A practice known as “biohacking” is gaining popularity among celebrities like Brooke Burke, Tom Brady and Jeff Bezos — it’s a means of improving health, fitness and vitality through small and gradual lifestyle changes.
But is this DIY biology really all it’s cracked up to be?
Experts participated in an intensive course on the subject.
What is biohacking?
Biohacking is a broad concept that can be applied to many aspects of physical and mental health, from nutrition and exercise to sleep and stress management.
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Proponents say people can tap into their own biology to achieve a variety of goals, whether it’s losing weight, enhancing memory, living longer, sleeping better or even relieving chronic pain.
David Asprey, author and founder of a health and wellness company called Bulletproof 360 in Seattle, calls himself “the father of biohacking.”
He told Fox News Digital via email that he started the biohacking movement in 2011.
“Biohacking is the science of changing the environment around you so that you have complete control over your own biology,” Asprey said.
“This allows you to get more results in less time. Instead of pushing and trying, you change things around you so that your body effortlessly gives you what you want, like more energy or less fat or a better brain.
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He believes that people who embrace biohacking are likely to live better lives with more energy, peace, calmness and control over how they look and feel.
Asprey runs an online community of biohackers called The Upgrade Collective.
Hundreds of members, he said, have been greatly helped by taking control of their own biology.
“Some have learned how to sleep for the first time in years, others have lost 100 pounds, and some feel more energy than they ever believed possible,” he said.
Biohacking is not a one-size-fits-all practice. Individuals can choose the elements of their choice to focus on – and how far.
Hot and cold therapy explained
Cold therapy or cryotherapy is one of the most common approaches to biohacking.
Athletes have long used it to reduce inflammation and relieve sore muscles after hard workouts, but it’s also gaining widespread popularity for its purported mental and physical health benefits.
Melanie Avalon, an actress, author and avid biohacker in Los Angeles, California, conducts daily cryotherapy sessions.
“It helps reduce inflammation and ‘regulates’ neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and epinephrine,” she said.
Cold therapy can be as simple as applying an ice pack to a localized area or taking a cold shower.
Others may do full-body ice baths, “polar plunges,” or full-body cryotherapy in a cryochamber, which is cooled to frigid temperatures with liquid nitrogen.
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For those who can’t take the cold, another form of biohacking involves heat therapy.
Avalon said he does infrared sauna sessions as a means of reducing muscle pain, sweating out toxins, boosting the immune system by stimulating artificial fever and activating longevity-promoting heat shock proteins.
(Always consult a doctor or health care provider before starting any cold or hot therapy.)
Intermittent fasting revealed
While biohackers place great emphasis on what they eat, when they eat is perhaps just as important.
Brooke Burke, for example, has long been a proponent of intermittent fasting, which restricts meals to a set period of time.
One example is the 16/8 method, where the person fasts for 16 hours and then only eats for eight hours, between 10am and 6pm.
Others may choose to fast for a full 24 hours once or twice a week or restrict their calories on fasting days.
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Intermittent fasting has been shown to have many benefits, including improved heart health, weight loss, better memory and cognitive function, higher athletic performance and management of type 2 diabetes, according to the Johns Hopkins Medicine website.
More advanced biohackers might delve into nutrigenomics, which involves studying how different foods interact with the body’s genes as a means of preventing disease.
Sleep optimization explained
To promote healthy sleep, biohackers focus on regulating the circadian rhythm, which is like the body’s 24-hour biological clock.
Exposure to light sources triggers the body to enter the “wake up” cycle in the morning – and when it gets dark, the body starts producing melatonin to prepare for sleep. When the circadian rhythm is out of order, it can disrupt the sleep cycle.
On his website, Toronto-based biohacker Dr. Greg Wells offers some tips for regulating your circadian rhythm.
These include exposing the eyes to light first thing in the morning, even if this requires the use of artificial sunlight, and avoiding light exposure before bed.
He also recommends keeping the bedroom at 66 degrees Fahrenheit to promote optimal sleep conditions.
“Biohacking is the science of changing the environment around you so that you have complete control over your own biology.”
Avalon supports its own healthy sleep habits by using a cooling mattress, blackout curtains and blue light blocking glasses to filter blue-violet light rays from digital screens.
Red Light Therapy: What is it?
A growing number of biohackers are touting the health benefits of red light therapy.
This involves exposure to red light of certain wavelengths to cause changes in the body’s cells. People can lie in full-body beds or use a hand-held device to trigger the red light.
Red light therapy is said to relieve pain, heal wounds, reduce side effects of cancer treatment, reduce inflammation and improve skin — although the Cleveland Clinic says on its website that more research is needed to determine its effectiveness .
Health tracking and how to do it
Much of biohacking is what Avalon calls “self-quantification,” which involves practices that measure various states of the body.
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Today, wearables can track almost any metric imaginable—heart rate, physical activity, calories burned, sleep cycles, glucose (blood sugar) levels, reproductive cycles, even the amount of fat the body burns.
“By intensively monitoring someone’s biomarkers, such as heart rate variables, body temperature, sleep rhythms, blood glucose and blood markers, biohackers get feedback on what’s working and what’s not working so they can optimize how deal with a given day,” Avalon said.
“In a sense, whether they know it or not, everyone is a biohacker.”
Asprey touts the sleep tracking system as the most important piece of technology that will tell you if you’re moving in the right direction.
“When you improve your health markers and biometrics, your score goes up,” he said. “When you over-train or are emotionally stressed, your performance is lower. You can’t be fooled.”
Advertised blood test
Many biohackers monitor their blood work to track things like cholesterol, vitamin and mineral levels, organ health, inflammation, cellular function, immune system health, and thyroid function.
Blood tests can also determine whether dietary changes or supplements are having the desired effect.
Asprey said he has always been a proponent of blood tests.
“How could you possibly try to fix something if you don’t know where it is or where it’s going?” he said. “It’s something healthy people have to do because if you wait until you’re sick to get a blood test, you won’t know where you were when you were well.”
For safe biohacking, start slow
As with any lifestyle decision, pushing biohacking to the extreme comes with some degree of risk.
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“Risks can come from pushing the body out of a hormetic state [beneficial] stress, to overwork and detrimental physical stress,” Avalon said.
“Sufficient recovery is important. Biohacking techniques should not be seen as salvation, but rather as a tool to improve our well-being and existence.
For those just starting out, Asprey recommends choosing just one thing to focus on, rather than setting a more general goal of “recovery.”
This may include better sleeping habits, a healthier diet, or daily exercise.
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“In a sense, whether they know it or not, everyone is a biohacker,” he said.
“The environment around you, the food you eat, the space you live in and the things you do always influence you. Each of us consciously or unconsciously cares for the environment.”
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Anyone considering starting any new biohacking practices should check with their doctor first.