Disregard for Quantified Self & Too Much Reliance on the "Experts"
Following dietary advice from a diet book, blog, podcast, conference, online forum, coach, trainer, or practitioner without consistently tracking important biomarkers such as fasting blood glucose and glucose tolerance, resting heart rate and maximum heart rate during exercise, sleep quality, subjective energy levels, mood, waist circumference, and body fat percentage can lead the rookie biohacker down the wrong path very quickly. Just because a particular nutrition plan, supplement, exercise strategy, etc. is the current trend being touted by diet book authors and internet personalities does not mean it will work for you.
This doesn't mean you have to become obsessive about tracking all biomarkers at all hours of the day, every day, forever (unless you want to). Simply put, if you are going to try something new that may be a radical change from what you've been doing, you need to take a starting or baseline measurement of as many biomarkers as possible and then monitor these biomarkers over the next few weeks.
If you decide to stick with a new approach, then you might want to reassess on a monthly basis the biomarkers that you can measure with at-home devices. This includes biomarkers such as blood glucose, ketones, waist circumference, sleep quality, weight and body fat percentage, and subjective measurements like your energy levels and mood. Blood tests or other testing that requires more of a financial investment may be done quarterly or at the very least, annually.
Annual blood tests should include a complete metabolic panel that tests your blood count, liver, kidneys, and heart, as well as add-ons such as a thyroid panel and anemia panel (with iron and TIBC). Annual telomere testing can help you gauge the rate at which you are aging. Dried urine
total hormone (DUTCH) testing is a useful way of assessing the production and clearance of steroid hormones including testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, and cortisol, as well as melatonin (a hormone crucial to sleep and circadian rhythm) and neurotransmitters.
Not Taking Advantage of the Science of Nutrigenomics
Affordable genetic testing made available to consumers (not just scientific researchers) has only been available for a little over a decade. Before the modern age of affordable gene sequencing, it was assumed that everybody reacts to foods in the same way and everyone requires approximately the same amounts of the various vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. It was also assumed that we all respond to different dietary fats, proteins, and carbohydrates in the same way.
Now we know that's not true. Some people have a tendency to accumulate excessive amounts of certain micronutrients in their bodies, while others need higher amounts of particular nutrients to prevent deficiencies. For example, people with certain genetic variations can accumulate too much vitamin E, which can increase triglycerides and cardiovascular risk. Other genotypes may tend toward vitamin E deficiency, which can cause neurological and vision-related problems.
Different sets of genes affect the digestion, absorption, and transportation of each micronutrient independently, so one person could have a tendency toward a deficiency in vitamin B12, folate, vitamin D, and vitamin A, but also have a tendency toward the excess accumulation of vitamin E, iron, and copper. Every one is truly unique in their optimal micronutrient requirements.
Likewise, genetics can dictate your body's response to specific types of dietary fat. The reason why there is such a big debate going on about whether or not saturated fat is harmful or not is because there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the saturated fat debate. For some people, saturated fat causes reduced insulin sensitivity that can progress to type 2 diabetes. For others, saturated fat has little effect on diabetes and cardiovascular risk factors. The same can be said about dietary omega-6 fatty acids. Although this is an essential fat that is present in small amounts in most vegetables, fruits, and grains (and in large amounts in nuts, seeds, meat, eggs, and dairy), some people are more susceptible to developing chronic diseases and obesity when the majority of dietary fats are in the form of omega-6 fatty acids. For these people, even "heart-healthy" vegetable oils like canola, avocado, and olive oil can increase their risk of disease when consumed regularly.
Using Supplements Without Understanding Potential Benefits & Side Effects of the Ingredients
Supplement companies that market their products to savvy, educated consumers tend to provide a lot of information about the benefits of their products through blogs, podcasts, videos, and live events. The information is usually very exciting to learn about, and touches on areas that are important to the more educated crowd such as sustainability of the product, socially and ecologically responsible practices, the use of pesticide-free and chemical-free ingredients, some
science behind the use of an ingredient or combination of ingredients. This is great, but rookie biohackers fail to do their own due diligence in "fact-checking" any claims explicitly made or implied by a supplement company or media personality.
It's important to make sure you at least do a quick Google search of the ingredients in a supplement before purchasing it. The most reputable sources for scientific research on an ingredient are peer-reviewed journals. You can go to Pubmed.gov to search for articles that have been submitted and approved for publishing in peer-reviewed journals. While it's true that these articles can be biased, the information is usually much more reliable than something you'd find on somebody's blog or on the website that is selling the supplement.
Some supplements, such as those containing hormones or hormone precursors, may be beneficial over the short term for individuals who are lacking in those particular hormones or their precursors. However, they can be dangerous if the dosage is inappropriate for the individual or if no deficiency exists. Some over-the-counter hormones and hormone precursors include melatonin, cholecalciferol (vitamin D3), progesterone, pregnenolone, and DHEA. This is why it's important to know not only the benefit of a certain ingredient but the potential side effects you might encounter. Side effects of taking over-the-counter hormone supplements can include changes in secondary sexual characteristics (facial hair in women and breast development in men), weight gain, and cardiovascular problems.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the mistakes that can be made as a beginner biohacker. However, making mistakes is how we learn and evolve on the biohacking journey. If you take advantage of quantified self technologies and nutrigenomics and pay close attention to the research on ingredients in any supplements you may be taking -- and then realize you've made a mistake -- all you have to do is change your strategy to better fit YOU and your goals.
Need help creating a customized wellness plan for yourself that takes into account findings from your genetic testing, microbiome analysis, hormone levels, traditional blood tests, and other data? Get in touch by going to DrJamieKoonce.com or sending an email to [email protected]