Staying alive is straightforward, but for a biohacker living simply isn’t enough.
Biohackers seek to enhance their lives by optimizing their bodies. They do this in the areas of lifestyle, nutrition, supplementation, and even philosophy.
Biohacking is a large topic. It’s something many people have devoted their entire lives towards exploring.
What is Biohacking?
Biohacking involves a series of techniques that aim to “hack” your own biology to perform optimally in any given area.
In the most basic sense, biohacking is the practice of human optimization. It’s conducted by individuals seeking to be the best versions of themselves.
Biohacking targets many areas of life. Its main focus, however, is on things like focus and memory, athletic ability, lifestyle habits, or longevity.
There are a lot of different techniques and ideas involved in biohacking, each with their own set of benefits.
Some of these concepts are fairly simple and straightforward. Examples include:
- Philosophical ideas like stoicism
- Social practices like gratitude
- Postural techniques
- Sleep optimisation
- Herbal and nutritional supplementation
Other areas within the biohacking industry can get more advanced. Some require more cutting-edge technology to perform.
A few examples of cutting-edge biohacking techniques include:
- Neurofeedback devices
- Hyperbaric chambers
- Intravenous nutrition
- Genetic Profiling
- Altitude simulation
- Body modification
The Fundamentals of Biohacking for Beginners
Biohacking takes a systems-thinking approach.
This means considering the effects on our body (the system) by first looking at the smaller parts that make up that system (our physiology).
A fundamental part of biohacking is understanding the way our physiology works. Once we understand how something works we can find ways to optimize it with greater precision.
There are biohacking concepts for everything from athletic performance to cognitive function.
Get to Know Your DNA with Genetic Profiling
Biohacking revolves around the idea that we can exert a level of control and optimization over the way our body functions. A good starting point for this is through DNA profiling.
This helps us achieve a baseline from which we can measure changes. Giving us a better understanding of our inherent strengths and weaknesses.
What Is Genetic Profiling?
Our genes are the blueprint for our bodily functions. Every protein, cell membrane, and hormone is designed in the cell from a recipe located in the gene. Think of it as a recipe book that we reference every time we need to build a protein or new cell.
The field of human genetics has advanced to a point where we can identify particular patterns in our DNA. This allows us to determine our genetic strengths and weaknesses.
For example, there are some gene combinations that determine how we metabolize fats or caffeine.
Others are useful for determining our risk of developing illnesses like:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Celiac Disease
- And many more
The whole idea behind genetic profiling is to determine which areas we should focus on in terms of health. We’re essentially hacking our own DNA by knowing its strengths and weaknesses. We can then perform activities that either minimize or complement these attributes.
Although genetic profiling isn’t required to begin biohacking, it will go a long way towards achieving true optimization of your body.
With companies like 23 & Me making DNA profiling simple and affordable, everybody has access to this useful technology. You simply order a kit, deposit the genetic sample (usually saliva) and mail it back. Their lab then tests the sample and will send you an email with a link to your genetic information online.
Hack Your Diet With Nutrition
Nutrition affects everything in the human body and therefore is an essential component of biohacking.
As mentioned in the previous point, we can use the results of genetic profiling to determine the strengths and weaknesses of our body. We do this so that we can optimize these attributes.
We’re essentially “hacking” our nutrition to meet the strengths and weaknesses of our DNA.
For example, there is a gene known as APOE that a lot of genetic testing companies look at. There are 3 possible variants of this gene that can determine our ability to process fats.
Depending on the APOE gene variant you have, it may be more beneficial to go on a high-fat diet than a high carb diet or vice versa.
Other findings may indicate a reduced ability to metabolize and absorb iron. This suggests that we adopt supplemental iron or iron-rich foods to our diet to boost this disadvantage.
The list goes on.
One of the major nutritional techniques biohackers are using is a process called ketosis. This is based off the fact that the majority of people (78%) have the APOE3 gene variant. This allows us to process fats more efficiently than other sources of energy .
The basic concept behind ketosis is to change the body’s primary source of fuel from sugar (glucose) to fats (ketones).
Ketones supply twice as much energy per gram than carbohydrates (37 to 17 kJ respectively). They also eliminate the ups and downs in energy levels that come with a glucose-based system.
When in ketosis, we experience more stable energy levels throughout the day. We’re then better able to manage or avoid our hunger and food cravings.
You can think of it like this: fat burns like coal, long and steadily for many hours. On the other hand, glucose is like jet fuel, it burns quickly and with a lot of energy. The downside is the energy produced from sugar doesn’t last long at all.
Ketosis Offers More Consistent Energy Levels
Ketosis is useful because it changes the way our body burns energy.
With glucose as our primary source of fuel, we experience large swings in energy levels.
Think about how you feel before a meal… weak and irritable. Once we’ve eaten we get a rush of energy for an hour or two, only to crash again a few hours later.
It’s like a rollercoaster ride of energy levels.
With ketosis, we begin burning fat as a primary source of fuel instead of glucose.
This allows us to maintain much more stable energy levels throughout the day and allows us to go longer between meals.
Ketosis Boosts Cognitive Function
Ketosis has also been shown to have a positive impact on cognitive function. It induces flow states and protects our brain from degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis [2, 3, 6, 8].
Ketosis Improves Athletic Performance
Athletes are hacking their diet with ketosis in order to perform longer and harder than ever before.
Part of the reason for this is the fact that ketosis doesn’t drain the bodies glycogen reserves. These reserves are used to supply energy to the body when blood glucose levels dip.
There are 2 problems with glycogen:
- It results in a buildup of lactic acid in the muscles, causing damage and fatigue faster and makes repair take longer between workouts.
- It has a relatively small fuel tank to draw from for energy, lasting roughly 90 minutes before reaching exhaustion.
Athletes that have switched over to ketosis are better able to avoid lactic acid buildup. They’ve also provided the body with access to a much larger fuel tank to support energy levels. This fuel tank is the fat stores of the body, which in healthy individuals can sustain exercise for many hours.
How Do We Achieve Ketosis?
Ketosis involves a change in dietary philosophy to favor fats and reduce the intake of carbohydrates and proteins. There are a lot of different preferences on the exact proportions of this diet, but a good starting point would be to consume:
- 75% fats
- 15% proteins
- 10% or fewer carbohydrates
For the first few days, our blood glucose levels will begin to lower. This causes our cells to produce hormones that give us cravings for sugar so that we can boost these blood sugar levels.
If we push through this uncomfortable stage, our cells begin to look for energy elsewhere. This is when our body begins to optimize itself for consuming ketones, which are readily available from the fat content in our body.
Fat stores will begin to break down into tiny molecules known as ketones. These ketones enter the blood and feed our mitochondria directly to produce the energy we need. Over time, our body begins to prefer this system and will use it as the primary source of fuel.
Inducing ketosis can take between 1 and 2 weeks and reaches its full effects after about 6 months of regular practice.
Supplements for Promoting Ketosis
There are a few supplements suggested for promoting ketosis within our bodies.
Some examples include:
- Exogenous ketones
- Fish oil
- MCT oil
- Vitamin D
One of the most popular supplements for promoting ketosis is Bulletproof coffee. This is simply a combination of a fat like butter or coconut oil, and caffeine (in the form of coffee).
The caffeine in the coffee stimulates the breakdown of fat into ketones. The fat content then provides a rich dietary fuel for the body to use immediately.
Bulletproof coffee can be used on a daily basis to “train” the body to begin the process of ketosis.
Body Hacking the Brain with Nootropics
One of the biggest goals biohackers have is to improve cognition.
With more efficient cognitive abilities, whether it’s memory, focus, clarity of thought, or mental stamina, better cognitive function provides a greater chance of making correct decisions in our lives… both large and small.
One of the most popular nootropics, Modafinil, makes for a good example. It was shown to improve visual pattern recognition, memory, spatial planning, and reaction time in a study involving 60 healthy males .
It’s easy to see the benefits these attributes can bring to anybody’s lifestyle.
Don’t feel convinced yet? Here’s what smoking can do to your health in the long run:
- Increasing acetylcholine levels in the brain
- Promoting a balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems
- Supplying nutritional precursors to various brain structures and neurotransmitters
- Improving blood flow to the brain
- Decreasing the rate of oxidative damage to the nerve cells
- Promoting Alpha-brain waves
Biohackers use various compounds to target one or more of these processes to optimize their cognitive function. Some of the key nootropics that biohackers are using includes:
- Alpha GPC
The easiest way to get your feet wet with nootropics is to experiment with a popular nootropic “stack” (formula). Some of the most popular and well-rounded nootropic stacks available include:
- Alpha Brain by Onnit labs
- Qualia by Neurohacker Collective
Good Posture, Sit Like You Mean It
Most people in the modern world spend the majority of their time sitting down.
Whether they’re sitting at their desk at work, or at home watching tv or surfing the web, the average person sits for about 10 hours per day.
Studies have consistently shown that sitting for this long can have deleterious consequences to our bodies over time .
Some of these consequences include:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Chronic pain
- Decline in athletic ability
What makes sitting so long so bad for us you ask? Well aside from the possibility that those sitting all day have a sedentary lifestyle, the major problem is poor posture.
Poor posture has a profound effect on our bodies over time. It causes the muscles to tighten, resulting with inflammation and eventually chronic pain. Poor posture can ultimately diminish our athletic potential.
The simple solution to this is to use biohacking techniques to strengthen your posture. The goal is to eliminate the chances of damaging your muscles and joints while you work.
How To Improve Posture While Sitting
One of the best ways to eliminate muscle tightness from sitting all day is to use a foam roller for 15-20 minutes each day. These rollers work by massaging your muscles to relieve tension. It allows them to return to their normal state and avoids chronic tension. This results in a more positive outcome on the health concerns associated with it.
Another method for maintaining a good posture is to focus on engaging your abs about 20-30% while you sit. This pulls your spine into alignment by flexing your hips forward and your neck up.
It’s important to combine this with proper neck alignment. Avoid looking down at your computer by positioning your monitor at eye level. You should be looking straight forward with your neck in a neutral position. Imagine someone is pulling up on your head from the top.
The whole idea behind developing a good posture is to avoid the negative effects sitting has on our bodies throughout the day. As with many biohacking techniques, this needs to be done regularly for best results.
Try setting a timer on your watch or computer to remind you every 90 minutes or so to focus on your posture. Over time this will become a regular habit and you’ll be able to maintain a good posture all day long.
Hack Your Decision Making With Meditation
The human brain has evolved around our ability to form emotional responses to things in our environment. This allows us to fear things that are dangerous, love things that benefit us.
The problem with this emotional response is that it often clouds our judgment and fogs the most logical decisions for a given problem.
Ideally, we would have the ability to endure emotional reactions and respond to a situation using logic. Meditation helps us achieve this because it allows us to take notice and observe our emotions and our thoughts.
Being aware of these emotions helps us to identify them when they appear. It gives us the ability to look past them to see the solution to our problem with more clarity.
We begin to stop making rash, unhelpful decisions and maintain a calm focus. It allows us to find ways to navigate even the toughest problems with as little collateral damage as possible.
Getting Started With Meditation
Depending on where you look you’ll find articles or meditation gurus promoting their own form of meditation. A lot of them even go as far as saying that their methods are the best.
The fact of the matter is that meditation is simple. The specific details of the rituals done before or after a meditation session don’t actually matter. What does matter, however, is the repetition.
The whole point of meditation is to take control of your parasympathetic nervous system. This can be achieved through controlled breathing. Once this happens, our mind starts to feel blank and tranquil. It’s in this state that we begin to observe our thoughts and emotions in the third person.
Some Research On Meditation
Studies on meditation have been done all over the world. One of the most significant in recent years was some of the research done by Dr. Richard Gevirtz .
This research looked at a large group of meditation experts like yogis and monks from all over the world. It measured their vital signs during the process to identify any changes in the nervous system.
What Dr. Richard Gevirtz and his team found was that no matter what rituals came along with the meditation, the outcome was always the same.
What all of his test subjects had in common was regular, controlled, slow breathing.
He used special heart sensors to measure the heart rate variability of these subjects. This measurement is used as a metric for sympathetic vs parasympathetic nervous system control.
What he found was that all of his subjects that were able to reach a state of meditation were able to exert controlling influence over this system.
It’s easy to forget that humans came from the wild just like every other animal on earth.
We hide behind our technology and forget to acknowledge the biological underpinnings that evolved to keep us healthy.
Daniel Vitalis from the Rewild Yourself Podcast is very outspoken about this topic. He believes this to be one of the reasons humanity has become so plagued with chronic illness. Daniel suggests the solution to this problem is by taking measures to “rewild ourselves”.
This essentially involves resetting ourselves periodically by reinvigorating our wild nature.
Some of the ideas biohackers are using to support this idea include:
Eat Real, Living Foods
Unlike plants, our biology evolved to allow us to eat other forms of life. Whether this is a freshly killed gazelle or a lump of kelp, our bodies require organic tissue to obtain our nutrients.
Breath Air From Nature
Humans evolved breathing freshly recycled air from the forests and grasslands around us. In modern times we consume substantially more volatile chemicals in our air. Everything from air fresheners, to petroleum byproducts like hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide.
Expose Yourself to Sunlight
Sunlight is the original nutritional supplement.
Researchers have recently discovered that our early evolutionary predecessors in the world’s oceans have been producing vitamin D from sun exposure for over 500 million years .
Humans still rely on sunlight for vitamin D production. This vitamin acts a lot like a hormone, helping us regulate our blood pressure and calcium levels.
It only takes as little as 6-15 minutes of sun exposure each day to reach our daily vitamin D requirements. Try going spending some time outside on your next lunch break to soak up some of that vitamin sunshine.
Hack with Natural Supplements & Herbs
The whole purpose of biohacking is to optimize the functionality of the human body. This often involves making slight adjustments or tweaks to a certain part of our physiology.
There is nothing better at making these “tweaks” or adjustments as herbs and supplements.
Anybody familiar with Aristotle is aware that his definition of virtue is a mean between extremes.
This can be applied to biohacking as well. Consider the fact that optimal health is a balance between extremes. It’s the middle ground between excess and deficiency.
For example, liver metabolism can be excessive, causing issues with cholesterol or fat metabolism. Deficient liver processes can also result in issues like anemia and metabolic buildup.
Biohacking aims to acknowledge these changes while they are subtle. Using herbs and supplements we can push it closer to the median where the best health of that organ is. This is what biohacking is at its core.
How to Use Herbs And Supplements For Biohacking
The world of herbs and supplements is very large and can be difficult to navigate. What most biohackers do is determine where their weaknesses lie. Then they determine whether they tend to fall into a state of either deficiency or excess.
It’s from these observations that a biohacker can determine the best herbs and supplements to keep on hand. These herbs are used to exert subtle changes in physiology to maintain this median.
One of the main areas of interest in terms of herbs for biohacking is a class known as adaptogens. This class of substances is unique in that they can improve the body’s overall ability to defend against stress.
More on adaptogens in number 6.
Some Herbs Commonly Used by Biohackers
One of the most common issues in the modern world is insufficient sleep and high stress. It affects how we think and behave, and hinders our ability to perform our best. Kratom is the biohackers tool for getting a better night’s sleep and reducing the negative effects on stress.
The leaves of the kratom tree found growing in Indonesia, have anxiolytic, relaxant, and mild sedative effects. It’s used in the biohacker community for stress-related conditions and to help us relax.
Marijuana is an incredibly useful plant for the biohacker. Each leaf contains a slurry of chemicals known as cannabinoids each with its own set of benefits.
CBD, for example, one of the most abundant cannabinoids in the plant, works off the body’s internal endocannabinoid system. This system has been found to be an important regulator of the brain, immune, and endocrine systems .
This allows CBD to offer modulating effects on the system in a similar way adaptogens do on our stress response.
Kava is one of the best herbal supplements available for performing under pressure. It’s used as a supplement before stressful meetings, public speaking events, or other stressful work or life events.
The muscle relaxant activity of kava works well in combination with its other effects. Kava is also neuroprotective, anxiolytic, and mildly nootropic. Together this helps us maintain a clear, calm focus.
As a biohacker, the goal is to perform optimally. This is why many biohackers choose to keep this herbal supplement nearby when they need to perform in high-pressure scenarios.
Showing gratitude is one of the most underrated practices in the modern world.
Think about it, most of the things that stand out in our day are the negative ones. People that were rude to us, coffee that wasn’t made properly, the meal that took too long to arrive. These are all common complaints that virtually all of us are guilty of.
We carry these feelings of negativity into other areas of our life, allowing them to affect the outcome of our successes both large and small.
Consider a time when you may have showed up to work feeling pretty good, only to run into a colleague who had nothing but complaints about their day. This mood tends to be contagious, causing us to feel upset and unmotivated to perform.
By culturing gratitude this is no longer the case. It gives us the tools to avoid these negative mindsets and allows us to optimize our efforts by keeping our motivations high.
The idea behind practicing gratitude is to cultivate a general state of appreciation. This allows us to default our thought process to a positive one rather than a negative one.
A gratitude journal is a fast and simple technique to remind yourself on a regular basis to show gratitude.
When we write things down we allow them to become tangible. It allows us to form a routine of positive thinking.
Getting started is easy. You can download apps like Grateful or 365 Gratitude Journal for an all-in-one app. You can also purchase a notebook with pre-made gratitude prompts like the Dailygreatness Journal. Another simple method is to start your own in a blank notebook.
In order to do this, simply set aside 5 minutes per day, either in the morning, at lunch, or before bed, and write down 3 to 5 things you were grateful for that day. That’s it!
Stoicism is a philosophical concept. It promotes a physical and emotional endurance of pain or hardship without feelings of discomfort. It involves the idea that all feelings of discomfort, including stress, are only present in the mind of the beholder.
When something happens that causes us discomfort, stoicism offers an explanation. It suggests that it’s our mind’s perception of the problem that allows it to feel that way, not the situation itself.
Stoics take this into practice by actively depriving themselves of pleasures from time to time to remind them not to be taken for granted. Sleeping on the floor one night without a blanket will certainly remind you how much you appreciate your warm bed.
Become Resistant to Stress with Controlled Stress Exposure
In order to tackle this concept, it’s important to define exactly what stress is.
What is Stress?
Stress is any force that pushes our bodies’ carefully balanced systems out of balance. In most cases, we can respond and resist this stress in order to keep homeostasis (balance) within our bodies.
For example, a sudden change in temperature causes our bodies to shift in order to maintain the 37C internal temperature.
This would be considered a form of stress.
In most cases, our body is able to manage this stress and resist it.
Our body responds to stress by:
- Dilating our blood vessels to bring warm blood to the surface of the skin.
- Increasing the heart rate to accommodate the extra force needed to move blood into the capillaries.
- Increasing our metabolism to generate more energy in the form of glucose.
It‘s when we can no longer maintain resistance to this stress that our body begins to shut down. Heat stroke and hypothermia are the results of this form of stress when we are no longer able to maintain resistance.
- Changes in the environment (temperature, humidity)
- Emotional reactions (sad, angry, frustrated, etc)
- Physical exertion (exercise)
- Trauma (accidents, animal attacks, etc)
- Biochemical stress (toxin intake, medication side effects, metabolic toxins)
How Biohackers Increase Their Stress Resistance
Increasing stress resistance isn’t as complicated as it sounds. It basically means that your body has the ability to respond to changes in the environment faster and to a greater degree. It means that you can endure both physical and emotional stress for longer. As well as avoid the deleterious effects stress has on the body more effectively.
One of the main principles to consider in terms of improving our stress resistance is the concept of hormesis or “mild stress simulation”.
What is Stress?
This is an older technique stemming from a number of different, unrelated cultures all over the world.
The idea that anything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger could be applied to this example.
Hormesis involves low-dose, frequent exposure to chemical or environmental stresses. This exposure triggers the body’s adaptive response system. Triggering this system with low doses leads to increased resistance over time .
This sounds complicated but in reality, it is quite simple.
A good example of hormesis is exercise. When we exercise we put our body through a stressful situation causing microscopic tearing of our muscle fibers. Our body then responds by building these muscles up stronger to avoid damage the next time. Once healed, we repeat the process, eventually becoming stronger than we started.
Hormesis can be applied like this to other systems as well including:
- The Brain through the use of Heat Shock Proteins (HSP) involving hot or cold therapies .
- Our homeostasis regulatory center (HPA axis) with the use of adaptogenic herbs and substances.
- Metabolism through the use of restriction diets like the ketogenic diet.
It’s easy to see why the concept of biohacking has taken off so much in recent years. This is especially true with the current rate of development in the field of biological sciences. With so much new and useful information on the human body, we’re finding more ways to optimise it and control it to suit our needs much better.
Biohacking isn’t a small topic, and there are in fact huge communities of people around the world dedicated to this new and upcoming field.
- Hallman, D. M., Boerwinkle, E., Saha, N., Sandholzer, C., Menzel, H. J., Csazar, A., & Utermann, G. (1991). The apolipoprotein E polymorphism: a comparison of allele frequencies and effects in nine populations. American journal of human genetics, 49(2), 338.
- Xu, K., Sun, X., Eroku, B. O., Tsipis, C. P., Puchowicz, M. A., & LaManna, J. C. (2010). Diet-induced ketosis improves cognitive performance in aged rats. In Oxygen Transport to Tissue XXXI (pp. 71-75). Springer, Boston, MA.
- Davidson, T. L., Hargrave, S. L., Swithers, S. E., Sample, C. H., Fu, X., Kinzig, K. P., & Zheng, W. (2013). Inter-relationships among diet, obesity and hippocampal-dependent cognitive function. Neuroscience, 253, 110-122.
- Mattson, M. P. (2008). Hormesis defined. Ageing research reviews, 7(1), 1-7.
- Dattilo, S., Mancuso, C., Koverech, G., Di Mauro, P., Ontario, M. L., Petralia, C. C., … & Calabrese, V. (2015). Heat shock proteins and hormesis in the diagnosis and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. Immunity & Ageing, 12(1), 20.
- Murray, A. J., Knight, N. S., Cole, M. A., Cochlin, L. E., Carter, E., Tchabanenko, K., … & Deacon, R. M. (2016). Novel ketone diet enhances physical and cognitive performance. The FASEB Journal, 30(12), 4021-4032.
- Lehrer, P. M., & Gevirtz, R. (2014). Heart rate variability biofeedback: how and why does it work?. Frontiers in psychology, 5, 756.
- Storoni, M., & Plant, G. T. (2015). The therapeutic potential of the ketogenic diet in treating progressive multiple sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis international, 2015.
- Turner, D. C., Robbins, T. W., Clark, L., Aron, A. R., Dowson, J., & Sahakian, B. J. (2003). Cognitive enhancing effects of modafinil in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology, 165(3), 260-269.
- Holick, M. F. (2004). Sunlight and vitamin D for bone health and prevention of autoimmune diseases, cancers, and cardiovascular disease. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 80(6), 1678S-1688S.
- Komorowski, J., & Stepień, H. (2007). The role of the endocannabinoid system in the regulation of endocrine function and in the control of energy balance in humans. Postępy Higieny I Medycyny Doświadczalnej (Online), 61, 99-105.