Biohacking: Can Cutting Edge Citizen Science Improve Your Health And Maximize Performance?

Friday May 15 | BY |
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Interested in maximizing your biological potential, enhancing human health, personal performance, and happiness? Do emerging technologies and a citizen-science approach of self-experimentation provide the solution?

Human performance boosting is big business. But does data tracking and personalized blood testing, or assortments of fringe technologies like biomagnetic field therapy increase wellness, prevent disease, lengthen lifespan, and enhance performance?

The plugged-in high performance athlete scoring big bucks on the court and in endorsements is pushed to the edge. Will non-steroidal hormones and performance enhancing supplements boost his competitive ability, or just improve his media hungry image?

A Silicon Valley multimillionaire wants to live longer and beat cancer. Will pouring thousands of dollars every month into cutting edge supplements and intravenous high-dose nutrient therapies make a profound difference in longevity and disease prevention?

Does this mix of technology and lifestyle efforts at super health deserve the term “biohacking?”

Biohacking Is Ancient

The claim is that biohacking is a new practice that could lead to major positive changes in your life. However, human beings have been at this for thousand of years.

Silicon Valley biohackers were not the first, nor will you or I, be the last. The ancient Chinese, Hindus, Egyptians, and Persians all had an interest in maximizing human potential. They aimed at creating superior warriors, strived for longevity, and emphasized freedom from disease.

In the Middle Ages, European alchemists sought to transmute lead to gold. Alchemy was a mixture of proto science, philosophy, mysticism, and craft.

We are no different. However, our age carriers a greater responsibility because technology generates incredible potential but carries higher risk.

What Is Biohacking?

If biohacking is not do-it-your-self biomedicine, what is it?

Biohacking is a new hybrid term. It appears in Wikipedia, but not in the American Heritage Dictionary. Modern day biohacking is more like amateur alchemy then a serious discipline.

You could view biohacking as the interface between human physiology and how people modify human function through diet, environment, drugs and nutrients, hormones and stem cells, and any other fitness or performance enhancing techniques.



If you want to know more, join the Bulletproof Biohacking Conference. It will only set you back $1,599 per ticket. The last one was in 2014 in Los Angeles, California with keynote speaker New York Times bestselling author, Steven Kotler, of the Flow Genome Project.

Open sourcing the human genome to discover how to enhance human potential in service of human development may be the very beginning of how we will survive intergalactic travel.

Erin Berisini, in Outside Magazine does a good job of reporting on Bulletproof founder, Dave Asprey’s, biohacking model. It certainly works as a great sales and personal profit model for the founder and investors, and might even I agree, it’s damn hard to separate the bogus claims from the bonafide, especially when you’re desperate for a cure, or just to sleep better and function optimally.

However, even if performance shortcuts work are they right to use? If they are unlikely to work, is it ethical to experiment? What are the risks, and are they manageable?

What Makes The New Biohacking Different?

What makes biohacking different from health enhancement methods of previous eras like Paul Bragg and his amino acid elixir? First, let’s look at the similarities. Both involved self-experimentation. Old school biohacking was low risk. Modern biohacking can involve considerable risk and is costly. And, both have no standards. Experimentation without agreed upon universal standards results in a mixture of brilliant discovery and meaningless scam. How do you sort out the good from the bad?

For example: blood testing and DNA diagnosis can be very useful. But, besides the cost of the laboratory testing, you’ll have to pay more to have it professional analyzed. Basic blood testing is important in learning about your internal biochemical state. However, real biohacking requires molecular testing as done in the laboratory of Marc Hellerstein at Berkeley. It’s good to know if you need more vitamin D3, but it’s really important to learn how to modify disease pathways by diet, gene therapy, drugs, and cofactor nutrients.

Not Everything Tracked Is Useful

Is everything you eat important? Will something special you eat, like a Caribbean superfood make a significant difference in your risk of developing cancer? Or, will it make a very small positive difference but only after taking it for six months?

In 2008, some patients with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) took an Internet hyped product, lithium carbonate. Voluntary participants uploaded their results to a dedicated website. A neuropsychologist crunched the numbers. The results concluded that the substance was ineffective.

Crowdsourcing has a place in personal health care. But, it has to get better, and free from marketeering self-interests. Biohackers would do well to consider ways to substantiate claims and learn important lessons from objective measurements.

Not Everything Useful Is Good

Bodybuilders were among the original biohackers. They had a simple goal: lift heavier and get huge. Regular intensive weight training, optimal protein nutrition, and steroid hormones were the basic tools. It wasn’t too long before they branched into nutritional supplements and sophisticated anabolic drugs, growth hormone, growth factors, and secretegogues that stimulate the pituitary and other endocrine glands to pump out more hormones.

However, the health outcome for extreme bodybuilders is not good. The risks of performance enhancing drugs range from unpleasant (acne, hair loss, impotence) to severe (liver cancer, kidney failure, high blood pressure, increased risk for infections, stroke and heart attack).

Some Biohacking Tools And Products:

  • Electric brain stimulation
  • Brain training games – Luminosity
  • Psychoactive Drugs – LSD, Cannabis, Ayahuasca
  • Fitness Trackers – Fitbit, iWatch
  • Bulletproof Coffee
  • GABAwave (Phenyl-GABA, “phenibut”)
  • Bio-identical hormones and growth factors
  • Cell therapies and stem cell implants
  • Whole body pulsed electromagnetic frequency stimulation – Ondamed
  • Personalized blood testing
  • Cognitive enhancers – Ginkgo biloba, Huperzine A
  • Biological clock regulators – Melatonin
  • Nutrigenomics

Nutrition is a moving target. Optimal nutrient intake varies depending on need, environmental temperature, metabolism, the efficiency of digestive system, and other factors. Would switching up your diet produce better results? If you get it wrong, what are the nutritional costs of remaining on an unbalanced diet? For example, a pure vegan raw foods diet will lower your total cholesterol and LDL to levels that eliminate cardiovascular risks associated with build up of blood fats. But, because an exclusive plant-based diet lacks calcium and contains naturally occurring plant acids that inhibit calcium metabolism your chances of developing severe osteoporosis are high.

Nutrition researchers know that some foods, notable polyphenol-rich superfoods, have protective responses. By crowdsourcing biohackers could find out which ones are best and over what period of time you need to take them for optimal results.

Real Biohacking

Gene editing scientists are already exploring methods to weed out mutations that get passed on from mother to fetus. Others are targeting specific gene sequences that hold back the immune system from fighting HIV infection. Scientists use stem cells to regenerate nerve tissue. Clinical regenerative medicine offers a type of stem cell therapy using a patient’s blood or adipose tissue to help regenerate joints.

I don’t hold that mainstream doctors are perfect or have an exclusive claim on scientific studies. In fact, the truth is that even high profile studies have been proven wrong. But, most doctors hold to professional standards, are subjected to editorial and peer review boards, and are accountable to professional organizations and state medical boards.

Self-styled biohackers are held to no standards and therefore have no professional accountability. They can publish what they want and when they want in a blog without editorial review.

But not all non-scientist biohackers are hacks. Some have set high benchmarks. Ray Kurtzweil is one of those. Kurtzweil attended MIT, directed engineering at Google, and is the author of several books, including one on living longer. He partnered with a medical doctor who specializes in anti-aging medicine on a book of nutrition, supplements, and science to help people slow down the aging process. He takes so many supplements that Wired Magazine published an article on anti-aging extremism.

Biohacking is emerging as a growing trend in non-institutional science and technology development. The most idealistic goal of biohacking is to fundamentally re-configure the human condition though the use of technology and advanced biomedical tools to shape a superior post-modern human being, the ideal man and woman of the Anthropocene, the coming transhumanist era.

When it comes to the application of biohacking, there are more questions than answers. Positive changes during the short term can lose value over time. Biohacking should include bio-tracking. Over what time period do biohackers hone their skills and track their measurements? How often do you get your blood tested so you know if your diet or supplements are working?

But, biohacking just might be the right start.

Dr. J. E. Williams


Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

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  1. Deane Alban says:

    The problem with biohacking is that most people have enough knowledge to be dangerous to themselves. I have a brain health site and readers constantly ask me about their “stacks” — brain supplement regime. They are taking things willy-nilly with no regard as to what they are doing to their brains or neurotransmitter levels. Many are also taking smart drugs. I was gratified to hear that Tim Ferriss, one of the most famous biohackers, now says that smart drugs all have “payback” time later and his favorite way to improve his brain performance is with the South American tea yerba mate. Tim, by the way, says he gets his blood checked extremely often — like every few weeks. How many of us are willing to do this?

  2. chris Califano says:

    Taking supplements and intravenous nutrition is not a change in lifestyle. That requires EFFORT. Change is a dirty word-that is why people sell all sorts of mumbo jumbo and call it a lifestyle change. When someone is headed for health disaster (most of our society) then must make a total turn-around with their lifestyle-primarily diet. But it has to be with real food primarily not supplements or shots! And, a PROPER plant based diet does NOT cause osteoporosis. We learned this in hight school. African tribes that were vegan whose women had an average of 12 children showed no signs of osteoporosis into their 90s.

  3. June Hanson says:

    Great blog, thankful all your therapies have worked on me.

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