Crash Course: Biohack Your Period
“Reprogram” your body with these smart lifestyle choices
This story was originally published on the KAALI Blog.
Biohacking first emerged out of Silicon Valley as a way for tech professionals to become “posthuman”: to work harder and faster or live longer without burnout, using smart shortcuts to become practically superhuman. Lauded by the “tech bro” community, this trend inspired countless people to try butter-filled Bulletproof coffee (a daily ritual of Dave Asprey, who plans to live to 180), the 7 minute workout (a favorite of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey), and polyphasic sleep (Wordpress founder Matt Mullenweg slept 6 times a day, for 40 minutes each).
However, biohacking doesn’t have to be extreme — at the most basic level, all it takes is minor lifestyle adjustments to improve and optimize your health. Whether through eating more consciously, starting a new exercise routine, or taking supplements, you can biohack your hormone health and make your monthly period a more comfortable, predictable experience. Here are some of the KAALI team’s favorite hacks!
Track Your Cycle
Tracking your menstrual flow is super important for monitoring symptoms caused by period-related hormone changes — did you know that acne during ovulation results from different factors than what causes breakouts before your period? Once you know what symptoms you have and when they occur, you’ll be better able to understand why your body responds with those symptoms. Then, you can tailor your food, exercise, supplements, and lifestyle to biohack your health naturally!
Another thing to keep in mind is the color of your menstrual flow. Noting down the hue of your period blood is like a hormone test: the color of the blood is a major indicator of hormonal changes.
Support Your Body with Supplements
Alisa Vitti, author of In the FLO and famed menstrual biohacker, realized that the supplement market is saturated with a never-ending influx of products. However, most are multi-ingredient blends that do not live up to their claims because they contain too much of the wrong nutrients and not nearly enough of the right ones. To prevent womxn from “investing [their] money into making really expensive pee”, Vitti created a list of non-negotiable, essential nutritional supplements that help your body manufacture the right hormones for an efficient hormonal system.
- B vitamins: Studies have found that increased intake of B vitamins like thiamine (B1) is inversely related to endometriosis. As well, folic acid is highly beneficial against PCOS. Even if you don’t have a health condition or endocrine dysfunction, it is still important to check your intake since B vitamins are so crucial in many bodily functions.
- Magnesium: This mineral has been shown to significantly reduce hot flashes, making it essential for menstruators nearing or going through menopause. It also improves insulin sensitivity, a major PCOS issue, making it a must to supplement with.
- Vitamin D: The sunshine vitamin is also critical for your period! Research funded by the National Institutes of Health discovered that vitamin D intake reduced the size of uterine fibroids. This is especially vital for certain groups, such as African American menstruators: compared to white menstruators, they are 3–4x more susceptible to fibroids and 10x more likely to be deficient in vitamin D.
- Probiotics: Commonly found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut, probiotics are great for your digestive health and your period! One study found that in just 12 weeks, probiotics were able to significantly alleviate pain from endometriosis by stimulating natural killer cells.
Eat Smart, Eat Regularly
Alisa Vitti mentions that taking supplements alone isn’t enough — while vitamins are concentrated sources of nutrients, only food can provide your body with a diverse profile of both macronutrients and micronutrients. It’s important to eat a balanced diet and do so regularly.
In fact, Vitti notes that popular diet trends like intermittent fasting may not be as beneficial for menstruators — many success stories come from males, but male and female biology require very different approaches when it comes to biohacking. Take intermittent fasting for example: long periods of not eating can benefit many men, but can actually wreak havoc on insulin and cortisol responses in women due to the female body’s reproductive instincts. Meanwhile, the keto diet has long been promoted as a way to revolutionize your health; however, low-carb eating can disrupt your thyroid — which directly affects your menstrual cycle.
So, eat whole foods and consult your doctor if you’re considering major dietary changes; it’s unlikely you’ll need them! Consume vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds often, as all of these have been linked to better periods.
Exercise for Your Hormones
Regularly exercising throughout your menstrual cycle has been proven by studies to reduce the likelihood of menstrual pain, cramps and mood swings. The exact reasons are unclear, but the benefits are likely due to the release of hormones such as dopamine and serotonin, as well as endorphins.
One important thing to note, though — you shouldn’t be sticking to the same routine, at the same intensity, throughout your cycle! While daily HIIT workouts have become the go-to biohacking exercise routine, they are much more suited for males and can potentially even be detrimental to females. As our menstrual hormone cycle progresses, our metabolic, temperature and stress responses change as well — this means that our exercise routines have to adapt to our energy and stress levels.
Generally, you should do intensive workouts such as cardio, HIIT, spinning, and weightlifting in the first half of your menstrual cycle. For the second half, change it up with low-intensity activities including yoga, pilates, and walking.
Cut the Coffee (and More)
For many people, coffee is integral to their morning routine. However, it might be necessary to stop drinking coffee if you experience period problems.
Despite its many health benefits, caffeine is unfortunately linked with increased incidence of cyst formation. This is highly undesirable for menstruators who suffer from PCOS, fibroids, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, or fibrocystic breasts. Furthermore, over 50% of the population has a mutation of the CYP1A2 gene, which inhibits the body’s ability to break down caffeine and thus leaves it circulating in the body for sustained periods of time.
From a food standpoint, research has also suggested that it is beneficial to limit intake of animal fats and salt if you have health issues that affect menstruation.
Last but Not Least: Optimize Your Self-Care
It’s a no brainer: self-care practices will benefit you throughout your menstrual cycle. Sometimes, the best hack for your health is happiness!
Vitti, a dedicated biohacker, enjoys positive activities like “going to a wellness event or doing something that’s social or inspiring” during the first half of her cycle. In the second half, she ensures that she feels grounded by “going to a stretching class, a steam room, or getting a massage or a facial.” She notes that the menstruation period, which lasts five days on average, is optimal for quality self-reflection and care.
With these tips and tricks in your arsenal, you’ll be able to understand yourself and your body on another level. So go ahead, give biohacking a try — work with your menstrual cycle, not against it!