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Biohacking 101

Apr/21/2024 / by Brian Sodoma

Everyone can use simple tricks to improve their health

Colorful vegetables on kitchen table
Photo via Shutterstock

Biohacking’s origins can be traced back to the 1980s when “DIY biologists” self-experimented to modify their genes and optimize health. The word is still very buzzy today and can involve anything from meditation, intermittent fasting, or following a low-carb diet. Or it could involve technology implants for oxygen and blood monitoring (wearables work just fine, too), routine stem cell and hormone injections, cold plunges, and more.

Here’s a look at some of the scientific thinking behind biohacking. You may very well be a biohacker yourself and not even know it.

Understanding Biohacking

Let’s start with some simple definitions. Biohackers are people “making incremental changes to their body, diet, and lifestyle to improve health and well-being,” explains Medical News Today writer, Caitlin Geng. Dave Asprey, the founder of Bulletproof Coffee and who is often referred to as the “father of biohacking,” writes on his website, “Biohacking is a crazy-sounding name for something not crazy at all—the desire to be the absolute best version of ourselves.”

The movement can also be simplified this way: make lifestyle shifts, track your findings, and then share them with others. Sharing what we’re learning about our own biology and genetic make-up after experimenting with technology or lifestyle shifts is a big part of biohacking. The web has no shortage of forums and groups sharing what they learn.

The Role of Epigenetics

Dr. David Bilstrom, an Idaho-based functional medicine physician, sees biohacking as part of the long-time shift towards personalizing medicine, where data and technology play a key role in care. He says the human genome project helped us better understand epigenetics, or how behavior and environment affect our gene expression, without altering our DNA.

With this knowledge, we learned that genes influenced by stress and toxins, for example, can be altered from their usual healthy state, compromising functions like glucose control and circadian rhythm, and creating inflammatory responses in the body. The downstream effect of these changes is a spike in chronic illnesses like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

“The body is so smart at healing it’s always moving towards wellness. If it’s not staying healthy, something’s in the way,” he says. That something is your genes, but also the physical, mental and emotional environments tied to them. The good and bad of your epigenetics and resulting gene expressions are passed on to future generations too.

Biohacks for Everyone

Bilstrom says you can start biohacking by giving your genes a fighting chance, and that means good lifestyle choices. He uses the acronym SENSE (Stress, Eating, Nature, Sleep, Exercise) with his patients. For our genes to optimally express, we need to manage stress, eat right, spend time in nature, sleep well, and exercise, he explains.

The good news is that if you’re genes aren’t firing well, there is hope. Bilstrom points to Harvard studies that have found people with bad gene expressions reversed some of them by simply implementing stress reduction, meditation, and exercise.

“Nobody can get everything perfect, but it’s encouraging that even slight lifestyle changes can positively impact our genes,” he adds.

Bilstrom doesn’t like the idea of extremes like cold plunges and tech implants but does believe certain supplements can be excellent biohacks. The most critical, in his opinion, is TUDCA (touroursodeoxycholic acid), a bile acid made by the liver that aids in fat digestion. TUDCA levels can get surprisingly low and this “chaperone molecule” plays a key role in reducing oxidative damage to cells and stabilizing protein in our body. Research has tied TUDCA to improved insulin sensitivity and cholesterol levels, and reduced inflammation, keys to reducing a number of chronic conditions.

“In my opinion, this is a big one if you want to biohack. The data is there for its effects on blood pressure, diabetes, stress, insulin; it’s very impressive,” he says.

Eating Clean

Patrick Nuzzo, a naprapathic doctor and founder of the Southwest University of Naprapathic Medicine in New Mexico, sees biohacking as a drive to find root causes for illnesses, instead of just treating symptoms.

Nuzzo recommends intermittent fasting, a popular biohack, as a way to lose weight and optimize digestion. He also suggests getting your blood work checked and addressing nutritional deficiencies with healthy food. Clean food is an important biohack, he emphasizes. People should be eating food raised organically. Plants should be grown on regenerated land; and cows should be eating grass from the land they roam, not corn, he asserts.

“I believe food is medicine. I don’t tell people what diet to eat, but make sure the food is the highest quality food source you can bring into your body,” he says. “I don’t really even call these things biohacks. It’s more like restorative living.”

On the other hand, if these suggestions sound too simple, you can feel free to implant a microchip, inject some stem cells (even from a younger person), and wash it all down with a fresh cold plunge.


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