Siim Land is an author, public speaker, high performance coach and professional biohacker.
He also runs his own YouTube channel and hosts his own podcast all about physical and mental performance.
In this interview, Siim introduces the basic things you need to know about autophagy, AKA your body’s self-healing mechanism.
He also discusses mTOR activation and some hacks for getting better sleep.
I spoke to Siim while he was over in London for the Health Optimisation Summit 2019, where he was one of the speakers.
It was great to chat to Siim and I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did!
Siim, thanks for taking the time to speak to Human Window. Could you give us a bit of a background about how you got drawn into this space and you path up until this point?
I’m doing these things for my own selfish reasons, to optimise my own performance and try to combine it together with a way of earning a living and sharing it with others.
Being a professional biohacker is just being a human guinea pig and making sure that you’re functioning well yourself and sharing it with other people so that they can learn as well.
I have my own blog, YouTube channel and podcast. And I’ve been doing it for four years now. I started off in high school with diet strategies and intermittent fasting. I gradually moved on to other cool biohacks like taking saunas, ice baths, red light therapy and taking supplements. It’s a continuous journey.
One of the main things you talk about is metabolic autophagy. Could you define what that is?
Yeah, well it translates into ‘self eating’ or ‘the eating of self’. It’s this process where your cells are being recycled and turned over. Essentially, it helps eliminate malignant parts of the cells and old worn out materials, all the toxins etc. It usually happens when your body is under nutritional and energy stress.
One of the reasons you would want to have this process activated in some part of the time is because it promotes a lot of the health benefits you get from calorie restriction and just longevity in general.
Imagine if you’re never really taking out the trash, that stuff begins to accumulate. Disease and inflammation begins to spread. With autophagy, it’s like cell maintenance, and you’re preventing this over-accumulation of different inflammatory particles.
So it’s a very good thing to have in some part of the day. One of the ways of activating it is through fasting, exercise, saunas, calorie restriction and different compounds.
So it’s part of an aboriginal way of living, where you would constantly fluctuate between periods of fasting and eating. In the modern world, we don’t really have the opportunity to tap into it because of eating frequently and eating garbage foods.
It’s a missing piece in the modern food environment. With some biohacks and some intermittent fasting, it’s a great way to bring it back into this lifestyle.
What do you do yourself in terms of intermittent fasting?
The easiest way [for autophagy] is to just do some fasting. There are different degrees of it as well. There’s a difference between fasting for five days versus fasting for only 16 hours and eating two meals a day. The autophagy process is a matter of degree.
Autophagy is always happening in different tissues to an extent. But the main idea is that when your body is being gradually deprived of energy, and certain nutrients, which primarily happen to be carbohydrates, glucose, protein and amino acids – when those things begin to be depleted, the body starts ramping up the autophagy process.
The optimal dose seems to be three to five days for most people, depending on how sick you are. If you are sicker, you will have to fast for longer to get the health benefits.
If you’re already healthy, then you’re not going to get so many benefits from fasting for so long, because they don’t need to. And it can actually become harmful. I, myself, tend to stick to a daily fasting schedule of time restricted eating. So I confine my daily calorie consumption within a certain timeframe.
Autophagy is very much responsive to all calories, so you’d have to fast and not eat anything to activate it because even if you eat Bok Choi and a little bit of lettuce, then you’re still inhibiting autophagy to a certain extent.
That’s why the idea of fasting is a much more effective way of promoting the process, rather than trying to deprive yourself of food all the time.
Calorie restriction will promote it as well and you can have a small meal, then exercise and see some autophagy activation. But if you were to do nothing at all, then in that situation, the confinement of the eating window would be more effective, just because you’re staying in a fasted state for longer.
When you are in a fasted state, your insulin is low, the other nutrients in your bloodstream are also low, and that’s when your body receives this signal that we don’t have excess energy, therefore we have to use the things we already have and recycle them.
I’ve heard you mention in the past that you don’t want to be in autophagy all the time…
Yeah. Autophagy is a catabolic process and you’re breaking down tissues and different particles. Eventually, if you stay in this catabolic state for too long, then you will start to break down yourself. Not only the harmful organelles and particles, but also the healthy ones. That’s not a good thing.
So you want to find what the optimal amount of autophagy for you is, and how long should you fast for based on your lifestyle and other activities you do. And then do it consistently, back and forth. You need to be able to maintain it as a lifelong and sustainable thing.
Everyone could just fast for two weeks in a row, no problem. Everyone carries enough calories to survive for several weeks before they starve. The thing is, maybe people find it difficult to stick to and it may have some negative side effects, especially in terms of maintaining muscle tissue and metabolic rates.
If you do fast for two weeks, after you break the fast, your life is going to be much more difficult, because your metabolism has taken a really huge dip. It’s much better to find the optimal amount of autophagy for you and then practice it on a daily basis to a certain extent.
Autophagy is not always good and you definitely do not want to be deprived of certain nutrients. You can build muscle with fasting, you can cure many diseases with fasting. You just need to make sure that you feed yourself the right nutrients and not over-stress your system.
You’re an advocate of the ketogenic diet. For someone who’s not so familiar with it, what is ketosis and could you explain its basics?
A keto diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet which puts you in a state of nutritional ketosis. Ketosis is this metabolic state where you have elevated levels of ketone bodies in your bloodstream. Ketone bodies are the by-products of fatty-acid metabolism.
So, if you are fasting, you’re starting to break down your own body-fat stores, and the liver then coverts those triglycerides into ketone bodies, that the rest of the body starts to use for energy. Especially the brain, because the brain can’t use fat directly. It can only use glucose from carbohydrates or sugars – but when you’re fasting, you’re not really getting it.
Therefore, your body converts the fats into the ketones, which go into the brain.
You can still replicate a lot of that same effect with a keto diet, while you’re still eating. The rationale behind it is that it helps to treat a lot of metabolic disorders related to poor glucose metabolism as well as a lot of neurological conditions.
The keto diet has become pretty popular because of the diet adherence. People find it easy to stick to and they see great fat loss results from it, because it suppresses appetite and manages your blood sugar so you don’t have these ups and downs of energy, you maintain a really stable stream for the entire day.
It’s not necessary for people to be doing keto – but many people just see great results from it and they found it more enjoyable to do.
One area I’ve been trying to work on hacking is sleep. Do you have any quick sleep hacks that you can share with us?
Yeah, for sure. Sleep is very much dependant on several factors related to circadian rhythms. So circadian rhythms are really under-rated and are becoming more acknowledged in the scientific community.
Circadian rhythms are the day and night cycles of your body that are connect with the cues your body receives from the environment, such as the light, temperature, and even food is a circadian signaller.
And all those things can affect all of the metabolic processes that happen during the day, as well as during sleep. Making sure that you’re aligned with the circadian rhythm is a really good starting point, because it takes the stress away from the body, from having to work overtime or catch up with the cues.
Some daily sunlight exposure and going outside can keep your circadian rhythm more consistent and more aligned with the surroundings. In the evening, blocking out blue light is a good idea, because blue light mimics the sunlight you get from the earlier part of the day.
If you’re looking at your smartphone in the evening, then you’re telling your brain that you don’t need to fall asleep and you’re not producing a lot of the sleep hormones that help you to fall asleep either. Filtering out blue light is a really good hack and using blue blocking glasses is really good.
Other things, in addition to that, you should also look into temperatures, because cooler temperatures tend to make you fall asleep faster and also promote melatonin, which is the sleep hormone. There are studies that show that elevated room temperatures inhibit sleep quality and reduce sleep satisfaction.
So just opening a window is a pretty good idea. And lastly, not eating a bunch of food in the evening or immediately before bed is also a really potent way of promoting deep sleep quality.
One of the other things you talk about is mTOR activation. Could you explain what we need to know about that?
I think most people who have heard of mTOR may think that it’s going to accelerate ageing or something. It’s important to know what it actually is and what it does.
mTOR is the mammalian target of rapamycin – and it’s this switch that triggers cell growth, muscle building and everything that’s related to fat storage. The mTOR pathway responds primarily to things like insulin and carbs, as well as amino acids and protein. Those are the most anabolic nutrients that make you grow.
The problem with mTOR is that it’s all encompassing, in the sense that it makes everything grow. You need some mTOR for the essential components of cellular survival and making sure that you don’t waste away. But at the same time, too much mTOR activation can lead to the growth of these unwanted cells and pathogens.
Most people don’t really need to worry about it, unless they have a serious condition. For someone who has some sort of medical condition, then they may not want to activate mTOR all the time because of eating too many carbs, too much protein or eating too frequently. mTOR is responsive to all calories.
The smartest strategy would be to balance mTOR with some fasting, because during a fasted state, your mTOR is low and you go with autophagy instead.
You’ve flown to London from Estonia. Have you got any hacks that you do when you’re travelling?
When you’re travelling, the best way to mitigate jet lag is to keep your body’s endogenous antioxidant system active and potent. It doesn’t mean taking antioxidant supplements. What you want to do instead, is cause positive hormetic stress on your system.
Hormesis is a dose-specific response to stressors and different harsh conditions. Things like fasting is great for that, cold therapy, heat and sauna.
All those things are really good for buffering up your body’s defence against travel and jet leg. But also, when you come off the flight, grounding yourself, going outside and getting sun exposure can help you readjust to the timezone faster.
Could you explain the benefits of grounding?
Essentially, grounding connects you to the earth.
The earth has its own magnetic frequency – it’s called the Schumann resonance. When you’re wearing shoes, walking on concrete or driving, then you’re disconnected from the earth. That builds up a positive charge in your body.
Your body also has its own magnetic field and if you were to be grounded with the earth, then it helps to lower inflammation, stress and lowers that charge that you build up in the modern environment. Grounding takes off the stress a little bit and boosts the antioxidant system.
If you could go back knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
I think the best thing that has helped me is to just learn from the mistakes of others and not make the mistakes that other people make. You have to have the foresight of looking into the future and operating from the perspective of what kind of mistakes you want to avoid.
You want to operate from the perspective of what is the best thing to do for your future self. So foresight, and not making stupid mistakes.