Biohacking: A Skeptic’s Journey into the World of Health Optimization

When you work in the media, sometimes you get the odd freebie – but unless you’re at the very top end of your profession, it’s never anything spectacular. A donut in the office here, the odd free bottle of Peroni at an event there… Actually, saying that, under my bed, there’s a dusty old poncho with a picture of Joe Pasquale’s face printed on it that I got given as part of a TV goody bag 13 years ago. Not bad, eh?

A couple of weeks ago I was asked by Metro if I’d like someone else to pay for me to eat a three-course fine dining menu. There were, however, ‘a few caveats involved’. As it transpired, the caveats were three-fold: the dinner was to be during the first game of the Euros, there were no plus ones allowed and the menu was to be ‘biohacked’. In short, a fully organic and health-optimised dinner, meaning: no gluten, seed oils, grains, soy, corn. There was also wine – biohacked vino, no less. The football and lack of company I could swallow. But the rest? I’d have to wait and see.

The dinner was a precursor to one of the biggest dates in the biohacking calendar, The 2024 London Health Optimisation Summit. A conference that was to see 35 of the industry’s leaders and experts take to mics across three stages and in front of more than 1,500 people, to share their thoughts on how to live forever (or as long as possible, at least). Everyone at the meal had either bought tickets to the summit or was due to speak at it, so the evening was to be an informal affair, just some low key biohacking chit-chat. Not that I had any clue what biohacking was at this stage. The last time I was biohacked was on MySpace back in 2003. I’d forgotten to log out at the local library and someone changed my profile music to Gay Bar by Electric Six.

A quick Google and I was soon familiar with the basics. Forbes magazine calls it ‘the art and science of shifting one’s physiology and nervous system to function optimally, intelligently and efficiently.’ Then there’s the headline-grabbing US tech millionaire Bryan Johnson. He’s the anti-ageing guru (in)famous for using his son’s blood in part of his mission to stay young and healthy. I can see the appeal – apart from the blood injecting thing, obviously – but I am also a lazy and unhealthy man. I’m 40 this year, slightly overweight and – somehow – married. I don’t feel any great desire or need to get healthy or in shape. I never have. Me and my wife chose not to have kids, so I don’t even have a nagging sense of needing to be a good role model or fit enough to keep up during a kickabout in the garden. However, with my looming 40th birthday, could it become a reason to get out of a lifestyle rut? Perhaps biohacking might capture my attention and help me turn a corner…

I arrive at the very swanky venue, knowing nothing and no one. After a few minutes staring out the window at a busy Pall Mall, I decide to try and undertake one of the tasks I’d been assigned for the evening. I attempt to ‘network’. I opt to play it safe and make a beeline for the only other slightly awkward man staring out of a window rather nervously. Tall, slim and alert looking, thankfully he’s receptive to my clumsy introduction. It reminded me of the first day of university, except I was holding a flute of biohacked Taittinger, not a Sports Direct mug of snakebite and black. I soon discover that the young man is from Prague and is in his early 20’s. At this point I should mention that me and my new friend struck up a temporary kinship that would last the evening. I should also mention that I am very much an amateur networker and, as such, did not ask/hear/remember his name. This is to my shame. For the benefit of this part of the article, we shall refer to him as ‘Czech Mate’.

Czech Mate had travelled over to London specifically for the conference. Like many others in the health optimisation scene, he takes his health, its optimisation and emerging health technologies seriously. And it shows. He was fit, alert-looking and clear of skin. Mind you, he was also half my age. I’m pretty sure I used to be fit, alert-looking and clear of skin in my early 20’s. After a while, Czech Mate and I were joined by a second temporary pal, a university lecturer. This time I caught his name – Daniel – and he was another tall, fit, alert-looking, clear of skin Central European. He’d travelled a little less for the weekend, driving down from his adoptive home in the Peak District to attend the conference. This chap, however, was closer to my age. Perhaps there really is something to this biohacking after all.

We’re soon joined by another man, a quiet and unassuming chap who, surprise, surprise, is also tall, slim, fit and glowing. Come to think of it, the room is rammed full of tall, slim, fit people. I find myself holding in my gut subconsciously. There’s more fat in an Activia yoghurt than there is in this entire sodding room, I think to myself. The latest recruit to our polite chat circle is quiet and listens to the three of us chat for a few minutes. I assume he’s just another biohacking fan, but soon learn he’s one of the speakers – Dr. Jim McCarter, a doctor, scientist and expert in the health benefits of glucose monitoring. Quickly, I realised I was somewhat out of my depth. I asked questions about the upsides to knowing your glucose levels (they alert you to when you should exercise and take any medication and when you need – not want – to eat). I nodded along, somewhat able to follow what was being said. But also acutely aware that the entirety of the background of my knowledge about glucose extended to what I knew about Lucozade. Fortunately, Jim spoke without too much prompting and explained the benefits of monitoring one’s blood sugar and glucose levels in order to maintain and maximise one’s health. And you can trust Jim, he’s a doctor. I was tempted, until I heard that the patch consists of a small needle that constantly stays punctured into your skin and squeamishly became immediately less tempted.

The four of us spoke about other emerging health tech such as grounding sleep mats (conductive mats that are connected to the earth’s charge). And the healthiest diet a human can have from a scientific point of view (turns out it’s ‘plenty of fibre and vitamin D, no sugar, no processed foods, with minimal carbs and intermittent fasting’). Personally, I’ve no issue with my food and science crossing over. For example, my previous evening’s dinner had come directly from the laboratory of a certain Dr. Oetker. The food we were served was all very nice. Save for a noticeable lack of carbohydrates, you’d be hard pressed to know if anything about it was ‘biohacked’ or ‘health optimised’. This was good news, I had somewhat expected a variation of asparagus nine ways. And the wine? I don’t know what I was expecting, but I imagined that making booze healthy was either going to make it taste funny or rob of its booziness. Turns out it does neither and was actually very nice. Sorry, I got stuck into the starter before I took a photo of it… I was hungry (Picture: Steve Charnock)

Starter Vegan – English asparagus, pea & broad bean gremolata Meat – London Smoke & Cure air-dried grass fed beef, grilled artichokes, smoked almonds, thyme dressing Main Vegan – Grilled cauliflower, rose harissa, quinoa salad, toasted hazelnuts, yoghurt dressing Meat – Slow cooked Yorkshire White pork belly, crispy skin, apple compote, roasted heritage carrots, charred spring leeks, chorizo, whole grain mustard Dessert Vegan – London honey roasted peach, raspberry sorbet, pistachios Non-vegan – English strawberry, organic cream, elderflower & mint tartare, ginger meringue

At one point in the evening, I’m introduced to the man behind the event, biohacker extraordinaire Tim Gray. He is, of course, tall and slim and healthy looking. His salt and pepper hair being the only real indication of his age. In a baseball cap, you’d be hard pressed to guess that the man is 44. This is, I assume, one of the benefits of optimising your health. Like everyone else in the room, he also glows with the kind of radiance that comes with a carefully calibrated and maintained lifestyle. One which includes exercise, a curated array of supplements, nutritious meals, breathing exercises, barefoot grounding and intermittent fasting. There’s so much glowing and radiating from Tim and everyone else in the room that I wouldn’t have been too surprised to find out that a pellet of enriched uranium formed part of the average biohacker’s daily supplement intake. I mean this lot looked good. In fact, it was starting to wind me up a bit. I want to look this good.

As I leave the dinner, I make an internal vow to start looking after myself. I got home just before midnight. Jacket off, shoes off. Time for bed. Then, out of habit, I do my usual unnecessary bedtime routine of circling the kitchen like a greedy basking shark. I grab four chocolate Hobnobs and half a pipe of Aldi knock-off Pringles and go to bed to eat them in the dark in front of two episodes of Always Sunny on my Chromebook. It looks like it’s going to take more than a bit of networking and a free carbless slap-up dinner to biohack the mind of this schlump.

Run clubs have become our new nightclubs – here’s why As admirable and inspiring as it all is – I just don’t really have the energy or motivation to transition from bioslacker to biohacker. But if you actually care about your fitness, nutrition and wellbeing, you can find out more about the Health Optimisation Summit here. It could change your life.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top