Inside the cult of Biohacking

Context: Experts have noted that the pandemic has led to an unusual spike in interest in health and fitness among Indians, and nowhere is this more noticeable than the early-adopting tech circles, always in search of the next great hack for not just getting their health in order but staying sharp and focused at work, increasing productivity, beating stress and anxiety, and even aspiring to live longer. 


Biohacking refers to the practice of manipulating biological systems through nutrition, supplements, technology and lifestyle changes to optimize health, well-being and performance. Biohackers self-experiment to find what works best for their body and mind.

Some common goals of biohacking 

  • Improving cognitive performance, memory and focus. E.g. using nootropic supplements, meditation, exercise.
  • Increasing health and longevity. E.g. tracking biomarkers, using supplementation and stem cell therapies.
  • Boosting productivity and optimizing sleep. E.g. monitoring sleep cycles, limiting blue light exposure, power naps. 
  • Improving mood and mental well-being. E.g. sunlight exposure, diet changes, transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Common biohacking methods and tools

  • Wearable technology like fitness trackers to monitor metrics like steps, sleep, heart rate, etc. Some trackers also measure temperature, UV exposure and other data.
  • Genetic testing to understand risks and customize diet or supplements based on DNA. 
  • Nutrigenomics – Choosing foods and supplements based on individual genetic profile for optimal health. Nutrigenetic testing can provide diet recommendations based on DNA.
  • Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) – Using mild electric currents to stimulate specific parts of the brain. Aims to improve cognition, mood and performance. Also called brain stimulation or neurostimulation.
  • Nootropics or ‘smart drugs’ – Taking natural or synthetic substances to boost brain functions like memory, motivation, creativity, alertness, etc. Nootropics include supplements like piracetam or modafinil.
  • DIY Biology – Amateur biohackers conduct experiments in makeshift biology labs to modify biological systems or engineer new lifeforms. Raises ethical issues but some aim to open-source scientific tools.  
  • Fasting and calorie restriction – Cycling between fasting and eating periods to maximize health benefits. Believed to increase longevity, improve insulin sensitivity and cognition. Methods include intermittent fasting, bone broth fasts, etc.

The biohacking movement aims to take control of human biology and optimize it using scientific techniques.

However, critics argue that it raises safety, ethical and regulatory concerns especially around DIY Biology and brain stimulation. An unregulated community poses risks. Biohacking as a practice is still in infancy with limited evidence behind some methods. But interest in it continues to grow worldwide.

Mains Practice question

Q. How does the concept of biohacking challenge traditional ideas about human limits and potential? Discuss both the opportunities and concerns that the biohacking movement presents.?

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