Biohacking, a term that has gained popularity over the past decade, is a concept that embodies the human desire to understand, control, and improve our own biology. It represents a broad spectrum of practices and pursuits, ranging from DIY biology experiments, quantified self-movement, to the use of various supplements, devices, and techniques intended to ‘hack’ one’s biological systems to achieve desired outcomes like enhanced cognitive function, physical performance, or longevity. But is biohacking a real thing? And what does science have to say about it? Let’s dive in.
At its core, biohacking merges the ethos of citizen science and participatory medicine, with a dash of Silicon Valley entrepreneurial spirit. Biohackers are individuals who believe in the potential of changing or improving their biology using a variety of resources at their disposal. These might include technological interventions, nutritional supplements, and lifestyle modifications, amongst other things (1).
The scientific community views biohacking from a few different lenses, but there is a general consensus that while some aspects of biohacking are grounded in established science, others are less so.
Take, for example, the realm of ‘nutrigenomics,’ which investigates how individual genetic variation affects a person’s response to nutrients and impacts the risk of nutrition-related chronic diseases (2). This scientific field aligns with some biohackers’ practices of adjusting their diets based on their unique genetic makeup for optimal health. Although this is a legitimate and growing field of study, the application can be problematic when it’s marketed as personalized nutrition solutions without rigorous scientific backing.
Similarly, there are biohacking tools such as wearable fitness trackers that are well-grounded in science. They allow users to monitor various aspects of their health and fitness – heart rate, sleep patterns, activity levels – and adjust their behaviors accordingly (3). However, the interpretation and application of such data for improving health or fitness outcomes should ideally be guided by a healthcare professional.
Then there’s the side of biohacking that ventures into more controversial and potentially risky territory. This includes practices like DIY genetic engineering, implanting devices, or self-experimentation with nootropics – substances that claim to enhance cognitive function. These are areas where the science is either not definitive, or the practices are not regulated, posing potential health and ethical concerns (4).
As with many emerging trends, the science of biohacking isn’t black and white. It’s a mixed bag, with some aspects having solid scientific backing while others lacking in rigorous evidence or oversight. It’s crucial for anyone interested in biohacking to approach it critically and skeptically. Consulting with healthcare professionals is always recommended before making significant lifestyle changes or embarking on new health interventions.
Furthermore, as the biohacking movement continues to evolve and grow, so too does the need for research to understand the long-term effects and potential benefits or drawbacks of these practices. There is potential for positive change in empowering individuals to take an active role in their health. Still, it’s essential to balance this with an understanding of the limitations and potential risks associated with some biohacking practices.
In conclusion, biohacking is indeed a ‘real thing,’ but it’s a broad, complex, and nuanced field where science and anecdotal evidence often intertwine. As always, the keys are education, consultation with healthcare professionals, and a healthy dose of skepticism towards any ‘quick fixes’ or miracle cures.
Laporte, L., et al. (2020). Biohackers: a journey into cyborg America. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 120346. Ordovas, J. M., & Ferguson, L. R. (2018). Genetics and nutritional genomics of CVD. Public health nutrition, 7(6), 1155-1166. Shcherbina, A., et al. (2017). Accuracy in wrist-worn, sensor-based measurements of heart rate and energy expenditure in a diverse cohort. Journal of personalized medicine, 7(2), 3. Almeida, N. (2020). DIYbio and the rise of citizen biotech economists. Life Sciences, Society and Policy, 16(1), 1-22.