How healthy is your cellular routine? Are you maximizing the functions of your mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell) with the right supplements? Biohacking, or health optimization, is beyond fascinating, if not a bit frightening, when it veers into transhumanist territory. In all likelihood, this industry will become more popular with the recent rise of improved machine-learning software (artificial intelligence) coupled with the puzzling but technologically promising developments in quantum computing.
Fierce levels of competitive behavior are built into our natural disposition as human beings, which is why you’ve started to see anti-aging biohackers who were once jogging down their research paths move into a full sprint – like former Silicon Valley executive Bryan Johnson. Recently, Johnson has made many headlines for turning his life into a questionable, extreme anti-aging experiment. He’s opened up his journey to see just how well humans can truly reverse their epigenetic age for the general public to ooh and ahh over. Johnson, a 45-year-old man, claims both that his biological age is roughly five years younger and that every 12 months moving forward he only ages nine months.
How This Silicon Valley Man Became an “Otherworldly” Lifeform
Caroline Graham at the DailyMail said that there’s “something otherworldly” about Bryan Johnson. When Graham met him in person, she couldn’t find one wrinkle or blemish, but according to Graham, Johnson’s alien-like visage couldn’t just be chalked up to cosmetic work or plastic surgery. Whether or not that was a dramatization on her part (I mean, I look at his glamor shots embedded in the article and see plenty of natural wrinkling for a 45-year-old man around his glabella, crows feet, marionette lines, and neck, as well as sun spots and freckles dotted along his chest), Johnson has allegedly reversed his aging process so successfully through his bespoke program Blueprint that he could very well be on track to reverse his biological age to his goal age of 18 years old.
Though Johnson has made international news about his elite “fountain of youth” routine, one of his doctors, Oliver Zolman, has actually gone on record to lower expectations. Zolman praised the “small, reasonable results'' but said that his team of doctors had “not achieved any remarkable results,” as Johnson’s biological age had actually only been lowered by roughly five years. However, Zolman reported that his heart functions more like a 37-year-old man's would.
This former Silicon Valley executive is sticking to his script, however, and has been documenting each step of his Blueprint journey for people to glean insights from and perhaps begin their own adventure to cheat Father Time. His journey has led him to become somewhat of a viral meme, thanks to his questionable representations of his public persona and (intentional or not) holier-than-thou attitude.
Let’s get down to business – what does Bryan Johnson’s Blueprint for anti-aging actually consist of? To start, Johnson is a fan of high-intensity interval training, which he completes three days a week for at least an hour a day. He additionally uses electromagnetic pulses to target his “hard-to-reach” muscles like the pelvic floor, a mechanism usually used by patients with incontinence issues or those who have just given birth.
He wakes up at 5:00 a.m. and goes to bed at 8:30 p.m., two hours after popping on his blue-light blocking glasses. Johnson ingests enough vitamins and supplements to theoretically keep GNC in business (80 pills popped daily) and eats a strict, 1,977 calorie vegan diet broken up into three meals a day: his “Green Giant'' morning smoothie, his lunchtime “Super Veggie” bowl and “Nutty Pudding” smoothie bowl, and his produce-laden nighttime salad, if not a stuffed sweet potato. In total, he eats over 70lbs of vegetables each month, but he maintains a macronutrient breakdown of 19% protein, 33% carbs, and 48% fat.
In this process, Johnson maintains the following four principles: that modernity’s “self-destructive behavior is kinda insane,” that the body should be “empowered” to “speak for itself,” that “aspirations we need are beyond our imaginations,” and that we must “look in the darkness to avoid being blinded by the light.” I’ll give credit where credit is due – he’s entirely justified in saying that “no one wants to be sick, diseased and sad,” so if he’s happy to become a human guinea pig in the name of science to perfect “exceptional health and vibrancy,” then all the more power to him.
With Johnson’s Silicon Valley bucks, he can certainly afford a team of 30 doctors to manage and measure his progress. It takes nearly $2 million each year in upkeep, as he subjects himself to frequent blood testing, MRIs, ultrasounds, urine and stool tests, and daily checks on his weight, BMI, body fat, blood glucose and oxygen levels, and temperature. If something falls out of whack, his team of doctors is ready to adjust accordingly – like when his body fat plummeted to heart-health threatening levels below 3%.
He doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, is attempting to reverse his male-pattern hair loss and sun damage to his skin, and honestly the list could go on and on about each specific detail of his routine, but you can read more in depth on his completely public website. Johnson’s model can’t be applied to women since it’s narrowly tailored to suit male physiology, but he has enlisted a female guinea pig to build out a companion blueprint. Johnson alleges that he is “actively participating in life with a vibrancy that far exceeds any joy I have had before,” despite this rigid-beyond-belief routine, because he’s trained himself to not want to deviate from his program. It’s aspirational in some ways – but that’s simply it.
Aging is part and parcel of the human experience, and no matter how many dollars you throw behind your own personal Blueprint, there’s really no cheating death – especially since God plucks people from earth at some of the most unexpected times. It’s a morbid thought, but Johnson could optimize his routine so perfectly to walk back the clock and still not become the longest-living man since accidents outside our control can happen at any given moment. Living forever doesn’t appear to be his goal, however; instead, he hopes to benefit mankind by finding real solutions to any number of the medical problems that plague our world.
“It's not because I want to live for eternity,” said Johnson in his interview with Graham. “It's not because I'm some rich guy seeking immortality.”
I’d wager most of you aren’t seeking immortality either, but still wish you could optimize your vitality to a point where you’re not regularly chasing sick care and instead can sustain a fulfilling lifespan through real healthcare. Lucky for you, there’s no need to emulate such a rigid lifestyle as Johnson’s just to lower your epigenetic age.
There Are Much Simpler, Scientifically-Backed Ways To “Reverse” Epigenetic Age
In March, a study published in the peer-reviewed research journal Aging suggested that women could potentially reverse their biological age through an 8-week, methylation-supportive diet and lifestyle program. If logic tracks, you could adopt these behavioral changes for longer than eight weeks as a sort of maintenance stage for youthfulness while aging.
The results are promising: Six female participants (yes, that’s a pretty small sample size, and the researchers did address this as a significant limitation) between the ages of 46 and 65 had, on average, a 4.6-year decrease in their biological age after the final blood tests were evaluated. The researchers found that one of the six women actually lowered her biological age by 11 years. Let’s take a look at the blueprint for lifestyle changes these women made over the 8-week period to “reverse” their aging.
Every day, participants had to eat at least one serving of egg (totaling 5-10 eggs per week), liver or a liver supplement (totaling three 3 oz servings per week), 2 cups of dark, leafy greens, 2 cups of cruciferous vegetables, 3 cups of colorful vegetables, two servings of a low-glycemic fruit of choice, 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds (or sunflower seed butter), 1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds (or pumpkin seed butter), and one or two medium beets.
For their fill of dark, leafy greens, participants were recommended kale, spinach, collards, mustard greens, Swiss chard, or dandelion. Cruciferous vegetables could include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, radish, turnip, watercress, rutabaga, kohlrabi, and a few carry overs from the previous category. For colorful vegetables, participants could vary their pickings, but this category excluded sweetcorn and white potatoes.
Each day, they were recommended to consume 6 oz grass-fed, organic, hormone-free, and antibiotic-free animal protein. The “healthy” oils they were suggested to switch between were coconut, olive, pumpkin seed oil, and flaxseed oil. Participants were supposed to avoid grains, dairy, legumes, beans, added sugars, candies, and plastic food containers.
They also were instructed each day to eat two servings of foods that specifically support DNA methylation (the process controlling gene expression). One serving of methylation adaptogens could be 1/2 cup of wild berries, 2 cups of green tea, 3 cups of oolong tea, 2 medium cloves of garlic, 1/2 tsp of rosemary, or 1/2 tsp of turmeric.
There were a few more daily lifestyle changes that the six women undertook such as sleeping for at least 7 hours, fasting for 12 hours upon eating their final meal of the day, exercising for at least 30 minutes, drinking at least 8 cups of water, taking two capsules of probiotics, taking two servings of “greens powder,” and practicing the breathing exercise Steps to Elicit the Relaxation Response two times.
Interestingly enough, the six women only adhered to the program 82% of the time on average, but the researchers said that was normal to still achieve positive results. They concluded that there are “widely accessible, cost-effective dietary and lifestyle interventions that are designed to support DNA methylation and are widely considered to be safe.”
Anti-Aging Tech Trends Will Leave You Strapped for Cash
To be frank, the conclusions of this case – despite its small sample size – are really important because the anti-aging industry is bigger now than ever before. There are so many profiteers looking to pocket a pretty penny after stoking fears about biological aging. For as much as people may joke around about women hitting “the wall” after 25 or 30, that sort of rhetoric coupled with predatory profiteers in the anti-aging industry has essentially created a toxic complex. Young people will do whatever it takes to push back on their natural aging process, and older people will drop fat stacks of cash on invasive and non-invasive procedures alike just to look young again.
Recently, a 14-year-old shared her own beauty routine meant to “slow down the aging process,” which she allegedly began doing at the very young age of 12. While some of her habits are really harmless – and just good practices to have for your health in general – like supplementing apple cider vinegar, drinking green tea, being mindful of sun exposure, and using skin-friendly satin pillowcases, some people have pointed out that other steps in her routine may actually pre-age her young skin. For instance, the girl uses Korean face masks twice a day, applies retinol (a skincare active meant to reduce the appearance of wrinkles) twice a day, and even puts extra retinol in her body lotion.
The global anti-aging market is currently projected to reach $120 billion by 2030, but as I’ve written before many of the products that tout themselves as effective fountains of youth are actually ineffective scams that unfairly trick women (and some men of course too!) into a Sisyphean, consumerist mentality. Add your next 1.6 fl oz tub of $95 anti-aging moisturizer or 1 oz tube of $92 high-dose wrinkle serum to your online cart, and watch your skincare budget go through the roof.
There is truth behind claims that certain active ingredients can improve skin appearance, but that doesn’t mean you need to spend hundreds of dollars each month just on topical skincare alone. That doesn’t even take into account the more invasive procedures that are not only a part of Bryan Johnson’s current Blueprint method, but that are dominating industry demand as well.
For instance, Johnson is trialing Cutera’s Excel V and Laser Genesis aesthetic laser treatment, which uses two different lasers on two different wavelengths to revitalize the skin. Some sources say that cost per treatment can vary from $250 to $2,000, while others say it’s more like $275 to $1,000, and while some people can get results after one or two sessions, others may need up to five sessions. One woman blogged about her experience using these type of lasers through six treatments to treat her rosacea, and while her results looked pretty promising she also made sure to caveat that her results won’t last forever.
Johnson has also been trialing “Fotona Dynamis Pro,” which is called the 4D facelift. It’s a non-invasive alternative to the popular plastic surgery procedure that also could treat sun damage, age spots, spider veins, and active acne, as well as potentially provide that lift that your typical, invasive facelift can.
Some cosmetic professionals recommend three or four 30-minute sessions spaced two to three weeks apart, and if you want to maintain your results, you’re supposed to come back every four or five months. Allegedly, Kim K has even been known to do this procedure.
Additionally, Johnson does MicroBotox injections for pore shrinkage, which can last up to six months and could cost around $450 per session. Johnson has been undergoing non-bleeding microneedling with hyaluronic acid serum, which can cost around $240 per session but requires about three to six treatments for results. He does Scupltra injections which – if the rule of thumb is to be believed for “one vial per decade of life” – then he would need four vials at $700 a pop.
He has also been receiving the “vampire facial” known as PRF that draws your own blood to rejuvenate your skin. PRF can take around three to five treatments for noticeable results, ranging from $500 to $2,000 per treatment. Johnson is also trialing the fat-transfer procedure called Renuva, which costs $2,125 per session on average, and full body LED light therapy, using a bed that can cost as much as $50,000.
If you ask me, though, a humble non-expert who considers herself quite observant, many of the skin rejuvenation or resurfacing before-and-afters I see are just not dramatic enough to warrant the cost and consistent upkeep. I may not want to undergo Botox myself because of its many, many flaws (and hey, I’m not even past “the wall” yet anyway), but I can at least see visible, “anti-aging” results when people do go and get it done. Similarly, when people save up money to get a really well-done facelift later on in life, I can see the return-on-investment. But neither of those procedures reduce a person’s epigenetic age – that can only be achieved through smarter lifestyle choices.
So is the self-harm and decay that a man like Johnson wails against actually inevitable? Should we biohack our bodies through borderline transhumanist measures just to turn back the clock? Personally, even if I could afford it, the upkeep needed is just too rigid to feel like I would actually be living. It’s all well and good that he feels fulfilled by being this guinea pig for progress, but it seems like we’ve already got most of the tools in our toolbox to age with grace if we just stick to a solid, time-tested routine.
Furthermore, I can’t imagine the stress to his mind, body, and soul that could potentially age him more than he thinks. Stress has long been studied as a surefire way to increase your epigenetic age and – especially in the case of women who are more prone to neuroticism and adopting obsessive personality traits – it certainly doesn’t foster a safe environment for your body to function in its natural harmony.
Yes, we’re built to face a certain level of stress, but too much of it can impair our fertility and our regular hormonal cycles, disrupt our gut health and potentially cause debilitating digestive issues, and might cause us to gain weight, among a slew of other issues.
There’s something innately beautiful about the aging process, and if I am to be completely honest from an outsider’s perspective, Bryan Johnson’s current results in this age-reduction quest don’t look too hot. He has sallow skin not too dissimilar from being afflicted by jaundice, his face has that same uncanny valley tautness that plastic surgery addicts are infamous for, he never goes one waking moment without being hooked up to a machine or having some device analyze his everyday bodily functions, and at what cost?
He has forced himself into a state of perpetual patient-dom. Even if he figures out exactly which habits correlate to the largest reduction in biological age, his research can never account for the sheer diversity of the human race – from inexplicable conditions that certain ethnic groups are more prone to like Tay-Sachs disease among the Ashkenazi Jew populations or sickle cell disease among those with African heritage, seemingly random (or allegedly not) genetic mutations that cause cancers, autoimmune disorders like Lupus, or neurological disorders like autism.
No, I won’t turn my nose up at some reasonably-priced, quality skincare products or treatments, but in general I don’t think it’s worth the extra stress in life to hyperfixate on staying as young as possible for as long as possible through most biohacking trends. If we really want to “hack” our biology, we’d be far better off highlighting the importance of studies like the one found in Aging, as well as assessing our hormones because they play such an integral part in our body.
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