Zora Benhamou has been working towards destigmatizing aging and breaking ageist stereotypes as a gerontologist, podcast host, and author. The biohacker decided to take control of her aging process and go beyond the exterior and focus on the interior.
With over 100k social media followers, Benhamou plans to keep her network growing and continue teaching people about taking back the power of their body.
Healthnews talked to Benhamou about her past, the field of gerontology, and her views on aging for women over 50.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you became interested in pursuing a career in aging and biohacking.
I was born in Los Angeles, so health and wellness are engrained in my "L.A. DNA." However, it was the premature passing of my mother from breast cancer that ignited my passion for aging and longevity. In my early twenties, my sole concern was looking good in a bikini, but after experiencing the loss of my mother, I became determined to avoid an early demise. Consequently, I delved deep into researching cancer prevention, which eventually led me to pursue a career as a health coach.
The mapping of the human genome in 2003 further enlightened me that genes act as the loaded gun while lifestyle serves as the trigger. This discovery unveiled that 80% to 90% of our disease risk can be modified through lifestyle and diet choices.
I realized that while genes do play a significant role in our health, it is the epigenetic changes that truly matter. As scientific understanding progressed and the internet boomed, I stumbled upon the biohacking community, which resonated with my aspirations for optimal health, evidence-based testing, and empowering individuals to become their own health advocates.
Motivated to share my knowledge and apply it to a broader audience, I created my website, Hack My Age, authored a digital book called "The Longevity Master Plan," and wrote a cookbook titled "Eating For Longevity." To expand my reach, I traveled around the world to create content about aging populations and uncover their secrets to longevity, amplifying their wisdom through my social media channels.
Through the groundbreaking work of Dr. Valter Longo, renowned for his research in calorie restriction and the fasting-mimicking diet (FMD) at the University of Southern California, I discovered the field of gerontology. This revelation amazed me, as I learned that there was an actual master's degree program focused on aging and longevity. Eager to deepen my understanding, I applied to the program in 2020 and was thrilled to be accepted, especially knowing that Dr. Longo would be one of my professors, alongside numerous other brilliant instructors and researchers. I was honored to receive the "Most Valued Master Student" award and graduated with summa cum laude honors.
Simultaneously, I launched the Hack My Age podcast, which centers around biohacking menopause. My current focus is assisting women in navigating the menopausal transition seamlessly and without fear. Through online programs and interviews with doctors, researchers, and experts in menopause, hormones, and women's health, I educate women on the podcast bringing the information they are looking for. Menopause is an inevitable phase, but suffering is not. Together, we can all biohack our way through it.
What are the key factors of successful aging?
As a gerontologist, I have reservations about using the term "successful" aging, as it implies that any other form of aging is a failure. This concept was introduced by scientists John Wallis Rowe and Robert Kahn in their influential book, "Successful Aging," published in 1987. According to their definition, successful aging refers to achieving high physical, psychological, and social functioning in old age while avoiding major diseases. However, the National Institute on Aging reports that “approximately 85% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, with 60% experiencing two or more.” This leads me to question whether being born with a disability or living with a chronic condition such as type 1 diabetes automatically categorizes someone as a failure. No, it doesn’t.
Let's consider this scenario: You belong to the 15% of older adults who are free from major diseases and possess high levels of physical, social, and psychological functioning. Yet, you struggle to find happiness in your life. Can we still label this as "successful aging"?
Therefore, it may be necessary to redefine the concept of "successful aging." In my opinion, the key factors for optimal aging are life satisfaction and maintaining strength and independence across multiple dimensions — mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially. While we all aspire to age without major diseases and live a long, healthy life, we must also consider our emotional and spiritual preparedness for the challenges that come with older age, such as the loss of friends and family members. Additionally, financial security becomes crucial when contemplating living to 100 and beyond. These are critical questions that many of us fail to ask ourselves, yet they hold significant importance in an aging society.
What are some biohacking tips for women under 50 and over 50?
I firmly believe that longevity begins in childhood, which means there are no limitations on when we can start optimizing our biology. The basics of biohacking apply to all age groups. It involves consuming real, nutritious food, engaging in appropriate exercise and rest, prioritizing sleep, learning to establish a healthy relationship with stress while effectively managing it, and nurturing your social networks.
Once we have mastered these fundamentals, I would advise younger women to explore their menstrual cycle and understand the changing rhythms of their bodies. They can use period tracking apps like Clue or maintain a journal to track their cycles and learn about hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, and even testosterone (which is also present in females). It is not unusual for a woman to respond differently to the same stressors as men, such as fasting, exercise, and cold exposure, primarily due to the complexity of our hormonal system, genetics and other lifestyle factors.
Developing an interest in both your body and mind is crucial because the more you understand yourself, the smoother your transition into menopause will be.
Women over the age of 50 are often in the midst of menopause. Technically, menopause refers to the one-day event when a woman has gone a full year without a menstrual cycle, typically occurring around the age of 51. In this age group, my favorite biohack is bioidentical hormone therapy. Regardless of whether you are in favor of hormone therapy or not, I recommend that women from their mid-40s and onward educate themselves about hormones, learn as much as they can about menopause, and delve deep into the emerging research on hormone therapy for this stage of life. Hormones can be a game-changer for many women, and once they are optimized, managing exercise, nutrition, sleep, relationships, and stress becomes much easier.
How are tech innovations changing the aging process?
Emerging technological innovations, such as biological age test kits, DNA testing, coronary artery scans, and at-home blood test kits, not only provide us with insights into our bodies but also aid us in making better health decisions and gaining more control over the information we want to have about our biology. The more information we possess about our bodies and how certain habits and lifestyle changes impact our health, the more informed decisions we can make for our overall well-being.
Furthermore, other technological advancements like tracking devices, stove alarms, telehealth services, and voice-activated assistant devices such as Alexa can assist older adults in maintaining their independence as they age. It is important to remember that independence is a desire shared by many of us as we grow older.
What are the biggest challenges/key targets for gerontologists nowadays?
Gerontologists often face significant challenges in the realms of social policy and ageism. These are complex issues that are difficult to address and change. It can potentially take generations to establish laws and policies that effectively safeguard the rights and well-being of older adults. Additionally, combating ageism requires a profound shift in societal attitudes towards aging, which includes challenging and overcoming the stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination that are based solely on one's age, whether it be directed toward others or even towards oneself.
Another challenge lies in addressing the multifaceted nature of aging and developing comprehensive strategies to promote healthy aging across various domains. This includes tackling issues related to physical health, mental well-being, social engagement, economic security, and policy reforms.
Additionally, the field of gerontology requires continuous adaptation and integration of new research findings and technological advancements to improve the quality of life for older adults. Overall, the complex and diverse nature of aging poses ongoing challenges for gerontologists in their pursuit of enhancing the well-being and understanding of the aging population.
What's your biggest advice for anyone looking to hack their age?
My best advice to anyone who wants to hack their age is to know yourself. Understand who you are, how your body and mind function, and what your desires and goals are. It is not uncommon to reach midlife without truly comprehending our own identity. The sooner you can gain self-knowledge, the better. Once you achieve this understanding, you will discover genuine happiness by living in alignment with your authentic self. That is the essence of hacking your age.