Eternal youth triumphs immortality, with the latter being a stodgy subset of the former. Everyone wants to stay young, healthy and fit forever. Since childhood, I was deeply intrigued by the lure of immortality. Back then I firmly believed in the existence of amrit, a heavenly mystical elixir of immortality in Hindu mythology. If only I could get a few drops of this amrit! As I grew up, I learnt that immortality is not just a far fetched dream, but shockingly it is definitely achievable in a couple of centuries, or maybe much more earlier. Till we get there, all we can do is focus on our health, body and our lifestyle: a step towards eternal youth.
A big revelation hit me as I approached my thirties. Most of us abuse our bodies considerably and if we focus on what’s our internal system is trying to tell us, we can easily solve a lot of health issues with small lifestyle changes. Usually the results of this abuse aren’t visible easily, specially when we are young. Our super-efficient metabolism keeps taking this abuse well, without any complaints. As we gradually age, our internal metabolic engine slows down, but our eating habits do not change. Our gut has a strong influence on how we live and age, and it keeps giving us vital clues on what’s going wrong. This was my biggest revelation: our gut and its microbiome controls not just digestion, but our entire life from birth. Earlier I assumed that our intestines just control digestion process, but as I read more, I was shocked to know that our gut influences our immune system and multitude of bodily processes including our nervous system!
The story that led me to this revelation started when I was in my late twenties. After high school, I had started working out to increase my muscle mass. I was actively into sports since childhood, but had poor muscle tone and form. Going to a gym, even on an irregular basis, helped me a lot, and even though I was taking 3 full meals in a day, I started taking protein supplements as well. But as I inched towards thirties, I started noticing a lot of changes in my body, and it all started from my gut.
Before I hit my thirties, I did not know what abdominal gas feels like. I never felt uneasiness after a heavy dinner. In fact I used to wonder why would someone need antacid tablets after a meal when watching TV adverts of various ayurvedic as well as allopathic remedies to tackle the belly bloat post a heavy meal. When we are young, our metabolic processes are super charged, and it feels we are invincible. We keep dumping food day in and day out, trusting our loyal & hardworking digestive system to handle everything without a complaint.
But after my 30th birthday, I started noticing the nearly-silent whispers of rebellion from my stomach. After a heavy meal, specially post dinner, I would notice the murmurs of discomfort and uneasiness. “It is normal beta, take a Hajmola or Pudin Hara after dinner, you will feel better”, said my mom casually. And that’s when it clicked to me that this is what “having gas” feels like. And why my grandparents took an antacid after every meal. They were suffering from chronic acidity.
This was the time when I was working more than 14 hours a day for our my startup Axero Solutions. Back then I was working from my small apartment, that barely had any natural light. Even during day time the lights were on, and I was using those omnipresent white tube lights that I later realised are a really bad choice, specially after sun set. The rigours of running a business, countless hours back to back programming and lack of any kind of exercise took a larger than expected toll on my body. Months kept going by and I couldn’t even notice the season changes since I didn’t go out much. This indoor living continued for a year and eventually manifested in the form of an auto-immune disorder. After year, I had uveitis, an inflammation in one eye. It felt just like conjunctivitis, and I had to see a doctor since it never went away even after a month. During my session with the doctor, I realised I have an auto-immune disorder – rheumatoid arthritis, also known as the developed-world disease – it happens mostly in developed areas of the world where humans have created a sterile environment around themselves (like your own home) and continuously stay in such environments without access to germs/bacteria from outside. Auto-immune diseases happens when your immune cells start attacking your own body tissues, in my case lower spine joints, causing them to fuse. This was the reason I started having lower back pains and a stiff body every morning after I get up. And sometimes it also comes out in eyes as uveitis. When the first episode happened, I was treated with steroids. Doctors said there is no cure for auto-immune disorders, and one can only treat the symptoms. But when the second episode happened, after 1.5 years, I had no choice but to take matters into my own hand. I consulted different doctors, some suggested heavy steroidal injections for some months, but I wanted to go deeper and understand what was happening with my body. I was a bit disappointed as none of the doctors could give me a convincing explanation.
I decided to investigate and study more about our gut, digestive system, metabolism and its effects on our body as we age. I was shocked to learn how casually most Indians, people around me, were treating this condition. Post 30, our bodies stop being super efficient and our metabolism slows down. But we don’t stop dumping same amounts of food into our system, and this causes an overworked digestive system. Instead of popping up pills, I realised, the simplest option is be to slow down our food intake. I read about intermittent fasting and how it helps in reverse ageing. I was hooked! On my 30th birthday, I decided to gift myself 10 years of time by the time I turned 40. I had a full 10 years ahead of me to get fitter, know more about how our internal system works, and to start practicing intermittent fasting.
Since calorie restriction, exercising and high-interval training were the lowest hanging fruits, I decided to kickstart my reverse-ageing process combining sports based HIIT as well as regular lifting weights three times a week at a minimum. I was into sports since my school days. I used to play badminton, volleyball and football quite actively. I was a brown belt in Judo and had won some state medals while in school. Even during college I used to play badminton but not that frequently. And gradually sports got less focus as life moved on. In my early thirties, I realised I wasn’t actively into sports, and the only all-weather pool that we used to go had shut down. Both my wife and me started searching for a good sports complex, but soon we realised there is nothing nearby. Gurgaon had poor sports facilities. But we didn’t give up. Gurgaon had multitude of condos that had good clubs with sports facilities. The idea of changing our home and living in a condominium society that had good sports facilities appealed to us. The next option was to start searching for a condo that had an all-weather pool and an indoor badminton court because both of us loved playing badminton as a sport. Luckily, within a few months, we found an apartment complex that had amazing sports facilities and once of the best indoor badminton courts. We went ahead, closed the deal, and started utilizing the facilities from day 1!
I have been suffering from the Restless Leg Syndrome since years, and all the research on food control helped me find a solution: reducing salt intake. Most Indian diet is heavy on salts, sugar and fried oil. Reducing my salt intake helped me control my Restless Leg Syndrome and I was surprised with the fast results. Intermittent fasting had its own learning curve, and it was a bit hard initially, but I was able to hit a gap of 12 hours between dinner and breakfast.
The biggest success was calorie restriction. From the usual 2000-2200 calories I used to take daily, I gradually reduced to 1800 calories a day. By the time I turned 37, I was having 1600 calories a day. Stomach acidity and gas vanished completely. The key was a light dinner (mostly salads and portion control). To summarise, the was taking the following steps in my mid-thirties:
- Calorie restriction: 1600 calories per day
- Reduction of salt and sugar: I heavily reduced my amount of salt intake, switched to brown sugar and reduced the sugar intake too.
- HIIT: I started playing badminton actively and gym three times a week. I was actively learning Taekwando (got a Black Belt after 4 years of practice) and the sparring and related exercises kept me in decent shape.
All this helped a lot keeping me fit and healthy. But apparently it was not enough. When I turned 38, I was feeling good, but I noticed an increased greying of hair, and some tiredness during the day. I realised my lifestyle has merely slowed down the ageing process, but I was still ageing nonetheless. I had to do something radical to stop or reverse my ageing. I realised whatever I had learnt till now about healthy living was not even the tip of the educational iceberg that was waiting to be explored. All it needed was a deeper dive. And that’s when I turned towards bio hacking.