How Women Are Bio-Hacking Their Health and Fertility
With high-tech apps and low-tech health, women are learning to sync their lives and their hormone cycles.
When we think "biohacking," it's hard not to picture super-macho Silicon Valley types, pounding Bulletproof coffee, talking about endlessly about Cross-Fit, and tossing back nootropics. But sorry, boys, when it comes to optimizing the natural rhythms of the body, the ladies were here first.
"It could be argued that women are the original biohackers," writes Adrienne Dowd of Parsley Health. From tracking our cycles to the moon to taking birth control pills, women have been manipulating hormones to control pregnancy for thousands of years, she explained. Our hormonal reality is also different than men's; many health recommendations are based on the 24-hour male cycle, with a peak of testosterone in the morning and a gradual decline throughout the day, rather than a woman's month-long cycle.
"Women have an entire hormonal system that men don't," writes MindBodyGreen Senior Wellness & Beauty Editor, Lindsay Kellner. "It's about time we learn how to take advantage of it."
But you don't need to turn yourself into some human excuse for a cyborg to biohack your health.
"Basic biohacking can be simple," adds Dowd. "No fancy gadgets, no expensive gear, and no butter coffee necessary." Here's how to get in the game, without going gonzo.
Sync your lifestyle to your cycle
OK, first a fancy gadget: Most period apps monitor fertility so you can get pregnant (or not). But MyFLOApp, developed by Alisa Vitti, author of the book WomanCode, was designed to monitor everything else your hormones affect, which is kind of everything. Don't feel like hitting happy hour and want to curl up with The Vanity Fair Diaries on a Friday? Thank hormones. Same goes for whether yoga or boot camp sounds like the better workout, and when to schedule the meeting with your boss to ask for that raise. (During ovulation, high estrogen levels make you more persuasive and improve verbal skills.) The app is kinda brill, offering everything from diet suggestions (eat salmon and avocado when you get your period) to nudges to how best to get it on (you might want extra foreplay during the follicular phase). There's even the option to loop your partner in on the alerts.
"We should be doing what men have been doing forever," Vitti told a writer at Harper's Bazaar, "which is supporting different shifts. And we should play to those strengths because it's just good science. It's just good logic.… I think more visibility into our biological reality makes us feel more connected."
Banish blue light from the bedroom
Our brains associate blue light with daytime, but it's also emitted from our electronics and the energy-efficient bulbs our bedside lamp. When we lie in bed at 11pm scrolling through Instagram, our bodies get screwy signals, disrupting our circadian rhythms and messing with our melatonin production. Aim to power down electronics 2-3 hours before bed and trade your phone for an old-fashioned paperback read by the light of a sleep-boosting bulb. (Or, if Instagram you must, switch to night shift.).
While you're in the bedroom, biohack your orgasm
This hack may be the most fun, and it's courtesy of Alisa Vitti again, no electronics necessary. Once a week with lubricant—and without a vibrator—try ascending to the top of the orgasmic peak, then pausing there to enjoy the view. Think of it as optimizing your orgasm.
"If you can stay in the orgasmic plateau phrase—which is right before climax, right between a five and an eight [on the scale]—for any more than 5 to 20 minutes," Vitti said, "you will generate a rush of nitric oxide and oxytocin in your bloodstream at extremely high levels, which boosts your immune system, regulates ovulation, [and] improves fertility." Orgasms also leave you mega-relaxed, effectively stopping any leftover work stress in its tracks.
Biohack your complexion
Our shapeshifting hormones can manifest as inflammation on our face, from sensitivity to breakouts. Dr. Tania Elliott, MD, a board-certified allergist and internist specializing in microbiology and immunology, suggests a surprisingly low-tech hack for your face. It might be one you tried in high school, and it's in your fridge. It's a yogurt mask.
"A plain Greek yogurt with probiotics helps decrease inflammation and rejuvenate the skin," she says. "It's hydrating and especially good if you're prone to acne."
Biohack your diet
In this case, what's good for your face is good for your gut. Studies from Arizona State University, the University of New Mexico and UC San Francisco have found "bad" or unhealthy gut bacteria may be affecting our cravings and moods. One way to hack your way to a better gut is to cut out sugar.
"Sugar is devoid of any real nutrients and impacts your body in a very negative way," writes Adrienne Dowd . Sugar (including artificial sweeteners) can alter gut flora, feeding bad bacteria, and creating dysbiosis," a microbial imbalance or maladaptation on or inside the body.
Crowd out sugar by focusing on fiber, which feeds the good bacteria. Aim for 25 gm of fiber per day by loading up on fresh, whole foods, like in the vegetables, fruit, and whole grains, each time you sit down to eat.
Biohack your fertility
If you're trying to conceive, yes, you can track your period with a slick app that sends alerts, syncs with your social calendar, and offers all kinds biohacking bells and whistles. You can also keep it analog, as Erin Morris did for The Cut: "Every morning in the week or so after my period, I peed on a stick that would indicate whether or not I was about to ovulate, and then, when the color on the little tab changed, I had sex once (or, okay, maybe twice) that day. I noted the dates when my period started, and when it ended. I took a prenatal vitamin. I tried not to drink too much and to eat organic foods when it wasn't too onerous to do so. And, basically, I crossed my fingers and prayed."
But that, in the end, is what all biohacks promise, Morris wrote. Same goes for your diet, your sleep, and when you ask for a raise.
"Biohacking was a coping mechanism, a way to deal with the anxiety of not being in control, using numbers and data to try to harness a future that remained unknowable."
"I've been having this conversation for 30 years of practice," Dr. Jamie Grifo, the Program Director of the New York University Langone Fertility Center. "And we still don't have answers to the question we all want: Predict my future."