Biohacking: the key to optimal performance? © Getty Images

Biohacking: the key to optimal performance?

Are Silicon Valley CEOs who "hack" their lifestyle cracking the code of productivity, or are they simply risking their health? Dr Saleyha Ahsan, presenter of Trust Me, I'm a Doctor and Panorama, explains.

Who doesn’t want to increase their productivity, keep sharp and deliver their best work without any dips?

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Those clever Silicon Valley types are on the trail of cracking its code. The likes of Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO, try biohacking, living their lives through a strict structure of routines and intermittent fasting.

Biohacking is literally “hacking” your lifestyle in a bid to enhance mental and physical performance. Techniques include diets, altering working regimes, exercise, oral supplementations, ice baths and infrared saunas. In the extreme, biohackers get implants. Companies that advocate this claim they do so in the name of bionic human augmentation.

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Dorsey’s biohacking following is huge. He eats only one meal per day, fasts on weekends, walks eight kilometres to work and alternates between ice baths and infrared saunas in pursuit of better productivity and mental acuity. But does it work? There’s no real way of measuring it. Does one measure instead the success of the adherent? In that case it could appear that biohacking is working pretty well for Dorsey. But how is it affecting his health, now and in the long term?

Muslims, who fast between daylight hours for 30 days during Ramadan, observe with a degree of bemusement as to how something they’ve been doing since the time of the Prophet Muhammed in the 7th Century, has now become a Silicon Valley ‘thing’. Yet it’s not just Silicon Valley techies who are getting in on the fasting. Now, devotees of another kind of religion, the followers of lifestyle gurus, are also fasting.

Facebook biohacking group members support each other to go another day without food, sharing ketone levels. In medicine, we use this as a measure of the body’s starvation levels.

Many intermittent fasters describe feeling euphoric after two days of limited food intake, and claim their productivity improves. That sense of elation for having made it two days without food has also been described by anorexia sufferers. Similarly, Dorsey describes how ice baths give him a sense of euphoria afterwards, something open water swimmers have experienced for years.

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Broken down, nothing is new. Is this really the key to improved productivity or is it actually repetitive, obsessive, ritualist behaviour and an eating disorder that requires support? That’s hard to answer, since productivity is difficult to quantify, and eating disorders cannot be diagnosed remotely.

One measurable parameter, however, is the number of people flocking to imitate practices of successful high-profile biohackers. Global conferences with renowned biohackers like Dave Asprey, the creator of the Bulletproof coffee, claim they will ‘wake up your untold potential’ and help you to become ‘an upgraded human’. When most of us are juggling stressful lives, of course this is going to appeal.

If it works and delivers the elixir to an improved, more productive lifestyle, then of course it’s worth a look. But there is very little science and research associated with much that these internationally-renowned biohackers preach. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

Visit the BBC’s Reality Check website at bit.ly/reality_check_ or follow them on Twitter @BBCRealityCheck

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