Body Hack III: Quantified Self Movement And Biohackers

There is another underground group of individuals these days who have developed a methodical approach to tracking and measuring nearly everything they do. These are the Biohackers, who have developed the name “quantified self movement”. For them, the objective is to find out ways to manipulate and get the body and the mind to be at its optimum state using what science and the data states.

The article of the San Francisco Gate  is below. Again, I will highlight the parts which I felt is important or relevant to what we are doing with this site.

‘Biohackers’ mining their own bodies’ data

Glen Martin
Updated 12:09 p.m., Thursday, June 28, 2012
  • Dave Asprey, seen on Wednesday, June 6, 2012 in San Francisco, Calif., is considered a guru of the biohacking movement.  Asprey has helped develop a prototype HEG (Hemoencephalography ) neurofeedback device that helps train the brain, and he also uses a soliton laser which helps with healing. Photo: Russell Yip, The Chronicle / SF
    Dave Asprey, seen on Wednesday, June 6, 2012 in San Francisco, Calif., is considered a guru of the biohacking movement. Asprey has helped develop a prototype HEG (Hemoencephalography ) neurofeedback device that helps train the brain, and he also uses a soliton laser which helps with healing. Photo: Russell Yip, The Chronicle / SF

(06-28) 12:07 PDT SAN FRANCISCO — Dave Asprey’s morning regimen will seem deeply unfamiliar to anyone accustomed to starting the day with a cup of sludge from the Mr. Coffee, a Pop-Tart and a self-administered slap across the face in the bathroom mirror.

The first thing Asprey does is check his Zeo, a small biometric device that monitors sleep patterns. He’s looking for a balance between REM sleep and deep sleep: REM sleep, Asprey says, rejuvenates the brain, while deep sleep revives the body.

“What I don’t want to see is a lot of light sleep or waking episodes,” he says. “That would require adjustments to my schedule.”

After that, he gulps some compounds: L-tyrosine, an amino acid that Asprey says improves mood and thyroid function; vitamin D3, which proponents claim tunes the immune system and promotes bone density; vitamin K1, considered a toner for the cardiovascular system; and piracetam, a “smart” drug purported to raise oxygen levels in the brain.

Then it’s off to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. Not just any old mud, though. Asprey drinks a special decoction that has been purged of mycotoxins. And he mixes it with big dollops of coconut oil and butter from grass-fed cows.

“That’s my entire breakfast,” says Asprey. “It puts my body in full burn mode – if necessary, I have enough energy to go for eight hours.”

Certainly, Asprey needs that energy. The 42-year-old former Bay Area resident sleeps only five hours nightly, devoting his abundant waking time to book and Web projects, whirlwind speaking tours, regular travels to Silicon Valley and helping his wife raise their two young kids.

After his morning routine, he recharges his body with a refined “Paleo” diet that includes large quantities of grass-fed meat, some veggies “and a ton of butter.” Every 10 days, he exercises 15 minutes with special barbells on a vibrating plate that jerks up and down 30 times a second.

“That tells your body, ‘It’s time to grow’ ” muscle, he says. When he feels stressed, he consults his emWave2, a device that allows him to monitor and consciously change his heart rate via biofeedback.

For Asprey, life isn’t something to accommodate, negotiate or endure. He’s out to optimize it.

Nothing new in that, of course: In the past six decades, self-help gurus from Jack LaLanne to Werner Erhardt and Tony Robbins have coached, cajoled or bullied us into being more fit, successful and well-adjusted. But their approaches have focused on mere exercise or attitude. Asprey and a growing number of like-minded peers are taking things down to the molecular level. They’re trying to “biohack” the human body – tweak its biological processes to make it run at optimum efficiency.

The Quantified Self movement, as it’s called, incorporates various approaches; diet is an element, as are exercise, sleeping habits and the ingestion of arcane supplements. But the bedrock factors are meticulous measurement and data collection. Devotees use biometric devices to monitor brain activity, respiration rates, bloodstream oxygen levels, heart rate and blood pressure, physical activity – even blood flow to the brain.

Collection data

Periodically, they submit to blood tests – not just for the lipids and fasting glucose standard for most health checkups, but for expanded panels that examine up to 100 variables. All these data are archived – often on mobile apps – and quantified, as it were, to provide finely textured metabolic portraits.

“We’re now capturing more data on what it means to be a human being than at any time in history,” says Asprey, “and what we’re learning isn’t just telling is what we are. It’s telling us what we can be.”

The Quantified Self movement is just starting to come up on the scope of the medical community, and few physicians have written or spoken on it; none at UCSF Medical Center, for example, would comment for this piece. One of the few medical authorities who have addressed the trend is Dr. Ravi Bhatia, a professor of hematology and the director of the stem cell and leukemia program at the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte (Los Angeles County).

Bhatia says the detailed data collected by a given Quantified Selfer may be of genuine medical utility – but only for that specific individual.

In order to draw broad conclusions, it’s essential to conduct studies and collect and verify data in a clinical setting,” says Bhatia. “Only then can you scientifically analyze the data and – ultimately – reach consensus for treatment. I’m not saying there’s no individual benefit to this monitoring. I’m just advocating clinical trials.”

The supplements

Bhatia also sees some risk in the Quantified Self community’s advocacy of exotic supplements.

“If someone is on a course of medical treatment, there’s always the risk of undesirable interactions,” he says. “(The supplements) can activate pathways that affect how prescribed medications are metabolized. On the whole, I understand the motivation. But it’s like everything else. It’s best to avoid dogmatism – to be reasonable and avoid extremes.”

Asprey, for his part, feels he is more of what he can be than he used to be. As a prime mover of Quantified Self, he has been hacking his body for several years. He claims to have jacked up his IQ by 40 points and supercharged his health.

“It’s a lot like making a map, and then using the map to determine where you want to go,” he observes. “For example, we’re using a little prototype unit that measures cerebral blood flow – it has a headband that shows how much blood is getting to the front of the brain, the prefrontal cortex.

“The headband shines infrared light into the skull. Red blood cells bounce the light back, and you can use that to monitor blood flow on a screen. Then you use standard biofeedback techniques to maximize the flow. You thus increase your ability to rationally analyze data and situations because the prefrontal cortex is where intellectual processes occur.”

If the rigorous diets, the plethora of gizmos and the constant monitoring of bodily functions sound like a lot of work, Asprey acknowledges it is.

“Self-motivation, obviously, is hard,” he says. “One way around that is to tweak the way you collect data. We’re working on apps that embed gaming techniques into the monitoring process. If it seems like fun, it’s easier for people to stick with it.”

The reasons underlying Quantified Self participation are varied. A desire for longevity is certainly a motivation for many, but so is the cutthroat economic climate – particularly in Northern California, the cradle of biohacking. Middle-aged IT professionals feel vulnerable, says Asprey.

“Silicon Valley chews people up young and spits them out,” he observes. “But lots of people feel they still want to contribute – and they’re looking for ways to compete with younger workers. Quantified Self helps them stay in the game.”

Primary motivator

The primary motivator, however, may be the simple desire to exercise control – exquisite, exact control – over one’s own body. Quantified Self isn’t a precisely scientific method, but it embeds science into the human potential realm to an unprecedented degree, says Brian Kerr, an adherent who went from being an unhappy, obese teen to a trim, successful marketing consultant through self-monitoring and a Paleo-style diet.

“A lot of people involved in this have endured a great deal of pain in terms of self-image,” Kerr observes. “Being seriously overweight deeply affects your outlook. So when you find something that works, that allows you to permanently drop the weight, that makes you feel healthy and aware and engaged, it’s a fantastic feeling. It’s something you want to share.”

And share Quantified Selfers do, with a vengeance. They blithely swap intimate medical data with one another in their quest for the ideal biohack.

There may be a certain inevitability to the biohacking urge, says Gaymon Bennett, a bioethicist with Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in Berkeley.

The hacking of digital technology has become a common skill, he says.

There is this expectation that the biohack – monitoring metabolic processes and influencing them through diet, supplement consumption and other practices – will yield results similar to a computer hack. You get this sense of a hunger to accelerate, a feeling that if (biohackers) could truly bioengineer the human organism, they would.”

More information on Quantified Self




Quantified Self is not a protocol recognized by the medical community. Concerns have been raised about the way some users apply the data that is collected and shared:

Me: Ok, so I realize I am being a little biased posting this article about Asprey again but I am very impressed and interested in the movement of biohackers. In the previous Body Hack post, I was talking about these groups of researchers who are doing synthetic biology, which is where people literally are building living organisms using individual components and parts. With the “Quantified Self Movement”, people are now trying to hack their bodies so that the body can be at its optimum. The are monitoring and checking for as many variable as possible to see what type of leverage they can get. The different types of supplements they take and the odd instruments the strap onto their bodies are all used to learn more about how their own bodies operate. Overall, if you want find out how to have a healthier body and mind, you should consider joining the movement. 


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