Biohacking may sound like the plot of a sci-fi movie, but it’s a holistic health approach that’s gaining steam in the green living community. The idea is that your body already has a lot of healing potential, but our modern lifestyle is inhibiting it. To achieve your best wellness, you must unlock that potential.
So, you “hack” your innate biology to overcome the effects of a toxic environment and stressful lifestyle. Rather than waiting for the world to change or relying on Western medicine’s symptoms treatment, you take charge of your health and wellness.
Curious to try biohacking? Read on to learn about the most popular techniques.
We like to say, “You are what you eat,” and it’s definitely true that nutritious, whole foods support your best health. However, everyone’s genes are different, and they affect how we respond to food. Nutrigenomics is the science of eating what best suits your nutritional profile.
The core concept is that certain nutrients empower your body to (a) ward off disease or prevent it from developing and (b) achieve optimal wellness. Plus, your genetic makeup shapes your unique nutritional needs.
“Hacking” comes into play when you choose foods with certain biochemicals. Here are some examples:
- Turmeric contains curcumin, a natural anti-inflammatory agent and antioxidant. It also triggers the expression of BDNF, a gene that makes a protein vital to neuron growth.
- Grapes, various dark berries, and cocoa offer resveratrol, which alters gene expression and therefore has antioxidant effects.
- Another potent antioxidant, genistein, may be found in fermented foods such as natto or tempeh.
Nutrigenomics also includes the science of “genomic health.” The more our DNA mutates, the more likely we are to develop disease. By consuming nutrients such as folate that protect genomes, we improve our overall wellness.
Our blood vessels naturally constrict in response to cold. This helps protect your vital organs by preserving your core temperature. However, many people are “hacking” this mechanism with cold therapy.
When the body’s core temperature drops, our cells’ powerhouses work harder to maintain homeostasis. Some research has indicated that this can burn more fat tissue, which holds our energy reserves.
Cold therapy also holds potential for pain relief and faster healing. After the blood vessels constrict, they expand as the body warms up. This stimulates the flow of oxygen and nutrients to sore or injured body parts.
You can try cold therapy by taking ice baths. Many spas and clinics also offer cryotherapy chambers that use liquid nitrogen (dry ice) to cool you down.
Our ancestors certainly didn’t have enough time — or food — to sit down and eat three square meals per day. So, our bodies adapted to keep us energized until the next time we ate. In modern life, though, we’re eating more than we can reasonably metabolize. This can also drain our energy as our bodies quickly convert carbohydrates to glucose if they’re not used right away. The resulting plunge in blood sugar levels creates the “afternoon slump” many of us feel.
Intermittent fasting is the practice of fasting for up to 24 hours, then resuming your regular meals. You alternate between fasting and eating. This approach triggers your body to draw upon fat reserves and release more Human Growth Hormone. Plus, it boosts your insulin sensitivity, which is crucial for preventing diabetes.
This “biohack” is really more of a return to basics. By allowing your body to optimize the fuel you give it, you reduce your risk of obesity, heart disease, and hormonal imbalance.
Under normal metabolism, your body relies on carbohydrates as a source of fuel. It converts them to glucose, which promotes ATP production in your cells.
However, that leaves room for excess glucose, which is stored as fat. And any fat you consume in food ends up sticking around, too.
Ketosis flips the metabolic switch from “carbs” to “fat,” using the latter to fuel your cells. The ketogenic (“keto”) diet pushes your body into ketosis. Many people have found that keto drastically improves weight loss and helps balance blood sugar levels. It also seems to provide neuroprotective effects, warding off Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. In fact, the ketogenic diet was developed as a way to treat epilepsy.
Ketogenic practices include:
Bulletproof coffee: This combination of coffee, butter, and a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil offers a low-carb, energy-boosting alternative to typical carb-heavy breakfasts that could cause a sugar crash. Your body converts the MCT oil (e.g. coconut oil) into ketones while the butter satiates your hunger.
Low- to no-carb diets: A ketogenic diet should consist of mostly fats, with moderate protein intake. Therefore, it’s usually very high in meat, dairy, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. Typical carbs (bread, noodles, etc.) are replaced with keto-friendly alternatives, such as lettuce wrappers or spiraled squash.
Similar to keto is the Paleolithic diet (“paleo”), which is meant to resemble our ancestors’ eating habits. The idea is that agriculture introduced our gut to grains and dairy, neither of which suited our genetics.
When you eat paleo, you avoid grains, legumes, sugar, and starchy root vegetables. Like keto, this reduces your overall carbohydrate intake. You make up the difference by consuming plenty of vegetables, meat, nuts, and seeds.
However, paleo does permit fruits and higher protein intake, unlike keto. Some people who eat paleo will consume “ancient grains” such as wild rice and quinoa.
In any case, the paleo diet promotes weight loss and improves insulin sensitivity. It also boosts your levels of omega-3s, which promote neurological health. Some studies indicate that paleo lowers blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels
You’ve likely noticed the effects of caffeine on your attention and cognition. In biohacking, caffeine is one of several popular nootropics you can use to modify your brain chemistry.
Nootropics is the art of consuming substances known to boost cognitive function in any of the following ways:
- balancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems
- stimulating blood flow to the brain
- increasing the brain’s levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine
- achieving an alpha brain-wave state
- reducing anxiety
Plenty of natural chemicals serve as nootropics, such as the energy-boosting L-theanine found in green tea or the kavalactones in kava. Indeed, nootropics and plant-based medicine go hand in hand.
Biohackers will often “stack” their desired stimulants or sedatives to improve their focus, attention, and mood. The key idea is to unlock your brain’s optimal pathways rather than taking synthetic pharmaceuticals.
Is getting a good night’s rest actually biohacking? Considering our society’s overly illuminated, fast-paced existence…yes, definitely. Tapping into your circadian rhythms and innate sleep cues can help you sleep better.
Sleep biohacking draws upon the science of sleep to help your body fully unwind and relax. Here are a few key principles to remember:
- Minimize blue-light exposure before bedtime. The light from screens and lamps mimics daylight, which triggers serotonin and makes us feel alert.
- Reduce lights before going to bed, then sleep in a dark room. Darkness promotes the release of melatonin, which signals the brain to shut off.
- Stick to a schedule. Our bodies prefer a regular routine, so aim to sleep and wake around the same times every day.
The better we sleep, the better our metabolism, healing, mood, and immunity. Quality sleep also provides neuroprotective benefits, reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s and other neurogenerative diseases.
Biohacking doesn’t mean turning yourself into a cyborg (although some people are attempting that!) Rather, it’s a matter of giving your body’s powerful systems a chance to work optimally. You’re promoting your overall wellness by nourishing your innate potential for healing, digestion, and immune defense.
Think of it as leveraging your invisible superpowers, simply by eating the right foods and altering your environment! It’s a way to reconnect ourselves to nature in an otherwise artificial world.
Which biohacking methods would you like to try?
This article is inspired by an interview with Brittany Ford, also known as Biohacking Brittany.