A practice known as “biohacking” is gaining popularity among celebrities such as Brooke Burke, Tom Brady and Jeff Bezos — it’s means of improving health, fitness and vitality by making small and incremental lifestyle changes.
But is this “DIY biology” really all it’s cracked up to be?
Experts weighed in for a crash course on the topic.
What is biohacking?
Biohacking is a broad concept that can be applied to many aspects of physical and mental health, from eating and exercise to sleep and stress management.
Proponents say people can hack into their own biology to achieve different goals, whether it’s losing weight, boosting memory, living longer, getting better sleep or even alleviating 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 full control of your own biology,” Asprey said.
“It allows you to get more results with less time. Instead of pushing and trying, you change things around you so that your body effortlessly gives you what you want, such as more energy or less fat or a better brain.”
He believes that people who embrace biohacking likely will live a better life 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 helped profoundly 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 was possible,” he said.
Biohacking isn’t a one-size-fits-all practice. Individuals can pick and choose the elements of their choice to focus on — and how far to take it.
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 ease sore muscles after tough training sessions, 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, does daily sessions of cryotherapy.
“It helps to reduce inflammation and ‘upregulate’ 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 whole-body cryotherapy in a cryochamber, which is cooled to frigid temperatures with liquid nitrogen.
For those who can’t take the cold, another form of biohacking involves heat therapy.
Avalon said she does sessions in an infrared sauna as a means of reducing muscle soreness, sweating out toxins, boosting the immune system via the stimulation of an artificial fever, and activating longevity-promoting heat shock proteins.
(Always consult with a doctor or health care provider before starting any cold or hot therapy.)
Intermittent fasting revealed
While biohackers put a big emphasis on what they eat, when they eat is perhaps just as important.
Brooke Burke, for example, has long been an advocate of intermittent fasting, which restricts meals to a certain window of time.
One example is the 16/8 method, in which the person fasts for 16 hours and then eats only within an eight-hour span, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Others may opt to fast for a full 24 hours once or twice per week, or to limit their calories on fasting days.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to have numerous benefits, including improved heart health, weight loss, better memory and cognitive functions, higher athletic performance, and management of type 2 diabetes, according to the Johns Hopkins Medicine website.
More advanced biohackers may get 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” cycle in the morning — and when it gets dark the body begins producing melatonin to prepare for sleep. When the circadian rhythm is out of whack, it can disturb the sleep cycle.
On his website, biohacker Dr. Greg Wells, based in Toronto, offers a few tips for regulating the circadian rhythm.
These include exposing the eyes to light first thing in the morning, even if it requires the use of artificial sunlight, and avoiding exposure to light before bed.
He also recommends keeping the bedroom at 66 degrees Fahrenheit to promote optimal sleeping conditions.
“Biohacking is the science of changing the environment around you so you have full control of your own biology.”
Avalon supports her own healthy sleeping habits by using a cooling mattress, blackout curtains and blue light-blocking glasses to filter out blue-violet light rays from digital screens.
Red light therapy: What is it?
An increasing number of biohackers are touting the health benefits of red light therapy.
This involves exposure to red light in certain wavelengths to trigger changes in the body’s cells. People can lie in full-body beds or use a handheld device to apply the red light.
Red light therapy is said to effect pain relief, wound healing, decreased side effects from cancer treatments, reduced inflammation and skin improvements — although the Cleveland Clinic states on its website that more research is needed to determine its effectiveness.
Health tracking and how to do it
A big part of biohacking is what Avalon calls “self-quantification,” which involves practices that measure various states of the body.
Today, wearable devices can track almost every imaginable metric — heart rate, physical activity, calories burned, sleep cycles, glucose (blood sugar) levels, reproductive cycles, even the amount of fat the body burns.
“By intensely monitoring one’s biomarkers, such as heart rate variables, body temperature, sleep rhythms, blood glucose and blood markers, biohackers receive feedback for what is and isn’t working, so they can optimize how they tackle any given day,” Avalon said.
“In a way, whether they know it or not, everyone is a biohacker.”
Asprey touts a sleep-tracking system as the most important piece of technology that will tell you whether you’re moving in the right direction.
“As you improve your health markers and biometrics, your score increases,” he said. “When you are over-training or emotionally stressed, your score is lower. There’s no tricking yourself.”
Blood testing touted
Many biohackers monitor their bloodwork 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 an advocate of blood testing.
“How could you try to fix something if you don’t know where it is or where it’s going?” he said. “It’s something healthy people should do, because if you wait until you’re sick to take a blood test, you won’t know where you were when you were well.”
For safe biohacking, start slowly
As with any lifestyle decision, pushing biohacking to the extreme comes with some degree of risk.
“The risks can come from pushing the body from a state of hormetic [beneficial] stresses, to overtaxing and detrimental physical stress,” said Avalon.
“Ample recovery is important. Biohacking techniques should not be seen as salvation, but rather as a tool to enhance our well-being and existence.”
For those just getting started, Asprey recommends picking just one thing to focus on, as opposed to setting a more general goal of “getting healthy.”
This might be incorporating better sleep habits, eating a healthier diet or getting daily exercise.
“In a way, 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 are always affecting you. Every one of us is in charge of our environment, consciously or unconsciously.”
All those considering starting any new biohacking practices should first consult with their doctor.