GOOD

I ‘Biohacked’ My Body—But My Body Hacked Me Back

Oprah would not approve. Neither did I.

Dave Asprey is trying to promote his new book. The press invite I received promised a meet and greet with Bulletproof Coffee’s CEO and founder, as well as “Bulletproof ice cream, cauliflower mash, bone broth, organic avocado yucca toast with wild smoked sockeye salmon, meatballs and more.” I was curious about the man who took the coffee world by storm with the suggestion that adding butter to your cup of joe would help you lose weight and live longer, but I'm also a real big sucker for avo toast.

So, I book it to Bulletproof’s sleek new location in Los Angeles’ Arts District. The first thing I notice is how good-looking and fit the customers are, because I’m vain. If we’re talking demographics here, everyone at the café looks like an extra on the set of a hip CW teen drama where all the actors are 30, but playing 17. I become very self-conscious, immediately, about the strength of my jawline and avoid eye contact with all the dudes who look like Hemsworth brothers.


Upon arrival, I’m handed a clear mug of the coffee mixture that made Bulletproof famous (or “infamous,” as the press invite described it). You might remember it—in 2014, it inspired a minor craze, featured on Good Morning America and immortalized in The New York Times write-up titled “The Cult of the Bulletproof Coffee Diet.” Asprey—a self-proclaimed “biohacker”—was trying to sell America on his new coffee, made with beans that were supposedly low on mycotoxins (a fungus that Asprey claims makes you sluggish—like “Kryptonite,” but hackable). “There’s three components to the coffee. The beans are one of them,” he tells a group of journalists on a Thursday afternoon. “Almost every country on the planet has laws about toxins in coffee. But the U.S. doesn’t have them.”

The full Bulletproof arsenal.

The other two ingredients in a proper cup of Bulletproof coffee are grass-fed clarified butter (ghee) and a substance he refers to as Brain Octane™ oil (also known as MCT oil, which is derived from coconut oil—remember this part, because it becomes important to the rest of this story). This recipe, he tells us, is “carefully engineered to not give you a crash.” He also says it’s supposed to taste creamy, not buttery—but this is the precise moment my body begins to reject the Bulletproof diet. I take one sip and I already know I won’t be coming back for more. The artificial, greasy aftertaste lingers in my mouth for the next two to three hours.

Asprey’s claim—that adding butter to your coffee will help you suppress hunger, lose weight, boost energy, and even, yes, raise your IQ—is so irresistible it has intrigued the likes of Divergent actress Shailene Woodley, failed football star Tim Tebow, and the Silicon Valley elite. Plus, he has the kind of compelling third world-to-first world origin story—that delicious element of exotic mystique—that every tech-bro entrepreneur salivates after: He got the idea, he says, after a trip to Tibet, where he tried yak butter tea for the first time while learning to meditate.

Since launching Bulletproof three years ago, Asprey has expanded his line of products to include a robust portfolio of oils, collagen protein bars, dietary supplements, and other kinds of merch a soft-bodied person like myself might be tempted to buy. He has also opened two cafés, both in Los Angeles (the Arts District location is their second). Asprey, meanwhile, has forged a lucrative speaking career—he travels around the country preaching the Bulletproof diet, which involves “avoiding the things that make you weak first. And then doing the things that make you strong.”

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]'I want to live beyond 180 (which is) very achievable,' says Asprey. Like most Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, he’s obsessed with the notion of living longer, and maintaining his youth.[/quote]

Then, he tells us, “You’re doing things every day that make you gain weight. Why don’t you just stop doing those?” A woman—a fan, I think, not a journalist—nods vigorously.

The first thing I am served is something called “FATWater™,” a relatively new addition to the Bulletproof roster. It’s a “mental refreshment” enhanced with B vitamins and, of course, Brain Octane™ oil, available in three flavors. “We looked at the rule that says oil and water don’t mix, and we said, ‘Are you kidding? We’re biohackers,’” says Asprey. It tastes like off-brand Gatorade, and the flavor of the Stevia—with which it is sweetened—is overwhelming. Again, the Brain Octane™ oil leaves an unpleasant slick on my tongue. I put it down after a couple sips. I notice that most of the other journalists are also carefully nursing their drinks.

At one point, someone mentions Asprey’s boot, which is loose around his ankle. He lifts his ankle up and pulls out a small black device. “I’m running an electrical current on my ankle,” he says, laughing. He sprained it a couple of days prior, and injected peptides into the injury. “Even by my standards, this is ridiculous.” Everyone laughs politely, and I wonder if I’m the only one entertaining some healthy skepticism.

Finally, the food begins arriving. I’m starving, and I am desperate to chase the taste of the FATWater™ out of my mouth. The avocado toast is admittedly beautiful—a piece of smoked salmon atop each one. (Sockeye salmon, says Asprey, is “the healthiest of all the salmon.”) I don’t know it yet, but the avocado is laced with Brain Octane™ oil. (Remember this. The sound of my gurgling tummy portends this important right about now.)

Brain Octane™ oil drenched avocado toast (aka the beginning of the end)

I strategically position myself near the toast with the most generous helping of salmon, but the yucca “bread” falls apart in my hand. I stuff the whole thing in my mouth before I lose it to the floor. The yucca toast is really thin, and it has the consistency of cardboard. Oprah would not approve. Neither did I. But I’m hungry, so I treat myself to a second.

“I want to live beyond 180 which is very achievable,” says Asprey. Like most Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, he’s obsessed with the notion of living longer, and maintaining his youth. Last July, he recorded himself receiving prophylactic stem cells taken from his butt and injected into his spine (to benefit his brain) on Facebook Live, a procedure he plans to regularly receive for the rest of his life. He’s also “banked” his stem cells, for what it’s worth. “I’m not going to be old when I’m old,” he assures us. “My brain isn’t shrinking the way 44-year-olds’ (brains do).”

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]He’s ‘hacked’ his cells. He’s ‘hacked’ his sleep. He’s even ‘hacked’ his wife’s womb.[/quote]

The whole premise of the Bulletproof diet is that you are “biohacking” your body by producing more mitochondria (the “powerhouse” of cells, as your sixth-grade science book once taught you). “It’s a whole new game of understanding how to hack your cells to get more energy,” he says. It’s true, I learn through my own research, that you can encourage your cells to grow new mitochondria, but you can also do that with simple exercise.

But this is Bulletproof-speak, a kind of sci-fi jargon that sounds techy but is really just half-baked startup mouth-garbage. He refers to everything he does as “hacking.” He’s “hacked” his cells. He’s “hacked” his sleep. He’s even “hacked” his wife’s womb.

“My wife was infertile when I met her,” he says, without warning. “I decided that was hackable.” He put her on the Bulletproof diet (high fat, low carbs), and they soon had two children, no IVF necessary. This claim sounds especially outlandish to me, so I consult Google. On his website, he markets the diet as a one-size-fits-all solution to infertility, and publishes a blog post by “Ashley” who says she solved her barren womb with the Bulletproof diet (and had a “BP baby”), without ever specifying the cause of her infertility.

Lana Asprey, Dave’s wife, on the other hand, was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which causes irregular periods (and, therefore, irregular ovulation). In an interview with a website called PCOS Diva, she says:

Within seven months on this program, I for the first time ever had a regular cycle. I could not believe it, because at the time, I was 38. It was like a miracle to have a regular cycle, to know that, ‘Aha, this is now day 27 and tomorrow my flow will start.’ It did. It did the same thing next month and the month after because I had lived with this irregularity my entire life.

I’m no fertility expert, so I send the link to someone who is: Dr. Kristin Bendikson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at USC. “Weight loss can be beneficial for all overweight women and lead to improved fertility, especially in PCOS women,” says Bendikson. “However, there isn't any conclusive data for thin PCOS women, that if they change their diet, they're going to regulate their period and improve their symptoms. There's no body of research that shows that specifically.”

So it’s not totally unlikely that Lana Asprey, after adhering to the Bulletproof diet, and possibly losing some weight, was able to ovulate regularly and conceive children. Bendikson, however, takes issue with the insinuation that women with PCOS can’t ever conceive, or that the Bulletproof diet can help women with other fertility issues overcome their challenges. “She claims you can slow down the clock,” says Bendikson. “No one can slow down the clock.”

But back to the meal. I thoughtfully consider a breakfast burrito—made with a coconut flour tortilla, eggs, and turmeric rice—that they place on the table before me. It doesn’t taste so much like a burrito as it does something an alien would make once you attempted to describe to them what a burrito was. It’s a vague approximation of a burrito—like a collection of ingredients playing dress-up as a burrito. This has to do with the “grain-free tortilla,” which fails to accomplish a tortilla’s only job in the case of burrito making: Hold it together. Asprey admits his chef found it challenging to make a tortilla using coconut flour, and I can see why. This tortilla disintegrates at the slightest touch. It’s grain-free, because grains have “toxins” on them.

Brain Octane™ oil-drenched burrito-like items.

These dastardly toxins he so often refers to are “mycotoxins,” but Asprey is wrong when he says that the United States doesn’t regulate them. As Brent Rose wrote for Gizmodo in 2015, “Mycotoxins are everywhere, including human breast milk, and a lot of the meats Asprey recommends in his own Bulletproof Diet.” Asprey has a long list of things you should avoid, because “toxins.” Among these are rice, black pepper, regular non-Bulletproof coffee beans, corn—there are more, but, at some point, I just lost track.

But more importantly, I’m starting to feel a little strange, and I have a strong suspicion why. Everything—seriously, everything—was dosed with the MCT Oil, Asprey tells us. I only figure this out after I’ve eaten two helpings of the toast, two helpings of the burrito, the meatball on top of cauliflower mash, a small vial of Bulletproof “bone broth,” and a bite of the chocolate ice cream. It’s weird, because he describes the MCT oil as a “hunger suppressor,” but I couldn’t stop eating. I’m starting to feel a little weird, anxious, my heart beating faster, feeling light-headed, I write in my notes. I get an odd head buzz, the kind like when you’ve had too much of an edible. I start to freak out, a little, and wonder if I’ve … overdosed?

When I get home, I vomit myself dry.

This is followed by a frantic Googling of “MCT overdose.” My symptoms, apparently, are pretty common among users. All the BP commenters insist it will pass as you continue the Bulletproof diet. In case it hasn’t been made clear, I will not be continuing the Bulletproof diet. For one thing, it took me awhile to get the aftertaste—something like a chemical oil—out of my mouth. For another, it’s out of my price range—12 ounces of their ground roast can set you back $19 (12 ounces of a Starbucks blend goes for $9). And you know what? I like my coffee black anyway.

Food
via Real Time with Bill Maher / YouTube and The Late Late Show with James Corden / YouTube

A controversial editorial on America's obesity epidemic and healthcare by comedian Bill Maher on his HBO show "Real Time" inspired a thoughtful, and funny, response by James Cordon. It also made for a great debate about healthcare that Americans are avoiding.

At the end of the September 6th episode of "Real Time, " Maher turned to the camera for his usual editorial and discussed how obesity is a huge part of the healthcare debate that no one is having.

"At Next Thursday's debate, one of the candidates has to say, 'The problem with our healthcare system is Americans eat shit and too much of it.' All the candidates will mention their health plans but no one will bring up the key factor: the citizens don't lift a finger to help," Maher said sternly.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics

There is no shortage of proposals from the, um, what's the word for it… huge, group of Democratic presidential candidates this year. But one may stand out from the pack as being not just bold but also necessary; during a CNN town hall about climate change Andrew Yang proposed a "green amendment" to the constitution.

Keep Reading Show less
test
Me Too Kit

The creator of the Me Too kit — an at home rape kit that has yet to hit the market — has come under fire as sexual assault advocates argue the kit is dangerous and misleading for women.

The kit is marketed as "the first ever at home kit for commercial use," according to the company's website. "Your experience. Your kit. Your story. Your life. Your choice. Every survivor has a story, every survivor has a voice." Customers will soon be able order one of the DIY kits in order to collect evidence "within the confines of the survivor's chosen place of safety" after an assault.

"With MeToo Kit, we are able to collect DNA samples and other tissues, which upon testing can provide the necessary time-sensitive evidence required in a court of law to identify a sexual predator's involvement with sexual assault," according to the website.

Keep Reading Show less
Health

Villagers rejoice as they receive the first vaccines ever delivered via drone in the Congo

The area's topography makes transporting medicines a treacherous task.

Photo by Henry Sempangi Senyule

When we discuss barriers to healthcare in the developed world, affordability is commonly the biggest concern. But for some in the developing world, physical distance and topography can be the difference between life and death.

Widjifake, a hard-to-reach village in northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with a population of 6,500, struggles with having consistent access to healthcare supplies due to the Congo River and its winding tributaries.

It can take up to three hours for vehicles carrying supplies to reach the village.

Keep Reading Show less
Health
via Keith Boykin / Twitter

Fox News and President Trump seem like they may be headed for a breakup. "Fox is a lot different than it used to be," Trump told reporters in August after one of the network's polls found him trailing for Democrats in the 2020 election.

"There's something going on at Fox, I'll tell you right now. And I'm not happy with it," he continued.

Some Fox anchors have hit back at the president over his criticisms. "Well, first of all, Mr. President, we don't work for you," Neil Cavuto said on the air. "I don't work for you. My job is to cover you, not fawn over you or rip you, just report on you."

Keep Reading Show less
Politics