Biohacking. It’s technology meets nutrition meets sport meets spirituality and more: all focused around the goal of how do I become the most awesome version of myself in the fastest possible time?
I had the pleasure to join the Biohacker Summit in Stockholm, which brought together a fascinating line-up of speakers, exhibitors, and participants to share experiences on how to speed up the process of becoming superhuman. Here are my takeaways, musings, and photos from the event.
Part 1: The introduction
The word biohacking is a blend of two words: ‘bio’ or biology – and ‘hacking’, which essentially means ‘the fastest way to get to my goal’. This might include maximal energy, optimised sleep, powerful physiology, sexual potency, mental clarity, and more.
Biohacker Summit participants are an advanced lot: 40% had already undergone DNA testing, and many were wearing body data tracking devices or actually had tracking devices implanted into their skin. Kick-ass stuff.
Our compere, Hannes Sjoblad, set the tone from the start by strolling on stage with an intravenous vitamin drip stand in his hand, cannula in his arm. Clearly, biohackers take interventions and use technology in their quest for excellence. Science matters and technology is actively used for good, though it was put clearly early on that, “The ultimate goal is to not need the technology – you feel it – you become a freaking Jedi!”
During the day we met Max Lugavere, a regular on Dr Oz’s show and self-confessed, ‘obsessed with brain health’; Chris Dancy the most connected man in the world (just google ‘most connected’ to find him); Ariel Poler, a biohacking investor with a great overview of what innovative startups are creating for us; My Westerdahl, who went from morbidly obese and being given two years to live, to losing 95kg and regaining her life with a diet that conventional wisdom would say should have just made her fatter. Jonas Bergqvist, a luminary on fasting protocols; Veli-Jussi Jalkanen, the inventor of a range of saddle chairs that will improve your posture and, by taking pressure off the genitals when sitting, the quality of your sex life; Olli Sovijarvi, Teemu Arina, and Jaakko Halmetoja, the authors of the ‘Biohackers Handbook’; Katia Vega, who builds technology into makeup; and Mattias Ribbing, a grand master memory champion, whose ability to recall detail from a randomly chosen page of Swedish newspaper he’d read earlier that day, and then translate it into English was just staggering. It was an epic line-up.
What did I learn? I’ll outline my key takeaways here and then, in part two, go into the presentations that got my attention in a little more detail afterwards.
The big one is that our immediate environment – the people we’re with, the place we live and work in, what we do with our time – is incredibly important. It’s been shown that rats (people) in unpleasant environments readily become addicted to drugs or other destructive behaviours, while rats (people) in happy environments rarely choose drugs or destructive behaviours. Watch this short video (really, do watch it, it’s that good).
Everybody is different. There is no one size fits all biohacking strategy for an optimum life. It’s about experimenting and finding out what works for you. For example, some people respond well on a high fat, very low carb diet, while others respond better when more carbs are added in. Try different strategies and see what works for you.
There are more biohacking devices and programmes than you will ever be able to – or need – to use. Pick your focus and make progress in manageable steps. And make sure you’ve got the basics right: there’s not enough spirulina in the world to make up for poor basic nutrition, lack of sleep, or lack of movement.
Interested in mental clarity and a healthy long life? The brain, like a Toyota Prius, is a duel fuel machine. In the case of the brain, it’s able to run on either ketones or glucose. Ketones are generated from fat and burn more cleanly, so are both more efficient and should have less of an aging effect than glucose. The ketogenic diet (read high fat, low carb), coupled with some form of intermittent fasting, is uber popular amongst biohackers for increased mental clarity and longevity (fasting has the double whammy of generating ketones to fuel the brain and burning fat from the body). But if you’re going for a high fat, low carb diet make sure that you include occasional carb heavy days because that’s got benefits too. Exercise is key too: there’s a correlation between muscle size and brain health, plus exercise is the most proven way to improve cognitive capacity.
Physical excellence comes from getting multiple things right: exercise, nutrition, sleep, hydration, mental peace, personal fulfillment, meal timing, supplements, and probably more. Importantly, get the basics right first. Those expensive nutritional supplements will deliver so much more value when you’re getting enough sleep, working out regularly, eating good food, and in a good frame of mind.
The ancient Greeks spoke of two types of time: Chronos and Kairos. We use Chronos to measure the passage of time while Kairos is about those special moments when time stands still. Facebook is covered with counters that increase our compulsion to act and speed up time, so try using the Facebook demetricator created by Ben Grosser to remove all the counters and bring more Kairos to your digital life.
A quote I scribbled down is, “grip strength predicts longevity”. I’m honestly not that curious as to why that might be the case, but I am deeply curious if it is true, and if so, how do I measure and build on it? It’s an upcoming research project.
Whether we’re aware of it or not, we all have a routine; some things are driving us forward – and some things are holding us back. Biohacker tools are designed to help you identify what’s working and what’s not – and then optimise what works.
The next Biohacker Summit is in Helsinki, this October, where 1,000 people will gather over two days for the largest event of its type. The organisers have generously offered a 10% discount from the ticket price with the code RAW. Details at www.biohackersummit.com
Finally, a thought from the Biohackers Handbook:
‘The body heals with play.
The mind heals with laughter.
The soul heals with joy’
Part 2: presentation notes
Like any event, some speakers got my attention more than others. Here’s what I took away. I suggest you skim read towards the points that catch your interest.
Upgrade yourself: be smarter, sharper, and healthier
Max lectures at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, is a regular on Dr Oz, and is obsessed with brain health. His goal is to be a walking meta-analysis of brain health research. He produced the film Breadhead, documenting dementia.
Max’s big points:
- The biomarkers for Alzheimer’s appear decades before the disease occurs.
- Research is moving fast: 90% of what we know about Alzheimer’s has been discovered in the last 15 years.
- Our brain can use two forms of fuel: ketones (which are like the brain’s electricity) and glucose (sugars). Ketones are clean burning and primordial. Max contends that we should primarily fuel using ketones.
- Ketones generate more brain energy using less oxygen, so are inherently anti-aging.
- Humans are the fattest mammals at birth. Chimps are 2-3% body fat whereas humans are about 15% body fat. The theory is that this fat is fuel for the growing brain. At birth the brain accounts for 90% of BMR. Breast milk is high in MCT oil, which turns into ketones.
- As adults, our brains use about 25% of our BMR.
- A ketogenic diet is low carbohydrate. The fastest way to generate ketones is fasting.
- Occasional carbohydrate re-feeding gives insulin signalling and is good for: healthy mood, muscle growth, LDL recycling, thyroid hormone production, fertility
- The fruit we eat has been highly selectively bred for sweetness and taste, so what we now buy from the supermarket is completely different from what our ancestors once foraged.
- Exercise is very important. There is a correlation between muscle size and brain health.
- A large bowl of dark leafy greens is very valuable for brain health.
- Potassium and sodium work together to regulate blood pressure.
- Regular sauna use is associated with a 65% decreased risk of Alzheimer’s – from a 25 year study. See documentary ‘Steam of Life’ for insight into ‘sauna capital of the world’, Finland.
- Lower levels of homocysteine are better.
Memory as a Service
Chris is the ‘most connected’ man in the world. Search google for ‘most connected’ to find him.
Chris has tracked multiple data points in his life for many years and has worked to connect them all up, hence the title the worlds most connected man.
- There are two types of time: Chronos: ‘objective time’ and Kairos: ‘qualitative time’
- Focus on getting Kairos time in our lives, it’s where the quality is
- You don’t get better by counting steps; you get better by taking them.
- Facebook is covered with counters that increase our compulsion to act and speed up time. Try using the Facebook demetricator created by Ben Grosser to remove all the counters and change our relationship with Facebook.
- You can pre-manage your death in facebook
- Try renaming your devices with names that trigger your values and feelings you want. Eg, change ‘iphone’ to ‘love’.
- Design your ‘tomorrow now’ – write emails that you’ll want to receive and send them via a repository so they are randomly sent back to you at some time in the future. Try www.lettermelater.com or www.futureme.org
The current landscape for human augmentation
A silicon valley investor in biohacking startups. His meditation is kitefoiling.
- Diversify over time: focusing on one thing at a time. Don’t hedge your bets.
- Highly recommends David Eagleman, Neosensory Ted talk
- Exoskeletons: we are already able to get 10% physical improvement from using exoskeletons, which is significant
- Sleep assistance companies to check out: Sana – uses light to put you to sleep fast, using heart rate variablity; Kokoon – uses EEG and sound; Rythm – very advanced
- Doppler Labs (plus others) – the equivalent of sunglasses but for hearing, to cut out background noise. Can also make a bad sound environment sound good – eg, a concert with bad acoustics, you can set it to sound like Carnegie Hall.
- Feel – a bracelet that tracks your emotional state.
Being Transhuman in a Post-human age
Alexander Bard and Aaron Flam
A digital philosopher and a comedian riffing together. Mostly light entertainment focusing on Nietzsche and how to get laid. I did learn from them that 80% of instagrammers are women and I like the point they made that Burning Man is the beginning of participatory culture.
Sweet Tooth: How to overcome sugar addiction
For non-Swedish readers, her first name really is My. More importantly, she has quite an inspirational story to tell of how she endured being morbidly obese, finally getting to the point of agreeing a gastric band in the face of a ‘two years to live‘ verdict from her doctor. While waiting for the gastric band appointment she discovered the keto diet and says, “I lost 40kg in one year sitting on the sofa eating bacon” before going on to say, “I have eaten keto for 7.5 years and I have lost 95kg”. While I’d personally choose foods other than bacon, I’m impressed at her transformation.
Her tools for beating sugar addiction
- Ketogenic diet (she eats 20g carbs / day)
- Know your triggers: feeling bad, situations, foods, etc
- Plan and carry a ‘food first aid kit’ of good food choices
- Environment is really important! Rats (people) who are isolated and in bad environments get addicted to something that gives them relief. Rat (people) in an environment connecting with people they want to be and doing fun stuff don’t get addicted. This is a really good short video here.
“It’s really simple to get rid of addiction. All you have to do is change your entire life and everything in it.”
Hacking your biology with nutrition
Martina’s big points:
- Medicines are designed to block and mute chemical signals. They don’t fix anything.
- It’s a very common scenario for people to feel like crap but doctor’s tests to come back normal.
- Epigenetics is about controlling gene expression. Methylation controls epigenetics. Nutrition controls methylation.
Dr Olli Sovijärvi, Max Lugavere, Martina Johansson M.sc, hosted by Valerie Vlasenko
- It’s questionable about using a keto diet long term. Often it’s good to use as a health reset and then cycle between keto and carb diet.
- Keto sticks – pee on for an indication of ketone levels
- How to increase insulin: eat carbs and/ or overeat.
- You have an insulin window after working out where carbs don’t create an insulin response.
- Calories do matter.
Fasting Routines for immunity
- Advocates 16/8 or 24 hour fasting
- The effects of fasting are: cells go into repair mode and can excrete bad fatty acids; detoxification; epigenetic programming; cell repair; immune calibration and fine tuning; fasting depletes the glycogen stores, so exercise done after fasting has to use fat stores
- During fasting you can use BCAA’s to workout and not have muscle mass breakdown.
Biohacking your genital area
- Sitting is the new smoking
- Buttocks are the biggest muscles in the body and are incredibly complex.
- Sitting on flat chairs flattens the muscles and blocks circulation, particularly for the genitals.
- Almost 50% of 50 year old men use ED pills, which could be avoided by changing their lifestyles
- When we sit all the fine nerve systems are pressured between the bone and the chair.
- 33’ is the optimum temperature to produce sperm and testosterone, which is why the testicles are outside the body. Tight clothing and underwear raises the temperature.
- Don’t wear underwear – the genitals want to be kept cool.
- Genitals need space when sitting down.
- Not wearing a bra will cut breast cancer risk by 50%
- Testosterone production is significantly increased when you have an erection, so erections are encouraged
Biohacking physical exercise
Olli Sovijarvi, Teemu Arina, Jaakko Halmetoja
Olli, Teemu, and Jaakko are co-authoring the Biohackers Handbook
- ‘The body heals with play. The mind heals with laughter. The soul heals with joy”
- Take inspiration from 72 yo Stephen Jepson, ‘life is play’, who’s created an adult’s playground
- Exercise is the most proven way to improve cognition
- How to measure the heart: blood pressure, heart rate variability, resting heart rate, oxygen saturation
- Having micro breaks using a rebounder or vibration plate is important for the lymphatic system
- Slowing breathing could extend life
- Deep breathing exercises are super important for recovery. You can see them as green patches within the HRV graph. Use ‘box breathing’. Breathe in 4 counts, hold 4 seconds, breathe out 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds, repeat. Google staff do this before meetings
- Consider electrical muscle stimulation
- Grip strength predicts longevity. Also makes pull ups and deadlifts easier
- The Oura ring is 90% accurate compared to a standardised sleeping test
- Key recovery tools: Ice baths and Infrared sauna
Becoming a master learner
Mattias is a Grand Master memory champion. He accurately recalled 1,305 random binary digits (1’s and 0’s) in a row. He is so astonishingly capable that I couldn’t follow his method, even though he broke it down into, what was for him, very simple steps. Fortunately for me this was the last presentation of the day because my inability to follow his great skill brought on the drowsiness that accompanies misunderstood words and misunderstood concepts. I did though, thoroughly enjoy his demonstration of recalling full stories from any randomly chosen page of a newspaper he’d read earlier in the day.
I took away:
- Memory is normally made up of flashes of images, which we then later connect together into a story
- When focusing for recall, images with clear edges tend to retain the best
- GSS (google short summaries). Before going to class read a short summary on the topic so you have an overview or knowledge summary, which you can then infill with the detail from class or reading. That way you’re starting from the whole and going to the details.
There you go. My takeaways from the Biohacker Summit. It was time well spent and I thoroughly enjoyed rubbing shoulders with so many deeply committed and inspiration people. The next Biohacker Summit is in October, in Helsinki. I hope to see you there!