not only rooted in good science, but that more importantly, changed lives.
For some reason, Dr. Johnson’s opinion and encouragement were all that mattered and all I needed to start pursuing my dream. What he shared with me that day and the way he shared it made sense. My brain and heart would not let it go—and I would experiment as much as I had to to make that dream a reality.
As I realized early in my health and fitness journey, there are no concrete answers that fit everybody. We all have our own bio-individuality, and we all have our own personality quirks. Methods that work for one person don’t always work for another, and before we can find out what does work, we need to know where we stand when we start experimenting.
Before we can build the nutritional, fitness and daily routines that promote vibrant energy, radiant health, steadfast resilience, bulletproof immunity and peak quality of life, we must first answer one question: Where are we right now? What is our baseline? Where do we want to go from there? We need to figure out where the starting and finishing lines are in order to run the race—and it is no different in life.
I know that where I have been and where I am now are vastly different and I still have goals and experiments ahead of me too. I have spent most of my life in the majority. This is not the “in crowd” you want to be in though. Only 1 in 10 Americans is currently achieving optimal metabolic health. This has serious implications for our longevity and energy since poor metabolic health leaves people more vulnerable to developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other serious health issues. It is now the aberration or exception to be “fit”. Together we will go through all the secrets, research, tricks and tips I have learned in my health journey so we can all be on the healthier side of those statistics.
Before we begin, please note: I am not a medical physician; I have spent the better part of two decades of my life as a biochemist, a sports nutritionist and dietitian. Before starting any new health, fitness or nutrition program, you should always consult with your doctor. Nonetheless, one thing I’ve learned personally in two decades of professional scientific work is that the human experience is all about experimentation.
Establishing Your Baseline
Assessing your baseline can be complex, as there are many factors that can affect your energy levels. Whether it’s work, over-exercise, one-sided relationships, poor nutrition, travel, poor sleep or stimulants, many things can cause our “normal baseline” to be less than optimal and lead to low energy and fatigue. In this state, we are merely functioning, living to get through the day as opposed to thriving.
Our energy levels are tied to how well our mitochondria are functioning. Mitochondria are known as the “power plants” of all living things, which includes human beings. In fact, the mitochondria produce about 95 percent of the body’s energy. To put this in perspective, it is estimated that there are over 30 trillion cells in the human body and each cell may have up to 5000 of these mitochondrion (though they are especially prevalent in the brain, heart and muscles). Both mitochondria number and function are critical, and in the absence of a dense network of efficient mitochondria, our ability to live, breathe, move, be energetic and live life to the fullest is severely compromised.
Graphic 2 – The Importance of Mitochondrial Function for Healthy Cells
Mitochondria produce ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate)—the energy "currency” our bodies use to function—and the less ATP they produce, the more fatigued you feel. This makes mitochondrial function the ultimate marker of energy levels. If your mitochondria are small and weak and you have few of them, their output of ATP will be lower; on the other hand, having many mitochondria that are big and robust will lead to more abundant ATP—meaning more energy!
When we don’t produce enough ATP for our body to move and function, we are in a state in research known as “ICE,” or Insufficient Cellular Energy. This shortage of energy makes us feel tired and inefficient and is a state we call mitochondrial dysfunction.
Graphic 3 – Healthy, Robust Mitochondria vs Weak Mitochondria
Using the power plant metaphor, mitochondrial dysfunction comes from a reduction in our number of power plants, from “transportation” issues that make it difficult for cellular raw materials to get to those power plants, or from problems with the “assembly line” inside our power plants (i.e., insufficient “workers” or helper chemicals, such as having inadequate levels of CoQ10 or PQQ). Mitochondrial dysfunction can result from any of these issues, or from many of them at once.
No discussion of the mitochondria or energy production would be complete without mentioning the important healthspan molecule, NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide). While it serves many functions in the body, NAD plays a critical role in energy metabolism by helping to turn food into usable energy. It also helps certain enzymes involved in vital cellular functions, such as cellular repair and cellular defense. NAD has also been referred to as a fundamental housekeeping molecule, a key modulator of cell signaling and survival pathways and a modulator of longevity and health.
Case in point, NAD is the key cellular fuel for the sirtuins, the gatekeepers of key longevity and resilience pathways in the body. For example, sirtuins are thought to be responsible, in large part, for the cardiometabolic benefits of fasting/calorie restriction, high-intensity exercise and cold exposure, and when upregulated, can delay key aspects of aging. For example, sirtuins regulate the activity of genes involved in mitochondrial biogenesis and stress resistance. As such, sirtuins have been regarded as toughness genes. In addition, sirtuins serve many other roles, including DNA repair, tissue regeneration, inflammation reduction, circadian rhythms and more. That being said, sirtuins are NAD-dependent, which means their activity is limited by the availability of this all-important cellular fuel.
Unfortunately, our NAD levels drop with age, and what’s more, chronic inflammation causes a reduction in NAD levels, as does excess alcohol consumption, excess UV exposure, inadequate sleep, poor diet, viral infections and a sedentary lifestyle. To make matters worse, we also experience a rise in CD38, which is involved in our body’s processes of limiting and breaking down NAD. In short: as we get older, our bodies make less NAD, and it disappears faster than when we were young. By the time we hit 50, our NAD levels are half of what they were in our youth. While we know that inflammation causes lower levels of NAD, we also know that lower NAD levels increases inflammation (a term known as “inflammaging”) for a seemingly downward spiral of energy and longevity. No wonder we struggle so much with our energy levels!
Formulator’s Corner – Mitochondrial Health Supplements
Since mitochondrial health is so important, here are my top supplements to support mitochondrial health and function as well as healthy aging:
Nicotinamide Mononucleotide (NMN): NMN supports multiple functions of mitochondria, such as helping regulate cellular energy and delaying aging. The dosage is often 250-500mg/day, but some data suggests larger doses of 1000-2000mg/day, which can get pricey. Some people try Nicotinamide Riboside (NR) and oral NAD or NADH supplements instead, but these are less effective than NMN based on data, testing and my experience. While oral supplementation can be good, NAD+ IV therapy seems to be the most effective way to raise levels (500-1500 mg slow drip). While the data is still lacking, NAD+ nasal spray (dose matters) could be the best option in lieu of IV therapy.
PQQ: Pyrroloquinoline quinone may help increase the number of mitochondria through mitochondrial biogenesis, which is associated with benefits like increased longevity and energy levels; PQQ accomplishes this by acting as a cofactor in the redox (reduction-oxidation) process. I prefer a fermented form of PQQ called BioPQQ with a dose of 10-20 mg taken twice a day.
CoQ10: Ubiquinone is a key cofactor in the mitochondrial electron transport chain. It is one of the most widely recognized and used mitochondrial support supplements. Co-Q10 and PQQ may have synergy. Common dosing ranges between 50-600 mg a day (preferably in the ubiquinol form). Another interesting form is MitoQ, which could potentially be a superior formulation (though more data is needed to confirm that).
Polyphenols: There’s a long list of plant-based phytochemicals with strong bioactive properties—some of which include antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-aging benefits. Some of the top choices include resveratrol (make sure it is the trans-resveratrol form), EGCG, quercetin, fisetin, pterostilbene, sulforaphane and curcumin. Many of these benefit from containing phytosomes and liposomes, which enhance their bioavailability.
L-ergothioneine: This rare amino acid found primarily in mushrooms is a powerful antioxidant. Unusually concentrated in the mitochondria, it may be one of the most powerful ways to rev up the mitochondria. A good dose seems to be 5-10 mg twice daily.
The good news is there are things we can do to naturally raise our NAD levels and reduce the activity of CD38—leading to more robust energy. Fasting and exercise are known to increase NAD levels; in particular, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is especially effective at combating the age-related reduction of NAD levels. There are also two bioactive dietary flavonoids that are especially effective when it comes to inhibiting CD38, namely apigenin (found in parsley, chamomile, oregano and celery) and quercetin (found in apples, red onions, cherries, red grapes and raspberries).
Graphic 4 – NAD Boosting Strategies
Without doing a muscle biopsy or a cellular respiration test in a lab, it’s difficult to measure our exact levels of mitochondrial function; still, we can roughly gauge it through some observational and biological markers. Even if the most accurate testing methods aren’t an option for you, there are three important blood biomarkers that everyone should get tested in order to get a good idea of how well their mitochondria are functioning:
- hsCRP (high-sensitivity C-Reactive Protein): For healthy levels of inflammation, hsCRP should be lower than 3.0mg/L. Too much inflammation can impair mitochondrial function, and that subsequent mitochondrial dysfunction can give rise to even less healthy levels of inflammation. It’s a vicious cycle we should all do our best to avoid.
- HbA1c: Although this is very individualized to the person, HbA1c can give us an idea of our glycation, or blood sugar damage. HbA1c is optimal between 4.0-6.0 percent. In essence, this biomarker is a three-month snapshot of your blood glucose levels. Poor glycemic control is one of the primary variables contributing to mitochondrial dysfunction, as dysfunctional mitochondria may have an impaired ability to use glucose for fuel (leading to “transportation” and “assembly line” issues). The ketogenic diet, which is a very-low-carb and high-fat diet, can help with this, as it results in significant reductions in blood sugar levels and improvements in glycemic control. Ketones, produced through ketosis or taken exogenously as a supplement, can serve as an alternate enesergy source for damaged mitochondria.
- oxLDL (oxidized low-density lipoprotein): This biomarker relates to a more chronic condition of mitochondrial dysfunction, namely oxidation. The more oxidation, the more damaged your mitochondria will be. Oxidized LDL is one of the strongest markers in the potential development of heart disease via inflammation of the arteries—less than 2.3mg/dl is optimal.
Although some of these concepts may seem new to people, mitochondrial resilience is such an underrated and unappreciated part of our health. It will be a major focus in the future, as nearly every disease and almost all biological aging can be tied back to mitochondrial health—and conversely, the feeling of having enough energy is directly related to robust mitochondrial health. We will soon see a major commercial rise in “mito” supplements. Mark my words: “mito” is the next keto!
Graphic 5 – Three Essential Biomarkers to Assess Your Baseline Mitochondrial Function
Other biomarker tests you can take to better understand your energy baseline include Vitamin D3 levels (often measured by testing for 25(OH)D), iron and ferritin levels (oxygen is required to produce energy, and iron levels determine your oxygen-carrying capacity) and thyroid function. According to recent research findings presented at the 2020 European Congress of Endocrinology meeting, vitamin D deficiency is highly predictive of “all-cause mortality,” otherwise known as death from all causes. In fact, researchers found that men with the lowest free 25(OH)D levels had a 91 percent increased risk for death from all causes compared to those with the highest levels of these vitamin D metabolites.
When it comes to thyroid function, I recommend seeing a functional medicine doctor who is experienced with thyroid markers because the blood tests can easily be misread. Other tests include those that assess adrenal function by looking at DHEA (the precursor to testosterone and estrogen) and cortisol levels, both of which can lead to problems with blood glucose control, poor energy levels and sleep challenges when levels are too high or too low. Measuring your waking temperature three days in a row is also a straightforward way to track thyroid issues; if your temperature is chronically below normal, you may have an issue with CBC (complete blood count). What is normal? According to Stanford researchers in 2020, the “new normal” has decreased from 98.6 degrees to 97.9 degrees Fahrenheit. This could be related to the population having a slower metabolism, but seeing where you’re at consistently is the most important data point here.
In order to determine your biological baseline, work with your doctor to get the proper test results or find a functional medicine doctor who can manage such testing. A useful practice is to create an Excel spreadsheet where you track your blood work. Once you get retested, you can compare your before and after results in an easy and structured way. Without drawing blood or sending in a stool sample, there are even simpler ways to examine your energy baseline. Ask yourself:
- How do you feel when you wake up? Are you wide awake or is it a struggle to get out of bed?
- Do you have energy towards the end of the day?
- How difficult are daily tasks such as walking your dog, carrying groceries and taking the stairs? Are they harder than they were in the past?
- What is your emotional state? Are you less emotive or interactive? Are you avoiding social interaction and/or pushing people away?
- Do you get sugar, caffeine or other stimulant cravings regularly?
- Do you have any addictive behaviors? Do you crave dopamine hits?
- Is your hair healthy and are your eyes bright?
- How is your circulation in your hands and feet?
Answering these questions can help you establish a baseline for self-experimentation—and you can ask yourself these questions periodically to assess your improvements. Sometimes the most important biomarkers are the ones we can see ourselves—the trick is to begin paying attention to our health and energy with the same level of care as a lab scientist examining a patient. After all, we are by far the best observers of our own health.
Formulators Corner – Mitochondrial Dysregulation Supplements
We can promote healthy mitochondrial function—and robust energy levels—through nutritional support that helps combat excessive and unhealthy levels of inflammation, oxidation and glycation. Here are some of my favorite supplements for this:
Curcumin: Curcumin is the powerful polyphenol that is thought to be responsible for many of the benefits associated with turmeric, including profound anti-inflammatory effects and a potent ability to support the body’s antioxidant and detoxification systems. Because of curcumin’s poor solubility and absorption, I prefer liposomal curcumin or CurcuWIN (an optimized curcumin preparation), with a dose ranging between 500–1,000 mg a day. A new form called tetrahydrocurcumin may even be superior to curcumin for inflammation, antioxidant activity and bioavailability—for this, I recommend 200 mg of CurcuPrime twice a day.
CBD: Hemp-derived CBD has numerous health benefits, including support for healthy levels of inflammation. In some cases, full-spectrum hemp extracts can provide the best results, as the complementary phytocannabinoids and terpenes in hemp may work synergistically with CBD (though these can also be taken on their own). For this approach, a good starting point for most people is 30 mg once or twice daily. Conversely, pure synthetic CBD allows for a consistent, predictable and clean version of the compound without any THC present even in small amounts. Depending on your goals, one may be preferable over the other.
Boswellia Serrata: Boswellia is another botanical traditionally used to support a healthy inflammatory response. My preferred preparation is 100 mg of AprèsFlex taken twice daily.
Berberine: This may be one of my favorite supplements. Often referred to as a glucose disposal agent, berberine helps lower blood sugar levels. It offers powerful support for glycation and also has a host of properties that make it popular for anti-aging and mitochondrial support. I recommend 500 mg of berberine three times daily. Even better yet, 150 mg of dihydroberberine/GlucoVantage (a berberine derivative) can be taken twice daily.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a potent yet often overlooked antioxidant that promotes healthy mitochondria, which require high levels of vitamin C to support a healthy antioxidant status and redox balance. I like liposomal preparations of vitamin C, taking 2-5 grams a day.
Glutathione: Glutathione is known as the body’s master antioxidant, and it plays a powerful role in detoxification and supporting healthy mitochondria. Liposomal glutathione seems to be best absorbed, and I like a daily dose of 1-2 grams.
The N of 1
In science experiments, N refers to the “number” of participants. A real-life “case study” where there is only one individual is often referred to as N of 1, and in this case, you are the N. You are the participant, and your unique set of characteristics sets you apart from every other human being on earth. I’ve done many experiments with compounds yet to be released and patented (sometimes before anyone in the world has even tried them). In doing so, I monitor how I feel, get blood tests, run myself through a workout, take my temperature, look at ketones, check blood glucose and track my sleep quality to see what all the effects are.
I have learned through my own N of 1 experiments and I continue to learn through them, as they are an ongoing, evolving process. When I was formulating BioTRUST IC-5, I did an experiment using 500 mg of berberine, which is a potent glucose disposal agent among other things (meaning it helps shuttle carbs out of the bloodstream). To test how well berberine could “dispose” of sugar, I did a “carbohydrate challenge” which involved eating fun and unhealthy sugar-laden foods—five Double Stuff Oreos and two frosted Pop-Tarts (about 75 grams or so of sugar)—and testing my blood sugar to see the results impact. To establish a “placebo” baseline, I ate the high-sugar foods without any berberine. My blood glucose started out at 65 (a great fasting blood sugar). Before the sugar set in I felt clear, not hungry and happy—but over the next two hours, that feeling changed. I was checking my blood glucose every 30 minutes, and at the two-hour mark, it had risen to 199 and wasn’t coming down. I felt irritable, inflamed, hungry and cognitively less sharp.
A week later I did the same experiment, but this time I added the 500 mg of berberine. I started with a fasting blood glucose level of around 65 again, and within an hour of starting the carbohydrate challenge, I reached 100, but it never climbed higher. After two hours, I was essentially back to baseline. I never felt “off,” hungry or inflamed. I was truly in awe of what berberine could do and have been taking the supplement every day since (and more recently, the even more powerful dihydroberberine). It is not only a potent glucose disposal agent, but also the most powerful anti-aging, pro-longevity compound I know of that exists legally, often compared to the longevity and diabetes drug metformin (that’s had recent recall issues due to being tainted). That’s saying a lot because metformin is considered one of the most potent anti-aging drugs for humans; in fact, in a recent trial, metformin, as part of an anti-aging cocktail along with DHEA and growth hormone, reversed aging (by 1.5 years) in humans, as measured by highly sophisticated and validated epigenetic “clocks”. What that means is that berberine is a powerful candidate to slow aging, especially considering the safety concerns surrounding metformin (e.g., elevated homocysteine levels, B12 deficiency), not to mention that much of the world’s supply is tainted. To me, that makes berberine hands-down a smart, reliable choice. Because berberine has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties and can help support healthy levels of inflammation, it is also extremely useful for helping support a healthy, robust immune system.
When we talk about bio-individuality, we are saying each of us is an individual combination of genetics, body size, gender and other biological markers. We are unique individuals given a unique set of genes that make us who we are. But what makes each of us even more distinct is the concept of epigenetics, which is basically how our environment (things like our diet, exercise, stress, sleep, gut microbiome, viruses, medications, toxins and more) has influenced or changed the way our genes are expressed. What originally may have been ABC is now read by our cells as BCA, which results in a different protein. This may seem like a small change, but even minor changes like this can lead to eventual diseases or disorders.
One reader could be a 190-pound male with a propensity for cancer and perfect cholesterol while another could be a 120-pound female with an extreme iron deficiency and clinical depression. We each come to the table with our own sets of strengths and weaknesses. But in order to develop a formula which responds to your specific qualities, you must become a study with only one participant.
We do that by controlling for all factors.
When we talk about bio-individuality, we are saying that each of us is an individual combination of genetics, epigenetics, body sizes, genders, environmental consequences and biological profiles.
The great inventor Thomas Edison was once asked if he thought his failed experiments counted for nothing. His reply was: “Negative results are just what I want. They are just as valuable to me as positive results. I can never find the thing that does the job best until I find the ones that don’t.”
Just as Edison explained, experimentation is so critical to our success. We must figure out what works for us through a process of trial and error, because there is no such thing as true failure. That process is there to show us what works or how we can make something work better.
I know a lot of people who try to change their diet and when it doesn’t work, they believe they have “failed.” In reality, they are just experimenting with one of many methods, some of which will surely work better than others. When faced with an obstacle, you can either throw your hands in the air and give up or you can examine the specifics to see where you got closer at developing a successful diet. You can measure your wins and where you still struggled to make lasting and important change.
The essence of biohacking is realizing that we are all just experiments. Unlocking your perfect energy formula is about experimenting with different inputs (independent variables) and seeing how they affect you (dependent variable), ultimately finding what works best for you. Christopher Columbus once stated, “You can never cross an ocean until you have courage to lose sight of the shore” and at the heart of being an experimenter is also being adventurous and explorative!
Graphic 6 – Independent Variables + YOU (dependent variable) = Finding What Works Best for You
To be innovative, you need to be ahead of the data. Most research is still 20 years in the making, but you can still experiment on yourself and your limits. In order to be a successful scientist, you must keep an open mind. I often think back to the Socratic method. Socrates did not engage in dialogue presuming he knew the answer. Instead, he asked the right questions to reach philosophical conclusions.
Likewise, to achieve a robust study, we need to ask the right questions. We need to read the studies and talk to our doctors. We need to listen to what people who have been successful have to say on the subject. At the same time, part of experimentation is understanding that the same interventions do not work the same for everyone. Some may have side effects; some may do nothing. You might need to adjust dosage or frequency. It is not about assuming that you know the conclusion, but that you are open to whatever the answer might be.
To be innovative, you need to be ahead of the data.
Just as we talk about bio-individuality, we must also talk about bio-resilience: our strength and flexibility in responding to external forces. The concept of bio-resilience was developed in the 1800s by biologist Alexander von Humboldt. He noticed that the higher up a mountain he went, the greater the decrease in biodiversity; in other words, there were more species at the base of a mountain than at its peak. Though fewer in number, these species had more flexibility—more abilities to withstand, recover and adapt from the environmental shocks. They had greater resilience due to the robustness required to live in the conditions at the top of the mountain. As our world swiftly changes around us, our challenge is the same—but the great and miraculous difference for humans is that we have a choice in the ascent.
Bio-experimentation teaches us how we react to different stressors and how our bodies can adapt to resistance, which is what allows us to increase and enhance our energy. The same goes for all elements of our mind and body. As we increase resilience, we increase our ability to manage external stress and we develop a more robust immune system that can better and more appropriately handle the many threats thrown its way.
The amount of stress on the mind and body is known as allostatic load, of which we have different individual capacities for. In a way, our allostatic load can be thought of like a bucket—we can only carry so much water (stress) in the bucket before it overflows and becomes counterproductive; when it is too heavy, we end up having to carry the bucket differently, stressing different muscles in order to manage the burden.
By controlling our variables and inputs so the body can function efficiently, we can better adapt to stressful situations. For the many sources of stress that are outside our control, we can also build resilience through how we perceive and manage stressful situations by allostasis, a process of increasing load without breaking down the body. Through this practice, we improve our ability to respond calmly and evenly to the daily stressors of living—from the honking cars in traffic to the endless news cycle and all the other trials and challenges in our lives.
Stress can come from many sources in life but when it compounds, it can cause your body more harm than good. This is where it’s easy to get hormesis and our usual idea of stress confused. The idea behind hormesis is to impose small amounts of stress on the body (like cold showers/baths, sauna or exercise) and then to remove that stress for recovery afterwards. Fasting is another example; while it can be counterproductive if done too much or for too long, it is an otherwise healthy practice—a hormetic stressor. We need to employ these sorts of hormetic events intermittently and be careful not to do them too often when our bodies are exposed to stressors we cannot control—like work, relationship issues, poor nutrition, poor sleep and pandemics (particularly when those stressors are persistent and long-lasting).
Hormesis is quite literally the path to unshakable resilience. It teaches the body how to cope with and bounce back from stress bigger, better and stronger than before—and with more energy, vigor and vitality. Hormesis enhances our resilience to normal aging and protects against a broad spectrum of neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases, as well as trauma and other threats to health and well-being.
Believe it or not, even the food we eat benefits from hormesis. Plant-based foods produce important compounds which turn out to be quite beneficial when they face stress. In other words, when plants struggle with stressors like starvation, dehydration, UV radiation, insects and so on, they protect themselves by producing antioxidants, most notably a category of compounds called polyphenols, or what many now refer to as plant stress molecules. While there are hundreds of examples, some of the most recognizable are resveratrol, EGCG, anthocyanins and quercetin. The amazing thing, believe it or not, is that when we consume plant-based foods containing these polyphenols, they activate our own longevity, repair and stress resistance enzymes and pathways, such as the sirtuins. This is a process known as xenohormesis, which essentially means a protective response induced by a mild stress from a stranger. Pretty cool, right?
While intermittent “good” stress can help enhance immunity, too much stress—a bucket that’s overflowing—can suppress our immune system and weaken the body’s ability to deal with immune challenges robustly and appropriately.
Hormesis, when done in the right amount, does not "fill up” the stress bucket. Instead, it triggers certain biochemical pathways and physiological adaptations that make us more resilient towards future stressors. To reach our peak potential, we must become resilient to the diverse elements along the climb.
If we let life happen to us and externalize everything, we will not make it up the mountain. However, if we can find the proper internal responses to external stressors, finding the space where we take responsibility for ourselves, we can become robust despite the elements. It is easy to blame bullies and nay-sayers for our problems, but that doesn’t change our situation. If anything, it only solidifies our position at the bottom of the mountain.
Graphic 7 – Allostatic Load or “Stress Bucket”
We must get honest about what role we play in our failures and how we can do things differently (changing our inputs) to get a different result (a better output). We cannot live truly energized lives if we are not living authentic ones.
Before getting into what supplements, diets or exercise routine is right for you, spend some time with yourself in front of the mirror. Get honest about who you are and where you are in life because that’s the foundation that everything else is built on. As Thomas Jefferson put it, “Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.” You have to be willing to do the work. Unless you are willing to identify your goals, take the time to put your gym bag by the front door and get rid of the easy excuses and self-pity, you will not be able to take the actions that lead to your fullest potential. If your inputs are caffeine, sugar, carbohydrates and too many hours at the office (even the home office!), it shouldn’t surprise you if your outputs are disappointing. But if you’re putting in meditation, healthy foods, long walks and a well-managed workload, guess what?
You are going to like the results!
Graphic 8 – The Inverted-U Relationship Between Stress (i.e., pressure or anxiety) and Performance
When I was taking computer programming classes at Babson, there was a term called GIGO, meaning Garbage In, Garbage Out. It meant that if the code going in was no good, the resulting program wouldn’t run well either. The same is true for your body. Experimentation needs to start with the choice of becoming present and conscious in our choices so we can decide which ones make sense for us. We can’t figure out what’s working if we’re not aware of the consequences of our behaviors. Part of becoming your own scientist means you need to evaluate your decisions and see how they are leading you up the mountain—or keeping you stuck at the bottom. Another way of saying that is that mindfulness—of yourself and your attitudes, actions, behaviors and decisions—plays a pivotal role in the ENERGY formula. Awareness is the first step in going from where you are to where you want to be: a place of vibrant energy, radiant health and unshakable resilience.
Hustle & Flow
The reason most people feel like they are working from a deficit is that they set their expectations too high but don’t put the systems in place to meet them. Research suggests that in an eight-hour day, the average worker is only productive for two hours and 53 minutes. Since many of us work for eight to 10 hours a day, we end up grinding away and only “flowing” for a small portion of it. It has been no better during the pandemic, which has imposed many novel challenges on our productivity. According to data from the Institute of Corporate Productivity, during the pandemic, 96 percent of US-based organizations reported that their productivity was negatively impacted, with 41 percent of businesses saying that the pandemic hit their productivity to a high or very high extent.
We all know how good it feels when you’re in a groove: your juices are flowing, work is humming and you feel like you’re energized. It’s what many scientists and psychologists call a “flow state.” Even if we don’t all get to choose when we work, we can choose how to manage that time.
Too many people end up spending their time grinding away with extraordinarily little time spent in their flow. As I see it, we can either hustle and grind or we can hustle and flow. Grinding is about heat, friction and watching things break down and break off. It is about keeping your head down and pushing through, and it often leads to damage.
The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) regulates many body processes, and as its name suggests, it works automatically and without conscious effort. It is made up of two divisions, sympathetic ("fight, flight or freeze") and parasympathetic ("rest and digest"), which are physiologically absolutely opposed. The sympathetic nervous system comes online during the hustle, but never goes offline in the grind. There needs to be some degree of balance. Hustle and grind is a sympathetic process with little room for the parasympathetic. Again, sympathetic is when we’re living in fight-or-flight, where all we can do is force ourselves through the next task, heads down through the mental grinder of anguish.
Graphic 9 – Autonomic Nervous System
Humans have developed their sympathetic nervous system over millions of years as a result of living in a predatorial world. For example, imagine you are walking through the woods in the dark. You hear a branch crunch behind you and suddenly your heartbeat changes and your blood flow is shunted as it drains from your brain and prepares to go to your muscles so you can run from whatever lurks in the dark. This is why in moments of great stress, we feel lightheaded and our pulse quickens.
Our limbic system, the old part of our brain, is wired to support this type of autonomic response—even if the threats in our environment are totally different. We may no longer be chased by tigers, but we still live out the same kind of fight-or-flight response when we have to break a piece of particularly bad news to someone, for example. When we’re in a state like that, our prefrontal cortex—the home of logic and reason—goes offline. We’re not producing brilliant solutions or rationally thinking things through. In our brains, we’re running for our lives.
Speaking generally, the sympathetic nervous system developed in a way that it would only be activated intermittently in times of stress or danger, in balance with the parasympathetic system for times of rest, digestion and other low-stress situations. Today, our sympathetic nervous system is almost chronically overactive.
In today’s world, most of what we see, hear and do—and often more importantly, how we perceive—drives us into that sympathetic state. From the violence on TV to the over-stimulation from our phones, we are constantly fueled by fight-or-flight energy.
From the violence on TV to the over-stimulation from our phones, we are constantly fueled by fight-or-flight energy.
It’s true that sometimes we do need that extra sympathetic boost to chase things in life, but we don’t always need to destroy ourselves in the process. We can achieve our goals through a flow state with our sympathetic and parasympathetic systems in balance. It’s in the flow state where we find joy in what we’re doing—we are “lit up,” “on fire” and “in the zone.” We are stimulated but at ease, with true elation and fulfilled purpose.
Rather than only focusing on “the grind,” we should focus on the flow.
The flow is where we achieve our greatest success, where things seem to come to us without even trying. When Michael Jordan plays his best game or Elon Musk comes up with SpaceX, they’re not in a frantic, over-stimulated state. They’re in a flow, hitting shots or having breakthroughs.
The term “flow,” as originally conceptualized by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, refers to a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. You can only get into this state under the right conditions—by avoiding sympathetic nervous system dominance and moving into a parasympathetic state. When we experience psychological flow, we capture the positive mental state of being completely absorbed, focused and involved in our activities for some period of time as well as an additional level of enjoyment from that complete immersion. When we’re in flow, hours can pass in what seem like seconds. The problem is that while we know flow states are good, we rarely prioritize seeking them out.
Even so, there are techniques we can use to help us get into flow.
In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science showed that they could use online neurofeedback to modify an individual’s state of arousal to improve their performance on demanding sensory motor tasks, such as flying a plane or driving in suboptimal conditions.
The subjects in the study were immersed in a virtual reality game where they had to navigate an airplane through rectangular boundaries (this is known as a “boundary avoidance task” and is commonly used in cognitive tests). The experimenters made the boxes narrower every 30 seconds to escalate participants’ arousal, which quickly resulted in task failure—missing or crashing into the boundary. When the researchers used neurofeedback—in this case, the sound of a slow heartbeat that was played louder when participants were more stressed—the subjects did better and were able to fly longer.
As the study showed, neurofeedback is one way to pull ourselves out of our sympathetic mind and into a parasympathetic one to improve performance—but the same principle can be applied in simpler ways as well. For one thing, we can practice mindfulness throughout the day and do meditation to train ourselves to be less reactive. In the middle of a difficult task, we can take a deep breath, separate ourselves from the problem, remind ourselves what we’re there to do and get back to it.
The process of backing away from a hard problem to allow a subconscious or spontaneous breakthrough is what’s known in academia and scientific literature as an “incubation period,” a tool to enhance creative performance. Think about it like this: have you ever tried to “grind” your way through a creative obstacle like writer’s block? How did that work for you? Chances are you were left spinning your wheels and wasting valuable time and energy for longer than you care to admit.
On the other hand, how many times have you stepped away from a project only to have a creative breakthrough in the interim? Whenever I notice that I’m stalling, I might take a walk outside (as much of a “nature walk” as possible), meditate or seek out a captivating conversation with a friend—three enormously powerful activities when it comes to engaging the parasympathetic nervous system. When I come back to whatever I’m working on, I’m typically able to complete it with renewed enthusiasm, creativity and perspective—in less time and in a more well-rounded way than if I had tried to “grind” my way through.
Though we know it’s good to slow down and view things from a calmer perspective, we rarely make the time for activities like meditation and grounding that help us do those things. We don’t watch TV that calms our mind or read news that puts us in a parasympathetic state. We are not giving ourselves a chance to live in that flow. Instead, we are addicted to the frazzled sympathetic mind, where we have less capacity to deal with stress—whether it’s physical, mental, emotional or microbial. We are constantly adding to our allostatic load and then wondering why we’re running on empty.
If there’s one major takeaway from all of this, it’s that there are no awards for grinding—just medical bills, failed relationships and an early grave. Overworking and burning yourself out makes you more likely to get sick—and when you do, it’s with more severe symptoms and longer recovery time. While the interaction between the sympathetic nervous system and immune system is complex, just know that when you are always grinding—when your sympathetic nervous system is consistently asked to be “on”—it inhibits many aspects of the body’s natural immune response, making you more susceptible to external threats of all kinds. Remarkable success, energy, resilience and health, meanwhile, come from the flow.
Stress vs. Eustress
Our ability to make optimal decisions, judgments and actions in dynamic environments—that is, out in the real world—hinges on our level of arousal. Being too aroused leads to us feeling overly stressed or distracted, whereas being too unaroused can mean feeling tired or uninterested—either situation can significantly hamper our decision-making. On the other hand, just the right amount of arousal—being “in the zone” or in a flow state—can improve our decision-making abilities significantly. It takes practice to get into a resilient zone between fatigue and recovery—and frequently, people swing like a pendulum between hyperactivity and depression or malaise. Experimentation here is key, but another factor is how we perceive the stressors in our lives.
The relationship between pressure and performance is a lot like the story of Goldilocks and The Three Bears: optimal performance occurs when the amount of pressure we’re under falls within a certain range rather than stretching to the extremes. For that very reason, that relationship is commonly called “the Goldilocks principle”—our relationship of stress to performance can either be too much, too little or just right. Even so, keep in mind that “just right” is a dynamic zone, not a static one. There may be times when your curve shifts to the left or to the right, and the shift may result from factors beyond your control. The pandemic is an odd but relevant example which has shifted most people’s curves to the left; in other words, their ability to take on added stressors has decreased (if they want to stay healthy, at least).
Graphic 10 – The Goldilocks Principle
Stress always gets a negative perception, right? But stress is how we survive, adapt and grow. Stress makes us pursue things: it pushes us to become better at our jobs, to be more competitive at the gym and to become better parents, partners and friends. Stress in balance creates the resilient individual. While chronic, persistent stress suppresses the immune system, in the short-term, a healthy dose of stress (or hormetic stressors, as discussed) can boost the immune system.
When stressors are considered positive, they are referred to as eustress (as opposed to distress). Eustress supports bio-resilience, offering constructive pressure that can ultimately boost your energy. Distress, or negative stress, does the opposite, leading to anxiety or an inability to perform, which lowers your energy.
Generally speaking, “good stress” is short-lived, infrequent and over quickly; it inspires you to action and helps build you up. Exercise is a fitting example. “Bad stress,” on the other hand, is chronic, long-lasting, negative, depressing and demoralizing. It de-motivates and paralyzes you. It breaks you down, leaving you worse off than you were before.
A key feature that distinguishes good stress from bad is how well the stressor matches your ability to recover from it—otherwise known as your resilience. Still, beauty is in the eye of the beholder to some degree when it comes to stress; in other words, our perception of a stressor also influences if it’s “good” or “bad.”
Eustress supports bio-resilience, offering constructive pressure that can ultimately boost your energy. Distress, or negative stress, does the opposite, leading to anxiety or an inability to perform, which lowers your energy.
Formulator’s Corner – Stress Reduction Supplements
People frequently ask me about the most important categories of supplements they should take to reduce their stress levels. Though these vary by individual, these are the ones I usually advise:
Magnesium (e.g., Glycinate, Citrate and Threonate): This has a calming effect and impacts the HPA axis, promoting a healthy stress response and easing feelings of tension and anxiety. I particularly like it in the evening, at a dose of 200-400 mg. I prefer magnesium in glycinate or bisglycinate form (i.e., bound to the amino acid glycine), as glycine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that can help ease stress and promote feelings of calmness in its own right.
Adaptogens (e.g., Sensoril and RhodioPrime): The adaptogens Ashwagandha and Rhodiola help normalize numerous systems and functions in the body, including the adrenals and the body’s stress response.
Magnolia Bark/Honokiol (e.g., Relora): A potent anxiolytic that in lighter doses is a good de-stressor and in larger doses can aid in sleep. 500 mg taken once per day in the evening or 250 mg taken twice daily (once in the morning and once in the evening) can reduce stress and cortisol levels while improving mood.
Lion’s Mane (Standardized for Polysaccharides): This is an adaptogenic mushroom that can improve neuroplasticity and resilience. Dosages can vary considerably, but a good starting point is 500-1,000 mg.
GABA (e.g., PharmaGABA): GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that impacts our ability to calm the body and brain. GABA acts like a “brake” on stress, promotes a calm sense of focus and can help support restful sleep. 100-250 mg taken one to three times daily, particularly when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed or distracted and/or before bed, seems to work best.
CBD: I prefer a pure and predictable synthetic or highly isolated version. At 10-100 mg, CBD is a critical player in the ECS (endocannabinoid system), though it requires experimentation for optimal dosing.
L-theanine (e.g., SunTheanine): A dose of 100-200 mg increases inhibitory neurotransmitter levels and blocks the overproduction of excitatory neurotransmitters. L-theanine supports a healthy stress response and relaxation, and it also promotes a calm, centered attentiveness.
Coenzymated B complex (e.g., methylcobalamin, 5-MTHF and P5P): This is excellent for combatting stress since stress uses more B-vitamins; I prefer the active (i.e., coenzyme) forms.
Phosphatidylserine (e.g., SerinAid): A dose of 100-800 mg phospholipid is key to brain health and has been shown to reduce anxiety, improve memory and in higher doses, lower cortisol. For example, phosphatidylserine has been shown to reduce the body’s cortisol response to acute physical and mental stress, and it has also been shown to improve mood and learning.
Stress is inherently neutral. It is how we perceive it and respond to it—what lens we view the event through, what we do for stress management, how we manage and integrate our reactions—that makes it eustress or distress.
That is what makes our current environment so unique. We are facing a global stressor that is long-term and negative, which means we need to be even more diligent in the world outside our front door. On the other hand, when we come to grips with the fact that the only things we have full control over are our actions, attitudes and effort, in the short-term, the situation offers us myriad opportunities to positively adapt.
Because we are in the throes of “more” stress, we have a grand opportunity to experiment with new stress management techniques. We need a robust immune system now as much as ever, and we have a choice to experiment with strategies that can support a healthier immune response.
Life often teaches us that what feels like a terrible outcome is often a set-up for something miraculous. This is why you need to practice backing up and reframing situations—because with the right management techniques, stress can be healthy—and unexpected events don’t have to seem so bad. Instead of looking down the road, you might need to focus on the choices you are making right now. Maybe you are in an abusive relationship, or maybe you’re in a financial situation where you are overextended. Maybe you are struggling in school or with your health. When you first notice these things, it might feel like the world is ending—but then you realize, “Wait, I have a choice here!”
You can start making decisions to improve your situation or you can lose yourself to the fear of something that hasn’t happened yet. But you can always reframe. You can say, “Yes, I potentially have cancer. But you know what? I am going to address it and I’m going to grow stronger as a result of it. I am going to educate others around me on it. I’m going to get healthier in my relationships, exercise routines and nutrition. I am going to grow closer to my family. And when I come out on the other side, it is going to be my greatest story. It is going to be something that defines me and my strengths. I am going to appreciate the relationships I have and the people that supported me through this process. I would have never known the strength of those relationships unless this had happened.”
Instead of immediately reacting and then regretting whatever comes out of your mouth, you can step back, take six deep breaths and list all the positives that could come out of any given negative. It is all about reframing. When we experiment with our choices, we are able to create new responses. As Carnegie Melon University computer science professor Randy Pausch famously said, “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”
Life often teaches us that what feels like a terrible outcome is often a set-up for something miraculous.
When we are in a state of distress, we feel like life is happening to us, but when we are in a flow state, we realize we are making the decisions for ourselves. We are designing our lives. That power is within us. When we can manage our stress, we say, “I’m on a path and no one’s stopping me from being on it. And yes, something has come into my path, but it’s here for a reason and I’m going to grow from it.”
Instead of being chased by an imaginary wolf, we can stop and go for a walk in the woods. We can develop a new response—beyond freezing, fleeing or fighting. We can look at whatever we might have considered terrifying and recognize it for what it is: a part of life. When we feel frustrated or in the midst of chaos, it’s hard to recognize that we are our own choice makers. We get lost in self-victimization and forget that success comes from a place of empowerment and experimentation. Fortunately, we can always take a step back when we put our minds to it.
Defining the Finish Line
Maybe the biggest question we can ask ourselves is, “Why am I here?” Personally, I was always greatly inspired by the drive of Kobe Bryant, whose "Mamba Mentality” I emulate in my own life. In a way, many professional athletes have it easy—they are born with such an obvious gift. They often make the logical choice to commit the time and energy to reaching their potential.
But most of us are not born with the ability to knock down three-pointers like Kobe did. Instead, we have to spend our whole lives figuring out our talents and abilities. But having purpose can drive us to that finish line. It is why so many people retire and then suddenly find that their health falls off a cliff. Once they lose their purpose, they lose their will to live—or, at the very least, they lose their way.
Along with purpose, you must have passion. Passion is what keeps us in an engaged flow and out of the grind. The old saying that if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life is true—when we are working from our passion and driven by our purpose, we find that flow states are much easier to achieve. It’s not about simply working hard for the sake of hard work. We only stay on our path if we feel like we’re actually going somewhere.
The first step is to figure out where that place is. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to find out:
- Are you the type of person who believes your skills and abilities are finite and “you are where you are” or do you believe you have limitless potential?
- Are you the type of person who sees failure as disheartening or as an opportunity to learn and adapt?
- Are you the type of person who believes there are many things you will never be good at, or do you believe that you can learn to do anything you want?
- Are you the type of person who sticks to what you know or tries new things?
- Are you the type of person who takes feedback and criticism personally, or do you consider it to be constructive and collaborative?
Your answers to these questions shed light on whether you embrace a fixed mindset or a growth mindset, and this can have a powerful impact on motivation, productivity, relationships and more. There is a famous Henry Ford quote that comes to mind: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” You are what you believe. You project your reality, so if you want positive things, amazing things, limitless things…you need to think that way.
That does not—and should not—happen overnight.
With experimentation, it’s all about using the scientific method. You try one thing to make sure it works, tweak it if necessary, then you try something else. You stay committed long enough to make something part of your routine so you feel the difference and you benefit from it—but you don’t do everything at once. It is important to do one thing at a time, spend a few weeks doing it, evaluate it and decide if it really works for you.
I wish I could just say, “Do this and you will be healed.” But the journey is part of the process. It might take a little longer to get it right, but over time, the correct choices will start leading to greater flow and you will begin to feel what it means to live in the parasympathetic state—grounded, focused, resilient and filled with energy. That contributes to an appropriately balanced nervous system. This is also important when it comes to promoting a healthy, robust and properly responsive immune system, as the parasympathetic nervous system can help control inflammation in a healthy way by acting as an anti-inflammatory neural circuit.
Flow Supports Immunity
Without an immune system, our bodies would be open to attack from microscopic threats like bacteria, viruses and parasites. Involving many types of cells, organs and proteins, this system’s job is to distinguish our tissue from foreign tissue. If the immune system encounters an antigen (a pathogen, bacterium, virus, parasite, etc.) it triggers an inflammatory cascade and a subsequent immune response, and the body fights to dispose of this foreign invader.
Now more than ever, our habits are critical to our health, and the best way to promote a healthy, balanced and proper immune response is to improve overall well-being. Ask yourself: Are you eating whole, nutrient-dense foods? Are you getting enough sleep and fresh air? What is your overall stress level? Are you moving your body in healthy ways regularly? Are you nourishing your relationships and fostering social connectedness as opposed to being socially isolated, leaving the door open to feelings of loneliness? We now know that there are many things which weaken the immune system and make us more susceptible to all kind of disease, including COVID-19. These include:
- Poor diet (sugar-rich, processed foods with additives)
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Sleep deprivation
- Not maintaining regular exercise
- Social isolation and loneliness
- Not spending time outdoors
No one wants to get sick or aid the spread of this virus, which means we need to focus on the habits that can build and sustain a strong immune system. If your immune system is weak or overall unhealthy, your body’s ability to fight antigens will be weaker and you will be more vulnerable to getting sick and developing severe symptoms. What do we do during viral seasons? We load up on vitamins, medications and disinfectants. While I am not downplaying the importance of these things, it is important to remember:
Healthy immunity starts with a healthy you!
Every time life changes, we must adjust. We never end up “perfect,” and we’re all thrown curveballs—a child gets sick, a parent dies, we get laid off or we quit our job. A pandemic strikes and life as we know it is thrown upside down.
The thing is, we know how to deal with the big things more calmly than the little things. It is the little things that often take us out. We need to choose how and where we focus our time and attention because much like the tree reaching for the light, whatever we focus on will grow.
If we focus on stress and fear, they will consume us.
If we instead focus on our passions, families and friends, they will grow in abundance.
The better you take care of yourself, the better you can take care of other people. Here is the real secret: we are energized when we show up for other’s lives. Working with patients and families and residents in nursing homes changed my life. I learned to appreciate life. I saw that we all bleed, we all cry, we all want to be happy and acknowledged. I learned true empathy as I saw myself in others. When you put yourself in the service of others and see the pain in others, it changes you.
I saw so many in the nursing homes experiencing spiritual and emotional pain, not just physical ailments. They felt lonely, abandoned, regretful, ashamed, sad, tired and scared often and I was there to listen, to be a smiling face, or a mirror they needed. I also saw their joy and laughter and deep connections. It was all beautiful. It was all a teacher for me on how to be present for those around me. Their resilience against all odds often inspired me. What do I really have to complain about?
The one resident I got closest to, however, was not elderly. He was barely out of high school. His mother had just died of cancer, his father was a deadbeat dad andMatthew had Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bone disease). He couldn’t walk, looked disfigured from so many fractures and was in an electric wheelchair. He lived in a nursing home with an 85-year-old roommate and needed someone to help him to the bathroom. He became a dear friend during my time there. I bought him cell phones, video games and consoles. He felt like a son or a brother to me and it gave me so much perspective to see him be happy despite these circumstances. He loved life and—good news—he eventually got his own place, found love and has two children. Anything is possible. I gave him things, but he gave me so much more: perspective and gratitude for what I have. We are still great friends and we make time to talk to this day.
We are not that busy; we are just distracted. I will tell you right now, “busy” is not an excuse. Never before have more people used “busy” as a high-minded reason not to participate in life. We have plenty of time to scroll through our phones, to look at pictures of our high school sweetheart on vacation or to follow some silly spat on Twitter. I recognize there is a time and place for social media—it has its benefits, no doubt—but it has also become an enormous time suck. When we get too “busy,” we fail to show up for the communities we’re a part of and for the people we love.
We are not that busy; we are just distracted.
Changing your life starts with your experimentation. It starts with the choices you make first thing in the morning and ends with the choices you make right before you go to bed. Your choices are a direct reflection of your priorities. This is not meant to overwhelm you. This isn’t about getting from Maine to California like Forrest Gump; this is about getting to the end of the block.
So start now. Instead of wasting time and energy staring into other people’s lives and avoiding your own, you can start to focus on the great experiment of you. Forget about what you’ve been told before—about all those diets and workouts. I am not here to overwhelm you with a whole new plan or routine; I’m here to give you the tools to find the energy you need to get the results you deserve.
- We all have our own bio-individuality; what works for one person may not work for another so before we can make changes, we need to understand our foundation. We cannot live truly energized lives if we are not living authentic ones. Get real about who you are and where you are in life.
- One of the biggest factors in our energy levels is our mitochondrial functioning, as mitochondria are the powerhouses of our cells. We can test our mitochondrial health through the following three blood biomarkers: hsCRP, HbA1c and OxLDL.
- Hormesis, when done in the right amount, triggers certain biochemical pathways and physiological adaptations that make us more resilient when facing future stressors. When done too much or for too long, however, they can become a stress on the body, adding to our “stress bucket.” The greater your allostatic load, the less likely you are to respond positively to hormesis and the worse off you are. On the other hand, positive stressors, known as eustress, support bio-resilience, strengthening activity and energy. Distress does the opposite and leads to a lack of energy.
Psychological flow means being completely absorbed, focused and involved in whatever you are doing and deriving enjoyment from being fully immersed in that activity. Flow, when we are in alignment with our creativity and our joy, is what we should seek and where we achieve the greatest success.
- Much of our stress comes from being distracted. Practice mindfulness by focusing on one thing at a time and staying fully present. Reframing stressful situations can allow us to find focus and choose the elements over which we have control, creating a new response. Begin experimenting with meditation, exercise, nutrition and breathing to create an environment which supports parasympathetic dominance. This takes time to achieve.
- Along with purpose, you must have passion; passion keeps us in our flow and purpose gives us our “why.” We also need to see where that “why” not only serves our needs and goals, but also helps our families, communities and the world beyond our front door. The true secret to feeling energized is to be of service and show up for other people.
- Changing your life starts with experimentation, starting with the choices you make first thing in the morning and ending with the last decision you make before bed. When you experiment, change one thing at a time and evaluate the outcome. Take your time. If you “shotgun” a lot of changes, you will have no idea what’s working and what’s not. If something doesn’t work, tweak or move onto the next hack.
Resource Hacks – Experimentation in Action
My Ultimate Blood Panel: I get blood tests every three to six months, and my must-have labs check for oxLDL, HbA1c, hsCRP, CBC, iron, ferritin, thyroid panel, cortisol, testosterone, lipids and 25-hydroxy vitamin D. LabCorp or Quest Diagnostics are two great labs to get this done.
MyChon: This is the first complete functional at-home mitochondria test tracker that accurately uncovers your mitochondrial health and function, though it is still in beta (you can sign up on the website). They are developing a testing technology that will make it easy and convenient for anyone to access, understand and improve their cellular health with the goal of improved energy, optimal wellness, increased healthspan and longevity.
Genova Diagnostics: This one is super extensive—probably the ultimate test—but you don’t have to do it just yet. Start with the basics. I suggest the NutrEval test for in-depth nutrient deficiency analysis and the GI Effects for gut health. Consider working with a functional doctor to analyze these results.
23AndMe and Ancestry for Genetic Testing: These are used to test your DNA for any genetic susceptibilities to certain disease states or other vulnerabilities, but you can’t have the same company give genetic testing and interpret the data. You can use the following for the second part:
SelfHacked: Owned by Joe Cohen, this company has a great evaluation/analyzation package called SelfDecode.
Found My Fitness: Rhonda Patrick’s Genetic Report is a great place to start as well. This company, run by longevity influencer and host of a popular life-extension podcast Dr. Rhonda Patrick, offers a third-party analysis of genetic data from both 23andMe and AncestryDNA.
Viome: Analyzes the gut microbiome to understand how to dial in your nutrition optimally. This analysis used to be controversial. The science is not exact, but it’s all part of the data collection that can help you understand your body.
Record Your Data: I like to plot my results in an Excel spreadsheet and date the tests. This allows me to compare and see my progress on my journey so I can adjust my strategies. Heads Up Health is more advanced and offers a dashboard you and your physician can look at. It syncs with wearables like Biostrap and Oura.
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Over 300 pages, nearly 60 diagrams and graphics, and topics like biohacking, supplements (with brands and doses), paleo, keto, fasting, cold plunges, sauna, exercise hacks, nootropics, mindset and so much more. You'll also get access to surveys to track your progress. Order now and you will also get a Hidden Chapter on Movement and the Fasting for Energy book.