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What is Biohacking? 5 Examples For Better Health

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You may have heard that trick before, flipping your button shirt inside-out to quickly iron over the button side, or the idea to put a newspaper at the bottom of your bin to absorb juices. 

These tips are what people call lifehacks. Some cool tricks you can easily do yourself to make daily tasks easier. But have you heard of hacking biology? Something like avoiding blue light (from digital screens) 3 hours before bedtime to significantly improve your sleep quality [1].

In Biohacking, you are not hacking your life to do things easier, cheaper, or faster; you are instead hacking your own body to perform in a superior way, dodge avoidable diseases, and live a long healthy life. Biohacking is more like a lifestyle of practices followed by a growing health-aware community worldwide that uses science and experimentation to manipulate their bodies.

Types Of Biohacking 

Imagine Biohacking as a big school offering different modules. DIY-Biohacking, Nutritional Biohacking, and transhumanism are the most popular modules.

DIY-Biohacking

It is using accessible science to monitor, analyze and intervene in your biology. 
Some DIY YouTubers try to show how they manage safely and successfully some electrician or carpenter jobs at home. Similarly, following the motto “You do not need to be a scientist to do science”, DIY-Biology practitioners seek to perform some biological experimentation that is usually carried out in research institutions and complex laboratories in the comfort of their own homes. The movement has been started by some researchers who wanted to offer access to state-of-the-art molecular biology tools and resources [2]. Extracting your DNA using only kitchen supplies is one of the cool examples of DIY-Biology. This tutorial shows you how to use a shot glass, dish soap, salt, chilled alcohol, and a toothpick to isolate your own DNA. You might even purchase online an electrophoresis for only $300 to analyze your DNA at home.

Nutritional Biohacking

It is the manipulation of your nutrients to keep a healthy performing body.

Nutritional genomics, or Nutrigenomics, is the study of the impact of nutrients on genes concerning disease prevention and treatment [3]. Practitioners of this type of biohacking use controlled experiments to capture how nutritional interventions can influence their gene activity known as epigenetics. For instance, people who have the genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU) can learn to avoid phenylalanine-rich food like meat and eggs to prevent serious health concerns [4].

Transhumanism

Takes Biohacking to another level; it seeks to upgrade the human body with technological interventions to reach superhuman abilities.  

Grinders is the term describing transhumanism believers and practitioners who hack themselves with technological gadgets. You don't have to cut yourself in the secrecy of your garage and insert electronics under your skin to become a biohacker. The road to transhumanism can start with simple steps, like wearing a smartwatch that continuously monitors your body and gives you the “superhuman” ability to predict stroke symptoms or offers clues to enhance your sleep quality. Biotechnology gadgets are rapidly evolving. Maybe one-day wearing blue-light-blocking glasses might sound like a rather primitive type of Biohacking for some kids in the future, who use advanced tDCs brain stimulation headsets during their daily school classes.  

Biohacking Examples

These types of biohacking might have answered the question “what is Biohacking” yet the variety of biohacking practices is wide. We picked five biohacking examples that you can try right away and start experiencing their health benefits.

1. Using Smartwatches To Monitor Heart Health

Smartwatches are good examples of biohacking products and DIY-Biology enabling gadgets. The expansion of the smartwatch's functionalities over the last years offered ordinary consumers a chance to perform diagnostics that were only available in clinics and labs a few years ago.

Most digital watches incorporate Photoplethysmography (PPG) technology; these sensors can optically monitor heart rate with high average accuracy [4]. Other manufacturers embed Bioimpedance sensors in smartwatches that can measure blood pressure along with the respiratory rate. Smartwatches with ECG sensors can offer a detailed analysis of your heart rhythms and possibly detect symptoms of strokes.

2. Intermittent Fasting Role In Longevity

Calorie restriction is a proven method to upregulate autophagy – a protective housekeeping mechanism of the body – that is considered a potential therapeutic target for metabolic and neurodegenerative diseases, cancers, infectious diseases, and ultimately slow aging, and increase of lifespan [5].

Intermittent fasting is getting very popular as an effective calorie restriction method and one of the safest nutritional biohacking techniques. This concept of hacking how we eat tries to manipulate our bodies to access fat stores and trigger healthy defense mechanisms under stress induced by food intake restrictions.  

There are several models of intermittent fasting. Beginners would usually start with a 16/8 strategy, eating only within an eight-hour window a day or simply skipping one meal every day. Starting with intermittent fasting usually shows direct impacts on weight loss within the first weeks of fasting. After adapting to fasting as long as 16 or 18 hours for a while, you can safely move to 20 hours or more of fasting, which is also known as the One Meal A Day (OMAD) program. By doing prolonged fasting that goes even beyond 24 or 36 hours, people tend to experience extended benefits beyond weight loss, such as mental clarity and appetite control

3. Managing Blue-Light Exposure For Better Sleep Quality

Exposing yourself to light is something you can use to hack for mode boosting, better sleep quality, and the prevention of health risks. Well, everyone knows they are doing themselves good by getting out in the sun. But why?

The light of the sun brings us – within its broad spectrum- the blue light. A light with a very short wavelength that has a high energy intensity [6]. The blue light coming with sun rays is responsible for boosting our mood, raising alertness, and regulating our natural wake and sleep cycle [7]. From this perspective, exposure to natural blue light during the daytime can positively regulate melatonin secretion hence improve your sleep quality at night.

Yet, exposure to blue light is only healthy during the day. As a study shows [8], people exposed to blue light from digital devices at night have shown suppressed melatonin secretion and experience poor sleep quality. Sleep disorder puts you at a high risk of heart attack, strokes, and even diabetes [9].    

The biohacking community suggests getting enough sun in the morning and avoiding digital screens at least 2 or 3 hours before sleeping. There are also biohacking products that can minimize your blue light exposure risks during the night, like screen protectors, LED bulbs free of the blue light spectrum, or blue light protective glasses.

4. Cold Therapy To Boost The Immune System

Exposing your body to an intensive short-term thermal stimulus has proven substantial health benefits like enhancing immune function, increasing cell longevity, and releasing adiponectin that encourages muscle repair [10]. 

When the study results of two groups of swimmers were analyzed, the group that swims regularly in ice-cold water showed increased baseline concentration of reduced glutathione and decreased oxidized glutathione levels [11]. The increased glutathione levels affect the lymphoid cells’ signaling, which improves immune system performance [12].  

One way of biohacking with cold therapy is by immersing yourself in ice-baths, yet even having regular cold showers, swimming in cold water, or walks outside in cold weather can yield the required stress to boost your immune system naturally.

5. Biohacking Apps Detecting COVID-19 Symptoms

In the overwhelming confusion imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, risk groups can utilize some biohacking tools to early detect infection symptoms before going through the traditional screening and testing for the coronavirus.  

A study that included 30,529 participants from the United States presented results showing significant signaling of positively tested COVID-19 cases when data collected by smartwatches was combined with the typical screening symptoms [13]. The research developed a smartphone app that collected all participants' activity tracker data and allowed them to enter self-reported symptoms combined with diagnostic COVID-19 testing results. Their results showed a significant improvement in the distinction of individuals infected with COVID-19 using the app. Further development of similar apps promises a great potential to use this technology to help individuals achieve accurate infection diagnostics and prevent widespread epidemic diseases.

References:

[1] https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3740105/
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2137135/
[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28140834/
[5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30172870/
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6721470/
[7] https://preventblindness.org/blue-light-and-your-eyes/
[8] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25535358/
[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19961/
[10] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19303978/
[11] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8063192/
[12] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11115795/
[13] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-020-1123-x

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