Posted: Sat, May 18, 2013 | By: Biohack
by Winslow Strong
This is the first post in the Biohacking 101 series, so I’m going to give a big picture overview of what self-biohacking (I’ll usually just call it biohacking) is all about, at least from my perspective. Then I’ll give some general strategies on selecting a biohack, and a resource compendium of sources that I consult to do so.
This essay was first posted at Winslow’s blog, biohackyourself.com, HERE
Biohackers look for techniques to improve themselves that are high return. That is, they ideally require little investment of time, energy, & money, and produce a big increase in capabilities and/or well-being. Many seemingly ordinary activities, such as exercise, could be called biohacks. What characterizes biohacking are the end goals and consequent optimization of activities to achieve those goals. An activity is a biohack when it is carried out not primarily for its own sake, but instead to extract from it some enhancement to our raw abilities, specific skills, overall health, or well-being.
There are two obvious strategies to use in selecting a biohack: the biggest aim, and the biggest gain. By the former, I mean targeting those capabilities that you think any improvement in would greatly benefit you. They could be as fundamental as IQ, or as specific as improving your reading speed and comprehension. In a winner-take-all market, it can pay off enormously to push your performance level in your expertise even a little bit higher.
Pause right here and make a personal list of a few capabilities in your life which you would most like to improve in. Yes, I’m not just writing to entertain, I intend for you to actively participate in this. Write it down, on a piece of paper or in a note on your computer or phone . . .
Now you have your list committed to ink (or text). The act of writing it down is important because this increases the memorability and solidifies your intentions to take action on these topics. It’s a hack, of sorts.
The other search strategy is the biggest gain. This means searching among the universe of known biohacks for top-performers that benefit a large segment of the population. This search is more targeted towards finding the low-hanging fruit: biohacks that deliver a large boost to a capability at a low cost. But it’s less personalized towards the types of returns that you are looking for.
As this blog progresses, we will be compiling a list of biohacks as discussed in blog posts. They will go under the “Biohacks” heading. But for now here are a few things that are popular targets for biohackers:
* Poor/not enough sleep
* Athletic Performance
* Mental Performance
Any biohack will require an input of time on your behalf, from perhaps the minimality of swallowing a pill, to a considerable investment in time and effort for hacking your default mental state. Some require monetary investment as well, such as purchasing creatine to enhance your muscular energy output. Since the tradeoff between time and money is different for different people, these costs will weigh differently for each individual. The reward will also vary from individual to individual. In the future, Biohack Yourself will support a system for crowdsourcing biohack ratings. I will also provide my subjective review of the biohacks that I have attempted, but that’s only a starting point and shouldn’t be weighed heavily once user feedback generates substantial statistics.
The next step after selecting and planning a particular biohack is to implement it on yourself and pay attention to the results. In order to do this effectively, you will ideally want to quantify and measure the desired objective and track this data before, during (when applicable), and after the biohack goes into effect. How to execute this well will be the subject of the subsequent posts in this series.
Of course, this website will ultimately be the best source for biohacks , but we need some time to grow, so in the meantime I’ve compiled my list of sources that I regularly consult.
If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants. - Isaac Newton
If you want to get started biohacking immediately, then you can do no better than to seek out a guru in the specific area that you desire to improve in.
Dave Asprey (fb)(@bulletproofexec)(podcast) - Increase IQ; optimize diet for improving metabolism, enhancing cognition, and massive fat loss; hack cognitive function; hack your aging and probably some more that I am forgetting – oh yeah, optimize your coffee! Dave has been an inspiration to me, and this site probably wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t stumbled across his website and podcast.
Larry Smarr (@lsmarr) is playing with the cutting edge tools in genomics and proteomics to forge a trail for the future of personalized medicine. Paying attention to anomalous data suggesting chronic inflammation and a pathological gut microbiome – the ecosystem of gut bacteria that are crucial to our digestion and overall health – he discovered that he was in the early stages of Crohn’s disease. This allowed him to take early action to combat it, the details of which are told in this talk. It is a terrific story of the power of personal health analytics. Hopefully, these tools will be accessible to all of us in the near future.
Tim Ferriss (fb)(@tferriss) – Perhaps the most famous biohacker? Hacked his body in numerous ways detailed in The 4 Hour Body. Strength and muscle gains, fat loss. Minimization of workout time and dietary effort to achieve goals.
Gary Wolf (@agaricus) & Kevin Kelly (@kevin2kelly) – Organized the Quantified Self (QS) movement. There are over 100 meetups in cities worldwide, including #99, the Zürich chapter, which I founded in November 2012.
Translators of health and performance research into actionable advice
Anyone who has suffered a severe health episode knows that health of mind and body are important foundations of general well-being. It is therefore the first place to start with biohacking. I think that everyone should have some basic understanding of how their body works and the most robust findings of health research. Exercise and the fitness it promotes are also great biohacks of overall well-being. But fitness taken to the highest levels often undermines health, so moderation and appropriate recovery are key.
Chris Kresser (fb)(@chriskresser)(podcast) – My most trusted single source for health information. I’m going to elaborate a bit here, because I think that the qualities that Chris possesses are important ones to look for in any information source:
* Critical thinking skills - especially resistance to group-think. Very few people are immune to popular sentiment. Most are biased in embracing the group-think of their tribes, while a few have biases towards disagreeing with anything that is popular. I think that Chris does an incredible job of walking the narrow line in between.
* Willingness to take new findings seriously, and revise his opinion. He gave up sous-vide cooking after some evidence emerged that nearly all plastics when stressed by heat or contortion (sous-vide bags are plastic) release compounds having estrogenic activity.
* Thoroughness of research - the guy can whip out huge lists of studies, and comment on their strengths and shortcomings. I don’t know how he has time to read all of these, have a patient practice, run a blog and a podcast, and give talks at conferences. He’s a recent father as well.
* He doesn’t dumb anything down for the reader, giving full complexity and uncertainty in his analysis. When appropriate, he won’t give you recommendations, but will present the risk/reward tradeoff thoroughly and force you to decide.
* Takes the precautionary principle seriously. As biohackers, we need to balance our desires to increase performance against the potential risks of our experimental treatments. Chris provides a good reality-check for conveying the risks of tampering with certain things like hormones, whose complex interactions and feedback mechanisms are really beyond anyone’s thorough understanding at this time.
Chris Masterjohn (fb)(@ChrisMasterjohn) – Vitamin A expert, and also knowledgeable about ancestral diets and what the science over the last decades actually does and does not tell us about lipid profiles and cardiac risk.
Examine.com (fb)(@Examinecom) – My first stop if I want to learn about the scientific findings on particular supplements. They have sifted through huge amounts of primary research and summarized the findings so that you don’t have to.
Gwern (G+)(@gwern) – A research assistant at the Singularity Institute think-tank. He writes detailed summaries of the research surrounding some topics of interest for biohackers, such as hacking working memory with dual-N-back training, memorizing efficiently with SRS, sleep hacking with Zeo, and the effectiveness of various nootropic substances for boosting cognitive performance. He covers his personal experience with these techniques in a level of detail and rigor that I haven’t seen matched anywhere else.
Longecity (fb)(@imminst) - The website of the immortality institute. Their mission: “to conquer the blight of involuntary death.” These are my kind of people They have a great forum too, with a lot of information on supplementation for anti-aging and increased cognition.
Mark Sisson (fb)(@Mark_Sisson) – Has a great website oriented towards nonexperts, covering a vast array of health topics. These days, conducting a search on something health related often results in a flood of untrustworthy minimalistic articles from livestrong.com. As an alternative to this, add “site:marksdailyapple.com” to your Google search, and you will be rewarded. In critique, I think he is a bit dogmatic about the low-carb approach, and also in being anti-cardio (he used to be a top-level marathoner, and now feels that his training damaged his health).
Matt Stone of 180DegreeHealth (fb)(@180degreehealth) – This site was instrumental in me adding carbs back into my diet, after realizing that I had symptoms of low metabolism matching this description. Matt Stone gets kudos in my book for resisting the Paleo group-think and often performing brave self-experiments in diet. I would say that his expertise is in rescuing health-conscious people who have been led astray by popular and dogmatic dietary advice.
Paul Jaminet (fb)(@pauljaminet) – Physicist by training, but his own and his wife’s health problems prompted them to plunge into nutritional research and become experts on what the scientific research actually indicates (not what the media or governmental organizations spin it to imply). He promotes a high-fat, low(er) carb, paleo-friendly diet with a bit extra carbs if you engage in regular athletics and/or want to optimize athletic performance, and a bit fewer if you want to promote longevity. He coined the term “safe starches” to denote those starches that do not have toxins (at least for most people) after cooking.
Sam Snyder (@snydr) - Blogger extraordinaire. His output really staggers me. He is a research aggregator, focused on health and performance, often just posting links to a slew of studies relevant to a particular topic, book, or website.
Stephan Guyenet (@whsource) – A researcher specializing in the causes of obesity and how the brain is involved in weight regulation. He is also quite knowledgeable about ancestral diets. He can tell you how to prepare grains to improve their digestive properties.
Superhuman Radio (fb)(@SuperhumanENT)(podcast) - The host of the podcast, Carl Lanore, puts out a ton of content, and has some great health experts on the show for interviews. The primary focus is on increasing the effectiveness of strength training, but they are also quite interested and knowledgeable about health and longevity. My favorite is their “science roundup” segment, with Adel Moussa of suppversity fame. It’s usually on Thursdays.
Suppversity (fb) – A high-level blog written by Adel Moussa, aka Dr. Andro, oriented towards communicating the findings of the scientific research on physical training. Adel has a well-honed critical mind and a balanced approach towards hacking strength and fitness while balancing overall health. Without some intermediate-advanced knowledge of human anatomy, physiology, and health topics, however, you might find yourself a bit lost in these articles.
Upgraded Self News – The brain child of Dave Asprey, chief editor. Essentially a newspaper for biohackers. A great way to stay informed.
Hacking the mind
Hamlet: there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. - Shakespeare
Since the quality of every moment that you experience depends enormously on the state of your mind, it makes sense to put some thought and effort into enhancing it.
dhammatalks.org - Buddhist monks are some of the most serious biohackers out there. They dedicate their lives to gaining mastery of their minds, aiming to cultivate a transcendent unperturbable mindstate without limits. I can’t vouch for all forms of Buddhism, but I am very familiar with the philosophy of the mind laid out in these talks by the Theravada Buddhist monk Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu. Being born and raised in the west makes “Ajaan Geoff” a great teacher for western minds looking to gain some eastern wisdom. Coupled with meditation practice (for instructions see here), these talks have helped me cultivate a mindstate that is more free, happy, and robust.
SharpBrains (fb)(@sharpbrains) – They cover the brain performance and health industry. They feature interviews from experts in cognitive research, and highlight current and future technologies and techniques used for brain-training.
Crowd-sourced disease management
These organizations give patients a way to share information on managing their diseases. They would be the first place that I would look if I had a chronic disease.
I don’t recommend resorting to searching through primary literature (i.e. scientific research reports) unless your situation is quite serious and you have sufficient background, time, and inclination to digest scientific papers. Otherwise it’s too time-consuming and too easy to make mistakes interpreting the findings from misunderstanding the details or context. But if you are so inclined,
Google Scholar - Google is good at search, so this service is a natural choice for searching scientific papers.
PubMed - A very large, free database of scientific research papers in the biological sciences. Basically all have abstracts available, and some have full-text.
That’s it, for now
That concludes the summary of good sources for biohacks. I have only listed the resources that I personally use. I am sure that there are many others out there that are great, so apologies for any omissions. Please add any resources that you have found to be valuable in the comments!
Tip: Adding site:URL to a google search (where URL is the URL of the website that you want to search) narrows your search to a particular site.
This essay was first posted at Winslow’s blog, biohackyourself.com, HERE