Halo Sport Headphones

Brain doping or just dopey ?

Do Halo Sport headphones work?  After reviewing all the evidence with a fine tooth comb, the answer is: Well.. it's complicated.  What is H

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Do Halo Sport headphones work? 

After reviewing all the evidence with a fine tooth comb, the answer is:

Well.. it’s complicated. 

Halo Sport

What is Halo Sport?

Halo Sport is a set of headphones which sends electrical impulses to the brain, via the scalp. There are little prongs that stick out of the headband and touch the wearer’s scalp. These prongs produce electrical currents that are said to stimulate the primary motor cortex of the brain while you exercise, for the purpose of helping you learn to do stuff more efficiently.

Halo Neuroscience, the company who manufactures the Halo Sport claims that using their product will:

  • Allow you to learn motor skills faster
  • Help you get stronger, faster
  • Help you increase your endurance, faster

Those are some bold claims. In the science world, especially when dealing with learning and memory related topics, things are rarely as cut and dry as “throw these on, you will learn faster”. So is there any truth to the claims?

How does Halo Sport work?

Halo Neuroscience says that their product works through “neuropriming”.  

Neuropriming is the process of using electrical stimulation (such as transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS) to increase plasticity in the brain prior to an activity. This process decreases the amount of input required for neurons to fire, and helps neurons fire together, enabling more rapid strengthening of connections in the brain. When paired with quality training, this results in increased strength, explosiveness, endurance, and muscle memory.

Halo Neuroscience’s website

While I take exception to the gimmicky use of pseudo-scientific terms like “neuropriming” and “muscle memory” (NO, YOUR MUSCLES DON’T HAVE MEMORY…. I guess that’s another point for another day) there is validity to these ideas. Let’s break it down.

The short version of what’s happening is that the electrical signals are preparing the relevant parts of your brain to pay extra attention to what’s about to happen with your body. This results in faster learning and more efficient movements, which could lead to greater strength and other benefits.

For the longer, more technical version, see below:

Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a non-invasive, painless brain stimulation treatment that uses direct electrical currents to stimulate specific parts of the brain.

– Hopkins Medicine

The idea with tDCS is that each cell in the brain requires a certain threshold of voltage to fire. That means that the brain’s cells require a certain amount of stimulation before they’re able to give any type of signal (to, for example, tell your muscles to move or correct your body posture). The brain’s cells are called neurons.

Stimulation of neurons naturally comes from other neurons. For example, your eyes are stimulated by light, which results in neurons firing to send signals to your brain. These electrical signals in your brain will cause other neurons in your brain to fire, where appropriate.

If an impulse comes into a cell which is stronger than a certain threshold, another impulse will go out of that same cell. Nearby neurons will be signaled, and the impulse will eventually get to where it needs to go (i.e. the muscles).

tDCS artificially stimulates neurons in your brain. Therefore, instead of requiring a “normal” amount of electricity to produce a signal, the brain cells that receive tDCS require only a fraction of the stimulation to fire. So even a weak impulse could cause the neuron to fire.

This results in those neurons that receive tDCS to fire more frequently, which stimulates nearby neurons to also fire more frequently. The result is that the normal processes that usually happen in a given brain area will happen quicker.

The same thing happens if we apply tDCS to the area of the brain that is involved in planning and executing motor commands while training. Things like telling your muscles, how, when, where, and how much to move, will happen much quicker. Corrections to movements based on feedback will happen quicker than normal, which is the very definition of learning motor skills.

The primary motor cortex is the conductor of your orchestra of muscles. tDCS is like putting the conductor on musical steroids. The orchestra becomes amazing. The timing of each note becomes precise, and the resulting piece of music is better than anything any of the individual players could create on their own.

That is what happens to your movements when your primary motor cortex is being stimulated with tDCS. Or so the theory goes.

Does it Actually Work?

Probably.

Er.. well.. maybe.

No one actually knows for sure. Here’s what I mean:

The evidence suggests that gains can be made. Specifically what those gains are… that’s tricky to say. Independent, peer reviewed research says that gains can be made in cognition, strength, endurance, and athletic skill using tDCS.  But not necessarily in healthy young adults, and not necessarily in everyone who uses the treatment.

Stroke patients have been able to learn skills faster, cyclists have been able to pedal longer, some people have been able to squeeze their hands harder while receiving tDCS. These are all very cool findings, and honestly, quite promising. But not convincing for most scientists.

The reality is that tDCS is still too new to know what to really make of all these findings. It’s a new technology, and the results are unproven. 

That is to say nothing of the actual product, Halo Sport. There is a very real, sometimes insurmountable gap between the laboratory and the real world. The technology might work, but the product itself might not. There is no peer-reviewed data on the efficacy of the product. 

So, as a scientist or clinical practitioner this product would not be held in high regard.

But I’m not a scientist, and I dont expect you are either.

On the Halo Neuroscience website there are mounds of internally conducted research and personal reviews of the Halo Sport. 

The studies done to date have suggested that this product may actually help athletes make some gains. How long those gains last is unknown. How much you will actually gain is unknown. One study suggests that any gains made are stable for a year, but who knows what happens after that. And that study was not done with the Halo Sport, but with tDCS is a lab.

tDCS seems to work, but it’s too early to make conclusions. Maybe Halo Sport also works, but it just has yet to be proven.

Will it work for you?

We don’t know. It could.

Is Halo Sport Safe?

There is no evidence of adverse effects, to date. This simply means that in the studies that have been conducted, no significant adverse effects have been found. This is different than saying there is no risk.

No one knows what the long term effects of tDCS might be. The studies that have been conducted don’t look at a long enough time scale, with the longest ones looking only at a 1 year time frame. We simply don’t know what the long term consequences might be, or if there are any.

The FDA has not approved this product, or any tDCS treatment for any reason. Which means this technology is purely experimental at the moment. With experimental technology, there is always some inherent risk, however small that may be.

The Bottom Line

Yes it will probably work. The theory is sound, the evidence is promising.

I, as an athlete, am convinced that Halo Sport actually does work to some extent. The theory is sound, and evidence exists to suggest the theory is true, even if it is not yet abundant.

We don’t know if it’s safe in the long term, but it is likely harmless in the short term. It would be irresponsible to say it’s risk free. But in the digital age in which we currently live –  where cell phones emit some unknown degree of carcinogenic EMF radiation, and electrical pollution  is everywhere – this technology is not likely to pose any serious risks if used three or four times per week, for 20 minutes at a time, as instructed. 

I would buy this product. There are no guarantees in life. In my opinion, this product is highly promising, with great potential to help you. If you’re willing to put in the work, stimulating your motor cortex while you do it certainly seems like it will benefit you.

Staying ahead of the curve is inherently risky, because the others haven’t paved the way for you yet. The amount of risk presented here is simply too small to sway me from trying it out. 

Thats how I see it. I am ok with the amount of risk this poses. But you need to decide how much risk you want to take.  Make an informed decision.

 

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28253083

https://www.nature.com/news/brain-doping-may-improve-athletes-performance-1.19534

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3620504/

http://www.brainstimjrnl.com/article/S1935-861X(16)30140-1/abstract

https://halo-website-static-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/whitepapers/safety.pdf

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1935861X12000794

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