Human Optimization

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.