Biohacking? Where’s the Science?
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a biohacker, the ways in which I am a biohacker by any reasonable assessment, and why I absolutely cringe when I’m referred to as a biohacker. In short, I am proud of my self-determination to learn about my body and health, and feel obligated to share what I’ve learned with others — and that makes me a “biohacker.”
Unfortunately, the collective “biohacker” culture has largely merged with many anti-science groups looking to “exclude” foods, drugs, and technologies based on fear and political agenda, embraced many “alt med” principles that lack any evidence for efficacy, and otherwise left the search for truth in exchange for a feeling of larger identity and belonging.
How Did Biohacking Originate?
Biohacking rose up as a spin-off from hacker ethics, a philosophy and code of conduct set out by computer hackers, which involved learning from hands-on experience and collective knowledge, the notion that information should be shared and open, and that distrust should be shown to authorities.
Accordingly, hacking also involved tearing concepts and designs down and remaking or redefining them, an important task especially in a budding field, in order to learn and grow. Hacker ethics also strongly pushed back on preconceived criteria for success or credentials, such as formal education, race, age, sex, etc., judging a hacker based solely on their knowledge, skill, and merits.
Computer hacker ethics made a lot of sense to many individuals seeking to learn about their own health and their bodies. Distrust of governmental organizations is high, and distrust of major corporations is even higher. It is easy, attractive, and somewhat logical to believe that there is much “withheld” knowledge on how to improve health outcomes — withheld because money cannot be made, or, in fact, the knowledge of the treatment could cause significant loss in revenue streams. Further, delays in research could lead to significant missed opportunity. Proper science takes years and even decades for a field to advance. Individuals usually do not have that kind of time to wait, nor do they want to. This mistrust, and desire to fast-track experimentation for personal benefit, saw a trend in which “biohackers” rose up, started self-experimenting, and shared their experiences.
Today, in the biohacking community, many individuals are well respected, despite having no official credentials. Routinely, individuals with no formal education or scientific or medical background are widely considered to be authorities. These individuals are often held to a higher standard and trusted more than many of the medical doctors and scientists who make up the wide and varying social demographic of self-proclaimed biohackers. Sometimes this respect and acknowledgement are deserved, but sometimes they are not. In fact, sometimes the individuals held up as high authorities are not only not qualified, but dangerous con artists. Other times, the “qualified” authorities are con artists too.
The Big Problem with Biohacking
Ignoring the obvious and inherent danger in self-experimentation and further danger in widely sharing information that is, at best, well-controlled anecdotes without proper safety assessment, biohackers have a big problem: fear.
In spending a lot of time speaking to many biohackers, answering countless questions from those following the biohacking culture, and doing my best to understand the community — their beliefs, fears, values, and desires — I have realized that many within the community have a high level of neuroticism, at least in regards to levels of fear and anxiety regarding their health and what could potentially impact it, as well as guilt for perceived missteps on their own strictly designed protocols.
This fear and anxiety lead to clouding of judgement. When a new “threat” is taught by a perceived “authority,” critical thought is abandoned for a search for safety and solutions. This fear leads to desperation, in which a proposed “solution” given by an authority fills that immediate “need,” abating the feeling of “fear” and returning the biohacker back to their own emotional “homeostasis”; that is, once they’ve purchased the “solution” and included it into their new, ever-growing and evolving, protocol.
This fear-based drive to improve one’s health has taken a catastrophic turn: blending in with alternative medicine. “Alt med” practitioners often utilize fear tactics to push their unproven therapies. Sometimes, unproven therapies may have a benefit. It is my assessment that biohackers have ventured into the alt medicine world in order to find solutions that may work and have become ensnared by the fear-based messaging. Of course, some of what the “alt med” practitioners say is reasonable. I have written thousands of words on it. Some of it isn’t, and much of the illogical and philosophical-based fear has worked its way into the biohacking community.
This is a big problem because now biohackers are experimenting and sharing their experiences with many sham devices and protocols designed to “fix” imaginary or manufactured problems, rather than devoting their passion and energy to find what can truly help their, and possibly others’, health. Biohacking techniques already had the drawback of moving faster than science. When techniques move away from science to fit a narrative, it destroys the entire benefit of biohacking.
The Benefit of Biohackers
Biohackers, when pursued correctly, are an important tool to driving public, and even private, science. Anecdotal evidence is often the first clue for researchers trying to find if there is anything to explore in an area. In fact, anecdotal evidence has led to significant ongoing research with the hydrogen tablets. I want to take this opportunity to thank our customers and followers for sending in their experiences. We note them all and look for patterns. When patterns emerge, we begin working on evidence-based rationale, namely what we know hydrogen water (or molecular hydrogen, in general) helps, which could be related to this, and what we know it has been shown to do, or may do, that is known to have an effect on the issues being reported as resolved or ameliorated. Once enough of a rationale is developed, researchers often agree to explore that area. So far, the first three “consumer-driven” research projects we have pushed to have initiated have come back positive, and we have several other projects in the works.
This important role in advancing research is why biohackers should commit to searching for the truth, and carefully assessing the evidence. The goal is to improve our health, and our knowledge, not to confirm a belief that we desperately want to be true. Pursuit of the latter is detrimental to the former. Biohackers hold a high societal responsibility, as research interest and funding are often tied to public interest. In the age of social media, biohackers with massive followings can sway research and scientific interests, whether to explore an idea or disprove it. Maintaining a high level of integrity, honesty, and pursuit of truth is imperative in order to drive knowledge forward.
It’s Time to Kill Your Biohacking Heroes
The biohacking community may have adopted the hacker ethic mentality of doing away with the need for more traditionally accepted credentials for authority such as formal education, but they have also adopted a new criterion that is far more deleterious: following. The trend in biohacking is becoming to follow the leader, and the leader is defined as the person with the most followers. Of course, would-be “leaders” make sure to model themselves off of the current “leaders”, adopting their protocols and searching for new popular trends to adopt, seemingly without critical review, to resonate with their audience. As such, the leaders influence each other and structure themselves to appeal to their following in order to maintain their “leader status,” and the actual advice becomes circularly transmitted nonsense. How many followers “biohacking authorities” have should have absolutely no bearing on how much we should trust their advice. Further, just because individuals have a great track record does not mean they will always conduct proper due diligence on a new idea. Each new idea, protocol, or concept a
perceived authority propagates should be met with an equal and healthy dose of criticism, in order to assess the validity of the new idea.
Many of the leaders in the biohacking world are great, honest people. I have found that the honest leaders have a certain sense of optimism, tending to trust what is shared with them, and wanting to then share it with their followers, in order to spread perceived wisdom. On the flip side, many are con artists that care only about their perceived fame and authority, and the money it brings them. These con artists often put on quite the show for how much they care about humanity, to the point of nausea inducement to those who see how they are when the “lights and cameras,” so to speak, are not running.
It is the responsibility of every one of us to seek the truth, question what is told, and ensure the perceived leaders are not taking advantage of their followers’ trust, naivety, and optimism. Many of my friends in the biohacking circles have accused me of being “too much of a skeptic” and “not wanting things to work.” I contend that you cannot be too much of a skeptic, and the fact that I want to find what works is the reason why my, and others’, skepticism is so important. It is great to keep an open mind, but prudent to not have it so wide open our brains fall out. By definition, biohackers are trying things without sufficient evidence. We need to be properly ascertaining if there is good rationale for using the protocols. We need to be going into each new idea impartially, trying to deconstruct it, find errors and flaws, and assess if it has any potential benefit. If we don’t, we are just adding new, usually expensive or incumbering, protocols to our lives. It becomes a venture in mindless capitalism, not one to improve our health and longevity.
Importantly, we all need to ask ourselves: What is our purpose in following biohackers? Is it to search for ways to improve our health, fix our ailments, and maximize our health and lifespans? Or is it to find a sense of community and belonging? If it is the latter, what I have written may be offensive. If it is the former, then the obligation is to search for the truth, remain skeptical, and assess each idea analytically and critically. Most protocols, therapies, ideas, etc., will not pan out. It is better to focus on what is working than to adopt everything just because others are doing so.
My Journey into Biohacking
As many of you reading this know, I first really dove into biohacking following an unknown illness that led to joint degeneration and the loss of my ability to maintain my previous lifestyle. I experimented with several “out there” techniques, as well as some with a hint of legitimacy, such as plasma-rich platelet injections (PRP), on my journey to discover the potential for molecular hydrogen and hydrogen water. You can read about my journey into the hydrogen water industry in parts 2–4 of “Hydrogen Tablet Origins.”
When I began my journey, I was only vaguely aware of the biohacking community. I had always been one to experiment with different diets, training protocols, exercise supplements, etc., never having fully believed in anything as absolutely infallible or accurate. In testing hydrogen water, I attempted to do my best to control for placebo. I measured my mobility, recorded my pain levels, and noted my sleep quality (based on my fatigue). Once I was certain I had benefited from it, I recruited several dozen friends and family to give feedback on the prototypes I was making. When I found that many of the reports were consistent with each other and based on little to no suggestion of expected results, I decided I needed to move forward and pursue this avenue. Of course, anecdotes weren’t enough for me. I sought clinical evidence, and 5 years after I developed my protocol, I am working with a dozen public universities all over the world. The hydrogen tablets, leading the way in the molecular hydrogen research world, resulted from my journey into biohacking.
Hydrogen water has helped me tremendously, but it isn’t a magical panacea. It does not resolve all of my issues and is not the be-all and end-all of my journey. In the last year, I have dived deeper into my “biohacking roots” — experimenting with water fasts, conducting my first foray into peptide therapy, and carefully and deliberately evaluating a widely advertised metabolic monitor called the “lumen.” In getting back into this, I realized I thoroughly enjoy it. I
enjoy the experimentation, and I enjoy the careful analysis.
My Resolution Moving Forward
Too often, we as humans go into a task with our minds already made up, myself included. Either we believe it is bogus and want to prove it as such, or we desperately want it to work. I reflected on this last week, more so as I am currently writing a piece on how to improve critical and analytical thought. I tend to move fast, and at the time of this writing am already reviewing three popular devices against each other in a quite thorough and well-planned stress test. I’ve also ordered more devices and biohacking tools, with the intention of thoroughly and methodically testing them for any recorded benefit. It may not be clinical research, but my resolution is that I will assess biohacking trends and techniques as thoroughly and fairly as possible.
This will likely mean I will launch negative review articles on products that many popular “authorities” have built into their protocol and are monetizing. So be it. If a pursuit for the truth causes someone friction, then friction with that individual is deserved. It may also mean I find unexpected benefits that need
a closer look. Only time will tell. If you’ve enjoyed my breakdowns, and the work I did in evaluating molecular hydrogen research and technology, make sure to continue subscribing to my newsletter. More is coming, and what is coming is much more deliberate.