Think tech-hacker logic, but applied to people. That’s biohacking.
Over the last decade, biohacking has expanded past the elusive and elite boundaries of Silicon Valley, where the concept first gained recognition and popularity—primarily from the founder of Bulletproof Coffee and self-proclaimed biohacker, Dave Asprey. Now, anyone can take this DIY approach to health thanks to emerging science on longevity, innovative technologies that make living longer possible, and novel gadgets that let you track and measure almost every aspect of your health.
What is biohacking?
Biohacking is the process of implementing scientifically-driven lifestyle interventions to optimize health throughout the lifespan. It’s a rather ambiguous term that can encompass both incremental and radical changes to diet, lifestyle, or supplementation—changes all taken with the goal of optimizing health.
Biohacking is a personalized process that involves self-experimentation and collecting data, and what works for some people may not work for you. The best biohacks are informed by science and data-driven feedback on what works best for your body. A level of caution should be warranted before implementing biohacks without supporting scientific evidence.
Hacking human health: How to get started as a biohacker?
Remember learning about the scientific method in middle school? This do-it-yourself biology takes a similar approach.
- Describe the problem you want to address: Using observations about your current health status and where you would like your health and wellness to go, identify a problem area you want a biohack to address. For example, a problem could be, “My cholesterol is high. I want to improve my cholesterol levels.”
- Create a hypothesis: Now it’s time to figure out what diet, lifestyle, exercise, or supplement interventions may be suitable to address your defined problem. This step requires some research on your end. After some digging, select an intervention and make a hypothesis on how it will impact your health. Going off the cholesterol example, an example of a hypothesis for that problem could be, “Based on research, I predict that if I practice intermittent fasting for four months, my cholesterol will go down.”
- Get a baseline measure: To know whether an intervention was successful, you need to know where you started. It’s important to get a baseline measure of the outcome you’re wanting to improve before taking steps to improve it. If you want to lower your cholesterol, you need to figure out what your baseline cholesterol is.
- Test the hypothesis: Now you’re ready to implement the intervention! If you’re testing out intermittent fasting, you now actually need to practice it in your daily routine.
- Evaluate and measure results: The only way to tell if the intervention is working is to measure it! Measure the outcome with the data you collected before beginning the intervention to see the true change.
- Refine the biohack: If the intervention or biohack you implemented worked, great! You can either refine it or keep going and try for greater improvements. Or, you can try out a completely different biohack.
Using technology's support to track and measure the health effects of your bio hack
Yes, you might be able to tell if a biohack is working by how you feel. And while the subjective feedback is valuable, objective measures using hard data are the only way to know for sure how your body is physiologically responding to the changes you implemented.
Wearables include everything from watches, rings, to patches. Watches like Apple Watch, Garmin smartwatches, and FitBit can track metrics like sleep and heart rate. The Oura Ring health wearable Whoop can track sleep and respiratory measures in even more detail. Some people even wear continuous glucose monitors (a patch worn on the arm) to track blood sugar, glucose levels throughout the day. All you have to do is tap your phone to the glucose monitor and you can see what your blood sugar levels are in seconds. However, a prescription is needed to get a continuous glucose monitor from a pharmacy.
Metrics that wearable trackers capture like sleep, heart rate, and blood sugar are all common targets of biohacks.
Glucose isn’t the only blood measure—or biomarker—that indicates health or wellness status. Numerous biomarkers can be hacked by lifestyle changes. To name a few...
Vitamin D: Optimal vitamin D levels are associated with improved bone health, inflammation, muscle mass and strength, and immune health.
Ferritin: This is a protein that stores iron and supports energy metabolism, helps produce immune cells, and low levels increase the risk of injury, lead to physical and mental fatigue, and correlate with a high exercise heart rate.
Cortisol: This is a hormone that responds to physical or mental stress. Chronically high cortisol levels are linked to fatigue, high blood sugar levels, and poor sleep.
Magnesium: A mineral that supports healthy blood pressure, blood glucose, muscle function, and sleep quality.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol: This is commonly known as the “bad cholesterol” since it can build up in arteries and lead to blockages.
Blood tests tailored to biohackers
InsideTracker is an ultra-personalized system—designed for those aiming to fine-tune their health—that analyzes blood, lifestyle, DNA, and fitness tracker data. It measures up to 43 biomarkers and reveals your optimal ranges based on your age, sex, activity, and ethnicity for each one. Not only does the system analyze your data, it then provides you with nutrition, supplements, lifestyle, and exercise interventions that will directly impact your suboptimal biomarkers. So, if you're not sure what biohack to try, let InsideTracker can provide you with science-based recommendations based on what your body needs the most help with.
Does biohacking work?
It depends. Many biohacks are backed by science and have research supporting their efficacy. Other biohacks are not currently grounded in science or are still in the early stages of research (i.e being studied in a lab or in animals).
Biohacking can work when the intervention you choose to implement actually addresses the outcome you’re trying to reach. Because the goal of biohacking is optimal health, many biohacks spill over from discoveries made from aging and longevity research.
Here's where the science stands on six common biohacks
The importance of sleep is not underscored by research. Quality sleep is linked to:
- Improved blood sugar (glucose) control 
- Reduced stress 
Whereas poor sleep is associated with:
- Increased levels of inflammation and inflammatory biomarkers 
- Impaired immunity 
- Increased risk of heart disease, obesity, and type II diabetes 
Because of its significant role in health and disease prevention, sleep has become a key target for biohackers. And now, you don’t have to guess how well you’re sleeping. Wearable devices like Whoop, Oura Ring, FitBit, Apple Watch, and Garmin smartwatches can easily track sleep data like sleep duration and time spent in REM sleep. Garmin smartwatches and Fitbit can even sync with InsideTracker, and InsideTracker can provide you with daily feedback on how to optimize them.
2. Intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting is by no means a new biohack. The early adopter stage of intermittent fasting cited the benefits of intermittent fasting from animal studies. However, human research on intermittent fasting has exploded in the last decade.
Human studies show that intermittent fasting may improve: [6-8]
- Insulin sensitivity
- Blood pressure
- Markers of oxidative stress and inflammation
- Cholesterol levels
And there are multiple ways intermittent fasting has been studied and can be practiced. So, no matter what your lifestyle or preferences are, there are a variety of ways to implement this biohack in your life.
Time-restricted feeding: This method limits eating to a specific window followed by a long overnight fast. This is often referred to as a 16:8 diet, with 16 hours of fasting and a designated eight-hour eating window.
Circadian rhythm fasting: This is a more specific way of time-restricted feeding that requires a minimum of a 12 hour overnight fast and an earlier eating window during the day to align with the body’s natural circadian rhythms.
Alternate-day fasting: This method requires fasting or restricts caloric intake to less than 20% of your typical daily intake every other day.
5:2 fast: This method designates two days a week as fasting days, while food is consumed regularly—without restriction the other five days.
3. Vegan diet
Following a vegan diet means eliminating all animal-derived products from your diet: including meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, eggs, and even honey. People who eat a vegan diet have considerably lower LDL cholesterol levels (the bad cholesterol) and have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease than omnivores (people who eat both plants and animals). [9-12]
Vegans also have significantly lower blood glucose levels in addition to hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), or a measure of your blood sugar average over the last 90-120 days. [9,13]
However, following a vegan diet may also negatively impact sex hormone levels like testosterone and sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) in both males and females. And since animal products are a great source of quality iron, vegans tend to have lower levels of hemoglobin (a protein in your red blood cells that transports oxygen) and hematocrit (a percentage of red blood cells in the bloodstream), and ferritin (the storage form of iron). 
Vegan diets can help you hack your health, but it can also be more challenging to optimize certain measures like iron status. Of course, many other factors go into following a vegan diet or not (environmental, cultural, etc.) and you don’t have to compromise on the food choices that align with your values. It’s important to understand how your body responds to a diet to determine if your eating habits are fully working for you or if adjustments have to be made.
4. Sauna bathing
Sauna bathing has been used for centuries as a relaxation technique, and now, research suggests that saunas are beneficial for heart health, reducing inflammation, and lowering cholesterol. [15-17)
For the best results of this biohack, opt to get a temperature range of 175-195F (80-90C) with 10-20% humidity for a total of 30-minutes and complete three sessions a week. To see if sauna bathing is working for you, you’re going to want to measure blood markers of heart health—like cholesterol—and markers of inflammation—like hsCRP.
5. NMN or NR supplements
Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide or NAD+ is a molecule in the body involved in everything from cellular energy production, DNA repair, and aging. And NAD+ seems to naturally decline with age. One way people are trying to biohack this age-related loss is through supplementation with precursors, or intermediaries, like nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) or nicotinamide riboside (NR). 
Several preclinical (lab and animal) studies show encouraging results that NMN and NR supplements boost NAD+ levels. Clinical trials of these supplements in people just started in 2016. The current human research indicates that these supplements may be beneficial in increasing levels of NAD+, but there’s currently not enough evidence to conclude that they are generally safe for people to take or what the effects of increased NAD+ levels are. [10-21]
*As of November 2022, the Food and Drug Administration ruled that NMN cannot be sold as a dietary supplement in the United States. One citation suppliers of the supplement have received from the FDA state the reason for this change is because of its prior investigation of a drug. However, it's unclear whether or not NMN products will be available for commercial purchase.
6. Brain games
There’s research that indicates that playing brain games can help improve cognitive abilities as you age, and there’s a correlation between declining cognition and increased risk of death.  Combatting the effects of aging is a common goal for biohackers. Luckily, playing brain games that challenge memory and cognitive awareness may decrease age-related cognitive decline and actually improve cognitive processing. 
One last note before you begin biohacking
Before just jumping into the latest biohack, make sure you pick an evidence-based approach for the outcome you are wanting to address. And the only way to know whether or not that biohack worked is through gathering pre-and post-biohack metrics through wearable devices or blood tests.
Molly Knudsen, MS, RDNMolly is a Content Writer and Team Nutritionist at InsideTracker. As a Registered Dietitian, Molly enjoys connecting people to the food they eat and how it influences their biomarkers. When she’s not writing about the latest nutrition science, she’s likely in the middle of a yoga flow or at the beach with a good book.