Why Silicon Valley pseudoscience could cause more harm than good?
We all want our lives to be happier, healthier and more productive. Gurus from Silicon Valley claim to have the answer. In the same way we have been able to hack computers and conventional ways of working to find new solutions, they claim we can hack our bodies to enhance physical and mental performance, making our potential limitless. They call this “biohacking”.
The problem is, most biohacking converts aren’t qualified health care professionals. Nor do they have science or clinical backgrounds. And though their work isn’t often intended as medical advice, it can sometimes be received this way. Especially as an increasing number of people take everything Silicon Valley executives say as gospel.
From bulletproof coffee to modafinil, microdosing to intermittent fasting, the number of biohacking methods taking over social media is seemingly endless. But most biohacking techniques just aren’t based on scientific fact, with some causing more harm than good.
What is biohacking?
Biohacking, or do-it-yourself biology is the process of making changes to your body in order to get the maximum value from it. There are many different types of biohacking, but all involve some pseudo biological manipulation that treat the body like a computer — the claim being that we can hack them to induce increase output.
The theory is that if we can control our diet, supplements, drugs, we can make ourselves superhuman, or at least increase the chances of reaching optimal performance all of the time. But very rarely are these claims built on facts.
Who are the key proponents of biohacking?
The biggest name in biohacking is Dave Asprey — the creator of bulletproof coffee and the bulletproof diet. Thousands of people in Silicon Valley use his bulletproof technique to start their day. But as a trend, it is spreading across the world.
Essentially, bulletproof coffee is a breakfast replacement made of coffee, grass fed butter and MCT oil. Whilst none of these individual ingredients are bad, replacing a healthy, balanced meal made up of essential nutrients, with one unnaturally high on caffeine and saturated fats is a decision that will likely have negative health outcomes.
A study by Healthline found that replacing a healthy breakfast with bulletproof coffee reduces the total nutrient load by a third. And though there have been no specific scientific investigations into the long-term effects of bulletproof coffee, anecdotal evidence online seems to suggest that it increases cholesterol. Bulletproof coffee then, isn’t all it’s made out to be.
The case of Aaron Traywick, a former superstar in the world of biohacking, is troubling. Going beyond butter and coffee, Traywick injected himself live on stage with herpes. His fellow biohacker, Tristan Roberts, injected himself with HIV. Neither of these men have medical backgrounds.
Unsurprisingly, the treatments made by Traywick’s company for HIV and herpes turned out to be ineffective. For Roberts, he is now undergoing conventional treatment. For Traywick, he was found dead earlier in 2018 — though the cause of his death (he was found in a floatation tank with ketamine in his bloodstream) is unrelated to the disease he injected himself with.
The point is here, we shouldn’t let untrained scientists experiment in the public eye, especially those who claim they can produce a cure for what are currently seen as incurable diseases. The science should be left to the scientists, and biohackers should be more responsible for the content they produce.
Why the science doesn’t support biohacking claims
Going beyond the dangerous experiments of Traywick, and the unscientific recommendations of Asprey, we need to investigate the other main biohack.
Whether it’s adderall, modafinil, or other prescription medicines, more people than ever are taking nootropics to enhance cognitive function. Modafinil in particular is the one used most in Silicon Valley. The question is, is it harmful? There is no doubt that it can help you focus, particularly on dull and repetitive tasks — which explains why so many programmers have hopped on board the modafinil train.
The problem is, there is very little understanding of the long-term effects of smart drug use. A study by Dr Nora Volkow found that it affects the part of the brain associated with substance abuse. Likewise, Dr. Peter Morgan of Yale University believes that long-term, it can damage our memories. With those risks, it’s probably not best to rely on smart drugs for productivity.
If there are any legitimate biohacks out there, it is those prescribed by those with a science background. Eat healthily, get enough sleep, have regular GP check ups, and exercise regularly. They might not make you bulletproof, but they’re more likely to have a positive impact on your long-term health than any of the biohacks you’ll find online.
To sum up
Ultimately, you shouldn’t trust claims made by people who aren’t scientists, clinicians, researchers or doctors. Biohacking is as reliable as alternative medicine. Whilst the anti-establishment, libertarian side of biohacking might match your politics, science shouldn’t be messed with.
Taking a daily dose of modafinil, bulletproof coffee and dietary supplements is a sure fire way to shorten your life. Even if they do improve your productivity, is it really worth the risk of early death to accomplish one more task each day? We think not.
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