What is Biohacking? A “DIY” Approach for Better Health - Dr. Michael Ruscio, DC

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What is Biohacking? A “DIY” Approach for Better Health

Learn How to Make the Most Out of At-Home Healthcare

Key Takeaways:

  • Biohacking is a DIY, science-based approach to health that aims to optimize human function and increase longevity.
  • Biohacks include sauna, red light therapy, cold exposure, fasting, continuous glucose monitors, and nootropic supplements. 
  • Getting the foundations of nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress management in place is an essential part of a biohacking routine.
  • Getting your gut health in check through an anti-inflammatory diet and probiotics can maximize the benefit of other biohacks and your overall health.
  • Starting with therapies that have a broader array of benefits and moving to more targeted support will help you get the most out of your routine and keep it as simple as possible.

Biohacking has gained significant traction in recent years among popular online influencers, representing a “do-it-yourself” movement for optimizing wellness. With options that range from ice baths and zone training to fasting and nootropics, there is no short supply of “biohacks” to choose from for improving your own biology. 

But what is biohacking at its core? It is a personalized approach to self-experimentation that empowers you to take charge of your own body with the goal of optimizing longevity and achieving peak performance. It is a research-based field that uses the most up-to-date science and biotechnology to unlock the full spectrum of human potential. While this sounds a little over-glamorized, biohacking is applicable to anyone trying to level up their fitness and overall health, and I definitely fall into that camp. 



You can hear about my experience with cold exposure, one of the most popular biohacks, and how to troubleshoot it on my podcast. But I find that some of these key biohacking treatments, which also include sauna therapy, red light therapy, and fasting, are far more effective when introduced into a healthy lifestyle. Having a solid foundation of proper nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress management, and making sure your gut health is in order, can help you get the most out of your biohacking regimen and prevent burnout. 

Let’s get into the science behind human enhancement and how to make it work for you.

What Is Biohacking? A Look Into the History of At-Home Medicine

Biohacking interventions have recently flooded the functional healthcare market with promises of living a happier, healthier, and longer life. 

But first, what is biohacking really

A quick online search will show you that the use of this term can vary wildly across platforms. Some popular biohackers are focused on boosting athletic performance, while others are more interested in extending lifespan and warding off disease. “Grinders” are a more niche and extreme biohacking group and are focused on advancing human biology through body modifications like microchip implants. 

Because of the variability in biohacking goals, the treatments can also vary quite a bit, leading to some confusion for those who want to reap its benefits. 

At its essence, biohacking is a science-based type of self-experimentation that empowers you to take responsibility for your health. Rather than focusing on healing disease (though many “biohacks” can be helpful here), it aims to improve physical function and longevity.

The traditional use of biohacking is also referred to as “amateur biology,” “garage biology,” or “DIY biology” in the medical literature [1]. 

Its initial appearance in the scientific community was extreme; in the early 2000s, some biohackers began manufacturing and administering surgical implants and gene editing injections from at-home laboratories [2]. Most of these highly experimental and incredibly risky practices were created with the intent to improve overall human function and lifespan. 

An offshoot of the underground biohacking community was even formed to protest high medical costs and other restrictions to medical care. The most infamous of these groups sought to make injectable insulin at home to avoid the rising cost of this essential medication [1]. 

However, this traditional use of the term is not what today’s biohacking enthusiasts have in mind when posting their elaborate daily routines online. The more widespread use of “biohacking” derives meaning from this original movement by continuing to embrace a science-based, individualized, and “do-it-yourself” approach to self-improvement. 

Thankfully, safer and more accessible tools and treatments like fasting, continuous glucose monitors, and supplements that optimize your biochemistry have replaced experimental injectables and surgical implants. 

Why Epigenetics Matter

Modern biohackers understand that we are not simply a product of our genes and capitalize on this to make incremental alterations to their lifestyle and body to positively influence their health. The genome you’re born with accounts for around 30% of your lifespan, while epigenetics, the way your genes express, determines the other 70% of your longevity outcome [3, 4].

Epigenetics refers to the ability of your behaviors and lifestyle to influence your health by turning your genes on or off. Many “biohacking” techniques capitalize on the essential components of a healthy lifestyle that are known to have a profound effect on the expression of your genes [4]: 

  • Temperature: Therapies like cold water immersion (CWI) and sauna therapy use temperature extremes to promote a healthy stress response and a host of other benefits.
  • Nutrition: A healthy, whole-food, anti-inflammatory diet is instrumental for peak performance and a long life and inspired the biohacking field of nutrigenomics (using specific foods to positively influence your genes).
  • Physical activity: Exercise is at the core of nearly every biohacker’s regimen and is often combined with CWI or sauna to maximize its impact. Resistance training, high-intensity interval training, and zone training are commonly used in biohacking protocols.
  • Stress management: Meditation is recommended in nearly every online biohacking routine and promotes a more positive outlook on life, which is linked to increased longevity [5]. 

Turns out, we don’t need to use experimental injectables or body modification to make us “superhuman.” I have found that sticking to the basics and modifying them to fit your individual needs is one of the easiest and most effective ways to hack your biology

Biohacking Disclaimers

Biohacking’s biggest pitfall is that it is highly prone to getting overly detailed with human physiology, often using targeted therapies with very specific mechanisms that function at a biochemical level. While this isn’t inherently bad, going straight for the nuance can cause some well-intentioned biohackers to skip over the fundamentals and miss out on benefits. 

Nutrigenomics is a great example of where things can go wrong. This type of biohacking promotes increasing your intake of specific food constituents, either through supplements or foods. The belief is that these food compounds can target certain SNPs (genetic variants) and prevent disease [6]. 

However, this practice easily runs the risk of getting too detailed too fast. For example, eating broccoli three times per day or taking a broccoli sulforaphane supplement to balance out an MTHFR mutation is likely a waste of your time and money when done in the context of an overall inflammatory diet full of high glycemic foods. Taking a step back to get a solid, holistically healthy diet into place first will have far more of an impact on your wellness than increasing your intake of specific foods. 

Diet, exercise, nutrition, and sleep may not seem like the most exciting place to start your biohacking journey, but prioritizing therapies that have the broadest health benefits helps to keep your routine as simple and effective as possible. 

This approach can also prevent “biohacker burnout.” Implementing a ton of biohacking strategies at once can be exciting at first, but when the novelty wears off, it can easily become tedious and tiring and cause you to quit your journey altogether. 

Biohacking is all about incremental changes to promote physical health and longevity. Having a simple routine that you can stick with will be far more effective than a detailed routine that isn’t durable. Unlike many wellness trends, biohacking isn’t a quick fix—it is quite literally meant to last a lifetime.

Cover Your Bases First

Before I jump into some of the latest biohacking trends, let’s look at the research behind a few of the pillars of health to see why making basic lifestyle changes is so important for optimizing the human body.

Get Moving

Physical activity is one of the most essential pillars of living a long and healthy life and has known benefits that impact nearly every system in the body. Exercise has historically been used as a tool for combatting and preventing many human diseases, ranging from digestive to metabolic conditions. But it has benefits outside of disease and can directly increase your longevity.

Increasing your muscle mass through resistance training is a great place to start, and a 2022 meta-analysis with over 3 million participants found that greater handgrip strength, reflecting muscle mass, correlated with reduced risk of death due to any cause [7]. 

However, the benefits of exercise don’t stop at body composition. In a 2021 meta-analysis, exercise showed potential as an anti-aging intervention based on nine observational studies. It reduced senescence markers (signs of cellular aging) in healthy people [8], which may help extend lifespan and improve physical function. 

Many biohacking supplements target senescent cells but are expensive and don’t come with the other benefits of exercise, such as increased blood flow to the brain and endorphin release.

Eat for Longevity

A nutrient-dense, whole-food diet is an essential part of an effective biohacking routine. A 2020 systematic review of 152 studies found that a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, whole grains, and unsaturated vegetable oils, complemented by lean meats like fish and poultry, was associated with a reduced risk of death from all causes. However, diets characterized by excessive red or processed meat, high-fat dairy, and refined carbohydrates or sweets had an unfavorable impact on lifespan [9].

Surprisingly, many people do not consume enough protein, and increasing your daily protein intake is an easy way to start a “biohacking diet.” A high-protein diet helps increase muscle mass, and a comprehensive 2020 meta-analysis found that higher total protein consumption was correlated with a decreased risk of death from all causes [10]. 

A Mediterranean diet is a fantastic dietary pattern that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and eliminates processed foods. It has no restrictions on high-protein foods and is a fairly relaxed way to integrate nutrition into your biohacking regimen. 

Optimize Your Gut

You don’t have to have a digestive condition or symptoms to benefit from including gut-healing biohacks in your routine—nearly everyone will feel the positive impact of focusing on GI health. As I cover in-depth in my book, Healthy Gut, Healthy You, our digestive system is the crux of our health. An out-of-balance gut can cause symptoms in nearly every other bodily system and lower your day-to-day performance and function. 

Putting some extra care into maintaining a healthy microbial balance through an anti-inflammatory diet and taking probiotics is one of the best ways to start your biohacking journey. Recent studies show that taking multiple types of probiotics can increase the quality of life in both healthy and symptomatic populations [11, 12]. Other research suggests that they can even increase glutathione levels, a powerful antioxidant, and overall antioxidant status, which can help prevent and lessen a host of health problems [13]. 

Probiotics also show nootropic benefits, meaning they likely improve neurological health, making them especially relevant for biohackers. A 2020 meta-analysis of human and animal studies found that probiotics enhanced brain function and cognitive abilities in both healthy and unhealthy populations [14]. Similarly, a 2020 randomized controlled trial with healthy adults showed that probiotics changed the makeup of the gut microbiome and improved cognitive function and mood [15].

Probiotics can also help heal leaky gut syndrome, which can inhibit you from absorbing your expensive biohacking supplements, such as nootropics (for cognition) and senolytics (for anti-aging). If you are interested in trying these out and have symptoms of a weakened gut barrier, you will want to start with your gut to get the most out of your routine. 

Other fundamentals, like finding healthy outlets for stress management, such as frequent exposure to nature, getting quality sleep, and seeking out social connections, are equally important and should be dialed in before moving to the next tier of biohacking. 

Biohacking: Beyond the Basics

If you are ready to further your pursuit of human enhancement by elevating your biohacking routine, below I cover a few of the more popular research-backed biohacks.

Temperature Therapy

Infrared saunas (IR) are designed to help heat penetrate deeper into body tissues at lower temperatures. They are popular in the biohacking community for their broad health benefits and because they only require 5–20 minutes of your day to be effective [16]. IR saunas are a hormetic stressor, meaning they induce brief, low-dose stress into the body to help it be more resilient to chronic stress and its negative effects [17, 18]. 

Sauna stress induces a cascade of biochemicals in the body that can improve metabolism, antioxidant levels, weight loss, and exercise performance [16, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23]. Limited scientific evidence shows that a sauna may be even more effective when combined with another hormetic stressor, cold water immersion (CWI), for improving metabolic health and levels of the stress hormone cortisol [24].

However, CWI is also effective as a stand-alone treatment and has health benefits that include [25]:

  • Reduced pain
  • Lower inflammation
  • A healthier immune system
  • Lower cholesterol levels

Cold exposure is often used alongside exercise in a biohacking routine as it can help improve athletic performance and reduce inflammation after exercise [26]. The authors of a 2022 review found evidence that, compared to athletes who did not practice post-exercise CWI, those who did experienced quicker recovery times and lower markers of muscle damage [25].

Fortunately, you don’t need access to a cryotherapy tank to reap the benefits, and research supports that even 30 seconds of cold water at the end of your shower can lead to significant benefits [27]

Fasting

You will want to make sure you have already implemented a healthy diet before trying out fasting methods, such as intermittent fasting (IF). If you are consuming a standard American diet 6 hours out of the day and fasting for the rest, you may not be meeting your nutritional needs and are more prone to experiencing blood sugar dips during fasting. 

That being said, fasting can be a great way to elevate your health and works well alongside an anti-inflammatory diet like Paleo

Safe fasting improves your health by increasing autophagy, a natural detoxification process that cleans up damaged cells and encourages new cell growth [28, 29]. It is popular amongst biohackers for its wide array of benefits in:

  • Fitness and athletic performance [30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35]
  • Inflammation levels [36]
  • Cognition [37]
  • Gut barrier integrity [38, 39, 40]
  • Oxidative stress [41]
  • Blood pressure [42]
  • Heart disease [42]

When combined with regular resistance training, it can increase muscle mass and improve overall body composition, compared to exercise alone [31, 33]. You will want to be cautious and avoid lifting when experiencing symptoms of low blood sugar, like dizziness and weakness. But when done appropriately, fasting can help increase your quality and length of life. 

The most common types of intermittent fasting are time-restricted eating, the twice-a-week (5:2) method, modified alternate-day fasting, and the 24-hour fast (eat: stop: eat method) [43, 44]. I have an article here that breaks these down and can help you get started. 

Red Light Therapy

Red light therapy (RLT) involves exposing cells or tissues to low levels of red and near-infrared light to stimulate healing. RLT appears to stimulate mitochondria to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP) [45, 46], which is the primary energy source used by the body and is likely responsible for its health benefits. 

Preliminary research shows that RLT can promote skin healing, increase blood flow, activate immune cells, and decrease oxidative stress [45, 47, 48], which is why it is popular with biohackers. A small 2015 randomized clinical trial found that when RLT was added to exercise, it resulted in greater fat loss, increased skeletal muscle, and decreased insulin resistance compared to placebo [49].

The research on RLT is relatively limited, so there are no established parameters on how to use it for general health, and more doesn’t always mean better when it comes to red light therapy [45]. However, it is relatively safe, with a few potential side effects concerning local skin irritation after use. If you already have more of the research-backed biohacks on board and are interested in RLT, it is worth a shot.  

Wearable Health Tech

Wearable health tech can make a great addition to any biohacking routine, especially if you want to see if what you have on board is benefiting your sleep parameters, heart rate variability, or glucose control. Certain devices can even help mitigate side effects, namely blood sugar dysregulation, that may result from other biohacking interventions, such as fasting, sauna, and exercise.

Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) are blood glucose meters that continuously measure blood sugar levels and provide real-time readings for the life of the monitor. They are attached to the back of the upper arm or the abdomen, where a small transmitter sends data to your phone about your blood sugar levels (50). CGMs can send alerts for hypoglycemia events and help you make better choices about your nutrition, exercise, stress management, and sleep (51).

However, the research on CGMs in healthy populations is preliminary, subject to bias, and has mixed results. A recent 2023 clinical trial found that CGMs did not reliably reflect changes in blood glucose when compared to a standard glucometer in any participants—healthy, prediabetic, or diabetic [52].

Ultimately, it is probably not a great idea to rely on CGMs for accurate blood sugar readings. But if you are just interested in seeing how your lifestyle choices influence your overall blood sugar trends, it may be worth a try.

Fitness trackers (like a Fitbit) and sleep trackers can also help monitor your progress—the Ōura Ring is one of my personal favorites for tracking sleep quality. It is comparable to clinical sleep studies for measuring heart rate and heart rate variability, especially at night [53, 54, 55, 56, 57]. It also shows promise for predicting viral illness, fertility windows, anxiety, and depression and for tracking menstrual cycles [58, 59, 60, 61, 62].

Whenever using any type of health tech, try not to get too bogged down by the data, and remember that health tech in biohacking is for looking at general trends in data to improve your wellness. If you notice that you’re obsessing over the numbers, it’s probably doing more harm than good.  

Nootropics

Nootropics are “smart drugs” or substances (including non-pharmaceutical supplements) that can improve cognition, memory, and learning. These are a favorite with biohackers, though the research behind them varies drastically between supplements. There are too many nootropics to mention, but a few of the most common ones are below.

Turmeric: A 2018 clinical trial with 40 adults found that twice-daily oral Theracurmin (a supplement containing 90 mg of curcumin) led to improved memory and attention in adults without dementia, compared to placebo [63].

Bacopa: A 2016 systematic review found that children and adolescents who took Bacopa monnieri had small to medium improvements in cognition, behavior, and attention relative to those who took the placebo [64].

Lion’s mane: A 2020 trial with 31 healthy participants found that those who took oral Hericium erinaceus supplements for three months had significantly better cognitive function and less short-term memory loss than those who took the placebo [65].

Ashwagandha: A 2020 systematic review found preliminary evidence that Withania somnifera may help improve performance on cognitive tasks, executive function, attention, and reaction time [66].

Citicoline: A 2020 meta-analysis with 2,488 participants found strong evidence that citicoline improved memory better than placebo in healthy participants. Citicoline also improved behavioral control and competence better than placebo in patients with and without brain disorders [67].

Nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN): A 2022 review outlined current research on NMN as a potential anti-aging drug. It found preliminary evidence that NMN can increase NAD+ levels— necessary for DNA repair and energy production—and slow age-related cellular damage. This can help decrease oxidative stress, reduce inflammation, and improve cognitive function, though clinical trials are needed on this supplement to see its full effects [68].

My advice for trying any of the above interventions is to start where you are. The foundations should come first, especially if you’re not feeling well or are currently experiencing health symptoms. But if you’re feeling good and looking for ways to optimize and feel even better, go for it—I personally love trying new techniques and experimenting on myself. 

Just make sure to keep perspective about the most important parts of your routine, and try to avoid getting sucked too deeply into analyzing every number or change on your data tracker/monitor.

What is Biohacking? Whatever Makes Sense for You

Biohacking has emerged as a DIY approach to health in pursuit of human optimization and well-being. Through a diverse array of interventions that include diet protocols, exercise routines, and innovative health technologies, biohacking can help empower you to take control of your biology. 

But don’t forget that the main benefit of biohacking is that it can be highly personalized to fit your needs and daily routine—it can be as simple as starting with a 30-second cold shower. 

If you prefer this DIY approach, you can find more support in my book, Healthy Gut, Healthy You, where I help you improve your quality of life by healing your gut.

The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high-quality formulations to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.

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