5 Steps to Biohack Your Health, According to Dr. Robin Berzin of Parsley Health
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The term “biohacking” changed in the last 10 years, says Dr. Robin Berzin, founder of Parsley Health. While we might think of it as adjacent to optimal personal performance, the way mid-40s Silicon Valley men use it, Dr. Berzin said in her presentation at Wanderlust’s Wellspring Conference in October 2018, the true definition of biohack is “the principles and practices the help you have your healthiest body and achieve your best life—without feeling like you’re struggling.”
It’s how we transform our health and build or generate wellness instead of sickness, she continues. And women are the original biohackers—”you’re doing it whether you realize it or not!” Dr. Berzen says. “Everyone hacks, from food and exercise to sleep habits.” But, right now, we’re hacking in the wrong ways. We’re eating 74 pounds per person of sugar a year; we’re drinking more alcohol than ever, which has led to a 30 percent increase in high-risking drinking in the last 10 years; and we’re spending on average 11 hours a day in front of a screen.
Add to that the fact that chronic disease is skyrocketing (50 percent of adults have at least one chronic condition and are taking at least one prescription drug), and our collective health is a little out of whack. “The human body didn’t evolve to need prescription drugs,” says Dr. Berzin. “We’re living in a way that’s not adaptive to our own bodies. We’re turning off our ability to heal.”
So how do we right our course? Dr. Berzin says it’s actually quite simple, and comes down to five areas we can start to biohack: food, exercise, toxins, technology and sleep. Keep reading to find out how adjusting how you think about these five areas can help you biohack to improve your overall health.
Dr. Berzin says the best “plan” to stick to when we’re talking about nutrition, is plant-based paleo. “You need proteins, healthy fats and greens,” she says. Proteins lower blood pressure and boost metabolism; healthy fats lower cholesterol, aid in weight management and reduce inflammation; and greens are high in fiber, antioxidants and micronutrients.
Along with focusing on plant-based paleo eating, Dr. Berzin says that gut health is imperative. “We need 25 to 50 grams a day of fiber, and we’re only eating five to 10 on average,” she says. “Fiber in leafy greens like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, berries and avocados helps maintain healthy gut mucus in the colon.” It also protects against future leaky gut, and reduces the stress effect on the gut.
“We want to feed the good bugs in our guts,” she says, “and starve the bad ones.” Her top two tips for executing that? Skip probiotics and sugar. “Probiotics are good,” Dr. Berzin says, “but the number one thing that impacts your gut health is what food you put in your mouth every day. Get rid of the artificial sugars and decrease your sugar overall (including alcohol). Sugar drives an ecosystem of disease on our bodies.”
Dr. Berzin says that as a society, we’ve swapped yoga for ultramarathons—and we’ve done our bodies a disservice in the process. “We’re on the treadmill of life,” she continues. “We get up early, go to intense jobs, do intense workouts, go home, try to sleep and then wake up and do it all over again… it’s just stress, stress, stress, piling up. And then we get sick or we can’t get pregnant or we’re exhausted and we say we have no idea why.”
She contends that our discomfort and ailments are linked to our stress, and our cortisol levels. When we do high-intensity training and cardio, Dr. Berzin says, we continue to put stress on our bodies, and they don’t always react positively: Overtraining lowers our T3 thyroid hormone production, and contributes to our tiredness.
On the flip side, yoga can counteract all of that stress. It decreases the cortisol levels in our bodies, and can help the body recover. But, Dr. Berzin says, yoga isn’t enough. “You need 10 to 15 minutes of strength training, two to three times per week to build bones, increase cognitive function, increase your self-esteem and boost your motivation,” she says. Plus, strength training increases your metabolism for 24 to 48 hours after you’re done with your workout. Sounds like the definition of “work smarter, not harder,” right?
“Toxins are just about everywhere,” Dr. Berzin says. You find them in the personal care products and the food storage containers we use daily, and in the offices and environments we work and live in. Chemicals like parabens, phthalates, sulfates and heavy metals can get stored in our fatty tissues, she says, much of which makes up the brain. So, we’re impairing our cognitive function when we’re exposed to these harmful chemicals on a regular basis.
Her tips to avoid toxic overload?
- Clean up your personal care (skincare, makeup, body care) routine to eliminate toxins from soaking into your bloodstream through your skin. “Ditch that anti-perspirant filled with aluminum,” she says.
- Drink filtered tap water.
- Avoid mercury, lead, arsenic, thallium and aluminum as much as possible, because recent exposure, not how much your body has stored, is important.
“Social media is a recreational drug,” Dr. Berzin says. “It lowers our mood after only 20 minutes of consumption and studies have shown that number of logins per day is correlated to sleep interruptions at night.”
Her advice? “Limit social media to 30 minutes a day,” she says.
We just aren’t sleeping enough or well enough, says Dr. Berzin. Part of that is linked to our technology usage; some of it is connected to the fact that we don’t treat sleeping like a routine. “We have to improve our sleep hygiene,” Dr. Berzin says. “We run around all day, in LED lights, spiking our cortisol with intense workouts and a go-go-go mentality, stare at a screen or our phones right up until we switch off our bedroom lights, and we wonder why we can’t fall asleep right away,” she says. “It’s obvious to me.”
To counteract our daily activities, we need to create bedtime rituals for ourselves, trigger activities that gently coax our bodies into a more relaxed state. That starts with avoiding screens after 8 p.m.; getting rid of any LED lights you have in your bedroom; and dimming your household lights an hour or two before you try to go to sleep, says Dr. Berzin. It helps mirror a more natural circadian rhythm that our bodies respond to.
Want more tips on how to biohack your health? Read how to perfect the art of the healthy hustle.