Biohacking for Everyone: how to live well if you don’t have $200,000 in the bank

Welltory
Welltory
Dec 1, 2017 · 15 min read

Biohacker Serge Faguet spent $200,000 on hacking his body’s systems and claims that he will live to be 120. However, many physicians are skeptical about his approach. Some think that Serge simply took too many anti-depressants and is imagining progress that isn’t real, while others are of the opinion that he’s overloading his body with too many incompatible supplements. Welltory helps people track their physical & mental wellness, prompting them to make lifestyle adjustments that improve their wellness parameters. We decided to take a look at Faguet’s approach and the follow-up comments from physicians. Head of R&D at Welltory Marina Kovaleva, an MD with a degree in biochemistry and experience in immunology, is here to comment on the biohacker’s approach and talk about how to stay healthy without sinking a ton of money into expensive techniques.

What did Faguet do to deserve so much criticism?

Serge Faguet is diligently researching his own body and working to improve various health parameters. He adds hormones and vitamins to his diet, estimates nutritional values for the food he consumes, meditates, and works out. Why are physicians skeptical? The thing is that Faguet is taking a ton of pills and tracking dozens of biomarkers, but he’s completely healthy. Had he spent the same amount of money on treating a specific illness, nobody would bat an eye. But what we have here is a person spending money to go from feeling ok to feeling fantastic. So far, Faguet’s experiment has actually demonstrated that working to boost your physiological parameters can improve your quality of life.

That’s what biohacking is all about — working on your body & mind (even when you’re not sick) in order to live better, become healthier, and be more productive.

We’ve known for a long time that spotting and fixing health issues before they turn into irreversible problems leads to longer, healthier lives. A WHO study that dates all the way back to the 1980s has shown that only about 10% of our health depends on genetics, while 70% depends on lifestyle choices. That means you can have control over this 70%. Essentially, biohacking is about acting before you experience problems, about tracking your health parameters, and giving your body what it needs to boost productivity. This is a progressive approach, and it’s a good thing. And even though right now doctors are primarily focused on treating illnesses, preventive healthcare is the future. This isn’t a new concept. Back in the 1960s, Russian physician and researcher Roman Bayevsky, who invented the heart rate variability method that Welltory is based on, developed a new approach to assessing health — prenosological diagnostics. This approach focused on the middle ground between “health” and “illness,” on spotting the warning signs that would enable people to take preventive measures before it was too late.

So how do we spot the warning signs in our own bodies and figure out what problem areas we need to focus on?

Serge had a team of scientists help him out. But not everybody has enough money to pay for that much lab work, and researchers themselves aren’t usually eager to focus all of their efforts on a single person. Doctors mostly help when we’re already sick. Unfortunately, there aren’t many options. The first option is to go with the flow, ending up with chronic illnesses and treating them as they pop up. The second option is to start independently tracking how your lifestyle, sleep, diet, and habits affect your body without waiting for an illness to catch you by surprise. There are already many ways you can do this, and they’re relatively simple. For example, you can measure your heart rate variability and track your stress levels with just a smartphone. There are plenty of other opportunities to become a biohacker without breaking the bank. Let’s use what Serge Faguet did as an example.

What does Serge’s biohacking entail?

First, let’s talk about Faguet’s techniques.

What Faguet does:

  • Splits his comprehensive approach into six key improvement areas: sleep hygiene, nutrition, exercise, mental health, medical tests, and supplements.
  • Thinks of aging as a bug.
  • Encourages people to consult a doctor before trying his approach.

What doctors say:

  • You can only objectively assess changes to a system if you exist outside of it. Serge experiments on himself and compares his own parameters, some of which are entirely subjective.
  • Knowing all possible effects of introduced changes and drug interactions is key to a systematic approach. Otherwise, the brain will rely on subjective assessments.

Welltory’s verdict:

Working on your physiology improves your life

Along with your efficiency, productivity, and cognitive abilities. Quite often, the reason we can’t force ourselves to get down to work has more to do with our physiology than laziness. For example, a melatonin deficit can take a toll on our cognitive abilities, and low estrogen levels negatively impact memory.

From a scientific perspective, aging can be seen as a bug in our genetic code

Aging means your body’s organs become less active. The body’s organ systems don’t all age at the same time, and the process looks different for everybody. For one person, system X may age when they hit 30. For someone else, system X may be doing just fine, but system Y takes a hit instead. So understanding how your specific body ages is key to slowing down the aging process. Endocrinologist Hans Selye put forward the hypothesis that aging is the cumulation of all stressors that the body was subjected to over the years. This approach is interesting because it implies that the transition from prenosological conditions to illnesses is often triggered by our inability to effectively manage stress.

In the future, healthcare will be preventive and personalized

Serge Faguet’s approach falls in line with the concept of P4 medicine introduced by Leroy Hood. The genomics pioneer says that the future of medicine is preventive, personalized, predictive, and participatory. This concept is based on the premise that there is no single approach that works equally well for everybody. The most effective solutions are individual. When affordable diagnostic tools like gadgets or implants become available to the public, this search for individual solutions will become much more accessible. Moreover, a personalized approach applies to more than just nutrition. It can help us fine-tune our diet, workout routine, and schedule.

A comprehensive approach is important, but Faguet left some parameters out

Working on all aspects of your life at the same time is key. We recommend adding another area for improvement — work hygiene. How?

Stick with cycles. Our bodies and minds work in cycles, and the average productivity cycle is 120 minutes. We can be fairly productive for about 90 minutes, but then we need 30 minutes of rest. Ideally, this would entail some kind of physical activity or switching to a completely different kind of task.

Use a timer. One productivity technique is called Pomodoro. It entails splitting up your time into short segments — 25 minutes of work followed by 5 minutes of rest.

Use brain science to plan your day. Research shows that our daily attention span is limited. It’s best to make the most important decisions early in the morning. When you’re tired, it’s easier to fall victim to cognitive biases, making risky choices or avoiding decision-making altogether.

What does a biohacker eat?

Let’s look at Serge Faguet’s diet.

What Faguet does:

  • Completely eliminates sugar from his diet and limits his consumption of other products that cause glucose spikes.
  • Cyclical fasting to trigger ketosis.
  • Eats a high-fat, low-carb diet.
  • Eats a primarily plant-based diet.

What doctors say:

  • Simple and complex carbs, as well as sugars, are important parts of any diet. Excluding them completely will take a toll on both physical and intellectual activity.
  • A keto diet has many downsides: increased risk of developing insulin resistance and renal dysfunction, decreased testosterone levels, and a reduction in fiber’s positive effects on digestion.

Welltory’s verdict:

Yes, it’s best to limit sugar intake

Free sugars should account for no more than 10% of total energy intake. Further reducing this amount to 5% has many health benefits. By the way, 10% is just 50 grams of sugar a day. All the carbs you consume are absorbed into the bloodstream as simple sugars. But carbs from white rice, for example, are processed faster because it doesn’t contain much fiber. The same thing applies to simple sugars: the shorter the molecule, the faster the carbs are absorbed. This can cause a sugar crash, and may lead to diabetes for some people. Complex foods are absorbed slower. Sugar from fat-free yogurt, for example, will be absorbed faster than sugar from regular yogurt, since fat slows down the process.

Eliminating juice and fructose is a good move

Fresh-squeezed orange juice contains 21 grams of sugar and 113 calories. Cranberry juice has 30 grams of sugar and 115 calories, and Coke has 27 grams of sugar and 105 calories. In healthy people, fructose is converted into glucose. But while this is happening, the person doesn’t feel sated and continues to consume calories. The thing is that even small amounts of glucose trigger the production of leptin, a hormone that makes you feel full. But until it is processed, fructose has no impact on leptin production and therefore doesn’t make you feel full. You’ll eat a lot more during the time fructose is being converted than you would have if you had been eating glucose. Moreover, research shows that fructose can negatively impact cognitive abilities.

Cyclical fasting is effective

Fasting for 16 hours or longer can help trigger ketosis, which is when the body starts to break down fat in order to obtain energy and produce ketone bodies. Intermittent fasting is very important for people with diabetes. It can help improve insulin resistance and even reverse type 2 diabetes. Aside from fasting, there are other ways of triggering ketosis: consuming meats and other keto foods, or tough workouts that keep your pulse above the cardio zone.

What kind of exercise works best?

Let’s look at what Faguet does for exercise and which biohacker techniques we can borrow from him.

What Faguet does:

  • Sticks to high intensity interval training, works all muscle groups, and pays special attention to the legs.
  • Doesn’t limit his workouts to treadmills or elliptical machines.

What doctors say:

  • Serge’s weight loss and muscle gain may be the result of overloading the thyroid with hormones, not his willpower and high intensity interval training.

Welltory’s verdict:

Serge’s workout program is effective

Serge’s program aims to boost metabolism. The workouts are intense, but don’t entail overexertion. It’s enough for the body to produce hormones like somatotropin and testosterone, which help repair muscle tissue. Overexertion would be harmful, since Serge focuses on the same muscle group (the legs) more than once a week.

Treadmills and elliptical machines aren’t very efficient

It’s fair to say that treadmills and elliptical machines are relatively useless. In order to get in good shape, it’s important to work major muscle groups, like glutes, buttocks, and back muscles. Working these muscle groups will trigger a metabolic response. This means that the body will start to synthesize actin and myosin and begin to produce testosterone and the growth hormone, which are responsible for tissue growth and restoration.

Thyroid hormones don’t impact muscle growth

Serge Faguet’s thyroid is actually in good shape, so comments about thyroid problems are misguided. And even if it were overloaded with hormones, this would result in the reduction of both fat and muscle mass. So it’s possible to lose weight by manipulating thyroid hormones, but it’s not possible to change the ratio of fat to muscle.

What does mental health have to do with non-monogamy?

Meditation and mindfulness are always a good thing. We’d like to comment on his views on sexual non-monogamy.

What Faguet does:

  • Meditates daily and practices mindfulness
  • Goes to therapy
  • Practices non-monogamy

“I’m totally against sexual monogamy. This is normal and natural. Resisting these natural urges goes against the way we’re wired neurobiologically.”

What doctors say:

  • Serge Faguet thinks his great mental health is the result of meditation and therapy, but severely underestimates the effects of the medications he’s on.

Welltory’s verdict:

Having sex on a regular basis has a positive impact on quality of life

Sex really does help prevent age-related illnesses and is associated with higher life expectancy.

The process itself is what’s important, not how many partners you have

72 hours after sex, testosterone levels in men are 2 times lower than they were during the sex act. This is when men feel their best, and it doesn’t matter how many partners they have. Plus, having multiple sexual partners increases the risk of contracting STDs.

What parameters do biohackers track?

It’s good to get bloodwork and other tests done, but it’s tough to do so frequently. But some parameters are easy to track. Even your smartphone can help.

What Faguet does:

  • Tracks body fat percentage, monitors his cardiovascular system, keeps his lipid spectrum balances, keeps glucose levels low, and gets bloodwork done, along with microbiome and allergy tests
  • Uses genetic test results to figure out what works for him and tracks biomarkers of aging.
  • Tracks heart rate variability.

“Heart rate variability is another interesting metric that correlates with health more than heart rate, but for now I’m not sure how to interpret it.”

What doctors say:

  • Body fat percentage is estimated with a technique called bioelectrical impedance analysis. The tools used to measure it can measure the impedance of a specific area that it touches, but this has little to do with your overall body fat.
  • There have to be medical grounds for doing medical tests. Without them, tracking parameters is useless.

Welltory’s verdict:

Tracking health parameters is important, even if you’re completely healthy

It’s best to track your body’s parameters before you get sick, not after. Serge has a pretty good program. And take a look at how he describes measuring his glucose levels with a CGM gadget:

“A great motivational tool, it’s like gamifying your own biochemical states.”

We call this the observer effect and tell our users about it. The observer effect is when you start to change a system just by observing it. If you have the option to track different physiological metrics on a daily basis, you will subconsciously start altering your lifestyle to improve these metrics.

The parameters Faguet is tracking are helpful, but some of them don’t require expensive tests and equipment to track

Serge is tracking and improving the right parameters. He gets bloodwork done frequently, and is tracking ferritin, insulin, glucose, body fat, Omega 6, and mercury levels. Taking Vitamin D supplements or increasing Omega 3 and VO2Max levels is also a good thing. Serge shells out money for a lot of tests, but there are less complicated ways of tracking the same parameters. For example, Welltory is a smartphone app that measures heart rate variability and keeps all of your health and fitness data in one dashboard.

Heart rate variability is a good way to measure the impact of stress on your body

Heart rate variability (HRV) is the foundation of Welltory’s biofeedback program and is an invaluable tool for biohackers. Variability refers to variations in the time intervals between heart beats. We borrowed this technique from space medicine and professional sports. HRV analysis tracks the state of the autonomic nervous system. The measurement details show a lot of information about the heart, the nervous system, sleep quality, and overall stress resilience. Everything you do affects the results.

Why so many medications?

This is where physicians are particularly critical of Serge’s approach. Let’s figure out why doctors keep saying that the biohacker is doing damage to his body by taking incompatible medications.

What Faguet does:

  • Takes metformin to lower blood sugar.
  • Drinks a nootropic supplement called Phenibut for better recovery during sleep.
  • Takes lithium and modafinil to boost cognitive abilities, as well as selective estrogen receptor stimulators and thyroid medication.
  • Takes HGH (human growth hormone), since his IGF-1 levels are a bit on the low side (115–125).
  • Takes a ton of dietary and food supplements.

What doctors say:

  • Modafinil boosts the production of monoamines, especially norepinephrine and dopamine from the synaptic clefts. The result is increased self-confidence.
  • taking lithium increases the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
  • Testosterone increases IGF-1 levels, which increases mortality risk even for people in good cardiovascular health.
  • Glycine increases the likelihood of stroke by 60%, multiple studies have shown that alpha-lipoic acid accelerates the growth of cancer tumors, and acetylcysteine accelerates both the growth and metastasis of melanoma.

Welltory’s verdict:

Considering the low doses, the worst case scenario is that all of these meds are simply useless

The amount of lithium Faguet takes is a lot smaller than the doses used to treat mental illness. Phenibut GABAph is the predecessor of the sleep hormone melatonin and the growth hormone (somatotropin). The former boosts sleep quality, while the latter burns fat. In small doses, the substance will traverse the blood-brain barrier, but isn’t harmful. Metformin is a drug used to treat diabetes, but studies on healthy volunteers have shown that the drug can help prevent aging. The important thing is that Serge took all the right tests to make sure it’s safe for him to take these drugs. And his biomarkers show that all the drugs he’s taking aren’t doing him any damage at this point.

IGF doesn’t increase mortality risk

IGF injections lead to the gradual decrease in the production of the growth hormone, which is why a series of IGF injections is followed by testosterone treatment. It’s unclear how this would affect mortality risk. On the contrary, IGF has a positive impact on muscles, including on the heart.

The verdict on hormone therapy is unclear

There is no definitive evidence that boosting IGF-1 levels will necessarily slow down the aging process. The same applies to testosterone. Some people think that anabolic agents like the growth hormone and testosterone can shorten lifespans. A few examples: testosterone injections lead to shorter lifespans in mice, neutered cats live 1.5 times longer, and men with lower testosterone levels live for 10–15 longer on average. Even using steroids to slow down aging may be useless. The impact depends not only on hormone levels, but also on the hormone’s ability to bind with receptors, which decreases with age.

What’s the right way to sleep?

Without quality sleep, Serge’s whole program would not work. We think Serge has excellent sleep hygiene, but there are a few improvements we would make.

What Faguet does:

  • Tracks sleep cycles with the Oura Ring and analyzes changes
  • Sleeps in a cool and humid room
  • Sticks to the same sleep schedule

What doctors say:

  • The graphs Faguet provides show that his sleep cycles are off. Usually, deep sleep lasts for less than 90 minutes after falling asleep.
  • Low heart rate variability during sleep, which Serge was unable to interpret, is an early sign of cardiovascular problems. Typically, this parameter should be higher in deep sleep.

Welltory’s verdict:

Serge’s sleep cycles need some work

Let’s look at two sleep stages in a sleep cycle: REM sleep and non-REM sleep. REM sleep is crucial for the brain: it helps consolidate memory and process emotions. non-REM sleep is when the body is restored: the growth hormone is released and cells are repaired. A good night’s sleep entails about 5 full sleep cycles. Right now, Serge is going through 4 sleep cycles a night.

Serge’s heart rate variability numbers show that he’s stressed

rMSSD is an HRV parameter that can be measured with the OuraRing, heart rate monitor, or smartphone camera. It’s one of the parameters used to assess recovery after a workout or stressful event. Serge’s rMSSD numbers are relatively low, which means he is either overdoing it at the gym or is under a lot of stress.

Serge needs to focus on tracking stress

Given Serge’s low rMSSD values and a heart rate that hovers a bit above average, we recommend tracking heart rate variability with Welltory for 2–4 weeks. Tracking HRV over the course of several weeks will give Serge a better understanding of his body and his stress levels, his recovery processes, as well as his daily readiness — how much emotional and physical stress his body is prepared to handle.

The final verdict

Serge’s program is viable and is working well for him. Since it’s highly personalized, we don’t recommend this exact same program for anybody else (and neither does Faguet). However, there are a few key takeaways from the program that everybody can use, like using mobile apps to track health parameters. If you don’t have $200,000 to spend on a personal team of researchers, you can still introduce some changes to your life completely free of charge: set a good sleep schedule, consume less sugar, and exercise in order to boost production of the growth hormone. You can track how all of these changes affect your body directly on your phone with the free Welltory app.

Welltory

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Welltory

AI health coach that scans your data for insights that help you train, work, and live better

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