“No supplement can replicate the full spectrum of light humans need from the sun.”
Super Human (2019) is a guide to the latest research in longevity. By making basic changes in your diet and adopting cutting-edge anti-aging technology, you can bypass aging for decades to come while looking as good as you feel.
Introduction: What’s in it for me? Hack your biology to radically extend your lifespan.
Biological aging is caused by mitochondrial degeneration.
Avoid dying by adopting a low-carb diet with the right proteins and fats.
A cyclical ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting are cheap strategies for healthy brain function.
Learn which kind of light to avoid and when.
Use sleep aids to get the right amount of quality sleep.
To age backwards, regulate your hormones with hormone replacement therapy or high-intensity interval training.
Stem cells treatment offers Super Human healing and disease prevention.
Look younger by boosting your collagen levels and maintaining your natural hair.
About the author
Table of Contents
Video and Podcast
Read an Excerpt/PDF Preview
Health, Nutrition, Longevity, Self Help, Science, Personal Development, Sports, Fitness, Food and Drink, Diets
Introduction: Hack your biology to radically extend your lifespan.
From ancient alchemists to today’s biohackers, humans have been trying to find an elixir of longevity since the beginning of civilization. Most people assume that they’ll live to be eighty and inevitably die from cancer, Alzheimer’s, or another degenerative disease. However, with recent developments in anti-aging science, aging as we know it could be a thing of the past.
If you suffer from fatigue or premature aging, or simply wish you had the energy you had twenty years ago, you’ve come to the right place. The author has adopted a number of methods and technologies in his quest to live to be at least 180 years old, and in these summary you’ll learn how to employ them yourself. With these tricks under your belt, you’ll live longer, feel better, and look younger.
Along the way, you’ll also learn
- how avoiding the sun might be killing you;
- which cereal was invented to drain your libido; and
- how to restore your hair to its natural color.
Biological aging is caused by mitochondrial degeneration.
Whether you’re aiming to double your lifespan or retain your health for the next twenty years, the best place to start is to avoid dying. Most of us are familiar with the common degenerative diseases that lead to death, like cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and heart failure. But what many people don’t realize is that by understanding how aging works on a cellular level, we can find ways to avoid these diseases and stay biologically young even while we age, regardless of what genes we’ve inherited from our parents.
In some cases, a person’s biological age may be even greater than his actual age. The author found this out in his twenties, when he went to see an anti-aging specialist. He’d been suffering from asthma, obesity, high blood sugar, fatigue, and arthritis for years, and a few tests revealed that he had an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. What’s more, he lacked thyroid hormones and testosterone. Biologically, he was essentially middle-aged.
This discovery empowered the author to take control of his health. Since then, he’s lost weight, gained energy, and started the Bulletproof Diet phenomenon. After reading thousands of articles and meeting countless experts on longevity, he’s learned enough about aging that he’s confident he’ll live to be over 180 years old.
On a cellular level, aging is related to your mitochondria. Mitochondria are tiny organelles inside your cells that extract energy from the food you digest and create a chemical called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, which stores energy for cellular function. They’re essentially the power plant of the cell. As you get older, though, your mitochondria begin to falter. This leads to an increase in reactive oxygen species, also known as free radicals. These damage your cells and cause widespread chronic inflammation, laying the groundwork for degenerative diseases like cancer.
Luckily though, your mitochondria also produce antioxidants, compounds which curb the damaging effects of free radicals. In order to remain young, your body needs to produce as many antioxidants as it does free radicals. Unfortunately, replacing antioxidants isn’t as simple as taking supplements. If we want to keep our mitochondria functioning well for decades to come, we need to create habits that transform our bodies from the inside out.
Avoid dying by adopting a low-carb diet with the right proteins and fats.
Ironically, one of the main factors in mitochondria degeneration is the very thing that the mitochondria drive you towards doing to survive: eating.
Though some foods are beneficial for mitochondrial maintenance, foods that cause inflammation are commonplace in the average Western diet. If we want to avoid chronic inflammation and the degenerative diseases it leads to, we need to practice better dietary habits.
To keep your blood sugar levels within a healthy range, you should avoid both grains and sugar as a general rule. That’s because when you eat sugar, it causes spikes in blood sugar, or glucose, levels. This can lead to diabetes, peripheral artery disease, and heart complications. And even if you don’t suffer from celiac disease, gluten and other wheat causes aging through inflammation and gastrointestinal stress; it also disrupts your thyroid function.
Fats and proteins should make up the heart of your diet instead. But make sure that you eat the right fats and proteins. Charred, fried, or blackened meat, for example, will increase your risk of diseases such as heart failure. But not all meat is bad for you. In fact, humans need some animal fats for repairing tissue and preserving muscle mass.
At the same time, restricting meat intake boosts autophagy, your body’s way of cleaning out damaged cells and generating new healthier ones; it also forces your body to burn fat for warmth. To reap the age-curbing benefits of these processes without depriving your body of meat, stick to organic, grass-fed meat. If you’re lean, eat .5 grams a day for every pound you weigh. If you’re overweight, make it .35 grams.
We can’t get all the energy we need from protein, however. Fats are the most important source of energy that we can provide our bodies with if we want to live a long, healthy life. But many foods with a long shelf life contain artificial trans fats. These were developed synthetically, which means that the body isn’t able to digest them properly. As a result, eating them leads to inflammation and heightened cancer risk. Instead, try to eat monounsaturated fats, which are found in foods like olive oil and avocados; saturated fats like butter; and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, contained in foods such as salmon.
If you’ve made dietary mistakes in the past, don’t worry. It’s never too late to start giving your body the food it needs. Over time, you’ll even be able to reverse some of the damage. We’ll look at eating habits that will detoxify your system to keep your body functioning at its prime in the next chapter.
A cyclical ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting are cheap strategies for healthy brain function.
If you’re worried that staying younger will be out of your budget, the good news is that one of the most important strategies for longevity is also one of the cheapest. And, as it turns out, regulating what and when you eat optimizes your cognitive function, which has both short- and long-term benefits.
Your body obtains the energy your brain requires through the metabolic process of burning food to use as fuel. Typically, that fuel is glucose. But your body can also use chemical compounds called ketones, which it produces while in a state known as ketosis. Ketosis occurs when there isn’t much blood sugar available and the body is forced to break down its stores of fat for energy.
Ketones actually burn more efficiently than glucose, but if your body stays in ketosis you risk becoming insulin resistant. That’s why it’s important to maintain your metabolic flexibility through a cyclical ketogenic diet, which enables you to burn glucose as well as ketones.
The foundation of a cyclical ketogenic diet is eating a high-fat diet and limiting yourself to eating around 150 grams of low-sugar carbs just one or two days a week. However, if skipping carbs most days is not an option for you, there’s a more sustainable alternative that still enables you to have ketones present in your body. It entails limiting yourself to moderate low-sugar carbohydrates like white rice or sweet potatoes. You’ll also want to consume lots of energy fats, such as the author’s signature BulletProof Brain Octane Oil – an oil made up of fatty acids that introduce ketones into your body even in the presence of carbs.
Training your metabolism to become more flexible will also make it easier to adopt another longevity practice: intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting means restricting your eating to one six-to-eight hour period each day.
Fasting has been proven to boost your brain’s neuroplasticity – its ability to adapt and grow. It also encourages neurogenesis – the process through which new neurons are generated. Until recently, however, scientists weren’t sure why fasting was so beneficial. Then, a 2019 study at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology revealed that 58 hours of fasting increased levels of 44 different metabolites, substances formed by your body’s metabolic processes. These substances help boost antioxidant levels in your body, which, as we know, fosters mitochondrial health. As you work your way up to becoming a regular faster, try intermittent fasting every other day.
Learn which kind of light to avoid and when.
These days, most people know that too much sun exposure will give you cancer. But ironically, it turns out that avoiding sunlight altogether also has negative consequences. One study done in Sweden found that completely avoiding sun exposure lowered life expectancy between .6 and 2.1 years, making it a bigger risk factor for death than smoking.
Sunlight is essential for longevity because it gives us vitamin D, which regulates our blood sugar and circadian rhythm as well as preventing the buildup of amyloids, a protein aggregate that leads to Alzeihmer’s. Vitamin D is so important that the author recommends taking it as a supplement.
No supplement can replicate the full spectrum of light humans need from the sun, however. When the sun’s ultraviolet B radiation hits our skin, it chemically converts vitamin D into its sulfated form, which makes it easier for our bodies to use. For the best results, the author recommends ten to twenty minutes of UV light exposure daily. Plus, if you get out in the morning before the sun is at its most powerful, you can skip wearing sunscreen.
Ironically, while humans have become more likely to avoid sunlight due to the risk of cancer, we’ve been increasingly subjecting ourselves to other kinds of light that are more dangerous than many people realize. Artificial light sources like white LED bulbs and our smartphone and computer screens have increased our exposure to blue light to unhealthy levels. Blue light suppresses your ability to produce melatonin, a hormone that regulates your sleep cycle, leading to poor-quality sleep and an increased risk of developing cancer. It also creates excess free radicals in our eye cells, which damage our eyesight over time. Most pressingly, blue light exposure in the evening triggers a spike in glucose levels, causing high blood sugar and increased insulin resistance that can lead to weight gain and even type 2 diabetes.
These risks might sound severe, but it’s possible to reduce blue light exposure without divorcing yourself from the modern world. From 8:00 p.m. onward, dim the light in your home or office. Ideally, you should limit your screen time after dark, but you can also install apps such as f.lux or Iris that automatically adjust the color of your computer or smartphone screen. You can even take it a step further by wearing TrueDark glasses, yellow-tinted glasses which filter out blue light. In the author’s experience, you’ll need to field a few jokes from coworkers and friends. But you’ll outlive them in the long run.
Use sleep aids to get the right amount of quality sleep.
Before the author set out on his journey to heal his body, he got by on four hours of sleep a night. However, it didn’t take long for him to learn that sleep is an essential component to becoming Super Human.
It might feel like a waste of time, but sleep is the body’s natural detoxification process, draining fluids from tissue and flushing out cellular waste and neurotoxins. A good night’s rest regulates our hormones to help us feel satiated, improving cognitive abilities, promoting skin health, and encouraging healthy cell division.
So what’s the right amount of sleep? Though most doctors recommend anywhere from six to eight hours, one study conducted by the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine and the American Cancer Society found that adults over thirty that slept six and a half hours a night lived longer than people who slept eight. Ultimately though, even more important than the quantity of sleep you get is the quality of that sleep.
A perfect night’s rest maximizes your time in both REM sleep and deep sleep. REM stands for rapid eye movement, and it’s the kind of sleep in which you dream. During deep sleep, which is also called delta sleep, your breathing and heart rate drop and your brain waves slow down. Scientists believe that it’s deep sleep that turns short-term memories into long-term memories, reduces stress levels, and releases hormones for immune support.
Thanks to modern technology, you can track your sleep cycle easily. Sleep Cycle, for example, is an app that tracks your breathing and movement to determine when you’re in REM sleep or deep sleep and when you’re awake. The app’s alarm clock function will even wake you up when you’re in a light sleep phase so that you can start your day feeling rested rather than jolted from a deep slumber.
Another useful sleep aid is the Oura Ring, a sleek ring that transmits data related to your sleeping patterns, including things like daytime physical activity, heart rate, and respiratory rate, to an app. It allows you to see how adjustments in your diet and daily life are impacting your ability to get a rejuvenating night’s rest.
To age backwards, regulate your hormones with hormone replacement therapy or high-intensity interval training.
Did you know that cornflakes were invented as part of an anti-masturbation campaign? It’s hard to believe, but Kellogg and Graham created this high-carb American staple to solve what they thought was a problem causing societal decline in the early 20th century: the male libido. Though the cereal hasn’t solved America’s social problems, the preponderance of low-fat grains in today’s Western diet has likely contributed to a nationwide decline in testosterone.
If you think of testosterone as an indicator of performance in the bedroom, you’re on the right track. But as it turns out, both men and women need optimal levels of hormones such as testosterone and estrogen in order to remain fertile and thus biologically young. If you’re experiencing any unwelcome signs of aging, try visiting an anti-aging specialist or functional medicine doctor for a full hormonal workup.
If you do have a hormone imbalance, one treatment route you might consider is bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, or HRT. Unlike synthetic pharmaceutical hormones, bioidentical hormones are molecularly identical to your own body’s hormones. The author has been receiving bioidentical HRT since his late twenties, when he found out that his hormone levels were imbalanced. He’s also come across anti-aging researchers such as Dr. T.S. Wiley, who has developed a protocol for dosing postmenopausal women with hormones to help keep them young.
Anti-aging enthusiasts swear by bioidentical HRT, but the therapy isn’t without risk. Given that they can’t be patented, bioidentical hormones don’t receive as much research funding as synthetic hormones. Yet studies have shown that synthetic forms of HRT increase the risk of breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. If you choose to try any form of HRT, it’s best to do so in close consultation with a specialist.
Aside from HRT, men and women alike can increase their testosterone levels through either strength training or high-intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT involves intense bursts of exercise alternated with periods of rest. For those with little time to spare, it’s a quick way to work out one to three times per week. In order to reap the full benefits, remember to give yourself a few days to recover in between.
Stem cells treatment offers Super Human healing and disease prevention.
After researchers in the 1980s conducted stem cell research on samples taken from human embryos, stem cell research in general was branded unethical and the practice was halted for many years. Ethical quandaries aside, the timing was unfortunate; scientists found out soon after that adult bodies contain stem cells that possess previously unimaginable healing powers.
Scientists now know that stem cells’ regenerative potential comes from their ability to differentiate into various kinds of cells, allowing them to renew and repair cells in a given area of the body. For example, stem cells help tissue heal when you have an injury. As you get older, your stem cell reserves start to wane and the remaining cells begin to lose efficiency. So it should come as no surprise that the anti-aging community increasingly views stem cell therapy as having a central role in longevity.
In an operation that currently costs thousands of US dollars, stem cell treatments harvest stem cells from your subcutaneous fat or bone marrow, processing the cells before reinjecting them into specific areas to promote healing. During the author’s first stem cell treatment in 2015, his doctor injected stem cells into his shoulder and upper back, which he had injured as a teenager. He also injected stem cells into his face to tighten the collagen in his skin, and into his reproductive organs to increase blood flow and nerve endings. According to the author, the procedures were worth the hassle and the price tag. He even noticed exceptional improvement in the quality of his sleep.
Though the author’s stem cell therapy was for the most part a preventative effort, he also gifted stem cells to his mother after she fell and cut her face with her glasses in her late sixties. Astonishingly, the treatment made what had been a very large scar barely visible.
If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard more about such procedures, it probably has to do with regulations in the United States, which remain stricter than in most other countries. Once regulations are eased, these treatments will hopefully become safer and more affordable for everyone to enjoy. In the meantime, if you can afford it, it’s legal to “bank” your harvested stem cells in case you get into an accident or want to remain youthful down the line.
Look younger by boosting your collagen levels and maintaining your natural hair.
Preventing wrinkles, baldness, or grey hair won’t make you age backwards. But looking as good as you feel won’t hurt when you’re one hundred years old!
Since wrinkles are the result of the breakdown of collagen, a kind of protein in your connective tissue, you’re better off dealing with them on a cellular level than buying expensive eye creams. One option is to take at least 10 grams of grass-fed or pastured collagen protein supplement daily, boosting the amino acids your body needs to produce collagen. Collagen protein powder has been found to reduce wrinkles, boost hydration, and enhance your skin’s elasticity.
You can also combat wrinkles by incorporating foods high in antioxidants and polyphenols – a kind of compound found in plants – into your diet, things like vegetables, dark chocolate, and coffee. There’s even a specific kind of antioxidant that can target graying hair. Insufficient levels of an antioxidant called catalase cause a buildup of the chemical compound hydrogen peroxide, which in turn damages the cells that produce melanin – the pigment that gives your hair and skin their color. One way to target graying hair is by taking catalase in antioxidant supplements such as curcumin, ashwagandha, or vitamin E.
If it’s balding rather than graying that’s your concern, you might want to try a shampoo that blocks DHT, which is a sex hormone that’s a common cause of balding. DHT-blocking shampoos fight baldness without the side effects commonly found in pharmaceutical drugs such as Rogaine, minoxidil and finasteride.
Blocking DHT is the most popular route to preventing balding, but it isn’t the only option. Hair loss is often a result of stress, which can be managed through exercise or meditation. It could even be the result of a hormonal imbalance. If you think this might be the case, have an anti-aging doctor check your thyroid hormone levels and specifically test the levels of your T3 and RT3 thyroid hormones.
Looking at the beauty industry, it’s clear that people care more about looking young than feeling young. So you’ll be happy to hear that if you adopt even a few of the suggestions in these summaries, you’re already ahead of the game. A low-carb, high-fat diet, exercise, and quality sleep are all basic methods for improving your skin and hair to maintain a youthful appearance. When you put in the work to live longer and become Super Human, looking better is just a byproduct.
The key message in these summaries:
Understanding mitochondrial efficiency is the key to making choices that foster longevity. You can age backwards and even reverse cellular damage by practicing a cyclical ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting, and also by tracking your sleep quality and hormonal levels. You’ll not only feel younger – you’ll look younger, too!
Actionable advice: Gain ten years by aligning your jaw.
Most of us are used to dentists telling us what to do so that our teeth will look good. But what many dentists don’t realize is that a misaligned bite can trigger your trigeminal nerve to send a fight-or-flight signal to your body, causing a domino effect of inflammation and stress. To test your jaw alignment, relax your muscles with your mouth open and then slowly bite down. If your molars don’t hit evenly just before your front teeth touch, look into buying a bite guard from the drugstore or getting a custom one made by your dentist.
About the author
Dave Asprey is the creator of the hugely popular Bulletproof Coffee and founder of the Bulletproof company. A three-time New York Times bestselling author, he hosts the top-100 podcast Bulletproof Radio and has been featured in Men’s Health, Outside magazine, Wired, and Vogue, and on Fox News, Nightline, The Dr. Oz Show, The Joe Rogan Experience, CNN, and hundreds more. Called the “father of biohacking,” he’s spent the last two decades working alongside world-renowned doctors, researchers, scientists, and mystics to unlock new levels of happiness and mental and physical performance. Dave is also an active investor in the wellness space, and is the founder and CEO of Bulletproof Media, Upgrade Labs, TrueDark, and 40 Years of Zen. For more, visit DaveAsprey.com.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Your Ancestors Were Biohackers
Part I Don’t Die
1 The Four Killers
2 The Seven Pillars of Aging
3 Food is an Anti-Aging Drug
4 Sleep or Die
5 Using Light to Gain Superpowers
Part II Age Backward
6 Turn Your Brain Sack On
7 Metal Bashing
8 Polluting Your Body with Ozone
9 Fertility = Longevity
10 Your Teeth are a Window to the Nervous System
11 Humans are Walking Petri Dishes
Part III Heal Like a Deity
12 Virgin Cells and Vampire Blood
13 Don’t Look Like an Alien: Avoiding Baldness, Grays, and Wrinkles
14 Hack Your Longevity Like A Russian
From Bulletproof creator and bestselling author Dave Asprey comes a revolutionary approach to anti-aging that will help you up your game at any age.
** New York Times Bestseller **
Dave Asprey suffered countless symptoms of aging as a young man, which sparked a life-long burning desire to grow younger with each birthday. For more than twenty years, he has been on a quest to find innovative, science-backed methods to upgrade human biology and redefine the limits of the mind, body, and spirit. The results speak for themselves. Now in his forties, Dave is smarter, happier, and more fit and successful than ever before.
In Super Human, he shows how this is level of health and performance possible for all of us. While we assume we will peak in middle age and then decline, Asprey’s research reveals there is another way. It is possible to make changes on the sub-cellular level to dramatically extend life span. And the tools to live longer also give you more energy and brainpower right now.
The answers lie in Dave’s Seven Pillars of Aging that contribute to degeneration and disease while diminishing your performance in the moment. Using simple interventions―like diet, sleep, light, exercise, and little-known but powerful hacks from ozone therapy to proper jaw alignment, you can decelerate cellular aging and supercharge your body’s ability to heal and rejuvenate.?
A self-proclaimed human guinea pig, Asprey arms readers with practical advice to maximize their lives at every age with his signature mix of science-geek wonder, candor, and enthusiasm. Getting older no longer has to mean decline. Now it’s an opportunity to become Super Human.
Video and Podcast
“The field of anti-aging is filled with discoveries that teach us our body can heal from within and slow its own destruction. In Super Human, Dave Asprey masterfully reveals his formula for immortality and how to achieve super health.” – William W Li, MD, author of New York Times Bestseller, Eat to Beat Disease
“We are seeing that we can prevent and even reverse diseases of old aging, such as dementia, with diet, lifestyle, and targeted, precision therapeutics. Dave’s Super Human provides a role model for the successful aging of our minds and bodies.” – Dale Bredesen, MD, author of New York Times Bestseller The End of Alzheimer’s
“Dave Asprey is smarter, stronger, and healthier every time I see him. He may just be Super Human. We could all use some of what he’s having.” – Emily Fletcher, Founder of Ziva Meditation and bestselling author of Stress Less, Accomplish More
“Super Human is the tactical guide to longevity, anti-aging, and human optimization we’ve all been waiting for. No more guessing. This is your detailed plan for rebooting your health and living a longer, more vibrant life. A must read for anyone serious about how they feel and how long they live.” – Brendon Burchard, author of New York Times Bestseller The Motivation Manifesto and High Performance Habits
“Dave Asprey is well known for his desire to live to be at least one-hundred and eighty. He has networked with some of the leading anti-aging experts in the world and this book provides many practical strategies to optimize your health in order to live to be at least one-hundred—at which point bridging technologies like cellular reprogramming will likely be available to make his goal a reality.” – Dr. Joseph Mercola, founder, Mercola.com
“Looking and feeling older is now optional with Super Human …I’m growing YOUNGER because of my Bulletproof choices!” – JJ Virgin, author of New York Times Bestseller The Virgin Diet
“It’s my job to do unbelievable things on film, which means I have to look and feel amazing too. With the help of the antiaging tricks in Super Human, I’m now planning to do that for a lot longer than I thought was possible.” – Gerard Butler
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INTRODUCTION: YOUR ANCESTORS WERE BIOHACKERS
A hundred thousand years ago, two cavemen struggled to keep their families alive during a particularly harsh winter. As the wind howled, one wrapped himself in animal skins, checked that the fire was big enough to keep his family from freezing, and made the dangerous trek to a neighboring cave. He ducked his head to avoid banging his overhanging brow at the entrance, shivered as he noticed the dark cave was scarcely warmer than the air outside, and shouted excitedly, “Thog, I have discovered something amazing. You have to see this!” Thog reluctantly wrapped himself in animal skins and ventured into his neighbor’s impossibly warm and well-lit cave, where he saw the world’s very first man-made fire. “Isn’t this incredible?” the caveman said. “I am using this right now to keep my cave warm. See how happy my kids are? Do you want me to show you how I am doing it?”
Thog was skeptical. He knew fire was dangerous. When lightning struck a tree, the resulting wildfire could burn forests, not to mention humans who were dumb enough to get too close. He and all the other cave dwellers had survived winter (for the most part) without fire. They huddled together and shared their food, and everyone got along. Fire might be harder to share. What if only some cavemen had access to its warmth? “No thanks,” Thog grunted. “I’m good.” And he shivered his way back to his cold, dark cave.
One of those guys is our ancestor. And—spoiler alert—it’s not Thog.
Fire was one of the first tools humans discovered to help extend our life-spans, and we’ve been searching for new and increasingly complicated tools ever since. We have a hardwired instinct to avoid death that predates written language and even our ability to stand upright. Our awareness of our own mortality has led us to innovate throughout millennia to avoid dying, which of course means living longer. It is the fundamental drive of the human race, it is what has allowed us to evolve as a species, and we are nowhere near done.
Fast-forward from our caveman ancestor to the beginnings of recorded history, and we find proof that humans have been seeking immortality since we started writing things down. About 2,400 years ago, the pharaohs of Egypt in Alexandria devoted an enormous amount of their wealth and power to a quest for “eternal life.” In China, Taoist philosophers placed a tremendous amount of value on longevity. To achieve it, they focused on internal alchemy (visualizations, nutrition, meditation, self-control, and even sexual exercises) and external alchemy (breathing techniques, physical exercises, yoga, medical skills, and producing an “elixir of immortality” using various purified metals and complex compounds). In India, the theme of prolonged life emerged in Ayurvedic texts as rasayana, the science of lengthening life-span.
You could say to yourself, “Great, a couple thousand years ago, some crazy people wanted to live a long time. They’re dead now.” Except … these life-extending self-proclaimed alchemists are part of a lineage of biohackers that includes some of the most influential forefathers of modern science and medicine, such as Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, Paracelsus, Tycho Brahe, and Robert Boyle. (Unfortunately, most female alchemists are not well known because they were accused of practicing witchcraft and killed.) The quest to live longer drove the scientific revolution, and it’s reasonable to say that the technology you rely on today would not exist without our core drive to live longer.
Along the way, charlatans and con artists took advantage of the burgeoning market of life-span extension by selling people on the idea of turning lead into gold. Soon alchemy itself was redefined as “false magic.” Today it conjures images of wizards in pointy hats. But the reality is that early alchemists were seeking something most of us would gladly trade our gold for: immortality. Humans have literally been working on transmuting our species from mortal to immortal for thousands of years. I’m one of them, and this book is about what it’s been like to work on extending my own life for the past twenty years.
The game has changed now that we have access to more knowledge and data than ever before. Not dying is still the number one motivator for all humans, and it isn’t because we choose it. This desire is baked into us at the subcellular level to the point that avoiding death is automatic. As I was researching my last science book, Head Strong, it became clear that our innate drive to avoid death comes from deeper within us than you might expect.
Your mitochondria, the power plants in your cells that evolved from ancient bacteria, have the same basic goal of any successful life-form—to stay alive. The human body has at least a quadrillion mitochondria scurrying around inside it, each one of them running a program that says, “Don’t die.” Is it any wonder, then, that you don’t want to die? Those ancient bacteria drive you to focus on behaviors that will keep your meat alive and able to reproduce. I call these behaviors the three Fs: fear (fight off or flee from things that might kill you), feed (eat everything in sight so you have energy to fight off or flee from things that might kill you), and the other f-word that propagates the species. You spend a lot of time on these three priorities, don’t you?
All life-forms—from bacteria to fruit flies to tigers—share the same basic instincts, but we’re the only ones with big enough brains to also make long-term decisions to support our goal of not dying. Ironically, we are often distracted from making good long-term decisions for our longevity by the very instincts that are meant to keep us alive. For example, our desire not to die from starvation leads us to consume too much sugar for a quick boost of energy. This keeps us alive in the short term and increases our chance of dying in the long term. To have a perfectly functioning body and mind long past the age when you can no longer reproduce (at which point you essentially become useless to your mitochondria), you must build practices that prevent you from falling prey to those base instincts that make you a short-term thinker.
So if we’ve been seeking immortality for centuries and this drive comes from deep within our biology, why do people laugh when they hear I’m planning to live to at least a hundred and eighty? Some people stop laughing when they see I’m dead serious (no pun intended), but many act like Thog, shivering their way back to their dank caves.
We’ve already seen that it’s possible to live to a hundred and twenty. The longest verified living person made it to a hundred and twenty-two, and there are scattered but unverified reports of a hundred and forty. Over the last twenty years, the rules in the anti-aging field have clearly changed. If you make good daily decisions that benefit longevity and pair those choices with new technologies that can prevent and reverse disease and aging, it is becoming possible to add at least 50 percent to the age of the longest-lived human. Hence, living to a hundred and eighty is a realistic and achievable goal, at least if you’re willing to do the work along the way to get there. The good news is that even if I’m wrong, I’ll get to enjoy however many years I do have a whole lot more thanks to these practices. If in the end they only help me avoid Alzheimer’s or buy me an extra year with the people I care about, it’s still a win in my book.
These daily decisions and interventions are investments in my future, but they also power my performance right now. Each has its own return on investment (ROI). Some, like eating the right foods and getting quality sleep, may provide a longevity return of 3 percent, along with a better brain right now. Others, like fixing my jaw alignment or strategically using lasers on my brain, might yield closer to a 6 percent return on longevity. Some of the most radical, such as consuming oil containing an unusually shaped carbon molecule that helped rats in a lab live 90 percent longer than expected, may have incredibly high returns … if they work at all and don’t cause unintended harm if they fail. Today it is difficult to calculate exactly what longevity return you might receive on a specific intervention, but we do know the ROI comes in the form of more energy now and years of better health later. These are not just any years, but quality years filled with energy and mobility and brainpower, plus the wisdom that comes with living well for so long.
This type of energetic, productive old age is difficult to imagine, which is why many people shudder at the thought of living to a hundred and eighty. When I interviewed Maria Shriver on my podcast, Bulletproof Radio, her response to my mission was “I don’t want to live to a hundred and eighty. You can have that!” Most of us so badly want to avoid the picture we have of old age—suffering from chronic pain, becoming house- or wheelchair-bound, helplessly relying on care from others, forgetting our loved ones’ names—that we would rather die. Me too. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and I’ve been blessed to interview and befriend a great number of Super Humans who are not only thriving, but also happily giving back to society in their seventies, eighties, and even nineties.
See, not dying will only get you so far. That’s step one. But living longer doesn’t necessarily mean living better. Step two is gaining the energy you need to stop aging in its tracks and start aging backward. Step three is the icing on the cake that takes you from mere mortal to Super Human: someone with the wisdom of age but who heals and regenerates like a teenager. This, too, has been a human goal throughout history. Look no further than the Fountain of Youth, which first appeared in writings by Herodotus, an ancient Greek historian, in the fifth century BC. Herodotus claimed there was a fountain with magical, longevity-promoting water in the land of the Macrobians, a legendary race of people who all lived to be … a hundred and twenty. There’s that number again.
Interestingly, in his writings, Herodotus focused on the Macrobians’ diet, which allegedly consisted exclusively of boiled flesh and milk. While I wouldn’t consider those foods Bulletproof, it is fascinating that even back then people had an intuitive awareness that longevity stemmed not just from good genes or good luck, but rather from the environment inside of and around us. And they were willing to make changes to those environments if it meant living longer.
If you’ve read my other work, you’ve probably already noticed that the ancient Greeks were biohackers, as were the cavemen before them. When I created the groundswell movement around biohacking, I defined it as changing the environment inside of and around you to gain control of your own biology. (In 2018, Merriam-Webster added biohacking to the list of new words in the English language!)
Today there’s scientific proof that we can make changes on the subcellular level (aka changes that affect the makeup of our cells, including our mitochondria) that will dramatically extend life-span. When I interviewed stem cell biologist Bruce Lipton, he told me that he was able to keep a line of cells alive in his lab for much longer than usual simply by changing the water in their growth medium every day. In other words, he made sure those cells had a clean environment, and as a result they gained longevity. But they did eventually die because one of Bruce’s lab assistants fell prey to short-term thinking and forgot to change the water in the growth medium. Maybe he was hungry …
If you want to live to a hundred and eighty, or even to an energetic eighty, it’s essential to look at your life and ask, “What’s going to make me forget to change the (proverbial) water?” The answer is, the messages from your mitochondria telling you to fight, to flee, to feed, and … you know. Your mitochondria pay attention to the environment around them, and you can hack that environment so those little guys don’t keep you stuck making poor short-term decisions. Unlike Thog or the Macrobians, we now have technology that allows us to change every element of your environment—from your hormones to your nutrition, to the light you’re exposed to, to your temperature, to the very vibration of your cells.
Are these “cheats”? No. They are tools we can use to control our biology. And what’s the first thing any one of us would do once we gained control of our biology? Not die. The second thing? Age backward. And finally? Heal like a deity so you can keep getting better with age instead of suffering an inevitable decline.
This is exactly what this book will teach you to do. First, we’ll look at the biological factors that cause most of the diseases of aging and how you can stop them. Once you’ve learned how not to die, you’ll learn how to age backward with strategies ranging from simple to cutting edge that will add more years to your life and more life to your years. Finally, we’ll explore some truly radical anti-aging techniques to help you achieve Super Human status. We tell ourselves that the one thing we can’t have more of is time, but that’s simply not true. I’ve seen firsthand how much more life these hacks can give you, both now and in the future.
In case you’re wondering, no, we’re not going to carefully change one variable at a time while we die waiting to see results. I am an engineer and a biohacker focused on outcome, and I want to feel good now. A research scientist or a medical doctor would approach the problem differently. Scientists get old picking apart every detail to gain a complete understanding of something, a venerable use of time that improves the world. Medical doctors most often focus on treating disease (according to medicine, aging itself isn’t a disease) rather than preventing it. However, you are in charge of your own body, and you have the freedom to pick a goal and change multiple factors in your life that might affect the outcome until you get what you’re looking for.
Besides, testing out one variable at a time is nearly impossible. If you were to take one supplement for a month to see how it works but you decided to take a different route to work one day, you accidentally changed a variable … did that impact the outcome? What about the breakfast you ate or the socks you wore? There are countless variables in our environments that are changing all the time, and I have no interest in keeping track of them all. I want more energy now and for the next hundred and thirty-four years, and I’m willing to change however many variables I need to in order to increase my chances of getting that result.
This is personal for me. Until a decade ago, I never thought I’d make it past eighty, never mind aim for a hundred and eighty. Starting at a young age I was overweight and chronically ill, with arthritis in my knees when I was just fourteen. By the time I was in my twenties I was prediabetic and suffered from brain fog, fatigue, and dozens of other issues we normally associate with aging. My doctors told me I was at a high risk of heart attack or stroke before I was thirty. In short, there was no reason to believe I was going to live a long and/or healthy life.
Thanks to some wise elders I began working with in the nonprofit anti-aging field, I learned it was possible to prevent additional damage to my cells and even reverse some of the damage that had already occurred. In my late twenties, I decided to invest 20 percent of my net income each year into hacking my biology with nutrition, supplements, lab tests, treatments, technologies, and whatever it took to learn more. There were some years when this was more difficult than others, but there is no higher return on investment than more energy now, likely with additional years of functional life later.
With the help of amazing anti-aging doctors and a community of folks who’ve been studying longevity since I was in diapers, I was able to take my biology into my own hands. I reversed my diseases and symptoms and began literally aging backward. If I can turn things around after such a poor start, you probably can, too. And the good news is, as these interventions gain popularity and demand for them goes up, the price of them is going down. One of my main goals with this book is to bring these little-known methods out of the shadows of anti-aging circles and into the mainstream so they will become even more accessible.
Not only can you make changes that allow you to live longer than you think possible, but you must. We all have a moral obligation to live well for as long as we can to develop our own wisdom and share it with future generations. By choosing to live longer, you are not taking anything away from anyone. Instead, you are giving yourself an opportunity to share more with the people and the world around you. I see it as our duty to ensure that we are able to share our life experiences, and—just as important—to make them worth sharing.
This, too, is not a new concept. We used to value the wisdom of tribal elders who taught young people how to avoid the mistakes of past generations. If you made it to old age, you were considered a great source of knowledge. But now the people who’ve lived long enough to develop that wisdom are usually too sick or tired to share it, or else they don’t even remember it! This is a crime against humanity. But we can change it.
When you have as much energy at eighty or ninety as you did at twenty-five, you have a tremendous potential to positively impact the world by sharing your wealth of information gleaned from relationships, experiences, successes, and mistakes. If you take that kind of energy and intelligence and put it to work, you can literally improve the world for future generations. Now you’re the tribal elder who’s leading the hunt because you’re full of energy and you’ve been around a long time, so you know where all the animals are hiding.
Contrary to common fears, our living longer won’t lead to overpopulation and environmental ruin. If we use our advanced wisdom and energy to create a world in which everyone had access to a quality education and reproductive health care, we’d actually start to see negative population growth.
Americans may struggle to envision a world where we live past a hundred years old, but the governments of countries like China and Russia are investing in anti-aging technologies because they realize that it gives them a tremendous competitive advantage in the world economy. It costs a lot of money to keep reeducating new generations of workers, not to mention caring for a sick and aging population. What if instead of being sick, old people were productive and happy citizens who could contribute to society in their final years?
That is the future I plan on sticking around to see. If you knew it was possible, how would you change your daily decisions and priorities now? In this future, it’s not your unborn grandchildren or great-grandchildren who are going to have to deal with the effects of the environmental problems we’ve created; it’s you. Instead of making a mess in your own sandbox, you’d invest in improving that sandbox so you can enjoy it for the unexpectedly large number of years to come.
This is why I am donating a portion of the advance from this book to organizations like the XPRIZE Foundation, which is funding massive initiatives to improve the world’s oceans, soil, food supply, and education system, not to mention exploration of space. Thanks to more computer power, more research, and more money going toward fixing the world’s biggest problems, change is happening at exponential rates. Whether you know it yet or not, you’re part of a race to fix the planet so it supports a population that can live beyond a hundred and eighty. It’s up to you to either participate in that race or get out of the way. Go back to your cave if you like, but don’t stand in the middle of the road slowing everyone else down.
My goal is to share the techniques with you that have given me the greatest return on my investment of energy, time, and money. It’s easy to spend eight hours a day on an anti-aging protocol, but then you’re not actually gaining time because you’re spending so much of it on these efforts. Instead, I want you to learn how to stop dying, reverse aging, and heal with Super Human speed in the least possible amount of time and with minimal effort.
As you read this book, I hope you’ll create your own prioritized list of things to do to live longer and better based on where you are now and where you want to go. Most likely, you won’t try everything in this book. And that’s fine—it’s not a contest. Perfection isn’t required. Even I haven’t tried out all of these strategies yet (but I’m getting close!).
Yes, some of these technologies are more expensive than others, although many of the most powerful are the least expensive. And while certain interventions are a rich person’s game today, that is changing; you can now access a lot of anti-aging technologies for a fraction of what they cost ten years ago, just like the smartphone you have now is far more capable and less expensive than the models that debuted a decade ago. When you start with the most accessible and simplest lifestyle hacks and selectively choose a few affordable technologies to extend your life (or even just your health), you’ll buy yourself time so you can afford to wait for the rest to come to you. What could possibly be a better investment than that?
The slope of innovation is steeper than ever, and change is unstoppable. Are you in or are you out? I’m all in. Join me.
PART I DON’T DIE
Widen your relationship to time, slow it down. Don’t see time as an enemy but an ally. It provides you with perspective. Aging doesn’t frighten you. Time is your teacher. – Robert Greene, The Laws of Human Nature
1 THE FOUR KILLERS
THE CURIOUS CASE OF DAVE ASPREY
Until the age of five, I was a normal kid with few health problems. Then my family moved from California to New Mexico, and something in my biology changed. I started acquiring health problems normally reserved for people far older than I was. Today I recognize that my bedroom, which was in the basement of our new house and covered in water-damaged wood paneling (it was the 1970s), was full of toxic black mold. My own home was silently aging me, but nobody, least of all me, was aware of this at the time.
For the next two decades, I suffered from joint pain, muscle pain, asthma, brain fog, extreme emotions, and even weird, frequent nosebleeds. Out of nowhere, my nose would start gushing, and I had unending strep throat that came back every time I finished yet another round of antibiotics. After I got my tonsils out, I started getting chronic sinus infections instead. My body didn’t properly maintain blood pressure, so I often got dizzy, and I was easily fatigued.
At the age of fourteen, I was diagnosed with full-blown arthritis in both of my knees. I remember going home after receiving the diagnosis from my doctor, thinking, How can I have arthritis? That’s for old people. I had always been chubby, but now I was becoming obese. I developed tons of stretch marks, which also disturbed me. Weren’t those for pregnant women? I was just a kid!
And can we talk about man boobs? I grew mine when I was sixteen, which would make anyone self-conscious, especially a teenager. The only other guy I knew with a matching set was my grandfather. My hormones were dysfunctional, just like those of my aging relatives. Between the stretch marks and the man boobs, you’d never catch me with a shirt off. The very thought terrified me, and I’d never in a thousand years imagine that thirty years later, there would be a full-page shirtless photo of me in Men’s Health magazine talking about how I used the techniques in this book to get rid of that flab and replace it with abs.
When I got to college, I kept putting on weight until I had grown a size 46 waist. And my knees got even worse. I played intramural soccer, and my kneecap would become dislocated, so my leg would suddenly fold sideways in a sickening way. I got used to falling over unexpectedly when it happened. Besides the pain, this made dating really awkward. Who wants to date an obese twenty-year-old who might fall down at any moment, with stretch marks, man boobs, arthritis, and the lack of confidence that comes with having such things? Oh, and someone who was so fatigued that he often forgot names, was socially awkward, and could barely focus, even when he really tried? Not too many people, unsurprisingly.
More important than my lackluster social life was the fact that my body was aging before its time. I was well on my way to prematurely developing all four of the diseases most likely to kill you as you age—heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer—or, as I call them, the Four Killers. These diseases are all deadly, and each of them is on the rise.
Right now, about one in four deaths in the United States is connected to heart disease—that’s roughly 610,000 people who die from heart disease each year. Meanwhile, more than 9 percent of the population of the United States has diabetes, and that number rises to 25 percent for people over the age of sixty-five. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, and this number is going up, too. The death rate due to Alzheimer’s disease increased a full 55 percent between 1999 and 2014. And last but not least, 1.73 million people in the United States are diagnosed with cancer each year, and more than 600,000 of them die from it.
Suffice it to say that if you don’t die in a car crash or from an opioid addiction, chances are that one of these Four Killers is going to drain your life and your energy (and your retirement fund) before you die in a hospital. It was certainly looking like that would be the case for me—and sooner than most people, given how sick I was.
In the 1990s when I was in my twenties, my doctor used blood tests to determine that I was at a high risk then for developing a heart attack or stroke. My fasting blood sugar was a whopping 117, which put me solidly in the range of prediabetic. I didn’t have Alzheimer’s, but I was experiencing significant cognitive dysfunction and often left my car keys in the refrigerator. And I may not have been at an obvious risk of cancer, but guess what nearly doubles your risk of certain cancers (including those of the liver and pancreas)? Diabetes1—which is also a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.2 Guess what else dramatically raises your cancer risk? Toxic mold exposure, which I had also experienced.
Even obesity itself is the second largest preventable cause of cancer. Your risk goes up the more overweight you are and the longer you stay that way.3 Bad news—75 percent of American men are obese, and so are 60 percent of women and 30 percent of kids.4 No wonder the Four Killers are on the rise. Are you going to let them take you out?
I still didn’t know what was causing me to age so quickly when I began a quest to discover how to fix my body. In the mid-1990s, we didn’t have Google yet, but we had AltaVista, and I worked at night teaching the engineers who were literally building the Internet. This meant I had the good fortune of having access to information that most people didn’t. I started doing a ton of research and buying whatever I could find that might help me slow down or even reverse my symptoms. I simply couldn’t imagine even more stretch marks or more joint pain as I got older.
An important part of this journey was connecting with one of the first medical doctors who specialized in the study of anti-aging, Dr. Philip Miller. Seeing him required what was a tremendous financial investment for me at the time, but I was desperate. My first visit with Dr. Miller was like nothing I’d ever experienced. He ran new kinds of lab tests that regular doctors at the time didn’t know existed, including the first real hormone workup I’d ever had. Then he sat me down and gave me the bad news: I had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (an autoimmune condition that causes the body to attack the thyroid) and almost no thyroid hormones, and my testosterone levels were lower than my mom’s. (He had done a workup for my mom not long before, so he wasn’t exaggerating when he told me this.)
The news could have been devastating, but I was actually excited to have the hard data. I felt in control for the first time because I finally had real information and knew exactly what I needed to change. This was proof that it wasn’t just a deficiency in my effort or some sort of moral failing. It’s common to see your hormone levels drop off around middle age, but not in your twenties. Now I had proof that I was aging prematurely and not just lazy, and I was determined to turn things around.
Dr. Miller and I came up with a plan for me to restore my hormone levels to that of a young man using bioidentical hormones and continue to track my data. The hormones made an enormous difference right away. I got my energy back along with my zest for life. It gave me so much hope to know that I could actually reverse some of my health issues, which I now knew were common symptoms of aging. So when I heard about an anti-aging nonprofit group in Silicon Valley, now called the Silicon Valley Health Institute (SVHI), I decided to check it out.
As I sat there at the first SVHI meeting listening to people who were at least triple my age, I felt completely at home. These were my people, I realized. I had more in common with them than I did with most of my peers, except these people had decades of wisdom I didn’t. After the meeting, I stayed for a long time talking with a board member who at eighty-five years old was kicking ass and full of energy in a way that was amazing and seemed totally impossible to me—but that I was inspired to replicate.
For the next four years I focused completely on learning as much as I could about the human body. I studied medical literature, read thousands of studies, talked to researchers, and spent all my free time at SVHI learning from seniors who were actively reversing their own symptoms of aging. This completely changed the way I thought about health, as well as aging. I learned that there is no one thing that causes disease or that leads us to age. Instead, aging is death by a thousand cuts, the cumulative damage caused by little insults stemming mostly from our environment.
Then in the year 2000 I found a former Johns Hopkins surgeon who ordered a litany of tests, including some allergy tests that showed I was highly allergic to the eight most common types of toxic mold. That was the smoking gun. In order for my immune system to be sensitized to those toxic molds, I must have been exposed to high levels of them, which wreaked havoc on my cells. This was one of the unexplained environmental factors that had made me age so rapidly.
My premature aging makes complete sense to me now. Mitochondria, which are bacteria embedded in most of our cells, power our energy production. Back when we were single-celled creatures, we became host cells for ingested bacteria. Over millions of years of evolution, the host cell became humans, the ingested bacteria became mitochondria, and today neither of us can survive without the other. Mitochondria are not of human origin; they even have their own DNA. And what has posed a lethal threat to bacteria since the beginning of time? Mold.
This means the very powerhouses of my cells were constantly engaged in a battle with their mortal enemy, and this fight left behind many casualties. When cells are under chronic stress, their mitochondria cannot make energy efficiently. This leads to an increase in the production of molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROSs), also known as free radicals. ROSs are unstable molecules that contain atoms with unpaired electrons, making them highly reactive. When an excess of free radicals are present in cells, they cause a chemical reaction that damages your cellular structures in a process called oxidation.
This is exactly what happens as you age, whether or not toxic mold is present in your life: Mitochondria function steadily declines, leading to an increase in free radicals, which damage your cells. In response, your body sends vitamin C from food to the liver so it can produce antioxidants, which fight off free radicals. The problem with this process is that it leaves you without enough vitamin C to produce collagen, the protein in the connective tissue of your skin, teeth, bones, organs, and cartilage. Vitamin C interacts with amino acids to build collagen, but only if you have enough of it. Your body will gladly sacrifice healthy blood vessels and skin in favor of fighting off free radicals that are draining its energy source.
This is precisely why I had stretch marks and vascular issues (manifested as nosebleeds) and why most people don’t develop these symptoms until they’re much older. The fight in my body between my onboard bacteria and mold left me constantly depleted of antioxidants. And my mold-damaged mitochondria also laid the groundwork for prediabetes, poor blood flow to the brain, arthritis, cognitive dysfunction, and, according to one doctor, a high risk of stroke and heart attack. I was still in my twenties, but I was biologically old because my mitochondria were slowing down. And it really pissed me off.
MITOCHONDRIA AND THE FOUR KILLERS
As I fought my way back from experiencing the many symptoms of aging, my likelihood of dying from the Four Killers dropped dramatically. That’s because—surprise, surprise—they all have one underlying issue in common: the cumulative damage to your cells, and in particular, to your mitochondria, that takes place over the course of a lifetime. This damage occurs in all of us, though at varying rates. Some damage stems from the bad choices we make, but much of it is simply the price we pay for the basic functions that support life—like metabolizing food and breathing.
You die a little bit every day from these cuts that make you weaker in the short term and hasten your decline in the long term. Staying alive requires avoiding as many of those cuts as possible, but they are all around you—in your food, your air, your light sources, and throughout your environment. You may not associate these cuts with your likelihood of aging prematurely or of developing a degenerative disease, but like every other aspect of your biology, they are all connected. The cuts lead to aging, aging leads to disease, and disease leads to death.
If you’re in your twenties or thirties, you may think you’re in the clear—that these cumulative cuts aren’t affecting you yet. But the cuts from bad choices or a toxic environment begin to add up from an early age—and they’re hurting you even if you’re not currently feeling their effects (such as weight gain, brain fog, muffin top, and fatigue). And it’s a lot easier to avoid damage to your mitochondria than it is to reverse it later.
Your mitochondria are responsible for extracting energy from the food you eat, and then combining it with oxygen to produce a chemical called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which stores the energy your cells need to function. When your mitochondria conduct this process efficiently, they produce lots of energy so you can perform at your greatest potential—like a young person. But if your mitochondria become damaged or dysfunctional as you age, they begin producing an excess of free radicals in the process, which leak into the surrounding cells and lay the groundwork for the Four Killers. Congratulations, you are now old.
Even young, efficient mitochondria produce some free radicals as by-products of creating ATP, but they also make antioxidants, compounds that inhibit the damaging effects of free radicals. This is why products containing antioxidants have “anti-aging” properties. While popping antioxidant supplements and using skin-care products containing antioxidant-rich ingredients are worthwhile interventions, they are, frankly, the low-hanging fruit of our Super Human tree. For you to truly remain young, those antioxidants have to be produced by your body—your mitochondria must create at least as many of them as it does free radicals. When your mitochondria become inefficient, they make an excess of free radicals and fewer antioxidants. And you can’t slather enough serums onto your skin to fully counteract the damage created by this imbalance.
Your mitochondria are also in charge of triggering cellular apoptosis, programmed cell death that occurs when a cell is old and/or dysfunctional. If your mitochondria are sluggish, they may not trigger apoptosis at the right times, which can result in healthy cells dying off before they should or dysfunctional cells sticking around past their prime and aging you before your time.
When you’re still young and exploding with mitochondrial energy, you can take some of these hits. You can eat garbage, drink too much cheap beer, forgo sleep, and still function pretty well because you’re producing lots of antioxidants and energy. As you get older, you start to see that you can’t stay out all night drinking and still really bring it at work the next day. By the time you wake up to this new reality, you’ve already taken a lot of hits that will age you in the long run. But you’re likely to keep running at the edge of what you can perceive, so the damage stacks up without you even knowing it.
Well, what if you made better choices throughout your life so you took fewer hits over the course of decades? Then when you got to the age of seventy you might look and feel more like fifty because you simply suffered less damage. You’re never going to be able to avoid all the cuts—again, simply breathing creates some amount of wear and tear over time. It’s a matter of preventing as much damage as possible, which happens to dovetail nicely with the first rule of biohacking: Remove the things that make you weak. This is in and of itself a powerful anti-aging strategy.
When your mitochondria start to slow down and create an excess of free radicals, the result is widespread chronic inflammation throughout your body. Inflammation is such a hot topic in the field of longevity that you probably already know how closely it’s linked to aging. When I was sick and old as a young man, I knew I was inflamed, but I had no clue this stemmed from mitochondrial dysfunction, nor did I know that inflammation was more than a painful annoyance. I had no idea that inflammation creates the ideal circumstances for each of the Four Killers to thrive.
A condition known as atherosclerosis, hardening of the arteries, is the first obvious clinical sign that heart disease has started. But what causes this? A thin layer of cells called the endothelium lines your arteries. When the endothelium is damaged, fats can cross into the arterial wall and form plaques. This is bad enough, but when your immune system picks up on the fact that this is happening, it creates chemical messengers called inflammatory cytokines to attract white blood cells to those plaques. This is an inflammatory immune response. When those plaques rupture because they are so inflamed, blood clots form, and these clots are the real cause of most heart attacks and strokes.
While some doctors are hesitant to definitively state that inflammation causes heart disease, it’s hard to refute the evidence that inflammation is a big step in the disease’s process, and most functional medicine practitioners now identify inflammation as a bigger health risk than cholesterol levels. In a landmark study conducted by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital that followed ten thousand participants for twenty-five years, the data revealed that participants who reduced their inflammation levels also significantly lowered their risk of cardiovascular disease and the need for heart surgery without any other medical interventions.5
A new study out of the University of Colorado at Boulder shows that your gut bacteria actually play a role in the inflammation behind atherosclerosis.6 As animals (and likely humans) age, changes to gut bacteria harm the vascular system and make arteries stiffer. That stiffening came from inflammation. The gut bacteria of older mice actually produced three times the normal amount of an inflammatory compound called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). When researchers used antibiotics to knock out the old mice’s gut bacteria, their vascular systems magically returned to those of young mice. The researchers concluded, “The fountain of youth may actually lie in the gut.” After following the lifestyle recommendations in this book, I am happy to report that my last test showed that I had zero species of gut bacteria that produce this harmful compound!
Even more mind-blowing, a 2017 study out of the University of Connecticut in Storrs revealed that the fat molecules that form plaques in your arteries come not from the fat in the food you eat, but directly from bad gut bacteria.7 This turns everything that conventional doctors tell us about dietary cholesterol on its head and means you have permission to laugh when people repeat the myth that a “plant-based” diet is better because it doesn’t contain saturated fats like butter that will somehow “stick to” your arteries. It also shows the importance of healthy gut bacteria and mitochondria for a long and energetic life. (More on this in chapter 11.)
We know that the mitochondria in our cells, which themselves evolved from bacteria, communicate with the bacteria in our gut. Bacteria communicate with one another via chemicals (like hormones), light, or physical movement. They even gather around and trade bits of their genetic code in a microscopic swap meet for bacteria superpowers. This is called a plasmid level exchange. Imagine a group of Marvel superheroes hanging out at headquarters. Wolverine says to Spider-Man, “Do you want my ability to grow claws? I’ll trade you for your super speed.” This happens constantly in our guts and in the world around us, which is why drug-resistant bacteria spread so rapidly. It’s also why we must end industrial livestock practices that require antibiotics. The bad bacteria that evolve in that environment find their way into your gut and make it hard for you to live well for a long time.
So there is clearly an inflammatory and gut bacterial connection to heart disease. Plus, we know that when you have the right kind of bacteria in your gut they can actually transform the foods you eat into short-chain fatty acids, which are highly anti-inflammatory. Nurturing healthy gut bacteria is one of the most important things you can do to become Super Human, and you’ll learn how later.
Look, I remember what it felt like when my doctor, complete with white lab coat, looked right at me and said in a matter-of-fact voice, “You are at a high risk for heart attack and stroke.” I recall the bewilderment and fear in my gut as I stared my own mortality in the face. That happened when I was still in my twenties, and thanks to the information in this book, it is not an issue for me anymore. But even when I was just a kid, I had symptoms of cardiovascular issues, specifically blood pressure instability, a condition normally reserved for much older people. When I stood up quickly, my blood pressure was too low to keep oxygen in my brain. This caused me to start seeing stars and feel extremely fatigued. As a youngster, I would lean my head forward after getting out of a car in order to avoid seeing stars. I was so used to this that I thought it was how everybody lived.
Now I know these were symptoms of postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, which is often triggered by toxic mold exposure but can also happen with age. In either case, inflammation disrupts the line of communication between the nervous system and the endocrine (hormonal) system. The disruption of these signals leads to fatigue and blood pressure instability, and can lead to symptoms of attention deficit disorder (ADD)8 and Asperger’s syndrome,9 which I certainly exhibited as well.
This manifested in my not knowing the names of most of the kids in my class, even at the end of the school year. I had zero facial recognition and no understanding of basic social skills. My body was filtering out those signals to conserve energy because my biology was so trashed. Our bodies will always prioritize survival over socialization, and I didn’t have enough energy to go around.
It may be hard to comprehend how cognitive symptoms could be connected to vascular issues, but as you will learn in this book, everything in the body is connected. And that includes the diseases that age us and too often lead to premature death.
While the idea of inflammation “causing” heart disease remains controversial, we have definitive proof that type 2 diabetes is an inflammatory disease,10 and having diabetes dramatically increases your risk of cardiovascular issues. More than ten years ago, researchers discovered that when macrophages—immature white blood cells that play a key role in the immune response—find their way into otherwise healthy tissues, they release inflammatory substances called cytokines that cause nearby cells to become insulin resistant.11
In insulin resistance, the body has an impaired response to insulin, which is normally responsible for moving sugar out of the blood and into your cells. The result is that your blood sugar levels are not well regulated and become chronically high. Because chronic high blood sugar will eventually lead to diabetes—a disease in which the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to keep up with the body’s demands—a diagnosis of insulin resistance is most often accompanied by the label prediabetic. Prediabetes is so common now that it almost seems like no big deal. The CDC says that more than one out of every three Americans is prediabetic. But it is actually a huge deal because having diabetes dramatically increases your risk of developing the other killers.
Excess blood sugar causes damage to the entire vasculature, so if you have diabetes, you’re more likely to have heart disease or a stroke. High blood sugar also causes dangerous nerve damage by injuring the walls of the capillaries that bring blood and nutrients to your nerves. This is called peripheral artery disease, and it is especially common in the legs and feet, which is why you may have heard of people suffering from diabetes needing foot or leg amputations. When this happens in the eyes, it causes blindness. If that’s not bad enough, diabetes can damage your kidneys’ filtering system, resulting in kidney disease. And finally, the higher your blood sugar, the greater your risk for Alzheimer’s disease, to the point that some researchers call Alzheimer’s “type 3 diabetes.” So you’ve got to keep your blood sugar levels stable, no matter what.
You may think you’re off the hook if you are not overweight, but you can be thin and still be prediabetic (or even fully diabetic). Those problematic macrophages are most likely to trigger inflammation in adipose tissue, aka fat. So the more excess fat you’re carrying, the higher your chance of becoming insulin resistant and developing type 2 diabetes. But the same thing can happen if you are not overweight but have excess visceral fat, which is the type of fat that’s packed around your internal organs instead of underneath the skin. This “skinny fat” is even more dangerous than fat you can see.
There is new evidence that maintaining normal amounts of muscle strength as you age can help ward off this killer. In a study following five thousand people for over twenty-five years, participants were given regular strength tests. The risk of diabetes was slashed by 32 percent in those with even moderate muscle strength as opposed to those with low muscle strength.12 The reduced risk did not change if the participants were even stronger, so you don’t have to get ripped to live longer, but you should avoid carrying excess fat.
I had no idea as an obese teenager that inflammation was making it difficult for me to control my blood sugar. Instead, I bought into the myth that I just wasn’t trying hard enough to lose weight. I exercised a ton and constantly watched what I ate. For breakfast, I had Grape-Nuts, which were supposed to give me energy, and skim milk, which was meant to do my body good. But they did neither of those things. I distinctly remember one morning in ninth grade eating a bowl of Grape-Nuts with skim milk to prepare for a big soccer match. I was convinced this was a healthy breakfast, but I didn’t perform very well in the game. I thought to myself afterward, Well, that didn’t work the way it was supposed to.
This was the first time I questioned conventional wisdom about what was actually good for me. It would be many more years before I started to get real answers, but in my desperation I started experimenting with things that no teenager should need to explore. I was sick of feeling like an old man. So I started reading everything I could get my hands on that offered some advice for how to feel and perform better. While my peers were (I assume) out drinking and having fun, I was at home biohacking.
For my knee pain, I tried the glucosamine pills from the health food store, and they brought some serious relief. I didn’t know it then, but glucosamine inhibits glycolysis, your body’s breakdown of glucose (sugar). As a result, your body has to get energy from fat instead of sugar, which helps prevent insulin resistance. Recent research on mice has found that glucosamine promotes mitochondrial biogenesis (the birth of new mitochondria) and mimics the effects of calorie restriction.13 And there are plenty of studies to show that calorie restriction (a diet consisting of fewer than 1,200 calories a day) in conjunction with good nutrition extends life-span. In mice, calorie restriction can extend life-span by as much as 40 percent. Most researchers estimate that the impact on humans is more like 10 percent, which is still pretty amazing14—if you’re willing to be hungry, anyway.
If you’re like most people, you don’t enjoy feeling hungry, and you don’t want to restrict your calories to fewer than 1,200 a day. The good news is that researchers have been testing compounds that mimic the benefits of calorie restriction without the starvation. Glucosamine is one of those compounds. In one study, glucosamine extended the life-span of mice by 10 percent.15 And it most likely helped with my knee pain because of the way it impacted my body’s sugar metabolism.
Despite this small win, I was heavier than ever and fed up. In college I spent eighteen months working out six days a week for an hour and a half at a time while on a low-calorie, low-fat semi-vegetarian diet with lots of rice and beans and everything that was supposed to be good for me. I got really strong, but I was still covered in blubber, and later blood tests revealed that I was prediabetic thanks to all that fat and the inflammation it was fueling.
I knew something had to change, but I had no idea what that thing was. Then one day while I was at a coffee shop getting my daily fix, I spotted a weightlifting magazine on a rack. No one I knew in my small farming town read weightlifting magazines, but something on the cover caught my eye. It said, “How to grow abs!” Looking down at what I had grown—which you could more accurately call flabs—I thought, I have to read this. The goal seemed impossible in the world I lived in.
As I sipped a triple latte, I read an article by a body builder with impressive abs who said that sugar and carbohydrates make you fat. That advice was radical at the time and is still mildly controversial today, but it has become much more widely accepted since we know for a fact that sugar causes inflammation.16 Even small spikes of blood sugar have a particularly bad effect on your vascular system (and raise your cancer risk, too).17 I grabbed the magazine, went home, and made a smoothie out of cottage cheese and orange juice. I had no idea what I was doing! But that gross smoothie still had fewer carbs than I was used to eating in my efforts to get healthy.
I started eating more protein and avoiding grains and most obvious sources of sugar, for the first time focusing more on what I didn’t eat (carbs) than how much I ate. In three months I lost fifty pounds, but more surprising were the changes to my personality. Everyone in my life noticed that I was a lot nicer, and I actually started to develop friendships. I had changed my biology enough that I wasn’t exhausted all the time, and my brain was able to learn how to connect with people, even though it still didn’t come naturally to me. My focus in class also improved, and my GPA went up dramatically, from a 2.8 the previous semester to a double course load with a 3.9.
That’s right—avoiding grains and sugar helped me reduce inflammation, stabilize my blood sugar, get smarter, and change my personality for the better. Once again, everything is connected. Realizing I’d been fed a bunch of lies (literally) about what to eat for most of my life, I dug into the research and tried different strategies, evolving from the cottage cheese smoothie to the Zone diet to Atkins. (Though I never got anywhere close to the abs promised in that magazine.) Eventually I realized that there had to be a science to this. There were clearly foods out there that acted as kryptonite, caused inflammation, and completely threw me off of my game. And when I ate them, I not only felt awful, but I was also one step closer to developing type 2 diabetes. It took me years, but I finally discovered what those inflammatory foods were and how to avoid them. You’ll read more about this in chapter 3.
Just as immune cells in your body fat create inflammation that contributes to diabetes, there are specialized immune cells in the brain called microglia that perform similar functions. They control the brain’s immune and inflammatory response and are also in charge of killing off dysfunctional neurons in a process similar to apoptosis. The microglial cells constantly monitor the brain, and when they sense a threat, they trigger the release of inflammatory cytokines to attack and remove potential pathogens. This process causes inflammation, and if it becomes chronic this can damage or kill neurons, causing memory loss and other cognitive problems.18 Many researchers now believe that this is the root of Alzheimer’s.
In my twenties I was already experiencing significant cognitive dysfunction, and I wondered in the back of my mind if I was on track for developing Alzheimer’s. When I was in business school in the 1990s, my performance on tests was horrible. On exams with math questions, my grades showed a linear decline in per-question scores—100 percent on the first question, 70 percent on the next, 30 percent on the next, and directly downhill from there. My brain got fatigued so easily, even when I studied and knew the answers.
This experience led me to imagine what would happen if I couldn’t rely on my brain to earn a living. I’d had a successful career so far, but suddenly I wondered if I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was. I decided to undergo a then controversial brain imaging technique called a SPECT scan to see what was really going on in my brain. It showed that my prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain involved in complex thinking and decision-making—had essentially no activity when I tried to concentrate. Dr. Daniel Amen, who was one of the first people in this country to use SPECT scans, was shocked that I had been even remotely successful in my career with such clear cognitive dysfunction.
Once again, receiving bad news actually came as a relief. It was incredibly validating to hear that there was indeed a reason why everything felt like such a struggle. The issue wasn’t lack of effort or intelligence. It was an actual biological problem, a hardware problem. And there were lots of little-known things I could do to reduce inflammation and improve my brain function. When I found these interventions, the impact was immediate and allowed me to get smarter and faster with each passing year. The good news is that once you know them, the interventions are simple and practical.
If you’re in your twenties or thirties, it is much easier to reduce inflammation now to boost your brainpower and avoid cognitive decline with age, but even if you are older or experiencing symptoms of dementia, it is still possible to improve your brain function. The sooner you start, the better, but it’s never too late to begin growing a younger, more powerful, and more energetic brain. You’ll learn how to do this later in this book.
More than 40 percent of Americans are diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.19 When mitochondria become dysfunctional and don’t produce energy efficiently—which, again, is typical of most people as they age—your risk of cancer increases. This is because an inflamed environment offers the perfect conditions for cancer cells to proliferate.
Think about a time you got a cut and the wound became swollen—an obvious sign of inflammation (an immune response) at work. When the body is injured, your cells multiply quickly so the wound can heal. That process alone does not cause cancer. But when cells multiply rapidly in an environment that contains excess free radicals—which damage the DNA of cells—the risk is that damaged or mutated cells will proliferate. If these damaged cells continue to reproduce, the result can be cancer.20
We often think that our risk of developing cancer is based mostly on our genetics, but the data shows that only about 2 to 5 percent of cancers are truly genetically based, and mitochondrial dysfunction causes most others. In 1931, a German biochemist named Otto Warburg won the Nobel Prize for discovering that highly dysfunctional mitochondria actually stop burning oxygen to make energy and turn instead to a much less efficient process called anaerobic metabolism, which is the combustion of carbohydrates in the absence of oxygen. Anaerobic metabolism is associated with the vast majority of cancers. But if your mitochondria are strong, they will not have to resort to anaerobic metabolism. This greatly reduces your cancer risk.
Cancer is something of a double-edged sword when it comes to anti-aging. Any time you do something that makes your cells grow faster or get younger, you are inherently increasing your cancer risk because cancer cells can potentially grow and rejuvenate along with the healthy ones. Then you end up with this weird dichotomy: You can grow old “normally” with a roughly 40 percent chance of getting cancer, or you can get younger and maybe as a result slightly increase your risk. My solution to this dilemma is to do everything I can to make sure my mitochondria run like superstars because that in and of itself will reduce my risk of cancer. I also take action to promote my body’s natural detoxification efforts.
In addition to apoptosis, which you read earlier is healthy, controlled cellular death that targets old or unstable cells, your body also has a built-in detox process to recycle damaged cellular components. This is called autophagy, a Greek word that translates as “self-eating.” During autophagy, your cells scan the body for pieces of dead, diseased, or worn-out cells, remove any useful components from these old cells, and then use the remaining molecules to either make energy or create parts for new cells. This recycling process removes unwanted toxins, reduces inflammation, and helps to slow the aging process.
When you activate autophagy, you slow down the aging process, reduce inflammation, reduce your cancer risk, and increase your body’s ability to function at its best. There are specific supplements and lifestyle modifications such as brief bouts of fasting that boost autophagy. You’ll learn how to do this as we get deeper into the techniques that make you Super Human.
SLASH YOUR RISK
Despite overwhelming evidence that mitochondrial dysfunction and the resulting inflammation leads to the Four Killers, we live in a society in which an inevitable decline in mitochondrial function is considered a normal part of aging. Of course we expect to die from one of these diseases! Between the ages of thirty and seventy, you experience a decrease in efficiency of the average mitochondrion by about 50 percent, setting the stage for you to develop these killers.
Since you’re reading this book, you obviously have no intention of aging like an average person, and you shouldn’t. By the time I discovered the importance of mitochondria, mine were already trashed from years of toxic mold exposure. The mold had weakened my system and aged me prematurely, so in many ways I was the canary in the coal mine. I felt the “cuts” that affect all of us much sooner than most people because I started off in a weaker spot. In order to get to a basic level of functionality, I had to find out what was causing these cuts and work on eliminating them.
Feeling the cuts so early and so deeply allowed me to experience real-time feedback and determine which environmental factors impacted my health and performance the most. This turned out to be an enormous gift because I was able to learn—and can now teach you—how to stop damaging your own body with thousands of invisible cuts by focusing on the basics: good nutrition, quality sleep, and a healthy environment free of toxins that cause more cuts.
Before we move on to learn how to do that, let’s take a closer look at exactly what these cuts do to our bodies. Obviously, you won’t go from eating an inflammatory meal to developing degenerative disease in one fell swoop. Instead, the cuts from your environment cause invisible damage on the subcellular level. This damage doesn’t age you at once, but it does so cumulatively, day after day, year after year. By the time you become aware of this damage, you’re old. But you can take action now to stop this damage before it stacks up. So after you take the steps to avoid the Four Killers, it’s time to focus on cheating death the way Super Humans do—by avoiding the Seven Pillars of Aging. These are the processes in your body that break as you age, and there’s a lot you can do to control them.
* * *
If you are average …
- You have a 23 percent risk of dying from heart disease.
- You have a 25 percent risk of diabetes.
- You have a 10 percent risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
- You have a 40 percent risk of cancer and a 20 percent risk of dying from it.
So start hacking. Do these things right now:
- If you have joint pain or blood sugar issues, consider taking glucosamine, which helps control blood sugar and extends the life-span of mice (and probably humans).
- Consume more antioxidants to fight off free radicals. Berries, herbs, spices, coffee, tea, and dark chocolate are good sources. There are also medical spas in most cities that offer antioxidant therapy via IV. It may be worth looking into if you travel frequently or need an energy boost.
- Short periods of fasting stimulate autophagy. You’ll read more about the longevity benefits of fasting and how to do it without hunger later, but it’s worth starting now to benefit right away from increased autophagy.
- To help with cardiovascular issues, try the Zona Plus, a digitally controlled handheld device that uses the science behind isometric exercise to increase both vascular flexibility (thus decreasing blood pressure) and the production and flow of nitric oxide throughout the body, which is linked to treating various cardiovascular conditions, erectile dysfunction, and muscle fatigue. It’s a cool biohack for anyone who wants to improve their cardiovascular health.
- While it is most useful to look at how the environment will control your energy levels and your aging, it’s not like your DNA is meaningless. The area of functional genomics is just getting going. Like functional medicine, it is the study of what you can actually do to influence risk besides worry about it. For instance, a functional review of my genome from the DNA Company revealed that I should take extra steps to take care of the tight membranes in my arteries, including taking the supplements in this book. Check out their tests to discover your weaknesses and learn how to combat them.
* * *
2 THE SEVEN PILLARS OF AGING
Okay, now you’ve decided not to let the Four Killers take you out. That means it’s time to shore up the Seven Pillars of Aging. When I was working to reverse my early aging as a young man, I learned that there are specific forms of cellular aging that drive all forms of aging and disease, even my premature symptoms of aging. Later, I gleaned more detail from longevity experts such as Aubrey de Grey, who is the chief science officer at the SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) Research Foundation, which has the ambitious mission of curing aging by funding anti-aging research around the world. A lot of my elite anti-aging longevity friends (yes, I have weird and awesome friends) are focused on what SENS calls the “classes of cellular and molecular damage that constitute aging.” I call them the Seven Pillars of Aging.
THE SEVEN PILLARS OF AGING
It’s important to understand how the Seven Pillars of Aging affect your body on the cellular level. While some degeneration over time is a given, there’s a lot you can do to protect yourself from the worst of it. From simple and inexpensive lifestyle changes and nutritional modifications to high-end technologies that are rapidly becoming more affordable, I’ll outline multiple strategies to hack the aging process—most of which I’ve tried out myself.
Is this anti-aging science still nascent? Yes. Do we have ironclad evidence that these strategies work perfectly? No. But we do have some pretty compelling research that suggests they will help you spend more quality years on this planet. Plus, they’re not going to kill you—and aging definitely will. So why not give them a shot?
First, let’s take a closer look at each of the aging pathways and how they affect us.
PILLAR 1—SHRINKING TISSUES
When you are young, your body has a multitude of stem cells—undifferentiated cells that are capable of giving rise to many more cells of the same type. When cells die via apoptosis, your stem cells spring into action to replace them. As you age, however, a few things happen. Your stem cell reserves dwindle, your stem cells themselves age and thus become less efficient at replacing dead cells, and your mitochondria may not trigger apoptosis at the right times. Some cells die before they’re supposed to. Others aren’t quickly replaced. As a result, tissues throughout your body lose more and more cells and begin to atrophy, or break down.
Quick, picture a stereotypical “old person.” In your mind’s eye you probably see a frail person with loose skin, no muscle tone, shaky hands, and a foggy memory—right? The truth is that these things happen as we age and cells die and are not replaced. In fact, loss of muscle tissue is so common that it has its own name, sarcopenia, a condition that can lead to falls and broken bones and even impairs the body from fully recovering after those tumbles (or a surgery).1 In most people, sarcopenia sets in as early as age thirty and gets worse with each passing decade.2
When neurons in the brain die and your body isn’t able to replace them, your brain literally shrinks. And yes, this typically happens as we age. This contributes to cognitive decline and dementia, as well as a decrease in fine motor skills. In particular, when that neuron loss takes place in the hippocampus—the part of the brain that controls emotion, memory, and the nervous system—you begin to look and sound a lot like that old person you just imagined. Since hippocampal atrophy is so common, the size of your hippocampus is considered a key marker of aging.3 But there is nothing normal about it—at least, there shouldn’t be.
So the big question becomes, What can you do to make sure those dead cells get replaced (or don’t die in the first place)?
It turns out that if you keep your mitochondria healthy, you can avoid a lot of unnecessary cell loss. The biggest game changer here is eating foods that boost the efficiency of your mitochondria so they can make more energy and your body has the raw goods it needs to manufacture all the proteins, hormones, and fatty acids they require to function. We’ll cover those foods in the next chapter.
It is possible to reverse atrophy by taking advantage of stem cell therapy—a medical treatment in which stem cells are injected into your body. I’ve had more stem cell treatments than probably anyone on Earth (more on this later), and it’s been a game changer for me. I went from having chemical-toxin-induced brain damage as a young man to having a hippocampal volume that’s in the 87th percentile for someone my age. But stem cell therapy does not come cheaply or easily, so it’s better to prevent atrophy in the first place!
The key to success with any of these interventions is to start them now, even if you don’t think you need them. After all, humans are good at avoiding things that hurt. You don’t step on nails or burn yourself because you feel the impact of those cuts immediately. But when it comes to aging, you’re the proverbial frog in a pot of slowly heating water. You keep taking the hits because you don’t feel the impact right away. But cutting down on just a few of those hits by making small changes in your environment can really ramp up what’s possible for you. Perfection not required.
PILLAR 2—MITOCHONDRIAL MUTATIONS
Mitochondrial mutations—aka damaged mitochondria—are the second pillar of aging. The importance of this aging pathway cannot be overstated. When the power plants of your cells—the very things that create the energy that keeps you alive—start mutating, is it any wonder everything goes haywire?
Unfortunately, this is a cause of aging that is often overlooked. Even those on the forefront of biotechnology have been so focused over the past several decades on mapping the human genome that they have paid little attention to mutations in mitochondrial DNA. Don’t get me wrong—the sequencing of the human genome changed the world, and I’m grateful for the scientists who accomplished this monumental task. But unless you have a significant genetic disorder, it turns out that the human genome is not usually of great value in predicting how you’ll age compared to your mitochondrial DNA status.
You can think of your genetic code as the building plans for your body—but who wants a body that doesn’t have any energy? (Hint: That’s called death.) Remember, your mitochondrial genome is separate from your human genome—mitochondria evolved from bacteria and have their own genetic code. But your mitochondrial DNA serves a very important function—it controls how your body makes energy. Unfortunately, your mitochondrial DNA is a lot more susceptible to mutations than your human DNA because mitochondrial DNA has a limited ability to repair itself when it is damaged. So you’re going to want to take fewer hits to your mitochondria.
Think of it like this: Your DNA provides a picture of how a building (your body) will look—how many rooms, how many windows, what kind of roof, how tall, etc. Your mitochondrial DNA describes what kind of wiring, heating, lighting, and air conditioning will be in the building. The building itself is going to be there for a while, but if the wiring goes bad, the air conditioner breaks, and the bulbs burn out, it’s not going to be a building you want to live in. Mitochondrial DNA breaks and mutates easily, which is why it’s so important.
When it comes to aging, it’s helpful to look at epigenetics, the science of how the environment in and around our bodies influences genetic expression, and how these changes are passed down from generation to generation. A 2018 review from leading stem cell researchers found that mitochondrial epigenetic mechanisms influence cell fate, cell division, cell cycle, physiological homeostasis, and even pathologies.4 In other words, your ancestors’ environment controls the mitochondria in your cells. And of course problems with those important cell functions can lead to every one of the Four Killers.
As you read in chapter 1, mitochondrial DNA can become damaged when excess free radicals are present. Damage to mitochondrial DNA from free radicals causes deletions in the mitochondria’s genetic code. The damaged mitochondria produce energy inefficiently, generating huge amounts of additional free radicals and less of the energy that you would rather put toward your Super Human efforts. And as we know, damaged mitochondria generate inflammation and accelerate aging throughout the body.
Remember, this cycle all started with an excess of free radicals, which are created by … dysfunctional mitochondria! So the more efficient your mitochondria, the less likely you are to suffer damage to your mitochondrial DNA, regardless of the genetic code you inherited from your parents. This is one of many reasons my anti-aging protocol focuses so heavily on making sure my mitochondria are running like rock stars for the long term.
PILLAR 3—ZOMBIE CELLS
Death-resistant cells, aka senescent cells, are cells that won’t die when they’re worn out, and they are a major focus of anti-aging research today. These cells no longer divide or function properly. These cells literally become dead weight. They do not function, yet they persist and secrete inflammatory proteins, causing all the problems that stem from chronic inflammation,5 including an increased risk of the Four Killers. Even worse, the mitochondria in senescent cells become dysfunctional and release huge amounts of reactive oxygen species. This is called senescence-associated mitochondrial dysfunction (SAMD), and it will age your body very quickly.6
Over time, you gain more and more senescent cells, and the accumulation of the damage they create is a major cause of aging and disease. For one thing, when you have too many zombie cells in your tissues, your body becomes less efficient at responding to the hormone insulin. This is the definition of insulin resistance, which as we discussed earlier is a precursor to type 2 diabetes. Zombie cells also lead to an increase in visceral body fat, the type of fat that is stored around important organs in the abdominal cavity and is associated with an increased risk of many diseases, particularly type 2 diabetes.
Zombie cells also contribute to many symptoms of aging that won’t kill you but will make your later years a lot less comfortable. For instance, doctors have known for years that patients who need knee transplants have excess senescent cells in their knee cartilage. In fact, injecting just a few senescent cells into your knees can actually cause arthritis.7 Did senescent cells in my joints cause my arthritis when I was fourteen? Possibly.
Some senescent cells are easy enough to kill off. Others persist like a Netflix binge of The Walking Dead. Perhaps the most damaging types of zombie cells are immune cells. Remember, when you get a cut or an infection, your immune cells proliferate to promote rapid healing. Once you have healed, those extra immune cells are supposed to die off. When they don’t die, they inhibit your immune system’s ability to respond to new infections or injuries. This is one reason the immune system usually becomes weaker as we age. Talk about not dying—pneumonia and the flu together are the eighth leading cause of death in the United States and are both much more common and deadly in people over sixty-five. This is in part because of senescent cells weakening the immune system.
The good news is that there are many things you can do to prevent damage from zombie cells. One of the most important is to keep your cell membranes strong so the cells can function well for as long as possible. I take a supplement comprising calcium, magnesium, and potassium salts of amino ethanol phosphate (AEP)—which helps to support healthy cell membrane function.
The common diabetes drug metformin is also believed to kill senescent cells. In studies, metformin has been shown to alleviate a range of age-related disorders in animals and humans, including metabolic dysfunction, cardiovascular disease, cancer development, and cognitive dysfunction.8 In elderly humans, it has been shown to increase life-span by an additional five years.9 Studies on mice show that these effects stem from reduced cellular senescence and fewer free radicals.10
Another exciting zombie killer is rapamycin. This drug inhibits a growth pathway called mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), which is responsible for regulating critical cellular functions such as cell growth, cell death, cell proliferation, and autophagy. Inhibiting mTOR appears to prevent the growth of senescent cells. In mice, rapamycin increases life-span, improves immune response, delays tissue loss, alleviates frailty with age, and decreases risk of heart failure, cancer, and cognitive impairment.11 Not bad. Some doctors have quietly been using it as an anti-senescence drug since 2015.
I’m currently planning to experiment with taking rapamycin intermittently. It is not without risk—as we’ve discussed, any time you take a drug that accelerates cell turnover, there is a risk of accelerating cancer cell growth. In a couple more years, we’ll know more about the risk-reward ratio, and it will be a lot more affordable. I’m always happy to be a guinea pig, and cutting-edge anti-aging people are using it today. However, unless you’re in desperate straits, this is one hack you might want to hold off on for a little while as new research comes in.
And besides, there are other more affordable and more accessible natural compounds for fighting zombie cells. My favorite is fisetin, a polyphenol found in seaweed and strawberries. One study showed that high doses of fisetin could kill up to 50 percent of senescent cells in a particular organ.12 While research on how to use fisetin to most effectively destroy zombie cells isn’t complete, research indicates that it is a cognitive enhancer.13 This is likely thanks to its direct antioxidant activity and ability to increase levels of other antioxidants in your cells. More antioxidants equals less oxidative stress and more energy throughout the body, including your brain!
It’s not uncommon for researchers to discover that traditional herbs and plant compounds that have been used for thousands of years have anti-aging properties. A prime example is the Japanese herb ashitaba, which is available as a tea or powder and helps prevent zombie cells. It is traditionally used to treat high blood pressure, hay fever, gout, and digestive issues, but researchers recently discovered a compound in the plant called dimethoxychalcone (DMC—no relation to the famous rappers), which slows senescence. In worms and fruit flies, DMC increases life-span by 20 percent.14 We don’t know yet if it will have the same impact on humans, but it may be worth trying this tea to help with one of the Seven Pillars of Aging. I do.
Finally, there’s piperlongumine (PPL), a pepper root extract that’s commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine. It looks promising for reducing senescence, but this knowledge is so new that researchers don’t yet understand the mechanism of action.15 PPL may also have cancer-fighting properties, too, although research hasn’t yet confirmed that benefit.16 It is likely safe to use, but taking it all the time or taking high doses could put a load on the liver. If you do decide to use PPL consistently, your body might have a reduced capacity for detoxing17—so it’s a good idea to take it for a limited period (one to two months) in conjunction with a liver-supporting supplement like glutathione.
It boils down to this: If you don’t want to die, you must make sure your cells do die when they’re supposed to and stay alive when they’re supposed to.
PILLAR 4—CELLULAR STRAITJACKETS
The space in between your cells contains a network of proteins called the extracellular matrix, which protects your tissues from stress, trauma, and even gravity while allowing them to do their jobs. Visualize a perfect wobbling bowl of Jell-O. Without the matrix, you’d just have weird red liquid. Now imagine that same bowl of Jell-O, but so hardened that it won’t wobble and you can’t even spoon it. That’s what anti-aging scientists call extracellular matrix stiffening.
Not only does the matrix literally hold your cells together, but it also gives your tissues their elasticity. This is incredibly important, especially when it comes to certain tissues such as those that make up the arteries. When these tissues lose their elasticity, they become stiff, and your body has to work harder to push blood throughout your circulatory system. This can of course lead to high blood pressure and heart disease.
So why does the matrix become so stiff? When sugar in your blood circulates throughout your system, it permanently binds with proteins, creating inflammatory advanced glycation end products, or AGEs. Glycation is the process of sugar bonding to protein. AGEs are aptly named, as these end products accelerate the aging process and create oxidative stress in the body.18
Think about it this way. When you eat something that contains sugar, glucose molecules travel through your body and look for proteins to bind with. Once stuck together, the glucose actually browns the proteins. This is the exact same chemical reaction that takes place when you brown onions in a pan and the sugar and onions become caramelized. When you have high blood sugar, it is at least partially because you made decisions that literally caramelized your insides. Yum. Not really.
There are multiple classes of AGEs. The most abundant in collagen is called glucosepane, and it contributes to diseases of aging from diabetes to vascular dysfunction. Thankfully, researchers are beginning to look for ways to break down AGEs and prevent them from stiffening the extracellular matrix. In 2018, the journal Diabetes reported that scientists had identified four enzymes that are able to break glucosepane cross-links.19 They are still looking at the exact mechanism of action and whether or not the process of degrading AGEs creates other harmful metabolites, but this is a very promising area of research if you have type 2 diabetes or heart disease or just want to avoid this pillar of aging.
Even if, as I predict, glucosepane-degrading enzymes do prove to be safe and effective, it’s better to just avoid extracellular matrix stiffening in the first place. To do that, you must reduce your blood sugar levels, particularly the spike in blood sugar you experience after meals. A study looking at glucosepane levels showed that this harmful AGE pretty much universally increases with age. In a nondiabetic control group, continuous high blood sugar more than doubled levels of this aging substance. Reducing blood sugar is not optional if you want to become Super Human. Fortunately, it’s not as hard as you might think. You’ll learn more about how to do this in chapter 3.
Chronic inflammation of any type is also associated with an increase in cross-linked proteins. This makes sense, since you already know that high blood sugar causes inflammation and high blood sugar causes these cross-links. In addition to managing your blood sugar levels, you should avoid eating foods that make you inflamed. When you are sensitive to a certain food, your body initiates an immune response that triggers inflammation. If this happens consistently, you end up with chronic inflammation and excess AGEs. There are good at-home tests that can help you pinpoint which foods you are sensitive to. I recommend Viome, which you’ll read more about later, and EverlyWell. (Disclosure: While I use both services, I’m an investor in and advisor to Viome, and EverlyWell has advertised on Bulletproof Radio.)
PILLAR 5—EXTRACELLULAR JUNK
As you age, waste products called extracellular aggregates build up both inside and outside your cells. Of the waste products that accumulate outside your cells, the main culprits are dysfunctional, misshapen proteins usually called amyloids. When amyloids start to accumulate, they stick together and form plaques that cause aging and disease by “gumming up the works” and getting in the way of healthy cellular interaction.
You can think of amyloids like the gunk clogging a sink. When you’re young, you won’t notice the impact—a single hair slips easily down a drain. But eventually, as more and more gunk accumulates in the pipes, water dissipates more and more slowly. It’s that gradual process that slowly wears you down as you age.
You’ve probably heard that patients with Alzheimer’s disease have a type of plaque (in this case called beta-amyloids, a type of protein aggregate) in their brains. But long before you develop Alzheimer’s, these same plaques can impair cognitive function. In the case of type 2 diabetes, one type of protein aggregate called islet amyloid inhibits insulin secretion. Protein aggregates also cause stiffening in the heart. This is called senile cardiac amyloidosis and is a major cause of heart failure.
So what causes proteins to stick together in the first place? The problem with amyloids is that they build up in different tissues for different reasons, and we don’t know all the reasons yet. We do know that autoimmunity, when the immune system attacks its own healthy cells, makes it worse, and at least 30 percent of people have some form of autoimmune disease. And recent research on mice links low insulin levels to the formation of amyloids in your brain.20 This is one reason you don’t want to be on an unending low-carb diet that keeps you in ketosis without pause. You’ll live longer if you sometimes eat low carbs, sometimes eat moderate carbs, and always avoid sugar and bad fats. Low insulin is worse than high insulin in this case, but neither will keep you running at your peak.
Even if you don’t have full-blown autoimmunity, inflammation stemming from food sensitivities or even unending emotional stress can lead to amyloid buildup (in addition to AGEs). It appears that amyloids form during long periods of chronic inflammation from any cause. The smart strategy is to reduce your inflammation levels by avoiding foods you are sensitive to and learning how to chill out. If you’re eating food that’s not compatible with your biology, you’re going to end up inflamed, and that will age you in multiple ways. Same deal if you spend a lot of time in a state of stress.
The good news is there are simple strategies you can use to partially break down or reduce the formation of these proteins that age you prematurely. One of the best things you can do is to boost autophagy, your body’s recycling program, by consuming more of the foods you will read about in the next chapter. This will help break down these proteins so they don’t end up forming harmful plaques. So will fasting.
Gordon Lithgow, PhD, a professor at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, has also found that vitamin D helps prevent proteins from losing their shape and sticking together. With vitamin D deficiency so widespread,21 this raises the question of whether Alzheimer’s rates are increasing in part because people do not have enough vitamin D to slow amyloid plaque formation.
There is also a clear connection between toxic heavy metals and amyloids. A study from the Society for Neuroscience found that excess copper prevented the body from clearing protein aggregates on its own.22 You need copper for many functions in the body, but too much of it is toxic. Medical research shows that the blood vessels and brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease contain excess copper. Cadmium, another heavy metal, increases the formation of protein aggregates in the brain and appears in greater amounts in brain tissues of patients with Alzheimer’s disease than in healthy brains.23 You’ll learn how to avoid and detox from these metals and others later in this book.
In his lab, Lithgow has demonstrated that chelators, small molecules that bind with heavy metals and help you detox, protect mice from developing protein aggregates. You won’t be surprised to hear that chelating from heavy metals has been a priority of mine for years. You’ll read all about how to do this later. Heavy metal exposure has been on the rise for decades, and no matter where you live or how clean you eat, chances are that you still have higher than ideal levels of metals like lead and mercury. Approximately 6 million pounds of mercury is released into the environment each year, and lead, arsenic, and cadmium are present in detectable levels in our air, water, food, medicine, and industrial products. Even organic kale is high in one heavy metal.
In addition to contributing to the buildup of amyloids, heavy metals also cause mitochondrial dysfunction.24 A small amount of exposure to lead, mercury, nickel, uranium, arsenic, or cadmium for a short amount of time can impair mitochondrial energy production and increase mitochondrial death.25 Even if you don’t realize it, the heavy metals already in your body are likely aging you right now. You’ll learn about how to detox them later.
PILLAR 6—JUNK BUILDUP INSIDE CELLS
Okay, so waste products can build up outside of your cells, but the good news is that nearly all the cells in your body have their own built-in waste disposal system called a lysosome. Your lysosomes incinerate unwanted materials of all kinds, keeping your cells free of junk and able to function optimally.
You knew there was a but coming, right? When the lysosome can’t break down certain materials to incinerate them, the waste products end up just sitting there, clogging up the cell until it can no longer function. The name for this is intracellular aggregation. If this happens to too many of your cells, you end up with Pillar 1—loss of cells and tissue atrophy.
There are two reasons this might happen. The first is if the lysosome itself is damaged and can’t function properly. Lysosomes rely on over sixty types of enzymes to break down waste products, and mutations in the genes for these enzymes can prevent the lysosome from doing its job. These organelles can also be damaged by an excess of reactive oxygen species—free radicals—which happens when your mitochondria aren’t working efficiently.
But the more likely reason your cells fill up with junk is that you eat too many foods that your lysosomes are incapable of incinerating even if they are functioning perfectly. These are advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that you eat rather than the ones that are made by sugar inside your body. Remember when I said that when sugar and proteins link up inside your body, it is the same as caramelizing onions? Yeah, it also happens when you eat caramelized protein: aka charred meat (from grilling over an open flame, broiling, or cooking protein with sugars). The AGEs you consume get stuck inside your cells, and your lysosomes can’t clear them out.
Over time, these materials build up, making more and more of your cells dysfunctional, and this affects your ability to control blood sugar levels26 and increases your risk of cancer27 and heart disease.28 When it happens to neurons, it can contribute to Alzheimer’s.29
Fried, blackened, and charred meat all contain tons of AGEs that can overload your cellular waste system and leave your cells literally full of garbage. And this dramatically raises your risk of developing one or more of the Four Killers. A 2019 study published in BMJ looked at the dietary habits of over one hundred thousand women between the ages of fifty to seventy-nine over the course of several years. After taking into account potentially influential factors such as lifestyle, overall diet quality, education level, and income, the researchers found that regularly eating fried foods (which also contain AGEs, since frying produces a similar chemical process as charring meat) was associated with a heightened risk of death from any cause and, specifically, heart-related death. Those who ate just one or more servings of fried food a day had an 8 percent higher risk of death from heart disease than those who did not eat fried food. One or more servings of fried chicken a day specifically was linked to a 13 percent higher risk of death from any cause and a 12 percent higher risk of heart-related death than someone who ate no fried food.30
This one hurts, I understand. When I was in my twenties, I was the master of the grill. I loved charring meat over an open flame, but now I love my clean, highly efficient cells even more. It’s worth ordering grass-fed steak with no char.
PILLAR 7—TELOMERE SHORTENING
Take a moment to picture the plastic tips on the ends of shoelaces that protect them from fraying. Your telomeres serve a very similar function—they are the endcaps of your DNA that protect your chromosomes from fraying with wear and tear (aka age). An enzyme called telomerase is responsible for maintaining telomeres, but these caps naturally deteriorate over time because each time a cell copies itself, the telomeres shorten. As you age, they get shorter and shorter until they can no longer protect the cell. The cell then either stops growing or submits to apoptosis. In fact, there is a term for the number of times a cell can divide before it is no longer protected by telomeres and dies—it’s called the Hayflick limit.31
Shortened telomeres are linked to a weakened immune system and chronic and degenerative diseases like heart disease and heart failure,32 cancer,33 diabetes,34 and osteoporosis.35 The rate at which your telomeres shorten plays a huge role in determining the rate at which you age. Scientists view telomere length as a reliable marker of your biological age (as opposed to your chronological age). People with shorter than average telomere length for their age have a higher risk for serious disease and early death36 than their peers with longer telomeres. In one study, people over the age of sixty with shorter than average telomeres had three times the risk of dying from heart disease and eight times the risk of dying from an infectious disease37 as someone with average-sized telomeres for their age.
It’s clearly critical to keep your telomeres long. There are some studies showing ways to lengthen telomeres, but not enough evidence yet to say that we know for sure how to do it in every case. But we do know some things about what make telomeres shorter and how to protect them from shortening. Interestingly, there seems to be a direct connection between telomere shortening and stress. In one study, women with the highest levels of perceived stress had telomeres that were shorter by the equivalent of one full decade than women who said they experienced less stress.38 This is an important finding because it offers evidence that how you experience psychological stress has as much of a physiological impact as environmental stress. And this makes sense, since both psychological and physiological stresses are associated with increased oxidative stress in the body.
Exercise is another important way of preventing early telomere shortening. Researchers in Germany looked at telomere length in four groups of people: those who were young and sedentary, those who were young and active, those who were middle-aged and sedentary, and those who were middle-aged and active. There wasn’t much of a difference between the two groups of young people, but when the participants were middle-aged, the change in telomere lengths was striking. The sedentary middle-aged folks had telomeres that were 40 percent shorter than the young people, while the active middle-aged folks had telomeres that were only 10 percent shorter than the young people. In other words, the active group reduced their telomere shortening by 75 percent.39 Exercise significantly reduces perceived stress levels and inflammation,40 which may help to explain these results.
There are two promising lines of research about lengthening telomeres. One is a synthetic peptide called Epitalon that is modeled after a peptide your pineal gland produces (epithalamin). The research on Epitalon goes back to 2003, but no one has commercialized it. When researchers injected Epitalon into mice, it was shown to increase their life-span by up to 13.3 percent by activating telomerase41 while turning on apoptosis and slowing down tumor growth.42
Someone with identical biology to me (ahem) has been injecting Epitalon for ten days every few months for the past several years despite the fact that it is not yet approved for human use and may never be, even though it seems to work. In fact, anti-aging substances like Epitalon often exist in a strange limbo. The pharmaceutical companies don’t develop them because they’re not patentable, which means they won’t pay for the huge studies the FDA requires before approving them. The result is that you can find Epitalon affordably online, but it’s hard to know that you’re getting it from a reputable source. To me, the risk-reward ratio is worth it, but this may not be the case for you.
Another supplement called TA-65, the name brand of cycloastragenol, also activates telomerase.43 It is incredibly concentrated extract of an Ayurvedic herb called astragalus. By law, the makers of TA-65 can’t call it an “anti-aging” drug because it hasn’t been proved to extend life-span. But studies on this molecule show that in humans, it improves biological markers associated with health span through the lengthening of telomeres and rescuing of old cells. The downside here is that it is quite expensive. If you’ve experienced a lot of stress and/or feel that you are aging more quickly than you’d like and it’s in your budget, this might be worth considering. There are generic versions available, too.