Taking your health into your own hands is a pretty widely accepted concept these days. Those who are into health and wellness are constantly “hacking” their bodies for the best possible results—whether it’s by using exercise to stay on top of mental health, adding butter, coconut oil, and more to their morning coffee for a natural energy boost, or even eating based on their menstrual cycles to relieve PMS symptoms. It makes sense, then, that the concept of biohacking is making its way into the mainstream.
But what does the term actually mean, and why should the average health-conscious person care about it? Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Biohacking?
“Biohacking is the process of using science, biology, and self-experimentation to take control of and upgrade your body, mind, and life,” says Dave Asprey, founder and CEO of Bulletproof. (And yes, drinking bulletproof coffee is one example of a biohack.) “Simply put, biohacking is the art and science of changing the environment around you and inside you so you have more control over your own biology.” Asprey is a pioneer of this movement and is largely responsible for bringing it into the mainstream, along with much of Silicon Valley.
Biohacking rejects the idea that the best and only approach to getting healthier and avoiding disease is to eat less and exercise more. “It’s not as simple as ‘calories in, calories out.’ What you put in your body is every bit as important as how much,” says Asprey. While popular mainstream diets like keto and paleo are common among biohackers, the philosophy of the movement acknowledges that what works for one person may not work for everyone.
Some credit biohacking with helping them lose weight and take control of their health. “When I began biohacking, I weighed 300 pounds and felt like crap,” says Asprey. “Being a cloud computing exec at the time, I decided to take the data-centric approach I used at work and turn it on myself. I experimented with a variety of different variables to tweak my own biology and take things into my own hands.”
That’s essentially the spirit of biohacking. Devotees aren’t necessarily eschewing traditional medicine to deal with health problems and stay on top of disease prevention. But they’re also not afraid to do a little tinkering on their own to figure out what works best for them.
All the Ways to Biohack
One of the coolest things about biohacking is that you might already be doing it without even knowing. A few easy biohacks include shifting bedtimes to see if you wake up more refreshed, or starting a meditation practice to get a handle on work stress, says Asprey. Anytime you change something about your lifestyle or diet and monitor the changes you experience, you’re biohacking, he says.
Nutrigenomics is another element of biohacking that you likely do on the reg; it simply refers to switching up the nutrition and activity of your body for optimal results. “If you think some of this just sounds like learning how food, activity, and stimuli change the way your body operates, you’re absolutely correct,” says Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and the Keto360 program. (Here, one editor shares her two-week transformation after trying the high-fat, low-carb diet.) “This type of biohacking is really just building on the concept that our bodies are ever-changing, and using these discoveries to ‘live your best life,’ as many biohackers put it.”
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And while diet and workout adjustments fall under the scope of biohacking, so do some more *experimental* practices. “Some of the more cutting-edge biohacks that I’ve tried include using stem cells to help injuries heal, taking nootropics or smart drugs like Modafinil for energy, and hanging out in infrared saunas to get rid of toxins on a cellular level,” Asprey says. In contrast to making diet, exercise, and lifestyle adjustments, some (but not all!) of these more progressive biohacking practices aren’t completely science-backed, nor is your doctor likely to be psyched about your trying them.
There’s also a movement within biohacking called do-it-yourself biology (DIYBio), a subculture of people who literally do biology experiments outside of the conventional research setting to test unproven science. “Many of the ‘educators’ in this movement are academics or corporate researchers who then teach the average Joe how to conduct experiments,” says Axe. Some of the less time-tested biohacking ideas that you probably don’t want to try fall into this category, such as parabiosis (consuming or infusing a young healthy person’s blood into your own…yup), gene editing, or lifting weights in freezing cold water.
Lastly, there’s a much less mainstream subcategory called grinder biohacking, which focuses on technology implants or chemical manipulation of the body, according to Axe. These biohacks include actually putting things—like LED lights and headphone implants—directly into the body. Needless to say, these are methods we don’t recommend trying at home.
Easy Biohacks Worth Trying
So why should you care about biohacking? “I see biohacking as something that will continue to become more and more accepted and integrated into health and wellness routines,” says Asprey. “In many ways it already has.”
“For the average, health-conscious individual, biohacking is fascinating because it takes principles that many of us have already understood and combines them to maximize physical and mental health,” says Axe. Here are some examples:
Focus on nutrition. “Some of the best ways to biohack your body via nutrition are to kick your sugar habit, eat a lot more healthy fats, use an elimination diet to find out if you’re sensitive to any foods, drink a lot of water, and fill your plate with mostly non-starchy vegetables,” says Axe. Basically, any diet change that makes you feel more on top of your game is a healthy way of trying out biohacking.
Optimize your sleep. “Another way biohacking methods can be great for the average person is by tweaking sleep rituals and patterns to get the most out of your seven to nine hours every night,” says Axe. This can be as simple as adjusting your device screens to a warmer temperature after a certain time at night (by using an app or “night mode” on your phone), not eating after certain times, and using essential oils known to induce calm and rest, he says.
Try “rewilding”. “Many biohacking experts teach that we should fight against our ‘domestication’ and instead, spend more time outside, eat less processed foods, drink better water, be exposed to sunlight, and learn to love the outdoors,” explains Axe explains. Think “paleo,” but for your entire lifestyle instead of just your food. So try doing that yoga routine in your backyard tomorrow, he suggests—you’ll benefit not just from the exercise but also from just being in nature.
Though many in cutting-edge health and medicine are excited about the prospect of biohacking, it’s important to look at new practices and techniques with a critical eye before trying them. “While it’s exciting to see how people may be able to enhance or maximize their physical potential through natural means, there are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to the concept of biohacking, particularly when it comes to pushing your body to unknown limits or using chemical and technological enhancements to do things your body may not have been designed to do,” says Axe.
“I would caution anyone delving into biohacking to be very careful what they put in their body or put their body through,” he continues. “Small, lasting changes to get to your best life are a much better option than spending all the money you have on novel products and training experiences that may not be effective or safe.”
Still, biohacking in itself is definitely something that experts see as a positive trend. “My hope is that the ‘everyone can do science’ concept of DIYBio, along with the successes of those adjusting their diet and lifestyle to reflect healthier practices, may lead to a more thorough understanding of biology—and how the world around us already contains all we need to thrive,” says Axe. And the idea that each one of us has the power to make the most of our biology? That’s super empowering.