We are a society increasingly obsessed with personal health and wellness.
We take pride in being a do-it-yourself (DIY) culture. Anyone with an Internet connection has virtually unlimited access to every conceivable type of medical advice imaginable – much of it highly questionable – at their fingertips.
Taken together, it’s a recipe for our current obsession with biohacking.
What is biohacking, you ask?
Biohacking is when people make changes to their lifestyles in order to hack their bodies’ biology in an attempt to be more healthy. Think fasting, herbal supplements, taking cold showers before bed to promote deeper sleep, or prolonged saunas to detoxify. That’s biohacking.
“Biohacking is really anything we do to our bodies in an attempt to live longer, healthier lives,” explains Christy Davidson, DNP, interim dean for the School of Nursing and Health Sciences at Capella University. “Sometimes it’s effective and safe and achieves the desired result. Other times it can be based on junk science with potentially tragic consequences. It all starts out with good intentions, but people can take it to the extreme. That’s the danger.”
With the popularity of biohacking, and the proliferation of wearable tech like Fitbits and Apple Watches that allow us to track the most granular details of our personal health, how should nurses and other health professionals respond? Should they look the other way, or try to squash this biohacking trend at every opportunity? According to Davidson, the most effective response is somewhere in the middle.
Have the Biohacking Conversation
The most important thing any health care professional can do is simply to have the conversation with patients about biohacking.Shine a light on it. Let patients know that biohacking can be helpful when researched fully and done with a great deal of caution, but that it also can be harmful if not done carefully.
“As nurses and health care professionals, we need to go deeper with our patients and talk about how they might be altering their lifestyles in ways that could be of concern,” Davidson says. “Our patients are not going to necessarily offer up that they are taking extra-long saunas in attempt to detoxify. If they have heart issues, that could be extremely dangerous. We need to broach the subject of biohacking and not limit ourselves to just the issue at hand.”
Alert Them to Questionable Online Advice
Once you’ve broached the biohacking conversation, it’s critical that a health care professional make it clear that not all health care or medical advice found online can be trusted. Far from it.
“The ability to discern what is credible and what is not credible among the vast amounts of information on the web can be really difficult,” Davidson says. “Nurses and other health care professionals must encourage patients to investigate deeply and question where the source of the advice is coming from. If they have any doubts or concerns whatsoever, they need to be encouraged to ask their health care provider for guidance. They need to know there is an open door to do that and that they won’t be judged.”
Don’t Just Shut It Down
With all the questionable medical advice floating around on the Internet comes the temptation for health care professionals to simply shut down any interest among patients to engage in biohacking. Taking a firm stand against biohacking should be avoided. That’s just not going to work, Davidson says.
“It’s futile to try and discourage a patient’s interest in improving his or her own health when that person clearly has a vested interest in it,” Davidson says. “Instead, encourage a dialogue about it. Let patients know that what they are doing is admirable and well-intended, but that it’s important to achieve a balance between going it alone and seeking the advice of professionals. The point is to keep them from going overboard and taking biohacking to unhealthy extremes. Set parameters, and then let them experiment safely.”
Keep a Finger on the Pulse of What’s Trending in Biohacking
It seems there is a new biohacking fad every day. Health care professionals need to stay on top of those trends. It’s the professional’s role to recognize biohacks that are harmless, and those that are concerning, and bring them up to patients before they take things into their own hands.
“Stay current with the latest therapies and treatments patients are exploring,” Davidson advises. “Get out ahead of what’s trending and proactively inform your patients about what they are likely to encounter online. Ideally, they will hear about it from you first, especially for the more questionable practices. Health care professionals need to address the topic of biohacking to help guide patients in taking control of their own health as safely and effectively as possible.”
An online degree in nursing from Capella University can prepare you to tackle what’s next in health care.