What Is Biohacking? A Guide to Optimizing Your Body
Biohacking has taken over Silicon Valley and is poised to do so with the rest of the world. Tech gurus, millionaire entrepreneurs, and even the average Joe/Jane subscribe to this sci-fi-sounding phenomenon. But what is biohacking?
Biohacking is about optimizing the human body to achieve more than what conventional society thinks it can. This could be something as simple as following a low-carb diet to maximize weight loss or something as mind-boggling as having a neural implant in your brain.
So, if you have a thing for making sci-fi come true, read on. We'll tell you what biohacking is (and what it isn't), the types of biohacking, and the benefits and risks of jumping on this trend.
What Is Biohacking?
According to a recent study published in The Journal of Trends in Biotechnology, biohacking is "a do-it-yourself citizen science merging body modification with technology." In other words, average people "hack" their own bodies with a mixture of scientific concepts, tools, and technology.
Biohacking is a pretty broad term as its definition varies from biohacker to biohacker. Many biohackers use it to optimize their overall well-being — think improved physical ability, cognitive function, and mental health. For example, you may use binaural beats for better sleep quality.
Others are more extreme. They conduct self-experimentations, like implanting a chip or injecting stem cells into their own bodies.
What Is Biohacking Not?
There's definitely an overlap between biohacking and biotechnology — biohackers often use biotechnology concepts to push the boundaries of the human body even further. Case in point, stem cell injections.
With that said, biohacking doesn't equate to biotechnology — you don't need expensive, high-tech gadgets to achieve self-improvement.
On top of that, biohacking isn't anything illegal, particularly when it comes to self-experimentations. It also isn't complicated, since much of biohacking is in the form of simple lifestyle changes.
For instance, biohacks include getting more medium-chain triglycerides (ex., coconut oil) in your diet or spending time in nature. Think of biohacking as leveraging credible scientific information to improve your own biology and longevity.
4 Types of Biohacking
Now, let's take a look at four common types of biohacking.
Nutrigenomics refers to "the study of the effects of nutrients on the expression of an individual’s genetic makeup" and analyzing "nutritional factors that protect the genome from damage," a 2007 study in The Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives explains.
In layman terms, nutrigenomics means using your genetic makeup as a guide to creating a personalized diet for optimal performance. Note that nutrigenomics is not just about eating healthy, whole foods; it's also about taking dietary supplements (and possibly prescription drugs) to optimize your health.
The goals of nutrigenomics are to:
- Improve your physical, mental, and emotional well-being (ex., regulate blood sugar levels and reduce anxiety)
- Prevent health problems that you're genetically predisposed to (ex., a low-carb diet may reduce your risk of obesity and heart diseases)
Taking individual genetic variations into consideration, nutrigenomics helps dietitians and nutritionists create custom-tailored health programs for their clients. In doing so, they will likely have greater success in tackling preventable health problems.
To illustrate, a 2016 meta-analysis in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition highlights variations in the fat mass and obesity-associated (FTO) gene that are linked to different degrees of weight loss success. It explains individuals with the "homozygous FTO obesity-predisposing allele (AA genotype) had greater weight loss than did noncarriers (TT genotype) after diet/lifestyle interventions."
As such, when your nutritionist has your genetic map in hand, they are better able to design an effective nutrition plan that's tailored to your own biology.
2. DIY Biology
Do-it-yourself (DIY) biology, also known as DIY bio or synthetic biology, is a type of biohacking that focuses on experimenting and knowledge-sharing. A 2013 study in The Journal of Systems and Synthetic Biology defines DIY biology as "the pursuit of biology outside of scientific institutions by amateurs, students, and 'hobbyists.'"
This means anyone with an interest in biohacking can try their hands at DIY biology. You don't necessarily need a Ph.D. in biology to experiment for the next miracle drug.
While this may open up a new field of possibilities, conducting experiments in your garage or a community biohacking lab may be hard to regulate, hence the safety, ethical, and legal concerns. Ellen Jorgensen, who's the co-founder of Genspace (a biohacker space), says those dabbling in DIY biology "need to follow safety guidelines."
Another thing to note is that these biohackers aren't necessarily amateurs. For instance, a scientist who's also a self-professed biohacker may share their knowledge with those keen on learning more in biohacking conferences, contests, and community labs.
Grinders are considered the most extreme type of biohackers. They generally conduct self-experimentations by injecting their own bodies with drugs, implants, and gadgets to modify their own biology. It's also why grinders often identify with transhumanism (i.e. using science and technology to transform the human body beyond its current limits) and body modifications (altering the human body for physical enhancement and/or aesthetic purposes).
One of the most famous grinders is Dave Asprey, the founder of Bulletproof, which manufactures the hugely popular Bulletproof coffee. Asprey does various forms of self-experimentations, from taking 150 supplements a day to injecting stem cells into his joints.
He also dabbles with cryotherapy (exposing yourself to the extreme cold) to boost metabolism, speed up muscle recovery, and relieve inflammation. It's all part of his ambitious plan to live to at least 180 years old.
4. DIY Gene Therapy
A newer trend in biohacking, DIY gene therapy involves altering your own genetic material using a technique called CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats). Originally, researchers use CRISPR to replace defective genes to treat and prevent health problems like sickle cell anemia.
In terms of biohacking though, professionals and amateurs use CRISPR to edit their own biology so they can optimize certain body features, like getting bigger muscles without having to go to the gym. (Whether this works or not remains to be seen.)
4 Benefits of Biohacking
It's amazing what biohacking can do for human beings. If you're keen to learn more about its benefits, read below.
1. Biohacking Is Often Backed by Science
Many forms of biohacking are well-rooted in scientific evidence with documented successes. For instance, you're probably aware of the benefits of meditation (which is a “biohack” of sorts). If you aren't, a recent meta-analysis published in The Journal of Work shows mindfulness meditation reduces stress, anxiety, depression, and pain, thereby improving your physical and mental well-being.
2. Biohacking May Treat and Prevent Health Problems
Popular biohacking concepts like caloric restriction have long been used to ward off age-related health problems.
According to The National Institute on Aging, a two-year CALERIE clinical trial shows the calorie-restriction group has lower risk factors for chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease than the control group. Besides that, calorie restriction also encourages weight loss, reduces inflammation, and is linked to a longer lifespan.
Given the ample health benefits of caloric restriction, it's no wonder that many biohackers practice intermittent fasting, a key concept in caloric restriction. As its name suggests, intermittent fasting means not eating or drinking for certain periods.
For instance, time-restricted feeding involves eating within a set period each day (usually 6-8 hours) while the 5:2 eating pattern refers to eating however you like for five consecutive days followed by two days of calorie restriction.
A 2015 study in The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics explains that in general, "Modified fasting regimens appear to promote weight loss and may improve metabolic health" with "a single fasting interval (ex., overnight)," improving metabolic biomarkers linked to chronic health problems.
In other words, some forms of biohacking may help create a healthier, longer life.
3. Biohacking Optimizes the Human Body's Performance
Biohacking is revered for optimizing your daily performance — most of the biohacking community liken it to self-improvement in terms of physical, mental, and emotional health.
- Natural nootropics: These cognitive-boosting substances are often derived from herb or food sources. Some examples include ashwagandha, coconut oil, and L-theanine (present in green tea). NeuroFactor™ Coffeeberry Extract is another all-natural nootropic extract that's been shown to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) by 143% after an hour. BDNF is a key peptide that supports memory, focus, and mental acuity for greater cognitive function.
- Synthetic nootropics: These are usually man-made in laboratories. An example is Cognizin®, which is CDP-choline (citicoline). As a patented form of choline (vitamin B), supplementing with this nootropic led to a two-fold increase in choline and uridine plasma levels. This, in turn, improved memory recall and interpretation abilities while supporting neuronal function and integrity.
If you're interested in mental performance-enhancing supplements, check out Transparent Labs MindSeries Nootropic Capsules. These are formulated with a scientifically proven blend of highly effective ingredients (Cognizin®, SerinAid®, and NeuroFactor™) for greater cognitive function and mental acuity.
4. Biohacking Is Widely Accessible
One thing to keep in mind is that biohacking is readily available everywhere. In fact, you may already be biohacking to some degree in your daily life. Common examples include taking a performance-enhancing supplement, cutting down on carbs, and using a wearable gadget to track your sleep patterns.
The more invasive forms of biohacking are also available to the masses. Take Josiah Zayner's company, The ODIN, which produces CRISPR DNA kits that allow virtually anyone to try DIY DNA-editing at home without visiting a lab.
Are There Any Risks in Biohacking?
Whether mild or extreme, should you really be attempting different forms of biohacking at home?
While biohacking has innumerable benefits for human beings, there are also risks involved. For example, some healthcare professionals caution intermittent fasting may be unsuitable for individuals who struggle with eating disorders.
The risks are further heightened for self-experimentations that involve injecting a foreign object into your body or attempting DNA gene editing. In fact, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently reported that two individuals contracted serious infections from fecal transplants in a clinical trial, one of whom died.
With that said, as long as you approach biohacking safely and responsibly, the benefits can outweigh the risks. The trick is to start small.
For instance, instead of using stem cell injections to promote muscle growth (which may not work), take a biohacking supplement before your workout, like the Transparent Labs PreSeries BULK Pre-Workout. It contains branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and beta-alanine that’s scientifically proven to boost protein synthesis for greater muscle gains.
Also, it's best to seek medical advice before biohacking, particularly when using a new dietary supplement or a new health treatment like cryotherapy. This way, you’ll get maximal gains with minimal risks.
Biohacking Your Way to a Better You
In a nutshell, biohacking isn't new to the general public. In fact, you're probably already biohacking in your own way. Still, understanding the different types of biohacking as well as the benefits can help you tweak your "hacks" for greater results.
However, you should proceed with caution, especially for irreversible forms of biohacking. It's always better to consult a healthcare professional before trying something new on your own body.