Biohacking is currently getting a lot of attention because its ideas often sound new and exciting.
Unfortunately, the hype is often way too good to be true as many biohackers advocate practices that are presumably sound but crumble to itty-bitty pieces in the presence of time-tested science.
Here are three of the dumbest biohacks:
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that fights free radicals and has other regenerative/supportive functions like aiding in creating collagen (1). Vitamin C also keeps your immune system strong and fights inflammation, which is why your parents pumped you full of those orange vitamin gummies when you were a kid (2).
However, its importance is often misinterpreted, especially with people being so paranoid of viruses lately. Due to basic nutrient misunderstandings, people think more must be better. The biohacking community often encourages people to megadose thousands of milligrams of vitamin C daily, suggesting you'll gain invulnerability to germs and viruses.
But increasing your vitamin C is only relevant if you're deficient. More isn't better under normal circumstances.
The recommended daily amount is about 100mg, but optimal recommendations can stretch towards 200mg for more active individuals (3). Anything above this is generally unnecessary unless you're sick or training under severe physical conditions (4,5).
The average person who eats a few serving of fruits and vegetables a day should be far from deficient, but if your diet consistently resembles colorless fast food, here are some vitamin C rich foods to add. Eating as little as two of them a day can maximize your vitamin C benefits:
- Oranges or other citrus fruits
- Spicy and sweet peppers
- Strawberries or other berries
- Green vegetables, dark leafy greens, or green herbs
Supplementing with some additional vitamin C on top of an already solid diet can be warranted if you think you need to take extra precautions, like if you're going to be around sick people. But taking exponential doses definitely won't turbo-charge your immune system into another dimension as often claimed by biohackers.
Furthermore, physiology only allows you to "hack" so much before consequences occur. For example, high doses of vitamin C in supplement form can compromise muscle and strength adaptations, both acutely and long term (6,7).
So always keep in mind that optimal is optimal. More doesn't mean extra optimal; it means unnecessary or suboptimal. Get a couple hundred mg each day by eating plants, but kill the stupid and don't buy giant-dosed vitamin C supplements.
Polyphasic sleep is a term used to describe the practice of sleeping multiple times per day in short bursts instead of the traditional way (monophasic sleep). These various bouts of sleep can be as frequent or infrequent as you'd like, but the idea is to get less total sleep while apparently achieving enhanced cognition and productivity.
Polyphasic sleep is the epitome of favoring hype over facts. It's one of those things that has no foundation of evidence and logically makes no sense, yet young, gullible people often jump all over it because they're being promised an unfair advantage.
I mean, who wouldn't want to gain a few more productive hours per day?
Biohackers claim polyphasic sleep is optimal because babies and animals have polyphasic sleeping patterns. They insist human adults are denying their natural physiology if they don't practice polyphasic sleep.
Babies certainly use polyphasic sleep because their optimal slumber time harbors on 17 hours (8). As for the animal argument, well, humans are animals, but our physiology and lifestyle are obviously different.
The scientific literature not only discourages polyphasic sleep for adults, but suggests it might be suboptimal. For example, night workers who notoriously suffer from poor sleep quality accumulate sleep debt that can only be fixed by sleeping more continuous hours, not fewer catch-as-catch can hours (9).
In another study, college students who adopted a polyphasic-like sleep schedule were linked with poor academic performance (10).
Furthermore, our bodies simply aren't designed to have disrupted sleep. We all go through cycles of sleep each night, but these cycles are best strung together. If sleep is repeatedly interrupted, it impacts cognition in both the short and long term (11). Having irregular wake times is literally classified as a disorder (12).
If you want to perform your best in everyday life, nothing beats getting the recommended 7-9 hours of continuous, high-quality sleep – not an earth shattering recommendation, but one that has stood the test of time and research (13,14).
Bulletproof coffee is a so-called magical concoction of coffee mixed with coconut oil, grass-fed butter, or medium chain triglycerides (MCT). Essentially, it's coffee mixed with fancy types of saturated fat.
While many people rave at the taste (okay, it does taste pretty good), the proposed fat-burning and brain-boosting effects are grossly exaggerated. Coffee has many health benefits and caffeine can help boost your energy expenditure a bit, but adding fat doesn't give it any magical powers, especially fat-burning powers (15,16).
It's true that MCTs have a higher thermic effect than other saturated fats, which means you'll burn a few more calories when digesting them (17). However, this doesn't bypass the laws of thermodynamics. If you add calories to a drink, you're still adding calories to your daily intake.
Any thermic effect is too small to negate the calories in the drink, especially when it has a stratospheric 450 calories per serving. The irony in the supposed thermic effect is that an ordinary mixed meal elicits a higher thermic effect than the coffee, along with providing more vitamins and minerals (18).
Drink it if you like the taste, but don't assume it's going to help you lose weight or enhance your brainpower.
- Office of Dietary Supplements, Vitamin C. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements.
- Chambial S et al. Vitamin C in Disease Prevention and Cure: an Overview. Indian J Clin Biochem. 2013 Oct;28(4):314-28. PubMed.
- Levine M et al. Criteria and Recommendations for Vitamin C Intake. JAMA. 1999 Apr 21;281(15):1415-23. PubMed.
- Hemilä H et al. Vitamin C for Preventing and Treating the Common Cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jan 31;2013(1):CD000980. PubMed.
- Bjørnsen T et al. Vitamin C and E Supplementation Blunts Increases in Total Lean Body Mass in Elderly Men after Strength Training. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2016 Jul;26(7):755-63. PubMed.
- Paulsen G et al. Vitamin C and E Supplementation Alters Protein Signaling after a Strength Training Session, but Not Muscle Growth during 10 Weeks of Training. J Physiol
. 2014 Dec 15;592(24):5391-408. PubMed.
- Chaput JP et al. Sleeping Hours: What Is the Ideal Number and How Does Age Impact This? Nat Sci Sleep. 2018 Nov 27;10:421-430. PubMed.
- Stampi C. The Effects of Polyphasic and Ultrashort Sleep Schedules. In: Stampi, C. (eds) Why We Nap. Birkhäuser, Boston, MA. 1 Jan. 1992.
- Phillips AJK et al. Irregular Sleep/Wake Patterns Are Associated with Poorer Academic Performance and Delayed Circadian and Sleep/Wake Timing. Scientific Reports. 2017;7:Article number: 3216.
- Medic G et al. Short- and Long-Term Health Consequences of Sleep Disruption. Nat Sci Sleep. 2017;9:151–161. PMC.
- Zee PC et al. Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder: Irregular Sleep Wake Rhythm Type. Sleep Med Clin. 2009 Jun 1;4(2):213–218. PMC.
- Worley SL. The Extraordinary Importance of Sleep: The Detrimental Effects of Inadequate Sleep on Health and Public Safety Drive an Explosion of Sleep Research. P T. 2018 Dec;43(12):758-763. PubMed.
- Grosso G et al. Coffee, Caffeine, and Health Outcomes: An Umbrella Review. Annu Rev Nutr. 2017 Aug 21;37:131-156. PubMed.
- Rudelle S et al. Effect of a Thermogenic Beverage on 24-Hour Energy Metabolism in Humans. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007 Feb;15(2):349-55. PubMed.
- Hill J et al. Thermogenesis in Humans during Overfeeding with Medium-Chain Triglycerides. Metabolism. 1989 Jul;38(7):641-8. PubMed.
- Swaminathan R et al. Thermic Effect of Feeding Carbohydrate, Fat, Protein and Mixed Meal in Lean and Obese Subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 1985 Aug;42(2):177-81. PubMed.