A few years ago, most of us had never heard of ‘biohacking’. Then Twitter’s Jack Dorsey admitted that he went for days without eating as a means of ‘biohacking’ his way to better health and productivity and tech bros around the world went on a voyage of DNA-altering discovery.
At its most basic, biohacking is the practice of changing your DNA. And while that used to be the reserve of labs and scientists using the most advanced technology, it’s something that has trickled down into the mainstream thanks largely to our phones.
You can now use food, exercise, sleep and supplements to modify the way you function and to bring you to better health. Society has (mercifully) moved away from seeing scales as a measure of health; instead, we rate our mood, gut health, skin and sleep quality as key indicators.
And now biohacking is being used to help women track their periods too.
Author of In The FLO, Alisa Vitti, claims to have reversed her polycycstic ovarian syndrome via biohacking after spending ‘thousands of dollars on an array of products’.
She goes on to say that you can manage heavy periods, severe PMS, bloating, PCOS, fibroids, missing periods and migraines by biohacking ‘your way to fewer symptoms and better health…but to get the best results, you have to biohack for your unique female physiology.’
Biohacking isn’t a universal set of rules – it’s different for men and women.
‘In the case of men, they are trying to maximise energy, concentration, and stamina during their very short 24 hour circadian hormonal pattern. For women, you are already maximally efficient by design, so you simply need to nurture your cyclical patterns and endocrine system’s nutritional needs, and you will feel the benefits quickly,’ she explained on her website.
So, what exactly do we have to do for better period health? Alisa sets out ten rules in her book, including:
Ditch the coffee
It’s a devastating blow for most of us but Alisa says that caffeine is a no-go for women in their reproductive years who want to improve their hormonal health.
For women with PCOS, fibroids, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, and fibrocystic breasts, caffeine is apparently a guaranteed way to make more cysts, despite the fact that coffee has a tonne of health benefits.
And over 50% of the population have a mutation of the CYP1A2 gene which stops the body from breaking down caffeine – meaning that you could have the substance circulating around your body for hours after consumption.
If you’re having period problems, it might be worth going cold turkey.
Track your cycle
Tracking your cycle is important because without knowing when you’ve had a period, you can’t tell if there are any glitches.
But Alisa says that tracking involves more than simply charting when you’re bleeding.
It’s about noting symptoms over the course of your entire cycle and then learning about why you’re having them and what you can do with food, supplements and lifestyle to resolve them naturally.
She recommends using the MyFLO app but other trackers are available too.
Don’t bother with fasting or keto eating
Intermittent fasting has received a lot of good press over the past few years but this is an example of male and female biology requiring different approaches, Alisa says.
While long periods of going food-free may benefit some guys, it can actually make insulin and cortisol responses worse in women.
Meanwhile, the keto diet has long been promoted as a go-to for those of us with PCOS and other metabolic disorders. However, low-carb eating can mess with thyroid health which has a direct impact on your menstrual cycle.
Eat whole foods, a well-balanced diet and leave the dramatic dietary changes for your GP to prescribe…should you ever require them!
Dial down the intensity
Daily HIIT workouts may work for guys but it really doesn’t do women any favours.
As our bodies move through our hormonal cycle, so too do our metabolic, temperature and stress responses.
That means we have to change up our exercise routines; it doesn’t work sticking to the same intense routine all month. Go hard in the first half of your cycle (HIIT, spin, sprints, heavy lifting) before swapping yin for yang for the second half (yoga, pilates, walking).
Start your day right
Although Jack Dorsey’s routine sounded slightly bonkers to many of us (fasting for 22 hours a day, doing seven-minute workouts, taking daily ice baths, meditating twice a day, using a standing desk under a near-infrared bulb), his kind of early morning habit stacking has been used as a golden example of how to biohack your way to success.
Again, women aren’t made like men; men are the same every day, every month which makes it easier for them to commit to a solid regime.
Women on the other hand are subject to an ‘infradian rhythm’ (that’s your cycle).
At one point in your cycle, your stress hormone levels will increase – making you feel more anxious and less productive. At some points, we need more sleep than at others.
Alisa says that the bonus is women are more efficient users of energy and therefore don’t need to crowd all of their productivity into the morning (which can actually disrupt our hormones at certain points in our cycle).
We actually need four different morning routines based on the four different shifts we go through each month. To work those shifts out, why not keep a journal charting how you feel in the morning and evening for a month – keeping a note of energy levels, concentration abilities and reactions to food and exercise.
We asked Dr John Babraj, lecturer in exercise physiology from Abertay University whether biohacking was really a ‘thing’ and he said that in a fitness-setting, it was ‘probably little better than a placebo effect where if you believe in it, then it will have good results’.
‘It really depends if the thing being hacked into has previously been shown to work in population studies.’
While Alisa’s points may be salient for working specifically on menstruation, John says that in terms of biohacking your way to generally better health, you’re best off ‘focusing on cardiovascular fitness as this can alter gut microbiome (reducing inflammation caused by high-fat diets) and improve sleep quality.
‘There’s also evidence of changes in mood with cardiovascular fitness (depending on the intensity of the training).’