Updated: Aug 28, 2020
Even if you’re not familiar with the term “biohacking”, you’ve probably seen the various natural health trends that have been exploding in popularity all over the world in recent years. World renowned health experts such as my friend and patient Dr. Mark Hyman (New York Times bestselling author) have now reached celebrity status providing information to the general public on natural health solutions for managing chronic disease and maximizing human performance. This growing body of health related information is beginning to give individuals the tools to take responsibility for their own health, take preventative action against disease and educate themselves on all of the available approaches to ailments that they might already be afflicted with. Whether you’re looking at the growing global epidemics of various chronic diseases or the huge numbers of people who just want to perform better both mentally and physically in their lives, there is clearly a tremendous demand in the public for tools and strategies that can upgrade human health. This desire to obtain an optimal biology is what has spawned the newest health trend around the world known as “biohacking”.
What Is Biohacking?
Webster’s Dictionary defines biohacking as “biological experimentation (as by gene editing or the use of drugs or implants) done to improve the qualities or capabilities of living organisms especially by individuals and groups working outside a traditional medical or scientific research environment.” The term was actually invented by Dave Asprey the preeminent biohacker whose company Bulletproof produces hack-friendly supplements, foods and accessories. Asprey says “biohacking is the art and science of enhancing yourself physically and mentally by changing the environment outside of you and inside of you so you have full control of your biology.”
With biohacking the average person can begin to take control of their own health in several ways that are actually parallel to a naturopathic philosophy. Some examples of modern day biohacking are dietary changes, exercise and movement strategies, exposure to natural environments, exposure to extreme temperatures, various therapeutic technological devices, environmental changes and more.
Dietary changes include the introduction of nutrient dense “superfoods”, abstaining from food for periods of time and cycling different diets (such as keto, plant based, paleo diets that are popular today). Exercise and movement strategies can include HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), strength training, endurance training and yoga. Exposure to natural environments include exposure to sunlight and grounding. Exposure to extreme temperatures can be accomplished with saunas, ice baths and cold showers. Therapeutic technological devices include infrared light panels, PEMF (Pulsed Electro Magnetic Field Devices), acoustic sound wave devices, bio-feedback devices, vibration platforms and hyperbaric oxygen chambers. Environmental changes can include healthier food, supplements and various clinical health treatments and therapies that support the body’s natural healing processes. These things are absolutely possible today more than ever with the advent of the information age of the internet.
When a person adopts any or all of the biohacking strategies available today they have the opportunity to take control of their own disease management and push their own health to its maximum potential. What we are calling biohacking today in a lot of ways is just a rediscovery of the principles of Naturopathic Medicine, which has been around for over 100 years. “biohacker” is in some respects a term given to an individual who is harnessing these principles and implementing them into their daily life.
What Is Naturopathic Medicine And Where Did It Originate?
The term "naturopathy" was first coined in 1885 by a German homeopath practicing at the Badekur Sanitarium in New York. A German doctor bought the name in 1901 to be used to describe the eclectic practice of "nature doctors". At a health convention in 1901 many doctors began using the term and it is for this reason it’s said to be the birth of naturopathy in America. Naturopathy embraced all known means of natural therapeutics, including diet, herbs, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, exercise, manipulative therapies, electrotherapy, psychological and spiritual counseling.
Naturopathy began developing when there was tremendous change and advancement in North America with respect to health care. For two centuries tremendous advances in treatments and modalities were flourishing, including homeopathy that had been brought to America in 1833. Osteopathy was established in 1874 and chiropractic medicine was established in 1895. Many of the early naturopaths held multiple designations and there was an acceptance and appreciation for the different forms of healing.
In the early 20th century both Canada and the United States were young developing countries with an infrastructure of governance in its infancy. That type of situation proved to be more accepting to “natural” forms of health care and allowed many modalities to flourish. In the 19th and early 20th century the establishment of large sanitariums (known now as medical institutions) were common practice. Sanitariums had a wide range of natural therapeutics focusing on both acute and chronic illnesses. Most were initially charitable or non-profit organizations and were locally run by communities, charitable organizations and special interest groups. Over time, sanitariums and asylums were replaced with government run hospitals. As government began to gain traction over these institutions in the late 20th century their driving force became symptom relief with chronic health issues taking a back seat. Over time a push came from private business to promote pharmaceuticals and better health through the science of pharmacy over natural methods. Thus, naturopathy was relegated to a back seat and sometimes not even in the same ballpark as what we call standard allopathic medicine.
In the mid 1990’s medical students around the country again began taking an interest in the naturopathic and alternate modalities of the past as an “alternative” to the inefficient allopathic model. For many people today the term “alternative” medicine sounds like a second rate system but it is far from that. As history will show, its principles were here way before pharmaceuticals and allopathic treatments and will be here long after they’re gone! The beginning of the 21st century has been exciting for all who are in the “alternative” medical community to the point that being a biohacker is….well…. somewhat of a badge of honor and a sign of personal responsibility due to the fact that its seizing the opportunity to retake control of one’s own biology.
The Founding Principles of Naturopathic Medicine
Naturopathic medicine is dedicated to the study and celebration of nature’s healing powers. It is as old as healing itself and as new as today’s medical breakthroughs. It is a dynamic philosophy as well as a profession that recognizes the interconnection and interdependence of all living things. It utilizes the most natural, least invasive and least toxic therapies to treat illness and to promote wellness by viewing the body as an integrated whole.
Naturopathic medicine is defined by principles rather than by methods or modalities. Above all, it honors the body’s innate wisdom to heal.
The 6 Principles of Naturopathic Medicine Celebrating the Healing Power of Nature
The Healing Power of Nature
Trust in the body’s inherent wisdom to heal itself.
Identify and Treat the Causes
Look beyond the symptoms to the underlying cause.
First Do No Harm
Utilize the most natural, least invasive and least toxic therapies.
Doctor as Teacher
Educate patients in the steps to achieving and maintaining health.
Treat the Whole Person
View the body as an integrated whole in all its physical and spiritual dimensions.
Focus on overall health, wellness and disease prevention.
The Limitations of Allopathic Medicine
While standardized medicine is very useful in acute or emergency health situations it is limited in its ability to safely deal with chronic or degenerative disease. Its two primary tools, pharmaceutical drugs and surgical procedures, can themselves be quite traumatic to the body and in some cases inflict more damage and impede the body’s innate ability to heal itself. For example pharmaceutical drugs generally treat the acute symptoms of illness by manipulating the body’s chemistry instead of addressing the root cause which is most often found at the cellular level. In many cases this forces the patient to become dependent on this system indefinitely instead of seeking permanent symptom resolution by finding the true root cause. Naturopathic medicine has always realized, as do biohackers today, that there is a primary need to treat the root cause of disease and then secondarily use standard allopathic methods only as a last resort in dealing with chronic illness.
Root Causes Must Be Addressed At The Cellular Level Where They Originate
It is important to realize that cells are really the physical foundation of what we are as human beings. A single human body really isn’t a single entity at all. It’s actually a multitude of trillions of individual units of life that we call cells. Think of the body as a large community of cells living and working together symbiotically to achieve a common goal, which is to keep the body alive. The different systems of the body (nervous, circulatory, digestive etc.) are like sub-communities, all containing different types of cells that perform different functions that each contribute to the overall state of the whole. When the cells are free of interference (stress of any kind) they can adequately function, communicate and will naturally synchronize with the rest of the cell community and create the highest possible level of overall balance between all systems. This is what creates health. The ability of the body to naturally orchestrate this all on its own is both one of the great miracles and mysteries of life. Modern science can’t explain where this healing intention of the body comes from or exactly how it works past the physical level. Although it can’t be fully quantified, we do know it exists as an intelligence that constantly governs and drives self-renewal. This is why it has been commonly referred to as the “innate intelligence”. This intelligence is always directing the body towards a state of balance. Just like in naturopathic medicine, the main goal of biohacking is to optimize the environment both inside and outside the body to amplify the healing power of the innate intelligence, thus maximizing your overall health and performance.
Today’s Growing Need For Biohacking
Today it’s hard for anyone to say they don’t know someone with a chronic health condition. Chances are more people than not are diagnosed with or are suffering from a chronic illness AND they are being told they will probably have that illness for the rest of their life. That being said, a huge portion of those people have those chronic diseases driven by poor lifestyle choices, poor diet and environmental factors. Poor diet, lack of movement, chemical exposures, environmental toxins and artificial electromagnetic fields are just a few examples of things in our everyday life that affect our health. Our exposure to disease causing stressors in the last two centuries is more than the entire history of man previous to that. The main reason that biohacking is exploding in popularity is because it’s really the art of applying adaptive strategies to overcome the unnaturally high amount of these artificial stressors we have in our lives today so that we can be free of disease and perform at our best. A huge percentage of the average population is now saddled with multiple chronic illnesses and being treated with a never ending list of pharmaceutical medicines for life. This is obviously not a good situation. This is why naturopathic medicine has always said, “let’s treat the root cause….not just the symptom…let’s get rid of the cause and then you eliminate chronic illness”. Now increasing numbers of people are waking up all over the world hearing this message and taking steps to take control of their own biology to live a healthy, happy life and when they do they are being called “biohackers”.
Some Of The Most Effective Biohacks Being Used Today
Some of the most popular modern biohacks being used today that can trace their roots to naturopathic philosophies include superfoods, supplements, intermittent fasting, hot/cold exposure, light therapies, PEMF (Pulsed Electro Magnetic Field) therapies and stem cell therapies. Although many of these strategies and therapies can be very powerful on their own, most biohackers are finding out that it’s the synergy that comes from applying multiple strategies together that really brings about the best results in almost any situation. Most biohackers would recommend that you start with the basic dietary and lifestyle strategies as a foundation and then add adjunctive supplements and therapies to the regimen to get desired results at the next level.
Superfoods- These are foods that are usually wild and exotic that are far more nutrient dense than the standard foods that you’ll find at your local supermarket. Biohackers are using many of these foods to improve energy levels and accelerate overall recovery from chronic disease or physical activity. The extremely high nutrient density of these foods gives biohackers the ability to consume far more nutrients than they normally could. Most of these foods today are available in concentrated powdered forms can even be taken conveniently on the go. Some of the most popular superfoods include algae powders, wheat grass, marine phytoplankton, maca, turmeric, cacao beans, and goji berries.
Herbal Medicines- Herbs have become very popular to use for many of the same purposes as superfoods. However, in addition to containing high amounts of basic micronutrients like superfoods, herbs usually contain more powerful molecules, called alkaloids, that have a much more prominent and immediate effect on the body. Many popular herbs come from eastern medical systems such as traditional Chinese medicine or Indian Ayurveda. These systems have thousands of years of experience working with these herbs and today modern science is continuing to verify their efficacy through countless studies. Traditionally these herbs have been used for both fortifying health preeminently, or helping to rebuild a body that is sick and injured. Although their effects are cumulative, they can also be used to target specific systems for acute symptom relief. Many are targeted directly towards boosting energy levels, enhancing cognitive function, balancing hormones and reducing pain and inflammation. Some of the most popular herbs being used are panax ginseng, reishi mushroom, cordyceps, lions mane, rhodiola, astragalus and ashwaghanda.
Nutraceuticals- These are individual nutrients that are usually taken in addition to superfoods, herbs and a healthy diet. They are meant to bolster the blood levels of specific nutrients in order to boost specific functions in the body. For example, it is popular for biohackers who are looking for an extra cognitive boost to supplement with Alpha GPC, which is a type of choline that the body uses to boost the memory enhancing neurotransmitter acetyl choline. Nutraceuticals come in the form of individual vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, antioxidants etc.
Intermittent fasting- This is one of the most basic, but most popular biohacks being used today. It also is one of the most efficient, meaning that it gives you a very high return of benefits on the little effort that you put out doing it. Intermittent fasting is basically the act of not eating less but eating less often during the course of a day. You generally only eat during a 6-8 hour window during the day, but you can eat until full during that time. The rest of the time you are fasting. By eating as much as you want but in a much smaller window you are forcing your body to go at least 16-18 hours a day without food. During this time of not eating, the body is forced to use its own fat and old tissues as fuel to survive. Over time the body becomes very efficient at doing this. This efficiency to burn stored body fat and bad tissues can help a person stay thinner and healthier, as well as boost their brain function and hormones.
Hot/Cold exposure- Just like physical exercise, extreme hot/cold exposure is a stress to the body and when done periodically can make it stronger and healthier through the natural adaptation that occurs to overcome it. The use of traditional or infrared saunas significantly raises core body temperature which is used to enhance circulation, improve heart health, reduce pain and inflammation, improve sleep, increase fat burning, boost the immune system and detoxify the body. Many of these benefits occur due to the activation of what are called heat shock proteins in the body, which turn on during extreme temperature changes to assist in the adaptation. On the other hand, being exposed to extreme cold by taking an ice bath or cold shower can have many of the same benefits on health and recovery as heat. However, alternating between the two may be more beneficial than either one by itself.
Low Level Light Therapy (LLLT)- Light therapy is a non-invasive biohack that involves exposing a selected area of the body to red or infrared light at varying intensities, which stimulates the cells in tissues and quickens the healing process. Doctors, dentists, physical therapists and other medical professionals are beginning to use light therapy in a variety of ways. There are also home light panels that can be purchased and hung on any wall from companies like JOOVV that are very popular among biohackers. Over the past decade, lasers and light based systems have been well studied and have become a common modality to treat a wide variety of conditions and health problems including sports injuries, inflammatory conditions and skin conditions. Current researchers are further expanding the scope of therapeutic use of light therapy as a treatment option for those with neurodegenerative disorders. Also, studies suggest that low level laser therapy is effective at improving pain, muscle spasms, morning stiffness, cognitive function and overall energy levels.
PEMF Therapy- Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy (PEMF or PEMT) is a non-invasive, painless treatment for various injuries, bone related conditions and pains. The treatment works by emitting a pulsating, varying intensity and frequency electromagnetic field, coming from a mat or solenoid placed on or around the patient. The application of pulsed magnetic fields has, through research findings, been shown to help the body restore normal potentials at an accelerated rate. It can aid the healing of most wounds, through reducing inflammation and helping to regenerate tissue through enhancing the function of our body's own stem cells. One of the most comprehensive devices available through physicians and home use is from a company called Pulse Centers.
Stem Cell Therapy- Stem cell therapy is arguably the most powerful single therapy available today for disease prevention and overall recovery. It is where yours truly has made his mark in the field of biohacking by establishing myself as the “go-to” guy for biohackers. Stem cells, specifically mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), have been called “patient-specific drug stores for injured tissues” because of their broad range of healing abilities. MSCs are directly responsible for healing damaged tissues after injury. They are currently being used both domestically and abroad to assist in the treatment of a massive variety of different conditions like sports related injuries, chronic pain, traumatic brain injury, congestive heart failure, neurodegenerative diseases, autoimmune conditions, anti-aging and just general health optimization. In theory, there is really no limit to the amount of conditions that could eventually be helped by stem cell therapies when they progress far enough. Medical experts across a vast array of different specialties have long predicted them to be the future ‘holy grail’ of medicine. Stem cell therapy is a natural fit within naturopathic medicine and biohacking. Take a look at today’s most celebrated biohackers, and they all have undergone stem cell therapy (mostly by my hands) and my Full-Body Stem Cell Makeover, designed specifically for biohackers for vibrant longevity purposes, has really grown wings.
A Change In Culture When Biohacking Becomes A Way Of Life
Today chronic diseases affect approximately 133 million Americans, representing more than 40% of the total population of this country. By the end of 2020, that number is projected to grow to an estimated 157 million, with 81 million having multiple conditions. Basically today we are faced with a chronic disease epidemic that is unlike any time in the history of man. Outside of those suffering from chronic disease, there are millions more who would just like to take their health to the next level and function better. Biohacking is an amazing trend that has surfaced out of necessity in a time of great need. There are many who believe that biohacking is part of a next step in the evolution of human consciousness, where people are beginning to reclaim their personal sense of sovereignty and are gaining a greater level of insight and appreciation of the health of their bodies and minds and how infinitely valuable they are. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine once said, “A wise man knows that his health is his greatest asset”. This is truly a profound statement, and one that biohackers around the world are really taking to heart. Individuals are beginning to realize that when the body and mind are sick, it can be devastating to every aspect of one’s life. So in order to reach your maximum potential as a human being you must take your health seriously and stop waiting for your doctor to tell you how to optimize health. Mark Hyman, M.D. is a central figure in the functional medicine movement (functional medicine is the MD-version of naturopathic medicine that seeks to directly address the cause of illness rather than merely manage symptoms). Mark is a friend of mine and a patient. He believes that the monopoly on information and the responsibility for public health is falling away from the hands of the MD and landing squarely onto the shoulders of the patient. He envisions a time in the near future where healthcare will be largely automated and patients will become their own primary advocate for health. This prediction is possibly why biohacking is quickly becoming a way of life that people are using to maximize every aspect of it and reach their full human potential. The hope for many in this community is that as this trend continues to spread it will create a culture of health conscious people that can eliminate chronic illness and evolve into a healthier, happier world.