#68 Dave Asprey

James Altucher interviews Dave Asprey (@BulletProofExec) to talk about what makes someone bulletproof (metaphorically) and the process for that knowledge (literally).

The interview begins as Asprey tells Altucher about his struggles with weight. Dave weighed over 300 pounds and after surgery on his knee, decided that things had to change. Asprey began his attempts to hack himself, spending 15 years (and $300,000) he’s figured out enough to share it in this interview and his new book, The Bulletproof Diet

In the process of getting healthy, Dave was finding conventional wisdom wasn’t working. he was working out but not dropping weight. He was eating better but felt like “brain was crumbling.” He tells James, “I was in a meeting and I just wouldn’t remember anything. I became addicted to my notepad. There were times when people would ask me questions, things I knew that I should know and I just didn’t remember.”  He began going to anti-aging meetings and keeping a food journal and it was here that Dave discovered that the foods he ate mattered, a lot. 

For Asprey, and many other recent food writers, a lot of what they say goes against the Standard American Diet (SAD). Besides Dave there is Marc Sisson at Primal Blueprint, Tim Ferriss championing his slow carb diet, and Melissa and Dallas Hartwig at The Whole30. Each of these people attacks the bedrock of the food pyramid with a jackhammer, crumbling away the idea that 10 servings of grains each day is required. 

One of Asprey’s moments of clarity was meeting with a physician and asking his opinion about Linus Pauling. His doctor had never heard of Pauling. The good people at Nature have, writing, “Pauling not only helped to lay the foundation of modern chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology, he also erected much of the edifice” and was awarded – among other things – the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Asprey was interested in why someone so intelligent would take so much Vitamin C. Pauling takes 18,000 milligrams of Vitamin C a day, the recommended amount for a healthy adult is about 90.

Before you rush out and start eating oranges peel and all, consider what psychologist call the Halo Effect. It is our tendency to view positive traits in one area cause us to feel more positive about other areas. A smoker may rationalize that because Barack Obama is intelligent and because he smokes, that smoking is a good decision.


Taking his health into his own hands, in both the figurative and literal sense, Dave began to experiment. His all vegan diet was great for the first few months but then he began getting more food allergies and more colds. Pig whipworm eggs can help regulate the immune system but Dave found, “I didn’t get any benefit from doing it.” At this point in my first listen I thought Dave has ventured a bit too far, but in writing this article it seems like whipworms aren’t that odd after all. An article at ClevelandClinic.org suggests that parasitic worms in the gastrointestinal tract prevents infection in less developed countries. Dave has also tested effects on mold and is releasing a documentary about it.

For all these ideas; vitamin C, parasites, meat, raw, and mold, Dave tests everything, and suggests that people do too. About his new book he says that people can “get rid of all the crap, see how you feel, and go oh, this is how I’m supposed to feel. Well let me add stuff back in, all the suspect foods as we call them on the roadmap, and then you can test it.”

The idea of testing and experimentation can be applied not only to your diet, but at work and with your family. On an organization level, Jeff Sutherland suggests that scrum style work can bring twice the results in half the time. Within a scrum there is a weekly recap about what went well, and why, and how to fix whatever didn’t work. In her studies with Boston Consulting Group, Leslie Perlow writes that a weekly review for each team led to better results for the client and happier employees. Bruce Feiler has written that the same thing works for families. From Monday mornings to Saturday dinners, everything is up for experimentation to find The Secrets of Happy Families

James mentions that he’s been drinking bulletproof coffee which “was like lightning hitting the house”  and helped him write 170 pages and edit 150 in a single weekend. It’s also helped him to feel full longer to which Dave replies, “it’s it liberating to just not be thinking about food all day long.” 

Most of the interview between Dave, James, and Claudia (Altucher’s wife) revolves around how each product Dave sells can solve something. From GABAwave to Brain Octane Oil to Unfair Advantage, for Asprey it’s all about the chemical combinations. Through the interview Altucher tries to get to the best foods, but rather than tell Claudia what might be a good replacement for her cookie craving, he suggests the Brain Octane Oil. 

Asprey doesn’t give many suggestions for what to eat, so here’s one from Seth Godin, for the best kale salad you’ve ever had. Godin says to soak raw cashews in hot water for two hours, and then blend the nuts with olive oil, rice vinegar, and garlic. Then take a mixer and beat the dressing and kale together. Toss with sunflower seeds and cranberries. Try it with a side of guacamole to which Asprey says, “there’s no reason you can’t eat with a spoon.”

The trio also talk about good sleep, which Asprey say he uses dark out shades, Flux software, and of course a mat he’s made and you can buy.

There is a bit of discussion about what it means for a good life and Dave says he’s not looking for fifty million dollars, just “to live really well.” It turns out that this idea is measured by the World Health Organization as HALE (Healthy Life Expectancy). How long you live minus any time due to disease or injury. The American male can expect to live 76 years, 8 of which are “lost” years. The American female can expect 81 years and lose 10. 

In the end I’m skeptical of what Asprey says. It’s too neat for me. Some ideas sound good and make sense (healthy amounts of melatonin, good vegetables), some ok (maybe less fruit, maybe intestinal eggs for very specific cases), and some are off the rails for me. One of his products is named “Unfair Advantage.”

Altucher loves to find the arbitrage in a situation, and I don’t think Asprey has found one. The major drug companies have more facilities, money, marketing, and intelligence and none of them have a product that compares. It’s the same reason that Nike doesn’t sell athletic footwear for cooks, there’s no added value there. That said, there are unconventional things I do too that make me feel better. I have more energy when I eat fewer grains and processed foods, and conventional wisdom isn’t perfect. Maybe the best advice is what past guest, Mitch Lowe said about what Reed Hastings taught him. “I always thought you needed a clear answer before you made a decision, and the thing that he (Hastings) taught me was that you’ve got to use analytics directionally…and never worry that they aren’t 100% sure.” 

Thanks for reading. If you’re a regular reader and would like to say thank you with a donation you can do that below.


Update 1/24/15. See this Lifehacker article about the Bulletproof Business

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