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It might sound very scientific, but the biohacking concept is simple: You want to be in control of your own life, your health and your happiness. Recognise that all the information needed is available to you and just learn how to interpret it.

Reliance on the old guard of health authority figures, on its own, is redundant. These individuals, each with their very particular are of expertise, should be a part of your hand-picked "health" team. It may include a geneticist, naturopath, personal trainer, nutritionist, psychiatrist, mentor, guru. Whoever it is that you need.

It can optimise your health, your performance, your focus, your productivity, while reducing your stress, improving your sleep and slowing down ageing. This is achieved through novel approaches to movement, nutrition, mind, and lifestyle changes.

Intrigued? Wondering how to get started with biohacking? Let me share what I did: 

Biohack #1: Sleep Tight, Put On (A Red) Light

I have always been a bad sleeper. I cannot even recall how many sleepless nights I just rolled around in my blankets, feeling too warm or too cold, trying to get comfortable and just ponder on all my life doings, including that prank I pulled in third grade. Yes, my classmate Maria definitely still hates me.

But jokes aside, lack of sleep is a serious issue. Sleep deprivation can reduce your attention, short and long-term memory [1], and can affect your decision making [2]. But this is not all. Long-term sleep disruption is associated with a higher risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, dyslipidemia, cardiovascular disease, and colorectal cancer. [3] 

sleep deprivation effects

 Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Effects_of_sleep_deprivation.svg

So I decided to hack my sleep

First, I exposed myself to the sun. Natural sunlight regulates the circadian rhythm and improves sleeping patterns. Then I avoided all screens for at least half an hour before I went to bed and installed a red lamp next to my bed. 

Red light?!?

Red light, unlike blue light, does not act as a stimulant that suppresses melatonin. It regulates the circadian rhythm and is the most appropriate wavelength of light for sleep [4]. Exposure to red light not only improves sleep quality but also enhances athletic performance [5].

Did my experiment work? It took me a few days, especially to get used to the red light, but yes, I was pleasantly surprised to fall asleep much faster and when I wake up in the morning I feel well rested!  

Read this post on more biohacking to improve sleep quality.

 

Biohack #2: Try Intermittent Fasting

I only knew fasting by the Orthodox Easter holiday, during which believers fast for 40 days from meat and the most hardcore ones from almost everything, including fish, diary, even olive oil!

Growing up in a family where Easter was more of a celebration than a spiritual holiday, I only fasted the last week before Easter Sunday from meat and on the actual Easter Saturday did not eat anything all day until midnight! Therefore, I was surprised to find out that fasting or rather intermittent fasting was a known biohack. 

Intermittent fasting is time-restricted eating, meaning you eat on specific times and you fast in between, ranging from 12 to 16 hours. Studies suggest that intermittent fasting not only helps you burn fat and lose weight [6], but also reduces insulin levels [6], promotes damaged tissue repair [7], and prevents cancer and oxidative stress [8].

traditional vs intermittent fasting diet

I tried eating all my meals within 6 to 7 hours and fast the remaining day. The first hours were the most difficult; not because I was hungry, but because my blood sugar dropped A LOT. I know that this is exactly the mechanism; your insulin levels go down enough so you start burning fat. But I was feeling dizzy and tired until I started burning fat, which gives you a completely different type of energy: you feel stronger somehow, healthier even! 

Was it worth it? Truth be told, I am not sure yet. I have to keep trying to decide.

 

Biohack #3: Get Cold!

When I first heard of Wim Hof, aka “The Iceman” and his cold therapy approach I trusted it to be a publicity stunt. But after some research on the subject, I decided to give it a shot. 

Cryotherapy or commonly known as “cold therapy” involves exposure to temperatures below −100°C for several minutes. Localised cold therapy in the neck can treat migraines [9], numb the pain and reduce swelling [10].

Whole-body cryotherapy (WBC) means immersing your whole body in freezing cold air [11].

Research suggests that WBC:

  • Promotes recovery and rehabilitation in exercise-induced injuries [12]
  • Decreases pain in patients with arthritis [13] and fibromyalgia [14]
  • Helps in treating anxiety and depression [15]
  • Reduces inflammation, fights oxidative stress, and increases antioxidants in your body [16]
  • Relieves signs and symptoms of atopic dermatitis [17]
  • May prevent Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline [18].

Finding out the above, I went sea swimming in November. Yes, I wore my bathing suit and dived in the middle of the winter. The moment my foot touched the ice-cold water a tingling sensation ran through my body. I am not sure if it was the cold or the feelings of regret for my decision, but I continued walking forward. 

Swimming in freezing temperatures might sound insane (and it feels so too!) but after the original schock and the feeling your heart is going to stop, you reach a state of absolute serenity and you feel more alive than ever. I have never felt more rejuvenated, clear-minded and energised! I want to try ice-cold baths too, which I know work will be paired with my next biohack. 

 

Biohack # 4: It’s Getting Hot In Here!

Heat can do wonders for your body, as it relieves pain, increases blood flow and can relax connective tissues, preventing muscle spasms [19]. A great way to take advantage of hot therapy is to visit a sauna!

 Regular visits in a sauna are proven to:

  • Remove toxins from the body [20]
  • Reduce pain and improve stiffness in people with arthritis [21]
  • Recover muscles after endurance exercise [22]
  • Prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease [23]
  • Lower risk of heart disease and all-mortality death [24]
  • Decrease headaches [25].

I generally dislike feeling too warm, I am very irritable in the hot summer months so it was a real challenge being a sitting duck in a steaming room with some strangers, sweating extremely. But a few moments later, all my annoyance was swept away, as I started feeling "clean". I think I could literally feel the toxins being removed from my body. With every sweat drop I felt lighter, my muscles relaxed and I was overwhelmed by feelings of calmness. 

 

Biohack # 5: Take A Deep Breath

I have been practicing yoga the last ten years. I love it. I love feeling my muscles stretched out, my mind empty of thoughts and a general feeling of gratitude and peacefulness surrounding me. It does not matter what type of yoga you practice-Hatha, Kundalini, Vinyasa, etc-it all comes down to the same principle: tha asanas, aka breathing.

It is no wonder that all yoga techniques, meditation but also simple advice for calming down revolve around breathing. Slow breathing, meaning 10 breaths a minute or less, is scientifically proven that affects not only your central nervous system, aka your brain but also your psychology as well [26].

Deep breathing, meaning breathing from your diaphragm not only reduces stress and anxiety [27], but also improves attention [28], decreases your heart rate and blood pressure [29], and promotes core stability and muscle recovery [30].

It’s so simple and yet overlooked. So don’t forget to (deep) breath!

 

 

Biohack # 6: Take Time To Smell The Roses

I am a highly organised and stressful person. I am. I hate running late on deadlines and almost suffer panic attacks when things do not go as planned. Knowing this about myself, I felt it was imperative to hack my mind and I stumble across the art of mindfulness.

Practising mindfulness is being fully present; aware of your environment, your actions, yourself and keeping a non-judgmental acceptance of physical or psychological stress. You can practice mindfulness anywhere, anytime, and even enrich your mediation practice.

mindfulness benefits

Image source: https://www.keystepmedia.com/research-mindfulness-mental-performance/

It started slow. First, I turned off all distractions: my laptop, my phone, the TV. I closed my eyes, started taking deep breaths and I just let go. I thought of all things that I am grateful for, my daughter, my husband, my friends, my health. I focused on my breathing and just felt present in the moment. I am now doing this everyday, before I get up from bed! 

I also love to take a stroll in the park, to feel connected with nature. I observe how the birds are flying, the way the wind blows the autumn leaves from the ground, how the crisp air smells rain. Those precious moments I spent outside or even in my bed with my eyes closed are enough to help me cope with everyday, no matter how stressful it is.

Since I started practising mindfulness, I sleep better, experience less anxiety, while my productivity and concentration have increased. This should come as no surprise though, as mindfulness-based therapies are known for their ton of benefits, including:

  • Fighting insomnia [31]
  • Lowering stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms [32]
  • Coping with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) [33]
  • Reducing burnout [34]
  • Improving work performance and well-being [35]
  • Helping treat irritable bowel syndrome [36].

I know what you are going to say. Who has time for a walk in nature or even for a 15-minute meditation? We all have deadlines, busy schedules, full workloads. Everytime I close my eyes, I think about work. If my phone isn’t within arms reach, I panic. There you have it. These are exactly the reasons why you need to stop and smell the roses, long enough that you realize that the world will keep spinning without your immediate attention. 

Nowadays, technology- assisting meditation can help you reach your potential in less time. Virtual reality mindfulness limits outside distractions and enhances the sense of presence. Based on a pilot study, people practising a VR mindfulness practice experiences less anger, anxiety and more relaxation and happiness [37].

Read this post to learn more biohacking tips on how to eliminate unproductive stress.

 

Biohack #7: Eat Slow

I always paid attention to my diet, eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, grass-fed meat and fresh fish. But when the little one came, my routine went out of the window. Having a baby in the house, means no time for yourself. In other words, you always eat in a rush, taking turns with your partner, one eating and the otherone feeding. This was my life for months. 

At the end of the day, Idid not even remember what I ate, and I was the one who cooked it! I ended up eating a lot of snacks at night, when the little one was finally asleep and it started taking a toll in my health. I gained weight, I felt hungry all the time and even my endurance was reduced.

When my daughter turned 7 months oldand was eating solids three times a day, I finally had time to eat slowly too. It became our everyday routine, we would all sit down together, savor our meals, drink plenty of water and enjoy each other’s company.

It is crazy what a difference such as detail can make to your health! Since I started taking my time eating-around 20 minutes every time - I eat less, I snack less and I feel happier, fuller and satisfied with my food. I even dropped two pounds!

And it is not just me. Research shows that eating slowly decreases food intake, increases satiety and meal enjoyment, and reduces snacking habits. Eating slowly is a key message from Blue Zone longevity research.

Chewing is the first step in the digestive process. The food we put in our mouth mixes with saliva rich in mucus and salivary enzymes. Read this post to also learn out how boosting digestion can optimise brain performance.

 

Take Away Message

Biohacking offers a set of ideas and tools that can change a life’s trajectory for the better. It involves everything, from returning to your natural circadian rhythm and reassessing your diet, to strategically using nutraceuticals, hormones. A biohacker undergoes genetic testing for more data to guide their decisions.

But it is not one-size-fits-all. You determine what you want to achieve for a better you and you choose your biohacking path accordingly. However, you should always exercise caution when self-experimenting.

Make sure you stay safe, do your own research, join biohacker groups for support and take full responsibility for your health.

References:

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3963479/
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2656292/
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5449130/
[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23535242/
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3499892/
[6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15640462/
[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3106288/
[8] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24048020/
[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3727573/
[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6449133/
[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482319/
[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3956737/
[13] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16870097/
[14] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23636794/
[15] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2734249/
[16] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5411446/
[17] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/fullarticle/419737
[18] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22541861/
[19] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25526231/
[20] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5941775/
[21] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25705824
[22] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4493260/
[23] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27932366/
[24] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25705824
[25] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25636135/
[26] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6137615/
[27] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27995346/
[28] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5455070/
[29] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5575449/
[30] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5709795/
[31] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25142566/
[32] https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0071834
[33] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23609463/
[34] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5836057/
[35] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5836057/
[36] https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0071834
[37] https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0187777 

Guest Author
Guest Author

This article was contributed by a guest author with expert knowledge in their field.



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