You’ve likely heard of life hacks, style hacks or renovation hacks.
The word ‘hack’ has been tacked on to a plethora of topics with the promise of providing ways to shortcut or improve a process or activity.
It’s little surprise, then, that biology has joined the ranks of topics getting the ‘hack’ treatment.
The term “biohacking” is defined as “biological experimentation” that’s done with the aim of improving “the qualities or capabilities of living organisms” typically completed outside of a allopathic medical or scientific environment, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
From professional basketball superstar LeBron James to Canadian pop star Justin Bieber, there’s a buzz among celebrities, high-profile athletes — and beyond — around the purported benefits of hacking one’s own biology in an effort to improve the body’s functions.
“Biohacking is basically ‘do-it-yourself’ biology with self-improvement and recovery being at its core,” Samantha Craddock-Gretzinger, assistant spa director at the Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles, explains. “At the simplest level, it’s the attempt to manipulate or ‘trick’ your brain and body in order to optimize performance, outside the realm of traditional (Western) medicine.”
The practice can be as simple as taking vitamins and getting more sleep to intermittent fasting. More experimental — and debated — processes also exist under the umbrella of biohacking including implanting non-medical technological devices into the human body.
At the Century City property that’s part of the Canadian-headquartered hotel chain, introductory biohacking treatments are increasingly popular options for spa guests, according to Craddock-Gretzinger.
The spa presently offers three types of biohacking sessions including a 30-minute power nap and 60 or 90-minute Sleep, Mindfulness, De-stress programs that utilize elements such as Pulsed Magnetic Field Therapy, sound therapy and specialty lymphatic drainage boots during the treatments, which aim to “improve sleep quality, resolve stress, support mindfulness and physical recovery with active rest,” according to Craddock-Gretzinger.
The non-medical grade treatments, she says, are for everyone — from the jet-lagged business traveller to the wellness-curious vacationer.
“Anyone who wants to start with some sips of wellness for self-improvement but does not know where to begin,” Craddock-Gretzinger says.
A little closer to home, B.C.-based clinic Ageless Living aims to blend elements of allopathic and Traditional Chinese Medicine with wellness therapies popularized by the biohacking movement.
With locations in Langley, Victoria and Kelowna, the practice is under the medical direction of Dr. Jean Paul Lim, MD, a co-founder of the company. Seated in his office at the recently opened Langley location at 415-20178 96th Ave., Dr. Lim explained how he came to explore biohacking as part of the wellness practice.
Pointing to the details of LeBron James’ extensive physical maintenance as a jumping off point for many who are new to exploring biohacking as a topic, which includes ice baths, cryo and hyperbaric oxygen chambers rumoured to cost more than $1 million dollar per year, the medical doctor was interested in finding ways to apply similar treatments into his practice.
While medical-grade hyperbaric chambers, which go up to three atmospheres of pressure and are used for too much nitrogen in the body, instances of carbon monoxide poisoning or to aid with wound or burn healing, according to Dr. Lim, the chamber at Ageless Living goes up to an atmospheric pressure rating of 1.3.
Beyond the hyperbaric oxygen chamber, biohacking treatments available at Ageless Living include a Neurointegrater, which involves a Bio-Integrative Neurofeedback System; Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy, aimed at improving cellular frequency; NuCalm to help balance and improve health of the nervous system; and a Far Infrared Sauna, to aid in muscle repair and joint pain. Treatments can be booked following a consultation and are priced from $33.
The apparent boom in biohacking has much to do, Dr. Lim says, with the increased interest in investing in one’s health.
“There’s a shift. Younger people are paying more attention to their health,” he says. “And there are more people who are saying, not necessarily this comparison, but should I buy this jacket or should I take that money and put it into my health?”
Dr. Lim notes that, 10-15 years ago it was mostly older people investing in their health as a reaction to aging concerns. Now, he says, 30-40 year olds are looking to invest in their health early in order to avoid experiencing some of the health setbacks they witnessed with their parents and grandparents.
“People recognize that they needed to invest in their body,” Dr. Lim says.
An increased general interest in natural health options is also contributing to the interest in biohacking. A 2020 poll by Hill+Knowlton Strategies found that Canadians are eager to “adopt a healthier lifestyle” post-pandemic, with exercise and healthier eating habits among their top priorities.
“There’s a push towards more natural well being,” Dr. Lim says. “So that’s like organic foods, exercising, and all this sort of natural supplements that people are more interested in.
“I want my body to heal more naturally. How do I do that without taking more drugs?”
The Public Health Agency of Canada hosted the first Canadian DIY Biology Summit, which included “DIY biologists” such as “biohackers, DIYers, or citizen scientists” working outside traditional lab settings, on March 16, 2016. The event’s goal, according to the agency, was to bring together these individuals alongside federal government departments and academics in order to discuss how the DIY biology movement is impacting the field and Canada.
Despite a growing interest, biohacking treatments remain largely unregulated in Canada. With this in mind, Dr. Lim recommends opting for treatments that are offered under medical supervision.
“I recommend that patients speak to the team and make sure that they actually understand what it is that they’re offering,” Dr. Lim advises. “And also to look into that themselves, and to understand what their goals are.“
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