Human Optimization

Your brain is complicated; even scientists don’t understand how it all works. There are physical structures, electric impulses, chemical reactions, and cellular communication systems that go far beyond any computer ever dreamed of. At the Institute for Human Optimization, we take brain health seriously and aim to educate our patients about how the brain works and how to keep it operating well into old age. In part two of our Brain Health series, we discussed neurotransmitters and how they affect your mood, focus, and overall health. This week, we’re covering what happens to the brain as we age and proactive steps you can take to decrease your risk for neural-degenerative diseases.

When you think about aging well, what does it look like? Are you able to run? Touch your toes? Move around unassisted? Do you want radiant skin? Clear eyes? A nice smile?

Lifespan and healthspan are two different discussions. You can lengthen your life span and live to be a hundred, but what’s the benefit if the last twenty years are spent in a cognitive haze?

Transneuronal degeneration is when neurons lose a degree of intracellular proteins and can no longer maintain their normal transmembrane potential. This is the pathological process that creates the cognitive decline we see in Alzheimer’s and dementia. The loss of intracellular machinery leads to neurons that are quick to be excited, and also quickly fatigued.

As we age our brains begin to shrink, especially in the frontal cortex which is the part of the brain that handles reasoning, personality, decision making, and social behavior. Memory decline is another symptom we associate with aging and may be caused by the brain attempting to compensate for other areas experiencing weakened functions.

It’s important to know that while chronological aging is as irreversible as time itself, it is possible to reverse biological age and reduce the possibility of suffering from dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Promoters of Neuronal Degeneration  

Age itself is never the reason for a disease, rather, it is the snowball effect of all the variables in a person’s life that attributes to the length of their healthspan. Like any machine, the brain and body will break down from constant wear and tear without maintenance.

In the case of neuronal degeneration and the many diseases it leads to, there are a variety of factors that can accelerate the process:

  • Lack of Neuronal Stimulation– A lazy brain tends to stay a lazy brain.
  • Inflammatory ResponsesEating a diet full of inflammatory foods puts your body in a constant state of inflammation, which can lead to neuron degeneration and death.
  • Microglia ActivationMicroglial cells are your immune system’s trash collectors. They’re responsible for clearing out cellular debris and mediating immune responses in the central nervous system. If your body is in a constant state of chronic neuro-inflammation (the underlying cause of most neurodegenerative diseases), too many microglia are activated at once, leading to more inflammation and neuron death.
  • Blood Sugar Dysregulation – It’s well-documented that people with Type-2 diabetes have a higher chance of developing neurodegenerative diseases due to insulin being neuro-protective.
  • Methylation ImbalancesMethylation is the atomic process that essentially turns on and off your biological systems. It helps your metabolism, DNA production, neurotransmitter production, liver health, detoxification, and so much more. When this process becomes imbalanced, serious health problems can arise.
  • Deficiency of Nutrients– Eating a balanced diet is the best way to ward off cognitive illnesses. Many studies show “a diet that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids supports cognitive processes in humans and upregulates genes that are important for maintaining synaptic function and plasticity in rodents. In turn, diets that are high in saturated fat are becoming notorious for reducing molecular substrates that support cognitive processing and increase the risk of neurological dysfunction in both humans and animals.”

Signs of an Aging Brain

Most researchers agree your brain starts to show its first signs of degeneration around age thirty with beginning signs of cognitive decline after fifty.

The earliest signs of an aging brain are:

  • Fatigue when performing cognitive activities such as driving, reading, and learning.
  • Depression, a sign of unhealthy neuron activity or imbalanced neurotransmitters.
  • Poor digestive function as around 90% of the brain’s output is responsible for keeping the digestive system functioning properly.

Moderate signs of an aging brain are:

  • An inability to focus or concentrate.
  • Difficulty learning new tasks.
  • Chronic constipation as a result of intestinal overgrowth and digestive enzyme insufficiency.
  • Increased blood pressure, increased resting heart rate, and poor blood flow resulting from overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system.

Significant brain aging may cause:

  • The inability to work professionally due to cognitive difficulties.
  • An inability to appreciate life.
  • An inability to perceive your own neurological loss.
  • Tremors
  • Increased difficulty in finding directions.

And severe brain aging, correlated with neurological disease, may cause:

  • Uncontrolled bowel movements
  • Bowel obstruction and inability to digest food.
  • Inability to smell, taste, or develop social relationships.
  • Total dependence on family and medical staff for daily functions.

6 Steps for Preventing Neurodegeneration

Despite what you might think, aging and neurodegeneration doesn’t have to go hand in hand.

Blue zones are locations on the planet where people are living longer than everyone else and recently, a team of researchers set out to discover what they were doing right.

“In the blue zones region of Ikaria, Greece, dementia among people over 85 is rare — over 75 percent less common than it is in the United States. (About half of Americans over 85 years old show signs of Alzheimer’s disease.)”

Blue Zones. “Diet and Dementia: What Foods Increase or Decrease Alzheimer’s Risk?”

These blue zones show that with a variety of lifestyle changes (what Blue Zones’ founder calls the Power 9) aging doesn’t have to mean losing your mental faculties. With the knowledge of how your brain works and some simple tips, you can take proactive steps towards improving your own neural health and keeping a functioning mind through the years.

  1. Normalize blood sugar imbalances and promote optimal mitochondrial function. This means avoiding foods and beverages that will spike your blood sugar levels and throw off your insulin production. Stay away from sweets, sodas, and processed foods. Stick with natural, whole foods like lean meat, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
  2. Improve Phase I and II detoxification. This is all about helping your liver do its job of removing toxins from your body. The best way to aid this process is by reducing the toxins you’re putting in so your liver isn’t overloaded. Eating organic foods, avoiding environmental toxins (like smoke), and supplementing with key nutrients all help improve Phase I and II detoxes.
  3. Optimize essential fatty acid metabolism. You’ll find most preventative medicine focused heavily on diet and exercise, and this is tip is no different. Studies show “maximal rates of fat oxidation have been shown to be reached at intensities between 59% and 64% of maximum oxygen consumption in trained individuals and between 47% and 52% of maximum oxygen consumption in a large sample of the general population.” This means steady, consistent exercise to get your heart rate up can greatly reduce the symptoms of metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and obesity.
  4. Optimize glutathione production. Glutathione is an antioxidant produced in cells. Having a reduced amount can affect many health markers and even increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease. Eating plants with natural sulfur such as broccoli, bok choy, cauliflower, and legumes can boost glutathione production. Getting quality sleep also helps optimize glutathione production.
  5. Optimize gastrointestinal pathogens. There is always something growing in your stomach. Some of its helpful. some of it may be harmful. The best way to keep your gastro-flora healthy is by eating whole foods, including fermented foods such as kimchi and kombucha, or supplementing with a quality probiotic formula. For the full scoop on gut bacteria, check out our “Keeping a Healthy Microbiome” article.
  6. Optimize methylation. Methylation is the atomic process that turns on and off your biological systems. It helps your metabolism, DNA production, neurotransmitter production, liver health, detoxification, and many other mechanisms. You can optimize methylation in your own body by adding key nutrients such as folate, choline, and B vitamins into your diet.

At the Institute for Human Optimization, we believe brain aging doesn’t have to be a part of chronological aging. It all begins with you and your lifestyle choices. We strive to give our patients personalized preventative care to keep their minds sharp as they age. To discuss how we can help you on your journey to a longer healthspan, schedule a discovery call today.

Your brain is a complicated biological machine capable of running all of your body’s functions, mental abilities, and sensory perceptions simultaneously. In reality, many facets of your personality and life choices come from the chemical substances coursing through your brain called neurotransmitters. By understanding which chemicals cause which reactions, you can learn to hack your brain to enhance your mood, improve creativity, enhance focus, and even decrease your chances of having neurodegenerative diseases as you age. In this second part of our Brain Health Series (read part one here), we cover the functions of the major neurotransmitters and what you can do to help regulate them for your own well-being.

You are a walking eco-system. Your life is governed by the actions of all the organisms, structures, and mechanisms you’re made of. If your gut bacteria thrive on sugar, you’ll crave sugar. If your genetics determine you have red hair, you’ll go through life with red hair.

One of the most important mechanisms happening in your body is the delicate balance of neurotransmitters coursing through your brain. These are chemical substances that react to impulses from the nerve cells. Electrical signals are not able to jump the gap between neurons, they must be first be turned into chemical signals. Neurotransmitters are these signals, traveling to muscles, tissues, and nerves to make the right things happen at the right time.

There are two types of neurotransmitters: excitatory and inhibitory. Excitatory neurotransmitters excite the neuron. They let it know that it’s time to fire. Inhibitory are the exact opposite, they tell the neuron to relax, nothing is going on.

Understanding these mechanisms can be a powerful tool for hacking your health, especially in regards to your mood, drive, and mental capacities. Each type of neurotransmitter is responsible for a specific function in your body and by learning about them, you set yourself up to better understand your own brain and its cycles.


Serotonin is one of the more well-known neurotransmitters. It’s produced in the central nervous system and is responsible for anger regulation, body temperature, mood, sleep, pain modulation, and appetite.

Many people cite low serotonin levels as the main cause of depression, though this has not been clinically proven. The reason this theory for why people suffer from depression has become so popular is because of the benefits many people find from taking SSRIs.

SSRI stands for serotonin repute inhibitor, but we know them by the names pharmacological companies use, Xanax, Lexapro, Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil. These drugs work by inhibiting serotonin uptake back into the neuron, increasing serotonin levels, and changing the way you react to emotional-laden information.

“Unlike mood, emotions are relatively short-lived, automatic responses to internal or external stimuli, and in depressed patients, emotional responses are reliably negatively biased (12). Thus, from this viewpoint, increasing serotonin activity in depressed people does not influence subjective mood directly but, rather, as a secondary consequence of positive shifts in automatic emotional responses.”

Cowen, P. J., & Browning, M. (2015). What has serotonin to do with depression?. World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA)14(2), 158–160.

Serotonin is often called the “feel-good” chemical, but it does a lot more than that. Most of it is produced in your gut, helping with digestion. If you’ve ever eaten something foul, your body produced extra serotonin to speed up the digestive process and get that food through faster than usual.

Serotonin works with another neurotransmitter, dopamine, to balance your sexual urges. Too much serotonin and not enough dopamine can result in hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), meaning extremely low sex drive. This is why the use of SSRIs can cause sexual dysfunction.

You may have low serotonin levels if you experience:

  • Increased anger or aggressiveness
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Tinnitus
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Increased anger or aggressiveness
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Tinnitus
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Anxiety disorders

Contrarily, you may have high levels of serotonin if you experience:

  • Shyness
  • Inferiority complex
  • Nervousness
  • Vulnerability to criticism
  • Intense fear of being disliked
  • Desire for social contact but fear about it

There are two main reasons why someone might have low serotonin: they may not be making it, or their brain isn’t using it properly. Some studies suggest that increasing vitamin D can boost serotonin levels as well as eating plenty of tryptophan-rich foods. Tryptophan is an amino acid that assists in the creation of serotonin and is found in chicken, eggs, fish, turkey, shrimp, mushrooms, spinach, raw tofu, liver, salmon, beef, lamb, soybeans, scallops and pumpkin seeds.

Seratonin can also be boosted naturally by spending at least 15 minutes in the sun, exercising, and treating yourself to a massage now and then.


Dopamine is serotonin’s buddy and helps regulates your daily mood. It’s also responsible for attention, learning, motivation and reward, cognition, and making sure you’re coordinated enough to get through life.

Dopamine is the “pleasure” chemical, and its main job is to make sure you feel good when you do something good for you to make sure you do it again. Some researchers even think that higher levels of dopamine gave our ancestors a social edge over other apes, propelling us quickly through the evolutionary process to where we are today.

Dopamine would have let our ancestors know they were doing something right. For example, berries contain natural sugars that boost dopamine levels. Finding a berry bush as an early human was quite a stroke of luck as berries are more calorie and nutrient-dense than other wild foods. That dopamine spike kept them coming back for more.

In modern times, dopamine is typically more feast than famine. We have engineered our environments to give us hits of that dopamine “high” as often as possible. Sugar is a major highjacker of dopamine that acts like a drug to the brain, even causing addiction. This is why it’s important to limit sugar intake and nourish good gut bacteria. Even your phone, with all its buttons, lights and sounds, releases dopamine in the brain.

You may have low levels of dopamine if you frequently experience:

  • Depression
  • Anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure
  • Social anxiety
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Heavy menstrual cycles
  • Male secondary hypogonadism
  • Learning disorders
  • ADD
  • Chemical addictions

High levels of dopamine can cause psychosis, schizophrenia, hyper-social activity, and increased libido. Everything in your body depends on homeostasis; system balance. 

If you feel you may have low dopamine, you can try introducing wild game meat, beef, fish, oats, and dark chocolate to your diet. These contain tyrosine, an important amino acid that helps with the production of dopamine in the body.


Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter of the nervous system. This means it’s an inhibitory neurotransmitter, responsible for calming excited neurons. When GABA is released, you feel relaxed and have less anxiety. It also has anti-convulsive effects, though its role in treatment for epilepsy remains unclear.

You may have a GABA imbalance if you frequently experience:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Seizure disorders
  • Panic disorders

People who have an imbalance of GABA sometimes require medication to manage their symptoms. Pharmacological drugs have been developed to act as agonists for the GABA receptor site and are classified into two main types: benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepines.

Benzodiazepines are essentially tranquilizers. They include popular drugs such as Klonopin and Valium, which are known to carry risks of dependence, withdrawal, and negative cognitive side effects. Both benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepines typically give users anti-anxiety and relaxing effects that temporarily “take the edge off”.

GABA is found in varieties of green, black, and oolong tea, as well as in fermented foods including yogurt, tempeh, and kimchi. Other foods that contain GABA or boost its production include whole grains (oat, barley, wheat), soy, lentils, and other beans; nuts including walnuts, almonds, and peanuts; fish including shrimp and halibut; citrus, cheese, spinach, broccoli, and rice.


Acetylcholine is the “memory chemical” and is one of the most abundant neurotransmitters in the body. It’s an excitatory neurotransmitter and is responsible for alertness, attention, learning, and short and long-term memory.  It also aids in skeletal muscle contraction to help you perform all your daily activities, from sweeping the floor to lifting weights.

Because it controls memory, people with acetylcholine imbalances often suffer from:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Dementia
  • Myasthenia Gravis
  • Memory lapses
  • Calculation difficulties
  • Impaired creativity
  • Decreased arousal
  • Impaired judgement
  • Diminished comprehension

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are the most common neurodegenerative disease experienced by the aging population. Though researchers are not completely sure what the main causes are, people who suffer from memory-loss disorders generally have lower levels of acetylcholine.

This is why it’s helpful to eat foods that impact this vital neurotransmitter, such as fatty pork, liver, fried eggs, beef, tofu, nuts, cream, milk, and fatty cheeses. These foods contain high amounts of choline, the amino acid responsible for boosting acetylcholine production in the body.

People who suffer from acetylcholine imbalances are sometimes given medications called anticholinergics. These work by blocking acetylcholine from binding to its receptors and inhibiting parasympathetic nerve functions. They are often prescribed to alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, urinary incontinence, and COPD.


Glutamate is the most abundant neurotransmitter in the body, present in nearly every excitatory brain function. Its job is to get neurons excited and ready to work. It’s also a metabolic precursor to GABA. Glutamate plays a vital role in synaptic plasticity—the strengthening or weakening of the signals between neurons over time. This is how your memories are formed, not by the creation of new neurons, but by strengthening the connections between them.

You may have an excess of glutamate in the brain if you experience:

  • Restlessness
  • Inability to focus
  • Hyperalgesia (amplified pain)
  • Anxiety

You may have heard of monosodium glutamate, or MSG, a chemical compound often put in commercially prepared food to make it taste better. MSG acts on glutamate receptors and because the neurotransmitter is required in almost all metabolic activities, this wreaks havoc on the entire body.

“Insulin resistance and reduced glucose tolerance in rodents due to MSG consumption raise concerns about the development of obesity in MSG consuming humans. The same study revealed that MSG intake causes a disrupted energy balance by increasing the palatability of food and disturbing the leptin-mediated hypothalamus signaling cascade, potentially leading to obesity.”

Niaz, K., Zaplatic, E., & Spoor, J. (2018). Extensive use of monosodium glutamate: A threat to public health?. EXCLI journal17, 273–278.

If you’re looking to improve brain and metabolic health, glutamine is a good place to start. Dietary sources include beef, chicken, fish, dairy, eggs, beans, beets, celery, kale, Brussel sprouts, papaya, wheat, and fermented foods like miso and kimchi.


Endorphins are discussed in fitness circles as the chemicals responsible for that “runner’s high” people experience after vigorous physical activity. Their main job is to minimize pain and discomfort and understanding how they work led to the development of opioid drugs like codeine, morphine, fentanyl, and oxycodone.

Using positron emission tomography (PET) scans, researchers were able to view athlete’s brains both before and after exercise. They found an increase in the release of endorphins after exercise. This led to a wealth of research on how exercise affects our mood, ability to focus, and even clinical depression.

“30 community-dwelling moderately depressed men and women were randomly assigned to an exercise intervention group, a social support group, or a wait-list control group.17 The exercise intervention consisted of walking 20 to 40 minutes 3 times per week for 6 weeks. The authors reported that the exercise program alleviated overall symptoms of depression and was more effective than the other 2 groups in reducing somatic symptoms of depression.”

Craft, L. L., & Perna, F. M. (2004). The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry6(3), 104–111.

You may have low endorphin levels if you experience:

  • Depression
  • Chronic headaches
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Low energy
  • Chronic pain thought the body

If you’re looking to improve your mood, decrease pain, and maintain brain health, exercise is a great way to boost endorphins. You can also meditate or practice yoga, eat some dark chocolate, or do an activity that makes you laugh. Feeling good is usually an indicator that you’re doing the right things.

At the Institute for Human Optimization, we utilize a unique approach to brain health optimization by taking into account your unique genomic blueprint. We are accurately able to identify patterns of genes involved in neurotransmitter synthesis and metabolism along with risk factors for premature cognitive decline. We then correlate this data with personalized brain health assessments to determine any underlying brain-based imbalances and give you relevant lifestyle recommendations.

Everything begins in the brain. Hormone production, sensory perceptions, vision, hearing, touch, organ regulation- it is truly the control center of the body. That’s why for the next four weeks, we’ll be focusing exclusively on brain functions, structures, and how you can remain mentally sharp well into old age. This week, we’ll discuss the structures and functions of the brain so you can have a better idea of what’s going on inside your own head.

There is something special about the human brain, and we’re still unsure exactly what it is. It’s not the largest or the most complex. It doesn’t have more neurons than our primate relatives. Yet somehow, we are the only creatures on earth able to manipulate our environments, create smartphones, and walk on the moon.

A 2015 study suggested that the chimpanzees inherit their cortical organization through genetics, meaning a baby chimp’s brain is organized almost identically to that of its parents. There isn’t much room for modification.

Humans, on the other hand, have a more relaxed genetic control of their cortical organization. This means we organize our brains after we’re born, shaping our behavior and intellect by the environment and culture we exist in. Perhaps this is how we were able to jump so quickly from the stone age to the tech age, each generation building on the knowledge of the ones that came before instead of relying on pre-programmed instinct alone.

Regardless of why the human brain is unique, it remains a fascinating organ that researchers still don’t completely understand. It is a symbiotic mixture of tissues, chemical signals, and electrical impulses that have provided the inspiration for the development of the modern computer- the poor-mans brain.

How do these physical brain structures translate the human experience?


Neurons are brain cells- the building blocks of your entire nervous system. They are the Wifi for your body, responsible for all communications. Anytime your body does something, neurons made it happen. Without neurons, there would be no communication between your body and your brain. You’d basically be a cabbage.

Neurons in the outer layer of your brain handle sensory information. When you see, hear, or touch something, the information is “saved” here. New experiences create new neurons and when you have the same experience again, the same neurons are activated- this is called memory.

Your memories are vital, they help you can perceive the world without even trying. You already know what rain on your skin feels like because the experience is “recorded” in your cells. There are around 86 billion neurons in your body, and not all of them are located in your brain. They cluster in your stomach and also your heart, bringing some validity to the ideas of “going with your gut” or “following your heart” when it comes to making decisions in life.

Neurons make things happen through action potential. For example, a mosquito lands on your arm. The stimulus is picked up by the tiny hairs on your skin which alerts the neuron. The neuron sends an electrical signal immediately. Like telephone wires, the signal is sent through the neurons to the muscle cells, causing a few of your arm muscles to contract and slap the mosquito within seconds.

These nerve action potentials are instantaneous and the cells are able to relate the intensity of the stimulus to the appropriate action. A mosquito gently landing creates a different response than if someone were to poke you with their finger. It’s amazing how tuned in our neurons are to the world around us and how quickly they act to help us respond to our environments without conscious thought.

As we age, our neurons become less efficient at determining what stimulus deserves what response. They begin reaching action potential faster from trivial stimuli, creating increased sensitivity to lights, smells, and temperatures.

That’s why it’s important for us to take care of our physical brains now, to prevent break down later.


A synapse is a structure between neurons that allows them to pass information along. There are two ways synapses work- electrically and chemically.

Electric synapses work by passing electric currents through special channels called gap junctions between cells. It’s a complicated mechanism in which the first neuron changes the voltage in the next, creating a signal that can travel rapidly from cell to cell. This is how your brain communicates the need for certain hormones to be released at certain times.

Chemical synapses operate through the use of neurotransmitters (we’ll go over these in-depth later in the series). Neurotransmitters are biochemicals that bind to receptors in the cells and initiate an electrical response. This happens more slowly than with electric synapses and can have different effects depending on what chemical is released. For example, glutamic acid is a neurotransmitter that creates excitability.

Neurons and synapses work together to create an unimaginably complex communication system that allows you to go about your life.

Other Brain Structures

The brain is separated into two parts, called hemispheres. The left side of the brain is responsible for objectivity, spoken language, reasoning, logic, numbers, scientific thinking, and other analytical functions. The right hemisphere contains the structures used for art appreciation, intuition, creativity, face recognition, emotions, and imagination. The brain still operates as a single organ through a bundle of fibers in the middle known as the corpus callosum.

Your brain is also separated into lobes. Different structures are responsible for different functions. In a nutshell, the frontal lobe controls your behavior, memory, movement, and intelligence. The parietal lobe is located on the top of the head and aids you with language, reading, and interpreting sensations. The occipital lobe is in the back of the skull and allows you to see and comprehend spatial orientation so you don’t bump into walls or hit your head on low ceilings.

The cerebellum lays near the brain stem, which connects to your spinal cord, and coordinates your balance and involuntary functions such as swallowing, breathing, and heart rate. And the temporal lobe is located approximately where your ears are, responsible for speech, vision, hearing, and long-term memory.

All of these structures form your perception of the world around you and your health in general. As the control system for your entire body, it is important to keep the brain functioning well by making sure we’re getting proper nutrients.

Dr. David Perlmutter discusses the importance of avoiding gluten and other inflammatory foods to promote brain health and reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimers. He recommends eating fresh, whole foods such as vegetables, lean unprocessed meats, fruits, and nuts as the staples in your diet. He also recommends coffee to fight off oxidative stress and supplementing with DHA (commonly found in fish oil) for improved brain health.

At the Institute for Human Optimization, we take brain health seriously and work with our patients to improve brain function before problems arise. Prevention is the key to our practice and we take all of your diet, lifestyle, and genetic history into consideration when recommending health care. Our client intake process includes a full brain consultation. To discuss how we can help you optimize your health, schedule a discovery call here.

Inside all of us is a complicated system of structures that we don’t consciously control. Our nervous systems are our programming, using signals in the form of nerves, hormones, and a cocktail of biochemicals we have only just begun to explore. At the Institute for Human Optimization, we take a multi-faceted approach to healthcare that includes utilizing the parasympathetic nervous system as a means to improve the healthspan and mitigate potential future disease. In this week’s blog post, we cover the functions of the parasympathetic nervous system, how it relates to your health, how heart rate variability might be the key to monitoring your stress, and how what you can do to balance negative and positive stress in your life.

Paula is going on a first date. It’s been a few months, so she’s rightfully nervous. She arrives at the restaurant early and sits down, facing the door so she knows exactly when her date walks in.

Paula’s heart is beating at 100 beats per minute. Her palms are sweaty. Her eyes are dilated. This is because Paula’s body doesn’t understand the difference between being nervous for a date and being nervous because something might pop out of the jungle and kill you unexpectedly. Her sympathetic nervous system is activated- fight or flight. Her mind is signaling that it’s stressed and her body does what it does best, adjusts to deal with perceived danger.


Most modern humans don’t experience the same stressors as our ancient ancestors did. We don’t have saber-toothed tigers biting at our heels or starvation looming over our heads. But we do have the same systems for dealing with those problems, and our bodies still rely on them to keep us healthy and safe.

In the old days, you escaped the tiger, the danger was averted, and the stress is gone. Today we carry the stress of work, the news, social media, and all the millions of things we have to do on our shoulders most of the day. This keeps us in a constant state of “fight or flight” and can cause health problems if not addressed.

On her date, Paula’s sympathetic nervous system is activated. Stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline spike to prepare her to deal with whatever’s coming. If she was perpetually stressed this way, and her cortisol levels remained high, Paula would be statistically more likely to experience cardiovascular disorders such as strokes or heart attacks.

This chronic wear and tear on the body due to chronic stress is known as allostatic load. Striking a balance between positive and negative stressors through lifestyle and behavioral changes is called allostasis. Studies show that while chronic stress is detrimental to many body systems, short-term stress (like when exercising vigorously, fasting, or sitting in a sauna) has been shown to boost the immune system and create resilience.

The parasympathetic nervous system is activated in times of resting and digesting. It involves nerves, glands, organs, and muscles that work together to control the parts of your biology you don’t have time to regulate manually. Just think about how impossible it would be to mentally control your digestion, heart rate, hormone production, tears, saliva, sexual arousal, urination, and defecation all consciously.

Thankfully, Paula doesn’t have to. She goes to the bathroom before her date arrives and everything happens just as it should without her having to put in any effort at all.

Heart Rate Variability

Doctors, biohackers, and researchers have been studying new ways to see what’s really happening in their patient’s bodies. One interesting field of study is the correlation between heart rate variability (HRV) and health.

HRV is, simply put, the amount of time between heartbeats. Reduced HRV is associated with the development of numerous conditions, for example, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, obesity, and psychiatric disorders. The company HeartMath currently offers technology that monitors your HRV so that you can see the difference in when you’re stressing about things and when you’re meditating or spending time doing something you enjoy. Our mental states influence our body states.

If we were to look at Paula’s HRV at the beginning of the night, we would notice a chaotic rhythm as her heart rate spikes and drops in reaction to her perceived stressors.

But as the night goes on, the date begins to go well. Paula starts to feel comfortable, enjoying the conversation and meal they share. If we were to measure her HRV at this point, we would see a more even, stable pattern as the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in to slow the heart rate and begin digesting the dinner she just devoured.

Ways to Assist Your Parasympathetic Nervous System

At the Institute for Human Optimization, we take your mental health into consideration when dissing any healthcare treatments or lifestyle adjustments. We understand the implications of parasympathetic nervous system health and your ability to regulate your thoughts, and find allostasis in this modern world.

Exercise is an activity that causes short-term stress that has an overall benefit on the body. It stimulates the sympathetic nervous system for a short time and then allows you to slide more easily into a parasympathetic state afterward. This is the mechanism responsible for what some call a “runners high”. Endorphins are released after you accomplish something physically difficult that make you feel good and able to rest.

When we are constantly bombarded by projects and situations that stress us out but are never truly resolved, our “fight or flight” systems never shut down, our “rest and digest” systems never come online, and we suffer health consequences in the long run.

It was even shown that listening to music during exercise increased parasympathetic activity afterward and could be an effective tool for improving recovery time and cardiac stress.

We encourage our patients to take the time to relax and unwind, meditate, stretch, and exercise in a way that contributes to their allostatic load in a positive way. Stress is a part of life, but its health effects can be mitigated by understanding and hacking the parasympathetic nervous system.

The mind state affects the body state.

If you’re ready to get a comprehensive overlook of your health and discuss how we can help you reach your goals, schedule a free discovery call here.

At the Institute for Human Optimization, we take an integrative approach to healthcare. One of the most important subjects we cover with our patients is diet and how it affects the millions of microscopic organisms that exist in our digestive systems. Having a healthy microbiome is crucial for extending your healthspan and preventing the diseases associated with aging. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the major health issues that can arise from an unhealthy gut, what causes it, and the facts behind elimination diets.

You’re never alone. Inside your gut are millions of tiny, nearly invisible life forms that rely on you for nourishment. This isn’t to say they aren’t paying you back. In fact, you wouldn’t be able to digest your food and receive vital nutrients without them. We evolved in a synchronistic relationship with these little organisms and though our food has changed drastically over the last hundred thousand years, they haven’t.

Your microbiome doesn’t just handle digestion either. In fact, researchers have linked gut bacteria to a wide range of body functions such as immunity, hormone balance, and even mood. There are over 100 million neurons located in the gut, which is why it is often called ” the second brain” and perhaps why people often say “go with your gut” when talking about making tough decisions.

Due to the popularity of processed and sugary foods, our microbiomes today look much different than past humans. The organisms in your body change depending on what you’re feeding them. The bacteria we need to maintain a healthy gut are called probiotics and they require plant-based fibers from whole foods like onions, apples, bananas, and garlic to multiply. When we eat a diet full of processed foods and sugar, we get a different kind of bacteria that causes havoc on our body systems.

Disease Starts in the Gut

It’s amazing how much is going on in our guts. There is a whole eco-system of organisms in there multiplying and making things happen.

The Human Microbiome Project (HMP) is a group of researchers who aim to categorize all the microbes of the human body and determine their functions. This is a monumental project encompassing decades of work collecting samples from “healthy” people and doing case studies to see how microbes play into the grand scheme of human health.

One of the more interesting findings is the microbes’ effects on the immune system. Immune dysfunction is a component of many chronic diseases such as obesity, metabolic syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and even autism spectrum disorders. All of these problems are associated with poor gut health and depletion of certain bacteria.

Bad gut bacteria are also to blame for the wide variety of digestive issues plaguing humans today. Crohn’s disease, for instance, may be caused by a lack of Faecalibacterium prausnitzii in the gut. IBD, ulcerative colitis, and constant bloating or diarrhea can also be tied to decreased variability of gut microbes.

You may have also heard the term “gut-brain axis” relating the microbiota in the gastrointestinal tract to the central nervous system. A number of behavioral disorders have been linked to poor gut health. Mice that were fed high-fat diets that depleted the amount of Lactobacillus (an important bacteria) in their guts produced offspring with higher levels of SFCAs and ammonia metabolites, which are considered neurotoxic, having negative effects on cognitive ability. In humans, the neurological effects of an unhealthy microbiome look like depression, anxiety, and perhaps even autism. What happens in your gut affects your brain and therefore, your mind.

Other symptoms of poor gut health include:

  • allergies
  • food sensitivities (over time your body becomes sensitive to foods you eat often)
  • sugar cravings (the more you eat, the more the bacteria thrives, the more it makes you crave)
  • gas/bloating
  • diarrhea
  • mood changes
  • depression/anxiety (there are over 100 million neurons in your gut and they communicate directly with your brain)
  • acne
  • eczema
  • weight gain (sugar cravings make this worse)
  • fatigue
  • autoimmune disorders
  • hormone imbalances
  • nutrient deficiencies (the microbes are supposed to help pull nutrients from the food you eat but if are unhealthy, have a hard time doing so)

It may seem overwhelming to take responsibility for millions of microscopic organisms you’ll never see. But your health begins in your gut and the only way to keep a good variety of microbes is by mindfully controlling what you put into it.

Elimination Diet

If you’re having any of the symptoms or disorders discussed above, many functional medicine practitioners recommend an Elimination Diet as part of treatment.

Basically, an elimination diet cuts out all the junk that may be causing poor gut health and resets your system. Not all humans have the same microbiota just as not everyone has the same reactions to foods. Some people have adverse reactions to eggs and some people can eat three a day without a problem. The idea behind an elimination diet is to eliminate ALL possible food irritants and then re-introduce them one by one to give you an accurate determination of how you should be eating. It also aims to help good bacteria flourish, helping with cravings, brain fog, and general energy levels.

Start with eliminating sugar, gluten (bread, cereal, etc), dairy, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods. Desirable gut bacteria love fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi so try and incorporate those into your diet. You can also invest in a good probiotic supplement, making sure it includes lactobacillus and bifidobacterium.

If you’re interested in trying an elimination diet, eat only the foods below for three weeks. Afterward, if you’d like, you can start adding back other foods to see how your body reacts. In this manner, it becomes clear what’s causing unwanted side effects and what to avoid in the future.

Always consult with your physician before trying an elimination diet.

At the Institute for Human Optimization, we offer our patients an in-depth look into their microbiome and what’s happening in their gut. We understand the vast amount of data that shows how important gut health is for overall health and longevity. We’ll show you how to manage your diet in a way that promotes desirable bacteria growth while letting you eat a wide variety of enjoyable foods.

We try to limit the use of antibiotics whenever possible with our patients so as not to disrupt the microbiome. Though very effective at killing bacteria, antibiotics also kill desirable organisms that we work hard to cultivate using diet and supplementation.

If you’re interested in your own personal microbiome and how we can work together to optimize your gut health, schedule a call with us.

At the Institute for Human Optimization, we take a genome to phenome approach to healthcare. This means we don’t just take into consideration your current symptoms, but take a deep dive into what’s happening in your body and how we can prevent disease before symptoms even occur. To do this, we use the latest technology to test your blood markers, biome, and genetics, to create a health plan tailored just for you. In this article, we’ll discuss epigenetics, how they relate to environmental factors, and how you can test your biological age.

Nothing in the biological world happens alone. From the physical to the quantum, everything is influencing everything else. The human body is a perfect example of this.

In every one of your cells is the double-helix blueprint that tells them how they should behave. This is your DNA, passed down through millions of years, slowly changing as natural selection takes its course. If DNA propagating white fur helps a bear live amongst snow and ice, its descendants become polar bears. If a longer neck helps a deer survive in a land of tall trees, its descendants become giraffes.

DNA changes gradually but is relatively fixed. You can’t make your brown eyes blue just like the giraffe can’t become an elephant.

However, there are genetic polymorphisms. These are genes that carry two possible traits. Put simply, a jaguar carries the gene for spotted fur but depending on how the gene is expressed can be yellow or black in color.

The study of how genes are expressed is called epigenetics and is a relatively new field of research.

If your DNA is a book, the epigenome is the reader. The reader can choose which words to emphasize, which punctuation to use or not use, and even which words to skip completely. The actual words never change, just the information that’s portrayed to the listener.

This is the process researchers refer to when discussing “turning on or off” genes in an attempt to eradicate certain genetic diseases. Since everything in the biological world affects everything else, we know that there are thousands of variables weighing in on which of your genes are expressed, and which lay dormant.

For example, researchers have discovered a gene called APOE (apolipoprotein E), which, when present, creates a high risk for the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The epigenome ultimately decides whether this gene will be expressed or not, determining whether you’ll suffer the disease as you age.

So, how does the “reader” decide what to “read”?

Environmental Factors

Your exposome is a fascinating subject. Essentially it’s the measurement of all the things you’ve been exposed to from pre-birth until now. From what your mother ate while you were in the womb to what you’re breathing all day at work, it covers a vast amount of data that is impossible to measure accurately.

It is the sum of all these exposures that influences how your DNA is expressed. In the APOE gene example, traumatic brain injury at some point in life has been shown to potentially “turn on” the gene and cause expression of Alzheimer’s.

The more we can hone in on which environmental factors cause certain gene expressions, the more control over our health we potentially have.

Some of the known risk factors that negatively effect the way genes are expressed include:

  • smoking
  • air pollutants
  • heavy metals
  • virus exposure
  • stress
  • socioeconomic circumstances
  • drug use
  • poor nutrition

Naturally, you’re not able to control all of these factors completely but you can do your best to avoid the ones you can and help your epigenome express healthier traits within your DNA.


One of the most important decisions you make every day is what you put in your mouth. Food, alcohol, and drugs all have an effect on your body’s metabolic processes, for good or bad.

Nutrigenomics is the study of the body’s responses to what we eat in regards to disease, gene expression, and biomarkers. Every molecule that goes into our mouths becomes part of our body. This is where the old adage, “you are what you eat”, comes from.

The subject of diet is a difficult one to discuss, as genetic dispositions vary. What is inflammatory for some, is fine for others. This is why we recommend a genome test to determine which diet will benefit you as an individual.

Broadly speaking though, the Mediterranean diet represents the gold standard in preventative medicine, most likely due to the combination of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • fish
  • legumes
  • eggs
  • olive oil
  • red wine

There is also evidence that eating less can have positive effects on our epigenetic outcomes.

“Caloric restriction, the reduction of caloric intake (by 10% to 40%) without causing malnutrition, has proven to be by far the most effective intervention that can extend the maximum lifespan in a wide range of organisms including yeast, nematodes, flies, and rodents. Interestingly, observations also demonstrated an effect on healthspan (i.e., time spent being healthy), coincident with a significant decrease in age-related diseases such as cardiovascular events, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancers. The beneficial effects of CR occur through an extremely wide range of molecular mechanisms, largely overlapping with aging hallmarks, among which epigenetic factors have recently gained interest.”

International Journal of Molecular Sciences. (2019). The Impact of Caloric Restriction on the Epigenetic Signatures of Aging.

There are many experts creating eating programs to help you take full advantage of your body’s systems to decrease the risk of age-related diseases. Dr. Valter Longo touts his famous “Fasting Mimicking diet” and many people have gotten amazing results from eating only one or two meals a day.

Always consult with your physician before adopting a new eating regimen.

Test Your Biological Age

At the Institute for Human Optimization, we’ve partnered with the latest, state-of-the-art testing company, TruDiagnostic, to find out your biological age. You could be 30 years old with a 40-year-old body. The good news is that your biological age, unlike your chronological one, can be reversed.

We’ll send you a kit that evaluates your DNA for methylation biomarkers (this is what helps your epigenome “read” and express your DNA). We’ll decipher the report for you and create a plan based on the results. TruDiagnostic has the most comprehensive test on the market and it is only available through healthcare providers.

Once we know what your true age is, we can take steps towards reversing it.

Epigenetics is complicated and we’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to identifying the millions of variables that affect how your genes are expressed.

But we’re dedicated to refining our healthcare methods as new technology and studies are released. If you’re interested in knowing your true biological age and taking steps to rewind the clock, schedule a consultation with the Institute, and let’s discuss what we can do for you.

If you read our “Hallmarks of Aging” post, you know the build up of cytokines and other cellular debris is one of the main reasons we age. This week we’re focusing on the inflammatory state that leads to aging, also known as “inflammaging.” We’ll go into the cellular mechanisms responsible for this phenomenon as well as some practical changes you can make to reduce inflammaging and feel healthy into your golden years.

Aging is the ultimate bane of human existence. Researchers and medical professionals have spent countless hours studying cells and tissues, trying to find out why we age and how we can thwart the process. The anti-aging industry is globally worth 50-billion US dollars and the beauty industry is constantly touting new products to stave off wrinkles and keep you looking young.

But in the end, inflammation is the main culprit. In 2000, Claudio Franceschi coined the term “inflammaging“, referring to the persistent, low-grade state of inflammation that is responsible for all the problems that come with aging.

Your cells are born, reproduce, and die by the millions and your body is generally adept at flushing out the waste. However, as we go about our lives, there are countless environmental factors that chip away at these mechanisms, making the body less efficient at clearing cellular debris. When this cellular debris piles up, proteins known as cytokines alert the immune system, causing inflammation and even damaging healthy cells nearby. This is the inflammaging process- a constant state of mild inflammation that eventually leads to the physical and mental decline we associate with getting older.

Researchers are always working to unearth the “fountain of youth” that may be buried somewhere in our genes. Until then, you can take proactive steps to reduce inflammaging by eliminating inflammatory responses as much as possible.

Anti-inflammatory diet

There is a bustling kingdom inside your gut; a colony of bacteria responsible for breaking down food, producing vitamins and regulating your immune system. This is called your microbiome and the more we study it, the more we realize that having a flourishing array of healthy gut bacteria is vital for aging well and avoiding disease.

Your gut has evolved to handle a wide variety of fiber and polyphenol-rich foods, developed over millions of years of evolution. It’s no shock that when we switched to a nutrient-poor Western-style diet our gut kingdoms revolted, causing havoc on our immune system. Your stomach doesn’t understand french fries as real food and alerts the immune system to a threat, causing low-grade inflammation.

The best way to decrease the effects of inflammaging therefore, it to eat a diet similar to what our ancestors ate. This is a loaded question, as dietary studies are numerous and often unreliable due to countless variables. The diet you should be consuming somewhat depends on your genetics; what causes inflammation for some people, can be innocuous for others.

A good place to start is by eliminating processed foods. Chips, cookies, crackers- basically anything packaged with a shelf life contains un-natural substances unfit for a healthy microbiome. Foods that are generally considered inflammatory include refined flours, sugar, gluten, milk, cheese, red meat, and trans- and saturated fatty acids.

A study published in March 2020 put individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (a debilitating inflammatory autoimmune disorder) on a diet that eliminated pro-inflammatory foods and replaced them with whole, natural foods containing plenty of polyphenols and flavonoids. Even if you’re not suffering from a disorder, you can still take note of the study’s creation of a diet with a high content of known potential anti-inflammatory ingredients:

  • fatty fish such as sardines or tuna, twice per week
  • daily intake of chia seeds and flaxseed oil
  • daily intake of nuts, avocado, and/or sesame seeds or tahini
  • avoid pre-cooked food, red meat, and processed meat
  • cook by baking, boiling or vapor- avoid frying
  • include daily green leafy vegetables (arugula, lettuce, broccoli, zucchini, green beans)
  • include daily fruits
  • consume whole grains and avoid refined flours
  • daily yogurt (a brand that contains Lactobacillus Casei among other species or miso)
  • substitute plant-based milk (almond, rice, coconut) for dairy
  • season with turmeric, black pepper, and ginger (black pepper and ginger should be used at the same time)
  • keep salt intake low by eliminating pre-cooked food
  • increase consumption of garlic, onion, purple carrot and zucchini
  • substitute sugar for honey and avoid sodas and juices
  • try a daily dose of apple cider vinegar

There are a host of other doctors, nutritionists, and researchers that have created diet plans to benefit your microbiome and reduce the effects of inflammaging. Dr. Andrew Weil has his anti-inflammatory pyramid. Dr. Susan Blum recommends “rainbow dieting” or, eating natural foods of every color every day to get the full range of anti-inflammatory polyphenols.

As you can see, these diets are not restrictive and are a great way to lower your body’s inflammation response and increase your healthspan.


When it comes to aging and longevity, we never stop talking about autophagy, the cellular housekeeping your body does to clear out damaged cells and make room for new ones. We already know inflammaging is a direct result of the piling up of senescent (or “zombie”) cells, triggering an immune response and causing problems over time. Initiating autophagy is one of many solutions to low-grade, chronic inflammation.

You can do this by going approximately 18-20 hours a day without eating. This is commonly known as time-restricted eating or intermittent fasting.

In rodent studies, a fasting routine was proven to be effective in reducing risk factors for age-related diseases. It lowered the risk of metabolic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and obesity and increased cognitive ability. This is a simple hack that mimics the natural feeding/fasting cycles of our ancestors and allows the microbiome and immune system to function properly.

Please check with your physician before attempting extended fasts.


You’ve probably seen this yellow powder on the spice shelves or have even used it for its flavoring. Turmeric is the ground up version of the turmeric rhizome, a perennial plant that resembles a large orange ginger root. it has been used throughout human history for its health properties and has become a staple in any biohackers kitchen.

This is because turmeric contains a very important polyphenol called curcumin, a known antioxidant. This substance gives turmeric its vibrant color and also inhibits enzymes that mediate inflammatory processes, making it anti-inflammatory by nature.

To take the hack one step further, it’s recommended to use turmeric and black pepper together, as the piperine in the pepper enhances curcumin absorption into the body, making sure you’re getting the full bang for your buck. So sprinkle some turmeric and pepper on your salads, soups, or even smoothies to get the full benefits of this anti-inflammatory spice.

Omega 3

The inflammaging process is complicated and involves many mechanisms happening at once. Senescent cells build up, certain compounds are created to alert the immune system, and inflammation is the by-product.

Thankfully, studies have been conducted on the intricate cellular functions that cause this and it’s been found that Omega-3 (commonly supplemented as fish oil) changes the fatty acid composition of cells involved in the inflammatory response, having a positive effect on overall health.

You can get Omega-3 fatty acids by eating plenty of fish and flaxseed, or by supplementing orally. Always try to purchase supplements from a reputable company to ensure quality.

Inflammation is neither friend nor foe. It is a vital part of immunosurveillance and defense, yet can also be a symptom of chronic disease. When it occurs consistently due to poor gut health or inefficient autophagy, it serves as a risk factor for age-related diseases and is known as inflammaging,

By being proactive with your life choices- eating anti-inflammatory foods, incorporating fasting, and supplementing with turmeric and Omega-3, you can lower your inflammatory markers and have positive effects on your healthspan and day-to-day well-being.

At the Institute for Human Optimization, we take inflammaging seriously. Instead of waiting for the effects of chronic inflammation to present themselves, we encourage our patients to eat according to their genome and test for specific biomarkers for a personalized approach to healthcare.

The goal of functional medicine is to get to the root cause of disease. This almost always stems from purposeful prevention. Nothing manifests overnight. It is your everyday habits that create your healthspan, whether you see the effects or not. We give you a deep dive into what’s really happening in your body so you can make educated decisions to age well and live better.

Schedule a call to discuss how we can optimize your health.

This week we’re delving into one of the essential factors in your long-term health: the chronobiome. Your biological clocks were designed by nature to keep you resting, eating, and active at certain times of the day. Many people who work night shifts experience health issues possibly arising from the disruption of these circadian systems. In this article, we’ll go over the many facets of the chronobiome and how you can create good habits using current technology.

If you want to live on earth, you’d better learn to adapt to the environment. With so many unique locations, there are profound differences in the temperatures and length of days dependent on where you’re standing. To ensure survival, most organisms have evolved with an internal biological timer that senses day/night cycles and helps them adjust their life habits accordingly. These internal clocks are known as “circadian rhythms” and are as ancient as life itself- even existing in bacteria.

Circadian rhythms are set on a 24-hour rhythm oscillator that links external stimuli to physiological processes. For example, darkness is an external variable that can trigger the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone, in the human brain. However, early studies of plants showed that even when kept in darkness, the flowers would open and close rhythmically with the sunrise, proving it possible that deep in the genes of the plant was a clock operating independently- without the external stimuli. The existence of a “clock gene” would be proven in 1997.


In 2017, the Nobel Prize for physiology went to three American researchers for their work with the chronobiome. Thanks to their research on the circadian rhythms of fruit flies, we have gained a wealth of knowledge about biological clocks and the molecular machinery that controls them.

It turns out, chronobiology (the branch of biology focused on natural physiological rhythms) is an important field for understanding aging and disease. Circadian clocks regulate sleep, eating habits, blood pressure, body temperature, and hormone release. If clock genes are stymied in animals, there’s a subsequent arrhythmic production of hormones such as insulin and corticosterone. These clock genes are also responsible for controlling insulin sensitivity, blood glucose, and other essential processes for a healthy metabolism.

The chronobiome also has an effect on sleep which is vital for normal brain function. Disruption of circadian rhythms (like working overnight shifts) has been linked to sleep disorders, depression, memory problems, bipolar disorder, and eventually, can lead to neurological diseases. This is why you should try your best to align your lifestyle with the natural rhythms determined by your inner biological clock. Sleeping during the night, staying active during the day, and being intentional with your eating patterns.

The Power of Timing

In the wake of chronobiology, researchers are beginning to understand how important it is to be in sync with the biological clocks ticking inside you. From a Functional Medicine approach, regulating the chronobiome is a great way to optimize your health. There are genetic tests that can give you valuable information about your personal chronotype as well as adjustments you can make in your daily life to help regulate your circadian rhythm:

Practice Healthy Sleep

Sleep is one of the most important factors when discussing health and longevity. So many vital processes happen while we sleep that stave off neurological and metabolic disease. By going to bed each day at the same time and waking at the same time, we tune into the inner clock and all the functions that go along with it.

There are many hacks people use to increase the quality and duration of their sleep. A major one is to limit exposure to phones, tablets, and televisions two hours before bed. Recent studies have suggested that the blue light emitted from these devices disrupts the circadian rhythm and over time can cause degeneration of eye health. Some health enthusiasts employ the use of blue-light blocking glasses if they must use their phone or laptop before sleeping.

Light is the main stimulus for your internal clock. Today we are bombarded by artificial lightbulbs that confuse the chronobiome and make it harder to keep a balanced circadian rhythm. Research has found that LED lights with an emission peak of around 470-480 nm should be used instead of LEDs with an emission peak below 450 nm. You can also find lightbulbs on the market specifically designed to regulate your chronobiome.

To take a deeper dive and see what quality of sleep you’re getting, consider using an Ouraring or similar monitoring device. These will show you not only how long you’re sleeping, but if you’re hitting that all-important REM cycle as well. Knowledge is power. The more you’re able to hone in on what’s happening inside your body, the more educated your health decisions will be going forward.

Eating Cycles

Because of our access to light 24/7, modern humans are able to eat any time of day. This might not be a good thing.

Studies show that circadian rhythm-proficient organisms have a natural cycle of feeding and fasting. The circadian oscillator regulates these feeding times and the metabolic functions that must occur to facilitate them. When you’re eating at night, your circadian rhythm gets thrown off, disrupting the natural cycles of feeding and fasting and may contribute to metabolic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular complications.

It is advisable to become aware of your own eating times. Do you eat at night? Are you fasting for at least 16 hours between meals? How many meals are you eating daily? Taking small steps to get on an eating schedule that works for your lifestyle and mimics the natural fasting/feeding rhythm can do wonders for regulating hormones, insulin, and other vital processes to keep your healthy longer.

Please check with your physician before making any extreme lifestyle changes.

Functional medicine aims to treat all causes of disease at the root, preferably before they manifest. By living in alignment with the natural biological clocks that regulate the most important functions in your body, you can begin optimizing your health and helping your body continue doing what it does best- thrive.

At the Institute for Human Optimization, we believe having a regulated chronobiome is an essential part of disease prevention. We strive to work with you, regardless of your sleeping habits, to help you hack your body’s natural systems and reap the aging benefits that come with it.

You can schedule a discovery call and determine if you’re ready to take the next steps to optimize your health.

This week on the Institute for Human Optimization blog, we discuss an important subject in the world of longevity research- autophagy. Autophagy is your body’s way of clearing out damaged cells to make way for new ones. As we age, this cleaning system becomes less efficient, causing an accumulation of senescent (or “zombie”) cells that can cause inflammation and a host of other problems. Here, we’ll describe some of the science behind autophagy and what you can do to enhance this vital process and stay feeling younger longer. 

Your cells have their own busy lives inside of your body. At all hours of the day, they are eating, communicating, using energy, and taking out the trash. If your goal is to stay healthy as long as possible, you have to support the natural functions of your cells and make sure they have everything they need to keep you going.

In 2016, cell-biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi won the Nobel Prize for his many years of research on the way cells break down and recycle their contents. Thanks to this brilliant scientist, there are now over 5,000 scientific papers written about what has been termed “autophagy”.

Autophagy is the housekeeping process. When cells have reached the end of their lives or have irreparable damage, they become senescent. These senescent cells give off signals, alerting the immune system to come and clear them out and make room for healthy ones in the process. As we age, even the immune system cells start to break down and become senescent, which is why the elderly have less autophagy happening and become more prone to illness.

When our senescent cells build up, the proteins that alert the immune system (called cytokines) cause inflammation and can even damage other cells nearby. This is why the autophagy process is so essential and why longevity research covers it so heavily. Increased autophagy is one of the critical factors in having a body that functions well even in later years.

Rapamycin and mTor

Rapamycin is a term you’ll come across often when researching anti-aging literature. Originally developed as an anti-fungal compound, it was found to repress the immune system and today is used mainly for organ transplant patients to reduce the chance of rejection.

When researchers gave rapamycin to lab animals, their lifespans increased 15-25%. This unprecedented side-effect eventually led to the discovery of another important regulator in the body- mechanistic target of rapamycin or mTOR.

mTOR’s job is to determine if your body is getting enough nutrients. If you are, it flips the anabolism switch- this builds up new cells and tissues. If you’re not getting enough nutrients (fasting), it triggers autophagy instead, breaking down old cells and recycling the proteins for future use.

Rapamycin was found to not only inhibit the immune system cells but also inhibit mTOR. That means your body reacts as though you’re in a fasted state even though you might not be. This triggers autophagy and could be the reason for the longer lifespans in the animals given the compound in lab studies.

There are no studies yet that show rapamycin’s effect on the human lifespan, but there are things you can do to inhibit mTOR and increase autophagy yourself.

Intermittent Fasting

Now that you understand the basics of how autophagy works, you can start to hack your body to achieve the results you want. One of the best ways to naturally inhibit mTOR and get that housekeeping process going is intermittent fasting.

Intermittent fasting, or IF, means becoming conscious of the times you choose to eat and increasing the time you’re not consuming calories. It can also be termed “time-restricted eating.”

Valter Longo, Director of the Longevity Research Institute, helped popularize what he calls a “fasting-mimicking diet”. His research showed that mice that fasted intermittently had improved life spans, reduced inflammation, increased cognitive ability, and that this mechanism could be used in humans for similar results.

Autophagy is hard to measure outside of a lab, but most experts agree that it initiates in humans after 18-20 hours of fasting with maximum benefits happening around the 48-hour mark. When you’re not consuming calories, mTOR flips the autophagy switch, putting your body in a cleanup mode and getting rid of the cellular waste that can build up and cause health issues. Many people who practice intermittent fasting as a health hack report having more energy during the day, fewer cravings, clearer skin, and weight loss. 

There are a variety of apps that can help you track your fasts, remind you when to eat, and provide more information on how to benefit from this practice.


Berberine is an alkaloid compound naturally occurring in a variety of plants such as the Oregon grape, Californian poppy, and cork tree. Though it has a long history of being used in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine, it is being researched today for its pharmacological effects against chronic health conditions such as depression, gastrointestinal disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, and more. It has also been shown to have anti-aging properties in rodent studies.

Naturally-aged mice that were given berberine lived about 17% longer than their counterparts and experienced positive changes in their fur density, behavior, and healthspan.

The main driver of berberine’s success as an anti-aging compound revolves around its activation of AMPK (adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase). AMPK’s main job is to monitor cellular energy and determine if your cells are operating efficiently. If AMPK is not activated, it can’t do its job, and damaged cells can fall through the cracks, ultimately avoiding getting cleared out by autophagy.

Berberine has also been found to reduce blood sugar levels in people with type-2 diabetes. Lowering blood sugar is essential for metabolic health and can do a lot towards increasing your overall healthspan. Berberine is currently available on the market, but please speak with your physician before starting any supplement regimen and use a company that is reputable for quality.

(Here is a great article on berberine by Dr. Rhonda Patrick if you’d like to learn more.)

When it comes to longevity, autophagy is the MVP. We can’t have zombie cells floating around in our bodies, causing upregulation of cytokines and all the damage that comes with them. Instead, we can work with our cells, giving them everything they need to take out the trash and make room for new, healthy cells to thrive.

Through intermittent fasting and using natural compounds like berberine, we can take active steps to increase our health spans and feel amazing well into old age. Autophagy will be an encompassing theme for this blog and future projects as we strive to bring you the latest information on optimizing human health.

If you’re interested in becoming a patient of the Institute for Human Optimization, schedule a discovery call and let’s discuss what we can do to hack your lifestyle to improve your healthspan.

On the Institute for Human Optimization blog this week, we discuss the hallmarks of aging as described in the groundbreaking paper published by Carlos Lopez-Otin in 2013. It is important to understand that though these are normal changes the body goes through as it ages, we can take active steps to increase our health spans and allow these processes to happen more slowly. Here, we layout the difference between your chronological age and biological age, the nine hallmarks of aging and, a new technology that changes the way we look at the aging process.

How old are you, anyway?

Your age is not just the number of days, months, and years you’ve existed. There are two ways to think about your age: chronologically and biologically.

Your chronological age is an easy-to-determine figure as it is based on the number of years that have passed since you were born. It is characterized by age-related milestones and benchmarks that are celebrated with the passage of time. Your biological age, also referred to as phenotypic age, on the other hand, is based on lifestyle, genetics, physical and mental functions among many other factors. It is influenced by signals, inputs, and information that your body has been exposed to throughout your life.

Lifestyle factors such as poor nutrition, alcoholism, smoking, inactivity, insomnia, and stress to name a few can increase your biological age, influencing your genes and causing the effects of aging to happen faster.  Depending on your lifestyle and genetics your biological age can be much higher (or lower) than your chronological age.

While chronological aging is inevitable, biological aging is manageable and even reversible. It is also possible to be a 50-year-old person with a younger biological age due to a more active, healthy lifestyle. In contrast, it’s also possible to be a 50-year-old person with a younger biological age due to a more active, healthy lifestyle. This was most recently demonstrated in Dr. Gregory Fahey’s research publication that demonstrated a Reversal of epigenetic aging and immunosenescent trends in humans published in Aging Cell in September of 2019.

There are nine hallmarks of aging.

Throughout my medical career, I’ve been fascinated by the aging mechanisms of the human body. I believe understanding the hallmarks of aging can give us an insight into what is going on inside our bodies and how we can apply that knowledge to make educated decisions about our health.

There are nine hallmarks of aging which are completely natural and will happen to all of us eventually. They are:

Genetic Instability

Damage to your DNA is happening all the time (at a rate of 10,000 to 100,000 molecular lesions per day!). Thankfully, your body has systems in place for repairing the strands and making sure your body doesn’t break down completely.

As we age, however, the repair systems become less efficient at their job which results in creating tiny chromosomal errors that add up and can eventually lead to disease. Though this happens naturally, DNA repair systems can be negatively affected by lifestyle factors such as heavy alcohol consumption or poor sleep.

Some researchers, such as David Sinclair, have been working with molecular substances such as NAD and its precursor NMN, which may help your DNA repairers stay working for longer.

Telomere Attrition

Telomeres are little caps on the end of your chromosomes that protect your genetic data. Each time your cells divide, these telomeres get a little shorter until they wear away completely, causing genetic instability. Measuring your telomeres is how we can determine your biological age.

Many researchers have been concentrating on ways to improve telomere health, which in turn can extend people’s lifespans. RNA therapy is one method that is being discussed, though it’s still in the preliminary stages.

Epigenetic Alteration

If your genes are a CD, your epigenome is the laser that reads the information and plays the song. It has the power to turn genes on or off and controls protein production in certain cells.

As you age, environmental factors can modify your epigenome slowly, making it less effective at reading your DNA- like “skipping” on a CD. The good news is that these changes to the epigenome are not permanent so hypothetically, researchers could find a way to reverse the damage and this particular hallmark of aging.

Loss of Proteostasis

This is a decline in the quality of the proteins that keep our cells doing what they do. After decades of toxins from the environment and our food assaulting our cells, they become damaged. 

Your body has a natural defense against these damaged cells called autophagy. Autophagy is essentially the body’s housekeeping program, cleaning out the old dead cells so they don’t cause problems. But over time, the housekeeper becomes less effective, resulting in a build up of “zombie cells” that can produce age-related diseases like Alzheimers and Parkinson’s.

One way to accelerate autophagy and keep that housekeeper busy is by intermittent fasting- that is, going 16 or more hours a day without consuming calories. 

Deregulated Nutrient-Sensing

Your body has a built-in nutrient-sensing system that its only job is to make sure you’re eating enough healthy, nutritious foods. As you age, even these systems start to break down and have a hard time determining what you need.

Years of eating processed, unnatural foods put added stress on these nutrient sensors and cause us to age faster. Our hypothalamus can be affected, causing us to be hungrier than normal and eat too many calories, which further degrades the nutrient-sensing systems. 

Calorie restriction remains one of the leading age interventions related to these systems, keeping them working and determining correctly when you’ve had enough vitamin D or need a little more C.

Mitochondrial Dysfunction

Mitochondria are commonly called the “powerhouse” of the cell. It’s where they generate the energy to carry on with their job of keeping you going. Free radical damage over time degrades the mitochondria and less energy is produced, making your cells slower and more lethargic.

This decline is most often seen first in tissues with high energy demand: the brain and heart. This is one of the reasons our mental faculties decline as we get older. This hallmark has become a major focus of anti-aging research; If we can keep our cells powered, they can keep doing their jobs for longer and keep us healthier in the process.

Cellular Senescence

To keep your body refreshed and young, your cells have to constantly divide. This is why little kids grow so fast as their cells divide at a rapid rate during developmental years and then slow down as they become adults.

The truth is, your entire body is replaced with a completely new set of cells every 7-10 years, and more important organs are replaced even faster than that. There is an inner mechanism though, that acts like a biological clock; Your cells can only divide a certain number of times.

When a cell can no longer split itself into more cells, it is called cellular senescence. Through autophagy, the body cleans these dead cells out but as we get older, our bodies stop doing this as efficiently. The senescent cells pile up, causing inflammation and a host of problems.

Researchers have been diving into the world of senolytics, a fascinating set of compounds that were found to improve autophagy in mice, making them look and act younger. Perhaps one day we can use similar substances to mimic the effect in humans.

Stem Cell Exhaustion

Stem cells are the blank slates from which all cells are created. All the other hallmarks of aging as well as environmental factors eventually lead to stem cell exhaustion. This is when the body is unable to replace stem cells that have migrated, differentiated, or died. Fewer stem cells mean less regeneration, meaning we start to show signs of getting old.

Anti-aging scientists are obsessed with rejuvenating these stem cells through various means, hoping to increase the number of stem cells in the body and keep you rejuvenated well into your golden years.

Altered Extracellular Communication

Cells need to talk to each other to make everything work properly. How well would a factory operate if no one knew what was going on with everyone else? As we age our cells start to have problems communicating with each other- this can lead them to make bad decisions about regulating our hormones, hunger signals and sleep cycles.

Keeping cells healthy and well-nourished can keep them communicating longer, which in turn will keep your body running smoothly.

These nine hallmarks of aging will be an overarching theme for the future of this blog. Since the publication of the Lopez-Otin’s report, anti-aging scientists have been able to make amazing progress towards not only increasing our chronological age but our health spans as well.

We hope to continue to educate people about what happens to our body systems as we age and provide well-researched ways to postpone these hallmarks as long as possible.

How can you find out your biological age?

Until recently, there was no way to measure a person’s biological age. We are proud to be in collaboration with TruDiagnostics, a company on the cutting edge of anti-aging research. With this new test, we can look at almost 900,000 spots on the genome, which is 425 times more data than any other test on the market! By measuring these factors, we can determine your biological age and see if our anti-aging interventions are truly making a difference.

The Institute for Human Optimization will be offering this test to patients in an attempt to inform them about what’s going on at a cellular level and base our recommendations on this personalized data. 

ReferenceLópez-Otin C, Blasco MA, Partridge L, Serrano M, Kroemer G. The hallmarks of aging. Cell. 2013; 153(60):1194–1217.