Beginners Guide to Biohacking

Staying alive may be fairly straightforward, but for a biohacker living simply isn’t enough.

Biohackers seek to enhance their lives through optimizing their bodies in the areas of lifestyle, nutrition, supplementation, and even philosophy.

Biohacking is a large topic: it’s something many people have devoted their entire lives towards exploring. This guide intends to provide an introduction into the world of biohacking and will go over many of the most predominant ideas involved in the space.

What Is Biohacking?

Biohacking involves a series of techniques that aim to “hack” your own biology to perform optimally in any given area. In the most basic sense, biohacking is the practice of human optimization, conducted by individuals seeking to be the best versions of themselves.

Biohacking targets many areas of life, but mainly focuses on things like focus and memory, athletic ability, lifestyle habits, or longevity.

There are a lot of different techniques and ideas involved in biohacking, each with their own set of benefits.

Some of these concepts are fairly simple and straightforward like:

  • Nootropics
  • Meditation
  • Philosophical ideas like stoicism
  • Social practices like gratitude
  • Exercises
  • Postural techniques
  • Sleep optimisation
  • Herbal and nutritional supplementation

Other areas within the biohacking industry can get more advanced and require more cutting-edge technology to perform.

A few examples of cutting-edge biohacking techniques include:

  • Neurofeedback devices
  • Hyperbaric chambers
  • Intravenous nutrition
  • Nootropics
  • Genetic Profiling
  • Altitude simulation
  • Body modification

The Fundamentals Of Body Hacking For Beginners

Biohacking takes a systems-thinking approach. This means considering the effects on our body (the system) by first looking at the smaller parts that make up that system (our physiology).

A fundamental part of biohacking is understanding the way our physiology works. Once we understand how something works we can find ways to optimize it with greater precision.

There are biohacking concepts for everything from athletic performance to cognitive function.

1. Get To Know Your DNA With Genetic Profiling

Biohacking revolves around the idea that we can exert a level of control and optimization over the way our body functions. A good starting point for this is through DNA profiling.

This helps us achieve a baseline from which we can measure changes. Giving us a better understanding of our inherent strengths and weaknesses.

What Is Genetic Profiling?

Our genes are the blueprint for our bodily functions. Every protein, cell membrane, and hormone is designed in the cell from a recipe located in the gene. Think of it as a recipe book that we reference every time we need to build a protein or new cell.

The field of human genetics has advanced to a point where we can identify particular patterns in our DNA to determine our strengths or weaknesses.

For example, there are some gene combinations that determine how we metabolize fats or caffeine. Some are useful for determining our risk of developing illnesses like cardiovascular disease, cancer, or Alzheimer’s disease.

The whole idea behind genetic profiling is to determine which areas we should focus on in terms of health. We’re essentially hacking our own DNA by knowing its strengths and weaknesses and performing activities that either minimize or complement these attributes.

Although genetic profiling isn’t a requirement to begin biohacking, it will go a long way towards achieving true optimization of your body.

With companies like 23 & Me making DNA profiling simple and affordable, everybody has access to this useful technology. You simply order a kit, deposit the genetic sample (usually saliva) and mail it back. Their lab then tests the sample and will send you an email with a link to your genetic information online.

2. Hack Your Diet With Nutrition

Nutrition affects everything in the human body and therefore is an essential component of biohacking.

As mentioned in the previous point, we can use the results of genetic profiling to determine the strengths and weaknesses of our body so that we may optimize these attributes.

We’re essentially “hacking” our nutrition to meet the strengths and weaknesses of our DNA.

For example, there is a gene known as APOE that a lot of genetic testing companies look at. There are 3 possible variants of this gene that can determine our ability to process fats.

Depending on the APOE gene variant you have, it may be more beneficial to go on a high-fat diet than a high carb diet or vice versa.

Other findings may indicate a reduced ability to metabolize and absorb iron, suggesting the adoption of iron supplementation or iron-rich foods to the diet to boost this disadvantage.

The list goes on.

Ketosis

One of the major nutritional techniques biohackers are using is a process called ketosis. This is based off the fact that the majority of people (78%) have the APOE3 gene variant that allows us to process fats more efficiently than other sources of energy [1].

The basic concept behind ketosis is to change the body’s primary source of fuel from sugar (glucose) to fats (ketones).

These ketones supply twice as much energy per gram than carbohydrates (37 to 17 kJ respectively), and eliminate the ups and downs in energy levels that come along with a glucose-based system.

When in ketosis, we experience more stable energy levels throughout the day and are better able to manage or avoid our hunger and food cravings.

You can think of it like this: fat burns like coal, long and steadily for many hours, whereas glucose is like jet fuel, it burns very quickly with a lot of energy but doesn’t last long at all.

Ketosis Offers More Consistent Energy levels

Ketosis is useful because it changes the way our body burns energy.

With glucose as our primary source of fuel, we experience large swings in energy levels.

Think about how you feel before a meal… weak and irritable. Once we’ve eaten we get a rush of energy for an hour or two, only to crash again a few hours later.

It’s like a rollercoaster ride of energy levels.

With ketosis, we begin burning fat as a primary source of fuel instead of glucose.

This allows us to maintain much more stable energy levels throughout the day and allows us to go longer between meals.

Ketosis Boosts Cognitive Function

Ketosis has also been shown to have positive impacts on cognitive function, inducing flow states and protecting our brain from degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis [2, 3, 6, 8].

Ketosis Improves Athletic Performance

Athletes are hacking their diet with ketosis in order to perform longer and harder than ever before.

Part of the reason for this is the fact that ketosis doesn’t drain the bodies glycogen reserves. These reserves are used to supply energy to the body when blood glucose levels dip.

There are 2 problems with glycogen:

  1. It results in a buildup of lactic acid in the muscles, causing damage and fatigue faster and makes repair take longer between workouts.
  2. It has a relatively small fuel tank to draw from for energy, lasting roughly 90 minutes before reaching exhaustion.

Athletes that have switched over to ketosis are better able to avoid lactic acid buildup and allows the body to use a much larger fuel tank to support energy levels. This fuel tank is the fat stores of the body, which in healthy individuals can sustain exercise for many hours.

How Do We Achieve ketosis?

Ketosis involves a change in dietary philosophy to favor fats and reduce the intake of carbohydrates and proteins. There are a lot of different preferences on the exact proportions of this diet, but a good starting point would be to consume:

  • 75% fats
  • 15% proteins
  • 10% or fewer carbohydrates.

For the first few days, our blood glucose levels will begin to lower. This causes our cells to produce hormones that give us cravings for sugar so that we can boost these blood sugar levels.

If we push through this uncomfortable stage, our cells begin to look for energy elsewhere. This is when our body begins to optimize itself for consuming ketones, which are readily available from the fat content in our body.

Fat stores will begin to break down into tiny molecules known as ketones. These ketones enter the blood and feed our mitochondria directly to produce the energy we need. Over time, our body begins to prefer this system and will use it as the primary source of fuel.

Inducing ketosis can take between 1 and 2 weeks and reaches its full effects after about 6 months of regular practice.

Supplements For Promoting Ketosis

There are a few supplements suggested promoting ketosis within our bodies. Exogenous ketones, DHEA, fish oil, MCT oil, caffeine, L-glutamine, electrolytes, and Vitamin D are all used to improve the process of ketosis within the body in different ways.

One of the most popular supplements for promoting ketosis is Bulletproof coffee, which is simply a combination of a fat like butter or coconut oil, and caffeine (in the form of coffee).

The caffeine stimulates the breakdown of fat into ketones, and the fat content supplies a readily available source of dietary fuel for the body to use immediately.

Bulletproof coffee can be used on a daily basis to “train” the body to begin the process of ketosis.

3. Body hacking The Brain With Nootropics

One of the biggest goals biohackers have is to improve cognition.

With more efficient cognitive abilities, whether it’s memory, focus, clarity of thought, or mental stamina, better cognitive function provides a greater chance of making correct decisions in our lives… both large and small.

Modafinil, for example, a popular nootropic, was shown to improve visual pattern recognition, memory, spatial planning, and reaction time in a study involving 60 healthy males [9].

It’s easy to see the benefits these attributes can bring to anybody’s lifestyle.

There are several key theories involved with nootropics, which include:

  • Increasing acetylcholine levels in the brain
  • Promoting a balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems
  • Supplying nutritional precursors to various brain structures and neurotransmitters
  • Improving blood flow to the brain
  • Decreasing the rate of oxidative damage to the nerve cells
  • Promoting Alpha-brain waves

Biohackers use various compounds to target one or more of these processes to optimize their cognitive function. Some of the key nootropics that biohackers are using includes:

  • Modafinil
  • Alpha GPC
  • Aniracetam
  • L-Theanine
  • Caffeine
  • Phosphatidylserine
  • Huperzine-A
  • Vinpocetine
  • Kava

The easiest way to get your feet wet with nootropics is to experiment with a popular nootropic “stack” (formula). Some of the most popular and well-rounded nootropic stacks available include:

  • Alpha Brain by Onnit labs
  • Qualia by Neurohacker Collective
  • Optimind

4. Good Posture, Sit Like You Mean It

Most people in the modern world spend the majority of their time sitting down. Whether they’re sitting at their desk at work, or at home watching tv or surfing the web, the average person sits for about 10 hours per day.

Studies have consistently shown that sitting for this long can have deleterious consequences to our bodies over time [10].

Some of these consequences include:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Chronic pain
  • Diabetes
  • Decline in athletic ability

What makes sitting so long so bad for us you ask? Well aside from the possibility that those sitting all day have a sedentary lifestyle, the major problem is poor posture.

Poor posture has a profound effect on our bodies over time, it causes the muscles to tighten, causing inflammation and eventually chronic pain, and it can diminish our athletic potential.

The simple solution to this is to use biohacking techniques to strengthen your posture and eliminate the chances of damaging your muscles and joints while you work.

How To Improve Posture While Sitting

One of the best ways to eliminate muscle tightness from sitting all day is to use a foam roller for 15-20 minutes each day. These rollers work by massaging your muscles to relieve any tension and allow them to return to their normal state, avoiding chronic tension and the resulting health concerns associated with it.

Another method for maintaining a good posture is to focus on engaging your abs about 20-30% while you sit. This pulls your spine into alignment by flexing your hips forward and your neck up.

It’s important to combine this with proper neck alignment. Avoid looking down at your computer by positioning your monitor at eye level. You should be looking straight forward with your neck in a neutral position. Imagine someone is pulling up on your head from the top.

The whole idea behind developing a good posture is to avoid the negative effects sitting has on our bodies throughout the day. As with many biohacking techniques, this needs to be done regularly for best results.

Try setting a timer on your watch or computer to remind you every 90 minutes or so to focus on your posture. Over time this will become a regular habit and you’ll be able to maintain a good posture all day long.

5. Hack Your Decision Making With Meditation

The human brain has evolved around our ability to form emotional responses to things in our environment. This allows us to fear things that are dangerous, love things that benefit us.

The problem with this emotional response is that it often clouds our judgment and fogs the most logical decisions for a given problem.

Ideally, we would have the ability to endure emotional reactions and respond to a situation using logic. Meditation helps us achieve this because it allows us to take notice and observe our emotions and our thoughts.

Being aware of these emotions helps us to identify them when they appear, and gives us the ability to look past them to see the solution to our problem with more clarity.

We begin to stop making rash, unhelpful decisions and maintain a calm focus. It allows us to find ways to navigate even the toughest problems with as little collateral damage as possible.

Getting Started With Meditation

Depending on where you look, you’ll likely find articles or meditation studios promoting their own specific form of meditation. A lot of them even go as far as saying that their methods are the best.

The fact of the matter is that meditation is simple. The specific details of the rituals done before or after a meditation session don’t actually matter. What does matter is the repetition.

The whole point of meditation is to take control of your parasympathetic nervous system through controlled breathing. Once this happens, our mind starts to feel blank and tranquil. It’s in this state that we begin to observe our thoughts and emotions in the third person.

Some Research On Meditation

Studies on meditation have been done all over the world, but one of the most significant in recent years was some of the research done by Dr. Richard Gevirtz [7].

This research looked at a large group of meditation experts like yogis and monks from all over the world and measured their vital signs during the process.

What Dr. Richard Gevirtz and his team found was that no matter what rituals came along with the meditation, the outcome was always the same.

What all of his test subjects had in common was regular, controlled, slow breathing.

He used special heart sensors to measure the heart rate variability of these subjects (used as a metric for sympathetic vs parasympathetic nervous system control). What he found was that in all cases where his subjects were able to reach a state of meditation, they were able to exert controlling influence over this system.

6. Rewild Yourself

It’s easy to forget that humans came from the wild just like every other animal on earth.

We hide behind our technology and forget to acknowledge the biological underpinnings that evolved to keep us healthy.

Some, like Daniel Vitalis from the Rewild Yourself Podcast believe this to be one of the reasons humanity has become so plagued with chronic illness. Daniel suggests the solution to this problem is by taking measures to “rewild ourselves”.

This essentially involves resetting ourselves periodically by reinvigorating our wild nature.

Some of the ideas biohackers are using to support this idea include:

  1. Eat Real, Living Foods

Unlike plants, our biology evolved to allow us to eat other forms of life. Whether this is a freshly killed gazelle or a lump of kelp, our bodies require organic tissue to obtain our nutrients.

  1. Breath Air From Nature

Humans evolved breathing freshly recycled air from the forests and grasslands around us. In modern times we consume substantially more volatile chemicals in our air. Everything from air fresheners, to petroleum byproducts like hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide.

  1. Expose Yourself To Sunlight

Sunlight is the original nutritional supplement.

Researchers have recently discovered that our early evolutionary predecessors in the world’s oceans have been producing vitamin D from sun exposure for over 500 million years [10].

To this day humans still rely on sunlight exposure to produce vitamin D, which acts more like a hormone than a vitamin, helping to regulate our blood pressure and calcium homeostasis.

It only takes as little as 6-15 minutes of sun exposure each day to reach our daily vitamin D requirements. Try going spending some time outside on your next lunch break to soak up some of that vitamin sunshine.

7. Hack With Natural Supplements & Herbs

The whole purpose of biohacking is to optimize the functionality of the human body. This often involves making slight adjustments or tweaks to a certain part of our physiology.

There is nothing better at making these “tweaks” or adjustments as herbs and supplements.

Anybody familiar with Aristotle is aware that his definition of virtue is a mean between extremes.

This can be applied to the idea of biohacking as well when you consider the fact that optimal health is a balance between extremes of excess and deficiency.

For example, liver metabolism can be excessive, causing issues with cholesterol or fat metabolism. Deficient liver processes can also result in issues like anemia and metabolic buildup.

With biohacking, we aim to acknowledge these changes while they are subtle and using herbs and supplements we can push it closer to the median where the best health of that organ is. This is what biohacking is at its core.

How To Use Herbs And Supplements For Biohacking

The world of herbs and supplements is large and can be difficult to navigate, what most biohackers do is determine where their weaknesses lie and whether they tend to fall into a state of either deficiency or excess.

It’s from these observations that a biohacker can determine the best herbs and supplements to keep on hand in order to maintain this median.

One of the main areas of interest in terms of herbs for biohacking is a class known as adaptogens. This class of substances is unique in that they can improve the body’s overall ability to defend against stress.

More on adaptogens in number 6.

Some Herbs Commonly Used By Biohackers

A. Kratom

One of the most common issues in the modern world is insufficient sleep and high stress. It affects how we think and behave, and hinders our ability to perform our best. Kratom is the biohackers tool for getting a better nights sleep and reducing the negative effects on stress.

The leaves of the kratom tree found growing in Indonesia, has anxiolytic, relaxant, and mild sedative effects. It’s used in the biohacker community to promote more refreshing sleep and fight the harmful effects of stress and overstimulation brought on from the day.

B. Marijuana

Marijuana is an incredibly useful plant for the biohacker. Each leaf contains a slurry of chemicals known as cannabinoids each with their own set of benefits.

CBD for example, one of the most abundant cannabinoids in the plant, works off the bodies internal endocannabinoid system. This system has been found to be an important regulator of the brain, immune, and endocrine systems [11].

This allows CBD to offer modulating effects on the system in a similar way adaptogens do on our stress response.

C. Kava

Kava is one of the best herbal supplements available for performing under pressure. It’s used as a supplement before stressful meetings, public speaking events, or other stressful work or life events.

The muscle relaxant activity of kava works well in combination with its neuroprotective, and anxiolytic activity to maintain a clear, calm focus.

As a biohacker, the goal is to perform optimally. This is why many biohackers choose to keep this herbal supplement nearby when they need to perform their best in high-pressure scenarios.

8. Show Gratitude

Showing gratitude is one of the most underrated practices in the modern world.

Think about it, most of the things that stand out in our day are the negative ones. People that were rude to us, coffee that wasn’t made properly, the meal that took too long to arrive. These are all common complaints that virtually all of us are guilty of.

We carry these feelings of negativity into other areas of our life, allowing them to affect the outcome of our successes both large and small.

Consider a time when you may have showed up to work feeling pretty good, only to run into a colleague who had nothing but complaints about their day. This mood tends to be contagious, causing us to feel upset and unmotivated to perform.

By culturing gratitude this is no longer the case. It gives us the tools to avoid these negative mindsets and allows us to optimize our efforts by keeping motivations high.

The idea behind practicing gratitude is to cultivate a general state of appreciation. This allows us to default our thought process to a positive one rather than a negative one.

  1. Gratitude Journal

A gratitude journal is a fast and simple technique to remind yourself on a regular basis to show gratitude.

When we write things down we allow them to become tangible. It allows us to form a routine of positive thinking.

Getting started is simple, you can download apps like Grateful or 365 Gratitude Journal, purchase a notebook with pre-made gratitude prompts like this Dailygreatness Journal, or simply starting your own in a blank notebook.

In order to do this, simply set aside 5 minutes per day, either in the morning, at lunch, or before bed, and write down 3 to 5 things you were grateful for that day. That’s it!

  1. Try Stoicism

Stoicism is a philosophical concept promoting a physical and emotional endurance of pain or hardship without showing feelings of discomfort. It involves the idea that all feelings of discomfort, including stress, is only present in the mind of the beholder.

If something happens and we allow ourselves to feel uncomfortable as a result, stoicism suggests that it’s actually just our minds perception of the problem that allows it to feel that way, not the situation itself.

Stoics take this into practice by actively depriving themselves of pleasures from time to time to remind them not to be taken for granted. Sleeping on the floor one night without a blanket will certainly remind you how much you appreciate your warm bed.

9. Become Resistant To Stress With Controlled Stress Exposure

In order to tackle this concept, it’s important to define exactly what stress is.

What Is Stress?

Stress is any force that pushes our bodies’ carefully balanced systems out of balance. In most cases, we can respond and resist this stress in order to keep homeostasis (balance) within our bodies.

For example, a sudden change in temperature causes our bodies to shift in order to maintain the 37C internal temperature.

This would be considered a form of stress.

In most cases, our body is able to manage this stress and resist it. We dilate our blood vessels to bring warm blood to the surface of the skin, speed the heart rate to accommodate the extra force needed to move our blood into the capillaries, and our metabolism increases in an attempt to generate more heat from within.

It‘s when we can no longer maintain resistance to this stress that our body begins to shut down. Heat stroke and hypothermia are the results of this form of stress when we are no longer able to maintain resistance.

Stress Includes:

  • Changes in the environment (temperature, humidity)
  • Emotional reactions (sad, angry, frustrated, etc)
  • Physical exertion (exercise)
  • Trauma (accidents, animal attacks, etc)
  • Biochemical stress (toxin intake, medication side effects, metabolic toxins)

How Biohackers Increase Their Stress Resistance

Increasing stress resistance, in essence, means that your body has the ability to respond to changes in the environment faster and to a greater degree. It means that you can endure both physical and emotional stress for longer and avoid the deleterious effects stress has on the body more effectively.

One of the main principles to consider in terms of improving our stress resistance is the concept of hormesis or “mild stress simulation”.

Mild Stress Simulation (Hormesis)

This is an older technique stemming from a number of different, unrelated cultures all over the world.

The idea that anything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger could be applied to this example.

Hormesis involves low-dose, frequent exposure to chemical or environmental stresses in order to trigger the body’s adaptive response system. Triggering this system with low doses leads to increased resistance over time [4].

This sounds complicated but in reality, it is quite simple.

A good example of hormesis is exercise. When we exercise we put our body through a stressful situation causing microscopic tearing of our muscle fibers. Our body then responds by building these muscles up stronger to avoid damage the next time. Once healed, we repeat the process, eventually becoming stronger than we started.

Hormesis can be applied like this to other systems as well including:

  1. The Brain through the use of Heat Shock Proteins (HSP) involving hot or cold therapies [5].
  2. Our homeostasis regulatory center (HPA axis) with the use of adaptogenic herbs and substances.
  3. Metabolism through the use of restriction diets like the ketogenic diet.

Conclusion

It’s easy to see why the concept of biohacking has taken off so much in recent years, especially with the current rate of development in the field of biological sciences. With so much new and useful information on the human body, we’re finding more ways to optimise it and control it to suit our needs much better.

Biohacking isn’t a small topic, and there are in fact huge communities of people around the world dedicated to this new and upcoming field.

References

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  2. Xu, K., Sun, X., Eroku, B. O., Tsipis, C. P., Puchowicz, M. A., & LaManna, J. C. (2010). Diet-induced ketosis improves cognitive performance in aged rats. In Oxygen Transport to Tissue XXXI (pp. 71-75). Springer, Boston, MA.
  3. Davidson, T. L., Hargrave, S. L., Swithers, S. E., Sample, C. H., Fu, X., Kinzig, K. P., & Zheng, W. (2013). Inter-relationships among diet, obesity and hippocampal-dependent cognitive function. Neuroscience, 253, 110-122.
  4. Mattson, M. P. (2008). Hormesis defined. Ageing research reviews, 7(1), 1-7.
  5. Dattilo, S., Mancuso, C., Koverech, G., Di Mauro, P., Ontario, M. L., Petralia, C. C., … & Calabrese, V. (2015). Heat shock proteins and hormesis in the diagnosis and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. Immunity & Ageing, 12(1), 20.
  6. Murray, A. J., Knight, N. S., Cole, M. A., Cochlin, L. E., Carter, E., Tchabanenko, K., … & Deacon, R. M. (2016). Novel ketone diet enhances physical and cognitive performance. The FASEB Journal, 30(12), 4021-4032.
  7. Lehrer, P. M., & Gevirtz, R. (2014). Heart rate variability biofeedback: how and why does it work?. Frontiers in psychology, 5, 756.
  8. Storoni, M., & Plant, G. T. (2015). The therapeutic potential of the ketogenic diet in treating progressive multiple sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis international, 2015.
  9. Turner, D. C., Robbins, T. W., Clark, L., Aron, A. R., Dowson, J., & Sahakian, B. J. (2003). Cognitive enhancing effects of modafinil in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology, 165(3), 260-269.
  10. Holick, M. F. (2004). Sunlight and vitamin D for bone health and prevention of autoimmune diseases, cancers, and cardiovascular disease. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 80(6), 1678S-1688S.
  11. Komorowski, J., & Stepień, H. (2007). The role of the endocannabinoid system in the regulation of endocrine function and in the control of energy balance in humans. Postępy Higieny I Medycyny Doświadczalnej (Online), 61, 99-105.