Fantastic Voyage, Nutritional Advice for Immortality June 3, 2009Posted by Matt Brown in Longevity, Nutrition.
Tags: Longevity, Nutrition, Ray Kurzweil, Transhumanism
The first few chapters of the book are essentially introductions. The first one lays the groundwork for the rest of the book by explaining the basic premise which I outlined above. The second chapter outlines the Bridge idea that play’s a major part in the book structure. Basically, Ray and Terry both consider the information in the book to belong to Bridge One, current technologies that can be used to improve health and increase lifespan. These current technologies consist primarily of nutrition and exercise advice, some of which is pretty standard mainstream science and some which, as I’ll show later, is decidedly not. Bridge Two is biotechnology, which at some point in the near future will enable humans to control our biology and genetics and thus improve our health and longevity even further. This will lead to Bridge Three, nanotechnology-AI, at which point we will not be reliant on our biology and will be able to replace many or all of our, according to the book, sub-par biological features. Throughout the book there are side boxes containing information on Bridge Two and Three technologies usually in relation to what ever current technologies the book is talking about. While they are mostly theoretical they are still fun to read and think about and considering the authors ultimate aim is immortality they don’t feel out of place.
Ray and Terry both take a chapter to tell us there personal stories and how they became interested in health and longevity. Ray tells his now pretty famous story of his father passing away at a relatively early age of heart disease, his own diagnosis with diabetes and his subsequent rejection of conventional medicine in favor of at the time radical treatments that ultimately stopped and reversed his diabetes. Terry’s story is also one of growing dissatisfied with conventional medicine though obviously from the view point of a doctor rather than a patient. Both men met at a meeting of the Foresight Institute and struck up a friendship and correspondence, on result of which was ultimately this book. These chapters are nice little asides that give the reader a view it the authors motivations and backgrounds.
Now we come to the important part, what does the book actually say and is any of it true. Considering this book was written by a licensed physician and a genius inventor you probably won’t be surprised to learn that much of it is sound science. The book recommends a relatively high protein, low carb, low fat diet but presents a much more nuanced view than most low-something diets. For carbohydrates the book stresses avoiding foods with a high Glycemic Index (or more specifically a Glycemic Load.) The Glycemic Index is a measurement of how quickly carbs are converted into sugar and make there way into the blood stream. Carbs that break down quickly (candy, potatoes, refined grains) lead to a spike in blood sugar which then leads to a spike in insulin. Over time, heavy spikes in insulin can lead to Type 2 Diabetes. In addition diet recommends eating foods high in fiber as there is some evidence that high fiber diets can lower the risk of certain types of cancer. The book does recommend a much lower carbohydrate level then most diets (between 1/6 and 1/3 of your daily intake, which is still higher than the Atkins diet) but this can partially be explained by its emphasis on low calorie, high fiber carbs like vegetables, beans and whole grains. For fats the book emphasizes unsaturated over saturated fats, which is also good advice. While saturated fats have been linked to atherosclerosis, unsaturated fats have been shown to actually improve lipid profiles and thus aid in heart health. Finally the book also recommends slight calorie restriction, both to aid in weight loss and for the purported longevity benefits. While calorie restriction has not yet been shown to improve lifespan in humans it has been demonstrated in every animal species it’s been tried on so it’s a safe assumption that it works for people too. Overall, the books diet advice is pretty mainstream and spot on. Where it starts diverging from mainstream opinion is in it’s supplement recommendation.
Let’s get one thing straight, I take and recommend supplements. While it’s true that nutritional aids can never replace a healthy diet they can do what the name implies, i.e. supplement your diet to ensure no vitamin or mineral deficiencies. Kurzweil though is not satisfied with simply preventing deficiencies. His program calls for a massive supplement load with the goal of curing and correcting diseases and conditions in the body. Note that when I say massive, I mean massive. Kurzweil’s supplement recommendations are often 4-5 times the RDA currently prescribed and in some cases much more. Kurzweil himself takes upwards of 150 pills a day to reach the levels he prescribes. To be blunt, that’s a shit load of pills and there is a lot of disagreement over whether such aggressive supplementation is helpful, or even good. It’s a well known fact that excess levels of some vitamins, such as A, K and B12, can lead to severe side effects and most nutrition scientists seem to agree that supplements can be useful for special populations there remains a lot of debate over whether even simple multivitamins can be helpful to healthy population. To be fair Kurzweil address’ some of these points, none of his recommendations are above the UL (tolerable upper limit) and a some of his supplement recommendations are specifically for special populations. On the whole, I tend to lean more towards Kurzweil’s view of supplements than the medical establishment, but be warned that there is no consensus on there benefits.
There is a lot more information in this book that I could go into but since I doubt you want to here me talk about homocysteine levels and methylation for another three paragraphs I’ll wrap things up. Does this book offer good advice? Overall, yes it does. The dietary advice is based on sound nutritional science so you could sure do a lot worse than following the dietary regimen this book outlines. The exercise advice, which basically boils down to the standard recommendation of 30 minutes of cardio a day for 5 days per week and resistance training 2-3 days per week, is also sound. The supplement recommendations are a little more iffy, some of the claims are backed up with evidence while others are still up in the air, so think really hard before you shell out hundreds of dollars and start popping 150 pills a day.