Biohacking is the practice of using food, lifestyle, exercise, and targeted supplementation to enhance health – and Alisa Vitti, functional nutrition and women’s hormone expert, believes women can use it to tackle their periods, too.
You heard it here first: Biohacking is the future.
The bestselling author of WomanCode and now In the FLO, and founder of modern hormone healthcare company FLOliving.com, has been teaching women how to reclaim their rhythm for nearly twenty years and says she has witnessed the incredible rewards it offers – including losing stubborn weight, regaining energy, clearing skin, and minimising PMS.
“The key difference between biohacking for men and biohacking for women, is that in the case of men, they are trying to maximise energy, concentration, and stamina during their very short 24 hour circadian hormonal pattern. For you, as a woman, you are already maximally efficient by design, so you simply need to nurture your cyclical patterns and endocrine system’s nutritional needs, and you will feel the benefits quickly.
“If you suffer from hormone-related health concerns – like heavy periods, severe PMS, bloating, acne, fibroids, PCOS, irritability, insomnia, low libido, infertility, irregular or missing periods, and/or hormone-related migraines – you can biohack your way to fewer symptoms and better health. But to get the best results, you have biohack for your unique female physiology.”
Here, she shares her top 10 biohacks for women who want to solve their period problems and look and feel their best.
Biohack #1: Change what you eat every week
Eating to ease period problems requires synching your weekly meal plans with your 28-day cycle. Your metabolism changes during the cycle and you have different calorie needs during each week of the month – unlike men, who can thrive by eating more or less the same way everyday – and you will look and feel your best when you organise your food to match your metabolism. Think of it this way: as your hormones change, so does your menu!
In chapter 4 of In The FLO, you’ll get the ultimate food chart to use for your unique hormonal patterns and recipes and meal plans to make this easy. And if you’re scratching your head (and maybe freaking out a little) because you don’t know what your hormones do or when, don’t panic! Use the MyFLO app to track your cycle so you can start eating cyclically.
Biohack #2: Switch your workout type and intensity each week
If you do the same HIIT workout each and every day, studies show that you will turn on fat storage and muscle wasting. Even though you are hearing that HIIT is the ultimate workout biohack, that’s only good for men, the studies on women in their reproductive years show that due to our metabolic, temperature and cortisol (stress hormone) changes throughout the cycle, we MUST change our workouts each week. Think cardio and HIIT in the first half, and pilates, yoga, walking in the second half. You can get the optimal workout plan for women in chapter 5 of In The FLO.
Biohack #3: Detox the RIGHT way
If you suffer from hormone imbalances and period problems, it can be tempting to do an extreme detox. The severe restrictions and big promises (Lose 20 pounds overnight! Eliminate all the toxins from your body!) sound like a relief after suffering with hormone-related symptoms for so long. But deprivation plans and strict detoxes backfire for the vast majority of women. Severe calorie restrictions tax our already overburdened adrenal and endocrine systems – and make our hormone problems worse.
Don’t get me wrong: a detox can be helpful, but it must be the right kind of detox, one that focuses on clearing the body of excess estrogen. Excess estrogen in the body (relative to progesterone) contributes to everything from severe PMS to PCOS.
If you want to detox estrogen, don’t do a juice fast or a cleanse. By changing your foods according to the Cycle Syncing Method, described in the book In The FLO, you will be continuously supporting estrogen metabolism all month. If you want even more support in doing a safe, nourishing detox, I designed a 4-day Hormone Detox to kickstart your hormonal healing, to be done between the last day of your period and ovulation to take advantage of your slower metabolism and lower caloric needs. Don’t start a diet or do any detox after ovulation – recipe for misery and weight gain!
Biohack #4: Use intermittent fasting correctly
Most studies on fasting have been done on men and/or have shown mixed results for women. One study found that intermittent fasting helped improve insulin sensitivity in men, but women didn’t get the same benefit. (Good insulin sensitivity is essential for balanced hormones.) At the same time, the study showed that women’s ability to tolerate glucose actually got worse during intermittent fasting. Other research shows that fasting can have a negative effect on cortisol, insulin, estrogen, and progesterone – all the major hormonal players in your body! It can even shrink your ovaries!
Studies suggest that intermittent fasting can be very helpful for women (and men) with compromised cellular health (individuals with cancer and/or those going through chemotherapy), but for women in generally good health who are working to balance hormones and heal hormone-related symptoms, I don’t recommend fasting. Once you hit menopause, Intermittent fasting will give you all the benefits that it’s supposed to.
Biohack #5: Don’t default to the ketogenic diet
The ketogenic diet, which is a high fat-low carbohydrate diet, is all the rage these days, but research suggests that it can mess with thyroid function – and thyroid health is absolutely essential for healthy hormone balance. Once your thyroid begins underperforming, you’ll also see disruption in your menstrual cycle. Here’s where this biohack becomes sex specific: thyroid problems disproportionately affect women. It’s estimated that one in five women have a thyroid issue, and many of those cases are undiagnosed. If you’re trying to bring your hormones into balance, your best bet is to eat in line with your cycle – and leave the ketogenic diet for individuals with other health issues.
Biohack #6: Ditch coffee
Upgraded coffee can work well for men and post menopausal women, but caffeine is a no-go for women in their reproductive years who want to optimize hormone health.
Over 50% of the population has a mutation in the CYP1A2 gene that produces the enzymes needed to break down caffeine. In the presence of this mutation, you don’t make enough of this enzyme and you will have the caffeine circulating in your system for much longer which can lead to many unwanted side effects from anxiety to insomnia. In addition, caffeine can increase the development of benign breast disease. For women with PCOS, fibroids, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, and fibrocystic breasts, caffeine is a guaranteed way to make more cysts. Plus, caffeine mucks up hormone health in other ways, too. If you’re trying to solve your period problems, opt for decaf..
Biohack #7: Supplement like a girl
Women have unique micronutrient needs, and we need supplements tailored to our unique female physiology. Specifically:
While every woman should be supplementing with B vitamins, if you’re suffering from hormone imbalances, you’ll need to be extra aware of your intake. Research has shown that intake of vitamins like thiamine (B1) is inversely related to endometriosis. Another important type of B vitamin, folic acid, is known to be important in managing PCOS.
Magnesium is a must for women with hormone imbalances since it improves insulin sensitivity, which has widespread implications for the entire hormone system. And if you’ve ever suffered from hot flashes (whether you’re menopausal or not even close) magnesium has been shown to significantly reduce the symptoms.
If you’re suffering with fibroids or any hormone-related health condition, vitamin D is an absolute must. A study funded by the National Institutes of Health found that supplementing with vitamin D reduced the size of uterine fibroids. This may be especially essential for African American women since they’re 3-4 times more likely to develop fibroids and 10 times more likely to be deficient in vitamin D than white women. More generally, vitamin D acts like a master hormone in the body, which is what makes it so critical for all women with hormone imbalances.
Probiotics are a must: one study found that in just 12 weeks, probiotics s helped significantly reduced endometriosis pain. I designed my FLO Balance supplements with women’s unique micronutrient needs in mind. They contain everything you need to supplement strategically for optimal hormonal health.
Biohack #8: Track your cycle
It’s important to track your cycle for 2 reasons. One to keep on top of which symptoms you have when – for example, acne during ovulation is caused by different factors than acne before your period. You’ll want to know which symptoms you are having and when so you can learn why you are having them and what you can do with biohacking your food, supplements, and lifestyle to resolve them naturally. You also want to track your cycle so you can begin applying the Cycle Syncing Method(™) from In the FLO to help you optimise your health, fitness, career, sex life, and motherhood. When you start doing the right activities at the right time, instead of everything feeling like a fight, you can finally get into a flow and things can be so much easier and less stressful. You now know that you have 4 distinct hormonal phases each month – your follicular, ovulatory, luteal and menstrual phases. However it can feel hard to know which phase you’re in. Using the MyFLO app (myflotracker.com) is the best way to begin tracking and getting in sync with your cycle.
Biohack #9: Get your morning routine working for you
The success story out there is – if you get up early in the morning, do an intense workout, meditate/journal and plan your day/learn something new – each and every day – that this will increase your chances of success. It’s not a bad plan. It just is not factoring in the female experience of reality and so as such, women try to commit to this plan and then find they can’t stick with it. Why? Lack of willpower? No – simple – it’s incompatible with your biology. Then they feel like failures before their day even gets started. It’s toxic to think and feel this way and it’s completely unnecessary if we only had the correct gender specific information to base our self care practices on.
Without the scientifically correct and gender distinct information about biological rhythms, women assume they should squeeze themselves into this same routine in order to set themselves up for success.
Women have a circadian rhythm just like all humans, that regulates cortisol and other basic biological functions. However, and it’s a big one – women from the first period to their last – have a second biological clock at play called the INFRADIAN rhythm. The circadian rhythm takes one day, and the infradian rhythm takes one month. This rhythm governs 6 key systems of the body – the brain, metabolism, immune, microbiome, stress, and reproductive systems. For example, did you know the infradian rhythm creates a 25% change in your brain chemistry over the course of the month?
Did you know that your cortisol levels are higher in one part of your infradian cycle and therefore the ‘just do it’ or ‘push yourself’ mentality will actually elevate cortisol levels further, increase stress and inflammation in the body, disrupt your hormones, make you feel anxious and reduce your ability to be creative and productive? And that women need more sleep than men because we have a more complex brain and it needs 20 minutes longer to clean itself and reset for the cognitive day?
So, are you seeing now why that early power morning ritual is good for the guys in your life but terrible for you? Men are the same each day – they run out of testosterone and cortisol every afternoon, so for them, front loading as much of their physical, sexual, social, and cognitive activities before 3pm is critical for their success. In fact, all of business culture is oriented to optimise male performance. From a biological point of view, the patriarchy is about setting up culture to work with and support male biology. And this is exactly why certain types of biohacking is so popular for that group because it is helpful to figure out ways to extend energy, stamina, sexual performance, cognitive energy for longer in the day.
Women however do not experience this cliff at all. We are more efficient users of energy and therefore we don’t have to crowd all of our productivity into the morning. In fact that can be hormonally disruptive at certain phases of the infradian cycle.
Women actually need 4 different morning routines based on the 4 shifts you go through each month during one turn of the infradian biological rhythm.
Biohack #1: Biohack your orgasm
With over 60% of women sexually unsatisfied, this is a big one. Turns out your sexual desire is different across the month and that you need different types and amount of stimulation to achieve orgasm. Knowing when you need lubricant, and knowing how much foreplay you need should just be common knowledge. Without this, we not only feel more than half of the time unsatisfied, but worse, we think something is wrong with our sex drive. Nothing is wrong with you, you are just trying to turn on the ignition of your engine with a carrot. You need the keys.