Biohacking is optimising and improving health with nutrition, health technology, biological tools, and natural tools. In addition, biohacker aims to understand their own biology with self-testing, tracking and measuring. In other words, biohacker check their health data (for example sleep quantity), make health interventions (fe. meditating every evening) and then track their health again to see if they changed (did the sleep quantity systematically increase on those days when they meditated). If you did all this, and you were able to change your sleep quality, you just biohacked. This can be applied to any biological system; improving vitamin levels by diet, changing muscle composition by exercise, changing the brain strucgture or function by meditation, or improving immunity by red light treatment.
During recent years, biohacking has become easier. Almost all of us carry some sort of fitness tracker; heart rate monitor, pedometer, or sleep detector. Even if they are not on us (wearables), it is already a norm to measure health values such as weight and blood pressure at home. Increasingly popular are also gene-tests, sleep tracking, vitamin- and ketone-monitoring and brain wave monitoring at home. For every one of us, these devices bring a fascinating potential for introspection and self-knowledge and the ability to design intelligent individual health interventions that can be monitored by the user itself. No wonder, biohacking is getting increasingly popular, an and the international community is growing.
In this article, I write about how does biohacking work, why it is good for you and what kinds of biohacks are currently popular.
How does biohacking work?
Biohacking is optimizing and improving health with lifestyle choices and health tracking. Whether you are aware, you have probably already done some biohacking. If you have tried to improve your health (for example lose weight) with a systematic health intervention (fe. taking 10 000 steps for 2 weeks), and measured a change, you have done biohacking. We have basically done this ever since we were children just by going to doctors and having our basic health values measured. Only now we can do it at home – individually and effectively with health tech and biological measures.
Biohackers systematically modify and improve their body and mind and see what sort of practices creates a healthy life with optimal concentration, mood, and rest. All this can end up to better job performance, enhanced levels of wellbeing and increased longevity. The knowledge for this comes from scientific research but also a deep understanding of your own biology.
Why is biohacking good?
The human body is built out of systems; hormone system, immune system, cardiovascular system and so on. You are able to alter the states of those systems with your lifestyle; it can be a short-term rapid change or a long-term change. A short-term change would be drinking a cup of coffee which increases the heart rate and make the body secret noradrenaline and increase blood pressure. This hack would be appropriate before going to the gym to get more energy and power to your training. A long-term improvement is, for example, a course or red light treatment which can increase the number of mitochondria in your cells and lead long-time improvements in energy production in the body.
Your body and behavior change all the time based on how you live your life; what you eat determines the building blocks you have to build muscles, hormones, and nerves. The light input from the environment alters your brain hormone levels. Your habits, like meditation, can quiet down the sparkling cascade of nerve cell firing and improve the neuronal connections in the brain. Even social input, like your best friend smiling at you, alter your biology. Biohackers want to understand these signals, these inputs, and to use that knowledge to optimize their lifestyle to systemically improve their health.
Biohacking is based on systems thinking and feedback loops which you can use intelligently to alter your biology and mental functioning.
Biohacking & health technology (Quantified self)
Biohacking is combined with quantified self – gathering data of your biology. The idea is that you test yourself, make a lifestyle change and test yourself again and compare those scores. In a research trial, you would be the experimenter, test group and control group (n=1).
Biohacking or quantified self in this sense is very different from looking at large scale scientific studies. The normal research is based on large groups and averages and doesn’t have the power to understand people at the individual level. However, every individual is different and there are individual optimal in health as well. That is why biohackers rely the data derived from themselves personally.
What do biohackers measure?
Biohackers can measure all the things that current technology allows us to measure inside and outside of the body.
Chris Dancy is cited as the most connected man on earth. At one point in his life, he utilized 700 sensors, devices, and applications to track, analyze and optimize his life; tracking everything from calorie intake and social media usage to spiritual well-being allowed him to discover highly valuable invisible data about himself and his life. By using this knowledge, he gained dramatic improvements in his health, productivity, and life quality.
Mr. Dancy is still an exception and represents the extreme in biohacking. However, he is a good example of what quantified self can potentially be and how much knowledge one person can gain from his biological and mental system.
Most typical biohacker measures what they want to work on. For example; if your target is to improve the recovery, you might choose to track HRV; if you target is improve your sleep, you can use Oura sleep tracker, or if your target is the strength, you can track how much weight you can lift.
This graph shows what a typical audience of the biohacking event Biohacker Summit, the official Biohacking conference, measures.
Measuring is a fun and a highly effective way to increase self-knowledge and basically, the only way to actually know if something is working, because the mind can be deceptive and solely rely on don’t give us accurate estimates – we are sensitive to placebo effects, nocebo effects, and confirmation biases. Using an external tracker gives you more reliable information and helps you avoid biases or self-deception.
The goal of biohacking is to find long-term improvements to health in contrast to the “quick fixes” like short-term dieting, short courses of medication and quick solutions for more energy (like coffee in the treatment of fatigue). The short-term solutions can intelligently be applied to certain situations when you have learned how your body responds to different interventions but the ultimate idea is to change the long-lasting traits and create positive growth – constantly creating new baselines in health. The after the state of a “biohack intervention” will be the starting point of the next improvement. Health can be improved in an upward spiral and biohacking will help you achieve this growth instead of bouncing back to where you already were.
How to start biohacking?
A good way to start biohacking is gaining some knowledge by reading and understanding the potential of health technology and variety of biohacks so you can create personal goals in biohacking. Biohacker’s handbook is at the moment the most comprehensive source about biohacking.
I mentioned at the beginning of the post that biohackers optimize health with biological, technological and natural tools. Here I wanted to list some of the most popular biohacks at the moment that can significantly improve your health:
- Supplementing and nootropics
- Nutrition and diets (fe. ketogenic diet)
- Light (fe. blue light blocking, low-level laser therapy (red light))
- Forest bathing
- Optimizing work ergonomics
- Low-level vibration
- Hyperbaric oxygen therapy
- Herbal treatments
This post was about biohacking. I hope you enjoyed and got inspired. Do you already biohack? If you do, what are your favorite hacks? Tell me in the comments
With love and appreciation,