Can I Biohack My Way to Better Health?

By Claire Gillespie
Reviewed by Allison Truong, M.D.
March 23, 2021

I’ve lived with psoriasis for more than 25 years. In that time, I’ve used topical steroids (in various strengths and combinations), coal tar treatments, light therapy, and a vast number of “miracle” creams. My psoriasis was never deemed serious enough to warrant systemic therapies, and I never found a miracle treatment.

Five years ago, I ditched the steroids for good. I’d taken them for a few months, my skin would clear (never 100 percent, but enough that I’d be happy wearing a sleeveless top or going bare-legged), I’d stop the steroids, and before too long, I’d get a flare. I realized that these prescribed meds I’d taken were treating the symptoms but not improving my condition.

Since going steroid-free, I’ve made a couple of pretty big lifestyle changes (quitting alcohol, for starters) and, more recently, several small ones. When I came across the term “biohacking” on Instagram, I realized I was already doing this, and learned there was more I could do—for my psoriasis, sure, but for every other aspect of my health, too. I’m talking about the foundations that we too often forget about: sleep, nutrition, physical fitness, and mental well‑being.

What Is Biohacking?

Biohacking sounds a bit science-y—and there is some tech involved—but it’s actually a pretty simple practice. Tim Gray, one of the UK’s most prolific biohackers, describes it as “using nature and technology to optimize your health and performance.”

Biohacking means optimizing the environment inside of you, i.e., boosting gut health, fueling nutritional deficiencies, adjusting diet, and taking supplements. It also aims to improve the environment outside of you, which can mean minimizing EMF (electromagnetic field) exposure from things like microwaves, Wi-Fi routers, and cell phones; reducing blue light (from digital devices) late at night; purifying polluted air; and more.

Gray says he was chronically ill for five years, and doctors couldn't find anything wrong with him. “They started saying it was ‘psychological’ without even asking if I exercised, if I ate natural food, if I drank clean and mineralized water, or if I slept well,” he says.

This mirrors my experience with the numerous doctors I’ve seen for both psoriasis and depression. Not one of them asked what types of food I ate, how much I exercised, or what my sleep quality was. (I’m not anti-conventional medicine, by the way—far from it—but when it comes to my chronic physical and mental health issues, it’s failed me.)

Could Biohacking Help Psoriasis?

While scientists don’t know for sure what causes psoriasis, it’s widely accepted that with this condition, inflammation (the body’s natural defense and repair system) runs rampant. It makes sense, then, to try to reduce inflammation in the body in as many ways possible.

“Biohacking looks at the reason [the inflammation is] happening,” Gray explains. “Is it due to a gut permeability issue, or an imbalanced microbiome, a farmed dairy intolerance, or a stressed liver?”

Gray also suggests that inflammation might have a genetic component, and that looking deeper at it will help to highlight why it’s happening, so people can use biohacks to target any issues in a strategic way.

How I Started Biohacking

My default setting is to go at things a million miles an hour, but I soon realized that to get anything out of biohacking, I had to ease into it one step at a time. I went back to the basics—improving my sleep habits, drinking more water, moving my body more often (yoga and ballet works for me, but there are no rules), and practicing daily breath work.

From there, I layered on another few habits that I knew nothing about before I started biohacking. Grounding is simply walking barefoot on the earth to get free electrons, which are believed by some to pair with free radicals to reduce inflammation. I turned my water cold for the last 15 seconds of my shower and gradually built up to a minute. I started intermittent fasting (eating within an eight-hour period with no food for the remaining 16 hours). I scheduled more downtime for relaxation, I ditched vegetable oils (they’re typically high in pro-inflammatory fats and contain minimal trace nutrients due to intensive processing). I ditched Facebook, too. So far, so good—and making these changes hasn’t cost me a penny.

Long before I dipped my toe into biohacking, I followed an elimination diet to see what effect cutting out certain foods would have on my psoriasis. It’s a lengthy, often frustrating process of trial and error, and my biggest takeaway isn’t actually psoriasis-specific. It’s the realization that everybody—and every body—is different. If I eat too much dairy, I get a bad belly and angry skin, while my husband can eat as much of it as he likes and feel great. If I drink caffeine past lunchtime, I won’t be able to sleep that night. Refined sugar and processed foods give me low mood; I have friends who can eat junk on the regular and experience absolutely no obvious health issues. I need a solid eight hours of sleep; I know others who thrive on five. We’re all completely unique, so why shouldn’t our approach to our health be a personalized? And biohacking isn’t just for people with chronic health issues—it can be for anybody. Because it’s preventive not curative, it could help ward off future health issues.

The Role of Tracking

Part of the biohacking process is tracking—where possible—to see if the changes you make really do make an impact. I do this two ways: First, I use a bit of technology. I did my research and decided the most important areas for me to track were my sleep and my activity. I bought an Oura ring, which wasn’t cheap but is discreet, comfortable, and tracks REM sleep and disturbances through the night; plus, resting heart rate and body temperature variations.

Otherwise, I monitor all my biohacking efforts the old-fashioned way, writing notes on how my body and mind respond to various changes. If something doesn’t work for me, I ditch it. But if it does make a positive difference, I’ll carry on with it. For instance, aloe vera juice has become a morning staple for me—it’s by far the best thing I’ve tried for regular, healthy digestion. But CBD oil, which I had high hopes for, didn’t do anything for me.

Be Careful with Biohacking

Many experienced biohackers do a lot more than sleep tracking and intermittent fasting; and, in some cases, a scroll down their Instagram grid quickly turns into an online shopping trip. Over the last few years, companies have been making a lot of money from biohackers. Biohacking has become a marketing buzzword used to sell unregulated dietary supplements and hike up prices on gear like spike mats.

But if you can get over the temptation to buy everything just because a bunch of people say it works for them (and remember, the basics cost absolutely nothing), the benefits of biohacking can be far-reaching. Just check in with your doctor first to make sure nothing you’re planning to do could have adverse health effects.

For me, the main one is a real sense of control over my own health and physiology. I feel better, I’m happier, and I’m more focused. Oh, and my psoriasis hasn’t flared in a long time. I can’t say for sure whether that’s down to the way I eat, the cold showers I take every morning without fail, the time I spend walking barefoot, or my daily (carefully researched) supplements. I’m guessing it’s a combination of everything, and that’s more than good enough for me.

Important note: Due to lack of evidence-based data on biohacking techniques mentioned in this article, this regimen should not replace one’s current medications. Any initiation or discontinuation of treatments should be under physician guidance. This story is a personal anecdote of one person’s journey and since each individual is different, your personal experience may be different from theirs.

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