Episode 94: Combining Biohacking And Ancestral Living with Ben Greenfield

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Thanks for joining us for episode 94 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are thrilled to be interviewing Ben Greenfield!

Ben Greenfield is a biohacker, human body and brain performance coach, ex bodybuilder, Ironman triathlete, obstacle course racer, anti-aging consultant, speaker, and author of the New York Times bestseller Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health, & Life. In 2008, Ben was voted as NSCA’s Personal Trainer of the Year and in 2013 and 2014 was named by Greatist as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness. Ben’s blogs and podcasts at BenGreenfieldFitness.com and resides in Spokane, Washington with his wife and twin boys.

Are you curious about biohacking but aren’t really sure what’s involved? Techniques for health related biohacks that empower people to approach health through a lens of experimentation are increasing. But many of us first want to know what biohacking really is before diving in.

Today Ben Greenfield shares his entertaining and informative take on biohacking. Join us as Ben defines what biohacking is while sharing with his personal experience of combining ancestral health with the modern science of biohacking in his daily life.

You’ll even learn practical techniques that will empower you to biohack your own health today!

Here are some of the questions we discussed with Ben:

  • How did you get into the business side of the health and fitness and nutrition world?
  • Can you describe what you’re general approach to diet is?
  • Can you define if there’s a standard definition of biohacking, or what you perceive as biohacking?
  • If we were going to talk about some techniques for biohacking for someone who’s never done it before and doesn’t have a lot of time or money to be spending, what would be a technique that isn’t really expensive or just crazy?
  • What biohacks have made the biggest difference for you and where would you suggest people start?
  • Is there anything from a diet perspective that you feel is a biohacking type of approach?
  • Have you ever seen any issues that can come from excessive biohacking techniques?

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TRANSCRIPT: 

Laura: Hey everyone. Welcome to episode 94 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Laura Schoenfeld and with me as always today is Kelsey Kinney.

Kelsey: Hey guys.

Laura: Kelsey, how are you doing this week?

Kelsey: Pretty good. I’m just kind of moving along with everything and just working on product creation mode, all that good stuff, which is like I talked about last time, it can be a little draining but I’m trying to hone everything else in my life down a notch so that I kind of have the mental energy to put into content creation.

Laura: Are you doing the program 100% by yourself?

Kelsey: Pretty much. I have some designers helping me a little bit of course to make everything look good and I have an assistant who is kind of helping me curate some content to go in there. But all the writing pretty much except for a couple pieces I’ve been doing, which is for me the hardest part. I don’t consider myself a great writer. Not that I’m not a great writer, but it just takes me a long time to…

Laura: It’s not for you.

Kelsey: Yeah, it’s not easy. That just takes me a lot of time and is kind of the most frustrating piece of it. As much as I’d love to hire someone to do all of the writing, I feel like that’s a little bit dishonest. But I’ve had some help with the writing piece of it and kind of getting the major points across well. And then I’ve done probably I’d say 90% of all the writing that’s in there, so that’s a lot for me. I think my Google Docs that I have with all the video transcripts is getting to 50 pages right now.

Laura: Wow.

Kelsey: And I still have two modules that I’m working on. It’s going to be a lot of information. I’m actually working with my assistant right now to kind of tone it down a notch, and make it easier to follow, and make sure that I’m not overwhelming people because I’m almost at that point that I’m like I wonder if this is too much for people to handle.

But I want to give everybody the information that they might need and I’d like this to be a program that somebody who is really new to all this stuff could follow, but could also be followed by somebody who has delved a lot into some of these and they know they have SIBO for example, and they’ve done a couple different tries of getting rid of it. I’d like it to span a semi wide audience within a specific niche of course, but I think that presents some trouble as well.

Laura: I know when we put our program together I feel like there was a benefit to having two of us working on it because not only do you get to split the work up, but you can kind bounce ideas back and forth and get somebody’s opinion about something. I feel like when you’re creating something all on your own, you’re just kind of like I think this is what I should be doing, but I’m not really sure.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: I find it really hard to motivate myself to do stuff unless somebody is relying on me for a deadline. That’s another challenge of doing a program on your own is just getting things done in a timely manner. I know I’m excited to see that program come out. We’ve been talking about it for a while so I know our listeners are anticipating it too, so that’s awesome. I’m really glad to hear that you’ve gotten so much content created for that.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: I know we have a long interview today and I don’t want to take too much time talking about ourselves. Let’s get into this interview because it’s super fun and the person we’re interviewing is quite entertaining. Hopefully you guys will enjoy it. But before we get into that conversation, let’s hear a word from our sponsor:

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Laura: Alright. We have a very exciting and hopefully entertaining guest with us today. Ben Greenfield is a biohacker, human body and brain performance coach, ex bodybuilder, Ironman triathlete, obstacle course racer, anti-aging consultant, speaker, and author of the New York Times bestseller Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health, & Life. In 2008, Ben was voted as NSCA’s Personal Trainer of the Year and in 2013 and 2014 was named by Greatist as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness. Ben’s blogs and podcasts at BenGreenfieldFitness.com and resides in Spokane, Washington with his wife and twin boys.

Laura: Welcome to the show, Ben. I haven’t heard from you since November.

Ben: I know. You didn’t say anything about fried pickles in the intro and that fantastic fried pickles meal.

Laura: Fried pickles! Ben is a fried pickles connoisseur.

Ben: That’s right. Laura introduced me to fried pickles at the Weston Price Conference in…where was that? Alabama? Montgomery, Alabama.

Laura: Yes. I don’t know if we should be saying we had fried pickles at the Weston Price Conference. We might get banned from the next one.

Ben: Yeah, well we kind of didn’t because they arrived and they almost all wound up getting sent back to the kitchen because I think we had 2 of the little slices each. But I was expecting a giant cucumber size pickle that was fried.

Laura: Like a corndog or something.

Ben: Right, or as our waitress said, “lightly breaded,” because I asked. I’m not a huge fan of fried food but I occasionally when in Rome. What came out instead was just like a bunch of potato chippy looking like tiny little sliced pickles covered in massive amounts of bread. I was disappointed, I was disappointed in you Laura for recommending, or at least telling me I had to try fried pickles.

Laura: Listen, if you’re in Alabama, lightly breaded needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

Ben: On the flipside, the oysters were pretty good.

Laura: Yes, that was good. Ben is referring to we were at the Weston Price Foundation Conference together last November and Chris Masterjohn introduced us at the speakers dinner. Then I guess somehow we managed to convince you that we were the least annoying people to hang out with outside of the conference. You went to dinner with us at an oyster restaurant. I guess it was Sunday night because it was right before my talk on Monday.

Ben: I don’t even remember. All I know is I kept walking past that restaurant every time I’d walk over to the hotel and I’d just smell it every single time I walked past. I was like I got to go in there at some point and grab oysters. I can’t be in Alabama and not go to what everybody was saying was the top oyster restaurant there.

Laura: Right.

Ben: It didn’t disappoint too bad aside from those darn pickles.

Laura: Yes. Well, me and my fiancé order fried pickles at a lot of places and we’ve had some really good ones and some not so good ones. You have to kind of try them at a couple different places before you make your final decision on them.

But we had a really good time at the conference. I’ve followed your work, I’ve seen your work over the last couple years in general and so it was cool to meet you in person and got to learn a little bit about you and about how you got into this whole health and business thing.

But since our listeners may not know who you are or why you do what you do, let’s hear your story. I know that you said that you’ve been a multi-sport athlete essentially your whole life. But how did you get into the business side of the health and fitness and nutrition world?

Ben: I kind of always have been. My very first job was I was a tennis player in high school and I taught tennis lessons to save up for college. I would literally plaster the neighborhood with fliers and talk to all the parents of all the kids of everyone I knew. I had two older brothers and two younger sisters and so talked to all their friends and their parents.

I had a pretty good little tennis business going on for like three years in high school where I would not only coach kids and adults in tennis but also in strength, and conditioning, and movement, and mobility, and flexibility.

By the time I got to college I had already been kind of teaching physical fitness and movement for three years. Then all through college I moonlit as a personal trainer and also as a….I worked at a bar, at a French bakery, and also as a personal trainer.

Kelsey: Wow.

Ben: I essentially fed people chocolate croissants and Guinness and then helped them to lose weight on the treadmill later on that day. It was actually a pretty good little cycle. I did that all through college and also managed the University of Idaho Wellness Facility while I was getting my Master’s Degree in Biomechanics and Physiology there. It’s something I’ve always done.

When I graduated from Idaho, I was in a brief stint surgical sales because I was accepted to several medical schools and was considering becoming a physician. After working in the private sector in medicine for a while, got a bit disillusioned with modern medicine and kind of leapt right back into fitness.

After that short stint in medicine, I continued in fitness. I started to manage a bunch of fitness facilities in Spokane, Washington and eventually branched out and partnered with a couple of physicians and launched a series of kind of like exercise as medicine, high end personal trainers studios across Idaho and Washington where we did everything from high speed video camera analysis of movement, to EKGs to platelet rich plasma injections of joints, to a lot of blood and biomarker analysis, and metabolic measurements. A lot of things that frankly not a lot of personal trainers were really doing at that point in personal training. That was kind of between about 2005 and 2008.

Then in 2008 I was actually voted as America’s Top Personal Trainer and that kind of thrust me into the limelight of doing a lot more really what I do now like speaking, and writing, and freelancing, and doing some new media stuff, podcasting and video.

I still coach. I don’t have my personal training studios anymore. I sold all my equipment, and kind of fired all my clients once I realized I didn’t have time to do everything. But I still coach a small number of people online. I do a lot of online consulting via Skype and phone. I work for WellnessFX so I do a lot of blood and biomarker consulting though them with an online lab testing agency as well. A little bit of this, little bit of that. But ultimately I’ve kind of always been in this biz, so to speak.

Laura: As you mentioned before we got on the call, you exercise while you podcast.

Ben: Yeah, well I race professionally in obstacle course racing and then before that was an Ironman triathlete for about a decade. I’ve realized that the only way to kind of marry business, and family, and riding, and everything else while trying to achieve really high levels of physical fitness is I kind of move all day long.

Right now while we’re talking I’m walking on my treadmill. I’ll usually walk a good 4-6 miles a day just while I’m working. I’ve got a Jabra headset and Dragon dictation software now so I can also write while I’m walking and the computer is surprisingly accurate with that 1-2 combo of a good headset and Dragon dictation. I can work on articles and stuff while I’m walking as well.

Laura: Without having to get kind of awkward in your positioning with the stiffness of your arms if you’re using a keyboard, right?

Ben: Right, it’s impossible type while you’re walking. I have the Varidesk which is the height adjustable platform that can go on top of a standing desk and kind of go up and down depending on whether you’re typing, or dictating, or talking, etc.

But still, once I switched to this Bluetooth headset with the Dragon dictation software, I can go through 100 emails and walk 2 miles. It helps out quite a bit with allowing for movement and tricking my body into thinking I’m hunting, or gardening, or something while I’m in fact hunched over a MacBook.

Laura: Yeah.

Kelsey: I’ve got to ask what’s this super silent treadmill that you’re using that we can’t even hear at all?

Ben: It’s kind of cool. I’m not a real fan of what I call dirty electricity, or electrical pollution, or whatever you want to call it. I’m one of those guys, I have the anti-radiation cage for my iPhone and my whole house is a stupid house. There’s no Wi-Fi here, there’s very little Bluetooth at all, none of the appliances are smart appliances. The whole house is hard wired with metal shielded Ethernet cable. I even walk around with one of those little EMF meters to make sure there’s not a lot of electricity going around each room because I feel a lot better when I’m disconnected from that stuff when I’m hunting and I’m camping. I want to replicate that same feeling when I’m at home. I just don’t like all these signals bouncing around.

I realize there’s not a lot of peer reviewed, double blinded clinical studies that do indeed prove that Bluetooth might somehow damage red blood cells or affect the blood brain barrier, or that Wi-Fi might somehow deleteriously affect neural function, or cytomembranes, or something like that. But I’ve seen enough of n=1 or anecdotal evidence to where I just play it on the safe side.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Ben: One of the biggest producers of dirty electricity, and electrical pollution, and especially EMF when you walk into a gym or a home is surprisingly enough, the treadmill. They all have built in Wi-Fi routers and they generate tons of electricity from the motor. When you look at the amount of positive ions that they produce…so negative ions you get from waterfalls, and walking outside in the forest, and being exposed to essentially fresh air…you get a lot of the opposite, you get a lot of positive ions generated from things like appliances, and Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi, etc.

I’ve just got this manual treadmill. It’s called a TrueForm treadmill. It’s curved so that it automatically puts your body into the proper biomechanical position whether you’re walking or whether you’re running. The cool think is speaking of the latter, I can also sprint on it. Most manual treadmills for underneath the desk, they’ll go like 4 mph. I can do a full-on workout on this thing.

Kelsey: Wow!

Ben: It’s the favorite treadmill of the CrossFit games and CrossFitters, they use this thing. Because again, it trains your body how to run properly. You can do an all-out sprint, or walk on it, or whatever. It’s called a TrueForm treadmill. I contacted the company and had them modify it to remove all the front dashboard and everything, and the front handles so I can put it in front of a standing desk and not have a dashboard in my way.

Kelsey: Wow!

Laura: Nice. I’ve been on one of those before and I like how you can go from walking to sprinting without any of that weird speed issue that you would have on a normal treadmill where you’re like kind of jogging, and then you’re running, and then you’re sprinting. You can kind of just go from slow to fast like you would normally do on a track or something. That’s cool that you have that set up at your desk.

Ben: Yeah, it’s perfect for interval training too. If you’re not going to walk on it, one of my key workouts that I’ll do, because it doesn’t work very well for long runs. It’s just hard to do a long run on a treadmill and I’m not a big fan of long runs anyway. I’m a bigger fan of short, choppy sprint type of workouts. One of my go to workouts if I have a chance during the day and I have a break from work is I’ll just do 10 30-60 second sprints. I hop off the treadmill in between each one and just get into a front plank hold while I’m recovering. I’ll sprint 30 seconds, plank 30 seconds, sprint 30 seconds, plank 30 seconds. I’ll just do like 10 rounds and that’s a great workout.

Laura: I know those treadmills tend to be kind of expensive. I’ve actually looked into what they would cost to get one of them because I agree that they’re better. If people don’t have access to that kind of thing, certainly just going to a track and sprinting and then doing that hold on the track I’m sure would work pretty well too, right?

Ben: Oh, yeah. You can do that. Or you could even if you don’t go to the track, just do 60 seconds of burpees and then a front plank hold, or jumping jacks, or whatever.

Laura: Nice. When I met you at the Weston Price Conference, I found it interesting to learn about your personal approach to diet since I had actually expected you to be a little bit more hardcore Paleo than you are. I know we’re talking a little bit about fitness, and movement, and that kind of thing. But can you describe what you’re general approach to diet is for our listeners?

Ben: I do way too much sourdough bread and goat’s milk to be Paleo. My personal dietary approach is, it’s a personal approach, right? I do this with my clients as well. Personalization is so easy in the era that we live in in terms of testing genetics doing a 23andMe test and exporting the data and looking at your raw data to see what kind of decisions that you can make based on genetics and diet.

Not only little things like fast versus slow coffee oxidizer, but do you possess the gene responsible for familial hypercholesterolemia? Would you respond better to a high carb kind of like plant based fiber rich diet versus a diet heavy in saturated fats? Or do you produce a lot of endogenous anti-oxidants such as glutathione and superoxide dismutase based on your genetic factors? Or are you somebody who might need to do a little bit more of say like the way protein or the sulforaphane from things like broccoli and cruciferous vegetables.

I’m a big fan of looking at genetics first, also blood and biomarkers, so testing everything from vitamin D status, to thyroid status to testosterone and estrogen, to a complete lipid panel, white blood cell, red blood cell count, etc. to see what type of little tweaks need to be made from a dietary standpoint based on blood.

If I have an endurance athlete who I’m working with who has really high blood cell turnover, low amount of ferritin, low amount of red blood cells, and is generally turning over those cells more quickly, that’s a person who I might actually make a recommendation to, if their genetics agree with this, do something like eat red meat on a very frequent basis. Whereas someone who’s perhaps not beating themselves up quite so much, has lower red blood cell turnover, has red blood cells and ferritin that are just fine and perhaps they’re more focused on anti-aging or longevity, I might actually recommend that they restrict protein a little bit more and restrict the frequency of which they eat meat. So it kind of depends.

I’m a big fan of doing a gut test at least once a year. I do that to myself as well, a good poop panel. And then also I’m a big fan for hormones instead of just relying upon blood, which as you ladies know just gives you the snapshot, I use now typically a DUTCH test, like a dried urine test for 24 hour picture of what’s going on from a hormonal standpoint.

But for me personally, my macros, my meal timing, my caloric count, my food quality and quantity choices kind of vary for any given day. Like yesterday, on Sunday’s I do a lot of, I’ll do a foam rolling session or massage. I’ll typically go for a walk in the sunshine and then usually I’ll do a little bit of meditation whether that’s in the sauna or doing more of like kind of traditional Native American sit spot outside. Sometimes I’ll combine, I’ll just walk and pray simultaneously, for example. That’s a pretty easy day for me. Most Sundays I do a 24 hour fast with a cup of bone broth here and there. Sometimes I’ll take in some amino acids and minerals.

But then on a day like this on a Monday where I’m walking 5 miles and I had a sauna and a cold soak this morning, and then this afternoon ill have some gymnastics training. On a day like this that’s a little bit more intensive, I have a huge smoothie chock full of super foods, kale, and chia seeds, and brazil nuts, and spirulina, and all sorts of things like that for breakfast.

I’ll have a huge salad for lunch, a bed of vegetables anywhere from 5 to 10 different vegetables, usually fewer if its winter like it is here and our vegetable garden isn’t in bloom. If the vegetable garden is going I can go out and harvest a whole host of nutrients. I also walk about the land. I’ve got about 10 acres out here so I’ll gather some wild nettles or mint, or Oregon grape root, or plantain, or any other wild plants that we have here and typically throw some of those in the salads or in the morning smoothie. Typically my salad has a lot of fats in it, seeds, and nuts, and olive oil, or avocado oil, or avocado, or my wife makes some really nice yogurt form our goats outside, so I’ll do some of that as well.

And then dinner typically in many cases it’s some kind of a good organic meat whether it’s wild caught fish or I do a lot of hunting so in many cases it’s venison or elk. Although actually I’m heading down to Hawaii in a couple weeks to hunt sheep.

Kelsey: Wow.

Ben: I haven’t done a lot of mutton but I’m actually going to add some mutton in this year. Typically that’s with some roasted vegetables. I actually save the majority of my day’s carbohydrate intake typically for the end of the day because I work out towards the end of the day and so my GLUT4 transporters and a lot of the elements that would necessitate me not needing to produce a lot of insulin in response to a high carbohydrate intake, those are all a little bit more favorably balanced toward the end of the day. I tend to consume most of my carbohydrates, whether it’s sweet potatoes, or yams, or sourdough bread, or anything along those lines with dinner along with some kind of additional vegetable intake.

I know this is a long response to your question, but for any given day depending on the day’s activities, I’m consuming anywhere from a good 20-25 portions of plants mixed in, and that’s a wide variety of plants, mixed in with relatively high amounts of fats from coconut, and avocado, and then also seeds, and nuts. And then moderate amounts of protein. Protein really isn’t much more than about 25% of my dietary intake unless it’s a very, very difficult day where I might go close to like 30-35%. But that’s kind of how my day typically looks. And then carbohydrates, fats are usually 55-60% of what I eat, carbohydrates are usually anywhere from 10-30% depending on that day’s level of physical activity.

Laura: With the understanding that you probably have pretty high calorie needs based on how active you are, right?

Ben: I would still say I’m kind of in the category of endurance sports. My stable weight if I were to just eat ad libitum, it’s about 190 pounds. But I walk around at about 175 pounds. I always push myself away from the table at about 80% satiety just because I have to carry whatever weight is on my body up and down some pretty ungodly steep hills when I’m racing, or riding my bike, or whatever. My calorie count is about 3-4,000 calories a day which is still a lot compared to the general population. But honestly, I used to body build and I was at about 210 pounds compared to 175 that I’m at now. When I was bodybuilding I would easily go through 6-7,000 calories a day.

Laura: Wow.

Ben: I mean not a ton of calories, but a decent amount.

Laura: I’m so fascinated by this dichotomy in your life where one hand you have all this super tech kind of biohacking approach. And then on the other hand, you’re like out in your acreage and foraging for wild plants, and milking goats, and that kind of thing. I’m trying to imagine what you’re day to day life looks like and it kind of makes me chuckle because I’m like half of me imagines this like goat herder in the mountain, and then the other part of me imagines a Silicon Valley kind of business guy. It’s kind of confusing my brain.

Ben: Yeah, I like to borrow from both worlds. It’s like that combination of ancestral living and modern science. I think that it’s okay to kind of engage in both, to tap into a little bit of what modern science or biohacking, or whatever you call it has to offer us, but then also stay true to one’s ancestral roots.

Whenever I’m looking at some modern science-y thing, I can do to whatever shine infrared light at my nose or in my ears, or do some other crazy biohack, I always look at it in light of whether or not it actually flies in the face of our ancestry in terms of longevity or whether it doesn’t.

For me to be using something like a 600-700 nanometer wavelength lighting headset, like I use this headset at night called the Neuro because it’s been shown to do things like increase nitric oxide production in neural tissue and to active one of the cytochrome pathways in mitochondria responsible for mitochondrial energy production and mitochondrial health. Really, really cool. A lot of cool research on it for Alzheimer’s, for alpha brainwave production, etc. But really it’s not all that much different from just going out between 10 am and 2 pm in the sunshine and getting a bunch of sun. But I live on a north facing slope that sometimes I’ll go for 3 days in the winter without actually getting access to that infrared, so I’ll absolutely use a little biohack like that, a little $1,500 headset to enhance my health if I’m not getting the sunshine exposure that I know my body would do best with.

For me it always depends, but I never mess around with these biohacks that would necessarily take years off your life or something like that.

Laura: Right.

Ben: Yeah, for me it all depends. I haven’t injected chlorophyll into my eyes for night vision or anything like that.

Kelsey: Glad to hear it.

Laura: Yeah, not yet at least, right?

Ben: Not yet.

Laura: We’re talking about things like biohacking, self-hacking, some of our listeners might be familiar with what that is. But can you define what you would consider, or either if there’s a standard definition of biohacking or what you perceive as biohacking for those in our audience who have no idea what that means?

Ben: Biohacking has kind of become this trendy term that we even attribute to doing things like putting whatever butter in one’s tea or coffee, which I don’t consider to be a biohack as much as just a twist on an ancient traditional recipe. I think that originated somewhere in Nepal or the Himalayas. We also attribute things like jumping on a trampoline with an elevation training mask on to be biohacking.

Then you can take that to the limit and look at what I would consider to be true biohackers or body hackers, people who view the human body as what they call wetware. And these folks, another term given to them is grinders, they’ll do things like not only inject chlorophyll into the eyes for night vision, put implantable LED sets under their tattoos to make their tattoos light up at night, or implant magnets into their fingertips to allow them to do like Tom Cruise does in that movie Minority Report where you’re moving things around in a screen by using your fingers without actually touching the screen. There was a guy named Kevin Warwick who is also known as the human cyborg who has chips implanted in both him and his wife so they can communicate telepathically.

Those are the type of things that I consider to be true biohacking. I’m not really at that level. I’m not implanting things in my body. I’m not actually hacking human biology, right? I’m just using equipment here and there to get more out of the human biology in usually a shorter amount of time. That could be walking on a treadmill while I’m recording a podcast, or it could be using an intranasal light therapy to get what I would normally have to go and seek out the sun in the middle of the winter to get.

For example, there are other things that our ancestors might have used music, or meditation, or visualization as many modern athletes do to do something like achieve higher levels of a rating a perceived exertion during a workout, or to enhance skill acquisition during a workout because you’ve up regulated your alpha brainwave production through the use of meditation, or visualization, or chanting, or music.

For example, right behind me is a headset called the tDCS, a transcranial direct-current stimulation headset. I can put that on for 20 minutes prior to a workout and spark a huge amount of activity in my motor cortex very similar to if I had meditated for a couple hours before the workout, but all a sudden I’ve saved myself an hour and 40 minutes because I used a headset that delivers a mild magnetic stimulation to the front of the head rather than something else during workouts so my body is very much prepared for battle. That’s an example of biohack where I’m shortcutting, I’m enhancing my body with a little technique pre workout, but I’m also not implanting those magnets in my head either.

Laura: Right.

Ben: The definition, to answer your question, is quite broad. But really it’s using typically some kind of scientific concepts to shortcut your ability to achieve something for your body and your brain. You’re hacking your biology.

Laura: It sounds like for you, you tend to prioritize just enhancing what your body would naturally be able to do if you had more time. Whereas some other people might look at it as overriding your body’s natural function to perform in a different way. Would you say that’s accurate?

Ben: Right, or just seeking out the most efficient way to achieve some means that you’re looking for. That could include supplementation, right? Like if you’re very low in let’s say EPA/DHA, you’ve tested and you found that your omega 3 fatty acid ratio to omega 6 is low. You could go fishing or go to the grocery store and buy wild caught fish every day and canned sardines and go that route, or you could potentially use something that might be a little bit closer to a biohack which would be a really good fish oil. Let’s say you’re going to take fermented cod liver oil and take 4 to 8 capsules per day along with a meal to enhance absorbability and you’re going to skip going fishing, catching the fish, preparing the fish, etc. That’s kind of a biohack. It could definitely apply to nutrition and supplementation as well.

Laura: I feel like when someone like me or Kelsey who’s not really into this biohacking community hears some of the things you’re telling us, I know I’m kind of like, oh my gosh, that’s really hardcore. I don’t know, Kelsey, what your response is.

Kelsey: Yeah, I’m on the same page.

Laura: But on the other hand, like you said, something like taking a really good quality fish oil if you can’t get fatty fish in your diet is technically a biohack but it’s just a little bit more normal or more accessible for the average person I would say.

If we were going to talk about some techniques for doing this “biohacking” for someone who’s never done it before, doesn’t have a lot of time or money to be spending on these approaches, what would be a technique that isn’t really expensive or just crazy? No injections of things into the eyeballs or anything like that.

Ben: Yeah, absolutely. Let’s look at a biohack that could vastly increase nitric oxide production without some expensive headset, cause a really significant up regulation in adiponectin and irisin which will help with both satiety as well as insulin sensitivity and the mobilization of fatty acids from adipose tissue, enhance vagus nerve tone meaning increase the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system which in many cases in a sympathetic fight and flight dominant culture can be a valuable asset to have.

It would be simply getting your face underneath cold water or immersed in cold water. This could be a cold water face dunk when you wake up in the morning, turning the cold water on the tap and just like splashing it in your face multiple times. That could be, and this is what I recommend to most of my clients and also do myself, a very quick 1-5 minute cold shower at the beginning of the day and/or at the end of the day.

That’s an example of a very cheap, easy, and effective what you might call a biohack because it’s just the use of liberally of cold water and exposing your body to the discomfort of cold temperature on a frequent basis.

Laura: Mm hmm.

Ben: Another one would be Grounding or Earthing. I own a pulsed electromagnetic field device that I place over my collarbone when I sleep and it just shoves your body directly into deep sleep cycles. It’s called a Delta Sleeper. You could put it on your third eye chakra in between your eyes directly above your nose and it will also induce lucid dreaming. The frequency that it emits is identical to that which the earth emits when you’re standing barefoot or say you’re camping and sleeping on the surface of the dirt on the earth. It’s called the Schumann resonance frequency of about 7 and 8 Hertz.

I don’t have to wear that device. I could go sleep outside. I could also do this little biohack which would just be going outside everyday getting barefoot, or laying down on the ground, or figure out some way for about 15-30 minutes to have direct skin contact with the earth. Or you also get some pretty decent resonance exposure through trees and rocks as well. So rock climbing would count, tree climbing would count, tree hugging would count. Anything where your skin is in direct contact with the planet or something growing up out of the planet. That would be another example of a biohack.

The last one I would say would be pretty obvious. The last one that comes to mind would be, for example this morning, I jumpstart my circadian biology each morning by using an LED based headset and shining bright light into my ears for about 12 minutes along with wearing about a 10,000 lux piece of eyewear that shines greenish blue light very similar to sunlight into my eyes. Again, this is because I live on a north facing slope where sun exposure is extremely low in fall and in the winter.

However, in the spring and the summer I do what I’m about to recommend to you. I go out and I do sun gazing for about 5-10 minutes. Typically I’ll do some jumping jacks or squats or something kind of active while I’m looking extremely close to or directly into the sun. Then I also with as little clothing as possible get out between 10am and 2pm and find a spot where the sun is and allow myself to be exposed to it for 15-30 minutes or longer if I happen to be going for a walk or something like that. The neighbors, and UPS, and FedEx know that Ben Greenfield, if you visit my acreage at some points during the day, you’ll see me walking around naked in the forest. It’s just what I do.

There’s some pretty good evidence that that near infrared wavelength that we get from sunlight can actually in men especially increase things like sperm production and testosterone when our genitals get exposed to sunlight. Again, I have in my office a little light panel that’s 600-700 nanometers of light, same as I’d get if I were pulling down my pants in the sunlight except it’s in my office and occasionally I’ll pull down my pants during the day and shine the light on my genitals.

As you can see, what I’m getting at here is when it comes to cold water, or sunshine, or Earthing, or Grounding, there are biohacks to get that especially when you can’t get access to it in other situations. There are also natural ways to achieve the same thing. Those are just a few things you can throw in though, would be a cold shower every day, getting outside barefoot every day, and sometime preferably between 10am and 2pm getting decent amount of sun exposure on as many body parts as possible during the day.

Laura: I’m still kind of mentally stuck on the image of you running around naked in your backyard.

Kelsey: And the UPS guy.

Laura: And the FedEx guy, yeah.

Ben: Or pulling down my pants in my office with the light shining on me.

Laura: Yeah.

Ben: This stuff does work and there’s some good science behind it. Yeah, you just got to warn the UPS driver.

Kelsey: Through doing all of this, what have you kind of learned about your body? What things have made the biggest difference for you? And where would you suggest people start? What has been the coolest thing that you’ve experienced because of those things that you’ve biohacked?

Ben: Well first of all, to respond to the first part of your question, it really would be those 3 things, get cold exposure, get in touch with planet earth, and get sunshine. Or figure out the technological equivalent of any of those.

Kelsey: Right.

Ben: Like a cryotherapy chamber, or cold water pool, a light panel that emits light very similar to the sun, and some kind of Grounding or Earthing device like a Delta Sleeper or an EarthPulse, or a beam, or mat, or any of these other things that are considered to be they call them PEMFs pulsed electromagnetic field therapy devices. Useful for injuries as well.

Kelsey: Cool.

Ben: Actually there’s one, I forget which culture practices this, but they would take people with chronic pain like back pain, knee pain, elbow pain and just bury them in the dirt like up to their neck and there would be a profound effect very similar to a hot springs or a mineral springs in terms of healing of tissue with that intense exposure in this case to the earth’s pulsed electromagnetic fields.

Kelsey: Interesting.

Ben: Kind of interesting, kind of rabbit hole. But ultimately probably the most powerful thing that I do just about every day is I use infrared and heat. I’m inducing a release of heat shock proteins, nitric oxide, sweat so you get a little bit of detoxification of metals through the skin, and I achieve that by waking up in the morning and I have an infrared sauna and I do about 20-30 minutes of either reading, or yoga, or breath work, or meditation until I’m sweating pretty good, like getting pretty hot in that infrared sauna.

And then I follow that up with either a cold shower, or also I don’t have a natural body of water here, but I had a crane come up and drop a 19 foot pool out in the middle of the forest that I keep at about 50 degrees. I’ll go out there after I do the sauna and just jump in the pool and do a little bit of hypoxic underwater swimming so I get that hot/cold.  But that would be the number one thing I would say would be using hot followed by cold. There’s this huge rush of nitric oxide.

When you look at sauna cultures like Finland for example and you see this a little bit in Japan, Russia, Turkey, there appears to be a pretty good correlation between longevity and the use of sauna. Part of that, granted, might be the fact that you’re taking time out of your day, a lot of times it’s social, it’s relaxing.

Kelsey: Right.

Ben: It might not be all just the biochemistry, and the physics, or the physiology of what happens in terms of blood and lymph flow with the hot and the cold exposure. But for me as far as a daily tonic, I swear by that, that sauna followed by the cold. Or you could do a hot shower, cold shower, hot/cold contrast shower where you’re doing hot water for 10 seconds, cold water for 20 seconds, for 5 minutes in a row, that’s another technique. But ultimately to answer your question, it would be hot combined with cold on a daily basis.

Kelsey: Interesting. For somebody who hasn’t dabbled in any of this at all, how does that make you feel? You’re talking about all this increase in nitric oxide and all of these things that maybe sound a little bit technical. So what does that do?

Ben: It’s like a cup of coffee for your brain. It is increased awareness, increased verbal fluency, increased mindfulness, less stress, and an increased ability to be able to be resilient, to withstand stressors, to be a little bit more calm in the face of stress, deeper breathing, better oxygenation, better workouts later on in the day, better sex because of the increased vascularity and nitric oxide. Those would be some of the biggies.

Kelsey: Hey, that sounds pretty good.

Ben: You get better sleep too with the hot/cold especially if you can get that cold shower in to decrease the body’s core temperate at some point within 3 hours prior to bedtime. It can help out quite a bit with sleep quality as well.

Kelsey: Wow. You’re really selling it here.

Laura: I think a lot of these recommendation seem to be related to more lifestyle type stuff which is awesome. I feel like a lot of our listeners may focus really heavily on diet and kind of looking at diet as the cure all, but they don’t realize that there’s lot of other things that could actually really improve their health that have nothing to do with diet.

However, on that note, is there anything from a diet perspective that you feel is a biohacking type of approach? I know you said that you do fasting once a week on Sundays. Is there anything else like that that you can recommend as a potential approach for people to experiment with?

Ben: There was interesting research originally published I think on the GreenMedInfo website. Sayer Ji has some good stuff over there. A few years ago he reported on chlorophyll presence in the blood. Chlorophyll such as we might get from chlorella or from consumption of a lot of dark green colorful plant matter. There appears to be a pretty good interaction between chlorophyll and infrared exposure such as you might get from sunlight to allow for production of Adenosine Triphosphate, or ATP, the body’s energy currency even in the absence of caloric intake.

Meaning that if you eat a lot of dark leafy greens or use like a chlorella supplements, or a phytoplankton supplement, or anything that is very dark and green and combine that with either infrared, using like a far infrared sauna or sunlight exposure, it appears to be a really good dietary tactic for increasing energy levels without having to calorie stuff your face. That would be one, would be consumption of a lot of dark green plant matter combined with sunlight or infrared light exposure. That’s a cool little dietary biohack I suppose that falls into the category of diet.

I’m also a big, big fan of turmeric which has notoriously low bioavailability. The curcuminoids in turmeric which are great for everything from decreasing neural inflammation, to decreasing HSCRP and cytokines, to even interacting with your endocannabinoid system in a very similar manner as a CBD or hemp oil might do. The curcuminoids aren’t very well absorbed unless they’re in the presence of some type of fat whether that’s a phosphatidylserine, or whether that’s a coconut oil, or an avocado oil, or perhaps most importantly because they appear to have a really good interplay between each other, a DHA source. Combining turmeric with fish appears to be a pretty cool little dietary hack as well. If you can throw some black pepper so you’re getting a little bit of bioperine in there as well, I’m a big fan of that approach because the two are so synergistic. Any DHA/EPA source such as fish, or sardines, or krill, or anything along those lines combined with some type of turmeric source whether its turmeric root, turmeric powder, etc.

I kind of take this to the next level. What I do is I use a special type of tea called pau d’arco bark tea. The reason that I use that tea is it’s got what are called beta-lapachones in it and those are a very, very good way to increase the level of NAD in your body, Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide. NAD is being sold as a very expensive anti-aging supplement by several companies right now, most notably Basis made by a company called Elysium. You can also get really kind of expensive NADs injection at all these clinics that are popping up that are using NAD to do things like manage chronic diseases such as Lyme or Epstein for example.

But these beta-lapochones from pau d’arco bark tea can be make extremely bioavailable when in the presence of, you guessed it, turmeric and fats. What I do a couple a times a week is I just get a big mason jar and I kind of slow ferment the tea overnight in warm water at room temperature and then I get out my big blender and I blend all that tea up with massive amounts of turmeric and then for my fat source I’ll either use krill oil capsules or sunflower lecithin. Then I can use that as a base for smoothies, for soups, I can heat it up and drink it as a tea during the day. But it’s essentially a combination of turmeric and fats. That’s another one. If it’s for a soup or if it’s something a little bit more not sweet but savory, I’ll throw black pepper in there as well, again, because that increases bioavailability. But those are a few little dietary hacks that can come in handy and also save you money on expensive anti-aging supplements.

Laura: Right. That’s interesting. I’ve only ever heard of pau d’arco as being used as an antimicrobial for yeast and bacteria, that kind of thing.

Kelsey: Mm hmm.

Ben: Yeah, it’s also popular as candida cleanses and thing like that.

Laura: I would imagine the tea would have less of a strong impact on the gut microbiome, but maybe it would still help with a little bit of an imbalance. Or if you have any sort of an overgrowth going on, it could be a nice way of keeping things from re-growing if you have a history of SIBO or anything like that.

Ben: Yeah. When I use it, I use the bark. When I blend it, I blend the bark along with everything else.

Laura: Okay, interesting. I wonder how that tastes. I feel like anytime I’ve ever had an antifungal herb concoction it always really is not pleasant.

Ben: When I throw it in my morning smoothie and I’ve got kale, and, mint, and parsley, and cilantro, and some coconut oil, and Brazil nuts, and a little bit of sunflower nut butter, and then that tea in there, and then sometimes I’ll throw in a monk fruit sweetener or some low glycemic index sweetener, it’s not that bad. I don’t mind it too much.

Laura: That’s good. I’ve had some of these herbal concoctions before for a Lyme treatment I did a couple of years ago and I just basically had to plug my nose to drink it. I can’t imagine having it in every smoothie and soup that I was having.

Ben: I’ve got a challenge for you. If you go to my YouTube channel, it’s youtube.com/bengreenfieldfitness, and you do a search for detox there, or detox drink, I’ve got this really potent one that I do when I feel as though I might be coming down with a stomach issue, or suspect I might have food poisoning, or something like that. That one is a face puckerer much, much more than this NAD tea.

Laura: Yikes!

Ben: It’s ginger, and garlic, and turmeric, and lemon, and a few other nasties thrown in.

Kelsey: Wow!

Laura: I guess I’ll save that for emergency purposes rather than a daily use.

Ben: Yeah.

Laura: There’s all these really great benefits from the approaches you’ve been talking about. Is there anything that can happen if people take this stuff too far? Certainty lighting up your tattoos and that kind of thing might not really be super helpful, but have you ever seen any issues that can come from excessive biohacking techniques? What should people look out for if they’re going too far? Or is there kind of a point where it’s kind of like alright, you’ve done enough, don’t keep trying to make things better?

Ben: Let’s put it this way, yeah, like my kids and I have gotten skin burns from walking around too long barefoot in the snow outside. Or you can certainly stay in the sauna so long that you get some pretty intensive mineral depletion. Sometimes you’ll even get PVCs or heart arrhythmias if you’re overdoing something like a sauna. You can say the same for anorexia or bulimia. Like any of this stuff you can certainly take too far.

But I mean it’s just everything in moderation. Water is toxic at high levels because it can produce hypernatremia or dilution of minerals and brain swelling. And I would imagine could probably say the same thing for pau d’arco bark tea. We know for example that having too high an intake of antioxidants can actually blunt the hormetic response to things like exercise, and cold, and heat, and other stressors, these other hormetic stressors that you might be placing on your body. You could do too much vitamin C, or too much vitamin E, or too much turmeric. They’ve shown this in studies especially with C and E that you actually can blunt the fitness response to exercise when you overdo antioxidants.

Coming full circle, this is probably perfect because I’ve only got a few minutes left anyway. But coming full circle to what I was talking about before about my dietary approach, and testing the body, and even doing things like DNA testing, yeah, if I produce a very, very low amount of endogenous antioxidants based on my DNA testing, I might say okay I’m going to do a lot more vitamin C, or vitamin E, or turmeric, or glutathione, or whatever every day. But if not, I might actually be harming myself, or shorting myself, or making my workouts less effective. So in that case, I’m not going to. But really it just comes down to, I know this sounds stupid, but try everything in moderation.

Laura: Right. I think it’s important. I think people can really take this stuff to extreme, either diet, or lifestyle, or supplements, or any of this stuff. Just being able to recognize when things are maybe going too far and pulling yourself back and paying attention to what you’re doing and not just doing something because you see someone doing it online or read about it in an article. The moderation piece is very important, so I’m glad we got to talk about that.

Ben: Right, exactly. You can put too much butter in your coffee.

Laura: I don’t know about that. No, I’m just kidding. But thanks so much for coming onto our show today, Ben. I’m just fascinated by your lifestyle so when you tell me about this stuff that you’re doing, I’m just kind of sitting here with my jaw on the floor. I enjoyed it. Hopefully our listeners did as well. Where can people find you if they want to get more into your self-experimentation, and recommendations, and all that?

Ben: Sure. I’ll just say two things. One is I’ve got a book jammed packed with about 500 pages worth of biohacks, and meals, and all sorts of little things I do. That one is called Beyond Training. That is at BeyondTrainingBook.com. And then I’ve got a website where I put out a free podcast a couple of times a week where I usually talk about the latest and the greatest in fitness and nutrition, etc. I also do an article each week and some fun videos. That’s all at BenGreenfieldFitness.com.

Laura: Awesome. We’ll link to both of those in the show notes and we really appreciate you coming on and sharing all these great tips for our listeners who want to get into biohacking but maybe don’t want to be doing anything surgical. We appreciate your time and hope you have a good rest of your week.

Ben: Awesome. Thanks for having me on, no surgery required.

Laura: Yes.

Kelsey: Thanks, Ben.

Laura: Take care, Ben.

Ben: Alright, later.

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  1. I have been following Ben for 5 years and he has improved my life radically. Wish I had found him years ago. This guy rocks.