Some of this year's most popular biohacks may be promising strategies to boost health and wellness.
More people are interested in optimizing their health and well-being than ever before, and they're doing it through a practice called biohacking. Simply put, biohacking is making small yet calculated diet and lifestyle changes to improve physical and mental health, with the ultimate goal of extending the healthspan.
But what are the hottest trends in biohacking for 2023? And do they deliver the results biohackers are hoping for?
1. Food is medicine movement
With increasing concerns about the health effects of ultra-processed foods and the rising rates of health conditions like dementia and colorectal cancer, managing health through diet by using food as medicine has increased in popularity.
The food as medicine movement refers to the use of food and nutrition programs to prevent or treat specific health conditions. Programs include food pharmacies located in healthcare facilities, fruit and vegetable prescriptions that people can use to buy healthy foods, and dietitian-created medically tailored meals (MTMs).
This personalized approach to dietary interventions focuses on managing conditions such as HIV, diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer.
The food is medicine movement has also caught the eye of health officials. For example, in the fiscal year 2023, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) developed a Food as Medicine initiative to reduce nutrition-related chronic diseases and food insecurity in the United States.
Though not all healthcare facilities or health insurance plans cover these interventions, HHS recently approved Medicaid initiatives in Massachusetts, Oregon, and Arkansas, giving these states the authority to test coverage for evidence-based nutritional assistance and medically tailored meals.
2. Minimum effective dose exercise
The Minimum Effective Dose (MED) exercise strategy refers to the shortest or least amount of exercise needed to reap health benefits.
For example, one study found that getting up and out of the chair every 30 minutes and walking for five minutes may negate the harmful health effects of prolonged sitting. Other research suggests people who complete 19 minutes of vigorous activity a week have a 40% lower chance of developing heart disease.
MED exercise changes the mindset of "no pain, no gain" and proposes that a person doesn't have to spend hours working out to gain benefits.
This trend offers a solution for individuals who don't have the time to commit to long workouts and might help those who find it challenging to stick to a traditional exercise program.
However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and two days of muscle-strengthening activity per week to experience health benefits.
So, more research is needed to help clarify whether the MED exercise strategy is optimal for promoting health and wellness.
3. Biological age testing
Influencers like Bryan Johnson claim their biological age is years younger than their chronological age. If a person's bio-age is lower than the number of birthdays they've had, it could result in a longer lifespan or healthspan.
Biological age is simply how fast the body's cells, organs, and tissues are aging. And it's influenced by diet, lifestyle, genetic makeup, and mental health.
A 2021 study suggests that telomere length, composite biomarkers, DNA methylation "epigenetic clocks," transcriptional predictors, and functional age predictors are the primary markers that can determine a person's biological age.
Determining biological age through testing can help individuals make necessary changes to slow down their internal clock. DNA methylation tests, epigenetic age tests using blood samples to measure molecular biomarkers, and measuring telomere length can help determine biological age.
Other tests include gut biome composition assessments, measuring NAD levels, and the immunoglobulin G (IgG) glycome test, which measures an essential antibody in the blood.
However, when choosing a biological age test, a person should evaluate its costs, accuracy, and information provided by the results to determine if it's right for them. In addition, although biological age tests may provide helpful information, individuals may need to consult with a healthcare professional to design a biohacking plan that addresses any results that are concerning.
4. Health tracking wearables
Keeping tabs on blood oxygen, heart rate, and steps per day can help a person stay on top of their health. For instance, setting exercise goals using these devices can increase motivation and provide a visual record of accomplishments.
When people think of wearable devices, the first thing that might come to mind is a smartwatch. But new devices, like smart rings, have emerged as a less cumbersome way to measure stress, track sleep, and monitor vital signs. They look and fit like regular jewelry while still providing the health data needed for targeted biohacking.
Other wearables include epidermal electronic devices, which are flat patches that adhere to the skin. However, these are more suited for short-term applications, such as hospital stays, as they can monitor wound healing, medication delivery, and body temperature.
Moreover, biohackers can also find wearable devices that go beyond health tracking. These include electromagnetic wearable devices for brain entrainment that promise to help with sleep quality and cognitive function, eyewear that blocks blue light, and light/sound devices to promote relaxation.
Still, it needs to be clarified if these device-based interventions actually provide significant benefits.
Nootropics — a combination of natural and synthetic "smart drugs" — has become a rising trend among those who want to biohack brain function. People use them to increase attention and focus, enhance memory, reduce anxiety and depression symptoms, and help with sleep.
Examples of natural nootropics include ginkgo biloba, Panax ginseng, L-theanine, and caffeine. Synthetics such as phenotropil and piracetam are also considered "smart drugs," as are prescription medications like Ritalin and Adderall.
These medications interact with receptors and neurotransmitters in the brain. They may also improve the brain's supply of glucose and oxygen and protect brain tissue from neurotoxicity.
A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study published in March of this year found that nootropic use significantly improved reaction time in study participants.
Moreover, in a 2022 systematic review of research, scientists found that ginkgo biloba appeared to assist with perceptual and motor functions, and Bacopa monnieri improved language, learning, and memory. In addition, ashwagandha showed promise at controlling anxiety and social-related cognitions, and caffeine enhanced attention and executive functions.
While many health trends come and go, biohacking is here to stay. Still, a person should consult their healthcare provider before trying a new biohack, such as dietary changes or starting a new exercise program, to ensure it's appropriate and won't negatively impact any pre-existing health conditions.
- HHS. Food as Medicine: A Project to Unify and Advance Collective Action.
- European Heart Journal. Vigorous physical activity, incident heart disease, and cancer: how little is enough?
- CDC. How much physical activity do adults need?
- Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine. Predictors of Biological Age: The Implications for Wellness and Aging Research.
- Nutrients. Nootropics as Cognitive Enhancers: Types, Dosage and Side Effects of Smart Drugs.
- Biomedical Journal of Scientific & Technical Research. The Efficacy of A Nootropic Supplement on Information Processing in Adults: A Double Blind, Placebo Controlled Study.
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. Plant-derived nootropics and human cognition: A systematic review.