What Is Biohacking?
July 20, 2022
Rising in popularity across the past decade, biohacking is a broad term that covers a range of areas and activities that deal with modifying the human body. This isn’t just aesthetic modification (though it can be aesthetically oriented) but generally springs from a lack of availability of resources, skills, and access.
Biohacking can range from implanting a microchip in your body to subtle diet and lifestyle changes. Popular among health enthusiasts, biologists, athletes, and techies, biohacking is all about modifying your body to work more effectively.
What Are the Basics of Biohacking?
Let’s look at the basics of the broad category known as biohacking. If biohacking is all about being “better,” it’s important to get specific about what, exactly, biohacking is making better. For some biohackers, the goal to optimize could be weight loss or allergy and sensitivity management.
For others, it’s about more extreme interventions that push their bodies to the edge of humanism and into the realm of the cyborg with body modification. Others opt for more extreme routes, like cryotherapy (making yourself cold on purpose) or neurofeedback (self-regulating brain waves).
While this may sound like something out of a science fiction novel, biohacking is also something that has been a popular part of accepted scientific and medical fields for a while. Removing foods that you are intolerant to, using an inhaler, or foot insoles, are all ways we modify our behavior or lifestyle to make ourselves better.
As with any field, many people comprise biohacking – and the broad spectrum that defines it.
What Are the Three Types of Biohacking?
There are several different types of biohacking, but three main trajectories have emerged in popularity: DIY biology, nutrigenomics, and grinder. While these are not the official distinctions within the biohacking world, they are three different strategies for biohacking, each associated with its own community, lineage, and goals.
DIY biology, also known as DIYbio, is pretty much what it sounds like: it is a community-supported, non-professional biological endeavor that is led by biohackers across the globe.
Rapidly growing in popularity across the past decade, DIYbio is, in some ways, a watershed moment for biologists and people looking to modify their microbiomes and bodies to extend their lifespan by using gadgets and hacks in ways that traditional medicine might not allow.
With a focus on creating more accessible, affordable access to biology, DIYbio is focused on skill-sharing, self-experimentation, community spaces, and knowledge disbursement across time zones and continents. DIYbio has seen a burst in popularity, especially in the distribution of community-supported biohacker spaces.
This biohacking category deals with how food interacts with your body or microbiome. Most specifically, it looks at how nutrients and your gene expression interact. Nutrigenomics is a strategy where you look at how nutrients impact your overall health and potential sensitivities, allergies, and energy levels. It could include a low-carb diet, like keto.
This is where biohacking leans into the hacking space more, as it deals with the direct modification of the body through the incorporation of external technology. This doesn’t just refer to the implantation of RFID chips or magnets into hands (though these are two examples of grinder biohacking) but broadly embraces the idea that the body can be made more effective through the internal incorporation of external technology.
Is Biohacking Effective?
Asking if biohacking is safe is certainly the right question, and the answer depends on what kind of biohacking you’re interested in. Any non-medical modification to the body comes with its own risks when it comes down to it.
And yet, there is a diverse milieu of biohackers approaching the field of biohacking with rigor and commitment to understanding their own biology and human genome enhancement.
Biohacking is such a broadly encompassing term that asking whether it is effective or not depends on what strategy of biohacking is being incorporated. For example, intravenous transfusions packed with electrolytes and important nutrients have grown in popularity in recent years.
Not just for hangovers but embraced by athletes and working professionals, IV transfusions are arguably a form of biohacking, using an external source of technology to deliver nutrients to the body.
Nutrition and Biohacking
Another form of biohacking that crosses into the effective territory is the overlap between biohacking and nutrition. If you’re someone who has sensitivities or allergies, embracing a reductive method of nutrition could prove helpful in identifying the source of discomfort and perhaps how to best address any issues you might be having.
Try removing certain foods from your diet that you think might be causing any issues, keep a journal and note how your body responds once those foods are removed from your diet and how it responds when they are incorporated back in. How is your own body responding?
What About Nootropics?
Nootropics are a popular class of supplements that bridge the worlds of biohacking and nutrition, particularly as it relates to cognitive function. Nootropics, commonly referred to as “smart drugs,” are a grouping of natural and synthetic supplements that can potentially support different brain functioning.
Some nootropics are more widely recognized than others, like caffeine, for example. You may not have thought about caffeine as a “smart drug,” but the way that caffeine interacts with your brain to make you feel less tired is, in fact, a psychoactive interaction.
As with any change in your diet or lifestyle, consult with your healthcare provider for medical advice so you can review your medical history and any potential health problems that shifts in your diet may bring about.
Intravenous Therapy and Biohacking
Another compelling angle on biohacking is through the use of intravenous therapies. Growing in popularity across the last decade, intravenous therapy (or IV therapy) involves the delivery of important nutrients and vitamins to your body through the use of an IV.
Administered by a team of medical professionals in the comfort of your home or office, IV therapy can range from hangover-busting hydration to supporting general performance and mood or getting rid of jet lag. These fluid treatments are packed with vitamins and nutrients that are safe for ingestion and are incorporated more effectively into your system because of their intravenous delivery.
In its most general sense, this is biohacking: incorporating vitamins, nutrients, and supplements into your body to increase your overall wellness or help assist you when you’re not feeling your best. Intravenous fluid delivery can support your wellness, whether it’s an upset stomach, jet lag, or low energy. With privacy and luxury as the cornerstones of IV therapy, there’s no better way to support your overall health and wellness.
Is Biohacking Safe?
This is a commonly-asked question, and for a good reason. Anytime you introduce a new angle into your health and wellness plan, it should always come with a fair amount of research beforehand. In its broadest sense, biohacking is the introduction or incorporation of food or supplements into your body to improve its performance.
The degree to which you are interested in biohacking your body will likely correlate with how “safe” the biohacking is. Introducing caffeine in your morning routine is different from implanting an RFID chip into your hand.
Some biohacking angles should be administered by medical professionals, such as IV therapy. Other angles, like introducing an organic supplement into your post-workout routine, can be incorporated relatively effortlessly.
As with any newer trend in the broader health and wellness worlds, it’s important to note that biohacking encompasses a broad and diffuse range of activities geared towards improving human health, wellness, and performance. Some forms of biohacking are more extreme and permanent than others, but not all biohacking is created equal.
Figure out what you are trying to better in your wellness plan, and then figure out what might work safely and most effectively to help you reach your goals.
How Can I Biohack at Home?
Biohacking sounds intense, but it can just be the incorporation of subtle lifestyle and diet changes.
The most important priority when it comes to biohacking is safety and being mindful of your body's needs. After safety comes another priority of biohacking at home: keeping track of how your body responds to transformations in your diet and lifestyle.
Whether you’re interested in making minor adjustments to energy levels, weaning yourself off of sugar, increasing athletic performance, or incorporating mood-boosting supplements into your diet, keep track of how your body responds.
Looking to boost your productivity? Try incorporating caffeine into your morning routine, which can be in the form of coffee, tea, or another caffeinated source, and take note of how your body responds. If you find yourself anxious from regular caffeine intake, a biohack might be to reduce or completely remove caffeine from your diet.
Everybody is different, and as such, every biohack will look different. Incorporating intermittent fasting is one of the more popular tactics of biohacking, which involves eating during scheduled periods of time and fasting for the remaining parts of the day. There are many different strategies of intermittent fasting, all with varying degrees of fasting lengths, allotted foods, and fasting goals.
As with any lifestyle change, be sure to consult with a medical professional before you begin fasting. Intermittent fasting can boost insulin levels, which allows your body to burn fat more easily. Whether your goal is weight loss or a more balanced eating routine, intermittent fasting is a popular and effective method of biohacking that is safe.
Let’s say you begin fasting; it will be helpful to compare your previous eating habits (and your associated changes in energy levels, mood, and appetite) with your new habit of intermittent fasting. This leads us to the next component of biohacking at home; tracking your routines and making sense of your data.
Tracking Your Data and Making Sense of It
Before you incorporate any biohacking into your daily or weekly routine, it’s usually best to begin with measuring your baseline to see how your body is impacted by or reacts to transformations in your diet and lifestyle.
One of the easiest ways to track your body patterns, including sleep habits, technology usage, and exercise, is through a wearable, like a smartwatch or other device that can track your habits. Another way to do so is by keeping a self-improvement journal of your food, hydration, exercise, and sleeping habits.
Getting a baseline idea about how you move throughout the day and how your habits are impacting your body will offer you a data set to compare to when you start transforming your lifestyle.
The Bottom Line
Not just a hokey concept relegated to science fiction, biohacking has emerged from places like Silicon Valley and cropping up throughout the world. With everyone from the CEO of Twitter to the average person in the form of local biohacker community spaces, it doesn’t appear that this burgeoning field will slow down anytime soon.
Biohacking should, first and foremost, be approached with caution. As with any modifications to your lifestyle, diet, or exercise routine, you should consult your medical team before making any significant changes. You never know how your body will react to certain transformations – whether through the introduction of nootropics, an elimination diet, or shifted caffeine intake – so you want to be mindful of how you approach biohacking.
Biohacking offers potential health benefits and is a burgeoning field among folks interested in boosting productivity, clarifying sensitivities and allergies, and improving their health. Try some of the safer biohacking techniques at home before jumping into other areas, and remember that biohacking doesn’t have to be as intense as it sounds.
Subtle lifestyle and diet modifications can shift the way your body functions. As always, prioritize hydration and regular exercise as you explore the world of biohacking.
Do-it-yourself biology shows safety risks of an open innovation movement | Brookings
Nutrigenomics: The Genome–Food Interface | PMC
Alternate-day fasting in nonobese subjects: effects on body weight, body composition, and energy metabolism | NCBI
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