Can you really biohack your way to better health and wellness?

In this article, we explore the biohacking potential of two specific nutrients: collagen peptides and resveratrol.

According to a Forbes article, “Biohacking, also known as human augmentation or human enhancement, is do-it-yourself biology aimed at improving performance, health, and wellbeing through strategic interventions.”1 Sounds like a pretty cool, high-tech approach to making our bodies function better, right?

If you want to know some of the actual biohacking techniques mentioned in the article, they include, but are not limited to:

  • Meditation
  • Intermittent fasting
  • Nutrigenomics (how nutrients impact the way your genes express themselves)
  • Augmentation (embedding magnets, chips, or computers under the skin)

Now, if you’re thinking that the first two techniques don’t sound very high tech, you’re right. Meditation and intermittent fasting have been around for a very long time. But you have to admit it sounds a lot sexier to refer to them as biohacking rather than just meditation and intermittent fasting.

In any case, I won’t address these two topics since they’ve been adequately addressed elsewhere. Neither will I be addressing augmentation since it has no relationship to nutrition/dietary supplementation. From my perspective, nutrigenomics is much more of what I’d consider to be an appropriate biohacking topic, so that will be my focus in this article.

Nutrigenomics Explained

According to the International Society of Nutrigenetics/Nutrigenomics,2 the way to explain nutrigenomics is to say that dietary substances can influence gene expression. Gene expression is the process by which information from a gene is used in the synthesis of a functional gene product. These products are often proteins, but in non-protein coding genes such as ribosomal RNA (rRNA), transfer RNA (tRNA), or small nuclear RNA (snRNA) genes, the product is a functional RNA. The expression of these gene products can have some very specific effects on our health and wellbeing.

Now let’s take a look at some specific examples of nutrigenomics. Since there are way too many nutrient/gene interactions to discuss, I’ll limit my examples to collagen peptides and resveratrol.

Collagen Peptides

Collagen is the main structural protein found in skin and other connective tissues. Collagen is so vital to our health and wellbeing that it actually makes up 25%-35% of the whole-body protein content. Collagen peptides refer to a small collagen protein chain. The significance of this is that smaller protein chains—or peptides—tend to be easily absorbed and distributed in the body.3

As dietary supplements, collagen peptides are quite popular for helping to reduce skin wrinkles while improving hydration and elasticity. These effects appear to be related to a nutrigenomic relationship with matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). MMPs are a group of enzymes that can break down proteins such as collagen and elastin (another connective tissue protein in the skin).4 Apparently, collagen peptides down-regulate those genes that express (i.e., produce) and activate MMPs.

Laboratory research also shows that collagen peptides can stimulate the production of collagen and can be metabolized into even smaller peptides known as dipeptides. In turn, these dipeptides can stimulate fibroblasts (cells that contribute to the formation of connective tissues) and chondrocytes (cells responsible for cartilage formation) to synthesize hyaluronic acid, which helps retain water in both the skin and synovial fluid.5 In addition, animal research suggests that collagen peptides can prevent ultraviolet-induced skin damage by increasing the number of fibroblasts and the density and thickness of collagen fibrils in the skin.5 Published studies on the Verisol brand of collagen peptides show that the ingredient stimulates the production of procollagen 1 (a collagen precursor), elastin, and fibrillin (a glycoprotein essential to the formation of elastic fibers found in connective tissue), resulting in a reduction in skin wrinkles and skin roughness with improvements in skin elasticity and moisture.6,7

Resveratrol

Before discussing resveratrol, let’s first discuss the gene it impacts: the SIRT1 gene, often referred to as the “longevity gene.” A primary product of the SIRT1 gene is SIRT1 (“the sirtuin protein”), hence the gene’s name. In the field of aging and age-related diseases, there is increasing evidence that sirtuins may provide novel targets for treating diseases associated with aging. These include neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, and metabolic-related diseases, among others.8 SIRT1/sirtuin is also reported to play a crucial role in metabolic homeostasis and is known to extend the lifespan of some model organisms, suggesting it may also help extend human lifespan.8

Resveratrol is a type of natural phenol produced by several plants in response to injury or attack by pathogens.9,10 These plants include grapes, peanuts11, and Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum).12 Resveratrol initially made its entrance into the dietary supplement marketplace with great fanfare based upon the fact that intake of it and other polyphenol compounds from red wine may contribute to the “French Paradox”—the unexpectedly low rate of death from cardiovascular disease in the Mediterranean population despite the relatively higher intake of saturated fats.13 Excitement then increased with the understanding that resveratrol helped activate the SIRT1 gene associated with longevity.14 The fact that SIRT1/sirtuin helps in the regulation of whole-body cholesterol and other lipids15 may explain resveratrol’s contribution to the French Paradox.

The activation of the SIRT1 gene by resveratrol does have some valuable effects. Published human clinical research has demonstrated that supplementation with resveratrol was capable of significantly reducing arterial stiffness (a major indicator of atherosclerosis)16, reducing inflammation17, increasing gamma-delta T cells (important cells in the immune system)18, improving muscle fiber in combination with exercise in older men and women19, promoting cognitive health20, promoting weight loss21, and even supporting healthy blood sugar levels22 and liver function23.

Conclusion

Using dietary supplements for “biohacking” purposes of improving health and wellness is a real thing and can certainly be accomplished. In this article, due to space limitations, I only discussed the role of collagen peptides and resveratrol as nutrigenomic agents capable of biohacking genes to promote younger-looking skin and support many other aspects of health, respectively.

At some point in time, I’ll probably write some follow-up articles on other nutraceuticals with nutrigenomic effects. Meanwhile, there are numerous studies which have investigated and demonstrated the nutrigenomic effects of a broad range of different nutraceuticals—and I encourage you to spend some time on PubMed researching this fascinating topic.

About the Author

Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, RH (AHG), is a certified nutritionist and registered herbalist with 42 years of dietary supplement industry experience. With a master’s degree in nutrition and a second master’s degree in herbal medicine, he has a proven track record of formulating innovative, evidence-based dietary supplements. Mr. Bruno currently serves as both the vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at NutraScience Labs and professor of nutraceutical science at Huntington University of Health Sciences.

References

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  2. International Society of Nutrigenetics/Nutrigenomics website.
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  5. Schwartz SR et al. “Ingestion of BioCell Collagen, a novel hydrolyzed chicken sternal cartilage extract; enhanced blood microcirculation and reduced facial aging signs.” Clinical Interventions in Aging, vol. 7 (2012): 267-273
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