It's an increasingly trendy term, particularly among emerging health and lifestyle gurus in America, but it's also controversial. At one end of the spectrum, biohacking refers to extreme scientific intervention and gene editing, at the other end it's a term for diet and wellness 'hacks' that can improve your health and wellbeing. We explain biohacking, what it means, and simple 'biohacks' you may be doing without even knowing it.
What is Biohacking?
Biohacking is when an individual makes small but relevant changes to their diet or lifestyle to achieve a specific goal related to wellbeing, and is generally related to weight loss, brain function or longevity of life. When biohacking, you must be cautious to only do what works for your body. There are 3 main methods of biohacking - Nutrigenomics, DIY biology and Grinder.
Nutrigenomics is focused on how your diet relates and interacts with your genes. This is often accompanied by a genetics test, and the analysis of the genes and pathways in your body that need supporting.
Using nutrigenomics, you may decrease the risk of developing a disease you are genetically predisposed to, as well as optimising your biological function, including your overall health and wellbeing.
CRISPR is an extreme and controversial form of biohacking, where scientists use technology to target and edit genes ('gene editing'). In a controlled, scientific and regulated environment, CRISPR could have the potential to transform medicine, enabling the treatment and prevention of many diseases. However the growth of do-it-yourself CRISPR therapies has been such that California passed the first law targeting biohacking and sales of CRSPR gene therapy kits.
You do need to look at other factors however to achieve your full potential with supporting genes. These factors include lifestyle, stress and emotional support or therapy if needed.
This is usually used by individuals who have experience in a particular scientific field. These individuals usually share knowledge and advice on how specific changes and interventions can make a difference to people who are not an expert in the field. It can be risky however, as you are putting your health in the forefront of experiments, which is not something for everyone!
Grinder is where the body is seen as 'hack-able' and modifiable by using gadgets, injections, implants and other ways to adapt the body as each individual desires. For example, it could be an older person receiving blood from a young person, or someone embedding a microchip in their arm (think Jason Bourne). This can be risky business and doesn't always have a guarantee of working, it could do more harm than good or in some cases be fatal!
We would always advise consulting your doctor before injecting anything into your body, or using gadgets or implants, and making sure there are high-quality, long-term safety studies available, and of course ensuring your doctor is happy for you to go ahead.
These methods of biohacking may modify disease risk or alter certain chemical pathways in the body to get the desired result, but they all carry risks. Although you can influence the expression of genes by biohacking, you can’t actually change your genes. Therefore, whatever method might work for you would need commitment rather than be a one-off treatment.
Simple biohacking methods
While biohacking can in some cases refer to extreme treatments, it also includes making simple changes to your diet or lifestyle to achieve a desired result, and there are lots of simple methods for biohacking, including 'diet hacks' and 'wellness hacks', which everyone can do that are safe and can be very effective.
Don't wait for symptoms before you test
Something as simple has having regular blood tests for nutrition analysis, even when you are perfectly well, is one method. Keeping track of the exact nutrient profile and toxic elements in your body, and keeping them exactly where they should be, is a great way to help your body function well. Monitoring your poo is another example - learn more in 'What does your poo say about your health'.
Tracking your sleep
Using a sleep tracking device or an app on your phone is an easy way to analyse your sleeping habits and finding ways to correct disturbed sleep. This could involve taking sleep supplements before bed, limiting electronic devices for 30 minutes before bed to increase the production of serotonin, and trying to follow the same routine each night that you know gives you better sleep.
You may enjoy the results of our research and the causes of bad sleep in 'The Sleep Problem'.
Yoga and meditation
Yoga and meditation can re-wire the brain to cope with stressful situations better. Over time, they reduce the level of cortisol, the stress hormone your body produces and helps you to keep a cool head in stressful situations.
Learn more in 'What is cortisol?'.
Spend time in nature
Plants and trees release chemicals called 'phytocides' to help protect them from rotting. When we inhale these phytocides, they reduce the level of cortisol in the body and increase the function of the immune system. Moving your exercise sessions to the woods is an excellent bio hack!
The keto diet keeps carbohydrates to a minimum (it can vary from person to person), and protein levels are kept in check too. The idea is that the body switches to making energy from fat and not carbohydrates. The body produces a substance called 'ketone bodies', hence the name ‘keto’. This method is used a lot for fat loss and by body sculptors to reduce body-fat percentage to the minimum.
This is where your diet is normal for 5 days of the week, and the other 2 days of the week you only consume 25% of your normal calorie intake. The 5-2 diet doesn't exclude any food groups yet it is still extensively used for weight loss.
Elimination diets and food diaries can be used to identify any foods which may cause you to become unwell, tired, irritable, sluggish or worsen any other health problem.
The most common allergens should be removed including wheat, gluten, nuts, lupin, soya and if vegetarian, eggs and dairy. On an elimination diet, these should be completely removed for 10 days. These foods are then added back in one at a time (one every four days) to check for a reaction. Some reactions may take up to 3 days to occur.
Best supplements for biohackers
Biohacking is generally related to weight loss, brain function or longevity of life, and there are some very effective supplements used by biohackers - and anyone not biohacking - to support these functions.
Magnesium is a great biohacking supplement, aiding relaxation and sleep. Magnesium is required for the production of 'GABA' which is a calming neurotransmitter, promoting relaxation of the body and mind.
Magnesium is also needed for the production of the sleep hormone 'melatonin' which promotes the onset of sleep. Magnesium has also been shown to improve sleep quality and reducing the frequency of night time waking.
Probiotics affect nearly every aspect of health - learn more in 'What are probiotics?'. They are on nearly every surface of the body, and they influence biological function including but not limited to:
- the function of the immune system
- digestive function & enzyme production
- brain function & cognition
- sleep quality
- skin health
- urinary health
- liver function
- cholesterol levels & heart health
- eye health
- dental health
- pregnancy health
- nutrient metabolism and utilisation
- thyroid function & energy production
- as well as many more roles within the body!
You may enjoy our nutritionists blog 'Best probiotics for IBS'.
B Vitamins go a long way in biohacking your body. They are vital for the proper functioning of many aspects of health including:
- brain function & cognition
- energy & metabolism
- thyroid function
- skin health
- immune system function
- blood health and blood cell formation
- proper sleep
- normal moods
- heart & cardiovascular health
- hormone balance.
Discover our range of vegan probiotics, vitamins and supplements.
Want to hear more expert tips and advice from our nutritionists? Sign up to our newsletter: