Beauty & Wellness

8 MINUTE READ

What is biohacking?

Words by Mark Hooper

13 July 2023

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Mark Hooper investigates the world of biohacking – the new buzzword in top-of-the-range healthcare.

You may have heard about biohacking. It is an umbrella term to cover a range of treatments and methods intended to enhance ones general health and wellbeing, often referred to as DIY biology.

In practice, this can range from changing your diet and lifestyle, using oral supplements, taking extra nutrients into the body through intravenous drip or injection, wearable technology, blood spinning, and more. Although many of these treatments are cutting-edge and push the boundaries of science by addressing health at a cellular level (and bypassing what is available through national health services), they can also involve traditional methods that have been known and used for thousands of years.

Dr Craig Koniver – one of the pioneers of biohacking

Dr Craig Koniver, MD of Koniver Wellness based out of Charleston, North Carolina, is acknowledged as one of the pioneers of biohacking – not that he likes the term. I’m not a huge fan because I dont see it as hacking. Were just figuring things out to help people really get to know themselves,’ he explains.

Dr Koniver prefers to describe what he offers as performance medicine. (Its helping people to feel better and perform at their best, and I think thats ultimately what people want.) However, there’s no denying that the idea that anyone can have a bespoke medicinal health plan created for them plus the promise of reversing the effects of ageing (the tantalising elixir of eternal youth?) make for great headlines.

Still, Dr Koniver is at pains to point out that, for all the talk of the future of medicine, he is dealing with very practical, realistic and attainable goals. This notion of longevity and anti-ageing… It’s great, but its also very abstract. I think what people are looking for is reassurance – that the things they do and the behaviours they engage in will lead to long-lasting results and being healthy over their lifespan or their healthspan,’ he says.

Overcoming resistance to bring biohacking to the UK

Because many of these treatments are not available through the health service, there is often some initial resistance to overcome for proponents such as Dr Koniver. He notes that the UK feels a little bit behind the US in terms of these products and services and how theyre embraced, but he hopes to address this and convince us that we all need to change our habits and how we think about our health. What’s more, his products and treatments are becoming more readily available privately in this country at places such as the 180 Health Club at Londons 180 The Strand.

Luxury lobby of 180 Health Club at London’s 180 The Strand. Luxury lobby of 180 Health Club at London’s 180 The Strand.

Much of the resistance to what is pejoratively described as ‘alternative medicine’ stems from the 1930s, when, according to Dr Koniver, ‘there was a big push for academic medicine from pharmaceutical companies, and all these trusted modalities, from nutrition to acupuncture, chiropractic treatment, fitness, homoeopathy… They were all pushed aside, and we were told they don’t matter – the thing that matters is the pill you’re taking,’ he says.

‘I’m not against that – there’s a time and a place, but I don’t think we should discount the rest. In the work that I do, I like to have a really big toolbag and see how it works.’ Essentially, it’s a more holistic approach, acknowledging that there is no one miracle cure for medical conditions (and the ageing process itself), but rather a combination of treatments that, in conjunction, can help to improve our wellbeing.

‘The big overarching theme is that it’s empowering,’ he says. ‘I want to empower people to understand there’s lots of choices. You can change your life and better yourself, and it doesn’t have to be from the outside; it doesn’t have to just be from the doctor. I’ve seen it when people embrace that, and the lightbulb goes off. They have more energy, they’re sleeping better, they’re focusing better. That’s empowering.’

Dr Koniver Dr Koniver

‘You can change your life and better yourself, and it doesn’t have to be from the outside; it doesn’t have to just be from the doctor.’

– Dr Koniver

Dr Katrin Hempel, a naturopathic doctor, herbalist, nutritionist, homoeopath and acupuncturist at London Natural Therapies, agrees with this approach. I’ve got a real passion for any kind of holistic health. Im also a trained medical scientist, so I’ve been doing this for many years, but natural medicine has always been my passion. Now Im more focused on the cutting-edge stuff, biohacking and anti-ageing, but also treating severe conditions. Hence, its good to have a combination of everything because everything is so varied and connected anyway. Nothing is textbook when it comes to health and healing.’

This means that, alongside groundbreaking modern treatments – including ozone therapy, stem-cell therapy and bespoke IV therapy using different IV cocktails – she is also keen to emphasise the efficacy of age-old techniques (even leeches – more on this later), as well as changing ones diet and improving our exercise routines and lifestyles to improve our health.

A consultation with Dr Hempel usually starts with a bioresonance scan. This fast and non-invasive process uses electromagnetic frequencies to detect pathologies, bacteria, viruses and parasites, as well as toxins and other harmful substances in the body. It works on the principle that every living cell emits a healthy frequency, which can be detected, so any changes on a cellular level can be spotted early, making it an excellent preventative tool. It can also detect food intolerances and allergie

In practice, this involves nothing more than placing ones hands on two metal plates containing electrodes, putting on a pair of headphones and letting the machine (a Russian-made Sensitiv Imago machine) do the rest. Dr Hempel says this can be as effective as 20–30 specialist doctor visits, as every organ and system in your body can be investigated for proper function, pathogen and toxin accumulation.

Dr Katrin Hempel
Resonance scan
Dr Hempel (L) | Bio resonance scan procedure (R)

An in-depth health assessment is really important initially, and then we usually offer a tailor-made treatment plan,’ she explains. ‘And that’s really important because these days so much is generalised and standard, and it doesn’t often really touch what is important for you as an individual to shift and change. It’s crucial to address the underlying causes because they can be totally different for the same condition between different individuals.’

A scientifically backed approach to healthcare

The medical services offered include Ozone treatment (for boosting the immune system, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory therapy, general detox and stem cell activation), a nervous system re-set for improving neuro-endocrine health and EBO2 – the most potent detox that London Natural Therapies offer, including a powerful systemic anti-inflammatory and anti-ageing rejuvenation treatment.

I suppose Im quite German in my approach: I always ensure everything is scientifically backed and theres nothing included in treatments just because it sounds good,’ Dr Hempel explains. Your gut health is fundamental and often where chronic problems start. So we look at diet and general supplement advice, and the IV treatments are tailor-made according to that persons needs. Pretty much everything I use is from Germany, its excellent in terms of quality, and the IV cocktails include some cutting-edge stuff.’

Doctor holding IV drip full of fruit Doctor holding IV drip full of fruit

This includes spermidine, a polyamine found in all plants and animals, responsible for various metabolic functions, including DNA stability, cellular growth and autophagy – allowing cells to adapt to stress. As we age, the spermidine content in our cells decreases, contributing to the ageing of our cells.

Dr Koniver echoes Dr Hempels tone of caution and scientifically backed evidence. Take Ozone IV treatment, for instance – which involves drawing peoples blood into a container, where ozone is mixed into it and effects many health benefits. It initiates in the blood, where it will be quickly reduced to oxygen and then is returned to the body intravenously as bright oxygen-rich blood.

Its kind of blood doping, but it works. It helps to clean the blood and provide oxygen,’ explains Dr Koniver. While the words blood dopingmight raise alarm bells, thats because it gives athletes an unfair advantage in professional sports. Thats a good point,’ he adds. Theyre banning it because it works!’

It’s important to relate that its not banned because it is dangerous – in fact, quite the opposite. Dr Koniver points out that in the US, the average age of death of a professional American Football player is shockingly low (a 2019 study published by JAMA – the Journal of the American Medical Association – suggested that this was just 59 years of age). They die very young because of the wear and tear to their bodies and the hits they take to the head. So it would be better for the toolbox to be open to them,’ he says.

Mark ventures into the world of biohacking

But of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating – or in this case, the intravenous intake. So, armed with Dr Hempels diagnosis, I paid a visit to the 180 Health Club for a course of treatment. My resonance scan had identified exhaustion to the nervous system and a low endocrine system, sluggish liver performance, atherosclerosis (narrowing of the blood arteries), and several food intolerances I was unaware of. She even correctly identified that I had an imbalance of the microbiome on the skin, resulting in an itchy scalp – all of which were determined without any physical examination.

While some of these could be addressed by improving my diet and taking supplements, several IV and injectable solutions could address my general feeling of exhaustion and the effects of ageing. These included an intravenous NAD drip. This is a Vitamin B3 derivative from a chemical called niacin – a nutrient thats used by the mitochondria to make chemical energy (or ATP) naturally at a cellular level.

Luxury lobby of 180 Health Club at London’s 180 The Strand. Luxury lobby of 180 Health Club at London’s 180 The Strand.

From a lot of research thats been done, we know that as we age and put more stress on our bodies, we dont make as much ATP,’ explains Dr Koniver. So getting your energy levels back up – getting your NAD back on board – very simply and pragmatically allows you to do more. Every nerve cell has hundreds or thousands of mitochondria.

‘Receiving NAD, particularly the way we do it through an IV drip (where you are getting close to 100% uptake of nutrients, as opposed to 20% from an oral supplement), you start feeling that your mood is better, you have better concentration, colours look brighter, people say they feel more creative. They feel they can do more; they recover faster… The worlds just an easier place to navigate. And mainly thats because you have more energy – literally in your nervous system.

I was also given a course of peptide injections to improve my general energy levels. Peptides are chains of naturally occurring amino acids that can be combined in novel combinations for different results. Dr Koniver notes that peptide use was first taken up by the competitive CrossFit crowd’ who were looking for something to help them train and recover without the harsh effects of anabolic steroids. While these fitness peptides can help you recover faster and train harder, there are also specific peptide treatments for your nervous and immune systems, mitochondria, or anti-inflammatories.

Theres synergy there; its so safe, and people can actually feel it. Thats what Im interested in, says Dr Koniver. We know that in the ageing process, the endocrine system seems to slow down – which most of us start to feel in the fourth decade of our life. Thats when people start saying to their doctor, “Im tired, not sleeping well; Im stressed.” Much of that goes back to your hormones, your endocrine system, which has plateaued and then fallen off. And so doing some of these treatments helps to rejuvenate it, so it does its job better.

Finally, I was given a quick Elixir All-In-One Booster – a combination of B vitamins, magnesium and amino acids – designed so that it can be pushed into your system over a short period. We found that doing that, testing with thousands of people, if we push it, then we get an exaggerated effect, meaning it hangs around for anywhere from three to seven days.

‘There is no doubt I have more energy. My mood has improved. I’m mentally clearer. I get out of bed earlier, feeling better.’

– Mark Hooper

Stack of books and a clock on a bedside table next to a bed Stack of books and a clock on a bedside table next to a bed

How do I feel? There is no doubt I have more energy. My mood has improved. Im mentally clearer. I get out of bed earlier, feeling better. I’ve stopped making those strange involuntary noises you tend to make while bending over as you grow older. My posture is better, which makes me breathe better. I cant prove that these are all a direct result of the treatments I had, but – as Dr Koniver says, there is a virtuous circle, by which having more energy and feeling less fatigued makes you exercise better, feel better, and in turn be prepared to do more to improve your health.

Most of this will not last forever,’ says Dr Koniver. This is something that people engage in, and once they start feeling better, you put that tool in your toolbelt, and that helps you to be your best, and theres a wide variety of these tools.

The future of biohacking

So far, so good. As for the next steps – Dr Koniver is developing a new range of nasal sprays for people who dont have the time for an IV drip or are averse to injections. Meanwhile, Dr Hempel is still singing the praises of leeches. Its so amazing what they can do. Combining these therapies is interesting because they all have unique benefits that nothing else can offer. Medicinal leeches have over 100 active bioactive compounds in their saliva, so they put all of that into you when they latch.

‘They have a wide range of benefits, including immune boosting, detox, and inflammation; they help with the formation of new tiny capillaries for improved peripheral circulation. They are great for cardiovascular problems because they have an enzyme that clears out the arteries. Its tough to restore and rejuvenate your vascular system, so thats quite remarkable. They can also help with fertility problems; its perfect for liver detox and cleansing you from toxins. They work uniquely. It’s a synergy…’

Maybe next time…

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