When it comes to holistic medicine, Dr. Olli Sovijärvi has quickly become one of its most respected leaders through his passionate commitment to alternative remedies that are rooted in science. In addition to starting Finland’s first health-themed podcast and hosting the annual Biohacker Summit, Olli is also an author of the wildly popular Biohacker's Handbook, which has proven to be an incredible resource for those looking to upgrade their life. Olli is the only medical doctor in Finland with a psychologic-philosophical Integral Theory degree from John F. Kennedy University, CA. What’s more? He is also a beast of a power lifter!
We were honored when Olli agreed to participate in a Joovv AMA. So without further ado, here are his answers to your questions…
You recommend eating food that fits your personal biology. What are some of the best ways to discover what my body needs?
First, I would like to share one of my favorite quotes on nutrition by a French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755–1826):
“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”
The effect that food has on us varies depending on the quality of the ingredients, the processing methods used, as well as other individual factors. The biohacker assumes an individual approach to nutrition while taking into consideration the quality factors of the ingredients and their expected effects on the body. Food choices are not limited to the mainstream favorites — less well-known options are also explored.
In our Biohacker's Handbook Nutrition chapter, we have formulated a Compass on nutrition that includes important mainstays in everyone’s diet:
- Add natural, vibrant colors and flavors to your diet.
- Invest in the quality of ingredients, particularly for the products you use the most.
- Regularly measure and analyze the effects of food on your system.
I have personally developed solid self-awareness and intuition on what my body needs. This is possible for everyone, but it needs a little practice. Becoming self-aware and having a good mind-body connection is not taught in schools. Many people have lost the ability to listen to what their body tells them.
At first, I would stop and ask my body “what do you need right now?” The answer is usually pretty quick and straightforward, but by letting your mind come in, interrupt and hustle with the information you just received, might cause chaos and lead to wrong decisions. Meditation and mindfulness practices are a tremendous help on becoming the master of your own intuition.
Next, I encourage you to analyze and feel what kind of sensations enter your mind and body after eating certain foods and meals. You should ask questions to yourself after eating:
- Do I have more energy or less energy than before eating?
- Do I feel tired or refreshed?
- Do I feel any aches or other unpleasant sensations after eating?
- How did my mood change after eating?
- Do I feel bloated or not after eating?
These questions can guide you to the direction of mindful eating and discovering what your body needs at certain times. Of course, it changes from day to day, week to week. Nothing is stable and you might need a whole lot of different foods now versus a month ago.
Certain food groups and staples are more likely to fit your personal diet than others. That has to do with your individual gastrointestinal microbiome. For example, you might want to reduce the amount of fermentable carbohydrates if you are often bloated and having gas after eating. Another example is histamine intolerance syndrome (HIS). Individuals with HIS typically have a low level of diamine oxidase, an enzyme that metabolizes histamine in the system.
Systematic measurement of your nutritional status includes the following:
It is wise to find out what your nutritional starting point is before making any significant dietary changes or investing in supplements. Have your nutrient levels and key blood values measured. Even if you feel healthy, getting tested may be beneficial for prevention.
- Levels of micronutrients and trace elements
- From whole blood
- From hair
- From urine
- Fatty acids from blood
- Amino acids from blood
- Heavy metals (from blood & hair)
From there, I would recommend analyzing your intestinal function and the microbiome. An old saying “you are what you eat” isn’t entirely correct — “you are what you digest” is more appropriate. The intestinal function and bacterial balance of an individual can change very rapidly. These changes are linked to several illnesses that could be prevented or treated effectively by analyzing the functionality and microbiological balance of the intestine. Physical and psychological performance is also strongly linked to the condition of the intestine.
- Comprehensive digestion analysis
- Measuring gut permeability and malabsorption
- Measuring the possible small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- Measuring stomach acid and enzymes
- Testing for Helicobacter pylori
- Broad spectrum bacterial PCR analysis
- Bacterial diversity association
- Helpful bacterial strain
- Harmful bacterial strain
- Yeast / fungi
- Amoebas and other parasites
Gene tests and nutrigenomics:
Gene tests can be used to identify increased individual risks of various illnesses which are then taken into account when making lifestyle choices. It is important to understand that your lifestyle (including your diet) controls the function of your genes. Not all genes are constantly active. Epigenetics (the activation or deactivation of genes by factors external to the genome) can be perceived, for example, in the increased or decreased function of certain genes due to environmental factors such as diet.
Nutrigenomics involves the study of the effects of nutrition on the function of genes. For example, researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) have found that cutting sugar consumption (to less than 40 percent of the energy content of the meal) can lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases, dementia, some types of cancer, and diabetes. Genes affect metabolism in a comprehensive way. Because of this, it would be a mistake to expect that a particular diet (such as a low-fat or low-carbohydrate diet) would produce the same results for everyone.
Nowadays it is quite cheap to analyze your genome and get personal diet recommendations on the basis of various gene variants and mutations that you might have. You can find more information on different gene variants in the chapter on nutrition in the Biohacker's Handbook.
What is the one fitness activity that you hate doing the most, but yields the best results?
This is an interesting question! The answer to this question is “a bit” shorter than the previous answer (hah!) :D.
I don’t really hate any fitness activity except long-distance running (which I am not doing anyway, since the cost-benefit is not worth it). But if you put it this way: “what is the one fitness activity that you are the most nervous about, but yields the best results” the answer is more simple. Definitely heavy lifts that I know I can perform (but which cause the most excitement, pain and distress) like deadlifts, squats, clean & jerk and different presses. I like to progress on these constantly and I demand results from myself — therefore I also feel some anxiety when doing those lifts. But the results are tremendous! Also, if I know I want to do a killer CrossFit type metabolic condition workout and outperform my previous time or result, that will also make me “hate it” in advance.
I don’t really like doing things in the comfort zone except for walking and pushing prams with my baby. Otherwise, I am constantly pushing myself forward while being mindful of my need for adequate rest and recovery.
I am a workaholic and struggle with stress and know that it is taxing to my health. How were you able to adopt a new mentality and lower your stress levels?
I can say that it was a long journey for me. I was quite tired and stressed out in medical school because of the intense education load, doing night shifts in the Finnish Blood Service, partying on weekends and dj’ing, etc. So the transition from a highly stressful lifestyle to a balanced and harmonic way of living wasn’t easy. First, I had to become aware that my sleep time was very low (5.5 hours per night) and the quality was not good. I was always tired in the mornings. Second, I had to become aware of all the thought patterns, beliefs, demands and repressed emotions lying beneath the surface. After that began a long journey through various psychological therapeutic methods, the beginning of meditation and mindfulness, and a total change of the way I was living: less activities, more relaxation and free time.
From there, I began adopting different practices of deep relaxation, body awareness, emotional work, psychotherapy, hypnosis, meditation, ego hacking and more. I am sincerely grateful that I have gone through all this emotional and psychological pain, otherwise I wouldn’t be here doing the things I do now.
At the moment, when answering these questions, I am having a 5-week holiday with my family in Spain, enjoying the nature here and just doing (or not doing) whatever I feel like. The last fall was crazy because we finished the Biohacker’s Handbook (Finnish language version) and had a huge release event, interviews, Biohacker Summit 2016, etc. So I can breathe here a bit more easily. ;)
I'm sort of starting from scratch. What tests (blood, urine, etc.) should I consider having done?
Check out my answer to your first question on nutrition.
Everything depends on your personal health status and preferences. What are you most interested in your health?
If you don’t want to just scratch the surface, but rather get a deeper insight into your biology, I would go with these tests:
- NutrEval (by Genova Diagnostics)
- A comprehensive analysis on your nutritional status, metabolic analysis, amino acids, fatty acids, oxidative stress and more
- GI Effects Comprehensive Profile (by Genova Diagnostics)
- A comprehensive stool analysis on everything you need to know about your GI system
- Complete Hormones (urinary panel by Genova Diagnostics)
- Progesterone (via pregnanediol)
- Glucocorticoids, including cortisol
- Androgens, including DHEA and testosterone, and their metabolites
- Estrogens (E1 Estrone, E2 Estradiol, E3 Estriol) and metabolites, including hydroxylated and methoxylated estrogens
- Methylation capacity
- 5α-reductase activity
- Anabolic/Catabolic Balance
- Thyroid & adrenal panels (blood & saliva)
In addition to these tests, once a year, I recommend asking your doctor to prescribe basic blood tests for lipids, blood sugar, kidney & liver function, complete blood count, electrolytes and other basic parameters.
If I opened up your fridge right now, what would I see?
Let me show you! (see picture above)
Basically, we have a lot of different vegetables & kales, artichokes, zucchini, carrots and other roots & tubers, potatoes, mushrooms, eggs, grass-fed beef, fish, Spanish ham & serrano ham, canned sardines (in olive oil), fermented raw yogurt, coconut water, manchego & gouda cheese, mineral water, almond milk, gazpacho soup, wines (white, red & cava), Spanish beer, capelin roe, butter, organic baby food (in glass bottle), my wife’s cookings for our baby, etc. Outside the fridge, we have various fruits, tomatoes, avocados, nuts & seeds, olive oil, Maldon salt (and other spices) and sourdough bread.
Now that my parents are visiting us here, there is plenty of food around. :)
Do you use red or infrared light therapy? If so, what were your results?
Yes, I have used far-infrared heating rooms or saunas for 3 years now. It is an everyday morning routine for me to sit in the sauna and meditate for 20-30 mins. I feel absolutely great after the session and finish it always with a cold shower.
Other than that, I have used near-infrared light therapy to boost my thyroid and heal muscle/joint strains or aches.
My latest addition is the Joovv, which I use daily (although not here in Spain) to boost my testosterone production (shooting in the scrotum area) and for overall mitochondrial energy boost. I’ve found it to be really effective (this was not a paid commercial for you guys!). I also use it on my face since I feel a lot more energetic after using it, especially in Finland where the natural sunlight is scarce in the winter time.
What 3 supplements can you not afford to live without?
I use quite a lot of supplements, not necessarily because I need all of those, but because I am a biohacker and I like trying all kinds of things on myself, including supplements.
The top three supplements that I take with me everywhere I go are:
- Magnesium glycinate — the brand is Metabolic Maintenance (no fillers, just magnesium)
- Numerous beneficial functions throughout the body as a cofactor in various enzymatic processes (e.g. in the heart, lungs, nervous system, muscles, brain, etc.)
- Magnesium glycinate also helps me to fall into sleep more easily and calms down the nervous system
- Phosphatidyl serine (I use the Now Foods soy-free version)
- Lowers cortisol & helps recovery from exercise
- Boosts memory and overall cognitive function
- Creatine (monohydrate)
- A significant cognitive enhancer
- Increases strength and overall performance
- Delays aging
Next comes L-taurine and L-theanine, which I also use on a daily basis because of their benefits on cognition, stress release and cardiovascular system.
What person(s) of influence are you closely following right now?
I used to follow quite a bunch of paleo guys (mainly podcasters), Dave Asprey, Jack Kruse, Tim Ferris, etc., but now I haven’t had that much time to follow them when putting together our book. The only podcast I listen to quite regularly is the Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast. He just has the best content, I like to listen to him and on top of that, we are good pals changing biohacking tips on nearly a daily basis. :)
On the Finnish side of things, I like to follow Tomi Kokko’s great effort on getting Finland healthier and more fit. He has a great personality, a superb drive on the things he pushes, and just great Spirit!
So, I would say that I mostly go on my own path and just follow where it takes me. I learn something new every day and come across totally fresh paths to follow. I am very grateful of that.
I've been inspired by your drive to get the most out of yourself and live life to the fullest. What inspired you to have this passion?
I think it is an innate drive that I’ve had my whole life. I have discussed this topic with my parents and ever since I was born, I have been interested in everything. I required quite a bit of attention and asked some hard questions during childhood. :D The thirst for more and more knowledge and wisdom has been with me as long as I can remember.
The funny thing is that I can see the same drive and inspiration in our daughter, Lilja, who is nearly 1-year old. We make some crazy things, sounds, and funny faces together!
As you think of the word “inspire” it consists of two parts: in & spire (or spirare from Latin), which means to breath into the Spirit.
Of course, my parents have been an inspiration to me, especially my father. He is a retired Professor (M.D., PhD) on Clinical Physiology from the Helsinki University Central Hospital. I have learned a lot from him - how to write and read, how to interpret scientific literature, and also how to be curious about different aspects of human physiology. From my mother, I’ve learned the importance of love, family and sociality –– she has also been the best cook there is! So a lot of my enthusiasm for nutrition comes from my mom.
If you could put a billboard anywhere, what would it say and where would you put it?
“Know yourself. Life is a gift. Get most out of it by recognizing who you truly are. Respect your body, it is your precious suit. Take control of your mind, it is your navigation system. Listen to your Soul, it is your deepest Self.”
Thanks for submitting your questions for Olli! And thanks again to Olli Sovijärvi for being a part of the Joovv AMA family! Also, don't forget to check out Olli's Biohacker's Handbook when you get a chance. It's awesome!