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Health: Biohacking: What is behind the system of self-optimization

Feeling better, mentally and physically - everyone wants that. Biohacking should pave the way there. But what is behind this seemingly spectacular term?

Eating habits, processes, training routines: There are many adjusting screws that can be turned to make you feel better. Biohackers take the body's self-optimization to extremes. What do these people do differently?

The American Mark Moschel once wrote: "What distinguishes biohackers from the rest of the self-optimization world is their systemic access to our own biology."

It's about being the “absolute best version” of yourself - and for that you have to try: What is good for you and what is not? “Biohacking is about getting your hands dirty and learning from your experience,” says Moschel.

Change the body's program

The sports physician Wilhelm Bloch describes it as follows: You try - similar to a hacker who wants to change a computer program - to change the body's own program through stimuli.

An example is a fast during a high-intensity exercise phase. The body has to do a lot, but receives few calories and is therefore exposed to relatively high levels of stress. “That leads to detoxification, but it also changes the system,” says Bloch, who examined this procedure in an experiment with athletes. "In most of them, the metabolism was changed afterwards, and their bodies processed nutrients differently."

Bloch deals with functional genomics at the German Sport University in Cologne: "Humans have hardware, genes, that work in a certain way," he explains. Genes are switched on or off or put into a different functional state by stimuli. Bloch observes what certain stimuli trigger, such as this fasting regimen during intense exercise.

The scientist also tells about cancer patients he trains. "We look at what influences the activity of the killer cells that attack and destroy the cancer - and we saw that some stimuli really make these cells more aggressive."

Get out of the comfort zone

For active athletes, Bloch considers high-intensity cardio interval training to be a “biohack” that you could try out. "You go out of your comfort zone, the heart rate and the workload increase - in the long run you should feel better and fitter through this measure."

Anyone who changes their diet, trains at heights, changes the intensity of their sports units, sleeps less or more than usual: All of this can change the system in the long term, as Bloch sums it up. "There are many charms."

Nevertheless, he has a problem with biohacking: "This term encompasses a lot - and there is a lack of evidence for a lot." So the proof of whether and what that really brings in the end. For example, with certain plant substances and food supplements (so-called nootropics), which are supposed to increase mental performance.

With a plan for better sleep

Andreas Breitfeld is someone who takes biohacking to extremes. Sleep analysis, oxygen chambers, infrared light, ice bathing, meditation - the man who has a “biohacking lab” in Munich knows a lot of self-optimization tools. Some of them cost thousands of euros. But Breitfeld also knows simple and free biohacks.

In order to reduce chronic stress, for example, good sleep is incredibly important, said Breitfeld at a workshop at the Ispo sporting goods fair, which is only taking place online this year.

His tips for better nights: You should plan when to go to bed and have your last large meal at least three hours in advance. "Anyone who eats right beforehand does not sleep well." If you like to drink a glass of wine, you should do it in the late afternoon instead of in the evening so that the body breaks down the alcohol until you go to sleep.

It is also good if you stop staring into your smartphone or watch TV an hour or two before going to bed. Otherwise, the blue light on the screens “kills melatonin production a bit,” as the biohacking expert puts it. Melatonin is colloquially known as the sleep hormone.

The Bundesliga soccer player Erling Haaland also tries to reduce such light stimuli in the evening in order to sleep better. He uses glasses with a special filter, said the Borussia Dortmund star in an interview a few months ago.

The elements influence each other

In the end, biohacking is about regaining control of your own biology and letting it work for you in the best possible way, said the book author and biohacker Max Gotzler during the Ispo workshop.

It is about elements such as nutrition, exercise, the environment and recreation and the knowledge that a change in one of the elements can affect the other - for better or for worse: "Chronic stress worsens almost everything."

One of the biohacks that Gotzler recommends against stress is: prioritize and hide stressors. For example, by issuing notifications on the smartphone or simply switching the device to flight mode during an important work task.

Headphones that suppress external noises (noise canceling) can also be helpful. “So that you have the energy to focus,” says Gotzler.

Old wine in new bottles?

Ispo describes biohacking as a new trend towards physical self-optimization. Perhaps that is a little over the top.

Sports medicine specialist Bloch thinks: “In itself the term biohacking is not that bad, even if it is actually a bit like old wine in new bottles. But you can think of a few things that make sense. "

However, he sees the shortcoming that the term is used for all sorts of things - and thus partly also for things that at best do not help and at worst do more harm than good. In the end, everyone has to try out for themselves which measures can be used to “biohack” themselves healthier, fitter and happier.

Tom Nebe, dpa