Aspiring to be the best you can possibly be has always been a part of the human condition since time immemorial. And yet, in an era where a gym membership is almost as indispensable as a mobile phone and more and more people swear by the benefits of so-called superfoods, we appear to be pushing this ethos further than any of our ancestors could ever have imagined.
No other industry has profited as much from this demand as the HealthTech sector of Silicon Valley – estimated to be worth $3 trillion. With new health trends and fads popping up seemingly overnight, start-ups are rushing to create the next big thing.
From this frenzied scramble, a number of bold and progressive ideas have emerged. Here are three of the most radical.
If you don’t recognise this word, you are not alone – it was only coined in 1974, and is made up of the Greek words for mind and bend. And no – nootropics are not the latest evolution of psychedelic drugs, but they are not far off.
Nootropics, or smart drugs, are supplements designed to improve memory, creativity and motivation amongst others. In the same way that a booster pump increases water pressure, a nootropic increases cognitive function. Adderall in the US, and Modafinil in the UK, are both examples of nootropics that have spread like wildfire through university campuses in recent years. Today though, it is clear that smart drugs are no longer just an essential for sleep-deprived students frantically trying to salvage their grades – the nootropics industry in 2017 is valued at an eye-watering $3.3 billion.
Unsurprisingly though, there is a dearth of research into the long-term effects of these substances, which does cast some doubt over the longevity of the nootropics industry.
To the average reader, it may seem that trying to work without the vital energy boost offered by a mid-morning snack would be impossible. But Silicon Valley start-ups are not just willing to forgo a simple snack, or even a meal; they are opting to fast for up to 60 hours at a time.
Silicon Valley techies starve themselves to maximize their productivity – not to lose weight. There is a reasonable amount of evidence that justifies this decision. When we fast, the body is forced to acquire energy from other sources. One of these sources is fat. The process of breaking down energy from compounds derived from fats is called ketosis and it has been associated with the extended lifetime of mice in lab experiments.
Similarly positive is the evolutionary perspective. When we are without food for a period of time, our brain reacts by activating adaptive stress responses, which help to sharpen cognitive function, which could give credence to the so-called fasting fad.
Continuous Glucose Monitors
Until very, very recently, continuous glucose monitors (or CGMs) were only used by diabetics. They allow the wearer to monitor their blood sugar levels throughout the day, and are able to alert the wearer when their blood glucose levels become dangerous.
The use of CGMs by healthy individuals is the latest biohacking trend on Silicon Valley however. The idea, in principle, is identical to that of any other kind of fitness tracker. In an identical manner to the way a pedometer encourages the wearer to take as many steps as possible, the CGM encourages the wearer to eat as healthily as possible. The alarming spike in blood glucose that greets the wearer after a feast of fast food should, in theory anyway, be an effective deterrent.
You can see why some particularly health conscious people would enjoy this kind of instant feedback on their diet, but having a needle live inside your arm for the best part of two weeks at a time seems like an extreme way to get it. Add that to the fact that acquiring a CGM from a doctor when you are healthy shouldn’t actually be possible and a whole other range of questions and doubts can be raised.
Silicon Valley houses 39 businesses in the Fortune 1000 and counts Apple, Facebook and Google amongst its residents so it seems like it should be a straight-forward decision to follow the lead of some of the brightest and most innovative people in the world. Or does it?