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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Corbin D.C

What is Biohacking? Is it worth the hype? Cardiff chiropractor explains.

An image of a biohacking lab

Biohacking represents "the frontier of individual health optimization", combining biology with tech innovation to enhance physical and mental performance. Here's a deep dive into the world of biohacking, covering its essence, methodologies, costs, and accessibility, inspired by evidence-based research and practices.


So what is Biohacking?


Biohacking involves self-experimentation to enhance the body's function, ranging from nutritional strategies to cutting-edge tech. It aims to make incremental to radical changes to improve health and performance. Techniques include sleep optimization, intermittent fasting, and dietary adjustments, with the goal of achieving optimal health. Think cold water emersion, saunas and microbiome boosters. Think fancy lights and energy cultivation. For some the evolution of health and for others the evolution of woo.


A man using cold water therapy for biohacking


Why Do People Use Biohacking?


Individuals turn to biohacking for improved health, longevity, and cognitive function. By leveraging scientific insights and technology, biohackers aim to enhance their body's natural capabilities, striving for peak performance and well-being. Sometimes it can be to reduce blood pressure, reverse diabetes type 2, lose weight and generally improve overall fitness. For others it's an alternative to medication for mental health. Either way it's better than a big mac but is it any better than a placebo?


What are the different types of Biohacking?


Biohacking encompasses a range of practices, including:


- Nutrigenomics: Tailoring diet based on genetic makeup for optimal health. There are many tests you can buy to determine your genetic makeup and then compile a diet that's going to be most beneficial for those said genetics. Whether it actually works can be debated. We also do not know how much of the benefits are due to the placebo .


- Wearable Technology: Using devices to monitor health metrics. The latest devices can measure heart rate, blood pressure, sleep quality, stress and a host of other performance metrics. The more expensive the device, generally the better accuracy. It is still debatable how accurate these devices are. A few years ago scientists hooked up a smart watch to an apple and it read 80bpm for heart rate. But technology is advancing rapidly and is only going to get more accurate over time. Many runners use smart watches to improve their running and Fitness goals.


An image of nootropic pills for performance

-Nootropics:

Supplements for cognitive enhancement. These are often natural herbs made into supplements. Nootropics, also known as smart drugs or cognitive enhancers, are substances that can improve cognitive function, particularly executive functions, memory, creativity, or motivation, in healthy individuals. Here's a list of common nootropics, both synthetic and natural, used for cognitive enhancement. It's important to know that many nootropics are prescription drugs and can have potent side effects. Some are also highly addictive so research and care is an important factor before embarking on any health adventure.


Synthetic Nootropics


1. Modafinil (Provigil) - Used to treat narcolepsy, sleep apnea, and shift work sleep disorder, modafinil is popular for its wakefulness-promoting properties and ability to enhance cognition and productivity.

2. Adderall - Contains amphetamine salts and is prescribed for ADHD. It's known for increasing focus and attention.

3. Ritalin (Methylphenidate) - Also used to treat ADHD, Ritalin improves concentration, focus, and executive function.

4. Noopept - Offers similar benefits to piracetam, but is much more potent. It has neuroprotective properties and enhances memory, focus, and learning ability.

5. Piracetam - One of the oldest and most researched nootropics, it's known for improving learning, memory, and cognitive function though the mechanisms are not fully understood.

6. Phenylpiracetam - Similar to piracetam but significantly more potent; it also has psychostimulant properties.


Natural Nootropics


1. Ginkgo Biloba - A popular herbal supplement derived from the Ginkgo Biloba tree, known for its ability to improve cognitive function and blood circulation.

2. Panax Ginseng - An herb that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine, known for its anti-fatigue, energy-boosting, and cognitive-enhancing properties.

3. Bacopa Monnieri - An adaptogen herb, known for its memory-enhancing properties and ability to reduce anxiety, which in turn can improve cognitive performance.

4. Rhodiola Rosea - Another adaptogen that helps with fatigue reduction, improved mood, and cognitive function, especially under conditions of stress.

5. Lion’s Mane Mushroom - A mushroom that is believed to have neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing properties. It is said to stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF).

6. Omega-3 Fatty Acids - Found in fish oil and other sources, omega-3s are essential for brain health and cognitive function, particularly EPA and DHA.


A scientific in a biohacking lab researching supplements

Other Supplements


1. Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) - An amino acid that is associated with increased alertness, memory, and neuroprotection.

2. Alpha GPC - A choline compound that is well-known for its cognitive-promoting properties and ability to enhance power output in athletes.

3. Huperzine A - A compound extracted from the herbs of the Huperziceae family, known for its ability to increase acetylcholine levels, which can improve memory and cognitive function.


Cautions


- Safety and Regulation: The safety, efficacy, and regulation of nootropics can vary greatly. Some are prescription medications, while others are available over the counter or as dietary supplements. It's important to research and consider the potential risks and benefits before using any cognitive enhancers.


This list is not exhaustive, and the effectiveness and safety of these substances can vary among individuals. It's also worth noting that ongoing research continues to explore the potential benefits and risks of these and other nootropics.


Cold Therapy:


Utilizing cold temperatures for health benefits. This one has been popularised by YouTubers, celebrities, influences and lay people. You've probably seen a Facebook ad by now on cold water therapy. The research is promising. Cold water therapy has showed to reduce depression, blood pressure and even good for weight loss as it burns stubborn fat. Many of my patients are in the sea all times of the year at 5am enjoying the benefits of the cold sea, and the sunrise of course. Cold water therapy is thought to stimulate the immune system creating an increased resistance against illness and disease. So if you want to be sick less, use cold water therapy more. It is recommended to consult a doctor first as some people's heart can be affected.


Mindfulness and Meditation


A man on a rock at a serene river meditating

Mindfulness has been practiced for thousands of years. Much research has been undertaken but plenty more always needs to be done. There are cases where people have turned around their mental health, but also cases where mindfulness has been detrimental to the user. Mindfulness cab be practiced anywhere, even when we are walking. One of the main takeaways is to calm the mind, letting any thoughts move on rather than holding onto them. There are many forms of meditation. I'll list the most common methods:


Creating a comprehensive list of every type of meditation and mindfulness practice is challenging due to the vast number of techniques developed across different cultures and spiritual traditions worldwide. However, I can provide an overview of some of the most widely practiced forms, along with a brief summary of each:


1. Mindfulness Meditation:

- Focuses on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. This practice involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress.

2. Transcendental Meditation:

- Involves silently repeating a personal mantra in a specific way to settle the body into a state of profound rest and relaxation and the mind into a state of inner peace, without effort or concentration.

3. Zen Meditation (Zazen):

- A form of seated meditation at the heart of Zen Buddhism. It involves sitting in specific postures and focusing on breathing while observing the thoughts and sensations that arise.

4. Vipassana Meditation:

- One of the oldest forms of meditation, focusing on deep, concentrated self-observation. It aims to insight into the true nature of reality, including the impermanence of all things and the interconnectedness of all life forms.

5. Loving-Kindness Meditation (Metta):

- Aims to cultivate an attitude of love and kindness toward everything, even a person's enemies and sources of stress. It involves mentally sending goodwill, kindness, and warmth towards others by silently repeating a series of mantras.

6. Chakra Meditation:

- Focuses on clearing and balancing the body's energy centers or chakras. It often involves visualization or chanting to open and align the chakras.

7. Yoga Meditation:

- Combines physical postures, breathing exercises, concentration, and deep relaxation to improve mental, physical, and spiritual health.

8. Guided Visualization:

- Involves forming mental images of places or situations you find relaxing, using guided imagery scripts or recordings to lead the way.


An image of a man and woman practicing meditation

9. Qi Gong:

- Part of traditional Chinese medicine, Qi Gong is a practice of aligning breath, movement, and awareness for exercise, healing, and meditation. It focuses on the cultivation and balance of Qi (life energy).

10. Christian Meditation:

- Involves the repetition of a sacred word or phrase to focus the mind on God. It is a form of prayer where the focus is on being with God rather than seeking specific answers or outcomes.

11. Jewish Meditation:

- Includes practices such as contemplation on the Torah, visualization, and chanting. It aims to create a closer connection with God and understanding of the self.

12. Sufi Meditation:

- Involves heart-centered practices, including the repetition of divine names, prayers, and devotional acts to bring the practitioner closer to God.

13. Mantra Meditation:

- Involves the repetitive sounding of a word or phrase to clear the mind. This can be done loudly or silently. It’s intended to help focus the mind and enter a deeper state of meditation.

14. Taoist Meditation:

- Practices focus on generating, circulating, and conserving internal energy through specific breathing techniques, concentration, and visualization methods.


There are hundreds Meditation practices when it comes to biohacking the mind. All with varying results. It takes times, sometimes years to enter different brain states. Let me explain a little more about brainwaves and brainstates, they are quite fascinating!


What are brainwaves and how can we biohack them?


An image of a brain showcasing brainwave states

Brainwave states are typically categorized into five main types based on their frequency ranges. Each state is associated with different levels of activity, consciousness, and mental states. They are measured using electroencephalography (EEG), a method that records electrical activity of the brain through electrodes placed on the scalp. Here's a brief overview of the different brainwave states:


1. Gamma Waves (30-100 Hz):

- Meaning: Associated with heightened perception, problem-solving, and consciousness.

- What They Do: Gamma waves are involved in learning, memory, and information processing. High levels of gamma wave activity are linked to increased cognitive functioning, attention, and peak focus.

- How They Are Measured: High-frequency EEG recordings can detect gamma waves, often requiring more sophisticated analysis due to their lower amplitude and higher frequency.

2. Beta Waves (13-30 Hz):

- Meaning: Linked to active, analytical thought and the state of being alert, focused, and engaged in problem-solving or decision-making.

- What They Do: Beta waves dominate our normal waking state of consciousness when attention is directed towards cognitive tasks and the outside world. High levels of beta activity are associated with stress, anxiety, and restlessness.

- How They Are Measured: Easily detected with standard EEG recordings as they are prominent when a person is engaged in mental activities.

3. Alpha Waves (8-13 Hz):

- Meaning: Associated with a state of physical and mental relaxation, though alert. Often present in the brain during wakeful relaxation with closed eyes.

- What They Do: Alpha waves can increase creativity and reduce depression. They are correlated with a reduction in stress and anxiety, meditation, and increased creativity.

- How They Are Measured: Detected through EEG, especially prominent in the posterior regions of the brain during wakeful relaxation.

4. Theta Waves (4-8 Hz):

- Meaning: Linked to reduced consciousness, deep meditation, and REM sleep. They are involved in daydreaming, deep relaxation, and visualization.

- What They Do: Theta waves are important for learning and memory. In sleep, they help improve emotional processing and are crucial for REM sleep.

- How They Are Measured: Theta activity is measured with EEG, often seen in sleep studies and meditation research.


A woman listening to brainwave technology. With brainwaves

5. Delta Waves (0.5-4 Hz):

- Meaning: Associated with deep, dreamless sleep and unconsciousness.

- What They Do: Delta waves are crucial for restorative sleep, healing, and regeneration. They reflect the brain's state during deep sleep and are involved in healing and regeneration processes.

- How They Are Measured: Detected using EEG, predominantly observed in the deepest stages of sleep (NREM stages 3 and 4).


Each of these brainwave states plays a crucial role in overall brain function, affecting everything from our day-to-day alertness and problem-solving abilities to our deepest sleep and healing processes. Brainwave patterns are unique to each individual and can vary based on a wide range of factors, including stress, relaxation, and cognitive activities.


So how can we hack these brainwave states?


A woman listening to brainwave entertainment

Sound! There are multiple companies around now, that offer soundwave therapy to induce these brainwave frequencies. They are called binaural beats and isochronic tones. By listening to different sounds with headphones, the sounds are generated by synthesisers. It is believed that alternating frequencies entrain the brain into different states. The research is thin, but millions of people use this brain hacking technology.


Hot Therapy:


An image of a man using a sauna for biohacking

We will talk about the ever popular sauna. This is more my cup of tea. I have tried many times to have cold showers and failed miserably. Let alone getting into the sea in winter, or plunging into an ice bucket. Saunas can be traced back to Finland 2000 years ago. And they are more popular than ever.


What are the Benefits of a Sauna?


Using a sauna can have several health benefits, including:


1. Relaxation and Stress Reduction: The heat from the sauna helps relax muscles, reduce tension, and promote relaxation both physically and mentally.


2. Improved Circulation: The heat increases your body temperature, causing blood vessels to dilate and thereby improving circulation. This can help with muscle soreness and improve overall cardiovascular health.


3. Skin Cleansing: Sweating opens up pores and helps cleanse the outer skin.


4. Pain Relief: Increased circulation can help with pain relief for muscle soreness and arthritis.


5. Better Sleep: The relaxation effects of a sauna session can promote better sleep patterns.


6. Detoxification: Sweating can help flush toxins from the body through the skin.


7. Support for the Immune System: Some studies suggest that regular sauna use can stimulate the immune system, increasing the production of white blood cells which help fight off illness.


8. Respiratory Benefits: The warm, moist air of steam saunas can help clear congestion and improve breathing for those with respiratory issues.


It's important to note, however, that while saunas can offer health benefits, they should be used with caution, especially by individuals with certain health conditions like low blood pressure or heart problems. Consulting with a healthcare provider before starting regular sauna sessions is advisable to ensure it's safe for you.


Intermittent Fasting:


An image of intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting (IF) is a dietary approach that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. Unlike traditional diets, IF focuses on when to eat rather than what to eat. There are several types of IF, each with its unique pattern of fasting and eating:


What are the different types of intermittent fasting?


1. 16/8 Method: Involves fasting for 16 hours each day and eating during an 8-hour window. This method is also known as the Leangains protocol.


2. 5:2 Diet: Involves eating normally for five days of the week and reducing calorie intake to 500–600 calories on the other two, non-consecutive days.


3. Eat-Stop-Eat: Entails a 24-hour fast once or twice a week.


4. Alternate-Day Fasting: Involves alternating days of eating normally and fasting or consuming very few calories.


5. Warrior Diet: Consists of eating small amounts of raw fruits and vegetables during the day and a large meal at night.


Research on Its Effectiveness


Research on intermittent fasting is ongoing, but studies suggest it can lead to weight loss, improve metabolic health, and protect against diseases. A significant body of research indicates that IF can reduce insulin resistance, lowering blood sugar by 3-6% and fasting insulin levels by 20-31%, potentially protecting against type 2 diabetes. It also may reduce inflammation, improve heart health by affecting blood lipids, blood pressure, and markers of inflammation, and potentially enhance brain health and help prevent neurodegenerative diseases.


What are the benefits of intermittent fasting?


- Weight Loss and Fat Loss: By eating fewer meals, IF can lead to an automatic reduction in calorie intake. Additionally, fasting periods increase metabolic rates by 3.6-14%, further helping with weight loss.


- Improved Metabolic Health: IF can improve various risk factors for heart disease such as inflammatory markers, blood sugar and insulin levels, and blood lipids.


- Increased Growth Hormone Secretion: This is beneficial for fat loss and muscle gain.


- Cellular Repair Processes: Fasting triggers autophagy, a process where cells remove old and dysfunctional proteins from inside the body.


Dangers and Side Effects


While intermittent fasting is safe for most healthy adults, it's not suitable for everyone. Potential dangers and side effects include:


- Hunger: The most common side effect, which may improve over time.


- Nutrient Deficiencies: If not planned correctly, IF could lead to a lack of essential nutrients.


- Eating Disorders: There is a potential risk of developing disordered eating behaviors.


- Adverse Effects on Women: Some evidence suggests that IF could lead to irregular menstrual cycles, although more research is needed.


Pregnant or breastfeeding women, individuals with a history of eating disorders, and those with certain health conditions, such as diabetes, should not practice intermittent fasting unless under the guidance of a healthcare professional. As with any diet or lifestyle change, it's recommended to consult with a healthcare provider before starting IF.


That brings us to the end of an introduction to biohacking. Some more effective than others. Is it the popularity of influencers that creates the buzz or are the real measured results? We have to be very careful of who we listen do, as there is so much fake news and disinformation out there. Health isn't finite, so the more we research, test, fail and test again we can only improve our health as time goes on.





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