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Biohacking for Women
It’s Women’s Day in August so we’re shifting focus a bit to women’s health! To all the men, if you have women in your life, this affects you too, so buckle up! If we think of biohacking as optimising our physiology and enhancing our health by using food, lifestyle, exercise, targeted supplementation and technology (i.e. internal and external factors), it goes to reason that biohacking should essentially look the same for men and women.
Truth is, however, that men and women have different needs. Studies are showing that women need more sleep yet are 40% more likely to experience insomnia. Evidence also shows that women react differently to diets such as the ketogenic diet and fasting compared to men. Biohacking is therefore not a one size fits all, but should rather be focused on optimising your female biology!
The main reason for a different approach? HORMONES.
Hormones used to be one of those words that I would kind of roll my eyes about. Something to worry about later in life and certainly something that I didn’t want to be interested in, in the slightest.
While men certainly need to be aware of their hormone health too (testosterone and all the other hormones that women have, because men have them too!) I think it’s a terrible injustice that more women aren’t aware of the importance of having their hormones tested, at the latest from their early 30’s.
The modern environment we live in (processed food, water quality, air quality, EMF, compounded with genetic and stress factors) mean that so many of us are compromised. Through my biohacking journey, I’ve met so many women who have PCOS, fertility issues, miscarriages, heavy periods, severe PMS, bloating, acne, fibroids, insomnia, low libido and irregular periods. Some doctors even prescribe anti-depressants for a so-called “depressed vagina” before a woman’s period for PMS symptoms. This is not good ladies!
The good news is that by making small changes, these can be managed so effectively, without any medication (other than perhaps bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, which I think is great)! PMS and bloating and all the other symptoms listed above are not just “part of being a woman”, it means that something isn’t quite right or could be optimised.
The one piece of advice I would give to every woman reading this is to go have her hormones tested with a functional medicine specialist or an endocrinologist, regardless her age! This will help you know what you need to focus on optimising.
Enter…Biohacking for Women! This has become very popular of late in the health and wellness space. Being a woman shouldn’t be difficult, but it is important that we’re given the tools to hack our health to be absolutely optimised!
Biohacking for Men vs Women
Historically, biohacking has been the arena of men. The majority of biohackers are still men, and the far majority of studies are done on men. There is good reason for this: men have a hormonal system that operates over 24 hours. Women have a hormonal system that operates over a 30-day cycle. Performing studies on men therefore makes more sense, because you don’t need to adjust for all these other factors.
Two great examples include intermittent fasting (IF) and the ketogenic diet. I’m a massive fan of both, but long periods of fasting simply aren’t appropriate for the vast majority of women who are not yet in menopause (after menopause, your hormones change and fasting for extended periods is more appropriate). However, for pre-menopausal women, the research is overwhelmingly starting to show that IF of 12 – 14 hours is far healthier for your hormone health than those north of 16 hours.
Similarly, with the ketogenic diet: I personally follow a very low carb diet but being too low carb for too long at a time is also starting to show some hormonal havoc in studies. Sorry ladies, this doesn’t mean that your favourite pasta is now a regular on your menu again, but it does mean that healthy, whole food carbs like sweet potatoes, occasional rice and potatoes and those “high” carb veggies like carrots and butternut do have a place in a hormone-healthy diet!
Biohacks for Women!
When our hormones are working with us and not against us, mood swings, food cravings, fatigue and cramps all decrease. Throw in an increase in energy and vitality and the following biohacks might just change your life!
Biohacking your cycle has become extremely popular of late, and rightfully so because tracking your cycle should be about so much more than just fertility, it is for everyone! Essentially it means dividing your 30-odd day cycle into four stages (menstrual phase, follicular phase, ovulatory phase and luteal phase).
Many of us women don’t even fully understand all these phases, but if you start tracking them, you can eat, exercise and schedule activities accordingly because your body’s needs differ in each of these stages. There are apps for this (download MyFlo) and cycle syncing has been a game changer for many women in managing their symptoms. There is even a concept called Seed Cycling, which tells you which seeds to eat at which time of the month.
Hack Your Diet
Women tend to have more digestive issues than men. What you eat directly affects your gut microbiome. Modern diets include a lot of processed food, sugar and artificial crap that result in low bacterial diversity. This in turn leads to inflammation and autoimmune diseases, so these foods, and especially sugar, have no place in a hormone-healthy lifestyle. If you want to see a real change in your health, eat high quality nutrients like protein, healthy fats, some healthy carbs and always organic where possible. The quality of the food you eat always trumps calorie counting.
Read More: Your Health Starts In The Gut
As an example of how nuanced this is, post ovulation, women need oestrogen to drop so that it can be at the right levels (oestrogen is essential for serotonin production, one of our happy hormones). Some healthy carbohydrate intake assists with this. Another example is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), which often results in fertility struggles is largely caused by insulin resistance, which can only be addressed through diet. Tracking your blood sugar levels is therefore crucial. For healthy skin, include fatty fish, broccoli, oranges, berries and collagen.
A lack of sleep has a deleterious impact on the hormones that control glucose regulation and appetite (i.e. cravings). It also impacts on cortisol, the stress hormone, which throws so many other hormones out of whack when it is at unhealthy levels. All the normal biohacks apply, but they are particularly important for women who tend to suffer from sleep disturbances more than men. Biohacking your sleep involves good sleep hygiene, with examples including avoiding screens right before bedtime, breathing exercises, sleeping in a dark room, not eating 3 hours before bedtime, wearing blue-light blocking glasses or supplementing with nootropics or adaptogens. View our range our TRUEDARK products that will help you biohack your sleep.
This is a topic which is probably already boring because we’ve heard it so many times, but women are just more stressed and anxious than men and tend to suffer more from self-esteem issues. Elevated cortisol results in a “wired but tired” scenario and the resultant cortisol crash leads to low energy and productivity. Stress is inevitable, so self-care tactics like meditation, regular massages and journaling are really important and shouldn’t be viewed as an “occasional treat”.
Read More: 5 Biohacks to Reduce Stress
Best biohack for stress? Breathing! Box breathing and 4-7-8 breathing (look these up, they really work!) help to significantly decrease stress, especially if meditation is just not your thing.
Movement and Exercise
Exercise helps us to boost beneficial hormones and suppress the less beneficial ones. In addition, a big part of why exercise is so important for women is because it assists with keeping weight stable, which is so important for our hormones. Body fat wreaks havoc on the endocrine system (hormone factory), which often results in insulin resistance, which is basically a hormone hurricane.
Exercise helps to remove excess oestrogen (when necessary), increase testosterone (important for sex drive and muscle mass) and decrease cortisol. HIIT training and restorative yoga or walking all help with this (extensive endurance training by contrast stresses your system and your hormones, especially if you have thyroid issues). If you’re an endurance runner who likes doing a lot of hard cardio, take care to also allow yourself enough recovery time, and acknowledge that post-ovulation is a better time to push it than just before your period starts.
Ever hear of Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor? They are totally worth it! I’d recommend following someone like @vaginacoach on Instagram to give you the tools you need to incorporate this into your lifestyle.
Oxytocin is an awesome hormone which is released when we experience touch or social engagements with friends. Even meeting up with a friend for a coffee or having a strong social network can release oxytocin and it’s also the reason why hugs are such a big health tool! Oxytocin can counteract cortisol, so having a buddy during stressful times is a wonderful hack for your health.
The chemicals in our shampoo, make-up, nail polish (sad face), household cleaning products, deodorants and fragrances are really detrimental to our hormone health because they are endocrine disruptors. Choose products that are natural, with ingredients you can pronounce and would put in your mouth. This is one of the biggest reasons why so many women today suffer with hormonal imbalances and also one of the easiest things to fix. Just do it!
We should all be educating ourselves on women’s health, especially because it is something which in years gone by was often ignored (the term “bikini medicine” springs to mind). As an example, in the 4-10 years before menopause, known as perimenopause, there are shifts in the levels of our female hormones. It can start affecting your sleep and your productivity if you don’t acknowledge these shifts. Similarly, once menopause comes around, you absolutely don’t have to be a grumpy, bloated, buy-every-fan-at-the-shops kind of gal. By making lifestyle changes as discussed above, you too can become the fine red wine we’ve always associated with men.
Tired of Hormones?
If you’ve got it all under control on the hormone front and just want to become an Optimised Female, no discussion on biohacking for women would be complete without at least addressing beauty and supplements!
Read more: To Supplement or Not To Supplement
Beauty and Self-Care
Whether it’s a Plasma Rich Plasma (PRP) facial (aka the Vampire facial), botox, micro-needling or stem cell therapy, there are all kinds of strategies that women in biohacking are using to enhance their beauty. I really like all of these strategies, but the biggest wins are actually from the simple, at-home treatments that we can easily fit into our daily lives. Here are a few of my favourites:
- Micro-needling: you can buy derma rollers for relatively inexpensively these days. Buy the best quality you can and educate yourself on how to use it. This treatment inflames the skin, which results in your body producing more collagen naturally, resulting in a fuller, less wrinkled face. Professionals can also do micro-needling for you (with a numbing cream!), and I’ve found both of these strategies to work really well!
- Bentonite Clay: one of the cheapest, most effective beauty tools I’ve come across. It works really well as a face mask when combined with coconut oil, or as a foot or bath soak. Bentonite clay has a negative charge and can therefore attract positively charged ions, which means that heavy metals and free radicals are drawn out of our bodies like a magnet.
- Masks: something as simple as plain Greek yoghurt (probiotics) makes an excellent face mask. It calms inflammation and along with other masks that contain only natural ingredients, they really do seem to make a difference. A hair mask of honey (1t), 1 egg and olive oil (2T) can improve the health of your hair. You see – women have been biohackers for far longer than men!
- Essential oils: use them and use them often! Different oils have different properties so research your areas of concern and incorporate this into daily life!
- Red Light Therapy: builds collagen, smooths skin, boosts hair growth, decreases pain, decreases inflammation and can even help with weight loss. I think red light therapy is incredibly beneficial for women, both from a beauty and hormone standpoint. Read more here.
- Silk pillowcases: these have been shown to improve the appearance of wrinkles, improve acne and create less friction to your face while sleeping. I think it’s a biohack in every sense of the word.
Supplement Like A Girl
Targeted supplementation can assist with anything from managing PMS symptoms to better hair. There are a number of nootropics have been shown to positively impact on hormone regulation. However, it is important to first understand your personal hormone levels before supplementing, as each of these work on different hormones in different ways. While these nootropics couldn’t cause harm, it is always important to supplement with a purpose. A few effective ones are listed below:
- Ginkgo Biloba - positively impacts on oestrogen and testosterone levels
- Turmeric - helpful for symptoms of menopause such as hot flushes
- Bacopa Monnieri - cortisol regulation
- Rhodiola Rosea - cortisol regulation
- Alpha Lipoic Acid - thyroid health
- L-Theanine - cortisol regulation
If you know that cortisol is a concern for you, then focus on calming nootropics and adaptogens. Similarly, Ashwagandha and ginseng can be very helpful for testosterone levels in men and women, but you need to know if you need higher or lower levels before you supplement, so it’s a good idea to do your own research and consult with a doctor. PRIMESELF Adaptogen Complex is one of our best selling adaptogenic formulations that may assist with hormone regulation.
Magnesium is very important in the context of improving insulin sensitivity, which is important for the entire hormone system and has even been shown to decrease the symptoms of hot flushes.
Finally, Vitamin D! It is a master hormone in our bodies and important for any and all hormone issues. Sunshine and supplementation are your best friends.
There are well-known differences between the genders for optimising health. Women have a unique biology. Biohacking as a woman is an enormous amount of fun, because you can see real changes and results from small interventions! Suffering from hormone imbalances and visions of hot flushes really shouldn’t be accepted as the inevitable norm. Take control of your hormone health now, whether you are 25 or 85. Healthy hormones directly translate to ageing well and staving off cognitive decline, depression, fatigue and discomfort. Girls just wanna have fun, so arm yourself with all the information and you can thrive!
- Thea is the founder of Neolaia – Biohacking SA and passionate about all things biohacking, functional medicine, holistic and ancestral wellness. She enjoys the occasional triathlon, is fanatic about yoga and the gym and loves n=1 biohacking experiments more than anything else! Learning about the latest in scientific research for health and wellness and applying this knowledge is what makes her happiest!
This information does not serve as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is for informational purposes only and does not provide a comprehensive explanation of the different compounds. Always consult your doctor first when making any changes to medication or supplementation.