In the current times, biohacking isn’t a term that is unheard of. However, it does sound scary. But is it? While medical dramas like Good Doctor have shown the biohacking attempt gone wrong in an intriguing way in one of their aired episodes, the trend of this ‘wave’ isn’t new.
While some call it a biotechnological social movement or human augmentation, it is a do-it-yourself biology that aims to improve performance, health and well-being through “strategic” interventions.
Over the years, from basic diet adoptions like intermittent fasting to high-end chips and implants, the popularity of biohacking has increased tremendously across the world. Interestingly, with pioneer biohackers like Dr. Sajeev Nair, Founder & Chairman, Vieroots Wellness Solutions, India’s isn’t much behind in the race.
‘Biohacking isn’t something new’
Dr. Marcus Ranney, Founder & CEO, Human Edge, a longevity science company, told Financial Express.com that biohacks are small, incremental lifestyle changes that help in optimising your biology at the cellular level for better health outcomes.
According to health experts, common biohacking techniques like meditation and intermittent fasting, have been around since ancient times. Now, with the advancement in technology, biohackers are focusing on ‘technological interventions’ to ‘re-engineer’ their own bodies and fix their flaws.
However, as technical biohacking is becoming more prevalent, do-it-yourself health opportunities are getting more and more extreme.
Types of Biohacking
Broadly speaking there are three different kinds of biohacks. First comes the research-validated lifestyle modifications, second is the quantified self-tools like the wearables and cybernetic devices, and third comes the extreme measures like implantable devices and biochemicals.
Nair is India’s pioneering biohacker who specializes in research validated, safe, and personalised lifestyle modification or biohacks.
However, the third group is made up of the extreme experimenters or adventurers who don’t mind risking their health for some lofty health objective.
“More often than not, these experiments with implantables and biochemicals are not research validated and potentially unsafe,” Nair added.
Ranney revealed that lifestyle changes are already known to people and are not thought of as biohacking. Yoga, meditation, fuelling the body properly, spending time in nature, including aerobic and non-aerobic exercises in your day, sleeping 7-8 hours a day, and so much more are part of themes encompassing biohacking.
“Vitamin supplements can help you biohack your way toward increasing the functionality of your body. Vitamin B12 and folate, for instance, help with the circulatory and nervous systems and can optimise your brain power. These supplements can help you get the vital energy necessary for focus and high efficiency. However, you must always supplement under the guidance of a medical practioner,” Ranney told Financial Express.com.
Ranney also pointed out that augmentation is one of the ways in which you can improve your cognitive abilities and key functionalities through implants and devices.
“Technological interventions can enhance your body and modify it to suit your needs. These technological interventions can be designed for changes to occur at the cellular level,” he added.
Can Biohacking Alter the Biology of the Human Body?
According to Ranney changes made as a part of biohacking occur at the cellular level.
“The science of biohacking is about rewiring how our bodies function so that we get maximum optimisation. Think of your body as a machine. For it to function properly, there need to be adequate sources of energy. Biohacking is the science of optimising our energy and efficiency. One way of doing that is at the source of energy – the cellular level or the mitochondria – the powerhouse of cells. The mitochondria provide energy to all the cells,” Ranney told Financial Express.com.
It is noteworthy that biohacking works on building a better environment for some of the mitochondria.
“This can be done through daily interventions that affect our bodies, surroundings, emotions, and lifestyle. You make changes there, and see the result within you as your mitochondria also begin to change accordingly and your body functions more effectively. A better-functioning mitochondrion keeps chronic diseases away as well, he added.
According to Nair, most people mistakenly think that for a biohack to alter biology, it has to be extreme like an implantable device or a risky biochemical.
However, for getting the maximum positive changes at the cellular level in your body, you need to adopt lifestyle modifications that are personalized for your unique genetic and metabolic makeup, he said.
“Such personalisation improves the precision and effectiveness of biohacks multifold,” Nair added.
Is Biohacking Safe?
Biohacks are not a one-size-fits-all approach. It works differently for different people. And one has to know what works for them based on their body needs.
“Most people confuse biohacking with human augmentation. Augmentation is a type of biohacking, but there’s more to it than what you read online. Augmentation comes under extreme forms of biohacking and is not recommended without medical supervision. Instead, you can focus on making small but significant lifestyle changes that optimise your body functions. For example, focusing on how well you sleep, the dietary changes you need to make for better immunity, how you can manage your stress and regulate the usage of light-emitting devices, and exercise for better cellular health,” Ranney told Financial Express.com.
These changes over a period of time will show results within and without, he claimed.
According to Nair, there are safe biohacks and dangerous biohacks.
“If you stick with research-validated lifestyle modifications, especially those personalized for your unique geno-metabolic makeup, you should do fine. Same goes with most of the wearables, provided their readings are accurate and cross-verified with professional equipment. But implants of all kinds can be dangerous, especially when done without proper medical supervision,” Nair told Financial Express.com.
Biohacking in India
According to Ranney, biohacking has been around for far longer than we think.
“Ancient practices like Yoga and meditation have been in existence since time immemorial for better mental and physical health. And they have been around since time immemorial. Having uninterrupted sleep, and keeping your body moving were never considered ‘hacks’ per se; they were a way of life. Well-being has always been a part of Indian wisdom and philosophy. Since our lives have become sedentary in modern times, our bodies too age faster,” Ranney told Financial Express.com.
Globally, it’s these challenges of comorbidities and diseases that people are facing that have led to more and more people adopting biohacks in their lives, he maintained.
“Especially in this post-pandemic world, yoga and meditation are a way of life now and so are wearing health and fitness devices. The future is expansive and there will be more to explore with more tech interventions and awareness about one’s own body and mind,” he added.
Recent trends of biohacking in India:
Wearables and data-driven technology: Data from smart wearables can allow medical professionals to assess a patient’s health state in real time— be it by monitoring their continuous glucose readings, heart rate and its rhythm, or their exercise levels. This data also empowers an individual to make lifestyle changes based on what works best for them.
Supplementation through micronutrients: Adding adequate amounts of micronutrients in one’s diet improves cellular efficiency to a great degree. Of course, these need to be checked upon by a medical practitioner before inclusion in the diet.
Sleep aids and devices: Sleep is extremely essential for wellbeing. It is important for everyone to take it seriously. Sleep aids and other such devices have been helping people get the necessary 7-8 hours of sleep.
Fitness-based devices: Our smartphones are already equipped with fitness trackers. In addition, people use smartwatches and other wearable devices. These smart wearables are also creating a consciousness amongst consumers to live active lifestyles.
Things about Biohacking that one should keep in Mind
According to Ranney, first, you need to understand why you want to opt for a particular bio-hack.
“For most of us, it’s having a long and healthy life. But, it’s important to speak to a medical professional before opting for any biohack. Each body is different and what works for one might not work for another. That is why it’s important to start small and keep a track of what is working for you and your body. We can make use of the data our body generates. Use wearable technology – devices that can keep track of your diet, sleep, and physical activity – so that you can understand your body and opt for biohacks that help it function better,” Ranney told Financial Express.com.
According to Ranney, health and wellbeing are on everybody’s mind now, which has created a nourishing environment for impactful health-tech start-ups to rise.
“I think the future would be more about data, devices, and personalisation for health and wellbeing. We will increasingly depend on data for customisable solutions and create impact via data-driven technologies. Wearable technology will gain more ground, as it already is, and will become the backbone of wellness programmes for individuals as well as organisations,” he added.
According to Nair, always go for research-validated biohacks like lifestyle modifications endorsed by high-quality studies by medical researchers at renowned universities and hospital systems.
“…go for maximum personalization in biohacks, which can be seen only in biohacks based on your own genetic and metabolic traits. Fortunately, such solutions are nowadays available in India too at very reasonable costs. Only such biohacking systems can provide you with truly personalized diets, personalized fitness regimens, personalized yoga programs etc. And almost always, shun any kind of implantable device unless suggested by your doctor or surgeon,” Nair told Financial Express.com.
Moreover, staying motivated to lose excess weight, or to be more fit, or to prevent killer diseases by undertaking serious lifestyle modifications can be quite tough for most people.
“Fortunately, the wellness industry has recognised this problem, and has come up with lifestyle modification solutions that can pay you back in crypto tokens daily for undertaking these lifestyle changes,” Nair added.