Better health doesn’t have to be hard
Brendan Rolfe, CPHR, BA, DipA
It’s not necessarily a new concept. Athletes, doctors, and monks have been practising some form of what some call “biohacking” since the beginning of recorded time to improve and optimize health and performance. We can all harness the power of biohacking to achieve our best health!
Biohacking is a term that some people broadly apply to any small steps or changes that an individual can take to improve their health. It’s been used to refer to things ranging from the simple, like 5 minutes of focusing on slow, deep breaths to the more complex—and controversial, like editing ones’ own DNA.
We’re not delving into your DNA here. But we are discussing the many ways we can all “hack” our way to better bio health.
For the sake of simplicity, and to contribute to your DIY biology quest—that is, the non-institutional self-education of the inner workings of your body—we’ve sorted our biohacking ideas into three subcategories: things you can do, things you can consume, and things you can wear. To tickle your “why should I care” bone, here are simple examples of each that you can implement today, to be mentally and physically healthier.
Intermittent fasting, or IF, refers to the idea of limiting the amount of time during the day you can eat or fasting for an entire day.
No one enjoys restricting their food intake. IF is more concerned with when you eat rather than how much you eat. The positive effects of fasting begin after 8 hours, but are most prevalent when the individual fasts for 14 to 18 hours per day.
Although fasting is not for everyone, if you’re healthy there are some reasons you might consider IF. Positive effects may include decreases in blood pressure, resting heart rate, cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose, and insulin and temporary increases in human growth hormone and red blood cell production, which can aid in muscle recovery and positive health.
Nootropics, also known as “cognitive enhancers” or “smart drugs,” have been around for centuries, but their application and effectiveness are under constant study, and we’re still learning more about how they can be used to enhance our health.
First used to refer to very specific synthetic drugs to help treat such conditions as Alzheimer’s or ADHD, the term nootropics now also defines natural substances (think gingko or ginseng—or even coffee and tea) that have been used traditionally to help enhance cognitive performance.
To be proactive in your health right now, you can start by drinking coffee with purpose. A recent umbrella review of more than 250 meta-analyses that considered the effects of coffee consumption on health outcomes showed a consistent benefit of drinking up to three cups a day. The benefits reported by this huge study included reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers, as well as neurological, metabolic, and liver conditions.
Bio “feedback” wearables include such things as smart watches that track heart rate and variability, caloric expenditure, and sometimes blood oxygen levels. But some companies have taken this technology one step further to produce tech clothing including shirts, pants, sports bras, and even socks.
These not only provide feedback similar to smart watches, but they also track breathing rate and magnitude of each muscle contraction—valuable feedback that can enhance the effectiveness of workouts and offer information on day-to-day activities that might be contributing to chronic pain or injuries. There are even mood tracking devices that monitor psychological stress, brain activity, and cognitive function.
Biohacking and natural health go together like peas and carrots. Most of the micro-interventions you can make, that are at the very heart of biohacking, are in fact natural and organic. Aside from the extreme and invasive face of biohacking, like embedded technology and blood transfusions (more on that in the sidebar), biohacking and natural health align almost flawlessly.
Most of the immediate changes we can make are inexpensive (or free): changing what and when we eat, meditating, exercising and stretching, taking ice baths, and supplementing your diet with natural health products are all simple and effective ways to “biohack” your way to better health!
Is it ethical to steal a loaf of bread to feed your starving family? Individual ethics can vary from person to person and, of course, depends on context. Let’s instead relate the question to an arena with rules, guidelines, and standards: sport, specifically competitive cycling.
“Blood doping” is the drawing of an athlete’s blood, storage of it, and reinjection into the athlete before a competition (the process artificially increases the amount of oxygen getting to the athlete’s muscles, boosting their output capacity). The sport of cycling is rife with it, but it’s also illegal during competition.
So, although reinjecting yourself with your own stored blood could be considered a form of biohacking, the ethics of doing so clearly depend upon the context.
The ethics of biohacking are debatable, but what about the legalities? In a clinical setting, under the direction of experts, genome editing has the potential to enhance certain genetic capabilities and address deficiencies by literally changing genetic composition.
You can actually buy DIY gene-editing kits online, and there are even “how-to” videos on YouTube. But consider this akin to buying powerful drugs from a street dealer; how much trust do you put in someone you’ve never met?
The California government is the first North American jurisdiction to legislate the practice. Its January 2020 legislation makes it illegal to sell CRISPR gene therapy kits without warning labels that state they are not safe to self-administer. It’s a start, but let’s remember that coffee cups and cigarette boxes also contain health-danger warnings. Buyer beware.
Simply working out, stretching, or starting a new diet based on a social media post from some “doctor’s” blog isn’t necessarily biohacking.
Educating yourself on the intricacies of the human body (DIY biology), purposefully implementing interventions, consciously noting biological feedback, and modifying those interventions, is at the heart of biohacking. Be intentional in your health, rather than being a passenger!
Life is a game of odds. Want to tip the odds in your favour? Here are three scientifically supported things you can start doing today for a longer, healthier life:
Get in the Zen
You don’t need to shave your head, wear robes, and “ohm” on a mountaintop for days on end to reap the benefits of meditation. A short session of mindful breathing while focusing on positive thoughts to start your day has shown positive effects on stress, anxiety, and pain management.
Pop a pill
According to a 2020 study the US population (consider this likely similar for Canadians) are deficient in the following nutrients.
If you believe yourself to have an incomplete diet, taking a relatively inexpensive broad-spectrum multivitamin/multimineral supplement once a day can be good insurance to keep your body going stronger for longer.
De-flame with CBD gel
Chronic inflammation may be involved in degeneration of joints (potentially leading to painful osteoarthritis). Cannabidiol (CBD) gel, derived from the cannabis plant, has shown significant reduction in joint inflammation when applied topically in rat models.
If you suffer from joint pain, cannabis is no longer just for parties and Snoop Dogg concerts; it can also be an effective medicinal tool for long-term pain management.