What's Biohacking and Can It Really Change Your Life?

Hacking isn’t just for computers anymore. Biohacking is a trend that’s recently been gaining popularity with everyone from weekend warriors to desk jockeys.

While no scientific consensus on the term exists at present, “biohacking” is considered the human effort to be your own best self, according to Mark Moschel, CTO of Factor75, a delivery service for nutrient-dense, chef-prepared meals. This means using your own biology as well as what’s consumed for energy and nutrition to the best possible outcome.

A Little Background on Biohacking

While the concept is relatively new, biohacking labs have proliferated at such universities as Berkeley and Stanford. “Hacking is a positive term, and it means learning about stuff by building and trying to make things and seeing what happens,” says Stanford University bioengineering professor Drew Endy.

“The word ‘hacker’ comes from MIT, where hacks would be cool little tricks that you would play on each other,” says Eri Gentry, founder of Silicon Valley biohacking outfit BioCurious. “So this was a hack, and hackers came to be known in the ’60s and ’70s as the guys who were making the first computers.”

Finally, Dave Asprey, creator of Bulletproof Coffee, says that biohacking is how to “hack your own biology... and [gain] control of systems in your body you would never have access to.” Curious to learn more? Here are four of the most popular biohacking methods and the science behind them.

1. Grass-Fed Butter and MCT Oil Coffee (aka Bulletproof Coffee)

Biohacking owes much of its popularity to proponents like Asprey, whose line of Bulletproof products has recently surged in popularity. Products include the popular Brain Octane, a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) that metabolizes into ketones without breaking down glucose from sugars or carbohydrates. Translation: The oil provides a rapid energy boost from healthy fats that aren’t stored in the body, enhances mental clarity and aids in digestion.

Asprey discovered the product while hiking Mt. Kailash in Tibet, where the high elevations quickly sap energy. Exhausted from grueling physical exercise in high elevations, Asprey was treated to yak-butter coffee and discovered that the concoction renewed him.

And it’s no surprise: According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, MCTs convert to adenosine triphosphate (ATP), or cellular fuel, in just three steps; while the conversion of sugars require 25 steps. What’s more, the mixture of MCT oil, grass-fed butter and coffee helps stimulate the metabolism.

In addition to boosting energy and providing healthy fats, MCT oils like those in Bulletproof can bypass liver processing, thereby offering a mental boost directly after ingestion, according to a study Asprey cites that was performed on rats in the Journal of Nutrition.

2. Hacking Your Mobility

It’s clear that there’s a significant mind-body connection. But just how far does that connection extend? And how do you take advantage of that connection?

Dean Somerset, a personal trainer and creator of Ruthless Mobility, discovered that the physical and mental performance of his clients improved vastly with increased range of mobility. Specific improvements included increased fitness, agility and strength as well as reduced pain and injury.

The former professional football player found that wellness was vastly improved through four simple “mobility hacks.” These include:

1. Mindful breathing that stimulates the vagal nerve and reduces muscle tension.

2. Strengthening the core and overall stability and balance.

3. Focusing on alignment from the top down and bottom up, as the position of neck and feet dictate a large amount of general stability.

4. Improving fascial muscle lines, which involves foam rolling and trigger-point therapy.

3. Achieving a Flow State

The concept of flow states unites psychology and neuroscience and holds that athletes, writers, musicians and other highly skilled professionals tap into a mental state in which they do their best work.

During this state, the frontal lobes of the brain are hyperactive, causing the ego or sense of self to dissolve and prompting theta and gamma states, as opposed to the beta brain waves created during times of struggle.

The origination of the concept began with studies conducted by University of Chicago professor and psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who posited, “The whole effort of humankind through millennia of history has been to capture these fleeting moments of fulfillment and make them a part of everyday existence.”

He further describes his concept of flow in the TED Talk, “Flow, the secret to happiness.” Csikszentmihalyi then traveled the world to interview various high-functioning performers and athletes about the states in which they did their best work and found striking similarities, whether the interviewee was a rock climber, musician or writer.

Modern proponents of Csikszentmihalyi are Jamie Wheal and Steven Kotler (author of “The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance”) whose Flow Genome Project attempts to reverse-engineer the flow genome to understand how to best tap into the state.

In “How to Hack Flow,” Wheal presented his recommendations for finding the state of flow: mastering deep focus, doing that which we most enjoy and avoiding the idea of paying billable hours for services rendered, and instead focusing on compensation tied to the value added by said services.

He suggested small practices to implement to achieve a flow state, including spending five minutes per day meditating or in deep focus, eating whole foods, sleeping eight to 12 hours per day to promote deep recovery and using biofeedback apps to monitor health. Wheal specifically recommended the Azumio Stress Doctor to manage activity and diet. The app also has an algorithm to monitor capillary blood flow and cardiac performance for tracking breathing patterns and promoting mindfulness techniques.

4. Intermittent Fasting

Research suggests that intermittent fasting, or the occasional restriction of food intake, has numerous positive physiological effects, including improved metabolic function and insulin resistance as well as reduced aging and instances of cancer, according to an article published in Sciences Translational Medicine.

Some evidence suggests that humans are genetically hardwired from cavemen days to endure periods of fasting, which depletes glycogen in the liver and helps the body break down fats. Proponents of intermittent fasting believe that it stimulates the burning of fat, as opposed to burning carbohydrates.

Human studies on intermittent fasting have shown that it helps improve overall health in several key areas, Andrea Wheeler, RN, says. These include lowering resting blood pressure, improving insulin sensitivity, reducing triglycerides and total cholesterol and decreasing inflammation and oxidative stress.

It’s essential to consult with a medical professional about intermittent fasting, especially with issues of blood sugar irregularity and hyper- or hypoglycemia. It’s also important to stay hydrated and balance nutrition in other ways. Many nutritionists recommend using ketone testing sticks while intermittent fasting to determine your body’s ketosis rate (the rate at which fat burns that will stimulate neuron activity in the brain).

About the Author

Sara has served as Editor-in-Chief or Contributing Writer for a variety of magazines, such as Dubious and Minty in Seattle, XLR8R of San Francisco, Chicago’s Blacklist, the New York-based Flavorwire, Los Angeles' URB, and Resident Advisor of Berlin. Sara specializes in well-bred content and content marketing for a range of industries, from fashion and fitness to finance, hospitality, technology and entertainment.