In what might be peak body hacking self-optimization fever, individuals have begun mixing nootropics, or "smart drugs," with genetic testing.
Nootropics are any range of vitamins, nutrients, and medications which people combine into cocktails known as "stacks" with the objective of enhancing their cognitive functioning, everyday well-being, along with long-term health. But today many consumers are taking it one step further by mining their own genetic data for hints about the best way to boost their stacks.
Here's how it works: a nootropic user receives their genome sequenced by 23andMe or a comparable genetics company. They then take these results and plug them into Nutrahacker, Promethease, or one of the other free software options on the internet that promise to analyse the genetic information and spit out nutritional recommendations based on your DNA.
"It's only with those other tools that the 23andMe data actually becomes useful, so it's fairly new," stated Mansal Denton, a nootropics blogger who started Nootropedia, an internet compendium of nootropics resources.
The software looks for particular genetic variations in your DNA, which may predispose your to specific ailments. It then makes recommendations based on those variations.
For instance, there are a few common gene variants which contribute to the probability of vitamin D deficiency. If you've got at least one of these variations, the programs might advise that you incorporate a vitamin D supplement into your own stack. Another example Denton mentioned is caffeine metabolism (caffeine is among the most common nootropic nutritional supplements).
"Someone who is a slow metabolizer of caffeine might already realize more caffeine makes them more anxious," Denton states.
"But seeing in the data that there's a specific SNP associated with that and that it can increase their cardiovascular risk, that can help them make a more informed tradeoff."
The idea of blending genetic testing with nootropics is not new, however Denton clarified it has become more mainstream lately. This is overrun by the recent uptick in genetics-related posts on Reddit's nootropics sub.
It's all part of the continuing trend of hyper-personalized body hacks and self-quantification. We're in an era when we're in a position to rapidly and cheaply collect reams of information about our own bodies at a level we would just have dreamed about a few years past. And the more people understand about our own bodies, the many people wish to root out the bugs from the system and make our meatbags as effective as possible.
The issue is that 23andMe really can only offer you hints into how your DNA may affect your present metabolism or wellbeing.
"Insofar as it's plausible to identify DNA signals for metabolic variants, it makes a certain amount of sense," Nathaniel Comfort, a history of medicine professor at The Johns Hopkins University who blogs about hype and misconceptions in genetic research, says in an email.
But Denton explained these sorts of approaches are not supposed to be a cure-all, just another source of advice to assist nootropics users create a more educated choice. If they have the vitamin D deficiency "gene," for instance, they may choose to get their vitamin D level tested. Denton said personalization and experimentation, together with whatever resources they can get their hands on, has always been central to the nootropics community, and if they could glean some indications out of a 23andMe dossier, there are individuals who will want to accomplish that.
"It's not perfect, but it just gives you some clues," he said.