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Biohack Your Sleep

Biohacking Sleep

A Biohacker’s Christmas

In keeping with the generous theme of the now upon us, “most wonderful time of the year,” we’re going to keep it a little lighter this article and bestow upon you some easily implementable biohacking tips that can enhance your quality and quantity of life, training included.

The term biohacking is a relatively new term with a wide range of interpretations and definitions depending on who you talk to.  For the purpose of this article, we will refer to biohacking as anything you can do to naturally hack into or alter the way your body works.  You can literally apply knowledge and attempt to hack into your biology, leading to beneficial internal cellular and chemical consequences.  This is no doubt a loaded topic with a variety of approaches, but for the sake of this article, we will touch on four of the main pillars of health; diet, exercise & training, sleep & stress.

 GET YOUR ZZZs

We all know how important adequate sleep can be, and how detrimental it can be to get a lack of it, especially for the recovery process, but also implicated in a host of chronic issues from mental fatigue, obesity and diabetes to immune dysfunction and cancer.  In addition to triggering your circadian rhythm by getting natural light exposure during the day, (which leads to the formation of the feel good hormone serotonin, the precursor of the sleep hormone, melatonin) it turns out exposure to artificial blue light, especially in the evening, has a major effect on how you sleep.

 According to Authority Nutrition:

“It turns out that perhaps the single biggest contributor to our collective sleep problems is the use of artificial lighting and electronics at night. These devices emit light of a blue wavelength, which tricks our brains into thinking that it is daytime.”

This wave length of light emitted by our phones, tablets, computer monitors and TVs actually inhibits the body’s ability to manufacture melatonin and thus can disrupt restorative sleep. This blue light can also induce photoreceptor damage to your eyes which is one of the main reasons we are seeing a market demand for and built in phone settings that block this type of light.

If decreasing or eliminating all unnecessary usage of blue light emitting devices in the evening isn’t possible, there are apps such as iflux or the nightshift setting on the iphone that actually block the blue lights. You can also take it a step further and purchase a pair of blue light blocking glasses to fashionably don around your domain in the evening.  This $12 pair pictured below are the ones I’ve been utilizing to optimize potential for deeper regenerative & restorative sleep; much to the comical delight of my family.

blue-light-glasses

 DON’T UNDERCUT YOUR TRAINING

We all have our reasons we get after it the way we do.  Some are motivated by performance, some to keep the weight off and stay fit.  No matter what your motivation, we never want to be put in a situation where we undercut our own efforts and performance.

We often find ourselves at a crossroads between choosing the path that favors optimal athletic performance or life longevity.  One is commonly sacrificed for the other and most are constantly striving to find that perfect balance between the two.

This is never more so true than when it comes to the fuel we chose to power our bodies.  The Gu & Gatorade roller coaster ride may do the momentary energizing trick, but it is in no way, shape or form the best way to fuel the body.  These are high carb, high sugar substances that lead to a spike in blood sugar and subsequent insulin, that peaks and dips, leading you to repeat the cycle continuously.  

It is now well known and acknowledged that spikes in blood glucose and insulin can be detrimental to your health.  What can be even more frustrating about this carb spiking habit is that the release of insulin inhibits the body’s ability to burn fat as fuel; rather it encourages the opposite, in the form of fat storage.  So you are admirably doing all you can to get after it out there, with hopes of knocking or keeping the pounds off, but are actually continuously utilizing high carb fuel sources that block your body’s ability to do so.  

Without getting into suggesting ketogeneic diets and intermittent fasting, there do exist better options to provide a steady supply of slow burning energy, without the insulin spike and subsequent blockage of fat burning.  There are more and more athletes (present company, and a number of our patients included) successfully utilizing products like UCAN, which provide this type of fuel source, divorcing you from the energy spikes and drops and enabling you to encourage your body to burn that unwanted fat for fuel.  

ucannIt should be stated, that other than making it available to our patients, we have no stake in UCAN.  However, we were so impressed with its fascinating conception out of necessity, along with the physiologically sound science and research behind it, that we were excited to add it to our own regimen and offer it to those who might also find benefit in its utilization. 

(BIOHACK BONUS: 

Let’s face it, for many people a major factor or added benefit from working out and intelligently fueling with items that enhance the body’s ability to burn fat, is the weight loss and a better body.  You can also ramp up the body’s fat burning ability by taking a 5 minute cold shower post training session.  

Many wellness enthusiasts and top thinkers implement this form of therapy first thing in the morning in order to bombard the nervous system with sensory stimuli and heighten alertness and focus.  However, it is the metabolic benefits we are focusing on here.

If you are willing to withstand the initially uncomfortable temperature, you can reap the benefits of the body generating and activating brown fat cells as a way to create heat to counteract the cold waters.  You have two main types of fat or adipose tissue, that being white and brown.  White adipose tissue is less metabolically active and plays more of an energy storage role in the form of body fat.  The more metabolically active brown fat not only generates body heat by burning calories, but has been correlated with better blood glucose control and insulin sensitivity, as well as increased metabolism.  

Top this off with having limited carbohydrates derived from a slow burning source like UCAN or even having done your pre-frozen shower workout first thing in the morning before eating and thus in a mini fasted state courtesy of the previous night’s slumber, and those calories being burned to generate the heat can be derived from the catabolic breakdown of body fat; a state of metabolic nirvana if you will.  But let’s climb out of this rabbit hole and get back on track.)

 STOP MOUTH BREATHING!

Tweaking the oft overlooked action of proper breathing is another quick easy biohack.  We touched on the benefits of proper, diaphragmatic, abdominal breathing in October’s SCR issue, and here we will take it one step further and make the case for breathing through your nose, especially when training.

When performing any physical activity we would all be well served to possess the ability to utilize the oxygen we breathe in the most efficient manner.  Subsequently, we would also greatly benefit from that oxygen being delivered to our muscles with speed and volume.   

When we breathe through our nose it triggers the release of Nitric Oxide (NO) in our bodies.  This NO cause bronchodilation, meaning it opens or expands the passage ways in your lungs, allowing more oxygen to reach the blood.  Bronchodilation is such a useful biohack that many competitive athletes utilize an inhaler normally reserved for asthmatics in order to exogenously prompt and increase this phenomenon.  Conversely, many asthmatics have found benefit and attenuation of symptoms by training themselves to nose breathe, despite the fact that on the surface it appears to be counterintuitive if you are having trouble breathing.

NO production prompted by nasal respiration also triggers vasodilation.  This is an expansion of the blood vessels to your tissues, especially those muscles being utilized during physical activity.  This is good news as it provides more oxygen rich blood that the muscles can use as fuel for energy via aerobic respiration.

Nasal breathing throughout the day will also lessen the likelihood of over breathing, which can disrupt the intricate balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body.  It also increases tolerance to CO2, which can lead to more stamina and decreased occurrences of fatigue during those all-out efforts.

SLOOOW DOWN

To truly embrace a comprehensive approach to optimizing performance, the full body must be addressed.  Never is this so true than with runners, as the need to strength and stabilize outside of the repetitive uniplanar movement pattern, can prove advantageous for better form, stability, strength, and thus better function.

One of the most common excuses for not incorporating cross training is lack of time.  Being a father of two, and owner/operator of a small business, I get it.  However, if you recognize the benefits to be gained and choose to make a cross training session a priority, you can make it happen, especially if you implement the time saving strategy described below.

An S3 (Super Slow Strength) session is a time efficient and convenient way to increase strength and stability in as little as 1 to 2, 20 minute sessions per week.  You can also utilize body weight, bands, kettle balls or free weights so the inability to get to the gym can be eliminated from the list of potential excuses.

An S3 session consists of performing an exercise at you guessed it, a relatively super slow speed.  This equates to a 10 second concentric contraction, followed by a 10 second eccentric contraction.  That ends up being a 20 second repetition, and depending on the exercise and weight used, a 3 minute set if 9 reps are performed.  You can play with the configuration to your liking or goals, but if you perform just 1 set for 5 different body parts at the intervals laid out above, with a minute in between each set, you have yourself a 20 minute session.

Performing at this super slow speed enhances the cross bridging between individual muscle fibers, increasing strength and stability while limiting some of the needless wear and tear put on joints as speed increases.  Eliminating momentum and continuously having to generate power activates full body muscle recruitment and regardless of the body part worked, all muscles play a role and thus also reap the benefits. 

Still not convinced? Check out the book in the references by Dr. Doug McGuff which touches on the cardiovascular benefits obtained through this type of strength training, mcguff-s3which are noted as being comparable to those gained during a long run.  Other worthwhile benefits include increased mitochondrial density (another topic for another time, but just rest assured this is a very good thing) and improved lactic acid buffering.

If it sounds too easy, give it a shot.  As with anything I suggest, I have implemented this approach as well, and can attest to not only feeling that “good hurt” the following day, but always appreciate breaking up the sometimes mindless “picking things up to put things down” that can eventually serve as an impediment to continuing a much needed strength training session.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST…

We’ve covered biohacks aimed at sleep, exercise and diet, but we would be remiss if we didn’t touch on another major player in the whole body approach; stress.  The internal chemical consequences of stress is not restricted to the emotional or mental disruptions that we commonly refer to as stress.  Environmental toxins, food allergies and sensitivities, as well as physical stress from overtraining can all have the same consequences.  And while these are all different ways to generate stress, our biohack here will be aimed at the traditional sense of the word.

Study after study shows one of the best ways to combat the emotional and mental stressors is through some sort of meditation.  The word can intimidate or outright turn off a lot of people, but it’s best thought of as a general term for finding a way to reset or quiet and calm down mentally.  This method is highly individualized and can be thought of as anything from the aforementioned meditation to reflection, prayer, zoning out, calming the mind pond, becoming a silent observer of one’s thoughts, or simply being still and in the moment.

If you are having trouble finding your way with this, simply being outside is a good place to start.  Nature therapy where children spend more time outdoors has been shown to quiet the mind and attenuate symptoms of ADD and ADHD.  The simple act of removing your shoes and “grounding” or “earthing” also provides an anti-inflammatory and calming effect through the exchange of electrons that occurs between your body and the grass or sand.  

nature-destressThe trick is to find a method that works for you.  Do not be turned off by traditional definitions or get hung up on adhering to one method or another.  These should simply serve as ideas to apply towards your own practice.  This should be all about you and provide a moment of quiet clarity in an otherwise noisy chaotic world.  As stated, those who report meditating in some way, shape or form report benefits across the board.  And in a constantly changing world filled with inevitable stressors and the subsequent internal consequences including inflammation and disease, adding some sort of routine game plan to approach general stress is a must for any truly holistic approach.

If you still experience symptoms of stress, or other issues with your endocrine system (thyroid, sex hormones, blood sugar handling, circadian rhythm disruption, etc.) and can’t seen to get over the hump, addressing the adrenal glands may also provide some help.  We have witnessed many patients respond well to various herbs known as adaptogens and the guidance of diagnostic tests like the adrenal salivary index (ASI), enabling us to tap into and positively alter the physiology of the internal stress work horses, the adrenal glands.

So there you have it.  From one biohacker to another, I wish you happy holidays and success in implementing any of the strategies we touched on.  Obviously books could be written on each topic and you should always consult with your trusted healthcare provider before making any major changes, but hopefully these will fuel your curiosity to master one’s biology even further.  If you ever have any questions about any of these topics or more, feel free to reach out (321-848-0987Dr.RClarke@gmail.com) as these are only the tip of the iceberg as far as empowering yourself towards true holistic health.

In the meantime, perhaps I will run into you nose breathing, with blue light blocking glasses on while running barefoot on the beach.

 Enjoy the holidays and have a safe and healthy new year.

 Good luck in 2017.

 

REFERENCES:

Buteyko technique use to control asthma symptoms. Austin G(1). Nurs Times. 2013 Apr 24-30;109(16):16-7.

Cold acclimation recruits human brown fat and increases nonshivering thermogenesis. J Clin Invest. 2013;123(8):3395–3403. doi:10.1172/JCI68993.

Body By Science: a research-based program for strength training, body building and competitive fitness in 12 minutes a week / Doug McGuff /John Little; Northern River Productions. 2009

A potential natural treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: evidence from a national study. Kuo FE(1), Taylor AF. Am J Public Health. 2004 Sep;94(9):1580-6.

The effects of grounding (earthing) on inflammation, the immune response, wound healing, and prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. J Inflamm Res. 2015 Mar 24;8:83-96. doi: 10.2147/JIR.S69656. eCollection 2015.

 

The Key to Unlocking the Thyroid

The thyroid gland plays a vital role in countless functions.  Hypothyroidism, or an under active thyroid is one of the most commonly diagnosed and medicated conditions in healthcare today.  It can leave an individual feeling mentally fatigued, physically tired, constipated, unable to lose weight, abnormally cold, or plagued with dry skin, brittle nails and hair loss; to name a few.

This desperate individual turns to a doctor for help and is usually provided thyroid hormones without a blink of an eye.  Right off the bat we are witness to a flawed system and an antiquated way of thinking when it comes to health and our bodies.

The thyroid gland, just like every other organ in our body, does not exist and function in isolation.  As such, its function or dysfunction is normally a consequence of some sort of additional dysfunction somewhere within the interdependent matrix that is the human body.  The practice of supplementing thyroid symptoms with thyroid hormones is no better than a stop gap at best, as the underlying dysfunction persists and a dependency or worse is created by the external source of thyroid hormones.

Traditional medicine currently listens to symptoms, measures TSH, perhaps some form of T3 and T4, and diagnoses and prescribes from there.  It should be known that TSH alone is great at telling you something is off along the thyroid, pituitary access, but is useless as far as telling us what or why.  Adding some measurement of T3 and T4 to the panel is superior to the former, but again comes up short in shining a light on the why.

When the option of a more illuminating, complete thyroid panel (blood work) can be ordered, one must ask why it isn’t?  Even further, with the number one cause of hypothyroidism in this country being an autoimmune issue, why would a test for thyroid anti-bodies not be included in the standard testing?

Perhaps all resources aren’t utilized due to the fact that it doesn’t change the cookbook approach allopathic medicine has to offer.  If thyroid symptoms are present and the limited blood markers ordered signify that the thyroid hormones are off, another thyroid hormone consumer is created and left to life long dependency and/or incremental increases in dosage.  This shotgun approach is nothing less than reckless and a prime example of sick care.  Perhaps the thyroid isn’t the main issue that need be addressed.

Perhaps the adrenal glands are on overdrive from constant stress (physical, chemical or emotional).  Did you know hyper-functioning adrenal glands will dampen thyroid function?

Perhaps a leaky gut or gut infection is present.  Did you know that ~20% of thyroid hormones are converted in the intestines to  an active form the body can use, BUT only in the presence of a healthy gut and proper gut flora?

Perhaps liver function is hampered due to a high fructose diet, long term statin use or toxic overload.  Did you know the majority of thyroid hormones are converted to the active form in the liver?

These are just a few common examples of what can lead to hypothyroid symptoms and a skewing of limited, tunnel visioned lab numbers.

The most intelligent approach to the thyroid puzzle should at the very least include a COMPLETE thyroid panel accompanied by an antibody test.  Some practitioners may deem this medically unnecessary and refuse to order it, and to some aspect they may be correct.

It may very well be medically unnecessary if the goal is to simply stick a finger in the damn of dysfunction by flooding the body with thyroid hormones.  However, from an intelligently formulated functional standpoint, the complete panel (in addition to a comprehensive history, and a few other additional tests) can guide those interested in identifying the source of the dysfunction and provide the practitioner with the information needed to construct a plan.  If this is the goal, than it is no doubt medically necessary.

An eye opening example of this rests within the fact that the number one cause of an under active thyroid in America is due to immune dysfunction (Hashimotto’s Disease). That makes this an immune issue, not a primary thyroid issue.  The immune system can be and must be addressed and balanced in order to halt the attack on the thyroid gland.  This attack is what leads to the symptoms and can be identified by, amongst other things, a test for thyroid antibodies.

That is just one instance of how ordering the proper tests and not immediately resorting to medications  can clear the path to true health and wellness.  If you have a practitioner who refuses to order the tests you request, maybe it’s time to ask why, or find one who will.

Personally, my patients have been met with reluctance and sometimes outright refusal when the additional tests are requested. However, they can be done and it is your right as a proactive, educated patient to receive the tests you desire; as well as to work with a professional who is open minded and willing to work together when it comes to your health.

That is the model we strive to achieve and implement on a daily basis.  If it sounds appealing and liberating to you, feel free to contact us at anytime.

We’re ready when you are.

Make health happen.

Why Can’t I Fall Asleep?

Insomnia can be one of the most frustrating conditions to deal with. And while not all cases of sleep disturbances fall under this overused and often incorrectly utilized label, when you are sleep deprived you know it, and end up suffering on numerous physiologic fronts far beyond simply feeling tired.

But why does this happen?

How can we fix it?

Unfortunately there are plenty of reasons why our sleep cycle can be thrown off, ranging from diet and stress to outright neurological dysfunction. However, if we utilize our knowledge of physiology and start with a least invasive approach, we can start the balling rolling in the right direction.

We first need to understand and appreciate our body’s natural 24 hour cycle. This is called the circadian rhythm and is our built in sleep-wake cycle. This cycle is heavily contingent upon the inverse relationship between two chemicals: melatonin and cortisol.

Our adrenal glands secrete cortisol in response to stress (chemical, physical and emotional) in order to provide our body with energy to deal with that stress. The adrenals and thus the release of cortisol can be set into overdrive when we are stressed or from constant blood sugar swings. This is important to grasp as cortisol has an inverse relationship with melatonin and is a driver behind the wake portion of our circadian rhythm. This means that when cortisol is elevated, melatonin and thus your ability to sleep is down.

Melatonin on the other hand drives the sleep portion of our 24 hour cycle. When all is functioning properly, our melatonin level rises throughout the day (as cortisol is dropping), ultimately culminating in its peak in the later evening, sending us off to a refreshing slumber. During the evening our melatonin level begins to drop as our cortisol levels begin to rise in response to our lower blood sugar during the mini fast that takes place when we sleep.

Cortisol then peaks in the morning (while melatonin level bottoms out) providing us with wide eyed energy for the day. As the day goes on cortisol level slowly dips and melatonin rises, and we repeat the cycle all over again.

Does this picture of perfect balance and physiological harmony sound like you?

If it doesn’t, you’re not alone as adrenal dysfunction is overwhelmingly common in contemporary lifestyles filled with poor diets and high stress.

Again, starting with a least invasive, general approach, there are things you can do in an attempt to recalibrate your circadian rhythm. The first thing you can do is to start your day out with 10-15 minutes of sun exposure. This exposure to natural light will signal the body that it is day time and lead to increased production of serotonin, which is the reason people tend to feel happier with higher levels of sunlight.

Serotonin is the precursor to melatonin and thus the more serotonin, the more potential melatonin that can be produced. This is why people who are suffering from depression due to a lack of serotonin also tend to have issues sleeping.

In addition to the sun exposure, you can also make sure to provide fuel for serotonin by consuming the amino acid tryptophan as this is the precursor to serotonin. In order to boost the likelihood of this conversion, adequate amounts of magnesium and vitamin B6 are also necessary.

Taking this step can start you on your way to more serotonin, more melatonin, and hopefully more sleep. However, there are some common pitfalls that hinder the pathway from serotonin to melatonin. One of the last steps in this conversion is called methylation. Potential attenuators of the methylation process include a junk food diet (high carb/sugar), birth control pills, hormone replacement therapies, and the bacterial gut infection, H. pylori. Working with a qualified health care provider to identify and rectify each of these situations is a must when attempting to correct that 24 hour cycle.

By far the most common cause of low melatonin is the aforementioned high cortisol. When one of these is up, the other is down. The most common cause of abnormal cortisol is dysglycemia or blood sugar issues. We have covered the causes of this extensively in past posts and it truly is a deal beaker when it comes to ALL aspects of health and longevity. Other than modifying the diet, having fasting insulin and HbA1c levels monitored can point you in the right direction.

A regular recharge by the way of natural, refreshing sleep is another vital pillar to optimal living and longevity.

Use this information.

Contact us for a consult.

Dig deeper.

Do what you have to do to ensure you are stacking the deck in your favor as much as possible in order to live this one and only life to the fullest.

Beat the Stress of the Season

For many, “the most wonderful time of the year” can bring about not so wonderful emotions like stress, anxiety, or depression.  This is quite unfortunate as the joy of the Holiday Season and conclusion of another year can also serve as a time for catching up with friends and family; a time to count our blessings and keep things in perspective, and a time to allow the foot to ease off the gas pedal as we reflect, relax, and recharge.

Understandably though, many do succumb to some degree of stress or another during this time of year.

Not to worry.

The following article does an informative job of breaking down the potential stress pitfall while also offering some intelligent remedies for dealing with it.  I came across this article the other day and in the spirit of the season would love to share it with you in hopes that it will provide a clearer path to tranquility this holiday season and beyond:

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/12/18/holiday-stress-grief.aspx

MERRY CHRISTMAS