Biohacking is a term that is usually applied to optimizing health by utilizing tools such as supplements, peptides, biofeedback, photobiomodulation, transcranial magnetic stimulation… and more!
One more tool to add to that biohacking toolbox is utilizing your genetic data. You can easily use your genes to determine which biohacks are more likely to be effective for you.
You have many options these days for getting your hands on your genetic data. The two most common ones are through 23andMe or AncestryDNA, which cost around $99 (or less if on sale). Both will give you some insight into your health and how to optimize yourself. 23andMe is a little easier to use since they have a nice interface for looking at your data on their website, but AncestryDNA does offer a way to download your raw DNA file and you can search the text file. Or you could catch them both on sale (Father’s day, Mother’s day, Black Friday…) and then combine the 23andMe and AncestryDNA data together for a bigger picture.
If you want to go beyond the portion of your genome that you get from 23andMe or Ancestry, there are several options for sequencing your full genome. Dante Labs offers a full genome sequencing from $699, which is cheap compared to what a full genome sequencing cost just a few years ago. Keep in mind that working with the data file for your full genome may involve installing specialized software to work with the file, but there are open source options available for that.
Your genes code for the proteins that make up your body’s tissue and systems. Different genes code for the enzymes that metabolize all of the substances you take into your body. So the great biohacking supplements that work so well for one person may not do anything for you – depending on your genes.
You can use that genetic data to find out which supplements, vitamins, or nootropics might work best for you.
Some people swear by modafinil as a nootropic, claiming it will make you more alert and mentally able to leap tall buildings. For others, modafinil may be a ‘meh’ without much of an effect. Studies show that the effects of modafinil are based around which version of the COMT gene you carry. (Got your genetic data? Check to see if modafinil is likely to work for you.)
A lot of the nootropics and biohacking supplements on the market help people become mentally more with it — getting rid of brain fog, alleviating anxiety, lifting mood… But before you reach for a bottle of research chemicals, try optimizing your neurotransmitters naturally first.
The methylation cycle does a lot in your body, and one function is balancing, cycling, and producing neurotransmitters. The MTHFR enzyme is at a key point in the methylation cycle; knowing if you have genetic variants that impact MTHFR can help you to optimize your methylation cycle. Some people with MTHFR variants optimize the pathway by adding more folate to their diet (dark leafy greens, liver, legumes) and others may use a low dose methylfolate supplement.
Another way around MTHFR variants is to make sure you get enough choline, especially if you carry genetic variants that impact choline. And a final piece to this puzzle is your COMT gene variants, which can help you to determine whether adding a bunch of methyl group supplements is a good idea — or something that may make you irritable and anxious.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that gets a lot of press when it comes to depression. And serotonin is methylated to become melatonin, so it also plays a role in sleep and circadian rhythm. Your genetic variants impact how well your body uses tryptophan to make serotonin (and melatonin). Knowing if this is a weak link for you can help to guide you on dietary hacks for increasing serotonin.
There are many reasons for having problems with sleep, and you can use your genetic data to get some insight as to where to start with biohacking your sleep.
Sleep problems could be due to stress, high cortisol, and HPA axis dysfunction. Or it could have nothing to do with cortisol and chasing that pathway may be a waste of time for you. Perhaps your genetic data can help you figure that out…
Sleep issues can also be due to not producing melatonin in the right amount and at the right time. This could be environmental (blocking blue light at night), a problem converting tryptophan, or a problem with melatonin receptors.
I’ll be honest and say that I don’t think there is a genetically perfect diet or need for a special diet based on your genes. Instead, there are certain genetic variants that can tell you a few things to avoid or point to a couple of things to include. Optimize! But still, allow for a lot of variety. We didn’t evolve to this level without being resilient beings.
One popular diet biohack is MCT oil and butter in your coffee instead of eating breakfast. This is probably fine for most people, but anyone with a medium-chain acyl co-a dehydrogenase deficiency mutation may struggle with this.
Going keto? Great. Unless you have either the medium or short-chain acyl co-A dehydrogenase deficiency mutation (or another inborn error of metabolism). Even carrying one copy of these mutations can cause you to feel pretty bad when trying to constantly rely on fat for fuel. These are somewhat rare diseases to have. But with multiple ‘rare’ mutations and only needing one copy of the gene to feel bad with keto, this affects a bigger percentage of the population than you would think. If you feel awful on keto, genetics may be why.
If you are going to biohack your diet by going carnivore, it is a good idea to know how you react to high amounts of saturated fats before you start scarfing down ribeyes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Some people may be at a higher risk of heart disease or Alzheimer’s and need to keep a close eye on their biomarkers.
Your genes are intricately involved in your weight. Yes, that bag of Doritos that you just ate may be the cause of your weight gain, but the driving force behind seeking out and devouring the whole bag may be in your genes.
Two of the more important genetic factors in how much you weigh are the FTO and MC4R genes. You may notice that there aren’t a lot of high-quality lifehacks listed for those genes… that is the million dollar weight loss drug that still needs to be patented.
OK, I don’t know that this is a secret at all :-) But from all the research that I’ve read, experiments I’ve done, and genetic data that I’ve looked at the biggest bang for your buck should be …. drumroll, please …. to optimize your circadian rhythm.
What does circadian rhythm control? Pretty much everything. Studies link circadian rhythm dysfunction to increased obesity, heart disease, various chronic diseases, Alzheimer’s, depression, bipolar disorder, Parkinson’s, and more.
Your core circadian clock is governed by the transcription and translation of some key circadian genes. And this, in turn, governs the rest of the rhythms of your body — from body temperature to cortisol fluctuation to the enzymes produced in your liver for breaking down your various biohacking supplements.
Want to read more about how your genetic variants interact with your circadian rhythm? I have a whole section on circadian genes.
If you have your genetic data, there is no reason not to dig into the science and figure out how to use the research for yourself. You don’t have to pay a bunch of money for reports on your data, instead, start off by reading through the free articles on this website. When you’ve exhausted this resource, head over to snpedia.com or pubmed.gov and start digging through the genetics research on all of the topics you are interested in.