When we think of ‘hacking’ we usually tend to go with the stereotypical spy drama where a sidekick announces that he’s ‘in the system’ which allows for the hero to perform a dramatic action sequence that saves everyone.
Biohacking is not too far behind this concept. It is essentially do-it-yourself biology wherein hackers try to improve their life and well-being by making various small changes to their diets or lifestyles.
Biohacking promises various improvements from quick ways of losing weight to enhanced brain function. However, the best biohacking results come from being well informed and aware of what works for your body.
So, what does biohacking entail and is it safe? Are there documented results that prove its efficacy in improving the hacker’s life? Let’s dive in deeper.
Three main types of Biohacking
Biohacking comes in various forms, but the three most popular are the following:
Nutrigenomics is a branch of biohacking that focuses on how the food that you consume interacts with your genes.
Food intake and the environment are two main factors that affect the health or illness of an individual (Ronteltap et al., 2008). Studies in the nutrition area have increased our understanding of how to maintain a group of people that live with different conditions healthy.
However, after the conclusion of the Human Genome Project (HGP), new insights about the influence of nutrients on people’s diets were postulated. This includes questions regarding whether gene expression in response to metabolic processes at a cellular level influence the health of an individual and if there is any relation between genotype and environment/nutrients (Sales et al., 2014).
This controversial type of biohacking (Pavlidis et al., 2015) is founded on the idea that the body’s genetic expression can be optimised through testing how different nutrients affect the body’s health over some time (Mead, 2007). It also considers how different nutrients affect your thoughts, feelings and behaviour.
Do-It-Yourself (DIY) biology is the branch that is led by people who have an education and experience in scientific fields.
They aim to provide tips and techniques to people who do not have the experience (the non-experts) to conduct safe and structured experiments on themselves outside of a controlled environment setting like a lab or medical practice.
The European DIY biology scene (compared to the US) has been a responsible and transparent citizen science movement with a solid user base (Seyfried et al., 2014).
This final popular branch of biohacking sees every part of the human body as something that can be hacked.
The people interested in grinder biohacking (‘grinders’) aim to become ‘cyborgs’ by optimising their bodies by combining gadgets, chemical injections, implants, and anything else that they can use to advance and to make their body look and work the way they want it to.
This can include things such as implanting an NFC chip into your hand/finger so you can activate doors, or use it as payment (Matthews, 2015). Alternatively, you can also get a tragus implant so that your ears function as headphones (Carmichael, 2013).
Medically, however, there have not been many tests done. A group of people from a company called Grindhouse Wetware have formed in 2011 that have started creating more extreme experiments. They implanted a device called the Circadia which can measure temperature and blood pressure into Tim Cannon which has been fully operational.
Grindhouse Wetware currently has plans to upgrade Circadia. Circadia 2.0 would include glucose and oxygen level detection as well as blood pressure and heart rate data (Sung, 2015).
Biohacking: legal and safety concerns
Some forms of biohacking are safe. Supplements, diets, exercise, changed sleeping patterns are just some of the ways in which people can improve their well-being through their efforts. We know the documented benefits of good sleep, lower stress and staying fit. All of this can be considered biohacking.
It may be a ‘soft’ version of it; however, it follows the basic idea of what biohacking is – small changes in your life that lead to improved health.
However, some methods, ideas and experiments can and are unsafe and in some cases even illegal. DIY biology and grinder hackers may sometimes partake in ideas that aren’t considered safe or ethical in established research facilities.
Experimenting on humans, even yourself is still very contentious (Salter, 1990) due to the possible consequence or unintentional harm that it can cause. For example, a case study was made regarding the infection of an NFC chip that was implanted in a young male (Schiffmann et al., 2020). These complications are always possible. Implants can be rejected, infected and sometimes even cause other reactions in the body – not enough research exists into the effects of implants and other hacking methods.
A study into online biohacking communities found that these communities had a nuanced separation of the technological and ethical aspects as well as an ambivalent relationship to the legal and informal normative realms (Supa and Kruopstaite, 2021), meaning there is a level of disregard for the safety of biohacking.
When it comes to law and biohacking there is no clear boundary yet. In 2019 California passed the first law in the US that prevents the sales of CRISPR gene therapy kits without warnings. These kits allow gene experiments to be done at home without regulation (Gent, 2019).
In the UK, Nuffield Council on Bioethics released a report that found European DIY biology is “considered to be better or more consistently regulated than its US counterpart” (Nuffield Council on Bioethics, 2016), however, there are still no official laws targeting biohacking.
An article suggested that improvement in regulation of biohacking among public and private institutions would be more about community engagement and understanding rather than perfect compliance with the laws because there will always be people who push boundaries in negative ways (Zettler et al., 2019).
Biohacking and traditional health assessments
There have been many documented benefits to biohacking. Research studies have found that one of the most beneficial biohacking methods is light therapy.
The human body responds positively to red and near-infrared wavelengths (600-900nm). These wavelengths penetrate through the skin and stimulate ATP production. As a result of this, cells are rejuvenated, and new cells are produced which speeds up the healing process. Light therapy focuses on healing the root issue rather than focusing on symptoms.
Another study found that muscle thickness and strength had significant improvements in participants who used red light therapy (Baroni et al., 2015) and improved wound healing has been documented among animals (Adamskaya et al., 2011).
The benefits of light therapy can help with mental issues as well. Research suggests that light therapy helps with preventing seasonal affective disorder (SAD) (Nussbauer-Streit et al., 2019) and antepartum depression and ADHD in adults (Terman, 2007).
As great as these benefits sound, light therapy is only one biohacking technique that has been explored more in-depth. Methods that involve other therapies or implants are not as developed and so far, cannot be confirmed as beneficial.
A theme you may notice among the studies mentioned above is that they are focused on providing treatment to an issue that someone is already experiencing. That is to say, biohacking can be good for certain treatments or smaller changes that improve your life (like diet and exercise) but it is not a replacement for traditional health assessments.
Perhaps in the future, after a health assessment has been carried out to give you a baseline for your health, biohacking can be a way of taking action and providing treatment.
Biohacking does not centre around scans and tests that use imaging technology to detect the issues before the correct treatment can be applied. A check-up with a doctor or private clinic will be able to provide you with much more accurate information regarding your own body.
Health Assessments at Echelon Health
At Echelon Health we believe that only by using the right scan for the right modality you can achieve the most accurate results when it comes to detecting disease or illness. Perhaps that, in combination with biohacking is what will be the most effective way of improving your health in the future.
Currently, we use some of the most advanced scanners currently available including the Aquilion ONE Prism 640 slice CT scanner, MrOpen upright and open MRI scanner, Siemens 3T MRI, and EOS dual-source upright CT scanner.
Click here to find out more about these scanners and the multiple advantages they provide for screening practices.
With these scanners, we can detect tumours as small as 2mm and detect up to 92% and 94% of diseases that cause premature death among males and females respectively. If you want peace of mind about your health from head to toe, we offer the Platinum Assessment.
The Platinum Assessment is one of the most comprehensive health assessments currently available. It is a head-to-toe look at your body that scans for these diseases and illnesses:
- Vascular Dementia
- Cerebrovascular Disease
- Arteriovenous Malformation
- Brain Cancer
- Cancer of Sinuses
- Acoustic Neuroma
- Carotid Artery Atheroma
- Thyroid Cancer
- Lung Cancer
- Acute Lung Diseases
- Aortic Aneurysm
- Chronic Respiratory Disease
- Pulmonary Fibrosis
- Coronary Heart Disease
- Breast Cancer
- Skin Cancer
- Liver Cancer
- Spleen Enlargement
- Gallbladder Disease
- Adrenal Gland Tumours
- Kidney Cancer
- Diverticular Disease
- Colorectal Cancer
- Bladder Cancer
- Prostate Cancer
- Testicular Cancer
- Cancer of the Ovaries
If you would like more information on the health assessments offered by Echelon Health contact our team here – we’re always happy to help!
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