Biohacking is an extremely broad term; it encompasses changes or manipulations to your brain and body to optimize your health without using traditional medicine. Biohacking can involve different things, depending on the person, whether the goal is weight loss or improving brain function. At its foundation, biohacking encompasses numerous modalities and interventions that are believed to improve health, vitality, and longevity.
Three Types of Biohacking
Nutrigenomics studies the impact that nutrients have on the expression of a person’s genome, or the interaction between your genes and the food you eat.
This practice can range from taking certain dietary supplements to manipulating your circadian rhythm in order to get better quality sleep. Nutrigenomics focuses on personal nutrition by testing how different nutrients affect your health in order to enhance the body’s gene expression. Some consider nutrigenomics controversial due to the belief that results can’t be linked entirely to the practice. Instead, they believe that nutrigenomics is just one factor out of many that impact our body’s response to nutrients in food.
Proponents of nutrigenomics claim benefits such as:
- Decreased risk of developing diseases, especially if predisposed
- Weight loss
- Reduced symptoms of depression
- Improved blood pressure and healthy gut bacteria
Even though food does play a role in impacting your genes and gene expression, nutrigenomics may not work for everyone – and nutrition is just one piece of the puzzle. Factors like exercise, weight, and stress management also play big roles in gene expression and disease prevention, so nutrigenomics may not be the silver bullet that biohackers are looking for.
DIY biology, also known as DIYbio, focuses on modifying DNA and allows biology enthusiasts to carry out experiments that are usually practiced only by medical and science professionals. DIY biology experts share their knowledge of a variety of techniques to help those outside the medical setting conduct experiments on their own. In the past, only trained experts were able to analyze and test concepts related to life science, such as synthetic biology or gene editing. However, DIY biology makes it possible for anyone to carry out these experiments in their home or community lab. Examples of DIYbio experiments you can do in your own home include:
- Extracting your own DNA
- Prepare a bacteria culture
- Ferment food
- Modify DNA to create genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
This type of biohacking is also controversial because people usually lack the education and formal training in safety and ethics that’s required to partake in DIY biology. There is also concern that the advanced equipment anyone can access will end up in the wrong hands and potentially be used – intentionally or accidentally – to create biological weapons.
The DIY movement was first popularized around the late 1960s, when people began to become skeptical of experiments done by experts. DIYbio didn’t really become popular in the United States until around 2008, during a time of financial downturn when many labs were forced to shut down, making a large amount of equipment available for everyone at a cheap price. Since then, DIY biology has spread around the world.
Grinder is a type of biohacking that entails having experts make body modifications, such as implanting computer chips into the body or receiving injections or implants. This is a more radical type of biohacking compared to nutrigenomics and DIY biology. Grinders are looking to fully optimize their bodies – with help from these interventions.
Some grinders choose to practice because it can be fun and convenient, while others are curious about “blurring the line between human and machine.”
Why Do People Biohack?
Biohacking and was originally intended to find shortcuts to better health and well-being. Today it refers to a wide array of things, from diet and lifestyle products to radical experimentation. Unfortunately, many can take advantage of the term biohacking to imply quick fixes to complex health issues as well as for commercial clout and to sell supplements with unsubstantiated promises.
The fascination with biohacking is grounded in the fact that all people have the desire to better their mental and physical health. The wide range of motivating factors to practice biohacking is also where the risk lies. Once a person starts to feel better, they may want to keep going and optimize every part of their biology and body, even if it means radical experimentation without proper oversight.
People may also consider biohacking because it gives them a sense of control over their own physiology. For those who feel like they’ve tried everything to feel better, biohacking can help them gain a sense of control over their health. These practices can also foster a strong sense of community: Biohackers are able to connect online through a variety of social networks to share ideas and meet in person to run labs or attend biohacking conferences.
Biohacking Versus Traditional Medicine
Biohacking is centered around the idea that we can quickly push past our bodies’ abilities using a wide range of solutions, whereas traditional medicine prioritizes a longer-term approach, without interventions that don’t have a direct impact on a particular aspect of our health.
Traditional medicine has a focus on treating illness and disease, while biohacking wants to go beyond – to optimize rather than simply maintain health. Many biohackers view the human body as a technical problem that can be resolved with engineering, and they’re pushing the limits of what health can mean for any one person.
Is Biohacking Legal?
The legality of biohacking really depends on the type. Nutrigenomics is generally legal, unless someone is looking to take banned supplements, like steroids.
Overall, the less radical side of biohacking is legal and safe. It includes things like:
- Performance clothing
- Wearable technology
- Exercise regimens
- Diet plans
- Supplement routines
The first bill regulating any sort of biohacking was passed in California, which made selling DIY genetic engineering or gene-therapy kits illegal unless they included a warning to not use the kit on yourself.
Even though most radical biohacking practices aren’t entirely prohibited, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) frowns upon radical approaches, procedures, and manipulations to achieve health and wellness.
As biohacking continues to progress, regulators are beginning to step into this uncharted territory and create new boundaries.
One side of the biohacking spectrum includes things like diet and lifestyle changes or managing your quality of sleep. This less radical side of biohacking is considered safe and can benefit your overall health and wellness.
The potentially dangerous side of biohacking involves administering unregulated drugs, manipulating genetic material, and conducting self-experiments that have a high risk of danger if not done correctly. Administering and discovering new drugs through biohacking, in particular, may dismiss the need for important research that would determine the safety and efficacy of such interventions.
Ultimately, it’s up to the individual to determine what they feel is safe in relation to biohacking. This also applies to your individual health in general – what works for you may not work for someone else, and vice versa. This is what IIN calls bio-individuality.
Bio-individuality refers to the idea that every person’s body is unique in its own way, as are their health and nutrition requirements. Creating a balanced diet and lifestyle is one way that will help most people meet their health and wellness goals. If you need help achieving your intended results, speak to a doctor or Health Coach to work with you through this process!