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What Is Biohacking? 8 Ways to Biohack Yourself for Better Health
August 9, 2019
From earning enough miles for a trip around the world to getting free goods at the grocery store, these days it seems like you can hack nearly anything to get the most bang for your buck. If only we could hack our own bodies, right?
Figure out just how they tick so that we can feel our best and have our bodies performing optimally all the time. What a treat that would be.
Except … it already exists. Welcome to the world of biohacking.
What Is Biohacking?
Biohacking is the process of making changes to your lifestyle in order to “hack” your body’s biology and feel your best.
You know the saying, “You are what you eat”? That actually applies to humans in a broader sense: Everything we put into our bodies — our foods, our thoughts, our physical movement — affects how we behave.
By biohacking yourself, you can actually transform your body so you feel more energized, more productive and, overall, like the best possible version of yourself.
It doesn’t have to involve being a mad scientist and running crazy experiments with your body. Instead, it means using various hacks to see what works best for you (which could be very different from what works for Susan down the street!) and using it to live your best life.
Now, some people will tell you that all sorts of gadgets and measurements are necessary to biohack yourself, but there’s something to be said for the good old-fashioned way — making small changes to your lifestyle, giving your body time to adjust and then seeing how you feel.
You stick with the things that work for you, and ditch the ones that don’t. After all, when it comes to how your body feels, you’re the expert!
History of Biohacking
“Biohacking” is a broad term that refers to a number of different things. Historically, the term was mentioned in a 1988 article in the Washington Post discussing biotechnology being brought to the masses in the form of “fiddling with the genetic code of a living organism.”
More recently, experts like Ben Greenfield and Dave Asprey (the founder of Bulletproof) have developed an art when it comes to biohacking. By sharing their experiences, “hacks” and products, they hope to help followers manipulate nutrition, fitness and lifestyle to improve their health.
Types of Biohacking
Typically, biohacking falls into three categories: nutrigenomics, do-it-yourself biology and grinder biohacking. Here’s an explanation of these biohacking meanings:
- Nutrigenomics: This is described as the study of nutritionally manipulating the activity of your body. Nutrigenomics is also related to other sub-categories in biohacking like sleep manipulation, exercise, attention hacking, adjusting environmental triggers (like sound and light) and stress management.
- This type of biohacking is really just building on the concept that our bodies are ever-changing and using these discoveries to live better. Food, activity and various stimuli alter your body’s function, and nutrigenomics involves learning how these interactions work.
- Do-it-yourself biology (DIYBio): DIYBio is a biohacking subculture of people who conduct biological experiments and study life sciences outside of conventional means. It’s a movement that started in the early 2000s.
- Many “teachers” in this crusade are formal educators or scientific researchers who want to show the average Joe how to conduct experiments. While it’s a fascinating movement, this subset of biohacking is focused more on studying and testing unproven science and is often criticized for having no official oversight.
- Grinder biohacking: This is a subset of DIYBio that fixates on technology implants or chemical manipulation of the body. Grinder attempts to push the limits of technology and the human body to their limits, practicing body modification to improve their “hardware.”
- These are typically very risky techniques that aren’t recommended.
Biohacking vs. Biotechnology
Biotechnology uses biological processes or applications for industrial or other purposes. It involves living systems and organisms to develop or modify products and serves as a broader term for this kind of technological advancement.
It’s not uncommon for advancements in biotechnology research to inspire biohackers when it comes to inventing or using new biohacking technology. However, holistic biohacking that involves a biohacking diet or lifestyle change does not require or interact with biotechnology.
8 Ways to Biohack Yourself Today
What is biohacking good for in your life, though? Here are multiple ways to biohack yourself:
1. Try an elimination diet
If you struggle with food allergies, have trouble digesting foods, experience skin issues like eczema and acne, or find yourself constantly fatigued, it’s probably time to biohack yourself with an elimination diet.
An elimination diet may sound scary, but it’s really just a short-term eating plan to figure out if the foods you consume play a role in whatever health issues you’re experiencing. Research shows that an elimination diet is an effective way to recognize triggering foods so they can be avoided for those dealing with a food allergy.
Here’s how it works: For three to four weeks, you remove foods that are known allergens, giving any inflammation time to go down and offering you a clean slate. Gluten, soy, dairy, peanuts and corn are all foods to cut out during this time.
Then, slowly, you’ll re-introduce the banned foods, paying attention to how you feel and how your body responds physically. If you suspect a food you’ve added back into your diet is an irritant, you’ll remove it again and see if symptoms clear up.
The goal is to pinpoint whether you’re less tolerant of some foods than others and then make informed decisions about what you eat. For instance, if it turns out you don’t respond well to cow’s milk, you might want to use coconut milk in your coffee or try goat cheese as part of a dairy-free diet.
An elimination diet is one of the best biohacks you can do for yourself. Some people don’t understand how good they can truly feel until they remove some of the worst food offenders from their diets.
Want to spend a little money to figure out exactly what you’re reacting badly to? Many naturopaths, integrative physicians and even some biohacking fitness centers offer an option to take a blood or urine test to pinpoint food allergens or sensitivities.
This might be a great idea for you if an elimination diet doesn’t seem to reveal any clear perpetrators.
2. Kick sugar to the curb
Giving addictive sugar the boot is one of the best things you can do for your overall health. It can be a pretty tough biohack but one of the most rewarding.
Now, this doesn’t mean you have to eliminate naturally occurring sugars, like the ones you find in fruits and dairy. Added sugars are the ones you want to worry about.
You’ll find those in products like soft drinks, processed foods and sweets. They’re also in foods like flavored yogurt, condiments (check those barbecue sauce and ketchup labels!) and energy drinks.
What makes sugar so bad for your body?
Studies show that it increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, leads to mood swings, increases inflammation in the body and lowers energy — and that’s the abbreviated list! (Read more about the benefits of a sugar-free diet.)
How do you reduce your sugar habit? Learn how to measure sugar, look for it in all its forms on labels (hint: anything ending in “ose” and natural sweeteners like honey, molasses and fruit juice still count) and limit processed foods.
3. Change when you eat
Did you know that by simply changing when you eat, you can biohack your body? Intermittent fasting is gaining popularity as a method of losing weight and normalizing insulin sensitivity, which can help prevent chronic diseases like diabetes.
It also regulates ghrelin levels, more commonly known as the hunger hormone, which tells your brain when you’re hungry, and leptin, which sends signals to the brain when you’re full and should stop eating.
The cool thing about fasting is that there is more than one way to do it. Some people opt for alternate-day fasting, where on fasting days, you limit your calories to 25 percent of your normal intake and then eat your usual amount of calories on non-fasting days.
There’s also time-restricted eating, where you only eat during a certain window during the day (if you eat dinner early and tend to have a late breakfast, you already do this!) and a more spiritual approach, the Daniel fast. Though intermittent fasting can take some time to get used to, depending on your health goals, it may be a good biohacking option.
4. Sleep more
Sleep is often missing from conversations about losing weight and improving your health and mood — and that’s a major mistake. If you don’t getting enough sleep each night (usually between seven to nine hours) and suffer from sleep deprivation, you’re putting yourself at risk for a host of health problems, including a higher risk for chronic disease, a weakened immune system, depression, trouble concentrating, irritability, an increased appetite and out-of-whack hormones.
In fact, research published in Nature and Science of Sleep indicates that sleep disruptions have substantial adverse short- and long-term health consequences.
There’s one step to biohacking sleep: Get more of it! Of course, I know it’s not always that simple.
These seven natural sleep aids can help. Some of my favorite suggestions are sticking to a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends, to keep your circadian rhythms in check.
Keeping electronics out of bed is important, too. The lights from your smartphone tell your brain it’s time to wake up, not drift off to sleep.
If you use biohacking for insomnia, a DIY essential oils sleep aid just might do the trick.
5. Eat fat — lots of it
Looking for a diet where eating a lot of fat isn’t just encouraged, it’s required? The keto diet might be for you!
While the keto diet is experiencing some serious popularity right now, it’s not a fad diet. On the keto diet, you try to get your body to ketosis, a metabolic state where the body uses mostly ketones, not carbohydrates, for energy.
This happens when fat, not glucose (carbohydrates), provide most of body’s calories. (It can also be induced by multiple-day fasting, but that’s not a long-term option for most people.)
On a keto diet, you seriously restrict carbs and sugar and instead eat keto-friendly foods like healthy fats (coconut oil, ghee, nuts, etc.), non-starchy veggies (goodbye, potatoes) and foods that are high in protein but have no or low carbs, like grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish and eggs.
Studies show that the keto diet is very effective at promoting weight loss, especially if you are very overweight. It can reduce heart disease markers like high cholesterol and could even fight brain disease.
In fact, the keto diet was originally used as a way to manage seizures in people with epilepsy. If you already eat relatively well but want to challenge yourself even further, biohacking your diet and going keto could be what you need.
6. Zone out with meditation
What we feed our minds is just as important as what we feed our bodies. Meditation is the ultimate brain hack.
Studies have proved that the benefits of meditation are huge: from reducing pain and increasing sleep quality to lowering inflammation and boosting productivity. If you suffer from stress or anxiety, meditation can also be a really effective way of naturally dealing with symptoms.
Establishing a daily meditation practice is one of the best things you can do for your mental and physical health.
If you’re concerned that you can’t stop your brain from buzzing long enough to meditate, don’t worry. Guided meditation can help you get into the habit.
There are also dozens of smartphone apps you can use. Some will alert you at the same time each day or have specific meditations for different purposes, like starting the day with a clear head or helping you unwind.
Healing prayer is another option that might speak to you.
7. Kick off your shoes
How often do you walk barefoot in the grass or feel the sand crunch between your toes? If the answer is “not enough,” you should definitely consider grounding as your next biohack.
Grounding, also known as earthing, is a bit of a biohacking secret. It means allowing your feet to connect with the surface below them and the powerful energy that brings.
When we spend time barefoot on the earth, our feet act as electrical currents, allowing the natural electrical charges that the earth produces to flow through us.
Research published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine suggests that grounding has the potential to act as a “simple, natural and accessible clinical strategy against the global epidemic of noncommunicable, degenerative, inflammatory-related diseases.” Grounding can improve your sleep, reduce inflammation and encourage you to enjoy nature more and get your dose of vitamin D — plus, it’s free!
Try it by taking a short walk sans shoes to the mailbox, strolling on the beach or even barbecuing barefoot. As the weather gets colder, minimalist shoes can help keep your feet in closer contact with the earth.
Active people often enjoy biohacks like “rewilding,” similar to the thought process behind earthing. Many biohacking experts teach that we should fight against our natural “domestication” and, instead, spend more time outside, eat less processed foods, drink better water, be exposed to sunlight and learn to love the outdoors.
We were made to thrive using these methods, so it makes sense to do your yoga routine in the backyard tomorrow — where you not only benefit from the exercise, but also from just being outside under the sun.
8. Get up, stand up
Most of us spend our days going from sitting in our cars, to sitting at a desk, to sitting in the car some more. Rinse and repeat, and we spend an extraordinary amount of our lives seated.
All that sitting harms our health and might even be as dangerous as smoking.
There’s an easy fix to that: Stand more. You don’t need to invest in a standing desk (although it’s helpful!). Instead, it’s how often we stand, not how long we stand for, that matters.
You can biohack your way to better health with various exercise hacks, too — simply by getting up and talking to colleagues instead of sending an email, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, standing up and pacing during long phone calls, or even setting a reminder on your phone for every 60–90 minutes to take a quick lap around the office.
Other Biohacking Techniques
More cutting-edge biohacking principles include things like biohacking nootropics (“smart” drugs), neurofeedback, heart rate variability training and inversion therapy.
Nootropics are cognitive-enhancing drugs and supplements. Some are relatively healthy, safe and well-investigated (turmeric and vitamin D supplements, for example), while others which are often considered dangerous or available on with a prescription, like amphetamine and eugeroics.
The simple definition for neurofeedback is taking advantage of the plasticity of your brain by retraining it how to respond to various emotions. This typically involves EEG monitoring and then playing “games” that give you positive and negative feedback based on your desired result.
This process is claimed by many to increase creativity and even IQ.
Heart rate variability training involves using biohacking technology to sense when your heartbeat changes to reflect stress — you go from a varied amount of time between each beat to a fixed rhythm when you’re under duress of some kind.
Typical technology used for this would then warn you and walk you through what to listen to and how to breathe to avoid giving into the stress.
Some biohackers also like to practice inversion therapy, the complex process of hanging upside down. The simple function of forcing blood to your brain supposedly strengthens capillaries within the brain and can increase mental performance.
Proponents of this technique also claim it changes blood pressure regulation when done on a regular basis.
There are also ways to maximize workouts using biohacking. Some of these are very straightforward, like tracking your exact workout times, specific exercises and results to develop a schedule and a routine that is exactly right for your body or practicing breathing exercises as part of your regular workout.
Other workout biohacks are a little more complex — and potentially expensive. For example, biohacker Ben Greenfield says that lifting weights underwater in the cold is one of his favorite biohacking secrets.
The concept of these types of routines is to use very exact methods to achieve maximum results, but they should be done with caution, particularly because biohacked workouts can be tricky and potentially unsafe if they are done incorrectly (or designed without reliable scientific results to support them).
Does It Work?
When you are working to eat, move and think in a way that positively impacts your body and the way you feel, then biohacking definitely works. It can help you feel better and even reduce your risk of disease.
Biohacking weight loss is even possible when you work to nourish your body with healthy foods that reduce inflammation, get enough rest, and stand up and move your body throughout the day.
That said, grinder biohacking or DIY biohacking may not work or even be safe, especially when it’s not done by a trained professional. There’s a range of biohacking products and technology that may work in the short term but over time can cause adverse side effects, infections and inflammatory reactions.
Does implanting a sound-transmitting magnet into your ear really serve as built-in headphones? Or do brain-computer interfaces that are implanted underneath the skull enable telepathy and circumvent memory loss?
For one thing, there isn’t enough research to determine whether or not these biohacking projects are effective. On top of that, this obviously goes way beyond boosting your health with diet and barefoot walks on the grass.
Biohacking your body may work, to a certain extent, depending on how you define biohacking and the extremity of your approach.
Blood Testing and Biohacking
If you’re interested in biohacking to improve your health, you may find it helpful to have blood work done to measure your body’s nutrient counts and blood components. Biohackers believe that blood testing gives them a sense of what their bodies are doing.
When you continue to blood test and you see small changes in your blood over time, after making changes to your diet or lifestyle, you know that what you’re doing is working. Some biohackers recommend getting blood tests every year, while others do it more frequently.
Blood testing is part of the biohacking guide because it serves as a proactive and preventative measure. When you notice a negative change, you shift your diet and lifestyle right away to make yourself healthier.
Is Biohacking Safe?
Biohacking can be really fun. Figuring out what your body prefers and how to get it feeling its best can even feel invigorating, particularly if you’ve been struggling with health concerns and are finally getting answers.
However, it’s important to remember that we’re more than just the number of calories we eat or burn, and it is possible to take biohacking too far.
A biohacking movement is growing in popularity, especially in Silicon Valley, where tech execs are tracking what they eat, ketone levels, body composition and more daily. They also fast for days at a time, increasing their risk of critical mineral deficiencies and infection — and likely creating an obsession and anxiety around the food (orthorexia) they’re eating.
While some medical professionals and scientists practice standard biohacking and even get involved in DIYBio studies and using biohacking implants, many scientists and doctors are skeptical of these practices.
The ones that fall more in line with ancient nutrition principles are sometimes scoffed at because of the mistaken idea that nutrition doesn’t have as much impact on your body as medicines or medical therapies might. Of course, we know that to be a false assumption.
However, many biohacking techniques that go “off the beaten path” are untested and can cost a lot of money to achieve, just two of the reasons why mainstream science and medicine may be skeptical of them.
While it’s exciting to see how people may be able to enhance or maximize their physical potential through natural means, there are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to the concept of biohacking, particularly when it comes to pushing your body to unknown limits or using chemical and technological enhancements to do things your body may not have been designed to do.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to biohack yourself to be at your best, but the concern is related to the obsessive behavior around hardcore biohacking that’s practiced by biohacking grinders. It can really quickly lead to unhealthy territory or fuel an eating disorder.
Instead, it’s healthy and safe to take a holistic approach to biohacking your brain and body. Grab a journal and jot down how certain foods make you feel or whether you find yourself reaching for certain meals when you’re feeling down.
If you find that eating in a certain window of time makes you a superstar at work, stick to that schedule. Remember that there’s no one biohacking diet or biohacking product that works for everyone.
It’s a journey, not a science!
As mentioned, there are different levels of biohacking out there. If you plan to go beyond a holistic biohacking definition that involves listening to your mind and body to make positive and effective changes, you should do so with caution.
Any time you plan to take biohacking supplements or use biohacking technology, speak to your health care professional first.
- What is biohacking? Biohacking is all about making lifestyle changes to optimize the way your body functions.
- Whether it’s bulletproof biohacking, starting a biohacking diet or inserting biohacking magnets into your body — there are a number of biohacking definitions, with some much more extreme than others.
- The truth is that you don’t need fancy gadgets to biohack yourself. Instead, it’s about finding natural ways to improve how you feel.
- Biohacks include strategies like trying an elimination diet, standing up throughout the day more, experimenting with intermittent fasting and getting more sleep.
- Though a more extreme form of biohacking is gaining popularity in Silicon Valley, using natural biohacking supplements and botanical biohacking approaches is a safer and possibly more effective choice.