But Are You Thriving? Episode 6 Recap: Biohacking Family Wellness with Katie Wells

Last Update: May 30, 2023

Biohacking involves “hacking” your body’s biology with nutritional changes, supplements, and other lifestyle adjustments in order to improve brain health, sleep, and other functions. It may seem like an individual practice, but for Katie Wells (also known as the “Wellness Mama”), biohacking is beneficial for both your own health and your family’s greater wellbeing. 

Katie is a mom of six, as well as an award-winning blogger, author, podcaster, and real food crusader who has been a friend and supporter of Thrive Market since the very beginning. With her blog, Wellness Mama, she offers practical tips, real food recipes, and natural beauty and cleaning tutorials that are simple enough for busy families. 

In this episode of But Are You Thriving? Katie talks to Thrive Market co-founder and CEO Nick Green about her biohacking touchstones, including creating a rhythmic sleep cycle, the benefits of sauna use, intermittent fasting for women, and much more.

Full transcription below. Subscribe, download, and listen to this and every episode on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

But Are You Thriving? | Episode 6: Biohacking Family Wellness With Katie Wells 

Nick Green:

Okay, we’ll jump in. So, hi everyone. I’m Nick Green, co-founder and CEO of Thrive Market, and your co-host of the But Are You Thriving? podcast where we explore what it means to thrive in our world today for our bodies, our minds, our families, our communities, and the planet. Our guest today, which I am super excited about, is Katie Wells, aka the Wellness Mama.

Her blog was one of the original quote unquote “Mom blogs,” I think this is almost 20 years ago at this point, but and still one of the most popular on the internet. Not only has she built a health and wellness empire, which now includes e-commerce and her own product line, but she’s also written, I’m quoting this from the site, literally thousands of blog posts.

She is the host of a popular podcast herself and has written at least three that I know of, but probably more books on healthy living. And did I mention she also has been raising six kids for the last decade plus? I have two things I also want to say just personally about Katie, which is that we, one, share a very common mission, that Katie is all about making healthy living accessible to anybody.

And if you spend two seconds on her blog, you see that right away and especially focused on moms. For Thrive Market, we’re doing a lot of the same thing to a lot of moms as well. And then on an even more direct level, Katie was one of the first bloggers who got behind Thrive Market at this point, almost eight years ago, and even to this day, continues to be a top source of new members for us. So Katie, thank you for helping Thrive thrive. It is just an absolute pleasure to have you today.

Katie Wells:

It is an honor to be here. I always love getting to chat with you and have, like you said, been a huge supporter of Thrive from the beginning. I think I remember that very first warehouse office building I got to tour in the early calls with figuring out products and I am so excited to see how much you guys have grown and how many families you reach.

Nick Green:

It’s been a wild ride and I’m also personally just pumped to reconnect. It’s been probably 18 months since we have talked, which I don’t think has happened for the last eight years. There was a lot of times where we were talking pretty regularly. So this will be fun to catch up.

And I think the formal topic for today’s episode was going to be biohacking, but as I was saying before we got on Katie, I feel like you had this encyclopedic knowledge, an incredible personal story and experience that extends across the whole breadth of health. So we will definitely hit biohacking because you’re a wizard there as well.

But I want to make sure we touch on other topics too. So to kick us off, you know that this is the podcast about how we can all thrive more in our lives. And so I always like to start with each guest’s personal story, that is how you thrive in your own life. And maybe backing all the way up, there was a moment when you, or a time where you were not Wellness Mama. Talk about how you became the Wellness Mama.

Katie Wells:

Yeah, I’ll try to give the short version. But you often hear it said that people go into psychiatry to figure out what’s wrong with themselves. And I found that many people also end up in the health and wellness field trying to find answers when they can’t find them other places.

And this is definitely somewhat part of my story. But it all started for me in 2006 actually when I had just had my first son and I was in the doctor’s office for my six-week follow-up appointment. And I read in Time magazine that for the first time in two centuries, the current generation of American children will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

And holding this tiny perfect newborn that was just such a lightning bolt moment for me. And reading the statistics that I know you know well about all of the rising rates of chronic disease that these kids were going to face, I just resolved in that moment that I wanted to help change that statistic and start changing that trend because our kids deserve better.

And around the same time, I was having some really weird symptoms that got dismissed by my doctor and I was told they were normal parts of postpartum, but they continued to intensify and eventually through a long winding path of at 18 different doctors I had been to still not getting answers being told, “Those are just normal things as a mom, as a woman, don’t worry about it.”

Before finally getting diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, I became really frustrated with the existing model and started turning to my own background in journalism and really researching what might be some other potential causes. And I started uncovering things and realized there were a lot of other women in similar situations and that a lot of the information I was finding was not easily available.

I was combing through medical journals and obscure studies and reading things that were translated from other languages because in Europe they had different treatment models and I just wanted to make that more accessible to other moms and families. And with a background in journalism, I often process by writing. So I started just publishing what I was learning myself on Wellness Mama and the community really started growing from there.

And I think now it is much more than just a blog. It’s a community that is also, I get a lot of input from readers and the listeners of the podcast and I learn from them as much as they learn from me and it’s become a community. And I think those two missions really converged because moms have such a unique ability to really shift those trends and to shift the trajectory of our country and children’s lives because we’re on the front lines raising kids, making the buying decisions for our families.

I know that with Thrive, that’s why you guys always love to connect with moms because moms are the ones that are making the healthy decisions for their families. And I’m just honored that I get to be part of this community now that has millions of moms who are all making those daily choices. I think that’s how we actually shift these things long term.

Nick Green:

I just, I love hearing that story and it takes me back to the early days of Thrive when I remember pitching investors. And you actually wrote a check into the business very early before any institutional investors did. So I love hearing that story because it takes me back to the early days of Thrive. You were one of the first people that got behind us. You even wrote a check into the business. I remember one of the funniest experiences I had was, I think it was your CPA calling up and saying, “What’s the ticker symbol for Thrive Market?” And yeah, and you were very candid, you would’ve told me, “We’ve never done an angel investment before.” This is back in 2014. You’re like, “But I’m so passionate about what you guys are doing, I want to get behind it.” And that was one of the more interesting conversations with an accountant who is attempting to diligence a startup that hadn’t launched. But no, the story really reminds me of seeing just the incredible impact that you were having at that point.

To your point, on moms who are out there trying to make these healthy decisions, who are facing a lot of barriers in terms of affordability, in terms of access. And I felt like your platform, and continues to be this way today, had this incredible combination of being very erudite.

Like you said, you were doing your own primary research, you were going to the journal articles, reading the scientific journals, et cetera, but yet also incredibly accessible and inspiring as a mom who is going through these challenges herself. And that combination of information plus inspiration frankly was an inspiration for Thrive of like, hey, these barriers can be broken down.

It can be made accessible if done the right way. I’m really curious over the last, I guess 16, 17, 18 years of Wellness Mama, you’ve had this incredible staying power and I’ve heard you talk about the fact that when you started, the big problem that a lot of moms faced was that there wasn’t any information out there.

And today it’s almost the opposite problem of there’s a deluge of information and how do you figure out what’s what. And half the information if you read one week is going to contradict the thing you read the prior week. So I’m very curious how kind of the arc of your Wellness Mama philosophy or your personal health philosophy has evolved over the years. What’s the same and what’s changed?

Katie Wells:

That’s a great question. I think the part that has stayed the same is that from the beginning I realized how busy moms were and how overwhelming, especially the early years of parenthood are. And so my goal was to take complex topics and to make them really simple and actionable. So every blog post I would concentrate on one topic and sort of one action point.

What is the actual most helpful action a person can take related to whatever this topic is? And in the beginning it was really fun because like you said, a lot of that information wasn’t publicly available and it certainly wasn’t mainstream. I mean, when I started Wellness Mama, I was buying grass-fed meat kind of on the black market out of the back of a car from a guy who was delivering for an Amish friend and you couldn’t buy coconut oil in the grocery store.

It was a different world. And it was so fun to be on the research side of that and get to sort of present these ideas that were harder to find to moms and then hear from the moms who are implementing them. And then you’re so right, in the last five years especially, I think that pendulum has shifted and we are bombarded constantly by information.

And I think what has helped Wellness Mama stay relevant with moms is I still keep that focus of having one simple topic and one simple actionable point per post, per podcast, per piece of content so that it’s not overwhelming for moms. But the emerging trend that I’m seeing, not even trend the, I think clarity that’s finally emerging through this sort of deluge of content is that health is becoming more and more individualized and personalized.

And I’m really glad to see that playing out because for a lot of years I think we sort of have the cult of personality around influencers and bloggers. And I know I got sucked into this too, if you would hear somebody who had figured out obviously what had worked for them. And especially when I was sick, I was so hopeful that it would work for me too, that I tried all these other systems and doctors, protocols and methods and diets.

And what I learned from all that is that at the end of the day, we are each our own primary healthcare provider. And while we can work with doctors and practitioners, we’re hiring them as contractors. The responsibility lies with each of us and as moms for our families as well because we’re the ones putting the inputs in our bodies, choosing the lifestyle habits.

And those things in the long term are much more effective than any medication or bio-hack or individual thing you’re going to do. It’s those small, daily consistent habits, especially when they’re personalized.

So I’ve been trying to shift content to help put that power back in the reader and the listener’s hands in becoming their own primary healthcare provider and figuring out their own personalization and individualization, realizing that while all of these experts are awesome, and I’m a very firm believer that we can learn something from every single person we meet, that their system is not going to work out of the box for us the way it worked for them.

And we are all responsible for our own experimentation. And I’ve been doing that myself a lot over the last five years and I think that’s where the future of health is really pointing, especially now with access to a lot more data and wearables and things that we didn’t have in the past as consumers.

Nick Green:

I love this point, and you’ve used that term before, the idea of being your own primary care provider, which, or practitioner, which I just love because it puts people in the driver’s seat obviously, but it also acknowledges that the type of care that each person needs, type of health protocols, the diet that’s going to work, the exercise regimen that’s going to work is so different.

One of the most interesting things for us at Thrive was when we created our diet and values filters. So a hundred different metadata categories that you can use to shop. And we expected, oh, there’ll be two or three that everyone uses. And no, it was so diverse and it’s just incredible as we dug deeper in to see what people care about, what they’re attuned to because of their own health issues or their own values.

It’s so diverse. I think you’ve also used the term bio-individuality, which I’m not sure if you invented that term, but I love it as well because some of this actually comes down to genes. Right? And different people just genetically are going to respond differently to different things. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Because it’s an area I know you’ve explored a lot personally, and I’m curious, what are the tools, what are the data that you actually go into at the genetic level, understanding that that can be just this incredible rabbit hole of complexity and confusion for a lot of people. What advice would you give for people to understand their own genes as a way to personalize their health protocols?

Katie Wells:

Yeah, I remember in high school when the human genome was mapped for the first time and how big of a moment that was. And we now have access to a version of that that we can all get from home for a couple hundred dollars. And I think the beautiful thing is that while we have access to so much more information about genetics, I did a two-year really deep dive into personal research into genetics and especially the interplay of genes, which I can explain more in a minute.

But the cool thing that emerged from that is really that it’s more simplified than you might think because when you start looking at 500,000 different gene SNPs and how different each person is, it does have the potential to get complicated really fast, but also when you look at a large amount of data that some patterns emerge that are sort of universally beneficial in almost all cases.

But when I really started looking at genetics, I realized as we started learning about them, we tended to, as a society, we wouldn’t get our kind of favorite genes of the moment. MTHFR had its moment in the sun where everybody was talking about MTHFR and then everybody was supplementing with high-dose methyl folate, which is great for people with that very specific MTHFR issue. However, it doesn’t take into account that there might be up to 12 other genes that are affected either positively or negatively by the same things.

So you might be taking a whole lot of methyl folate trying to help this one gene and throwing six other ones out of balance. So I don’t think this is needed for most people, nor is it actually helpful. But I spent a lot of time building out a really long conditional logic table that took into account the kind of competing genes with the same needs and sort of figured out actual amounts of these things that people need on a very specific level.

And I think that level of granularity is helpful for maybe professional athletes or people who have everything super dialed in down to every nutrient and macro and sleep and they’re tracking it. I think the value of that for most people, including for me, was seeing that there are ranges that are good for most people when it comes to certain key nutrients and that there are absolutely universal patterns that emerge that are beneficial for all of us.

A lot of them go back to these foundational things that our ancestors knew and that line up when our biology lines up with nature. And I feel like the more technology and research and granular genetic data we have, the more it points to we are meant to live as humans and get access to sunlight and eat real food that’s actually food and sleep in rhythm with the light cycles of the planet. And that’s going to get you 80% of the way there.

So it’s kind of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s so cool to have access to such detailed information, but I also feel like it can lead to decision fatigue when you get so much information that you don’t know what to do with it.

Nick Green:

Yeah, it’s sort of like you end up coming full circle, right? You go all down the rabbit hole and it takes you back to the basic foundational practices. And I want to talk about those protocols in a second, but just to close the loop on genes, what would you advise, given that rabbit hole that people could go down? Are there tools or is it 23 and Me, is it doing an inside tracker? Are there specific genes that people should be getting a test for? I recently did the APOE that’s the Alzheimer gene. Any simple tips there for just like, all right, what’s the 80/20 on understanding your genetic propensity?

Katie Wells:

The ones I usually point people to are either SelfDecode or Nutrition Genome. Both of those, I’ve worked with both companies, and kind of let them use some of the stuff I figured out, but they have great algorithms already that look at, based on all your genes in combination, what are going to be your top foods to eat and your top foods to avoid? What things can be most impactful to take as supplements, and what things are probably not going to help you? And that gives you sort of your own blueprint.

But again, from seeing so many of those reports, there are also some patterns that emerge. So if you don’t want to spend a couple hundred dollars on genetic testing, I would say the things to know are that magnesium for instance, is universally helpful across genes short of extremely rare genetic conditions and diseases. Almost everyone benefits from taking more magnesium than they’re probably taking right now. And we know that contributes to, thanks to genetics now, over 600 enzymatic reactions in the body.

Nick Green:

And are you taking magnesium citrate or carbonate that dissolves into citrate or I know there’s now other forms of magnesium that are supposed to be more bioactive in the brain. What’s your measurement you take?

Katie Wells:

Yeah, so there is a little bit of genetic variability there as far as which specific form is going to be the most impactful. I tend to take a variety, so I’ll get all seven forms throughout the course of a week. I might cycle them. Some are better for sleep, some are better for exercise recovery for instance. My typical rule of thumb for myself and that I mention other people is I don’t do anything every single day, including caffeine, including take supplements, and I sort of cycle which types of magnesium I take and that seems to be really supportive of all the pathways that depend on magnesium.

Nick Green:

Cool. So I diverted us on magnesium, but are there any other clear protocols that come out of the gene testing for everybody? Or for most people?

Katie Wells:

It’s funny because I wish it was a really fancy supplement or a protocol that you could do, but there are emerging patterns that come out of when the AI runs the most data from the most, people go back to the things that we’ve probably all heard but maybe aren’t implementing. Get in the sun as soon as possible after waking up, even if it’s a cloudy day, there are so many genes in your body that are light dependent and statistically, in the US especially, we are not getting enough natural light and we’re getting way too much artificial light. And this does have a direct impact on your circadian biology and on which genes are expressed, especially in kids.

So that’s a free thing. That is very low effort. Just go outside even on a cloudy day for 10 minutes, that will improve your cortisol rhythms, that will improve your hormone expression, that will improve your genetic expression. Same thing with we know sleep is important and none of us are doing it.

Nick Green:

So light, I know it’s in the morning, you want sunlight, full spectrum and then in the evening you actually want to reduce blue light and have more kind of red light exposure.

I’m really curious. Something I started doing recently is red and infrared light therapy. So I got a big LED panel that I’ve hung in my closet and was just sort of staggered at how much data there is in this field called photobiomodulation, which I had never even heard of before. But there’s an incredible amount of data that seems to suggest that one, to your point, we’re getting order of magnitude less sunlight or orders of magnitude less sunlight than the body was designed to and that our cells are photo bioactive in ways that, we’re not, our cells aren’t doing photosynthesis, but they do react and require in many ways, particularly red in your infrared. Is that part of your protocol or what’s your take there?

Katie Wells:

Yeah, it has been for actually 12 years now. And in the original topics we were going to talk about, that was the first biohack I ever tried technically was red light therapy and I tried it when my thyroid was still struggling, so I’m now fully in remission from Hashimoto’s, but because red light is so supportive, I was doing it all my thyroid every day and that helped I think regain some of my thyroid function.

To your point, there are thousands of studies about red light, a lot of them come from Europe, but about for hair rate growth, collagen synthesis in the body, for supporting thyroid and gut health. But I think also all of those studies point us toward nature once again because red light are just some of the spectrums that are in sunlight already. So I think if someone wanted to 80/20 light to get the most benefit, I think red light definitely can be on the list, but I would put it right below getting morning sunlight and ideally 10 minutes of midday sunlight.

Those are the two windows that are really important for light signaling. They hit certain receptors in the eyes that really reinforce your circadian clock and really help with sleep. So that first exposure to natural sunlight in the morning starts the clock for melatonin production at night. And it also supports our natural cortisol pattern, which is going to help determine how awake we are during the day and how deep we sleep at night.

That midday sun reinforces that circadian pattern. And then, like you said, avoiding artificial and bright lights after sunset. An easy way I figured out how to do this in a home environment. In the ceiling light fixtures in our house we have daylight mimicking bulbs that are broad spectrum and bright and then when sunset happens, we turn those lights off and all the lamps in our house have no blue light, no green light, kind of orange hued bulbs.

And it’s not just the type of light, but it’s actually the angle of light. Our bodies are designed to get bright light from above like we would from the sun and to get red light from lower down like we would from a sunset or a campfire.

So that simple switch has really improved sleep for my kids. So for moms who are struggling with kids getting enough sleep, that one little change, kids start getting tired a lot earlier and sleeping a lot deeper. And then after those things get dialed in, I would say then add red light and red light’s also really complimentary with sun exposure. There’s some cool data that when you get red light in the morning or in the mid-afternoon but you’re getting bright light exposure in the middle of the day, you’re actually less likely to have damage from the sun or sunburn because that red light to your point is signaling those things in your cells and it’s protective.

Nick Green:

That’s super interesting. So we’re starting to get into biohacks even though I was not going to make that the topic. Since you have a list, I’d love to dive into those. We like on this podcast to kind of go in a lot of directions but also be really concrete for the listeners. So if you were to kind of list off your top biohacks, if you will, I know it’s a conflicted term for you as I think it is for a lot of others, but what would you list out as the top protocols that you see as core?

Katie Wells:

Yeah, so maybe I’ll kind of do it in two sections. One being like the daily habits that I think are the most impactful for the broadest group of people and give the most benefit and then also the more specific biohacks that you can stack on top of that to intensify the benefits.

So especially from a mom perspective, the things I do that I think really make a difference in overall health, the morning sun, like I mentioned, in our house, the rule is actually sky before screens. So we get outside before we see a screen. Another simple one is to drink a quart of water right after waking up before anything else goes in your body because we lose up to a quart or more of fluid at night through respiration. So our bodies are naturally a little dehydrated in the morning and replenishing water before other things enter the body helps elimination and detoxification pathways stay strong.

Similarly, one small change people can make that makes a big difference is protein before caffeine. So that’s another rule I have in my house is to get some form of protein ideally with fiber before caffeine and to wait, if possible, 90 minutes before drinking caffeine after waking up if I’m going to drink caffeine. And the reason for that is that it supports the natural, that cortisol rhythm I talked about and also lets your body handle adenosine in the right way so that you don’t get that afternoon slump, which I know is a problem for a lot of people. You don’t get the afternoon tiredness if you give your body time to clear adenosine before you do caffeine in the morning.

Nick Green:

Interesting. How do you square, there’s a lot of people that do intermittent fasting and they don’t eat anything until noon or one or two. How would you square that protein before caffeine if you’re also trying to fast?

Katie Wells:

That’s a good question. So I did this backwards for a long time and I think this is still within the category of experiment and see what works for you. I found for me, and it seems like for a lot of women especially, the protein and the morning signaling is really important for hormone health.

So if you’re going to do any kind of intermittent fasting, women might have heard intermittent fasting isn’t great for women and that can be true, but with caveat, which is if it’s done incorrectly, it can stress out your hormones and your body can go into stress mode and it can suppress fertility.

The protein signaling early in the morning seems to help avert that problem. So what I encourage, and what works for me, is if you’re going to do intermittent fasting consider shifting it earlier in the day. So eating breakfast, lunch and stopping eating mid-afternoon or early dinner instead of waiting till noon to eat. Because when it comes to sleep, food is a really important signaling mechanism as well. And women especially seem to notice if they do long-term really short, intermittent fasting in the afternoon that they may have some sleep disturbance. But you can definitely experiment with it. It’s just the protein before caffeine, especially for women seems to help a lot.

Nick Green:

It’s so interesting that you mentioned that and I think I’ve actually said it on this podcast before, but I personally have found that having a bigger meal early in the day and then eating less at the end of the day just makes me feel, it’s just so much easier, and my energy levels are way, way better. And one of the things that turned me onto this is actually that my wife Carolina, who you know, is from Spain and in Spain, they had their biggest meal of the day effectively at what is our lunchtime.

I remember her dad used to eat a tomato for dinner. It was just a very, very small light dinner. And people don’t realize that a lot of these Mediterranean cultures, while they do have big end of day meals, if they’re kind of feasting with the family. On a day-to-day basis, they eat very little at the end of the day. And I noticed when I would go over to Spain, I was eating probably more than I eat when I’m here. But yet that cadence of eating, kind of front-loading, the calories seem to seem to make all the difference.

Katie Wells:

Yeah, it’s definitely a shift for Americans and I think also even protein for breakfast can be a shift for Americans, but you’re right, I’ve seen this in other European countries as well and we know the statistics that a lot of them struggle with fewer of these problems with chronic disease and obesity than we do in America.

And I think it’s not always just about what we’re consuming, but when we’re consuming it, and I think the order does make a big difference. Also since food is a signaling mechanism for sleep as well. We’ve probably all heard don’t eat for a few hours before bed, but really if you can shift that to even four or five hours before bed, it tends to improve deep sleep in most people. And that’s the phase of sleep that most Americans struggle with the most.

So I know it’s not ideal when most social things happen at night, but people who are able to, at least on most days, shift the eating window earlier, that seems to make a difference.

And you can still consume enough food, certainly enough protein and everything you need in those windows. Another tip there is to kind of space out, you want three-ish hours between eating windows without calories entering your body so that the liver sort of has time to reset. But even doing that you can get four meals in a nine-hour period by doing them every three hours.

So I think just experimentation with what works for you, and for women just being aware of you don’t want to signal to your body that you’re in a time of starvation or stress because that will have a hormone impact that will make all the health things you’re trying to do harder.

Nick Green:

Cool. So I keep kind of taking you down different paths, but are there other big protocols that you would say are core to, I think you were going to say for most people, and then what are the things you can do to turbocharge them?

Katie Wells:

Yeah, so I think the morning ones really do have the biggest payoff when it comes to the sort of 80/20 of stuff. Another one that’s really been helpful for me, and I know it’s part of the mainstream conversation right now, but is prioritizing protein and nutrient density in food.

Katie Wells:

So I think when it comes to nutrition, we’ve been through these eras of calories and there were macros and there was low fat and there were all these different things and I’ve been trying to encourage people to shift away from that, which are all deprivation-focused mindsets, into a nourishment-focused mindset, which especially for kids, is a lot healthier.

But looking at, instead of how many calories am I eating or how many macros am I eating, I’m like, this is my minimum protein target I’m trying to hit, to make sure that I’m in a place to build lean muscle mass as I age. And, how can I get the most micronutrient density in the volume of foods that I’m eating? So it’s turning to things like higher volume nutrient-dense things like fruits and vegetables and also clean sources of protein and healthy fats.

A lot of the things you guys have and I stock my pantry with. But really focusing on that and just that mindset shift, especially for women, away from the deprivation into the nourishment, seems to make a huge difference. Not specifically health related, but I think it has a huge payoff and they do this much better in Europe as well.

If possible, try to denote breakfast time and evening time as family times, because we know when we look at the data, we want to talk about ozone or PEMF or all these different things. The strongest correlation to longevity is the quality of our relationships and our connection with other people. And in all these blue zones that we want to look at, are they drinking wine? Are they eating fish? What is it that they’re doing? They have a really strong community and yeah, they may be walking to dinner and eating a healthier dinner, but they’re doing it with people they love.

So I think putting that family time as a priority at the bookends of the day really has a huge payoff for mental health and also for physical health. And it’s easy to ignore. And then for sleep, I think if we can dial in temperature, light and food, those are the big signaling mechanisms related to sleep. And we’ve all heard the stats about, if you get a poor night of sleep, you have the glucose levels of a pre-diabetic, your hormones are out of range, you’re not going to be focused, you get a severe lack of sleep, it’s like driving under the influence of alcohol.

So sleep is one of those ones I consider, experiment, do whatever you can to dial yours in. Maybe try a wearable, like Oura Ring, figure out what’s going to work for you and then make that a regular habit. I think those are the foundational things.

When you get those foundational things, then you get to play with biohacking, which could be supplements that are geared towards your genes. That could be, I’m a big fan of sauna, if it’s available for people, because when it comes to biohacking, I say if there was the closest thing to a silver bullet, it would be sauna use. And when we look at the data, a lot of it comes out of Finland who they’ve been using sauna for 100s and 100s of years. Sauna use four to seven times a week is correlated with a reduction in all cause mortality, up to a 68% reduction in stroke and heart attack incidents. And sauna is an exercise mimetic.

So if we know as Americans, we’re not typically getting enough movement and while sauna doesn’t replace movement, it does mimic a lot of the things that we get from exercise. So it’s a great compliment there and it’s a relaxing time. So if someone can sort of habit stack and spend time in a sauna, maybe doing box breathing, getting some of those cardiac benefits of the sauna, I think that’s one of those 80-20 ones that I would add in. 

Nick Green:

This is the first time I’ve heard the term habit stack, and when I do my red light therapy, I’ll also try to do my meditation while I’m in there. I’ve been rehabbing my shoulder lately, so I’ll do shoulder exercises. The one thing I’ll say on sauna, so our friend John Durant has a sauna, or at least he had a sauna in his old place that I used to go over to. And I always loved it, but it was always in that 140 degree kind of temperature range. And it was relaxing, I’d come out feeling great. And then I read that to get the real heat shock protein effects and some of the true exercise mimetic effects, you have to go even hotter. And that experience is very interesting.

And one, I didn’t really get the exercise mimetic. It’s like, oh yeah, right. Saunas are not going to be like exercise. But then if you go up to 170 or 180 degrees, your heart starts beating. So it truly is, but then the downside of it is, I couldn’t relax. For me, 20 minutes in the sauna at that kind of temperature, it’s as tough as being in a high intensity workout where I can’t think about anything else. So how do you do it and what are your thoughts, or what’s your sauna protocol, for example?

Katie Wells:

Yeah, well, looking at all the data and Rhonda Patrick is a great resource for this, if you guys haven’t heard her work, she’s done a lot of sauna research as well. Like you said, you actually want to be at 170 degrees or hotter, and the minimum threshold is 19 minutes without a break. And I experimented, during Covid, I actually did a whole sauna study with people that were in our neighborhood and we did labs before and after to test, does it actually do these things? And it absolutely played out in the lab data, but that’s the minimum effective dose.

The optimal seems to be between 33 and 45 minutes, but you can take a break in there once you get past the 19 minute mark. A lot of people also stack cold therapy with sauna, and I like to remind people technically it becomes a separate category when it becomes contrast therapy. So sauna plus cold is considered contrast therapy. Sauna on its own has its own stack of benefits. Cold exposure on its own has its own stack of benefits. And when you combine them, they have a separate stack of benefits.

So I think they’re all good, but I wouldn’t combine them every single day. I would do some days of sauna alone, some days of cold alone or separate them to be able to hack into all of those different benefits. I love that you honed in on the word habit stacking as well, because this is another thing I encourage people to do, is if you want to make something stick, combine things or loop something to something you’re already doing. So if you’re going to get morning sunlight, you can also drink water during that time. You can also gratitude journal and make a list of your top three priorities for the day. And that’s going to help cement that habit in your brain.

If you’re going to do red light, you can, like you said, meditate or listen to an audiobook or do lymphatic drainage massage or you can dry brush. All these things, things you can stack habits. And then I also encourage people to put things in your way. If these are things you want to start doing, if there’s supplements you want to take, instead of just keeping them in a cabinet, put them in your way where you’re going to see them at the time of day you need to take them.

So I have certain supplements on my nightstand, certain supplements by my bathroom sink, certain supplements on the kitchen table. If there’s something you’re going to take with a meal, I’ve even for my dad who’s historically bad at taking supplements, I will tape it to the salt and pepper shakers on his kitchen table. So when he goes to get pepper, he is like, oh yeah, I got to take this. But put things in your way or if you need to move more, put a pull-up bar in your kitchen. Or we have a gymnastics track down our hallway, put things in your way so you’re going to actually cement the habit and not forget to do it.

Nick Green:

I love that. I haven’t thought about that consciously, but I put a pull-up bar, it actually goes into the bathroom in our master bedroom. And so every time I go in, it’s like, all right, I can do a couple of pull-ups. I actually can’t right now ’cause I have a shoulder injury. It’s another story. But I totally see how that works.

You started to touch on supplements and I want to make sure we at least spend a minute there, because as I recall a few years ago you were doing lots of supplements, spreadsheet, meticulous, like you said, you’ve been tracking all your blood panel. How has your thinking on supplements shifted over the years? You alluded earlier to, you don’t actually take the same supplements every day anymore. What’s your thinking at this point?

Katie Wells:

Yeah, this was something I learned when I studied in Europe for a short time with some natural doctors there. And their advice to everyone was to take at least the weekends off of taking supplements, with the idea that you don’t want to have a constant source of something that’s going to down-regulate your body’s natural ability to, if create it, if it’s something that the body makes on its own, or that sort of regulates your intake of that, whatever that nutrient is.

So I don’t know, if people are watching, this could be a normal day of supplements for me, but I don’t do it every day and I’m going to cycle what’s in my supplement stack day to day. I do think this is the one area where the genetic side can be especially helpful and it worries me when I see these trends just floating around TikTok or Instagram of supplements, especially ones that can be really effective and people are just saying, this worked for me and encouraging people to jump on the bandwagon, when depending on the genetic differences, something could be really not helpful for you, that was life changing for someone else.

And so when people ask what is your specific protocol, I’m hesitant to give my exact list, because I don’t want someone to take that as a prescriptive idea of what they should do. I think the experimentation is important beyond some core ones of, as Americans, we’re not getting enough micronutrient diversity and bacterial diversity in our guts. So high quality probiotics are consistently considered very safe and beneficial. Same thing with magnesium.

Vitamin K is one that Americans historically struggle with getting enough of, and that one can be really helpful for heart health, which is one of the bigger issues that we face. So I think that one is generally considered safe. And then beyond there, I really encourage people to go into experimentation. So right now I’m experimenting with everything from new ones, like Urolithin A which is a mitochondrial support that they think correlates to longevity.

Nick Green:

Is this Mitopure?

Katie Wells:

Yeah, so I’ve been experiencing…

Nick Green:

I actually have too, and I don’t know what you’ve found, but they’ve actually done some studies showing improved muscle strength. And so I’ve been trying to use it in particular to rehabbing a shoulder injury and as I’ve gotten back into the gym. Are you actually able to track the data on the impact of these supplements when you say experimentation or is it more, how do I feel after using a particular supplement over a particular period?

Katie Wells:

With a lot of them I am, but I don’t think that most people actually need to get that detailed. And I think some personalities can get stressed out by trying to track everything too much. I run labs on myself about every three months and I keep track of everything in something called Heads Up Health, which lets you input lab results along with lifestyle things that you’re doing. And then I do also sort of check in to see how I feel. That one is a little bit, not as reliable, depending on what you’re taking.

So as an example, I have a lot of genes that are choline dependent and I have a higher need for choline, but eggs are the one food that I don’t tolerate right now. So I have not eaten eggs for a decade and have a higher choline need than most people. And when I started supplementing choline, it was like a light turned on in my brain and it was absolutely life changing. That’s not going to be true for everybody.

But the genetic test helped me realize that and correct it. Most people will have one or two B vitamins that are especially beneficial for them specifically and will often feel a difference from those. But others you might not necessarily feel a difference from, if it’s doing something like just supporting mitochondria, which long-term may help you live longer and have better quality of life, but you may not feel the immediate difference.

So I think there’s kind of separate categories, if something is generally supportive and generally considered safe and hard to overdose, it might be worth taking for an extended period of time, even if you’re not feeling a result immediately. Whereas those genetic ones seem to be sort of ways to unkink the garden hose and get the body working better and those you’ll often feel the difference from.

Nick Green:

Super interesting, and I mean I’m sure you’ve at least dabbled, if not gone really deep, on all of this sort of noise around anti-aging supplements, particularly in some of the NAD boosters, NR, NMN, those are now a big controversies, NMN may actually no longer be a supplement that that’s able to be sold legally without a prescription. What’s your take on that aspect of the biohack or that kind of direction that the biohacking community is going and are there any longevity supplements that you think are actually worth it?

Katie Wells:

That’s a good question. I think on the medication side, we might see rapamycin getting approved in the next couple of years as a potential for that and there is some good data on that. Like the dog aging project looked at that and it seems to have some pretty reliable benefits. A lot of biohackers are experimenting with peptides right now. I’ve experimented with those as well.

I have done NAD intravenously and then also experimented with the precursors. The caveat there being, if you’re not getting sunlight, those things are not going to be as effective as they could be anyway, and if your detox pathways are clogged, those things are not going to be as effective as they could be anyway. So I would say get those foundational things figured out first, and that really applies to any of these biohacks. If you’re going to spend a lot of money on expensive biohacks, make sure that you have all these foundational things in place first so that you’re getting the best effect from those things and the best value for your money.

I’ve even done a push IV of NAD, which I don’t recommend to anyone ever to try, but I think I maybe read that Ben Greenfield did it and I was getting the IVs that take hours and they’re uncomfortable the whole time. And I had one day where I had to go because the kids needed something. And so I was like, I’m just going to push it in all at once in 30 seconds. And having had five babies, naturally, it’s one of the more uncomfortable experiences in my life, so I don’t recommend that one for anybody.

Nick Green:

Oh wow.

Katie Wells:

Yeah, it was really uncomfortable. I think the precursors can be helpful, but there is a little bit of genetic variation there as well. And for some people, certain forms might actually sort of clog their detox pathways or lead to buildup in the body. So that is one area, if you were going to do this on the long term and take a lot of it, I would say that would be a reason to get your genetics run and make sure that it’s going to be supportive for you.

Nick Green:

Super interesting. Okay, so I want to move past biohacking, but one more question there, and you’ve said this a few times, but data, data, you’re a huge proponent, I know for yourself, but also it sounds like a little ambivalent on how much is too much data for most people. Is there a core set of either blood tests or biometrics that you think really are pretty instrumental for everyone to take?

Katie Wells:

I think at the very basic end, I would say if you’re able to get sort of a CBC with a comprehensive metabolic panel once a year, that’ll just give you some basic good metrics to look at. It’s not going to be comprehensive by any means, but then you’ll be able to keep an eye on some of your basic levels of things like what your blood glucose is doing, where your iron is, things like that.

I go into a lot more detail with testing, but mainly because I’m experimenting with a lot of things to be able to write about it. And I don’t think most people need to get too detailed with more advanced testing unless there’s something specific going on. I think we live in a really unique time where we have wearable data that can give us a lot of insight without having to do blood work very often.

And whether it be things like Oura Ring and Apple Watch or now the Levels monitors let us see in real time our own response to certain foods and to exercise and what our blood glucose does to Hanu Health, which helps train HRV, we now have wearables and wearables that impact biology that we can use to sort of tweak these things without having to do lab tests.

So for most people, I think that’s a great starting point. And I would say if you even just get a wearable that’s looking at your deep sleep, your total sleep and your HRV, those are great ones to pay attention to and see

Katie Wells:

As you add supplements, as you improve sleep, as you add morning sunlight, pay attention to those things, because that’s where you’re probably going to see changes first. And that’ll give you an idea if whatever you’re doing is working for you.

Nick Green:

That’s great. So as we start to wind down here, I want to go back to your personal story because you’ve been in the space for a long time. You have this incredible knowledge. You’ve done all of this self-testing and writing and innovation, and yet a couple of years ago you actually had, and you described it as multiple paradigm shifts that involved, among other things, you losing I think… Was it 90 pounds? While also actually eating more. And I know some of that comes down to some of these foundational protocols you’ve talked about, but you also have done a tremendous amount of work on the kind of emotional dimension of health and unpacking traumas, and really I think becoming living proof essentially of the emotional connection to physical health. Can you talk a little bit about that side for you and what that has been over the last few years?

Katie Wells:

Absolutely. And I’m really excited to see that this is being included in the conversation of physical health more because, like you said, it was an area that I didn’t look at for a long time because I thought I had just… Didn’t feel like anything was affecting me really day to day. I thought I was fine. I thought I could just kind of keep emotions locked down.

And yet, on the physical side I had and I’ve always had spreadsheets of everything I was doing. And I was trying all these advanced protocols and everything was tracked. And for years, I still wasn’t seeing a lot of improvement in my thyroid symptoms and I was not able to lose weight, which again, doctors told me, “You’ve had six kids. You have thyroid disease. That’s totally normal.”

And when I finally looked at the mental emotional side and started dealing with that, that’s when all of the physical things I was doing were able to actually work. And I think it really highlighted for me how the mind and body are not separate. They’re so integrated.

And if we have underlying emotional or mental things that are keeping us in a sympathetic nervous system state, which is that fight or flight mode, it doesn’t matter how many of these advanced biohacks we’re doing. If our body can’t shift into rest and digest and if it can’t get into deep sleep, we’re not going to have the advantage of this.

And for me, it was a long process of different types of therapies and I tried a lot of them, everything from somatic therapies to talk therapies to psychedelic therapies, and experimented with a lot of them. And when I finally was able to address those underlying emotions and finally actually feel safe in my body, that’s when all the physical things I was doing actually really started to work.

And I realized in that too, in trying to lose weight and with that being my focus for so long, I had been chronically undereating for over a decade. And I had to retrain my mind first and foremost and then my biology to eat more, to actually signal to my body that it was safe and it wasn’t in starvation.

And that helped support my hormones, which long-term actually made weight loss effortless. But I had sort of been trying to punish my body into being a certain size for all those years. And it turns out that addressing the inner stuff and learning to love my body was the first step in getting it to actually look and feel how I wanted when that wasn’t even the focus anymore.

Nick Green:

So I’m really curious, you did a lot of different therapeutic modalities. And potentially you were doing some kind of overlapping. Maybe difficult to know what was able to create the real breakthroughs, but do you have a sense for what was most effective for you? And maybe describe for listeners who might be thinking about traumas they want to resolve or internal issues they want to address. What did you find to be the most effective?

Katie Wells:

Yeah, absolutely. And I mean a little bit of vulnerability for context for people. So I had a pretty severe sexual trauma in high school where I was raped. And I remember in that moment the feeling of helplessness actually being the hardest part to reconcile, and all of the pain surrounding that, sort of vowing that I would never feel that kind of pain again.

And so I created all of these elaborate structures of trying to control all aspects of my life so that I could avoid that kind of pain again. And sort of always being in an emotional control. And I locked down my emotions. And when I say I locked them down, I mean in years of having kids, I never once raised my voice at my kids. I didn’t yell. I didn’t cry. My emotions were on lockdown, which in hindsight, I’m obviously not healthy.

We don’t want to live in that kind of a state. But I thought it was like, I’m fine. I’m on top of this. I’m Type A. I’m driven, I got this. And it turns out I was also just locking down emotions and actually inadvertently through… I ended up doing somatic therapy with a friend in a situation that I wasn’t intending to face that trauma, but I realized the helplessness and the being out of control was actually the core wound, not the physical parts that had happened.

And I was put in a somatic situation where I wasn’t in control and I felt that helplessness again. And all of those memories came rushing back and I sort of relieved them, not on any substances, but almost in a psychedelic, heightened hyper reliving of all those things in real time. And it was probably only a few minutes, but it felt like forever. And I had to go back through all those memories and process them and experience that and sit with that helplessness.

And when that experience was over and I got put back down on the ground and I felt back in control, my whole body shook, like how you see an animal in nature when they almost get killed and they escape, their whole body shakes, which is actually nervous system regulation, and it’s a very normal and healthy thing.

But I had never… My nervous system had never integrated the experience that had happened and I hadn’t processed it. So I was stuck in that moment of emotional processing, and I shook for hours. But that was the, I guess, the stress and the emotion finally leaving my body for the first time in 16 years.

And the next day I had lost eight pounds, which I swear was just stress weight that I had been carrying. And then after that, the weight loss became almost effortless, but it really was such a dramatic reminder for me of how integrated our mind and our body are, and how we can’t override that mental and emotional state, even with the best of food and supplements and biohacks.

Nick Green:

Wow. That’s extraordinary. And I’m just thinking about for our listeners, everyone’s had different things in their lives, some things that they may be aware of are still there and some things that they may have thought that they resolved but that maybe aren’t.

Is there… It sounds like your experience with that somatic therapy experience was somewhat unexpected. Right? You weren’t actually trying to produce that result. Is there a way for someone to kind of systematically go and excise a trauma? They can say, all right, I can make it happen now. Or do you have to just be out there doing these different things and waiting for it to happen?

Katie Wells:

I do think you can actually, by holding it in mind during different somatic therapies, probably get there much more quickly than I did. And/or for people who don’t want to jump straight into a hands-on somatic therapy, which can be, as I experienced, very intense.

Another one that was really helpful to me going forward from that was actually things like tapping, that are sort of nervous system stimulating, while being in the memory of that trauma, can actually help you at home begin to start processing it if you’re… Especially depending on your trauma, if you’re not ready to work with another person and your nervous system doesn’t feel safe, there are some home tapping protocols that can help you start to regulate your nervous system surrounding that experience. As well as there are practitioners who work virtually and do different forms of hypnosis that let you access those memories without having to feel quite the intensity of maybe all the emotions that go with them. Or for a lot of people like I had, I had such resistance to those emotions that I wasn’t able to consciously access them. So I feel like those can be some sort of easy tiptoe steps into it.

Nick Green:

Super, super helpful. And I’ll say this is super helpful for me personally. You mentioned HRV a couple of times, and one of the health wake-up calls I had about nine months ago was when I finally put a wearable on, and I didn’t even know what HRV was, which I’m kind of embarrassed to say.

And I was looking and I thought it was my heart rate. I’m like, oh, my heart rate’s really low. Like, no, this is heart rate variability and low is bad. And it was realizing how sympathetic dominant I am. It was shocking. And maybe similar to what you were describing before of someone that feels like they’ve got it together. I handle stress well. I had all these stories actually that were quite positive and affirming about how I deal with stress and setbacks and control, and it turns out my nervous system was feeling the pressure in a way that I wasn’t consciously aware of.

So just a shout out for that to anyone that is interested in understanding where their nervous system’s set point is, that can be a really helpful catalyst to knowing if there’s work to do.

Katie Wells:

Absolutely. And you might have experienced this as well. When I started realizing that, I had this moment of panic a little bit of like, if I process this, am I going to lose my edge? Because I feel like, is this my competitive advantage is my trauma? And I’ve realized now, on the other side of it that no, you don’t lose your edge. You just get to choose when you pick up this word, and you’re able to put it down and regulate your nervous system.

Nick Green:

Super interesting. All right. Well, I could go down this side for a long time and I’m looking at the clock here. I know we’re almost out of time.

There is one last topic I want to make sure we hit very quickly, and that’s just family. And you’ve already woven it in a couple of times. But six kids, I have so much admiration for the fact that you’ve… The business that you’ve built, the impact you’ve had, and the intentionality you’ve brought to raising a very large family.

I have three kids, which I think of as a large brood. You’re double that. I think it’s really relevant to this topic of thriving too, because we think about wanting to thrive with our families, but a lot of times as parents, we’re just trying to survive. It is like whether you have one child or six, it can be really, really challenging.

What advice do you have, basically, for parents and to make it work and to thrive as a parent, no matter how many kids you have?

Katie Wells:

Yeah. I’m actually working on a book that addresses a lot more of this, because I realize this is, I think, the biggest struggle for moms right now, now that more of the just basic health and wellness information is so mainstream. It’s the struggle with overwhelm and actually implementing these things and maintaining it in a family environment.

So I think I could speak for hours and hours on this topic, but the core ones I would go to just building on all the ones we already talked about of put things in your way, have it stack, build these into your life as much as possible. But also from a parent perspective, I would say that the mental health and emotional health stuff we just talked about, your own emotional regulation is the best gift that you can give your child.

And the mindset shift of instead of just thinking of children as sort of mini versions of adults, they are already their own autonomous beings. And if we think of them, in relationship with them, as their own autonomous beings and treat them as such, it tends to sort of save us from a lot of the parenting struggles that we might encounter normally.

And then from there, one of my few non-negotiable parenting rules is that I won’t do anything for my kids they’re capable of doing themselves. We have a big focus in our family on autonomy and also on entrepreneurship and a lot of others. But that means that as soon as they’re capable of doing something, I stop doing it for them, which means that my four and five year olds have done laundry on their own. Even at that age, they’re helping cook dinners for the family. I think a lot of times our stress as parents comes from trying to do everything for everyone which, for me, came from a caretaking wound that I had to heal myself and all these things.

But I think that goes 90% of the way toward avoiding a lot of the stress in family situations, and then give them the gift of your own emotional regulation. I see it play out in parenting situations so many times where a parent gets understandably stressed or angry and is emotionally dysregulated and is yelling at the child and expecting and demanding the child to have emotional regulation when they’re modeling the opposite.

And so I think, like anything in life, when it comes to our kids, what we do is going to be much more impactful than what we say. So if we can implement these habits, model them, and maintain our own emotional regulation, that goes such a long way toward getting that to exist in our family as a whole.

Nick Green:

I love that. And as a parent, I can, speaking from experience, the escalation that can happen if I’m having a bad day is… It’s almost like one for one on bad parenting moments tend to correspond to bad life moments and vice versa.

All right, Katie, this has been absolutely amazing. There are two questions that we ask everyone at the very end. And just to wrap it up, these are high level, but I want to know for you just the first thing that comes to mind, what does thriving mean to you? And then what’s one area in your life that you still want to thrive more, where you feel like you’re still growing?

Katie Wells:

I guess I would define thriving as living in alignment with our own biology and with nature in a way that is authentic and kind and connected. And I think connectedness is really one of my primary focus in 2023, probably, is really nurturing friendships and relationships, including the relationships with my kids, because I think I don’t want that relationship to just be that they’ve depended on me for 18 years. I want there to actually really be substance to the relationship, that they still want to nurture that even after they leave home. And I’ve now got some close to the leaving home time. And so that’s really top of mind.

And then also for me this year, I’m really leaning into getting out of my comfort zone athletically. So I’m calling this the year of the jump and trying to get faster and stronger. And then also leaning into spontaneity more, because as people might have gathered from this interview, I’m typically very structured and detailed and run spreadsheets for everything. And so I’m trying to build in more time this year for spontaneity and less structure, especially in the family, the family side, and just more of those fun, carefree moments together.

Nick Green:

Well, it’s interesting that it kind of ties to a biohack you were talking about in terms of not doing the same thing two days in a row, where you’re doing something different all the time. And I agree, whether it’s metabolic flexibility, or emotional resilience, or just happiness, mixing it up makes a big difference.

Katie, this has been absolutely incredible. It’s been 18 months since we’ve talked and it just reminds me of how much I love hearing your insights and your perspective and your story, because it’s so incredibly inspiring. So super excited for our listeners and our members to get this interview. And thank you so much.

Katie Wells:

Thank you for having me. It was a joy to get to catch up and I hope we don’t wait 18 months to do it again.

This article is related to:

Brain Health, But Are You Thriving?

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Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts is Thrive Market's Senior Editorial Writer. She is based in Los Angeles via Pittsburgh, PA.

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