LLAMA podcast #19: Human enhancement is the new mantra in Silicon Valley. The tech world, hitherto known for phones, computers, games and personal devices, has embraced biology as its as its new frontier for self-improvement. If proof were needed, a burgeoning nootropics company, Nootrobox, has just changed its name to HVMN (pronounced "human") to better describe its mission to quantify, manipulate, and optimize the human system.
"We fundamentally believe that humans will be the next platform of innovation," says Geoffrey Woo,
HVMN co-founder and CEO. A biohacker and entrepreneur, Woo sees the body as a machine, with inputs and outputs, that can be manipulated to improve its performance. The evolving science behind nootropics, which are legal compounds designed to improve cognitive function, is a growing field. Woo, a Stanford-trained computer scientist, with no formal training in medicine or physiology, adopts an evangelical approach to self-experimentation for self-improvement. When we met in San Francisco recently, he was wearing a continuous glucose monitor to get a minute by minute read-out of his blood sugar levels.
"I think everyone will be fasting in the next couple of years"
Woo, who works closely with doctors and like-minded "biohackers," has also embraced intermittent fasting, to optimize the performance of his body. Inspired by scientific data that suggests fasting can promote good health and longevity, he takes part in a weekly 36-hour fast, along with almost every other employee at his company.
"It really became like a cultural thing where it was a fun to do it together," he explains.
The practice has evolved into a rapidly growing community, known as WeFast. Strangers around the world are linking up online to share fasting experiences and take park in post-fast BREAKfasts, to celebrate their adherence to the art of not eating. Woo's ultimate goal is to optimize the "living experience" and delay death for as long as possible.
"It's sad to see people lose function. We've all had experience with grandparents and you see them deteriorate over time - I think it's a fact of life that we've gotten used to."
Woo refuses to accept the traditionally accepted "trajectory of becoming weaker and dying". I share his enthusiasm for pushing the boundaries of science and human potential, although there is much research still to be done to test whether fasting enhances the human body over the long term. Nootropics are also in their infancy and continuing studies are needed to analyze their efficacy and long term safety.
I am a willing self-experimenter too. The data looks promising. Woo is correct - going hungry can be fun and BREAKfasts are even better.