Have you ever wondered if you could perform at your best every day? As if, instead of being a regular amateur athlete, you could be an Olympic contender? Well, of course, being an Olympic athlete is an analogy. But we can be our best selves with a bit of help; with a bit of hacking, if you will. Today we will explore what Biohacking is.
Biohacking, as the name suggests, is the idea of exploiting (aka: hacking) our biology for our own (individual) gain through non-standard means. The extent to which this is done leads us to two major and different kinds of biohacking. The first is “simple” biohacking and the second is the (complicated) DIY-biohacking. The latter definition of biohacking is outside of the scope of this blog post. Nonetheless, to kill your curiosity, DIY-biohacking exploits the merge between humans and technology. And this implies implanting devices in your body, such as thermometers, LEDs, and other technologies . So, with that out of the way, we can focus on just “biohacking”.
Biohacking Is Not Something Recent
So, what is this thing called “biohacking” and is it something recent? Well, we humans have been “biohacking” for many many years; but we just never called it by this name. Remember, that the main idea is that we are exploiting our biology. Anything that we can do that changes our biology from its habitual state can be considered biohacking. Let us explore a few examples to clarify this idea. Biohacking can perhaps be divided into two groups: using drugs and not using drugs; considering drugs as pharmaceuticals.
Indeed, the use of drugs is an example of how humans have been using biohacking for millennia. Nowadays, we can easily find someone saying they drink coffee to boost concentration (the drug is caffeine). But we can also find someone saying they drink vodka to deal with stress (the drug is ethanol); or enjoy a calming herbal infusion to induce sleep. We also have more common examples, such as the use of painkillers to help us hack our pain.
Interestingly, as science advances, we now uncover that ancient practices (i.e. opium being used to help with insomnia) are now known to do exactly the opposite as it disturbs sleep. And that is the interesting thing with biohacking. It keeps evolving as more information is learned.
As you can see, biohacking is ultimately trying to modify our biology to change how we feel; but with a certain goal in mind. Fortunately, over the years these goals have expanded. And now we (as a society) are looking to increase our healthspan and lifespan. Who does not want to live healthier for longer, right?
This is where the new biohacking technologies (or the second group of ways to do biohacking) come into play. In this group, drugs/chemicals are not used. There are different approaches. Some take advantage of vibration states. While others take advantage of simple exposure to cold.
Below are some examples:
- Nutrigenomics: is the study of the impact of diet on gene expression and genome integrity. You know the idea: “we are what we eat”, and eating food that is not healthy increases our risk for diseases like obesity. In the long term, a poor diet increases the risk of age-associated diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease. Which could, for example, possibly be prevented with a diet rich in polyphenols compounds (fruits are rich in those)
- Cryotherapy: as the name indicates, it is a therapy based on the application of cold. We all know the classic hacking of applying a frozen bag of peas after an injury, right? So, you already know what this is for: to reduce pain associated with injury, or exercise. According to science, the sooner we apply the cold, the better; but we kind of knew that from experience. Clinical applications of cryotherapy are suggested to work to lower inflammation in the body. And, in particular, as a treatment for inflammatory rheumatic diseases.
- PEMFs: or Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields (aka: low field magnetic stimulation) Apply an electromagnetic field to a specific region of the body (or the whole body) to help with pain relief. Laboratory studies in mice show that this therapy can help reduce inflammation in the context of brain ischemia (aka: stroke). And a study using human cells suggests that it can also promote bone healing; which can open doors for future clinical application.
- Hyperbaric Chambers: also known as Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (aka: HBOT), are chambers that have 100 percent oxygen and use different air pressures compared to the outside. The basis of this therapy is that more oxygen reaches the cells; and thus reduces the effects from low oxygen exposure (aka: hypoxia), after a stroke, for example. HBOT has also been used to improve immunity, increase athletic performance, and even as part of anti-aging routines.Traditional health systems take a bit longer to adopt new health technology. And that is why these examples are not mainstream. However, as evidence starts piling up, we believe that they will not only become present in healthcare centers; but also revolutionize how healthcare is provided.
Beware of the Hype.
These are just a few examples of a much larger and exciting industry. However, it is important that we don’t get carried away. There is a lot of biohacking fanfare. And with that, a lot of snake oil is being sold. In other words, we should pay attention to what the scientific evidence shows and suggests about these emergent technologies;and foremost, what is safe to use. Especially because biohacking can be used for good or for bad. For example, we might appreciate anesthesia so we don’t feel pain during surgery.The good side is that it can save our lives. However, we also might want to get drunk for fun, but that’s bad in the long term and it can ruin our lives. As you can see, there is ambiguity in the term biohacking; and even its use can be subjective. Thus, it’s crucial to rethink biohacking.
So, what do we propose?
If we look at the concept of hacking, it makes sense that the system is exploited. right? Most of the time an action is only possible when we know that system very well. In the case of our bodies, we have two sources of knowledge: from the outside, which comes from science and medicine (for example, biomarkers), and from the inside which comes from our feelings and well-being. To truly hack our own bodies, we need to have objective information. Unfortunately, our mind can play tricks on us and we can quickly lose grasp of things. What does this mean? It means that our feelings and perceptions are not the most reliable source of information because we tend to forget details. For example, do you remember how you slept two weeks ago? My guess is that you don’t. The good news is that with the help of activity trackers, we can have the information (aka: data) that we need to make better decisions (to biohack). In this example, with our sleep.
Knowing more about our bodies is a step in the right direction to living healthier lives. If you knew that you are actually sleeping poorly, you would try to fix that. right? You can act and hack your sleep by changing your sleeping habits. A simple example could be going to bed earlier and waking up earlier. By doing so, you are hacking your body to follow a more natural circadian rhythm that is very important and beneficial for your health. Yet, it is often neglected due to our agitated lives. And the most important thing is that you can then objectively measure if your intervention was beneficial or not.
Of course, the search for information does not stop at activity trackers. Activity trackers are a new, modern way to gain constant information about our bodies and physical activity that allows us to make better decisions. But we can go deeper and do saliva, hair, stool, and blood analyses regularly to get information about other important factors; such as inflammation markers, epigenetic aging, micronutrient profiles, and toxins.
The more information we have about our bodies at a given point, the better. Because this will allow us to take a holistic approach based on objective data. The relevance of this becomes clear when you consider the possible side-effects of only biohacking a specific system; without considering the damaging effects it can have on another. For example, a bodybuilder may be using gigantic doses of hormones to grow his muscles; while not realizing that he may be speeding up his aging and predisposing himself to certain diseases.
Therefore, we should seek information from qualified professionals. And be aware that in biohacking, the goal is to have a data-centric holistic approach to safely optimize our bodies and our lives.
In conclusion, biohacking is a rapidly evolving field that offers individuals the opportunity to take control of their health and well-being through a personalized and science-based approach.
What can you do to start biohacking? Well, simple lifestyle changes can be enough (for example, quitting smoking, exercising, and eating healthy).ut there are also cutting-edge technologies and a wealth of tools and techniques for improving physical and mental health.
However, it is important to approach biohacking with caution. Never forget to always seek guidance from qualified professionals to get adequate information. And don’t be shy to ask questions.
The future of biohacking holds great promise and the potential to revolutionize healthcare as we know it. And the world is only scratching the surface of what is possible.
If you want to learn more about this topic, please check this week’s video lecture. Click the button below to watch it.
And, if you are interested in starting your biohacking journey, there is no better place than BIOHAX.
If you want to learn more about this topic, and even learn about other therapeutic tools we use at BIOHAX to address these issues, click the button below to check this week’s video lecture.
Marcos de Andrade MD, MBA
Chief Executive Officer