BIO­HACK­ING

The fu­ture of aug­mented hu­man­ity

Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - Contents - By JAC­QUE­LINE DETWILER

With proven med­i­cal treat­ments for age­ing, brain dis­ease, in­suf­fi­cient sleep, and low pro­duc­tiv­ity years, (or even decades) away, some peo­ple con­sider self- ex­per­i­men­ta­tion to be the fastest route to a health­ier, hap­pier, longer life. They call it

BIO­HACK­ING.

But does it work? For two months, I hacked my­self to find out. My goal was to sep­a­rate the sci­ence from the BS. If I ended up stronger, smarter, faster, health­ier, calmer, more cre­ative, and more pro­duc­tive, that would be okay, too.

Ihand my robe to Michael Mar­gulies, one earnest­faced half of the hus­ban­dand- wife team that owns NYC Cryo, a black, low­ceilinged base­ment gym in New York City, and I am prac­ti­cally naked in­side an eight- foot- tall sil­ver cylin­der. Fog seeps over the top as though it’s been pumped in from a stage per­for­mance of Mac­beth. I start march­ing in place in my thick black crew socks and rub my nubby white gloves to­gether. Mar­gulies tells me not to be ner­vous, but I am.

Three years ago, a tech­ni­cian died dur­ing an af­ter-hours solo ses­sion at the cryotherapy spa in Las Ve­gas where she worked. Au­thor­i­ties be­lieve that the plat­form was set too low, so she in­haled too much oxy­gen-poor air, then passed out and suf­fo­cated in­side the treat­ment unit.

With how much Mar­gulies is talk­ing, it’s al­most as though he’s the one who’s ner­vous. ‘ The ben­e­fits of cryotherapy are that it re­duces in­flam­ma­tion, helps sports re­cov­ery, and helps you to get deeper sleep by in­creas­ing REM,’ he says. ‘It helps with de­pres­sion, and it burns be­tween 400 and 800 calo­ries a ses­sion.’

I’m not to­tally sure that last bit is even pos­si­ble, but the treat­ment does sound in­trigu­ing. It’s part of a slate of cut­ting-edge med­i­cal treat­ments called bio­hacks that prom­ise var­i­ous rad­i­cal im­prove­ments in health, hap­pi­ness, pro­duc­tiv­ity, and longevity and have been sweep­ing the in­ter­net health­scape lately. Cryotherapy, in par­tic­u­lar, has been em­ployed in Ja­pan to treat rheuma­toid arthri­tis since the 1970s. It’s like putting ice on a sprained an­kle, only much more ex­pen­sive – and less sci­en­tif­i­cally proven.

I plant my hands on the lip of the cham­ber, like a meerkat about to be stewed in a caul­dron. Mar­gulies turns a knob and a -168°C mist of ni­tro­gen gas blasts on to my lower torso. It is more sur­pris­ing than aw­ful. I up my march­ing speed. My skin gets rosy. Mar­gulies gives me pe­ri­odic up­dates. ‘One minute,’ he says. ‘ Two min­utes. Just thirty sec­onds left now.’

Mar­gulies has been train­ing peo­ple since 1994. He’s seen his clients have more trou­ble re­cov­er­ing from in­juries as they age. A num­ber of years ago, he tried out cryotherapy for the first time af­ter find­ing out he needed a hip re­place­ment. ‘It helped me go to work ev­ery day while I was wait­ing for surgery, and it helped me re­cover af­ter,’ he ex­plains. Mar­gulies was so con­vinced of the ben­e­fits that he put down R750 000 to pur­chase his own cham­ber, charg­ing R1 200 a pop for three-minute treat­ments.

Back in my robe, my skin is numb from the ribs down, but I can feel the blood seep­ing back, as if I’m sit­ting in front of a fire af­ter a long day spent play­ing around in the snow. I can’t tell if it’s the treat­ment or the re­lief of hav­ing sur­vived, but I feel in­cred­i­ble – glowy, clear-headed, and happy.

‘ You’re smil­ing,’ Mar­gulies says. ‘Ev­ery­one al­ways smiles when they come out.’

The feel­ing ends up last­ing the whole thirty-minute walk back to my of­fice. Of course, that could have been the pleas­ant spring day. Or the con­ta­gious ef­fect of the smile. It might have been the ex­er­cise of walk­ing. But also: It might have worked.

Tech­ni­cally, any treat­ment that has the po­ten­tial to im­prove the body should count as bio­hack­ing. Such as yoga, for ex­am­ple. Or cut­ting back on Oreos. But af­ter a few weeks of read­ing blogs and lis­ten­ing to pod­casts, I learned that le­git­i­mate bio­hacks typ­i­cally tend to fit within

a few themes: tem­per­a­ture-re­lated in­ter­ven­tions, drugs and sup­ple­ments, di­ets, and treat­ments meant to boost the ef­fects of med­i­ta­tion.

Float tanks, such as the one I’m now bob­bing around in at In­fin­ity Float in New York City, would be­long in that last cat­e­gory. The womb-like pod, warm and shal­low, and with no dis­cernible dis­tinc­tion be­tween the wa­ter and the air above it, is sup­posed to help me achieve the deeper state of mind­ful­ness I’d nor­mally have to med­i­tate for weeks or months to reach. Here’s a non-ex­haus­tive in­dex of the claimed ben­e­fits as­so­ci­ated with mind­ful­ness: im­proved at­ten­tion span, sleep qual­ity, and mem­ory; de­creased anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion; re­duc­tions in in­flam­ma­tory mark­ers such as C-re­ac­tive pro­tein and in­ter­leukin-6; in­creased neu­ro­plas­tic­ity; and less painful pain.

In the tank, I’m so buoy­ant I ac­tu­ally can’t push my body down all the way to the bot­tom. My mus­cles freak out try­ing to make sense of their lack of sen­sory in­put. My mind be­comes a di­ri­gi­ble. Am I sea­sick? Am I mov­ing? I am a glacier. A planet. There are lit­tle LED star lights against the ceil­ing of my pod. Weight­less death scenes from

Grav­ity pop into my mind. That movie was stress­ful. Stop it. Con­cen­trate. There is noth­ing to pay at­ten­tion to. Noth­ing at all to…

And then the mu­sic comes on to tell me it’s time to go. It’s been forty-five min­utes. I rinse off the salt wa­ter and de­scend, like a sub­ma­rine, out into the street. Did it work? Let’s just say that I’ve never felt this mel­low af­ter yoga. A man roughly bumps me on the train.

‘Hmm?’ I say, dream­ily.

Diet ac­counts for a very im­por­tant part of any bio­hacker’s arse­nal, and not in the 1980s way, in which the right one will make you look good in a weird high­waisted bikini. A bio­hacker’s diet has a su­pe­rior call­ing: It should im­prove brain func­tion, heal the gut, pre­vent cancer and au­toim­mune dis­eases, im­prove sleep, and, ide­ally, also make you look good in a weird high-waisted bikini. But it’s dif­fi­cult to know what to munch to make any of this hap­pen. Ev­ery five years, the nu­tri­tional magic bul­let shifts, from carbs to pro­tein to fat to av­o­ca­dos to kale, and ev­ery­one seems to con­tinue feel­ing un­healthy, no mat­ter what.

‘I think my story is not un­com­mon: way too much work, too much fly­ing, prob­a­bly too much booze, not enough sleep, not enough ex­er­cise – things we know we should be do­ing and just aren’t get­ting done,’ says Neil Grim­mer, who founded a per­son­alised nu­tri­tion start-up called Habit. For some­where from R4 200 to R6 000, Habit will test your DNA, fast­ing blood sugar, and re­ac­tion to a high- calo­rie ‘chal­lenge shake’, then tell you ex­actly what to eat to be­come a health­ier, bet­ter, and slim­mer ver­sion of your­self.

When I tried Habit, I lanced my fin­gers one at a time, squeez­ing my fore­arm to get enough blood to drip over three greed­ily ab­sorbent tests. I swabbed my cheeks for DNA. The 950-calo­rie shake made me want to si­mul­ta­ne­ously puke, die, and punch my­self in the face. There was a lot of groan­ing.

The test re­sults would take two to four weeks to ar­rive, which gave me just in­terim enough time to try an ex­cep­tion­ally pop­u­lar one-size-fit­sall eat­ing plan: the ke­to­genic diet. De­vel­oped in the 1920s to con­trol seizures in chil­dren, keto in­volves get­ting roughly 70 per cent of your

MY HANDS TINGLED WHEN I WENT FOR A RUN. MY MOUTH TASTED BURNT CORN NUTS.

calo­ries from fat, with 25 per cent from pro­tein and less than 5 per cent from car­bo­hy­drates. The prin­ci­ple is to mimic star­va­tion to en­gen­der pos­i­tive changes in brain chem­istry – af­ter a few days on keto, the body de­pletes its stores of its pre­ferred fuel, carbs, and shifts its at­ten­tion to burn­ing up fat re­serves.

‘ Your liver breaks fat down into ke­tone bod­ies, and ke­tone bod­ies can pass through the blood–brain bar­rier and be used as an al­ter­nate fuel source for the brain,’ ex­plains Dr Macken­zie Cer­venka, di­rec­tor of Johns Hop­kins Adult Epilepsy Diet Cen­ter, who has stud­ied how mod­i­fied keto can com­bat seizures and an ag­gres­sive form of brain cancer known as glioblas­toma mul­ti­forme. For some rea­son, burn­ing ke­tones for en­ergy ap­pears to pro­tect the brain in ways that your nor­mal me­tab­o­lism doesn’t. ‘It’s also been shown to be anti-in­flam­ma­tory, and it can de­crease free-rad­i­cal pro­duc­tion,’ Cer­venka says. These ben­e­fits may trans­late to other brain dis­eases, in­clud­ing Alzheimer’s, which is why peo­ple are so ex­cited about it.

Here’s where keto gets tough: As lit­tle few ex­tra carbs a day, even from veg­eta­bles, can knock you back out of ke­to­sis. I tracked my nu­tri­ent pro­file through an app, Keto Diet Tracker, and ate so many av­o­ca­dos and macadamia nuts, Hawaii’s agri­cul­ture board should send me on a free trip. I used pee-stri­pand fin­ger-prick tests to check ke­tone lev­els in my blood and my urine. For some­one who ex­pe­ri­ences a hun­dred seizures a day, like some of Cer­venka’s pa­tients, this may be worth it (though she says her lab has a 50 per cent six­month at­tri­tion rate, even among its epilepsy pa­tients). But for a nor­mally healthy per­son, it was aw­ful.

If I can ex­plain the ke­to­genic diet in one meal, let it be the time I tried to pre­pare a smoothie out of co­conut milk, nut but­ter, ca­cao pow­der, and half an av­o­cado. It came out as bit­ter as baker’s choco­late, but with a weird con­sis­tency, as if a choco­late shake had farted into a cup of hair mousse. Also, it was grey. I ate it out of a cof­fee mug with a spoon, forc­ing down each bite as if I were a tod­dler and this whole ex­cuse for an ar­ti­cle re­ally ought to be banned by the Geneva Con­ven­tions.

Once I man­aged to con­firm ke­to­sis, I still felt strange as heck. As promised, I was preter­nat­u­rally calm, but in a bad way. It was im­pos­si­ble to do any­thing at all. I tried to play a dice game and con­fused the num­ber 50 with 500. My hands tingled when I went for a run. My mouth tasted like burnt corn nuts.

Keto ad­her­ents re­fer to the diet’s un­pleas­ant in­duc­tion pe­riod as the ‘ keto flu.’ To get through it (for the pur­pose of jour­nal­ism), I im­bibed elec­trolyte sup­ple­ments and drank prepack­aged ke­tones that were so bit­ter I’m pretty sure I would have rather drunk in­dus­trial sol­vents.

Five days later, I came out the other side. A blood test con­firmed that I was still in ke­to­sis, but I could do math and think again. How­ever, I still did not feel good. Keto devo­tees say that by the time you’ve been do­ing the diet for a while, you can feel when your body is burn­ing fat for fuel in­stead of carbs. For many peo­ple, that shift is marked by feel­ings of steady en­ergy and well­be­ing, along with a sati­ety that helps with weight loss. In my case, it was marked by hic­cups, ter­ri­ble heart­burn, and a flut­tery feel­ing in my chest as though I was about to de­scend into car­diac ar­rhyth­mia.

Af­ter twelve days on the keto diet, I felt like a salt­wa­ter fish in a poorly cal­i­brated aquar­ium. I yelled. I stank. Some­how I’d gained a kilo and a half. Lit­er­ally in the mid­dle of an ar­gu­ment with my long- suf­fer­ing boyfriend – about … um … ap­pro­pri­ate sock stor­age

lo­ca­tions? What kind of ma­niac buys one-ply toi­let pa­per? – my phone pinged with an email con­tain­ing the re­sults from my Habit test.

‘ You are a Range Seeker,’ the page claimed, along­side a whole bunch of rec­om­mended recipes for fish tacos and risotto and smooth­ies and other stuff I nor­mally eat. ‘ We rec­om­mend a higher- carb, higher-fat, mod­er­atepro­tein diet.’ You don’t say.

Doc­tors have known for decades that when you half-starve ro­dents, they live longer. Caloric re­stric­tion can in­crease the me­dian life span of rats by 14 to 45 per cent, re­duc­ing in­flam­ma­tion, ox­ida­tive stress, choles­terol, the risk of tu­mours and car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease and triglyc­erides, and im­prov­ing the im­mune sys­tem. There’s just one tiny prob­lem: If you’re not a rat whose diet is con­trolled by sci­en­tists, such re­stric­tion re­quires iron willpower to main­tain. A 1940s study called the Min­nesota Star­va­tion Ex­per­i­ment, in which doc­tors re­duced calo­ries by roughly 50 per cent in vol­un­teers, re­sulted in in­ci­dences of de­pres­sion, hys­te­ria, and ir­ri­tabil­ity, in­clud­ing one man who went so far as to cut off three of his fin­gers.

En­ter in­ter­mit­tent fast­ing. Starv­ing lite™. One op­tion – time-re­stricted feed­ing – is ba­si­cally eat­ing all of your calo­ries in an eight-hour win­dow. For the 5:2 diet, you drop to 500 calo­ries on two non-con­sec­u­tive days a week and eat nor­mally the other five. Ei­ther will be enough for most peo­ple to lose weight, but it’s the other ad­van­tages that are most ex­cit­ing. Skip­ping food oc­ca­sion­ally can lead to some of the same ef­fects as keto. It can also ini­ti­ate cer­tain cel­lu­lar pro­cesses that en­hance longevity, in­clud­ing au­tophagy, also known as ‘cel­lu­lar cleans­ing’, in which the body re­cy­cles old cells by eat­ing them. Waste not, want not.

I tried the 5:2 diet, which made me so hun­gry I sali­vated over cook­books, buy­ing new eye­lin­ers to dis­tract my­self when­ever I felt my willpower flag­ging. (I now have many eye­lin­ers.) But apart from that, in­ter­mit­tent fast­ing was awe­some. Here was the re­lax­ation I’d been promised by the keto diet. The weight loss and the peace­ful mind. At the end of each fast day, I ex­pe­ri­enced a para­dox­i­cal bump in en­ergy (maybe my body wanted me to go find food?) that was so pleas­ant, I plan to se­ri­ously in­cor­po­rate 5:2 into my ac­tual life, even if it does freak me out that it’s ba­si­cally play-anorexia.

If you de­cide to try Viome, a start-up that charges R5 600 for a gut-bac­te­ri­at­est­ing kit and one year of per­son­alised ad­vice, you’re go­ing to want to bring a trash bag into the bath­room with you. I wish I had. I walked in there with the sleek gray-beige Gut In­tel­li­gence kit, yanked up the toi­let seat, and strapped the in­cluded stool col­lec­tion pa­per to my toi­let. And then it all went, as they say, to sh--.

Viome’s in­struc­tions say to ‘care­fully de­posit your stool’ onto the col­lec­tion pa­per, then trans­fer one in­fin­i­tes­i­mal scoop of fae­ces – a pin­head, a bead – to an in­cluded tube of so­lu­tion. And that’s where they leave you, in­struc­tion- wise.

The glue that stuck the pa­per to the toi­let was so sticky there was no way to make slow, re­spon­si­ble de­ci­sions about dump­ing the re­main­der of the sam­ple. I tried to flush the whole lit­tle bun­dle, but the col­lec­tion plat­form is as thick as con­struc­tion pa­per. It crum­pled up and lodged it­self in the drain. The wa­ter started ris­ing.

I had com­pany. An old friend was stay­ing on my sofa bed. My boyfriend lives in my apartment. Thank god the kit came with gloves. I reached down into the swirling, im­pen­e­tra­ble mess and yanked out the pa­per and ran, shout­ing in non­sen­si­cal sin­gle syl­la­bles, into the kitchen to throw the pa­per, the in­side-out gloves, and ev­ery­thing else I had touched into a plas­tic bag, which I then put into a larger plas­tic bag, which I put in the cor­ri­dor be­fore any­one could see it, or me. Hyper­ven­ti­lat­ing, I took a shower.

Maybe it was worth it? Last year, while work­ing on a story about cancer, I spoke to a re­searcher at MD An­der­son Cancer Cen­ter who told me that she thought healthy gut bac­te­ria might be the key to de­ter­min­ing who re­sponds well to cer­tain cancer treat­ments and who doesn’t. She fur­ther said it might even ex­plain who gets cancer – and who doesn’t.

‘Ev­ery­body’s mi­cro­biome is unique,’ ex­plains He­len Messier, Viome’s chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer. ‘But each one can be healthy for that in­di­vid­ual. It re­ally de­pends on whether your mi­crobes are per­form­ing the func­tions that they are sup­posed to per­form to keep you

healthy.’ What you want, ide­ally, is a mi­cro­biome like a rain­for­est – with a lot of di­ver­sity as well as a high count of each in­di­vid­ual species. Eat­ing a lot of fi­bre can help, as can, Viome hopes, us­ing meta­tran­scrip­tome se­quenc­ing to sort out the crea­tures liv­ing in your gut, and eat­ing in ac­cor­dance with the di­etary pref­er­ences of your most use­ful di­ges­tive-tract par­a­sites.

Viome’s re­sults were fas­ci­nat­ing. I re­ceived a whole list of bac­te­ria and viruses that lived in my gut, in­di­cat­ing which were good for me. There were also slid­ing scales of meta­bolic fit­ness and in­flam­ma­tory ac­tiv­ity, and graphs of where my gut health fit in among sam­ples of healthy peo­ple and the gen­eral pub­lic. It was like read­ing a full- scale sci­en­tific study about lit­tle old me.

The pri­mary chal­lenge here? Ease of im­ple­men­ta­tion. Whereas Habit would pro­vide spe­cific recipes, Viome mostly rec­om­mended that I eat foods I al­ready knew were healthy, such as cau­li­flower, pars­ley, gar­lic and beets. Messier also sug­gested I get five pre- and pro­bi­otic sup­ple­ments, but they would work out to al­most R2 800 a month. And that doesn’t in­clude fix­ing my toi­let.

Here’s the big thing about tak­ing drugs at work: You think no one does it, but they do. In Sil­i­con Val­ley, at least, that is. ‘Peo­ple are mi­cro­dos­ing all sorts of things in Sil­i­con Val­ley,’ says Molly Maloof, a bub­bly doc­tor who runs a medicine prac­tice in San Fran­cisco that spe­cialises in help­ing bio­hack­ers try their tac­tics safely. ‘Peo­ple mi­cro­dose mush­rooms, they mi­cro­dose LSD, they mi­cro­dose re­search chem­i­cals. It’s a weird world.’

Proponents claim that mi­nus­cule doses of psychedelics can en­hance cre­ativ­ity and pro­duc­tiv­ity while also re­duc­ing de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, and crav­ings for cig­a­rettes and al­co­hol. But no one’s re­ally stud­ied it. ‘ The most im­por­tant thing to em­pha­sise is we re­ally don’t know,’ says Matthew John­son, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity who stud­ies po­ten­tial ther­a­peu­tic ef­fects of larger doses of psilo­cy­bin (magic mush­rooms). Still, the ques­tions be­ing asked are smart, he says. ‘ There’s ev­ery rea­son to think tin­ker­ing with that re­cep­tor sys­tem could have an­tide­pres­sant ef­fects, and it’s never been sys­tem­at­i­cally ma­nip­u­lated in that way.’

I tried LSD once and thought I was a flower for thirty min­utes. (I think. LSD time is weird.) So this time, I tried cannabid­iol, or CBD, the also-ran of psy­choac­tive chem­i­cals in mar­i­juana, which is lately be­ing sold over the counter as an oil that can re­duce pain and in­flam­ma­tion, with­out the high.

Pre­lim­i­nary re­sults from a Mayo Clinic study showed that CBD doses di­min­ishes seizures in chil­dren with a dis­or­der called Dravet syn­drome by 39 per cent, com­pared to 16 per cent in pa­tients who re­ceived a placebo. Mean­while, an­i­mal stud­ies in­di­cate that the chem­i­cal may also pre­vent tu­mours, re­duce pain, lower anx­i­ety, and treat in­flam­ma­tion. In a 2015 study in the Euro­pean Jour­nal of Pain, just four days on CBD gel sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced joint swelling in arthritic rats.

I asked the FDA about CBD oil. ‘ The FDA has not ap­proved a mar­ket­ing ap­pli­ca­tion for a drug prod­uct con­tain­ing or de­rived from botan­i­cal cannabis and has not found any such prod­uct to be safe and ef­fec­tive for any in­di­ca­tion,’ the FDA spokesper­son said. ‘ We don’t have any ad­di­tional com­ment.’

Did I like CBD oil? Yes. Did it re­duce my in­flam­ma­tion? Maybe! Did it feel like mar­i­juana? No. But also kind of yes. One of the pri­mary prob­lems with un­reg­u­lated CBD oil is that dif­fer­ent con­cen­tra­tions vary wildly, and many for­mu­la­tions con­tain THC, even if they say they don’t. Af­ter a cou­ple of drops, I felt like I was wear­ing a par­tic­u­larly cosy jer­sey on the in­side of my body. It dis­torted my per­cep­tion of time in a sim­i­lar way to mar­i­juana. Also: It was way too pop­u­lar around the of­fice to be re­motely as non-in­tox­i­cat­ing as its proponents claim.

It was un­clear, from the web­site, where we were send­ing our Bit­coins. The trans­ac­tion record seemed to sug­gest China, but days later, an email came through re­port­ing that the par­cel was com­ing from Mum­bai. The drugs them­selves came in two sil­ver blis­ter packs in a square white en­ve­lope. The box la­belled ‘gift’ was in­di­cated on the cus­toms form. And what a gift! Twenty thick white pills of a wake­ful­ness-pro­mot­ing agent called modafinil, which the FDA ap­proved in 1998 to treat nar­colepsy. It wasn’t un­til the Air Force tested whether it could be used to en­hance per­for­mance in fa­tigued F-117 pi­lots in 2004 (short an­swer: sort of), that its off-la­bel use sky­rock­eted. A 2013

re­port seen in Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion In­ter­nal Medicine said the num­ber of peo­ple tak­ing the drug had in­creased ten­fold over the pre­vi­ous decade. One of those peo­ple? Molly Maloof, the bub­bly doc­tor from San Fran­cisco.

‘I was just like, Oh my god, fighter pi­lots are tak­ing medicine that can make them not have to sleep. If I didn’t have to sleep, I could do so many things,’ says Maloof, who her­self took modafinil a hand­ful of times around four years ago.

To hear Maloof ex­plain it, the drug ap­peals to the kind of su­per-high­achiev­ing peo­ple who make it to the top of in­dus­tries such as fi­nance and tech­nol­ogy. The kind who’d power through fif­teen-hour work days and then train for a triathlon. The kind who think sleep is for peo­ple who are lazy or dead.

I learned the hard way in col­lege that you can al­ways take more of a drug, but never less, so I took a quar­ter of a 200-mg pill. Thirty min­utes later, a co­caine-like rush zinged through my up­per body. This is great, I thought. Oh, this is great, great, great. Sound died down and I could mul­ti­task as eas­ily as tog­gling be­tween com­puter screens. I made calls I’d been putting off for months. I googled di­rec­tions be­tween Osaka and Ky­oto be­cause I re­alised I didn’t know where they were in re­la­tion to one another. It was like a clear for­est path had opened ahead of me, which led only to the joy­ous, peace­ful oc­ca­sion of learn­ing facts and an­swer­ing emails.

I very much en­joyed modafinil. But it also made me feel like a crys­tal space ro­bot that was con­fused by hu­man emo­tion. Maybe I’m bad at drugs, but ev­ery­thing I took for this story felt like tun­ing a pi­ano with a sledge­ham­mer. Did I want to be bet­ter at email? Great. Here were some drugs from In­dia that could make me stay awake through an en­tire day of work, a two-hour din­ner, and then a whole three-act opera. Did I want to go to sleep af­ter­ward? Good luck wak­ing up within four­teen hours of tak­ing these in­nocu­ous- seem­ing over- the- counter sleep sup­ple­ments. Modafinil was like some kind of hy­per­lit­eral ge­nie from a fa­ble – the kind that would set up a deer con­ser­va­tion cen­tre at your house be­cause you asked for a mil­lion bucks.

I told Maloof that the drug made me feel like Bradley Cooper in Lim­it­less – all float­ing equa­tions and bril­liant quips and vi­sions of pro­mo­tions, along with some mild dizzi­ness.

‘ What have you no­ticed with your mem­ory, though?’ Ex­cuse me? ‘It makes you feel su­per-hu­man, but I was start­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence mem­ory lapses,’ she said. ‘ That’s why I stopped us­ing it.’

When I agreed to be­come a bio­hack­ing test sub­ject, I’m not sure I re­alised how hard it would be on my body. I didn’t worry if I might still feel strange weeks later. I just said yes. The prom­ises sounded so good. Sleep four hours a night like Tim Fer­riss, au­thor of The 4-Hour Body. Lose 45 ki­los like Bul­let­proof Cof­fee’s Dave Asprey. Con­trol your core body tem­per­a­ture like Wim Hof, a Dutch ath­lete who climbed Kil­i­man­jaro in a pair of shorts. How could I know what would hap­pen? There aren’t pills to make you psy­chic. Yet.

All things con­sid­ered, I feel good, although ever since keto, a tiny bub­ble of heart­burn has blazed stub­bornly at my ster­num. I went to a reg­u­lar, bor­ing doc­tor, who gave me a reg­u­lar, bor­ing di­ag­no­sis: acid re­flux.

Here’s the thing about try­ing to hack the hu­man body the same way you would hack a com­puter: There are many peo­ple who know how to build a com­puter. No­body knows how to build a hu­man body. While it is in­trigu­ing that we may, as a cul­ture, be on the verge of some very ex­cit­ing med­i­cal de­vel­op­ments, many of our own in­ner work­ings re­main oc­cult and mys­te­ri­ous, even to the smartest peo­ple on Earth.

But, as time marches cease­lessly on, our ar­ter­ies hard­en­ing, ten­dons fray­ing, ca­reer op­tions nar­row­ing, the only cer­tain­ties are get­ting older and slower and, even­tu­ally, dead. Can you blame any­one for want­ing the tini­est mea­sure of con­trol? For re­search­ing the lat­est bi­o­log­i­cal sci­ence and trans­form­ing it into a plan?

There’s some­thing to be said for be­liev­ing a new, untested treat­ment will help you over­come your prob­lems. Over the decades, tak­ing a sugar pill, re­ceiv­ing a use­less in­jec­tion, or even just vis­it­ing a doc­tor has been shown to re­duce pain, lower blood pres­sure, and re­lieve de­pres­sion. Doc­tors like to call this the placebo ef­fect. We call it hope.

Cryotherapy tanks blast -168°C ni­tro­gen gas on your lower torso in an at­tempt to re­duce in­flam­ma­tion, re­lieve de­pres­sion, and burn calo­ries. Pho­tog­ra­phy DAVID BRAN­DON GEETING

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