Actress, mum-of-four, and enthusiastic biohacker Davinia Taylor took time out of her busy schedule – on the back of her book release – to chat with us about her favourite biohacks, how she got started on her wellness journey and how leveling out her hormones has improved her mood.
Just a few years ago Davinia Taylor would describe herself as being ‘literally on death’s door’; she was overweight with a liver and pancreas damaged from drinking, what she terms ‘a sluggish brain’ and four children to look after as she struggled through a deeply personal loss. She found herself turning – and not in moderation, she stresses – to carbohydrates and sugar to get through the days, as her overall health declined. Discovering the world of biohacking – a form of self-experimentation meets do-it-yourself biology that consists, for most proponents, of making incremental diet or lifestyle changes that work for your body – was a major turning point in Davinia Taylor’s wellness journey.
Her extreme lack of energy led her to coffee. ‘I was never a coffee drinker’ she emphasizes. ‘It used to give me the jitters and make me feel really anxious, then made me tired. It didn’t work for my body at all.’ After undergoing genetic and hormonal testing she discovered she has a poor detox capacity for caffeine and subsequently found that adding l-theanine (a component occurring in green tea) gave her a ‘cool, calm, focused energy without the insomnia later.’ Further research led her to Dave Asprey (founder of Bulletproof coffee) and she began adding MCT oil supplements to her daily brew. ‘I started becoming fat adapted and this gave me the capability to say no to croissants and cereal and toast […] to resist the smell of pastry.’ Her energy levels improved and that’s when she got ‘really into biohacking.’
For beginners, Davinia recommends starting your biohacking regimen with a hot magnesium bath at night to improve sleep quality. Every night she takes a super hot 25-minute bath. She urges us to ‘get past that 20-minute threshold so you can feel the pulse in your head. All you want to do is get out and drink a gallon of cold water; utilize that desperation for cold and refreshing and jump into a cold shower and concentrate on the back of your neck and your spine, activating all the vagus nerve.’ (The vagus nerve is the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system, which oversees crucial bodily functions, including control of mood, immune response, digestion and heart rate.)
It’s a form of hydrotherapy we’re familiar with – the ice-cold showers favoured by Wim Hof. The trick, Davinia insists, is to ‘breathe out more than you’re breathing in: four to eight seconds breathing out and a short sharp intake breath. […] For some reason it activates all the nerves around the back of your neck and it goes down to your body.’ If the promise of deeper sleep isn’t enough to lure you into a cold shower before bed, try stepping into it first thing in the morning to wake up your system (just skip the hot bath part). ‘Hardcore biophackers would say you have to leave your body cold, to warm up naturally. But do what you can – if you need to take a hot shower to warm up, do it.’ She also feels it balances out her hormones – something Davinia believes most women could benefit from – and improved her overall mood.
For what she deems ‘really problematic hormones’, Davinia advocates starting with the Dutch Panel test, a – bear with us here – dried urine test that provides a comprehensive assessment of hormones including sex and adrenal hormones, melatonin and free cortisol patterns. At-home hormone and genetic testing kits such as the Dutch Panel make it possible for beginner biohackers to learn more about their baseline and to self-test biohacks that are more likely to have a bigger impact without needing to have access to the doctors of Harley Street. Many biohackers, Davinia included, enthuse about the individualistic nature of biohacking – how what works for one person might not work for another – and attribute much of this difference to differences in genetic makeup and hormone levels. According to Davinia it’s women in particular that have ‘terrible trouble leveling out our hormones [due to] our age, stress, not eating the right foods.’
‘The great thing about biohacking’ Davinia beams, ‘is you get to know yourself – your genetics, your DNA, your habits, what stresses you, what doesn’t stress you – and you adapt your life accordingly. There’s no fixed rules to it. And I think there’s a lot of stuff out there that I’ve tried that other people wouldn’t […] because that’s how I'm wired.
Her favourite biohacks change from time to time, but when we spoke with her Davinia’s infrared sauna pod was firmly taking the gold for it’s mood-balancing benefits. Although she normally suffers from SAD [seasonal affective disorder], Davinia credits the lightwaves from her infrared pod (not just the heat) for having ‘totally gotten rid’ of her SAD. ‘I swear by it. I sit in it every night for 40 minutes. I plonk it right in front of the TV, have a glass of kombucha, some electrolytes in water […] and I sit there and binge-watch telly. It’s so good. So even if I’ve not exercised and I’m looking for those endorphins, my mood feels better. So I’ve upgraded to this from a hot bath.’
As for what her four children think about their mum’s daily biohacks? ‘They’re indifferent’ laughs Davinia, ‘The youngest is five and they find it just totally normal. I educate them all the time so they understand. I want them to be old enough and wise enough to make their own decisions.’ Spoken like a true biohacker.
Suffering from low mood and energy levels and declining physical health, Davinia biohacked her way back to optimum health. For more Davinia, follow @daviniataylor on Instagram or check out her Sunday Times Number One bestseller book - It’s Not a Diet.
Davinia Taylor’s It’s Not a Diet: the no cravings, no willpower way to get lean and happy for good, is published by Orion Spring at £12.99.