This book makes the case that optimizing your Mitochondria is the ultimate performance enhancing Biohack because your Mitochondria are the fundamental energy generation mechanism that underlie everything else.
Mitochondria are billions of tiny, ancient bacteria that power your individual cells. You've probably heard of them before, I'll explain more in depth later what Mitochondria are but for now I think a Star Wars metaphor will suffice. In Star Wars the Jedi have their powers because of the midichlorians, which are a microscopic life form that are shared by all living things, that give the life force to all living things. That's not far off from what Mitochondria actually are!
There's an important point I want to you to remember...
Mitochondria are to genes what free will is to predetermination.
This idea of Predetermination seems to be very popular, this is this idea that every molecule in your body and indeed every atom in the universe is bound by laws of physics and mathematics.
- You can often predict quite accurately what a given atom, molecule, cell, organism, group, species, environment or even planet is going to do based upon established natural laws.
- We know, almost exactly, where Mars in going to be in 6 months.
- We know when a species is going to do their seasonal migration.
- We often know what's going to make a tumor of cancer cells grow and take over a vital organ.
It would seem that the universe is quite predictable maybe even predetermined, with one exception, us humans.
We seem to make some very random decisions that sometimes totally surprise everyone. From the insides of our own heads it certainly seems like we have free will doesn't it?
- We will debate back and forth with ourselves on decisions and finally go with the option that was seemingly quite unpredictable.
- Making a big decision we will write down a big list of pros vs cons to help us decide carefully between options.
- As I write this very article I make decide between the words, prose and metaphors that will best communicate the ideas my mind is refining.
So this presents a big question, perhaps the biggest question, do we have free will or are we just playing out script that's already been written for us?
Religion, since time immemorial, did a pretty good job at addressing this seeming paradox.
In religion, god knows what you are going to do.
- God knows what's going to happen in the future.
- God has laid out of a path of challenges and lessons for us so that we can ultimately end of leaving this world better than we found it.
Yet, in most religions god gives us free will or agency.
- God encourages us to be moral.
- God offers us incentives to be better people or communities but ultimately leaves the decision up to us.
But, as many atheists have pointed out, this is on the surface a contradiction. Well, it's a contradiction that's reflective of the paradox of free will vs predetermination that profoundly confuses astrophysicists, neuroscientists, quantum physicists and social scientists and philosophers
Here's my take on this...
It would seem that, at scale, we have very little free will.
Here's what I mean by this...
- When you get a statistically significant, similar group of people together you can quiet accurately predict what they are going to do. If you get a group of people with a specific IQ range you can quite accurately predict how many of them will get jobs, how much money they will make, if they will get married, have kids or go to jail. At scale, viewed as group, they have disappointingly little free will.
- Similarly, if you look at the grand course of your life, at scale, predetermined factors seem to really limit what you'll do and what you can become.
For example; I was one of these ambitious young adults that was really determined to becomea millionaire by the time I was 30 and I read a lot of books about what this was going to take and tried really hard, yet I totally failed. Now I probably have a pretty average net worth of an male, American 30 year old. Despite all my agency, I ended up quiet average.
So even though we seem to have quiet a lot of micro-agency or free will in our short term, moment-to-moment, day to day decisions long term, at scale, you will likely end up being statistically quiet average for...
- Your sex
- Your race
- Your height
- Your attractiveness
- Your intelligence
- The social class you were born into
These predetermined factors define almost everything about how your life is going to go.
And what is the programming that fundamentally underlies these things?
Your genes. More than anything else, your genes determine whether you are going to be really successful, happy or end up in jail.
Your genes are your destiny
This is an uncomfortable and politically incorrect truth that...
- The self help gurus won't admit to you because it undermines their transformation via positive thinking, self esteem or just be confident messaging.
- The genetic researchers and scientists won't admit to you because politically incorrect opinions can get them fired from their institutions or get their funding denied.
- Politicians certainly won't admit this to you because they sell you the illusion of free will and self determination via democracy.
- Even the companies that sell Biohacking products and Mitochondrial supplements won't admit this to you because they don't want to insult their potential customers.
Defy your genes
So if everyone in your family, is really successful and happy then that's a good sign that you have the kinds of genes that will lead you inevitably to become successful and happy. But if not, if your family is kind of a disaster, then it's going to take really herculean energy, discipline and motivation for you to defy your genes and resist this gravity of epigenetic trauma that is powerfully and subtly pulling you down a path of mediocrity.
If you've ever felt like you kind of repeat the same mistakes and the same relationships and no matter how hard you try it doesn't seem like you can reach escape velocity of momentum away from the black hole that is your past then that's good sign that your genes are running your life.
Genes vs Mitochondria
The good news is that you can overcome your genes with your Mitochondria, sometimes in a quiet literal way, where fully functional Mitochondria allows us to overcome epigenetic trauma, it switches off vestigial defense mechanisms in our genes and psychology that don't serve us.
And having our Mitochondria working right gives us the energy and motivation to consistently practice helpful habits because, ultimately we are what we repeatedly do.
About Head Strong
Like Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss, the book is a refined version of Dave Asprey's podcast, you could learn everything in this book by just listening to the Bulletproof podcast.
So you could of course save yourself the $12 and the 9 hours of reading by just listening to all his podcast episodes, but this book does a really great job of summarizing the best Biohacks discussed in the podcast and putting them in a holistic context of optimizing your Mitochondria. I don't recommend you buy and read every book I review, but this book I really do!
The common criticism you hear of Dave Asprey is that: he pitches his own products too often! He does pitch his products often during his podcast but I would say that just about 15% of this book is him talking the Bulletproof products and often he gave alternatives, because not everyone can afford or easily get their hands on Bulletproof products.
Moral Failures have Biological Causes
For those of you who don't know, the author has a really interesting story, he was born with a very unlucky roll of the genetic dice and grew up with almost every health problem you could think of. He describes this epiphany, paradigm shift he had where he realized that his failings were not necessarily moral failings but were the fault of dysfunctional neurobiology...
my diminished brain function stopped being a moral problem and became an issue with my body’s hardware that I could fix.
And as he fixed his neurobiology, he made better decision and became more successful.
Similarly, I often thought of my failures in moral terms, I just wasn't a good enough person to become a millionaire by age 30, I just didn't work hard enough.
Maybe you should think about your failures similarly. It's an incredibly liberating sentiment!
Now I'm not a moral relativist, I don't want to say that nobody is to blame for their bad decisions and that we are all victims but we could live in a drastically more sane and moral world if neuro-biological dysfunction was the exception as opposed to the norm. Dave writes
I have come to believe that high-performance brains are our birthright as humans.
But, this is birthright that you have work for! You don't "deserve an airplane"
What is Mitochondria?
To get more specific than the Star Wars metaphor
The energy production that takes place within your mitochondria is therefore the single most important function in your body. (pp. 23-24)
The average human cell contains between one thousand and two thousand mitochondria. The cells in the parts of our body that require the most energy— the brain, retina, and heart— contain about ten thousand mitochondria each. That means you have more than one quadrillion mitochondria within your body.
The cool thing about your mitochondria is that when you make them more powerful, you get better at everything you do, (p. 36)
Why Mitochondria is a Brain Power Hack
Luckily for you, the prefrontal cortex— the “higher” part of your brain in charge of advanced cognitive function— has the most densely packed mitochondria of any part of your body (except for the ovaries!). That means that your mitochondria contribute more energy to your brain’s performance than your heart, lungs, or legs. Your brain gets first dibs on mitochondrial energy, and your eyes and heart are right behind it in line. (p. 6)
If defying your genes is something that you really want to do, I'll suggest that you combine motivational mechanisms and one of the strongest motivational mechanisms is sunk cost; spending money.
There's several supplements that powerfully optimize your Mitochondria, I'll suggest that if you haven't already, order them now along with ordering Head Strong. Don't get the audio book, get the actual book or the Kindle edition, so you can take notes.
With a not insubstantial chunk of change already sunk into these Mitochondrial supplements you will be REALLY motivated to actually metabolize the rich information in this book into transformative wisdom about your health. Not to mention you'll start feeling more limitless (or bulletproof) right away!
I have here the Mitochondrial Nootropics that deliver the best ROI and credible sources to order them from.
Listed in descending order of the most effective and most economical, if you have a limited budget get the ones near the top of the list
- Piracetam (Source)
- ALCAR (Source)
- CoQ10 (Source)
- Glutathione (Source)
- Magnesium (Source)
- Creatine (Source)
- Sulforaphane (Source)
- Methylene Blue (Source)
- Nicotine (Source)
- Grape Seed Extract (Source)
- Krill Oil (Source)
Smart Drugs are the Gateway Drug
This book confirms that smart drugs are the gateway drug to true personal development and transforming one's health. Smart drugs gave a once, profoundly sick Dave Asprey initial motivation to take on the gigantic task of fixing his broken biology.
I poured the extra energy and performance I got from the smart drugs into experimenting with and gaining an understanding of every conceivable method that might upgrade my brain’s performance.
The Myth of "Settled Science"
There's this tendency amongst lay people to think that science figured out health a while ago.
I think this is because it's been awhile since any really big, paradigm shifting scientific innovations...
- The airplane was invented about a century ago
- Space travel was figured out 60 years ago
- Computers were invented in the middle of last century
- The last really big innovation that changed the world was the Internet and that also is like 30 years old
So I think that the average person kind of assumes that similarly there have been no major innovations in the health sciences in recent times. This couldn't be further from the truth! Actually the past 10 years have been the most exciting times, a lot of things we've learned have flipped the conventional wisdom on it's head.
For example, for the longest time the mainstream media, institutions and diet gurus told us that fat was bad - Don't eat fat, unless you want to be fat!
There were all these diet books about high carb, low fat diets. Yet in the past 10 years it's become increasingly evident that fat is good for you, fat is what our minds and bodies run off of and carbs and sugar are what we should be avoiding. The "settled science" was dead wrong. Unfortunately, a lot of people still dogmatically believe that fat is bad.
Neuroplasticity is another topic that "settled science" was wrong about for a long time.
It wasn’t until later in the twentieth century that scientists discovered what’s called neuroplasticity— the brain’s ability to grow new cells and forge new neural connections throughout your life. Before then, researchers believed that your brain remained static until it degenerated in old age.
We are at the frontier of an exciting new era of performance enhancement science. Our generation was born too late to explore the earth, yet too early to explore the stars but we were born at the right to time to take on perhaps a far more important project; making better humans with science. Maybe they'll make it to the stars...
Why is it Crucial to hack Mitochondria?
Someone may reasonably ask: Why do I need all these Biohacks, smart drugs and supplements to optimize my Mitochondria? Can't I just do it with my diet?
Dr. Frank Shallenberger (who discovered and named EOMD) estimates that we actually need 50– 100 percent more energy now than we did a hundred years ago to get rid of all of the toxins that are inside our bodies, slowing down our energy production and making us weak. (p. 37)
By strategically and temporarily stressing your body, you can boost its natural detoxification systems and stimulate the creation of new mitochondria to maximize your energy. (p. 39)
Just taking a cold shower for one minute in the morning is often enough to stimulate cold thermogenesis. (p. 175)
After hearing about cold showers from so many high performance people I finally took the plunge and have been regularly doing cold showers.
Initially, I did like 60 seconds cold at the end a normal shower, which would of course, be the longest damn 60 seconds of my day spent shivering vigorously with that dainty pink body scrubber thing, And sometimes I would wimp out and not do the cold shower at the end of the shower.
Here's the lifehack for this
- Start with the cold water, after 60-90 seconds switch to hot water. Which is like having dessert AFTER a healthy meal, instead of BEFORE it!
- Brush your teeth during the cold shower. You need to brush your teeth and it takes 60-90 seconds and it kind of takes your mind off the benign thermogenic torture that I'm subjecting myself to!
Light vs Mitochondria
One of the points that is made repeatedly in the book is that bad light is bad for you. Yes, just like we avoid junk food, we should also try to avoid junk light.
There's two main kinds of light you want to avoid:
Blue light and fluorescent light (especially after dark)
Your mitochondria have to produce a lot of extra energy to process the blue light in LEDs, which burns oxygen and creates free radicals in the cells of your eyes. And when the mitochondria in your eyes are stressed, the rest of your mitochondria can get stressed, too, including the ones in your brain. (pp. 159-160)
You are getting overdosed on blue light, so changing the ratio of blue to red can help your eyes and your brain, and your mitochondria will thank you. Simply install a red light somewhere in your field of vision. (pp. 241-242)
Here's a cool fact
We have learned that mitochondria make biophotons— tiny pulses of light that last for one-quadrillionth of a second. This is part of how they communicate with each other. As it turns out, gut bacteria also make biophotons. Is it possible that your gut bacteria are communicating with the tiny bacteria-derived mitochondria that rule your cells? I think it is, especially because we know mitochondria are sensitive to external sources of light. (p. 63)
The Best Diet for Mitochondria
Is almost certainly the keto diet...
Dr. Veech explained that humans are the only animals that go into ketosis when we fast because we have such large brains to support. Ketosis protects our big brains from oxidative stress and allows us to survive. (p. 99)
Combined with intermittent fasting...
Lots of people have tried to hack long-term fasting with a technique called intermittent fasting. This means you eat all of your food within a specific window of time (six or eight hours) and fast the rest of the day (sixteen to eighteen hours). This is an effective way to cycle in and out of ketosis while remaining well fed, and it’s been proven to have plenty of other brain benefits such as increasing neurogenesis. (p. 103)
Self Monitoring Your Mitochondria
Pay attention to your energy dips throughout the day— perhaps you ate something or were exposed to something that damaged your mitochondria! (p. 41)
Biohackers are always interested in doing A/B testing. I have a daily regimen of coconuts, broccoli and probiotic yogurt that I know keeps my energy levels quite high, but someday I may try something new, like a sushi lunch special, but I'll carefully self monitor that day. If I get a bit dopey around 3:30PM then I likely won't be back for those tasty rolls.
The Head Strong Program
The book has a two week program for improving your Mitochondria, Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get my hands on all the supplements and technology that he recommends but I have been following the program more or less and I do feel better! Notably,
- I've been waking up earlier and getting more done.
- My libido has been pretty healthy.
I'll be doing a follow up Biohacker report on the Head Strong program.
Tests to Do
One of the reasons you'll want to buy this book is that it gives you a number of tests that you can do to pinpoint the neurobiological issue that you may have.
Let's say that you're suffering from sporadic bouts of depression and maybe you're a little overweight, well those two things are really tantamount to a blinking check engine light on a car; they are very uninformative signs that something somewhere is broken.
The conventional advice to someone who is a little overweight and a little depressed is
- Get some exercise, burn some calories!
- Start a mindfulness practice, do daily meditation
- Practice gratitude
- Cut the junk food out of your diet
But as lots of depressed, overweight people will tell you, they've tried these things and they did not really help much!
There's also hundreds of different types of supplements and anti-depressant Nootropics out there that MAY totally vanquish these generic health issues or they may do NOTHING for you, you really don't know until you try them for at least a couple of weeks.
There are at least one hundred unique types of neurotransmitters in your body, and each has its own specific function. (p. 85) Good luck guessing which are dysfunctional!
So you could easily spend years (and a lot of money) trying to treat these very unclear health issues with little success, you could get a second (third, fourth and fifth!) opinion from yet another doctor who's going to hypothesize about your issue and likely give you advice based upon their academic education (or the big pharma rep who took them golfing last weekend!)
You could get some tests done that actually measure your biology and give you concrete data about what's going on that really empowers you to fix the specific issue(s) that is holding you back
In this review I'm not going to list all the blood panels and tests mentioned but if you're sick of being sick and wasting your time and money with things that don't work, read this book and get those tests done!
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