Hacking the Self

5 Basic Principles to Optimize your Health

Last week I stayed with two friends in San Francisco, husband and wife. Both of them work demanding jobs in private equity and public relations, respectively. Like many of my friends in the US, their work is demanding and stressful.

As someone who worked in high intensity jobs in finance and in politics in DC, I know how difficult it can be to lose sight of one’s own health. Habits accumulate, many of them not conducive for our physical and mental health.

Knowing that I had become very conscious about my health, my friends asked me what my top 5 suggestions were for enhancing their health on a daily basis.

Here is what I came up with. I’d love to hear from our readers and listeners what your Top 5 are as well.

5 Basic Principles for Optimizing your Health



1. Time restricted eating (TRE). Maintain at least a 12 hour window between the last time you consumed calories the night before and the next time you consume food or a beverage besides water (i.e. zero calories), the next morning. Dr. Rhonda Patrick has helped raise awareness around the benefits of TRE, largely through her discussions with circadian rhythm expert Dr. Satchin Panda. Research from Dr. Ruth Patterson shows compelling advantages for expanding to a 13 hour window (her studies focused on women).

The BIG Question: What about coffee!? Coffee will disrupt the benefits of TRE, according to Dr. Panda. Try holding off for another hour or two. You’d be surprised what hydration and some movement will do for your energy levels.

That said, if you do consume coffee (with no butter, MCT oil, milk or sugar–i.e. ZERO calories) you can still reap some benefits of a morning “fast” for metabolic purposes. Consider substituting with an amino acid powder if you want to do a coffee only fast in the morning.


2. Hydration. Upon waking replenish yourself with minerals. 1/4 lemon wedge plus half a tea spoon of Celtic sea salt (this is preferable to Himalayan Pink Sea Salt according to fitness expert Ben Greenfield). In general consume more mineral rich water and electrolyte drinks such as smart water (though avoiding plastic is always a welcome idea for health and environmental reasons).

For high quality trace minerals consider supplementing with Quicksilver trace ocean minerals, either upon waking or in the afternoon. Best consumed on an empty stomach.


3. Movement. Take a morning walk in a fasted state. Yoga is also great. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. 5 minutes is A LOT better than nothing.

In the morning if you don’t have time to walk because you are rushing to the car to get to work do even brief exercise (1-2 minutes of intense jumping jacks) in a fasted state. Movement shortly upon waking helpful for waking up and getting your body’s internal clock going.

During the day: Every 20 mins at least stand briefly and move before sitting back down. Once an hour take 60 seconds to induce heart raising activity like jumping jacks, push ups or plank.


4. Light. Get exposure to sunlight in early am. Supplementing with Vitamin D helps but it’s no substitute for the real deal. Getting light before noon translates into better sleep (this tells your brain to reduce more melatonin in the evening).. Use the app D Minder to track Vitamin D levels. Supplement with D3/K2 from Quicksilver Scientific (K2 is also a great supplement for health, including bones, and many of us don’t eat enough K2 from fermented foods or the right animal products).


5. Hot/cold exposure. Shower in morning or evening, or both. Alternate for 5 rounds: 20 seconds cold/10 seconds hot. Yes this is intense and not for everyone. But like anything else it can be a learned behavior. Benefits of hot, cold exposure are numerous including reduced inflammation, improved mitochondrial function and enhanced blood circulation. Also this improves the burning of “brown fat,” particularly when you do hot/cold exposure in a fasted state. You don’t have to jump from your cyrogenic freezer into your infra red sauna. Your shower is much better than nothing.

What are your top 5 daily habits for optimizing your health?

#51: Reducing Stress with Chinese Herbalism: a conversation with Roger Drummer Part 2

This is the second half of my conversation on Chinese Herbalism with Roger Drummer. Roger is the founder of Herb Works and the man who formulated its various, exceptional products, such as Tian Chi and Inner Peace.

A brief description of Roger’s story from the Herb Works website will give you a taste of what you’re in store for in this conversation:

“I truly believe in the healing power of Chinese herbs. They have transformed my life, and I’ve witnessed it happen for countless others in my 26 year career. As a Diplomate of Chinese Herbology, I’ve put tens of thousands of people on herbal programs with great success.

What makes Chinese herbology unique, is its fundamental principal of recognizing a person’s core imbalance and correcting it. It also recognizes that a healthy constitution can withstand tremendous outside influence. Therefore, restoring and maintaining vitality is the foundation of Chinese herbology.

People are suffering from chronic stress and losing vitality, which typically leads to poor health. Through my work with Chinese herbs, I have been able to help people create an internal environment where they can thrive and enjoy life.”

Roger Drummer is a wealth of knowledge regarding the benefits of using adaptogens such as Reishi mushrooms, Shizandra Berry, and Ashwaghanda, among other herbs. These compounds are natural, powerful ways to down regulate your nervous system, reduce stress and improve your mental and physical health.

From my perspective, Chinese herbalism is an ancient form of biohacking and the use of these herbs continues to offer great benefits to the health of many people who work with these herbs.

If you’re looking for a healthy way to reduce stress and improve your health, I would highly recommend that you consider purchasing some of the high quality products from Herb Works.

I’ve been taking Tian Chi most mornings or early afternoons, as well as three capsules of Inner Peace after dinner. Tian Chi helps me feel focused yet calm and relaxed: a great combination for a productive day of work. Inner Peace leaves me with a deep feeling of relaxation, which is a nice transition into winding down and getting ready for bed.

Enjoy my conversation with Roger and, as always, we welcome your comments and questions on Facebook or Twitter.

Faith

Faith. It is a word with which I have uncomfortable for much of my life. One reason is the association that it has in particular religious contexts, and the way commonly cited descriptions of this world view did not sit with the skeptical, rationalist approach to viewing the world that I harbored for a long period of time. 

Another reason is that faith implies a willingness to yield to forces outside of one’s control, and this notion doesn’t sit well with people who believe they have the power to change circumstances around them to satisfy their own needs and desires, rather than trying to accept, and to find contentment within, whatever circumstances arise within the present moment. 

If this latter reason describes your personality then perhaps you’ve learned, like me, that the journey is an on going one: of continually reminding oneself to LET GO. One essential lesson on the spiritual journey is that you don’t get to bring all of your baggage with you. 

I have also learned to appreciate the value and perspective of many people who identify as part of a faith based religion, even if I do not identify as part of such a group myself. Moreover, while I certainly view religious dogmatism as a reactionary societal force, I’ve come to recognize that ideological extremism is a problem in many schools of thought, not simply those of a religious nature.

If you’ve followed this podcast or blog for some time now, you appreciate that, in fact, religious studies is very much something that I value. Perhaps you’ve even picked up on the sense of “faith” that I’ve slowly cultivated over time. Ram Dass’ notion of Grace has been a powerful teaching in this regard.

Recently, though, faith has taken on a new meaning for me in a different context: healing. I’m realizing that faith is essential on the healing journey, regardless of if you call yourself a Christian, a Buddhist or an Atheist.

In India, they say when you are ready, the guru appears. Perhaps a more accessible way in which to think of this idea is the notion of serendipity: if your eyes are truly open, you find that life will present you with the right teacher when you need him or her at the right time.

Jeffrey Yuen, Daoist Priest and renowned Doctor of Classical Chinese Medicine, has been that person for me. Dr. Yuen has said many things to me that have been indispensable on my healing journey, but his most powerful message was a very simple one, which I will paraphrase in my own words:

Whatever form of treatment you chose—Western medicine or Chinese Medicine—you have to have faith that it will work. If you do not truly believe that this course of treatment will make you better then your condition will very likely not improve. Therefore, faith is an indispensable asset on the healing journey. 

Like many good ideas, this one seems obvious. However, like many timeless pieces of wisdom, there is a reason that people have to repeat them again and again. Every day, in every culture, there are people who are talked into, even coerced into, forms of treatment that they do not truly believe will make them better.

For many people this is sadly because this is the only form of treatment they can afford. Undoubtedly, though, there are many people who are talked into forms of treatment because the proposed approach is the dominant medical paradigm around which consensus has emerged in their society. Simply put: it’s what everyone else is doing.

Westerners find it quite dumbfounding that something like taking herbs or acupuncture could actually treat serious conditions or diseases. Here’s one interesting thing that I’ve learned from living eight years in Asia: many people in Asia find it quite curious that many Westerners believe that popping a pill will solve all of their problems.

As with other issues, there is wisdom in different cultural perspectives, and as I’m arguing for in this post: the optimal approach to medicine integrates the strengths of both Western and Eastern approaches to medicine. Personally, I very much want to leverage the power of western science and medicine in many aspects of my life, many of which I enjoy discussing on this platform. 

But I would have gladly taken my chances with a Chinese Medicine doctor to treat my acid reflux rather than a conventional Western medicine approach. If I had never touched PPIs, it seems very hard to believe that I would have osteoporosis today, at the age of 37. If I didn’t have the opportunity to mask the unpleasant symptoms by simply popping a pill, I would very likely have addressed the underlying cause: what I ate and the way that I ate. As with many other areas in life, short cuts are often too good to be true.

Western medicine is slowly waking up to the reality that the conventional approach of viewing the body as a set of isolated parts, rather than an integrated system, is a very limited approach to treatment, to say nothing of healing (and no, treatment and healing are not the same thing). Moreover, Western medicine is also very slowly waking up to the fact that simply treating the symptom, rather than addressing the underlying cause, often creates more problems than it solves. 

I accept that faith is not rational, but it is deeply personal. It is not only my own experiences but also the experiences of people about whom I cared most that have shaken my own faith in the conventional Western medical approach. My parents had access to some of the best health care in the United States, being based in St. Louis with Washington University and hospitals like Barnes-Jewish.

In hindsight, this blessing has seemed more like a curse, as their health care left them with experience after experience with which too many Americans are familiar: taking a prescription drug eventually created a new set of problems which demanded the use of..yet another prescription drug, which then created a new set of side effects, which required yet another prescription drug. Continuing on and on in a vicious cycle.

Yet the main point of this post is not to indict conventional western medicine or the pharmaceutical industry but to share one truth I’m learning through this healing journey: you must have faith in whatever system of treatment you are pursuing. 

I’m a big fan of data and evidence and rational arguments. But personal experience and stories should not be discounted. Intuition should also be honored. The particular patterns of our past weave the context in which we make decisions in the present moment.

If you believe a conventional western medical approach is the right treatment for you, perhaps because you’ve seen it work for family members or friends, then I genuinely believe that’s the course of treatment you should pursue…if that’s the treatment plan in which you have faith.

Clearly, there are many positive stories out there. Everyone is indeed different. Notably, there are different schools of medicine within western medicine which seem to take a more integrated approach due to the very nature of the discipline (from my novice perspective, endocrinology seems to fit this bill). 

Moreover, there are emerging paradigms within Western medicine that are more integrated, such as functional medicine. Clearly these approaches are a response to the limitations of the western medical approach from within the system itself. In trying to understand osteoporosis and to repair my own gut health, it’s become evident that there are some very exciting, innovative approaches to medicine happening in an integrated way from an increasing number of doctors in the US and other western countries.

Yet it seems like for far too many people in developed countries their health care is leaving them with pernicious, unintended consequences. This is perhaps most acutely the case in the United States.

Since being diagnosed with osteoporosis, I have had a number of doctors tell me that I should be on prescription drugs, many of whom I deeply respect and trust. But I’m also very clear on what feels right to me and, personally, I don’t believe I’m going to dig myself out of this ditch using the same shovel that got me in here. 

To a large extent, I’m in this situation because of prescription drugs and a reductionist approach to treating my acid reflux. Clearly, not all situations are the same and perhaps one day a prescription drug will be an important response to a condition that I have. Dogmatism isn’t good in any form, regardless of the underlying ethos.

Right now, I want to put my faith in a treatment plan that is premised on the idea that 1) the human body is an integrated biological system that must be treated holistically, not in isolated parts and 2) the body-mind-spirit has an innate capacity to heal itself. 

While I certainly do not wish that I had osteoporosis, particularly at this age, I feel gratitude that I am confronting this challenge at this time in history, for we are on the cusp of witnessing a paradigm shift in western medicine that is moving towards precisely a model of treatment that integrates the rigor, precision and innovation of the West with the holistic and integrated approach from the East.

An approach to medicine that leverages the best of both Western medicine and Eastern medicine, specifically Classical Chinese medicine, is an approach to healing in which I am willing to put my faith. The sense of optimism and hope that comes from this sense of faith has already shifted the way that I not only approach my treatment, but the way that I live my life on a moment to moment basis. And that, in itself, is healing.

Dealing with Dis-ease

In January of 2017, just shy of my 36th birthday I was diagnosed with osteoporosis. Conventionally, a diagnosis of osteoporosis is determined by a DEXA scan, which assesses, among other things, one’s Bone Mineral Density (BMD). If you have a T score below -2.5 you are said to have osteoporosis. 

Usually, they will measure a few key parts of the body to assess BMD. Typically, it is the lumbar spine and the hip; often, the forearm is included as well. My T score left me with a diagnosis of osteoporosis in my lumbar spine and forearm, and “osteopeonia,” basically low BMD, in my hip. 

Given my age, I was shocked. Above all, I was scared…frightened less of the reality that I was facing in the present, because my attention did not linger in the present for too long, but rather fearful of an imaginary future, the disturbing contours of which my mind was rapidly constructing. 

As the mind often does when it builds a picture of the future, it drew on memories from the past, and my past was filled with ammunition to make me particularly terrified of such a diagnosis. 

I recalled images of my childhood, watching my father have one vertebrate after the next blow out, leaving a man who was an active outdoorsman, full of vigor and life, largely incapacitated and unable to pursue the passions and hobbies that gave him joy.

Though my father had degenerative disk disease, and only later had osteoporosis which undoubtedly exacerbated but did not cause his condition, this knowledge offered little consolation. It was the association my mind latched onto. Even now, understanding the distinction between his situation and my own, the specter of this image still haunts me.  

Yet here’s the bizarre thing about even the most shocking of medical diagnoses: the mind has a powerful capacity for cognitive dissonance.

This is the story I told myself: 

My condition could only be explained by prolonged use of Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs), such as Nexium and Prilosec, which I used to treat my acid reflux, from the time I was in my late teens. 

I will write more on PPIs in another blog post but I’ll cut to the chase right now: if you are taking PPIs, stop taking them

[It turns out that you need stomach acid, that long term use of PPIs can significantly put you at risk for osteoporosis and increase your chances for a fracture. PPIs can also lead to other digestive problems, as you need stomach acid to break down food and absorb essential nutrients, including calcium. There are other, more effective ways to treat acid reflux.]

Clearly, I surmised, what else could explain osteoporosis in someone my age if it weren’t for the PPIs? So I stopped taking the PPIs immediately. I started some relevant supplementation, in particular increasing my levels of Vitamin D. 

In retrospect though, my efforts seem paltry. I stopped far short of asking questions, and was not nearly aggressive enough in my treatment strategy. Underpinning this complacency was the assumption that surely my problems could be explained by a single variable, and the removal of this variable from the equation would gradually improve my condition. 

When I went back for my follow up scan nearly two years later I was hoping for at least a modest improvement in my BMD, thinking that a bad case scenario would be no improvement. In retrospect, it seems incredibly naive, but my mind had not even seriously entertained the possibility that my condition could have worsened. Without the PPIs, given my otherwise very healthy diet and lifestyle, what else could have explained my initial diagnosis? Surely, my condition would improve, if not hold stable. 

Or so I thought.

While there are many things I would have done differently following that initial diagnosis, the biggest thing I want to share with other people is this: do not make assumptions about what is causing your condition, whatever you might be facing. 

Do not accept the first opinion of your doctor no matter how good. You need to be persistent and relentless in getting to the bottom of what’s ailing you. As I’m now discovering, this often entails a process of elimination before you can even begin to hone in on a set of plausible explanations for what might be underlying your problems.

This is the position in which I now find myself, and this is one of the central dilemmas that I find myself facing: how to manage The Fear?

Fear: we can respond to respond to it in so many different ways. Denial is one. Determination is another. It didn’t take too many days after my second diagnosis to transition me from this first phase to the second one.

I can honestly say that I don’t spend a day, even a minute, regretting how I spent the last two years, not because I wouldn’t have done things differently (clearly, I would have), but simply because regretting the past is simply a waste of precious mental bandwidth I need to solve my problem, to reverse my condition. 

Right now there is only conceivable outcome in my mind, one possible end to this story: changing these circumstances. Not managing it, Not learning to live with it. But reversing it. Overcoming it. Triumph.

Sometimes acceptance means learning to live with your condition, and undoubtedly one day, whether it is this disease or another one that I meet on the way to my ultimate demise, that will clearly be a worthwhile mindset to embrace. 

But I’m not there yet. I’m not ready to entertain the current set of conventional treatment options with their predictable prescription drugs and typical litany of caveats and side effects, the inevitable outcome of a reductionist approach to medicine that focuses only on treating the symptoms, not addressing the underlying cause and restoring the imbalance of an integrated mind-body system. 

Right now I’m focused on one thing: re writing my story. Through this process I hope to learn a few things that will enable me to help others lighten their load on the healing journey as well. 

In the meantime, I’m trying to savor the small things more, to deepen my gratitude and appreciation for all of the things I can now do, with the heightened awareness that one day, whether in one year or in many years down the line, I will be unable to participate in not only the things that I love, but in all of the little things that I too often take for granted.

Every day I’m making anew the conscious decision to allow hope, not fear, to be the guiding force in my life.

#50: Reducing Stress with Chinese Herbalism: a conversation with Roger Drummer Part 1

This is the first of a two part conversation on Chinese Herbalism with Roger Drummer. Roger is the founder of Herb Works and the man who formulated its various, exceptional products, such as Tian Chi and Inner Peace.

A brief description of Roger’s story from the Herb Works website will give you a taste of what you’re in store for in this conversation:

“I truly believe in the healing power of Chinese herbs. They have transformed my life, and I’ve witnessed it happen for countless others in my 26 year career. As a Diplomate of Chinese Herbology, I’ve put tens of thousands of people on herbal programs with great success.

What makes Chinese herbology unique, is its fundamental principal of recognizing a person’s core imbalance and correcting it. It also recognizes that a healthy constitution can withstand tremendous outside influence. Therefore, restoring and maintaining vitality is the foundation of Chinese herbology.

People are suffering from chronic stress and losing vitality, which typically leads to poor health. Through my work with Chinese herbs, I have been able to help people create an internal environment where they can thrive and enjoy life.”

Roger Drummer is a wealth of knowledge regarding the benefits of using adaptogens such as Reishi mushrooms, Shizandra Berry, and Ashwaghanda, among other herbs. These compounds are natural, powerful ways to down regulate your nervous system, reduce stress and improve your mental and physical health.

From my perspective, Chinese herbalism is an ancient form of biohacking and the use of these herbs continues to offer great benefits to the health of many people who work with these herbs.

If you’re looking for a healthy way to reduce stress and improve your health, I would highly recommend that you consider purchasing some of the high quality products from Herb Works.

I’ve been taking Tian Chi most mornings or early afternoons, as well as three capsules of Inner Peace after dinner. Tian Chi helps me feel focused yet calm and relaxed: a great combination for a productive day of work. Inner Peace leaves me with a deep feeling of relaxation, which is a nice transition into winding down and getting ready for bed.

Enjoy my conversation with Roger and, as always, we welcome your comments and questions on Facebook or Twitter.

#49: What’s the difference between Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?

In my fourth and final conversation with acupuncturist Ben Elan we learn about the differences between Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Ben’s insights are highly relevant to anyone interested in Chinese Medicine, “alternative” approaches to Western Medicine, Medical Qi Gong or Daoism.

In particular, this information is highly valuable to anyone interested in seeking Chinese medicine treatment. It’s helpful to know the advantages and limitations of each school before committing to working with a practitioner without first understanding the different approaches of these two schools of Chinese medicine.

#48: Crash Course in Yin Yang & The 5 Elements with Ben Elan

In my third conversation with Ben Elan, Ben gives us a glimpse into two foundational pieces of Daoism and Classical Chinese Medicine: the concepts of Yin Yang & 5 Element Theory.

Guest Bio:

Benjamin Elan, Dip. Ac has been been studying and practicing Classical Chinese Medicine for 13 years. Trained in the Stems & Branches acupuncture tradition, he is a certified Acupuncturist, Herbalist and Medical Qi Gong instructor. He also holds a Masters degree in Narrative Therapy from Melbourne University.

Benjamin began his journey doing community and health work with indigenous tribes in Southern Israel. Today,  The scope of his practice incorporates elements of humanistic psychology, ethnography, shamanism and community work.

Ben is currently practicing and teaching Chinese Medicine in Northern Thailand.

#47: Chinese vs Western Medicine with Ben Elan

In the second conversation in our series on Ancient Chinese Medicine with acupuncturist Ben Elan, we cover the following topics:

  • fundamental differences in approach between Chinese & Western medicine
  • the pros and cons of each methodology
  • what kinds of problems or symptoms are each of these effective at treating
  • challenges in talking about, or comparing, these two systems

As always, if you enjoy the show please consider supporting the podcast by writing a review on iTunes or your favorite podcasting platform, sharing the episode on social media, and/or supporting Hacking the Self on Patreon.

I welcome questions, comments or any other constructive thoughts that you would like to share on the FB page for Hacking the Self. You can also email: hackingtheself@gmail.com.

Thank you for listening.

Adrian

 

#46: What is Chinese Medicine? with Ben Elan

This conversation is the first in a series on Chinese Medicine. I’m tinkering with a new format for the show in which I do a series of shorter (20-30 minute) conversation with one guest where we unpack one theme or topic over a number of shorter episodes.

Here is the overview of topics for the upcoming series on Chinese Medicine:

  1. What is Chinese Medicine?
  2. Advantages of Chinese Medicine vs. Western
  3. CM Theory: Yin & Yang 5 Elements
  4. Difference between kinds of Chinese Medicine

Guest Bio:

Benjamin Elan, Dip. Ac has been been studying and practicing Classical Chinese Medicine for 13 years. Trained in the Stems & Branches acupuncture tradition, he is a certified Acupuncturist, Herbalist and Medical Qi Gong instructor. He also holds a Masters degree in Narrative Therapy from Melbourne University.

Benjamin began his journey doing community and health work with indigenous tribes in Southern Israel. Today,  The scope of his practice incorporates elements of humanistic psychology, ethnography, shamanism and community work.

Ben is currently practicing and teaching Chinese Medicine at Tao Garden Retreat Centre in North Thailand.

#45: Biohacking Light & Sleep with Dayne Barkley

In this episode I sit down for another conversation with Dayne Barkley who shares helpful suggestions for biohacking light and sleep. Dayne also discusses his latest venture: developing a multi use and more stylish model for blue light blocking glasses.
Dayne educates us on the following topics including:
  • circadian rhythms
  • what types of light you want exposure to, when, why, and how much, natural light, when and
  • what kinds of light you want to avoid, and
  • other hacks for feeling our best and for optimal sleep
Guest Bio:
Founder and CEO of interchangeable blue blocking glasses range, Barkley Eyewear.
A certified Human Potential and Primal Health Coach with an integrated holistic approach to human health and performance, with a particular focus on sleep optimization and Quantum health principles.