Last updated on November 28th, 2023.
When I was reading a few articles on a health blog earlier this week, I came across the term biohacking. Interested to find out what it meant, I did some research to pull together all of the details.
What is biohacking and why should we care? Biohacking involves the study of one’s own body or other living organisms, for the purpose of learning to optimize your body and live life to the fullest.
Experimentation is done not in a university setting, but in a private lab, or in one’s own personal life. The key subject for biohacking is one’s own body, as the biohacker seeks to find patterns which serve his body best and keep him happier and healthier.
Biohacking can be seen as dangerous. After all, biohackers are using their own bodies as a form of experimentation, sometimes developing their own medications or supplements in an unregulated setting.
On the other hand, it is possible that we can learn more about ourselves and the way our bodies function at their best from biohacking, maybe even learn to live the optimal life.
What is biohacking and why should we care?
Biohacking occurs when people seek to experiment with their own biology and recreate their own genomes in a nonprofessional setting.
This type of experimentation has been going on for some time and has taught society a lot about the human body’s optimal survival settings. Biohacking uses quantifiable evidence to test and prove which methods of living are more fulfilling and sustainable.
Biohackers are often young professionals, sometimes students. Biohacking has given them a means of learning and experimenting outside the classroom, which can be tested on their own bodies.
By keeping logs or journals and systematically making changes to the way you live, you too can perform simple experiments that qualify as biohacking and may give you a leg up in your own life experience.
Biohacking has been defined as “do it yourself biology”. Biohacking occurs when a person or group of people gets together to investigate the biology behind themselves or any organism.
This usually takes place in a home lab or privately owned lab and not under the supervision of a professional. They do not teach Biohacking 101 in college. There are however some awesome biohacking courses online for you to dig into the field.
Biohacking is done either purely for the sake of curiosity or because someone wants to make positive changes to their body (see our article on exactly what is biohacking your body). There are no degrees to be earned for biohacking or awards to be given. The pursuit of living life to the max is the drive that moves people to begin to experiment seriously on their own time and on their own bodies.
Biohacking normally takes place out of the bounds of university study and is simply a means to learn more on one’s own.
The people who engage in biohacking are not necessarily students, in the strictest sense of the word. They are simply people who are interested in the biology behind nature and their own bodily makeup.
We should care about biohacking, because it is not always safe. On the flip side, we should care about biohacking because of the nontraditional scientific advances it could give us as a society.
Below are some of the dangers of biohacking:
- Lack of containment
- Chemical reactions
- Dangers to the bodies of participants
- Unregulated dangers to subjects
First of all, since biohacking experiments are not happening in a proper lab, there is no way to ensure that all chemicals and bacteria are properly contained.
Testing and experimenting may involve live bacteria. If not properly managed, there could be the potential for danger when certain chemicals or bacteria mix. Also, harmful agents could be spread accidentally, if the proper equipment is not used.
Not only could reactions between agents be harmful or potent, but also the human reaction to accidental exposure to certain elements has to potential to bring harm to the participants of biohacking or anyone who comes into contact with the lab or people or things that have been in the lab.
In other words, someone could easily be made sick on accident.
Biohacking is not the same as chemistry, and any agents used would likely be medicinal or bacterial in nature.
Some extreme biohackers seek to recreate their own genome or alter their cognitive and physical functioning with enhancers. The more likely danger is in allergic reactions to natural agents.
A biohacker might not realize he is allergic to something he is putting in his body until it is too late.
The participants of biohacking are often experimenting on themselves. Young people have been known to inject themselves with medications they have developed to test the effectiveness and the outcome.
This is a type of “science gone wild”, in which people could potentially harm themselves or cause permanent negative effects that could potentially spread to others.
There is also the matter of subjects that biohackers use. Some prefer to experiment on plants or animals.
Animal experimentation is regulated in the course of testing in a proper lab, to ensure that there is no undue discomfort to the subjects. If a biohacking group is using a garage or basement to test on animals, there is no measure against undue cruelty to keep them in bounds.
There are also positives when it comes to biohacking. After all, it can be productive to study outside the classroom.
While extreme forms of biohacking may include injecting or swallowing different combinations of supplements or bacteria, simple biohacking can be reduced to small alterations in the way one lives, which are kept up with in logs or journals over time. This is something anyone can do.
Taking into consideration factors like diet, weight, sleep schedule, and exercise, anyone can participate in biohacking. It can be boiled down to something as simple as trying to live a healthier lifestyle. There are so many natural supplements to biohacking which can help you to lose weight naturally.
To engage in simple biohacking, all you have to do is develop a baseline for your feelings, habits, and life experiences. It is harmless for a person to develop a set of scales by which to measure his life.
Then, make small changes to the factors above until you have helped your body reach its optimal settings.
Hardware like fitbits can be helpful with these exercises. As you make changes, log them in your journal. Over time, you will be able to see which patterns and habits provided the largest benefit to your body and the way you feel emotionally and perform cognitively. It is pure trial and error.
This type of simple biohacking really does not pose any threat, and it is often practiced by people who are not even familiar with the term “biohacking”.
Take for instance athletes who are making changes to their diet or exercise habits to increase their body’s performance. In essence, these athletes are biohackers, though they may have never set foot in a lab.
Biohacking: A Full Guide
The goal of biohacking is to help the body perform at its very best. It is something akin to a self-improvement journey. The purpose of all studies is to create a more optimized human body. Biohackers want to feel and perform at their very best, and look for ways to tweak their habits and patterns to achieve this.
Below are the basic steps and aspects to biohacking:
- Self quantification
- Cognitive abilities
- Biohacking Diet
- Recovery after exertion
The first step to becoming a biohacker is to quantify oneself, one’s habits, and one’s cognitive abilities. To do this, you need to look at all the measurable aspects of yourself.
These can be factors like weight, length of sleeping periods and wakefulness, memory, diet, and time it takes to recovery after you have exerted yourself. The way to begin quantifying aspects of yourself is to maintain a log or journal.
Write down recordable data like your weight and how long you are sleeping each night. Then you can make adjustments to your physical habits and record the effects.
To make some ideals such as happiness quantifiable, you may need to develop a scale in your log or journal. For instance, log your happiness on a scale of one to ten, with ten being your happiest and one being your least happy.
One aspect that you can measure and attempt to improve on are your cognitive abilities, like memory and brain function.
You could attempt to alter and improve on your cognitive abilities by adding supplements or vitamins to your daily routine. After you have done this for several weeks, use the scale you have developed to measure your cognitive abilities again. See if there is any change.
There are also apps that have been developed to aid in cognitive improvement. Once again, you would need to quantify your cognitive abilities by creating a scale. For instance, test how long it takes you to memorize something.
Then, use the apps for a set amount of time before you retest. In this way, you could see which methods are optimizing your cognitive functioning.
Another measurable body function is sleep. It may be of interest to the biohacker to test how much sleep lends itself to their happiness and everyday functioning.
To test whether more sleep would be beneficial, the biohacker may add a supplement like melatonin or simply start going to bed earlier.
A scale would need to be created to measure the way the biohacker is feeling based on their amount of sleep. If you were to conduct this experiment, you would need to create a baseline.
Log the way your current amount of sleep is contributing to or effecting your life. Then make adjustments. Perhaps try sleeping in a darker room or taking a nap during the afternoon.
Go back to your log or journal and input the adjustments you have made and the effect they have on your quality of life.
There are tools like a fitbit that will help measure and quantify your length and quality of sleep for you. These may be very helpful if you are conducting a biohacking experiment involving sleep or other physical activity.
Diet is an aspect of your life in which you can easily manipulate the variables. Log your weight and physical agility based on the diet you currently follow.
Then, begin to make adjustments. For instance, you could cut sugar out of your diet and use your scale to see if you begin to feel better and have more energy. This is perhaps one of the easiest and best biohacks, as we are each in complete control of our own diet.
Recovery After Exercise
One other physical aspect that beginners at biohacking can easily test is time it takes to recover after exertion.
For instance, if you run a mile every day, how long does it take your body to recover? Is it difficult to get your breathing etc. back to baseline? You can manipulate variables like how much water you are drinking throughout the run or if you are adding electrolytes back to your body afterward.
Begin by logging your body’s reaction to your daily run, maintaining the habits you already follow. When you slowly begin to make changes, log how those affect your body and your recovery time in your journal. Soon you will have found the optimum way to rejuvenate after the run or your preferred method of physical exercise and exertion.
Supplements for Biohacking
There are a wide variety of supplements out there intended to help with body optimization. There are far too many to list, but we will cover a few.
Here are some types of biohacking supplements:
Free radicals are harmful elements in our environment that attack our bodies. Antioxidants help to eliminate these from our bodies. Free radicals are caused by toxins that we encounter every day.
Antioxidants can be found in certain foods that the biohacker might choose to intentionally add to his diet. Antioxidants help to rid the body of toxins and free radicals.
You have probably heard the buzzword “superfood”. These are items like kale and salmon that can help increase cognitive function and replenish energy to the body.
Superfoods are edible items that have the most vitamins within them and carry the most benefit for the human body. A biohacker may choose to add certain superfoods to his diet and measure how they affect his day to day life.
Multivitamins are made up of a variety of the most beneficial vitamins for the body, across the board. If you are not already taking a multivitamin, you could do so and then quantify the results.
See if there is an increase in energy or decreased need for sleep after you begin taking a multivitamin on a daily basis. Results will not occur immediately, but there may be a change over time.
Nootropics are biohacking supplements that are supposed to improve cognitive function. Some are made to boost memory and benefit the brain, while others are geared toward manipulating hormones.
Antidepressants would be an example of a nootropic made to change your hormone function and improve you quality of life as a result.
It is interesting the strides society has taken. Perhaps it is even encouraging that young people seek to take science and biology into their own hands and study in other, more purposeful ways than attending a class or experimenting in a college lab.
There is no stopping someone who is taking a systematic approach to solving a problem.
In this case, the problem at hand is our own bodies. What is holding them back, and how could they function more optimally?
Consider the mom who is experimenting with different diet fads or the college student who is trying out different modes of caffeine as a means of staying awake. In the strictest sense of the word, these are biohackers.
While some people are taking biohacking to the extreme, and could be subjecting their own bodies and those of others to danger, most biohackers are simply trying to live their best life.
Perhaps the idea of taking several supplements or ingesting a medication you have developed yourself is intimidating to you. You do not have to engage in this type of extreme behavior to be considered a biohacker.
There is much we can learn from simply paying attention to the cues our own bodies give us. They will tell us how much sleep we need, which foods give us the most energy, and how to best replenish ourselves after exertion.
Simply taking the step of writing down the results when we make changes could be one of the best learning experiences available.
What biological advances will our society make in the future? It is hard to say. Could we truly be capable of recreating our own genomes and making for a more optimal life experience as a whole?
It may be that we will learn the most, not from professors or scientists, but from our own trial and error experiments. The most groundbreaking data could be gained as a result of biohacking.
Many of the world’s greatest discoveries took place in someone’s shed or garage. It could be that we are on the cusp of other great discoveries, from a biological standpoint.
All it takes is one or two adventurous people who are willing to take risks, to change the way we approach and think about our own biology.