Biohacking is a term used to describe do-it-yourself biology. It involves people making incremental changes to their bodies, diet, and lifestyle to improve their health and well-being.
Also known as human enhancement, biohacking ranges from efforts to improve brain function to faster weight loss. Some types of biohacks are relatively safe to try at home, while others may pose health risks and produce varying results.
This article explores biohacking, its types, current research, and risks. We also examine blood testing and biohacking, biotechnology, whether biohacking is legal, and whether life extension through biohacking is possible.
Biohacking is a do-it-yourself (DIY) form of human enhancement or augmentation, in which people attempt to change aspects of their biology to improve their health, performance, or well-being. Some types of biohacking have been around for many years, such as intermittent fasting.
People may want to hack their biology for various reasons, such as to:
- have control over their health
- explore new and unusual ideas
- fix what they perceive as flaws
- try and extend their lives
Some current examples of biohacking are common, and people may consider them just a part of everyday life. Others may seem more unusual and seem like futuristic trends.
One popular form of biohacking is a group of substances called nootropics, or “smart drugs.”
- methylphenidate (Ritalin), used to treat ADHD
- Adderall, used to treat ADHD
- memantine (Axura), used to treat Alzheimer’s disease
A person should only ever take prescription medications as directed by their doctor. Prescription stimulants have several potential side effects and may be dangerous if people misuse them.
- other drug use
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- riskier sexual practices (i.e., condomless receptive sex)
- worse academic performance
Wearable tech, such as smartwatches, head-mounted displays, and fitness-tracking bands, are common pieces of modern technology. People may use them to:
- track aspects of their health and use the data to make improvements
- reach fitness and health goals
- track reproductive health cycles
Many technology companies are designing and developing what some consider to be the next step in wearable tech biohacking: embedded implants. These are devices implanted into the body.
They may have various functions, including storing passwords and data, acting as “keys” to allow access through electronic locks, and collecting even more detailed data about a person’s biological functioning, health, and fitness.
Examples of embedded implants that are either in development or on the market currently include:
- magnetic implants
- memory chips
- GPS systems
- electronic tattoos
There are various forms of biohacking. The three most popular types are DIY biology, nutrigenomics, and grinders.
DIY biohacking, which some people also call garage biology, involves experts in scientific fields sharing biohacking techniques and information with people who are not experts. This allows more people to conduct experiments on themselves outside of a constrained environment.
Some people consider DIY biology to be an open revolution against the academic institutionalization of science and aim to spread an attitude of citizen science and action research without rigid gatekeeping.
They believe DIY biology generates more ideas, freedom, inclusivity, and improvisation. DIY biology includes various fields of biohacking, including:
- biomedical and synthetic biology
Nutrigenomics is another biohacking type that focuses on how food interacts with people’s genes. Likewise, it explores how a person’s genes affect their body’s response to food.
A person can send a DNA sample to a specialized laboratory, where their genetic makeup is analyzed. Then their healthcare team can use the results to create an optimized nutrition plan. This may involve avoiding certain foods linked to conditions they are genetically predisposed to.
Grinders are biohackers who consider themselves pioneers of human augmentation.
This type of biohacking typically involves devices implanted under the skin, and the use of technology to perform body modifications.
Because there is little regulation of biohacking and many people do not report their findings, it is difficult to say what percentage of biohacking is successful. While there are large online communities of people sharing their findings, there is no way to determine the accuracy of many of their DIY experiments.
However, some current research has found types of biohacking to be effective.
Another popular biohack that some people have found helpful is bulletproof coffee, a drink that combines organic coffee, MCT oil, and butter. In moderate amounts, bulletproof coffee may help people feel more satiated, help prevent cardiovascular disease, and may help prevent certain cancers.
People can try to improve their health, productivity, and cognitive function through the following biohacks.
Intermittent fasting is a method of dieting in which a person only eats between certain times and fasts in the periods in between. For example, a person can fast from 8 p.m. until 12 p.m the following day, and eat between 12 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Fasting may help with:
- reducing body fat
- reducing blood pressure
- lowering heart rate
- reducing inflammation
- increasing resistance to heart stress
- resistance to diabetes
Cold water therapy
Cold water therapy is an increasingly popular health and exercise trend that may have various benefits for people’s health. It involves people immersing themselves in water at a temperature typically below 59°F (15°C). This can be through swimming in open water or using ice baths.
However, there are serious risks involved with cold water swimming, including:
- cold shock
- sudden death
People interested in cold water swimming or immersion can try an acclimatization program under the supervision of a trained professional. This involves exposure to cold water for short periods and slowly increasing the time a person spends in the water to build up their tolerance.
Caffeine can help increase alertness and productivity and help a person feel more focused.
Researchers traditionally conduct research in teams with institutions to oversee and ethically review their studies. But biohackers often do not obtain ethical reviews and may work in private and unsafe settings.
Ethicists and scholars
Biohackers may inconsistently apply safety measures while working with hazardous chemicals and biological materials, and may not use safety equipment such as gloves, lab coats, or chemical spill kits. A lack of regulation and consistency may lead to contamination, illness, or injury.
There are also risks associated with following unofficial health advice from unaccredited sources, such as blogs, social media, or word of mouth. People interested in nutrition, sleep, or fitness hacks should speak with a medical professional or nutritionist before trying a new regimen to assess if it is safe and suitable for a person’s specific health needs.
For example, experts suggest intermittent fasting is unsuitable for underweight people, those with a history of eating disorders, or with certain health conditions (such as type 1 diabetes).
Blood tests can reveal relevant information to help people biohack effectively. A person can determine levels of various substances in the blood, such as nutrient levels and cell counts.
People can use the results of blood tests to determine if their diets or supplements affect their biological processes and vitamin levels.
For example, a person may measure their cognitive function before and after taking supplements or changing their diet. In-depth blood work is also available to analyze vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and cellular function, so health can be addressed and modified before irreversible disease develops.
Biohackers may use biotechnology to inform their experiments, but the two are not mutually exclusive.
There are no legal issues in terms of people trying health and nutrition biohacks. However, as previously mentioned, people should be cautious about following unofficial health advice from unaccredited sources, as it may not be safe or suitable for their health needs.
Most regulatory agents in the United States have unclear legal barriers for DIY biohacking and at-home experiments and do not enforce them.
Countries such as Germany have specific licensing requirements for performing biohacks. But in the U.S., there are no such regulations for conducting genetic or human germline engineering outside of a clinical setting. Most academic institutions comply with self-regulating agencies which restrict controversial projects.
In some specific cases, biohacking is illegal. These include:
- the use of agrobacterium to engineer plants, which the USDA regulates
- culturing soil bacteria, as soil often contains small amounts of pathogens including anthrax
There are several areas of biohacking that relate to the field of slowing or countering the effects of aging.
People interested in nutrigenomics may focus on eating a healthy diet, taking supplements, exercising, and meditation to extend their natural biological life.
Biohacking may also refer to more experimental and less common practices, such as blood transfusions, egg rejuvenation, cryogenics, and gene editing.
As these practices become more commonplace,
Biohacking refers to a wide range of incremental changes a person can make to their bodies and lifestyles, from taking supplements and using wearable technology to monitor health, to using implanted devices.
Some types of biohacking have produced effective results, such as certain applications of nutrigenomics, while other experimentations have failed. There are safety risks associated with biohacking, as institutions do not regulate biohacking, and biohackers may not always adhere to safety protocols.
People can try various types of easily adoptable biohacks, such as moderately using caffeine, intermittent fasting, and blue light therapy.