10 Lifestyle Hacks That Are Helping Me Right Now

17 minute read

10 Lifestyle Hacks That Are Helping Me Right Now

Hey guys, here’s a tactical practical look at what I’ve been doing this summer and fall to recover vitality while dealing with Mold Biotoxin Illness and Lyme-Babesia infection.

You don’t have to be sick to benefit from some of the things I’ve been doing, so that’s why I’m sharing them with you.

From my point of view, there are 5 domains of Human Flourishing:

  • Food
  • Movement
  • Sleep
  • Stress
  • and Connectedness

Losing track of any one of these is like losing a spoke from a bicycle wheel: you might get by, but the ride is going to get bumpy.

So here’s what I’ve been doing: 

Food

1. To Overcome Brain Fog:

I do intermittent fasting with ketone support. This means I go for 14-16 hours on most days, without eating anything except ketogenic fuels, i.e. MCT oil, caprylic acid, ghee, or directly supplemented ketone salts. After that I “backload” with whole food carbohydrates like lentils, sweet potatoes, and root veggies. This gives me the best of both worlds: cyclic periods of nutritional ketosis without carbohydrate restriction (I don’t want to loose weight or lose glycolytic bursts of muscular strength. Therefore I do not restrict carbs, but I do time my carbs to create a window of nutritional ketosis and I manage the quality of my carbs, i.e. whole foods, not mouthfuls of milled carbohydrates and sugars). This protocol has done more to boost my brain power between the hours of 6AM and 11AM than any single thing I have ever done. It looks like this:

  • I stop eating at 6PM the night before.
  • I get up at 6AM the next morning and make my own version of Bulletproof coffee with 1.5 Tbsps of MCT oil or Caprylic Acid (C8), and 0.5 Tbsp grass-fed ghee. (I make sure I use coffee beans that are the least likely to be contaminated with mycotoxins: organic, single-origin, wet-processed beans. I do half-caff, not full-strength caffeine, because that’s all I need.)
  • Then, I do not eat breakfast until 10 or 11AM. (I do listen to my body, though. If I get hungry, I eat. But generally the ketogenic fuels keep me going till 10 or so). 
  • So, from 6PM yesterday till 10AM today is 16 hours. That's totally doable because you slept through half of it and you got to drink Bulletproof coffee for the other half.
  • Why does this work for brain fog? Ketones are essentially water soluble fats made by the liver that can cross the blood brain barrier and provide fuel for the brain. Ketones burn efficiently with less oxygen than glucose and yet produce more ATP. This is especially helpful if your cellular furnaces (mitochondria) have been damaged by mycotoxins like mine have been. When cellular respiration is compromised, ketones become an especially helpful fuel alternative, producing more energy with less oxidative stress than glucose. Bye-bye brain fog.
  • I had to build up to this. I didn’t just knock it out of the park the first time I tried. For starters, I had to build up GI tolerance for that much MCT oil first thing in the morning and I had to give my liver time to up-regulate the enzymes necessary to create ketones from fat. So I started low and went slow. I was kind to myself. Obviously, consult your personal physician to see if this kind of supported fasting would be right for you. Diabetics on insulin, for example, should not do this without supervision and medication adjustments.

I also drink Cordyceps Mushroom Elixir Mix, by Four Sigmatic. This adaptogenic mushroom mix is helpful on days when I am really dragging and nothing else is working. Mushrooms are generally discouraged if you’re following a low-mold diet, but I find this product helpful. Four Sigmatic has been careful to harvest only the natural fruiting bodies from the Cordyceps mushroom, which contain far fewer mycotoxins than cheaper versions like cultured mycelia. I purchase mine from Thrive Market for BIG savings: $23.95 instead of $37.99 (Thrive Market is like Costco for healthy food. I get most of my non-perishables there now.) 

Here’s my Cordyceps "Power Tea” recipe:

  • 1 package Four Sigmatic Cordyceps Mushroom Elixir Mix
  • 1/4 tsp organic ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp organic ground turmeric
  • 1-2 Tbsp collagen hydrolysate
  • 1 Tbsp MCT oil, or pure Caprylic Acid (C8)
  • Add all ingredients to 16 oz of hot water and stir thoroughly. Enjoy. And feel the ATP.

2. To Assist Detoxification:

I eat methylation foods. Methylation is a folate-dependent metabolic pathway that is critical to mood, mentation, and detoxification. Anywhere from one third to one half the population has some difficulty converting folate into critical methyl donors for the body (that would be me, with a C677T SNP on the MTHFR gene). It’s important for people in this population to amplify their intake of foods rich in natural folate, rather than synthetic folic acid from fortified foods.

Foods naturally high in folate are:

  • Liver
  • Legumes
  • Leafy greens

Honestly I don’t eat that much liver because I just don’t like it, but I do eat pre-soaked lentils and fresh greens EVERY DAY.

My daily green drink:

  • 2 leaves of organic Lacinato kale
  • 3 cups organic baby spinach
  • 1 handful organic cilantro
  • 1 handful organic parsly
  • 1 organic cucumber
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 lime
    • I juice all ingredients in a slow masticating juicer which is optimal for getting all the juice out of leafy greens (instead of just shredding them). This is the Omega J8004 juicer. Here’s an Amazon link. You can sometimes get it cheaper at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.
    • It’s important to use organic kale, spinach, and cucumbers as these veggies carry high pesticide residues when conventionally grown—so much so that they have made EWG’s Dirty Dozen List. If you’re sensitive enough to need detoxification, it doesn’t make sense to add more toxins while you're doing it. Be kind to yourself.

I eat fiber. I already mentioned soaked lentils, which are a good source of fiber. I also eat a lot of soaked red quinoa, which is chock full of insoluble fiber that acts like a broom or chimney sweep for your gut. It’s important to soak, or at least triple rinse, your quinoa before cooking it, to get rid of saponins that can be hard on your gut.

3. To Keep Inflammation Down:

I keep my phytonutrient intake high.

I keep my anti-inflammatory fat intake high.

  • I eat low-toxicity fish, like sardines and Alaskan salmon several times a week.
  • I take Cod Liver Oil in the winter.
  • I consume High Phenolic Olive Oil every day.
  • I do intermittent fasting and nutritional ketosis as described above. This gives my system a metabolic break, i.e. less oxidative stress and inflammation from not having to handle so much glucose.

I use alliteration to help me remember all this stuff: Fat, Fiber, Fitness, Fasting, and Phytonutrients. My Fabulous 5.

Movement

4. Yoga, Occam’s Mass Protocol, and Cold Soaks.

While trying to rebuild my body from the wreckage of biotoxin illness, I kept it simple, because I didn’t have a lot of energy.

I had 3 goals:

  • More Mass
  • More Energy
  • Less Pain

So I chose a combination of yoga and Occam’s Mass Protocol from Tim Ferriss’ Four-Hour Body. I also took many, many walks along the river paired with cold soaks in the water to stimulate mitochondrial biogenesis (new energy factories for my cells).

Occam's Mass Protocol (adapted for the equipment I had access to).

  • Workout A:
    • Close-grip supinated pull-downs x7 reps/failure at 5/5 pace
    • Shoulder-width barbell overhead press x7 reps/failure at 5/5 pace
  • Workout B:
    • Diamond Push-Ups x7 reps/failure at 5/5 pace  
    • Kettlebell Swings x 50
  • Only one set to failure. Use a weight that has you fail at about 7 reps while counting to 5 on the way up and 5 on the way down each rep. That's it.
  • Rest 2-3 Days between A/B.

The rest interval was key for me because I was so bombed out initially I had a hard time recovering from even the most entry-level workout. So in the beginning I ALWAYS gave myself 3 days rest, sometimes 4 days, between workouts.

Currently, I can handle strength training 3 days a week and yoga every day.

To support my goals nutritionally, I tracked protein and calories on My Fitness Pal. I just plugged in my numbers and went with the App's recommendations for anabolic weight gain. It had me eating 125 grams of protein per day, which is not what I would recommend for longevity, but is exactly what I needed to support recovery of lean mass after the cachexia of chronic illness.

5. Sprinting.

Wonder of wonders, I just started sprinting again this week, using interval training with a 1:4 (work:rest) ratio.

This translates into 2 minutes of walking, followed by 30 seconds sprinting. Repeat. My goal is to tolerate 6 cycles of this per session. Right now I can do 2 or 3 cycles.

Interval sprints like this are another way to stimulate mitochondrial biogenesis, which creates a virtuous cycle of more energy the next time you work out.

You can see now why it was so demoralizing for me when I couldn’t run this summer. I didn’t have the energy to get to first base where I could get more energy. Now, finally, I am gaining momentum.  

This kind of high-intensity interval training is also great for your mood and mentation, because it releases Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) which is like fertilizer for your neurons, or miracle grow for your brain. A good read on this subject is Spark, by John Ratey MD. Highly recommended.

It goes without saying that you should consult your personal physician before starting any exercise program.

For example, even 4 weeks ago, my doctor would not have recommended sprinting, because I was still too sick to recover from high-intensity training.

Sleep

6. Circadian Rhythm Entrainment.

In some ways, sleep was the hardest lifestyle factor for me to hack, because throughout all my downtime this summer, my mind was always chomping at the bit to get back to work and it kept me awake, no matter how shattered and tired I was.

My mind is like a racing engine, tearing itself to pieces because it is not connected up with the work for which it was made. —Sherlock Holmes

Meditation was helpful. Reframing concepts like “productivity as self-worth" was helpful.

But the thing that helped me the most was circadian rhythm entrainment, or getting back in sink with the sun.

This is so obvious now in retrospect, I can’t believe I nearly missed it. I absolutely would have missed it, if I had not run across this wonderful podcast by Chris Masterjohn, PhD.

The photo receptors of the eyes are exquisitely sensitive to the color spectrum of ambient light. How this spectrum shifts around each day (or fails to shift around in the migraine-white fluorescent hallways of modern life) is what dictates melatonin release and restful sleep. Essentially, if you want to sleep, you need to remind your eyes what planet you’re on and what time zone your in by exposing them to full-spectrum light as early in the day as possible and then to red-shifted light in the afternoon and evenings—no more flickering blue screens. This is no problem if you’re a caveman. But it’s a big problem if you’re a modern man (or woman).

So these were the rules I made for myself this summer:

  • Get Sunlight in AM (blue spectrum): go for a walk as early in the day as possible, don’t wear sunglasses.
  • Get Firelight in PM (red spectrum): Shortly after sundown, turn out the lights, turn on the fire, light candles. Put your phone on “Night Shift” mode. Don’t watch TV. Read a book or listen to a book, snuggle with loved ones if you can. And remember that we used to spend our evenings telling stories around a big red fire; that’s our hard-wired routine as a species.
  • Cold bath at 9 PM (I don’t know why this helped, but it did, especially during the summer when it was hot. Now that the weather has cooled, I do contrast showers instead: hot/cold/hot/cold/hot/cold, with cold lasting for a count of 100 each time). When I get in bed after this, my limbs feel cool and heavy; they practically pin themselves to the bed and do not move.
  • In Bed 9:30-10 PM, with blackout curtains drawn.

This is the only thing that has ever really worked for me as a life-long insomniac. And believe me, I’ve tried every sleep supplement and medication under the sun. But somehow I forgot to actually consider the sun. Till now.

Stress

7. Meditation and Play.

I meditate for 10 minutes every morning. I use the Headspace app. I love it. Sometimes I use it twice a day. It works.

The unwinding response in meditation is similar to the phenomenon of Blue Mind which I described in my last post. It goes something like this:

  1. Meditation
  2. Regularity without monotony (in this case breathing or visualization)
  3. Parasympathetic response (release of the stress response and engagement of the rest and repair response)
  4. Creativity and problem solving (the ability to be strategic rather than merely tactical, to connect the dots, rather than fight the dots one at a time with tips and tricks)

Maybe the only tips and tricks we really need in modern culture are tips and tricks about how to get back into Blue Mind and out of our red hot hurry and distractedness, out of our fight-or-flight mode. Some of us have to get so sick we don’t have the energy for Red Mind anymore. Don’t let that be you. The key to increasing the signal to noise ratio in your mind is to find the right kind of noise: regularity without monotony. For me, a river runs through it. Or a structured App, like Headspace.

And then there is play.

I spend some time each day in purposeless activity I enjoy, like playing the guitar, reading fiction, or listening to music. “Such behavior is useful for survival because it gives a point to surviving”, says Alan Watts, in his seminal work On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are.

[play] behavior is useful for survival because it gives a point to surviving. —Alan Watts

Yet I find I have to be careful not to turn this into work.

Because Watts goes on to point out that play is useful only if it is not pursued because it is useful. In other words, it can have no strings attached and still be play. Or in other other words, there is no such thing as utilitarian play. That would be work, the best kind of work, but not play.

So I allow play, rather than do play. There’s a difference. And it makes all the difference.

8. Environment.

Declutter, filter, remediate.

I find clutter oppressive. That doesn’t mean I’m a spick and span man, it just means I don’t like it when I have befouled my own nest with all that crap I should have put away days ago. It leeches my energy, it haunts my peripheral vision like a poltergeist. So I try to stay ahead of it. I don't always succeed.

As far as environmental toxins go, we have had professional help with both mold and formaldehyde remediation at our house. Amazing help.

Now we are experimenting with home formaldehyde and VOC meters, air filters, and water filters to fine tune things. There are still areas of the house that make me cough: we're finding toxic furniture that we need to get rid of and we need to ask the dog groomers to use shampoo without synthetic fragrances (which will be better for the dog anyway). As I said in my last post: restoration for me is restoration for my environment, is restoration for those who share my environment, even my dog.

We haven’t used these fancy meters long enough for me to give you a full review yet. So stay tuned. (Honestly, I think my body is as good a meter as any. That's my gift, the curse of the canary.)

9. Connectedness

Rootedness and Relationships.

This is a squishy topic, individualized and hard to describe, but here's the gist of what's working for me in terms of habits and attitudes right now:

  • Journaling: 5-Minute Journal. Morning and Evening.
  • Experiencing: I try to have an experience with nature, culture, or another person every day. This is not about doing or achieving anything. It’s about receiving an experience. No agenda, except to clear the space or go to the place where the experience can happen. There is overlap with the concept of Play here. 
  • Hugging: I’m a hugger now. I practice prolonged physical touch when I greet loved ones. I say “practice” because this stiff spawn of German immigrants is still getting used to hugs. Apparently there's Irish and French in me too, so I’m going with that.
  • Churching: I go to church. I just do it. And most of the time I like it.
  • Corresponding: I keep up regular correspondence with my roommate from college.

10. Supplements and Medications.

Medications:

I don’t like the side effects but I take my medicines anyway. I see them as a kindness, a severe mercy.

  • Cholestyramine for mycotoxin binding and removal.
  • Cryptolepis for babasiosis treatment.

Supplements:

In addition to methylating foods, I also have a supplement protocol for methylation.

This protocol is my protocol. It is based on labs that showed I was still low on methylation end-products even though I was eating tons of folate-rich food (genetics and infection can do this). Your protocol would look different. (If you’re curious what your protocol might look like, you may want to think about seeing a Functional Medicine Practitioner, or ND with experience in methylation.)

Here's what my personalized methylation protocol looks like now. It may change as I heal:

  • Methylfolate 800 mcg/day
  • Hydroxy/Adenosyl B12 3000 mcg/day
  • Phosphatidyl Serine 500 mg/day
  • Multivitamin
  • Niacin 100 mg/day
  • Creatine 5 grams/day

Choline, Glycine, and Methionine are also important to the methylation cycle as methyl donors or buffers, but they do not always need to be supplemented in cases of MTHFR gene variants. It depends on your dietary patterns, other genes, and infection status.

Turns out I did not need to supplement choline because I eat plenty of egg yolks. I also did not need to supplement glycine because I eat plenty of collagen in the form of bone-in sardines, bone broth, and collagen hydrolysate. And my methionine intake is probably adequate for my genetics because I do eat meat, a rich source of methionine (and meat has not given me high homocysteine levels, in case you're wondering. The rest of the methylation cycle is balanced and buffered by everything above, so homocysteine does not build up—even with my genetics. If you're a healthcare provider, you know what a bombshell this is.)


Wow. When I write this all out, it seems like a lot, and it is, but keep in mind I layered these practices in one at a time, brick by brick, step by step, word by word.

Eventually it all came together.

Until it fell apart.

Now I’m struggling with sleep again. It gets dark so early now that I putter around the house under bright lights and blue screens for hours and hours after sundown, which totally wrecks my slumber.

So, I’ll be looking into getting some different temperature lights and installing Flux on my computer. Or just wearing orange-tinted Willy Wonka glasses after sundown (yes, that’s a real thing).

Yours in Health and Resilience,

Marc Wagner, MD, MPH, NTP

P.S. If you’d like to know more about any of these protocols, please let me know in the comment section and I’ll do a follow up post to expand on them. I’m already planning to do a Five-Minute Journal Giveaway with explanations of exactly how I journal.

Photo credit: Andy Beales on Unsplash.

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