Dec 18, 2018
It was about 5 years ago when I came across “bulletproof coffee.” For me, this was my introduction to the notion of “biohacking.” This new morning brew claimed to provide sustainable energy while curbing appetite. In society today, this “hack” sounded ideal!
Since then, the concept of “biohacking” has taken our world by storm. The hashtag, #biohacking now has over 104,000 tags on Instagram (as of May, 2018). This speaks volumes to my point here, though it may also be that those who adopt a “biohacked” lifestyle are apt to share that lifestyle in the context of social media.
On first pass of bulletproof coffee, I thought, “Wow. This is pretty neat!” It certainly makes sense from a biochemical and physiologic perspective that taking in a big fat bomb with a bolus of caffeine would be a great way to charge up the system. It sounded like putting a turbocharger on the engine. Then my mind went a step further, “Why don’t we just shoot coffee into the veins and call it a day!?”
In the world of tech, hackers have become synonymous with those who are highly intellectual problem solvers. As such, hacking allows individuals to figure out ways to exploit technology for self betterment. Some hackers even work with a global, or even altruistic perspective, trying to make matters better for all.
In health, it’s similar. “Biohackers” think of ways to use the technology of supplements or natural products to optimize biologic performance. With basic knowledge of biochemistry and physiology, one might be able to scheme up a way to enhance human functioning. Whether the goal is improved cognitive performance, physical endurance, weight loss, or any other metric, the biohacking movement continues to captivate the attention of masses.
We undoubtedly live in a hacker sort of culture where people are always trying to maximize results while minimizing efforts. One might argue that this is in fact human nature; a means to preserve energy and optimize performance in the world.
Is “biohacking” really the means to better human performance? And if so, what is the cost?
Before embarking any further, it is important to point out one of the most fundamental physical laws, which is also a governing principle of Naturopathic Medicine. This is the fact that the body heals itself. Each individual is a unique self-healing organism that has the full capacity to access optimum health given the proper conditions and environment. The question then becomes, “What is the proper environment for health?” which inherently leads to, “How is this environment achieved?”
Firstly, the proper environment for health is one free of excesses, devoid of deficiencies, and without exorbitant pollutants. Achieving this perfect scenario presents its own challenges, especially in today’s world. It is possible, however, with a conscientious effort.
Creating and maintaining a healthy environment inside the body is dependent on the quality of food, air, and water that we consume. That’s really it. Or at least, that’s it in the perfect world. (We could also say that the quality of thoughts and relationships in one’s life also directly impacts physiology, though let’s avoid any possibility of a woo-woo interpretation.)
Given that each of us is in fact a self-healing organism, the question becomes do we want to hack our way towards health, OR do we want to allow our health to come forth as a natural byproduct of living in accordance with the physical laws of nature.
But living aligned with nature in today’s world seems like an ever-fleeting possibility. Even the purest, organically grown, salt of the earth hippies in the world may be facing issues relating to their natural healing process.
Today’s world is far from perfect. Human beings are simply not playing kindly on this planet. The result is excessive toxins in the form of chemicals and all sorts of pollutants. And then there is our food sources, cultivated unnaturally with genetic modification, laden with pesticides, and harvested from a nutrient depleted earth. And we can’t forget about the system itself, the governing bodies that are completely corrupt, driven by profits alone and not the wellbeing of humanity.
The fact of the matter is that the simple existence on this planet in today’s world is a stress in and of itself. (This does not even include the persistent psychosocial stressors that permeate society!) To put it simply, we human being living on this planet today need help. Despite our best efforts to preserve an ideal clean and pure environment in the body, we need help. Even when eating the highest quality organic food, drinking the cleanest spring water, and breathing the purest mountain air, we need help. At least at times, we need help.
Supplementing for Natural Health
Since the age of the industrial revolution, humans have been on a slippery slope, sliding slowly away from their connection with nature. Technological advancements have mostly created a disconnect, separating humans from their natural environment. Ironically, one such niche has been the isolation and processing of vitamins, minerals, and organic compounds. As humans evolve and live in a way to deplete nutrients from their lives, we have at least been smart enough to learn how to get those important ingredients to health back into the body. This technology has given rise to the multibillion-dollar nutritional supplement, or nutraceutical industry.
If you live at high latitudes are unable to get adequate exposure to sun rays in winter months resulting in low vitamin D levels, supplementation can be used to replete vitamin D stores. (Many other theories beyond latitude exist to explain the low vitamin D epidemic today.)
If you are not exposed to vitamin B12 producing bacteria because you choose not to eat animal products and now have a functional deficiency, supplementation can be used to replete vitamin B12 stores. (In the olden days, such bacteria were ubiquitous in all food and water supplies, and therefore consuming animal products may not have been necessary.)
Even if you eat an abundant amount of fresh organic produce you may have low levels of various essential minerals (magnesium, zinc, selenium, manganese, molybdenum, iron, or phosphorus, to name a few) due to depletion of these minerals in our soils by conventional farming practices. This depletion could be replete through careful supplementation of any number of minerals.
For these reasons, and many others, it may be necessary to supplement with various vitamins or minerals at times in order to reestablish the conditions for optimal health.
Supplementation vs Biohacking
Is supplementing the same as biohacking?
Some might argue that biohacking is a form of advanced nutritional supplementation. I am going to explain why this is not the way I see it.
The word hack, as we mentioned above, implies maximizing output while minimizing input. The way I see it, biohacking, as with any other system of hacking, is an attempt to cheat the system. For example, in the context of the bulletproof coffee, some intend to use this as a means to augment a state of ketosis. Advocates will say that taking a large serving of pure fat is a way of tricking the body to think it is in a fasting state. (This is a deep topic that we don’t need to dive into here!)
While supplementation is a means to restore a natural balance to the body, biohacking disregards this delicate balance and attempts to overhaul the system. As such, many supplements and products are formulated and marketed to provide “superhuman powers.” Various substances and practices that might provide some energy, focus, or weight-loss in the short term, may be stressful and detrimental to the system in the long term.
How might biohacking harm your health?
Human physiology is composed of countless interwoven micro-processes that are all in a state of delicate balance. The vast assortment of intricate and complex motion in the body is quite an artistic masterpiece. For years, many have referred to this as a state of homeostasis, though the better definition may be “homeodynamics.” In reality, there is never a state of stasis, or static equilibrium. In fact if there were, that would indicate death, as the nature of life is dynamic. Stressors that take us out too far beyond our normal range of function, whether acutely or chronically, result in illness. Biohacking is often a way of stressing your system to adapt in ways that may not be natural or healthy. Even if the immediate effect may be constructive, a long term consequence of such stress may likely be destructive.
The future is hacked!
As technology advances, so does biohacking. The latest trends include augmenting DNA, the very genetic code that harbors life. Additionally, some are working to find ways to implant various devices and sensors to create bionic-like creatures!
On the other side of the spectrum, some things that are often referred to as “hacks” are simply common sense ways to live a natural, healthy life. For example, some have called walking barefoot in nature a hack, or taking diaphragmatic breaths of fresh air, or cultivating a mindfulness/meditation practice.
These are not hacks! These are basic practices that have been a fundamental component of every healthy human life throughout history. Only in recent times have we lost touch and felt a need to “hack” our way back to health.
Forgive my attitude… When it comes down to it, I am always a proponent of anything and everything that supports the masses in coming back to a natural state of balance and harmony with nature. It is in this space where we are best able to thrive healthfully.
Choosing True Health
The world needs healing, and it starts with your mindset.
We must shift our viewpoint from short term outcomes to long term results.
If you are overweight and fatigued, biohacking with a bulletproof coffee is not the answer. You are not fatigued because of a coffee deficiency, and tricking your body to burn fat is not a sustainable way to manage weight.
We cannot heal a longstanding chronic disease with a simple health hack.
I believe that as we collectively shift in a way to take greater responsibility for our health through our lives, we create the framework to heal globally. And as we heal globally, this sacred planet that is our home is better able to support human health. This constructive, win-win cycle is the way, and the only way, that human beings will be able to emerge from the current disastrous state. It is happening. I trust it is. We need this healing.
I hope that we all continue to take responsibility and do our part to heal individually so we can be healthy and happy collectively. We must remember that the health of any one person is limited by the health of the world at large. Stop hacking health and start living aligned with nature.
Blessings of Health,
Dr. Benjamin Alter