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  • Brianna Welsh

Using my body as a human laboratory


For the better half of my life, certainly for as far back as I can remember, I’ve had some abnormal stomach tendencies. I’ve seen more doctors (holistic and traditional alike) than I can count on all my appendages, to no avail. I’m apparently totally healthy, but my symptoms tell me my body is not operating at full capacity. So inspired by a few interesting thought leaders in the biohacking space, I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands. I’ve always enjoyed experiments, so why not start experimenting on myself? Might as well give it a shot since nothing any of the professionals have suggested is helping!

I’m trialling series of programs, all espousing various health benefits, championed by different niche specialists. This will be an ongoing attempt at trial and error to identify that sweet spot of an optimally functioning gut. I will spend a great deal of time researching each method before attempting anything to ensure I understand the intentions, purported benefits and potential risks. I’ll highlight the fundamentals of each biohack method in brevity, then will detail my personal experience below:

INTERMITTENT FASTING

Purpose:

  • Helps protect against metabolic-related disease, including a 36% reduction in breast cancer

  • Results in decreased fat mass, improved glucose tolerance, reduce inflammation, gene expression and increased ketone bodies

  • Takes 10-12 hour for liver glycogen stores to be depleted which is then followed by fatty acids being liberated and transported to liver and converted to ketone bodies which are then used for energy (leading to endurance enhancement)

  • Increase in “autophagy” and stem cell production boost - clears damaged cells to use for energy before they become cancerous

  • Prolonged fasting increasing stem cell numbers to regenerate organ function

  • Clears damaged mitochondria called mitophagy to slow aging process and generates new healthy mitochondria to replace them

  • Low carb/high fat diet does not do this

  • Activates the repair of damaged DNA, cells, proteins and mitochondria - MUST be in a fasted state to be in a reparative state

  • Encourages weight loss, reduces body fat, lowers blood pressure and heart rate

Process:

  • Constraining eating to 8 hour window (16:8 rhythm of fast:food)

  • Align eating as much as possible to circadian rhythm to ease stress on body and ensure optimal digestive efficiency (post-prandial glucose increase is lowest after breakfast and highest after dinner suggesting metabolism changes throughout day due to master oscillator relating to light)

  • Non-caloric xenobiotics are considered 'breaking the fast'

  • Even compounds existing in coffee can produce metabolic effects that influence peripheral oscillators and cause enzymes to be release, so important to limit ingestion to water or herbal tea

  • There are proponents of sporadic IF, whereby you eat normally (3+ meals a day at regular intervals) and then fast for 24-36 hours 2-3 days a week

Proof:

  • While I recognize the importance of eating according to our circadian rhythm, I’ve always struggled with eating first thing in the morning. Given that most of my social interactions revolve around food, it’s naturally less restrictive to choose to eat later in the day, so I opt for meals between 2-10pm

  • Working for 6-7 hours in the morning with nothing but water can be a bit challenging, so I practice a moderate form of IF, where I allow myself black coffee, herbal teas (fresh mint, fresh ginger) or lemon water. These are all >40 calories which according to most opinions, will not kick your body out of the fast, and I find it much a more sustainable practice

  • Wake up around 7am, have a lemon water first thing, will usually have a black coffee or a tea mid-late morning

  • First meal around 1-2pm depending on when I finished up the night before, but at minimum 16 hours later

  • This meal can technically be anything, but while I’m working I find over consuming to cause a mental lag, so I typically choose a protein and fiber heavy smoothie or salad with vegan proteins

  • If I’m peckish throughout the afternoon, I’ll have a light snack, again fiber heavy, and usually high in fat

  • Dinner as normal between 7-9pm and only water afterwards

  • If I need to divert from this schedule due to social obligations (drinking/breakfast meetings etc), I will calculate a longer fasting period following this cheat day to reset my body

  • My digestion system seems to really appreciate this more structured intake of food, and my mental clarity and memory improvement is salient

  • After only a month of IF, I’ve found an inverse causality between the amount I eat (portion-wise and also with respect to timing) and my energy levels, so this program appears to be working

SENSORY DEPRIVATION TANK

Purpose:

  • The sensory deprivation tanks were first studied by the controversial psychedelic drug scientist John C Lilly, aiming at hacking the mental offset experienced when using hallucinogens

  • It is designed to induce total relaxation of the mind, body and nervous system which triggers enhanced creativity, idea generation and problem-solving by bridging the gap between two alternate realities

  • When external sensory inputs are muted, the mind is able to release the tension of focus and can float (pun intended) across other mental spheres

  • Many of its user claim a heightened sense of introspection and out-of-body experiences mirroring deep meditation

  • Chemically speaking, the practices are similar in their ability to decrease alpha waves and increased theta waves in the brain, patterns most typically found in sleeping states

Process:

  • A soundproof, lightproof pod or claustrophobic room the size of a small closet is filled with eight hundred pounds of salt water

  • You lay down naked in the pod, floating for 60-90 minutes

  • Designed to isolate its occupant from all forms of sensory inputs simultaneously

  • The extreme buoyancy lends to an environment with almost zero-gravity, and the lack of temperature differential (heated to exactly the same as your body) interrupts your ability to perceive your your body ends and the water and air begin

Proof:

  • At the very least, I enjoy this experience as a forced digital detox and release from external distractions

  • I meditate regularly and have explored many psychedelic substances, so the body-mental disassociation is a familiar feeling for me

  • I feel oddly comfortable in the tank, and find my mind working laterally, aiding in pattern recognition and an overall sense of calm following the experience

  • Surprisingly the 60 minutes goes by in a flash, and when the bell rings it feels like you’ve only just gotten in

5 DAY WATER FAST

Purpose:

The objective here is to help tissues eliminate waste and toxins which will correct disruptions to the body and help purify the system. Consuming zero calories enables your digestive system to “take a break”, whereby you transition from the normal energy conversion process of utilizing glucose, to more efficiently running on ketone (fat) storage.

Its main purported benefits are among the following:

  • Weight loss at a rate of approximately 1lb of fat/day

  • Increased insulin sensitivity due to less fluctuation in blood sugar levels

  • Lowers internal stress levels and decreases blood pressure

  • Resolves digestive issues such as IBS, constipation, diarrhea, and gastritis

  • Supports increased neurogensis (increased growth of neurons in our brain)

  • Short term reduction in circulating IGF-1 (IGF-1 is a key mediator in the effects of growth hormone - and decreasing it can decreases GH activity. In animals this is shown to slow down the aging process)

  • Increased autophagy (This is the cells cleaning up process, where waste is cleaned up and re-used within the cells. It takes place all the time, but is accelerated when fasting)

  • Immune system rejuvenation (mainly the lymphocytes)

  • Reduced inflammation (measured by improved C-reactive protein blood markers)

  • Building mental resilience through the process of overcoming a challenge

  • Time for introspection and emotional release of inputs

Process:

Women take 2 days while men take 3 to adjust to the fast. Food cravings, mood swings, dizziness and hunger bouts are frequently observed during the first 2-3 days, but will subside drastically following this period. This is due to the body’s transition from utilizing glucose to ketones for energy. By day 3, many people experience increased energy, heightened mental clarity, increased cognitive function and positive mental states.

Documentation of the entire process is advisable so you can understand the internal reactions and calculate tangible benefits. Take a journal or log of the entire process, beginning with the days leading up and through to the week following.

  1. Measuring starting stats (weight/fat percentage)

  2. Write detailed description of pre-fast cognitive performance, energy, irritability and digestion-related reactions such as phlegm/coughing/gas

  3. Measure blood glucose levels and ketone levels beforehand

  4. Measure blood glucose levels during (should be between 50mg/dL and 60mg/dL mid-fast)

  5. Measure ketone levels beginning fast (peak in the range of between 6 and 8 mmol/L)

  6. Download Quantified Mind app to test cognitive performance

  7. Walk within 30 minutes of waking on first day for 3-4 hours to use up your glycogen stores, forcing your body to move quicker into deep ketosis

  8. You can opt to supplement your fast with exogenous ketones/MCT oil to give boost while keto adapting (KetoCaNa & KetoForce) 2-3 times per day (though not a requirement)

  9. Test blood ketones daily. You are aiming to be at 0.7mmol or greater.

  10. Incorporate some sodium in your water throughout the day. It’s easiest to add some Himalayan salt to your mineral water.

  11. Important to drink mineral water rather than distilled, you need calcium and magnesium to ensure a healthy fast which as removed in distilled water (you can purchase supplements if you’re worried)

  12. You may experience breath odor and whiteness on tongue around day 3-4 which is a sign you’ve entered ketosis

Proof:

Day 1:

Slept first 24 hours on flight/transit, nervous but not hungry

Drank 1L of spring water

Measured 92mg/dL for blood glucose

Measured 0.2 mmol/K for ketones (on target)

Day 2:

First 12 hours in transit still, slept on plane, drank 1.5L of spring water

Second 12 hours - feeling hungry at 37 hours

Metal taste in my mouth 37 hours

Measured 80mg/dL for blood glucose

Measured 2.1 mmol/K for ketones (on target)

Day 3:

Biked around all day

Slept 8 hours

Wide awake and not hungry at midnight

Tongue totally white

Noticeable bad breath

Weighing in at 121lbs

Basically nocturnal from my annoying sleep schedule on the plane

Around 5am Friday am I'm fantasizing of food

Not physically hungry and no real signs of slow down, just craving something tasty

Wave of exhaustion, weakness and almost hangover like state at 9am

Bit dizzy when standing, muscles feel weak

2.5L of mineral water

Measured 44mg/dL for blood glucose

Measured 6.4 mmol/K for ketones (on target)

Day 4 (11am Friday):

Bit moody

Period came, so feeling bloated

Still no poo

Drank 2L of water

Slept from 7pm-4am

Felt fine though, was able to do activities all day

Had an afternoon massage

Extremely energetic once waking at 4am

Feeling very clear, happy, settled

Measured 55mg/dL for blood glucose

7 mmol/L ketone today

Day 5 (11am Saturday):

Finally pooed a little

Highly energetic

Not hungry, no physical anxieties, not even craving food much anymore

Still bloated though

Very clear mentally

Did a 30 min hike up a mountain then 30 min beach walk to my bubble tent in peak heat, though I was going to pass out. Shaky, weak, blurry vision. But it was 110 and 2pm so...

Went to sleep at 12pm

Measured 55mg/dL for blood glucose

Settled at 6 mmol/L for ketones

Day 6 (12pm Sunday):

Woke up at 530 for sunrise

Had a black coffee. Holy shit do not do this again. It's worse than speed. I'm literally shaking

Had a vegan salad with mostly cooked vegetables and a coconut