Biohacking as the Next Opportunity

In early 2013, I had the pleasure of attending the Bulletproof Conference put on by Dave Asprey of Bulletproof Exec fame. It was my first real introduction to the concept of biohacking.
According to Wikipedia, biohacking is the “practice of engaging biology with the hacker ethic.” That means that you use many different means to actively alter and enhance your biology. These could be technological, or they could be biochemical, or they could simply be revealing more on your current biological state so that you can effectively take action. To most people, I think it evokes images of cyborgs and wearing steampunk like hardware on their heads. At one point the hardware may have necessarily looked like that: big, clunky, expensive, wires running everywhere, lights flashing. But today, technology has reached a new level of miniaturization and availability.
I couldn’t resist exploring the potential of these devices. I began training with a specialized electrostim machine called an ARPWave POV with the guys at EVOUltrafit. While the intent was physical results, the training is actually neurological. So while I get results externally, I find that there some amazing benefits internally. I bought a Somapulse which uses pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMF) to induce healing and to re-energize cells, and was developed by some guys at NASA. I bought it out of frustration that my elbow, which got strained, was not healing fast enough on its own for months. In 3 weeks with the Somapulse, it was all better.
I’ve also tried the various popular fitness trackers and found them lacking. I’m also testing some sleep trackers but nothing comes close to the now defunct Zeo, which I unfortunately was too late to buy one. I also got a transcranial direct stimulation (tads) device called the Foc.us, which I haven’t played with – too many toys! I am also looking into Rife technologies – cure cancer anyone?
I also tried WellnessFX and now am a big fan of more constant monitoring of your blood markers AND the ability to do it without requiring a doctor to prescribe a blood test – direct to consumer still has not seen its full potential but I have seen the value of it. While blood draws may make people cringe, companies like Theranos are changing that to drawing only a few drops of blood (and by the way, 10x cheaper)! I am also actively working with a functional medicine doctor at JustInHealth to get my blood markers back into healthier levels. With my thyroid and adrenals number back in place, every day I have more energy, resistant to disease and more resilient to the stresses that occur in my life.
Much of these technologies are on the fringe still; early adopters and hobbyists messing around with interesting devices, some getting good results, some questioning. It also requires a level of commitment, education, and initiative that most people don’t have. Most people are totally passive on their health and physical condition and just wait until they get themselves into an unhealthy corner before doing something. By that time, it may be too late.
Experiencing the potential of these technologies firsthand and seeing the explosion of such devices across the internet and across crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, I believe that we are on the edge of a new opportunity for startups to create something really new and impactful.
The challenges I see now are:
1. Most of this technology is still complex and requires a lot of effort on the part of the user. Until it is simplified further, wide adoption could be very difficult.
2. The customer base needs to educate themselves on taking control of their health and wellbeing. This will take some time.
3. It is possible that a simpler product could make a customer acquisition strategy work in the short term. One issue I have seen is that companies who have done this do not have the expertise or knowledge to advance their products beyond where they are now.
4. The hardware itself needs work. At the moment, wearing the devices can be cumbersome and uncomfortable. Power requirements limit usage times. Even something as simple as wearing a heart rate monitor belt around your chest all day is annoying. I also think that wireless technologies still need advancing. Bluetooth LE is a step forward, but I find that there are still issues.
The startup who can take a biohacker technology AND figure out the broad adoption problem will really have something. I’ve experienced firsthand the results of biohacking and there is way too much value to not bring to the general population. But for them, it’s a user interface problem applied to super high technology; hide all the wires and blinking lights and make it one button easy.
I’m excited to see science fiction become reality in my lifetime. As a startup investor, I plan to be fully immersed in biohacking technologies in my search for the next winner.

  • What exactly is Bob’s rationale for calories being 60-70% from fat?

    I’ve practiced IF for a while now and if there’s one thing that’s become clear, it is not a magic bullet. The reason IF works well for some people is because it makes it easier to stay in a caloric deficit for fat loss purposes. The Bulletproof IF suggestion that you can eat as many calories as you want during the feeding window is total baloney. Intermittent fasting doesn’t negate the rules of calories in vs out and anybody who suggests otherwise is simply wrong.

    • dshen

      You are commenting on many things here and they are mixed together.

      Bob’s rationale for more calories via fat is simply to maintain the body’s state of ketosis for longer periods of time. This should start metabolizing more of the fat from food but also that which is in the body.

      IF is only a magic bullet if done right. If someone fasts but eats cakes and cookies when they break fast, it’s not going to work.

      Calories are not the same and come from different places. Dieticians like to lump all calories into one. But it is clear not all calories are the same. There is sugar, carbohydrate, and fat. Then there is the glycemic index which makes things even more complex. And then you can metabolize protein to get calories. We used to say calories in vs. calories out but it’s simply not true. I proved that to myself by simply taking sugar and white carbs out of my diet (ala 4 Hour Body) and I plateaued at a weight that I haven’t achieved since I was in college. And I did not control my eating at all. In fact I ate more fat and still lost weight.

      As for the BP IF suggestion on their 101 page about eating as many calories as you want – it is a loaded comment. BP IF wants you to follow the BP diet so it’s constrained by that. Eating cakes and cookies is not what anyone is saying. And overeating via any diet is bad and can’t do your body good.

      • Has there ever been strong evidence to show that ketosis is, by itself, an important matter when it comes to fat burning? I have spent plenty of time around ketosis advocates and detractors, and like most things in the world of diet and nutrition, its benefits seem overblown.

        I’m not suggesting anybody should eat cakes and cookies as their diet staples. But if the “If It Fits Your Macros” crowd has proven anything, it is fine to include those types of foods in your overall diet.

        I am not arguing that all calories are created equal. Different macronutrients will have different effects on your biology. But I find that many people thrash the CICO argument and end up demonizing carbohydrates, which is just plain silly. I guarantee that when you lost the weight, you were in a caloric deficit. At the end of the day, every diet works, so long as its tenets help create adherence and induce a caloric deficit.

        My comment wasn’t meant to attack any particular system or methodology but rather, to serve as an important reminder that when you get past the points that people love to endlessly argue about, all diet systems have a few important things in common 🙂

        • dshen

          Well, first ketosis = fat burning:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ketosis

          There are way too many who say there is only one way. The truth is there are many ways but what are the costs and benefits of each way?

          Weight Watchers and their like work by calorie restriction but don’t really distinguish much between calorie types. but they work to some degree. the problem is that they have a biz model which follows there method which is to have you lose weight by only eating what they give you, then you go off their program, but come back after you go back onto your bad eating habits and gain back all you lost. and make more money off you by giving you something that works, but isn’t something that sticks permanently.

          I think you are also making a generlization. Not everyone needs a “calorie deficit to lose weight. it depends on who you are talking about. A somewhat overweight person may not need much “calorie deficit” to come back to a weight which is ok for their goal or what is good for them. A supremely obese person is going to need more severe intervention. And genetics makes a difference too, as well as how long someone has been overweight. “inertia” plays a role too.

          i have found that when someone goes on a low/no carb/sugar diet, they can lose 10 lbs pretty easily. but to go beyond that requires something else – raising of activity level, or more severe changes in diet. then they lose more weight and get to a new plateau. then a new intervention is needed.

          but generally, if your activity isn’t like an ironman triathlete or marathoner, then you should cut carbs and just be mostly fat and protein, with whatever carbs you need coming from lots of vegetables. it should maintain you pretty well and without issues. maintaining a state of ketosis is going to give you benefits from a too much fat perspective.

          if you’re an athlete, you’ll find that you need to add some carbs back or else you can’t recover properly.

          btw not all fat is the same. fat used to be demonized as well but not all fat is bad. we need fat to survive.

          • Ketosis is *not* a prerequisite for fat burning and I’m not sure how anybody can argue that. There is no literature to support that and there are a gazillion people out there who have lost weight without a keto/low carb approach.

            I agree with you that there are many ways to burn fat, so I sense that you aren’t actually saying ketosis and fat burning are the same thing.

            But come on man… “not everyone needs to be in a deficit to lose weight”? Of course they do. I guarantee you can’t find a single example of somebody eating over their TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) on a consistent basis and lost weight in any appreciable fashion.

            Yes, individuals will differ but that doesn’t negate the fact that they need to be in a deficit to lose weight, it simply means everyone’s requirements will differ.

            Typically when someone adopts a low carb diet, a lot of initial weight loss is from water weight. This is a very well known phenomenon. And then anything after that is, again, due to the caloric deficit. The reason low carb, just like intermittent fasting, can induce weight loss is because it introduces a restriction that tends to result in lower calorie intake. Low carb diets also typically default to high protein, which is advantageous due to the satiety and muscle sparing effects. Again, many methods will work… it all comes down to the approach that an individual can stick to the best.

            I don’t think we are actually disagreeing on much. But I am trying to make sure the point about caloric deficit is made here. I’ve encountered the argument that caloric balance doesn’t matter when it comes to weight loss and I have never once seen convincing evidence to prove it.

          • dshen

            OK your first paragraph prompted me to doublecheck wikipedia’s entry. Lipolysis is the process by which fat is turned into energy, but ketones are formed during the process, hence the term ketosis. It seems that ketosis is the result of lipolysis.

            i think you’re wondering whether someone has to be in a state of ketosis all the time and you’re saying no. well the weight watchers of the world have done it and i dont think their prepared meals cause ketosis full time. so yes you’re right that fat loss can happen without being in ketosis (as the popular term) all the time.

            what i don’t like about the term “caloric deficit” is how to actually compute it and put it into practical action. the body’s metabolism is affected by so many factors as well as the added physical activity on top of that. and i still maintain not all foods’ caloric quality are the same and the way it’s metabolized by the body. so yes you’re enacting some sort of caloric deficit when a person trying to lose weight hits a plateau – something needs to change so changing the composition/quantity of their food as well as activity level is required to stimulate further fat loss. then you hit another plateau and try something else again.

            during ironman training, i used to hold my weight for months during the build phase up until about 4-6 weeks before the race. but well before that time, i had already built up to maximum training times/distances. i had to put the body at a high level of caloric expenditure to enable some further weight loss. it was the weirdest feeling to be training so hard and so much and every morning i would essentially weigh the same.

            it wasn’t until i cut sugars and white carbs that my weight would be maintained without training and even below my lowest weight that i achieved at ironman peak.