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Biohacking: What is it? Health Benefits?

Biohacking is a way to control the variables that affect your health. You can look at it as taking steps to upgrade your body's performance. If you've ever exercised, taken supplements or meditated, you've engaged in biohacking. Your mind and body are susceptible to influence by the food choices you make, the amount and quality of rest you get, the amount of physical activity you engage in, and other factors.


Food

Remember how your mom always nagged you to eat your vegetables? And think of all the times you've heard the expression, "You are what you eat." Food is the fuel that powers all the body's functions, and all food is not the same. Some foods are much better for nourishing the body and fueling the vital metabolic processes that keep us healthy. Nutritionally dense foods contain antioxidants and phytochemicals that contribute to good health, and superfoods can boost the effectiveness of the immune system.


Whole Foods

Food is the purveyor of vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, proteins, carbohydrates and much more. These are the elements that the body uses for maintenance, energy and growth. Biohacking incorporates food into your life in an intelligent way, allowing you to get the most benefit from what you eat. Whole foods are foods that are eaten in the natural state, with all the edible parts, and without additives or preservatives.

The vitamins and minerals that are present in food promote good health more efficiently in their natural state. Helper substances in whole foods allow us to absorb and digest these nutrients more easily. Some have been identified, like the phytochemicals in plant-based foods, but many more are still unknown. That's why adding vitamins and minerals to food, or 'enriching' them, doesn't have the same nutritional value as eating foods that already have those nutrients present.


Food Allergies

Identifying and dealing with food allergies is one biohack that leads to better health. An allergist can help you find out which foods cause allergic reactions by making simple pinpricks on your arm. If the area swells and turns red, then you might be allergic to that food. Once you've had an allergic reaction from a skin test, your doctor might suggest a challenge test. This is eating slowly increasing amounts of the food that caused the allergic reaction. If you experience symptoms, then the allergy to that food is confirmed.

Finding out which foods to avoid is an important step in refining your eating habits to best serve your health, or biohacking your diet. The flip side of eating foods that are good for you is avoiding those that cause negative reactions. The good news is that, for any food you have to eliminate from your diet, there's a substitute that will provide the same nutritional support.


Food Toxins

Giving your body the energy and nutrition it needs from food goes hand-in-hand with avoiding toxins that will reduce those positive effects. Alcohol is one of the primary toxins that people willingly consume. Moderation is the key here, and there are some choices that are better than others, such as red wine instead of a sugary rum drink.

More disturbing, however, are toxins that are present in non-organic and processed foods. Any non-organic fruit or vegetable purchased in the grocery store should be washed thoroughly before eating to remove any pesticides. Using a vinegar and water soak will remove wax coatings that can retain impurities.

Packaged lunch meat and hot dogs have nitrates added as preservatives. Processed foods like potato chips are usually fried using inexpensive oils that contain saturated fats. Excess salt, saturated fat and nitrates are ingredients that are detrimental to health, so biohacking involves avoiding these substances.


Ketosis

This biohack is a significant one because it's a deliberate manipulation of the way your body metabolizes nutrients. (Ketosis is different from ketoacidosis, a condition sometimes experienced by diabetics.) Ketosis is the condition that occurs when the body goes into fat-burning mode, breaking down fat stores for energy. It happens naturally during strenuous exercise, and it can be triggered by intermittent fasting and/or following a low-carb diet.

The ketogenic diet includes healthy fats in moderation, and it revolves around eating foods that have a low glycemic index. That means they have little effect on blood sugar levels and contain a low amount of carbohydrates. When combined with exercise, a strict low-carb diet can change your body's metabolism from carbohydrate-burning to primarily fat-burning. Non-starchy fruits and vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats are the foundation of this biohacking process.


Fitness

This is about more than just exercise, although moving your body is a vital part of staying in shape. A full-body workout can greatly benefit the health of the cardiovascular system, the lungs and the muscle tissues. Exercising particular muscles creates an action-reaction cycle in which tissues are stressed and rebound by becoming stronger. But even breathing properly and focusing on maintaining good posture will contribute to the overall healthy functioning of your body.

One interesting fact that many people aren't aware of concerns the lymph glands, fluid-filled sacks that transport infection-fighting white blood cells and eliminate toxins. Surprisingly, the lymphatic system has no way of moving the lymph fluid around the body except through the movement of the muscles and joints. If you were to lay in bed all day, for instance, your lymph glands would be sluggish and have a harder time doing their job of keeping you free from infection.

Biohacking comes in when you realize that the opposite is true. If you walk and take the stairs, make time to work out, do yoga, or engage in some combination of the above, it will stimulate the lymph glands. You'll actually make your lymphatic system move the fluid around your body to where it's needed. This is just one example of the ability to jumpstart the natural bodily processes that benefit our health.

We've discussed the toxins and unhealthy substances that affect the body, like pollution, alcohol, excess sugar and saturated fats. Another toxic substance is stress. It affects the mind and body in many ways, and it has a variety of causes. Physically, stress can lead to frequent headaches, tense muscles and constant fatigue. Many times, stomach disorders and sleep problems like insomnia are partly caused by mental stress. Too much stress can also cause behaviors that are detrimental to health like overeating or sleeping too much.


Stress Reduction

Biohacking involves acting in the best interests of your mental and physical health, and eliminating excess stress from your life is a good start. We'll never be able to eliminate all stress and, arguably, good stress is what spurs us on to achieve goals. But when stress gets out of hand, it can cause problems like mental fatigue, anxiety, depression, irritability and a lack of motivation.

Stress can take many forms, and it's helpful to devise a custom stress reduction plan for yourself. Think about the things that promote a calm emotional state, and give yourself the gift of time to do them. The plan could include spending more time in nature or with your pet, listening to music, reading, or more than one of those options. In his book, Anatomy of an Illness, Dr. Norman Cousins even described using laughter to reverse the effects of a debilitating illness brought on by stress.

Recently, self-care has emerged as a popular buzzword. That's probably because health professionals are beginning to realize how important it is for the maintenance of good health. Self-care includes making sure you get enough sleep at night, and one way to sleep better is to give yourself free time before bed. Reading, working on a hobby, or just engaging in quiet conversation with a loved one are all ways to wind down and begin to relax before actually getting into bed.


Mental State

Having a sedentary lifestyle isn't the only way we can fail to take advantage of the natural ability to biohack our own bodies. Sluggishness of the mind is detrimental to health as well. It's a revelation to some people that you can exercise your mind the same way you do your body. Mindfulness is another word that's being thrown around a lot these days. The way we're defining it here is, 'the state of being aware of your thought processes in order to have control over them.'

The first step is to pay attention to what you're thinking and how it affects you. Negative thought patterns can become a habit, but it's one that can be broken. Cultivate the ability to see the good in any situation. Then, take a clear look at your options so you can devise the best plan of action going forward. Meditation can help induce a calm mental state, especially if you focus on gratitude for what you have and forgiveness of the mistakes of others.

Sometimes, having a physical token of the inner work you're doing can help you remember to stop and reflect. Wearing a bracelet as a reminder, or carrying a smooth stone that you can rub when stressed are both positive ways to stay focused in the present and not worry about what could go wrong. Your happiness, creativity and performance in life will all benefit from training your mind to dwell on positives instead of negatives.


Supplements

Vitamins, minerals and herbs are supplements you can take to help with biohacking your way to optimal health. It's best to get your vitamins and minerals directly from the foods you eat, along with the phytochemicals found in plants that help you absorb them. But high-quality supplements can fill in the gaps when you don't get enough of the important vitamins and minerals from your diet.

For thousands of years, herbs were the equivalent of today's medicines. Over time, people learned that certain plants had specific properties that could treat illness and keep people healthy. Herbal healing relies on natural plant and mineral substances to cure patients of various ailments. Incorporating beneficial herbs into your diet or taking them in supplement form is a biohack that can give you more energy and better health.


Treatments

There are many treatments that have been tried as biohacks, including electrical stimulation and cold therapy. While some of these ideas don't have any scientific corroboration, others have been proven to have benefits. For example, intermittent fasting can help kickstart ketosis, and calorie restriction has been associated with improved brain function. Biofeedback techniques can help influence blood pressure levels and improve the immune system.

One of the easiest and most beneficial biohack treatments is simply spending some time in the sunlight. The sun interacts with your skin to form vitamin D, the 'sunshine vitamin'. Vitamin D protects the body from inflammation, maintains strong bones, lowers blood pressure, and has cardiovascular benefits.

Sunshine also boosts serotonin levels in the brain, elevating your mood. The key is spending only small amounts of time in direct sunlight without the use of sunscreen. Spending 10-15 minutes in the sun three times a week between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. will give you all the vitamin D you need.


Fine-Tuning Your Health

As you can see, there are many ways that you can control the level of your health and fitness. Eating healthy foods involves developing a diet that's not only nutrient-rich but will give you metabolic benefits as well. Brain and body interact, and both can be nudged in the right direction with mindful, healthy routines. The role of vitamins, minerals and herbs in this effort can be a crucial factor in achieving optimal health. Biohacking gives you the ability to steer your life in a healthy direction by positively influencing your overall wellbeing.


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