Perhaps you haven’t heard the term “biohacking” before. After all, the peculiar word is a seemingly random product of two other words that were essentially pressed together, biology and hacking. Yet even if the phrase is foreign to you, chances are you’ve encountered the concept of biohacking somewhere in your everyday life.
For instance, the intermittent fasting craze that’s slowly swept the nation is a form of biohacking. So too is cryotherapy, a technique in which the body is exposed to extreme temperatures for several minutes at a time to aid in the healing of tissue lesions. While the term “biohacking” may be unfamiliar, most of us have stumbled upon some form of it in our day to day lives.
But biohacking is a loaded concept in and of itself. Some forms of biohacking are safe and simple measures we can take to improve our regular routines, while others are risky and even dangerous behaviors that can lead to serious health problems. With that in mind, it pays to answer some rather important questions regarding this trending, cultural movement. Let’s get down to the details.
What Is Biohacking?
Biohacking is a broad and unstructured term used to define any action taken to improve your overall health — from the foods you eat to the way you sleep and beyond. It’s a means of taking control of your own biology. Biohacking can include the use of technology, tools, data, and the scientific method to become the very best version of yourself.
Those that choose to biohack come from assorted backgrounds. Some biohackers are simply amateur DIY-ers who labor through trial and error periods, using their own body as a testing ground to determine what is an efficient biohack and what isn’t. Other biohackers are professionals, scientists with PhDs and experience, who employ cutting-edge equipment and research to find biohacks where others cannot. Biohacking’s accessibility — anyone has the ability to undergo biological self-improvement — has led to its rise in popularity.
But what are some examples of biohacking? While fasting and cryotherapy are indeed considered biohacks, opportunities to control the human body, remain innumerable. Take, for instance, the biohacker that created the supplement company Bulletproof, Dave Asprey. Asprey consumes a litany of supplements as a means of biohacking his body. But he also goes further, injecting his joints with stem cells while bathing in infrared light. Dave takes biohacking to the extreme. After all, he does so with the intent of living to be at least 180 years old.
Yet biohacking can be far simpler. Actions that include meditation, resistance training, HIIT workouts, and cold therapy are all common forms of biohacking. In fact, chances are you undergo some form of biohacking on a consistent basis, be it short-term or longer. Because biohacking is such a broad term, many actions we take are part of the biohacking ethos.
Does Biohacking Work?
This is perhaps the most important question that plagues the world of biohacking: Does it truly work?
The answer to such a comprehensive question depends on the biohack being performed, as well as the acceptance it’s gained within the scientific community. For instance, research has found a correlation between mindful meditation and a reduction in anxiety and chronic pain. Through clinical testing that utilizes the scientific method, we can confidently deduce that meditation is indeed a successful biohack.
Other hacks, however, may not prove as effective. Take, for example, the biohack that was endorsed by Jack Dorsey, CEO and Founder of Twitter. Dorsey suggested that a specific near-infrared sauna created by SaunaSpace boosts “cellular regeneration and fights aging by detoxing your body.”
Sales of the sauna increased dramatically as a result. But a New York Times piece later stated that though “a study of middle-aged and older Finnish men indicates that their health benefited from saunas, there have been no major studies conducted” of the sauna specifically endorsed by Dorsey.
So while some biohacks may prove to be valid life modifications that improve your overall health, many others have little to no scientific backing. The ones that have been properly tried and tested can be trusted, but the rest are about as reliable as a coin toss. If a biohack seems too good to be true, or if instead you question it’s legitimacy, take ample time to consult scientific and educational resources that accurately break down the significance of the biohack in question. As an even greater precaution, consult a healthcare provider.
Is Biohacking Safe?
Though many hacks, such as meditation, are considered safe by the scientific and biohacking communities, other hacks simply are not. Truth be told, those who biohack through self-experimentation risk major health consequences should anything go awry.
For instance, intermittent fasting is a common biohack that’s often used to promote well-being, yet failure to consult a nutritionist or perform the fasting appropriately can result in eating disorders and weight loss. While it’s common to implement a biohack without preparing beforehand, it’s the very groundwork prior to the execution of a biohack that ensures that hack will be successful.
Other biohacks that rely on research and technology from the scientific community have also proven both controversial and potentially unsafe. According to Ashley Hamer, CRISPR, for instance, “is a technique that allows scientists to make precision edits to any DNA, whether bacterial or human.” Though revolutionary and potentially beneficial, gene editing is a dangerous practice if improperly utilized.
Editing the DNA sequence of any organism is not only a difficult task, but one that produces continuing genetic changes down the road. Like damming a river to produce hydroelectric power, unforeseen outcomes can often occur downstream when we least expect them.
Because there are so many types of biohacking being performed, and so many new forms of hacks making waves within biohacking communities, determining what’s a safe biohack and what isn’t can take time. Biohacks often come with impressive claims that may include improved cognitive function, reduced risk of heart disease, and more. These claims are bold and often unproven. They, therefore, require diligence and patience to ensure they’re both safe and effective.
How Can You Biohack at Home?
Among the reasons why biohacking is so popular, the ease with which you can do it yourself stands at the very top of the list. After all, it takes only a slight alteration of one’s eating habits to execute an elimination diet that removes carbs and focuses solely on healthy fats like coconut oil. It takes perhaps 10 minutes every morning to complete a round of meditation. And easily accessible technology, like a health tracker, can track and evaluate your steps, sleep cycle, and even heart rate zones.
While the concept of biohacking may have fully taken off in the ever-evolving Silicon Valley, millions of Americans have also integrated biohacking into their daily lives. Some of the most common forms of biohacking include the ones mentioned above, such as diets, meditation, and personal technology. Others include nootropics, including drinks like Bulletproof coffee that contain caffeine, or even simple vitamins and supplements like vitamin D.
The truth is that the world of biohacking is rather complex. New hacks are constantly proclaimed and even popularized, some of which produce healthy results while others simply do not. Determining which biohacks are right for you comes down to your needs and abilities.
Consult professionals whenever possible, and look to peer reviewed research that breaks a biohack down in full. Adopt biohacks with caution, and do so by starting small, like by taking vitamins or creating daily routines that can help you find results. And perhaps most importantly of all, treat your body well.