[0:00:58] About this Podcast
[0:02:01] Podcast Sponsors
[0:04:08] Modern Medicine is not All Cracked Up
[0:07:33] Popular Current Fads to Extend Human Lifespan: Vampire Therapy
[0:09:38] Stem Cells
[0:13:19] Medications and Supplements
[0:19:25] Supplements and Medicines Used by Our Ancestors
[0:22:46] Natural Ways to Enhance Our Vision
[0:24:44] Natural Hearing Enhancement
[0:26:42] The Natural “Sixth Sense” Within Us
[0:28:03] Natural Ways to Enhance Our Brains
[0:28:54] Natural Alternatives
[0:33:26] Still a Combination of Both
[0:35:38] End of Podcast
Ben: I have a master’s degree in physiology, biomechanics, and human nutrition. I’ve spent the past two decades competing in some of the most masochistic events on the planet from SEALFit Kokoro, Spartan Agoge, and the world’s toughest mudder, the 13 Ironman triathlons, brutal bow hunts, adventure races, spearfishing, plant foraging, free diving, bodybuilding and beyond. I combine this intense time in the trenches with a blend of ancestral wisdom and modern science, search the globe for the world’s top experts and performance, fat loss, recovery, gut hormones, brain, beauty, and brawn to deliver you this podcast. Everything you need to know to live an adventurous, joyful, and fulfilling life. My name is Ben Greenfield. Enjoy the ride.
Well, hello. I actually just gave a TEDx talk in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho last week. I decided that there were many things I did not have the time, gosh darn, that TEDx gods dictate that you got to be 18 minutes long, no more. And you know me, I can drone and drone. I’m droning right now. Now, but I decided to really, really unpack in detail a lot of the things that I spoke about in that TEDx talk on today’s show. You don’t have to have heard the talk because, honestly, everything I talk about on the talk, I really do discuss in this episode. I think you’ll like it. It’s about really how to strike a balance between this whole biohacking thing and modern science and technology and transhumanism and all this jazz and just living a gosh darn natural life like our grandparents, who were apparently from New Jersey/Minnesota, lived.
Alright, I should shut up now and tell you just a couple of other things before I get you into this show. This podcast is, in large part completely, not completely but very much funded by my company, Kion, K-I-O-N. If you go to getkion.com, getK-I-O-N.com, you can see a host of the supplements that I’ve designed and handpicked to be featured there. It’s pretty much all Kion and then the only other supplement brand that I really trust and have a good relationship with to be able to feature some of their stuff on this site, and that would be the Thorne supplements, their creatine, their electrolytes, their different blends. And so that’s all on the Kion site. But we also have all my books over there, the Gratitude Journal, everything. You get a big old discount when you do this. You go to getkion.com. That’s getK-I-O-N.com. That’s it. There is no discount code. See, I had you fooled there. It’s just getK-I-O-N.com.
This podcast is also brought to you by the wonderfully tasting Organifi Gold. They just sent me up the chocolate flavor of the gold to try, which seems kind of, I don’t know, inaccurate I might say because it’s not gold, it’s brown. But it tastes even better, in my opinion, because I’m a sucker for chocolate. So, they kept the ginger in there. They kept the reishi, the king of mushrooms in there, the lemon balm with the calming effect for sleep that when combined with the reishi, it really does a good job for sleep. And they’ve got turkey tail in there. I’m actually going to have a cup tonight. My boys’ first basketball game is coming up, so I’m going to show them Hoosiers and we’re going to sit around with mom’s baked salmon, and I’m going to have some salmon and then sip away at my Organifi Chocolate Gold for my little nighttime snacky poo. So, you get a 20% discount on everything from Organifi when you just go to Bengreenfieldfitness.com/organifi. That’s Organifi with an I dot com and use the 20% discount code there, GREENFIELD. I eat. Let’s do this.
As a man who spends much of my life immersed in the modern health and longevity movement, I often survey the landscape of fringe supplements, biohacks, transhumanists, modern medical technologies, and wonder when our ancestors have laughed at us. When it comes to living a long and healthy life, would their ancestral wisdom beat our modern science hands down? After all, despite our modern infatuation with longevity and optimized bodies and brains, we’re not strikingly healthier or longer living than those of the previous two generations. Sure, reductions in infant and child mortality have been dramatic over the 20th and 21st centuries, but our adult and senior populations are still sick, riddled with chronic disease, battling obesity, and frustrated with modern medicine.
Just this year, the CDC revealed that the average lifespan in the U.S. has dropped for the third year in a row. The wonders of living in a post-industrial era may make it easy to believe we enjoy longer lives than any time in human history. But despite our best efforts, we may not be that special after all. That’s right. It’s a false assertion that the average American can, today, expect to live an extra dozen or more years compared to the previous generations. This is because quite conveniently, and for mutual funds appealing for greater individual retirement savings or those crying for a delayed retirement and Social Security reform, life expectancy is often calculated as number of years after retirement age and not number of years from birth.
So, while it is indeed true that, thanks to modern sanitation and medicine, babies born today are living longer, the reality is that the average baby boomer can currently expect to live about 18 years past retirement. That same baby boomer’s grandparents who retired at a similar age could expect to live 15 years past retirement, which is hardly a drastic change in lifespan. If life were truly being extended for decades, there would be plenty of 110 plus year-old Americans, but that simply isn’t the case. Overall, life expectancy has an increase because we’re surviving significantly longer than we used to, but rather because more of us are simply making it out of childhood alive.
What about our ancestors? It’s certainly common belief that ancient Greeks or Romans would have been flabbergasted to see anyone above the age of 50, and that our caveman ancestors died horrible deaths from saber-toothed tigers and plagues in their 20s and 30s. However, not only does it turn out that we aren’t living much longer than previous generations, but we also, contrary to popular belief, haven’t always lived nasty brutish short lives. In fact, in the 7th century BC, the Greek poet, Hesiod, wrote that a man should marry when he was not much less than 30 and not much more. Ancient Rome’s political system didn’t even allow a young man to apply for his first office until the age of 30. To be consul, you had to be 43, which is 8 years older than America’s minimum presidential age limit.
In the first century, Pliny’s natural history documented a list of multiple individuals who lived over 100 years and up to 115. In our pursuit of longevity, should we just forsake the time-consuming expensive extremes of modern medicine science and biohacking and instead, especially for those of us who are already adults and have made it out of childhood, explore more ancestral natural alternatives?
Well, today, I’ll tackle what I’m wondering about right now, whether our pursuit of idealized health ought to simply return us to time-honored–let’s begin by taking a look at just a few of the extreme efforts. Modern wellness enthusiasts are currently engaging in to extend human health and lifespan. In one procedure called Vampire Therapy, several startups now offer multi-thousand-dollar blood transfusions from teams to people, mostly very rich people who want to fight aging. The procedure called parabiosis is based on experiments at Stanford University and pairs of old and young rodents that suggest the circulation of blood from young mice seems to invigorate old mice.
The startup company, Ambrosia, now sells young blood transfusions for just $8,000. Then there’s the Young Blood Institute, which replaces your blood plasma with that of a young donor at the cool cost of $285,000 per person. In a poor man’s version of parabiosis, for less than $500, you too can have placental extract injected intramuscularly or into joints. But perhaps our infatuation with the magical qualities of young blood isn’t such a new phenomenon after all. For the ancient Greeks, blood was considered to be a magical elixir, known as Hema. In Homer’s writings, Odysseus uses two sheep to bring a soothsayer back to life. Pliny the Elder describes the mad rush of spectators into arenas to drink the blood of fallen gladiators.
Centuries later, Italian philosopher, Marsilio Ficino, promoted drinking young blood as a means for the elderly to regain their youthful vigor. In 1667, a French physician named Jean-Baptiste Denys performed the first animal to human transfusion, saving a feverish boy and a sick butcher with the blood of a young lamb. Now, thousands of years later, there seems to be no discontinuation of our captivation with blood transfusions as a magical fountain of youth. Although GDF11, one of the primary anti-aging proteins activated with an infusion of young blood, is also increased by the hormone oxytocin, which we naturally release in ample amounts during natural activities such as hugging, childbirth, breastfeeding, and sex.
Then there are stem cells. Once relegated to the realm of pro-athletes and billionaires gallivanting to fringe anti-aging clinics in Europe, the stem cell industry is now transformed into a trendy protocol that has health enthusiasts in America now rushing to get fat sucked from their butts and marrow siphoned from their bones to harvest and concentrate stem cells. When it comes to anti-aging, there is indeed evidence that reductions in stem cells are linked to aging, but a gradual reduction in the number of stem cells in your body may act like a biological ticking clock, and that a dose of stem cells injected into a bum knee or elbow or mainlined in the bloodstream could indeed produce profound transformations in recovery, fight against frailty and the overall aging process as a whole.
After my first intravenous stem cell infusion, my own biological age dropped from 37 years old to 20 years old. Since then, I’ve undergone plenty of fringe procedures including full body sedation for a head-to-toe stem cell makeover and even being featured as the stem cell poster boy in the Men’s Health article entitled New Year, New, [00:10:40] ______ kids, Dick, Outside Magazine’s New Rules of Healthy Living and an embarrassing Gizmodo piece about the man who tried to make his you-know-what bigger, as the guy who got stem cells injected into his genitals for sexual enhancement.
But even stem cells can be increased or enhanced via relatively simple dietary strategies that could be considered more natural or ancestral than a $10,000 syringe of placental amniotic umbilical fat or bone-derived stem cells. Indeed, many such strategies include food compounds that our ancestors have consumed these time-honored superfoods for thousands of years. These include things like colostrum, chlorella, spirulina, marine phytoplankton, aloe vera, coffee berry, and Moringa. That’s right. Armed with a good blender and a handful of natural plant extracts, you too can, sans needles and injections, significantly support your own stem cell health.
As if blood transfers and fringe stem cell procedures weren’t enough, people are now also opting to have their heads chopped off and frozen in hopes that they may eventually be able to place their brain, including memory and personality, into a new body. This process called cryonics or cryopreservation, derived from the Greek term for cold, uses temperatures below 200 degrees Fahrenheit to keep the removed heads of the deceased cold in an attempt to preserve enough brain information to permit future resurrection of the cryopreserved person. I’ll be out in a new body.
Now, cryonics isn’t cheap but for $50,000, you too can preserve your brain for perpetuity. However, isn’t a cryotherapy just a form of modern mummification? After all, everyone’s familiar with the ancient Egyptians who dreamt of an idyllic rill beyond death and even a return from the afterlife. They preserved corpses via an elaborate 70-day process of embalming methods that included salting, spicing, and canning of the internal organs. Two thousand years before the Egyptians, the Chileans developed a complex mummification process in which they dismembered and disemboweled the body completely then attached the pieces back together using straw plant fibers and sticks.
Scientists have also discovered Incan bodies intentionally preserved by dry atmospheres and extremely cold temperatures. Lady Chang, a Chinese aristocrat who lived thousands of years ago, is the best-preserved ancient mummy in the world and was laid to rest immersed in a special embalming fluid and a nested coffin housed in an airtight tomb. Yet despite these extreme advances in science and technology, it seems we are no closer to the prospect of resurrection or any form of human-made immortality. And no, in case you’re wondering, I have yet to have any body parts removed and iced, although I do have a hefty collection of my stem cells frozen and stored somewhere in Florida.
Then there are medications and supplements. The global pharmaceuticals market alone was worth over $900 billion in 2017 and is projected to reach nearly 1,200 billion in 2021. That’s bigger than the GDP of nearly every major country. The global supplement industry is also expanding at an astounding rate and will soon reach $250 billion. Take metformin for example. Now a darling of the anti-aging industry, metformin is really just a slightly modified version of a compound that was discovered in the French lilac plant. Also known as “goat’s rue,” this plant has been prescribed by physicians as an herbal remedy for centuries. In the Wired magazine article, “Forget the Blood of Teens. This Pill Promises to Extend Life for a Nickel a Pop,” it’s reported how Tim Ferriss, in his book Tools of Titans, estimates that at least a dozen of the billionaires, icons, and world-class performers in his book now take metformin.
Now, when the FDA approved metformin as a diabetes treatment in the ’90s, there wasn’t much interest in the drug’s potential as the anti-aging miracle it’s now cracked up to be. But it turns out that those who were prescribed metformin tended to be surprisingly healthier. They live longer. They had fewer cardiovascular events, and at first glance, seem less likely to suffer from dementia and to get cancer less frequently. Yet there’s a dark side to this supposed medieval wonder drug. Even if it does what it claims to do, it comes with a number of adverse side effects, including lactic acidosis, mitochondrial disruption, vitamin B12 deficiency, gastrointestinal upset, and with long-term use nearly a doubling of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s risk.
So, where does all this leave metformin? Well, perhaps it’s time to broaden our horizons and return to our roots, natural alternatives that can have very similar insulin sensitizing blood sugar stabilizing and even longevity-enhancing effects as metformin. These include bitters, herbs, and wild plants like berberine, curcumin, apple cider vinegar, Ceylon cinnamon, and one of my favorite compounds to shop for at a good Asian market and that’s chewed on by many healthy residents of the longevity hotspot of Okinawa, Japan prior to a meal, bitter melon.
Now, another current obsession of the anti-aging industry is rapamycin. In the ’60s, a group of Canadian researchers from McGill University set sail for Easter Island, a sparsely inhabited speck of land 2,000 miles off the coast of Chile. The team collected hundreds of plant samples, thousands of animal specimens, and blood and saliva from the 949 residents of the island. But what they found buried in the dirt of Easter Island turned out to be the biggest find of all, a soil-based bacteria that mystified scientists for the next 50 years but is now known to create a special chemical known as rapamycin, named after Easter Island’s native name, Rapa Nui. A growing body of research now shows that rapamycin can actually extend not just the average lifespan of mice, as many drugs have already been shown to do, but also the maximum lifespan by up to 30%.
But as with metformin, there’s a dark side to rapamycin. Part of the way it works is by inhibiting excess activation of immune cells via a pathway called mTOR and up-regulation of cellular clean-up mechanisms called autophagy. Now, inhibition of the mTOR pathway and activation of autophagy can indeed slow aging and control issues like neurological diseases and genetic disorders. But as an immune system suppressor, rapamycin is also able to increase risk of infectious diseases and diabetes, and produce side effects like impaired wound healing, lung toxicity, and an increased risk of cancer.
But in the same way that there are natural compounds that can be used as alternatives to metformin, there are also natural compounds that mimic what rapamycin is able to do for health and longevity. One example is spermidine. Spermidine has been shown to induce similar benefits as rapamycin with no known side effects and also promotes longevity in yeast, worms, and mice. While sperm, yes sperm, is the most concentrated form of spermidine, and guys, stop elbowing your wives, it also exists in high concentrations in foods like wheat germ, dark leafy greens, mushrooms, and smelly fermented cheeses. And if swallowing sperm or eating stinky cheese just isn’t your thing, then you can simply also tap into the benefits of rapamycin by adopting a habit of intermittent fasting or regular periods of mild calorie restriction.
Then there’s NAD, an abbreviation for a mouthful of a molecule called Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide, which is naturally found in the human body, is one of the primary ways that ATP is produced and mitochondrial health is maintained. Now, NAD levels markedly decline with age, eventually creating an energy deficit that decreases the body’s ability to maintain normal metabolic activity, like mitigating chemical stress, inflammation, DNA damage, and failing mitochondria. By age 50, a typical person may have only half the NAD than they did in their younger years. By age 80, the levels can drop to only 1% to 10% of their original value.
The Scientific American recently referred to NAD as Beyond Resveratrol, the Asian Scientist as Longevity in a Bottle, and Time Magazine as The New Anti-Aging Pill on the Horizon. NAD injections and IVs, despite being quite a comfortable and nausea-inducing, have become a top-selling item on the menu of many anti-aging and longevity clinics. But in the same way that the effects of rapamycin can be simulated with foods and fasting, the same could be said for NAD. Raw honey, fermented foods, and even regular sauna sessions also seem to act quite favorably on the NAD pathways.
What’s even more interesting is that for less than $20, anyone can easily hop on Amazon and grab a giant bag of loose leaf tea called Pau D’arco, which I always have brewed in a glass mason jar in my refrigerator. Derived from the bark of a tropical evergreen tree in the Amazonian rainforest, it contains a compound called beta-lapachone, which acts as a precursor for NAD, no uncomfortable IVs required.
So, what have we learned thus far about modern science versus ancestral wisdom? Well, you can get injected with stem cells or opt to put a few simple superfoods in your smoothie. You can get blood transfusions from a young human or simply have more sex and hug people. You can use metformin, rapamycin, NAD, or turn to stinky cheese, fasting, and cheap tea. As for cryotherapy, well since the time of the Egyptians, we’ve been trying many versions of it but seem to have not yet found a way to truly resurrect a human.
And lest you think that since our ancestors didn’t take any such fringe superfoods or supplements, please know that generations before us most certainly took supplements and many of them. As a matter of fact, humans have used some form of medicine, particularly from plants and herbs, for nearly as long as we’ve existed.
Archaeological excavations dated as far back as 60,000 years ago found remains of medicinal plants like opium poppies, ephedra and cannabis. The oldest written evidence of medicinal plant usage can be found on a Sumerian clay slab approximately 5,000 years old and it contains a dozen recipes for drug preparation from over 250 plants, including poppy, henbane, and Mandrake. Traditional Chinese medicine texts from thousands of years ago list 365 medicinal plant extracts. Many of which are still used in modern medicine, including camphor, gentian, ginseng, jimsonweed, and cinnamon bark.
The Indian holy books describe treatment with numerous pipes plants like nutmeg, black pepper, and clove, the Egyptian’s papyrus, the use of pomegranate, castor oil plant, aloe, senna, garlic, onion, fig, willow, coriander, and juniper. The works of Homer, Herodotus, and Hippocrates over 300 medicinal plants including wormwood for fever, garlic for parasites, opium, nightshade, and mandrake as narcotics; sea onions, celery, parsley, asparagus, and garlic as diuretics; and oak and pomegranate extract to stop bleeding. In the middle ages, monks based most of their therapy on just 16 medicinal plants, including sage, anise, mint, savory, and tansy. Most of which can easily be grown in any modern human’s backyard or porch.
By the early 19th century, emerging knowledge of chemistry allowed physicians and pharmacologists to begin isolating and concentrating the active ingredients of thousands of known medicinal plants in the many of the same vitamins, powders, tinctures, oils, teas, and salves, that now appear in present-day pharmaceutical drugs and supplements, including aspirin from willow bark, digoxin from foxglove, quinine from cinchona bark, and morphine from poppy.
Modern antibiotics? Well, it turns out ancestral medicine has already created the natural versions of those too. Medical researchers were recently testing medieval medical remedies from the British Library by replicating a 1,000-year-old recipe for an eye salve and were shocked to find that it was incredibly effective in killing staph infections and other modern antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. The ingredients are quite simple: garlic, onions, and leeks, mixed with wine and ox gall. The mixture is then put into a brass vessel and left to incubate for nine nights.
What’s most interesting is that researchers replicating the protocol found that any omission from the recipe dramatically diminished or eliminated its bactericidal qualities, suggesting our ancestors knew far more about medicine than we might think. Even the animal world supplements and self-medicates. Orangutans use a local plant called Dracaena Cantleyi to make a healing joint salve. Parrots and macaws eat clay to aid digestions. Lizards feed on roots to counteract snake venom. Even sparrows have discovered at some point that nicotine residue can control parasitic mites. And for this reason, they incorporate cigarette butts into their nests. Problem is, as us humans have grown more and more capable of isolating, extracting, and concentrating these compounds into pharmaceutical drugs, I wonder whether we’ve possibly bastardized the synergistic balance present in the more natural versions of these compounds found in leaves, roots, stems, and fruits.
But back to us modern-day humans; let’s go on to a few more examples of ancestral wisdom, modern biohacking, and the quest to upgrade human health and longevity. The internet recently exploded when a pair of biohackers injected their eyes with chlorophyll to give them night vision. The result was indeed a temporary boost in the ability to be able to see in the dark. But I question whether this or the increasing popularity of the built-in monocular camera eye prosthesis you can now find at eyeborgproject.tv are truly necessary in light, pun intended, of what we know about how to enhance vision naturally.
Not only did our hunter-gatherer ancestors spend far more time training their eyes and staving off vision degradation by looking at objects both near and far, as opposed to our modern myopic exposure to screens are about one to three feet from our eyes, but they also consumed a wide variety of plant compounds that are known vision enhancers. These include lutein, zeaxanthin, and carotenoids found in dark leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach, and bell peppers. Nature’s doctrine of signatures dictates what might be good for our bodies, including the gonad-shaped avocado for testicular and ovarian function, and the pancreas-shaped sweet potato for insulin function. Crack-open an egg in a pan or slice a carrot horizontally and what do you see? Eye-shaped vision enhancing pieces of nature, no chlorophyll injections or video camera surgeries required.
Even in the absence of these nutrition strategies, humans have a built-in ability to be able to see with our bodies in the absence of light. For example, Daniel Kish is a New York City man who’s completely blind but can see like a bat, hence his nickname, Batman. Kish uses a form of echolocation by using clicking noises with his tongue that reverberate back to his ears to be able to navigate the city, find his way around his house, and even ride his bike in New York City traffic. I wonder if we were all indeed exploring the amazing built-in ancestral capabilities of our own bodies, whether all of us could develop the same skills without resorting to vision-enhancing implants.
And then there’s hearing. Self-experimenters are now surgically implanting special headphones directly into their ears. These headphones use electromagnetic induction to generate a magnetic field that vibrates the air near the eardrum to create sound and hearing enhancement. Yet, we know that there are far simpler ways to enhance hearing. For example, scientists recently studied the fossilized ear bones of ancient humans then reconstructed 3D computer models to predict hearing ability. The external ear canals were noticeably shorter and wider, the eardrum smaller, and the middle ear bone is a different shape compared to those in modern human ears. It turns out that our ancestors were literally equipped via the ears to be better hunters and better hearers.
The researchers hypothesized that this was likely due to the amount of time spent outdoors tuned in to the frequencies of nature. It’s likely that the relatively high wild plant intake found in previous generations also helped hearing, especially since the folate found in foods like turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, parsley, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, lentils, and liver has been shown to induce a 20% decrease in the risk of developing hearing loss. While the synthetic form of folic acid found in modern processed foods is actually a harmful oxidized synthetic compound. Rich sources of dietary folate include foods that people are eating far more seldomly these days, including legumes, dark leafy greens, and cruciferous vegetables. Perhaps an ancestral dietary upgrade would be far more natural and efficient than an ear implant and a head-mounted camera extension, don’t you think?
In yet another extreme example of an attempt to upgrade human biology, the ambitious transhumanist at cyborgnest.net have created a tiny built-in human compass called North Sense. Now, after hiring a professional and body piercer to anchor North Sense under your collarbone, you can experience a subtle vibration every time your body faces true north. Yet, most people aren’t aware of magnetoreception, a sixth sense that allows birds and fish to be able to navigate incredible distances across complex pathways with surprising accuracy.
Humans actually have the very same built-in capacity because we possess a tiny shiny crystal of magnetite in our ethmoid bone located between our eyes just behind the nose. Magnetite makes the ethmoid bone sensitive to the Earth’s magnetic field. And researchers hypothesized that this built-in compass was crucial for human evolution because it made migration, hunting, and wayfinding far easier. But somewhere in the evolution, road atlases, Google Maps, and the growth of agriculture as an alternative to hunting and gathering, we seem to have lost this ancestral skill too.
Now, of course, no discussion of modern biohacking would be complete without addressing even more pills from movies like “Limitless and Lucy,” the TV shows like “Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia.” Us, modern humans, are also infatuated with upgrading our brains, especially via the use of so-called nootropics and smart drugs. A surge of cognition-boosting supplements, along with prescription narcolepsy drugs like modafinil, and the Parkinson’s treatment drug, selegiline, also known as deprenyl, are now being used off-label amongst Silicon Valley execs, professional video gamers, and college students studying for exams as a sort of performance-enhancing brain doping.
Yet, the unnatural surge of neurotransmitters these drugs can cause can result in dependency, serotonin imbalances, poor sleep and mood disorders, and an eventual lack of an ability to truly feel pleasure or respond to dopamine in the absence of the continued use of these external chemicals.
But remember the doctrine of signatures I mentioned earlier? Well, if you crack open a walnut, it looks like a little brain. And walnuts are rich in the omega fatty acids, melatonin, and other polyphenols that make them a perfect brain food. The same could be said of lion’s mane mushroom, which when found in nature, looks like a cluster of axons and dendrites and serves to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which acts like miracle-grow for the brain.
Then there’s the bacopa flower for memory, green tea for cognition, rhodiola for fighting brain inflammation, and even psilocybin for enhanced neurogenesis. And all these compounds have been used in traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years without, aside from the exception of magic mushrooms which are now increasing in legality, requiring one to venture to the dark web with a pocket full of bitcoins or into the doctor’s office for a prescription.
Now, light is another arena that we’re now marrying to technology. Have you ever heard of photobiomodulation? Well, in an attempt to improve skin health, build collagen and enhance testosterone, adjust the thyroid, normalize circadian rhythm, amplify mitochondrial health, and much more, light-seekers across the country are now purchasing infrared saunas, near and far infrared light panels, low-level laser wands, and a host of other light producing biohacks. Then again, it turns out every shred of the entire therapeutic light spectrum can be had for free from, you guessed it, the sun, which is perhaps why research has shown the same form of sunbathing that, here they come again, the ancient Greeks relied upon and called heliotherapy, gives the same benefits as modern photobiomodulation, including sleep enhancement, decreased risk of dying, lower rates of skin cancer, that’s a shocker, better cardiovascular health, and reduced risk of depression.
Speaking of depression, while modern SSRIs, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, despite a host of nasty side effects including loss of sex drive, insomnia, and digestive dysfunction, have been shown to be disappointingly effective or ineffective that is, against most major forms of depression, there are natural compounds that can be far more effective and safe. Ginseng has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years to treat depression and anxiety. Chamomile, lavender, and saffron have similar effects.
Then there’s St. John’s wort, which my twin boys call Happy Flower, and that we harvest each summer to transform into a serotonin and dopamine boosting tincture that can be used to fight seasonal affective disorder. Then comes pulsed electromagnetic field therapy or PEMF, a form of therapy in which a mat or handheld unit is used to deliver concentrated frequencies meant to mimic the same natural healing electromagnetic frequencies emitted by the planet Earth. It actually is true that electrons drawn into the body from the earth can indeed neutralize damaging free radicals and reduce a host of disease-causing chronic and acute inflammation.
Of course, throughout history, our ancestors have frequently slept outside, been in direct contact with trees and rocks, walked barefoot or wore shoes made from animal skins, all of which gave them direct electrical contact with the surface of the planet. So, before rushing out to purchase an expensive personal body grounding device, perhaps us modern humans ought to take a cue from our predecessors, kick off our big built-up rubber-soled shoes, learn the fine art of camping, and incorporate this healing skill into our lives more often, and simply get outside with increasing frequency to develop a more intimate relationship with our home planet.
Finally, there’s one of my personal favorites, cryotherapy. Accelerated fat loss is another coveted upgrade that many humans crave. And one increasingly common sign of this is the growing popularity of whole-body cryotherapy chambers. These tiny cold chambers emit vapors that reach extremely low temperatures, as low as negative 260 degrees Fahrenheit. Research does indeed show that when you stripped your skivvies and stepped into one of these chambers for as little as three minutes, your fat-burning metabolism is boosted, your stored adipose tissue gets converted into metabolically brown fat, and you get a rush of nitric oxide that acts a bit like Viagra for your whole body. That’s at the cool cost of $70 a pop.
But here’s the problem with these chambers; the majority of us bathe and shower in hot water, drive in the winter in a heated car, wear coats when we walk to the mailbox on a chilly morning, and as I recently witnessed while awaiting my Uber on a cold afternoon at the Salt Lake City Airport, huddle against heated walls indoors while waiting for a taxi or a bus, then rush into the cold weather cursing, squinting, and gritting our teeth until we’re back into another heated environment. Yet, the same metropolitan modern post-industrial humans will pay several hundred dollars for the pleasure of getting goosebumps for three minutes.
In stark contrast, our ancestors simply ventured outdoors. Among the Cherokee tribe of Native Americans, mothers would ceremonially plunge their infants into the icy cold river on a daily basis. Mayan women bathe their babies in cold water to calm and soothe heat rash and to promote restful sleep. The Russians, Finnish, and Eastern Europeans build traditional smokes on as near frigid oceans, lakes, and rivers, and often spend hours switching from hot to cold, to hot again. For generations, Icelandic babies have been placed outside in freezing temperatures to nap in their strollers. One of my favorite examples of natural therapy is the recent viral video footage from Siberia that shows elementary school children running out into the snow barefoot wearing only their underpants and throwing ice cold water all over themselves. So, free cryotherapy chambers abound. Just look around you.
So, in the end, despite the fact that I suspect I’ll spend my entire life learning even more from the wisdom of our ancestors, I think it all comes down to a bit of that ancestral wisdom blended with a bit of better living through modern science. After all, I’ve personally had the fat sucked from my back and the marrow from my bones to concentrate my own stem cells. I’ve had surgery to have these cells placed into every joint of my body, mainlined into my bloodstream, and even shot into my dick. I’ve also undergone placental injections, been through dozens of whole body cryotherapy treatments, get weekly NAD/IVs, wear a continuous blood glucose monitor implanted into my arm, done a cognition-enhancing laser light helmet during work, and have thousands, tens of thousands of dollars, of additional biohacks housed in my basement.
But I also live off-grid; grow my own food, hunt my own meat, create my own tinctures, extracts, and powders from the wild plants and herbs that grow in the forest near my home. I camp, bow hunt, fish, forage, fast, and engage in as many natural lifestyle tactics as I can to embrace the wisdom and practices of our ancestors. And I challenge you to adopt the same attitude. Welcome modern wisdom and biohacking, but with a healthy degree of skepticism and wisdom. At the same time, study and adopt the practices of the time-honored knowledge from the generations that came before us. Short visit a cryotherapy chamber but not before you’ve adopted the habit of a daily cold shower.
Purchase a fancy photobiomodulation device but make sure you’re getting out into the sunlight first. Get a grounding mat but go outside barefoot too. Don’t rush out to buy the latest detox diet kit before you’ve harvested the liver cleansing dandelion from your own backyard. Set down the SSRIs and smart drugs and pick up some St. John’s wort, lion’s mane mushroom, and if you dare, psilocybin. Before you get a spendy anti-aging IV, consider skipping breakfast every once in a while.
When it comes to enhancing our health and longevity, if we all incorporated just a few of these simple ancestral tactics into our lives and we made it a goal to demonstrate natural living to our friends, family, and neighbors, I wonder whether we’d all quite more meaningfully move the dial for worldwide wellness. And then again, just in case I’m wrong, you can always freeze your head and get chlorophyll injected into your eyeballs as a backup. Thanks for listening.
Want more? Go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com or you can subscribe to my information-packed and entertaining newsletter and click the link up on the right-hand side of that web page that says, “Ben recommends,” where you’ll see a full list of everything I’ve ever recommended to enhance your body and your brain. Finally, to get your hands on all of the unique supplement formulations that I personally develop, you can visit the website of my company, Kion, at getK-I-O-N.com. That’s getK-I-O-N.com.
My life is a little bit…strange.
As an immersive journalist, self-experimenter and self-professed “biohacker”, I do relatively unconventional things to upgrade my body and brain.
For example, I have this blood glucose monitor installed in my arm. It monitors my blood sugar 24-7. I wear a cognition-enhancing laser light helmet at work during the day and stand naked in front of a giant red light panel while I’m replying to emails. I give myself weekly IVs full of a cocktail of special vitamins. I’ve also had the fat sucked from my back and the marrow from my bones to concentrate my own stem cells and had surgery to have these cells placed into every joint of my body and mainlined into my bloodstream. I have tens of thousands of dollars of advanced medical technologies housed in my basement. You get the idea. I’m not normal.
But as a man who spends much of my life immersed in the modern health and longevity movement, attending anti-aging conferences and researching all the newfangled things people are doing these days to upgrade their bodies, I often survey the landscape of fringe supplements, biohacks, and anti-aging technologies and wonder…
…would our ancestors laugh at us?
When it comes to living a long and healthy life, would their ancestral wisdom beat our modern science, hands down?
After all, despite our modern infatuation with longevity and optimized bodies and brains, we are not strikingly healthier or longer-living than previous generations.
In today’s podcast, adapted from my recent TedX Coeur D’ Alene talk, I’ll tackle this topic in detail.
-Why modern medicine, for all its marvels, may not be all it’s cracked up to be…4:10
- CDC reports life expectancy has dropped 3 consecutive years.
- It’s a false assertion to assume we’ll live significantly longer than previous generations.
- “Life expectancy” is calculated by insurance and mutual fund companies as number of years after retirement, not after birth.
- We would be seeing many more 100+-year-olds; not the case.
- We have a better chance of surviving childhood (disease, etc.) but not necessarily living longer.
- Our ancestors didn’t always live nasty, brutish, short lives.
-Popular current fads to extend human lifespan…7:43
- Vampire therapy, parabiosis (young blood)
- Ancient Greeks considered blood a magic elixir.
- Pliny the Elder, Homer, wrote about the healing efficacy of others’ blood.
- GDF11, a primary anti-aging protein activated by young blood transfusion, is increased by oxytocin.
- Stem cells
- More accessible than in years past.
- My “biological age” dropped from 37 to 20 after my first stem cell transfusion.
- Men’s Health article on stem cells featuring Ben
- Outside Magazine article featuring Ben
- Dietary adjustments to increase/enhance stem cells.
- Modern-day mummification
- Slightly modified version of a compound that was discovered in the French lilac plant (goat’s rue).
- Wired Magazine: Forget the Blood of Teens
- Adverse side effects:
- Lactic acidosis
- Mitochondrial disruption
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Increase risk for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
- Natural alternatives:
- Inhibits excessive activation of immune cells via MTOR.
- Upregulation of cellular cleanup mechanisms called autophagy.
- Increases risk of infectious diseases and diabetes.
- Natural alternatives:
- Intermittent fasting
- Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD)
-Supplements and medicines used by our ancestors…19:25
-Natural ways to enhance our vision…22:45
- Ancestors trained their vision; they didn’t look at screens all day
- Plant compounds known to enhance vision:
- Carotenoids (kale, spinach, bell peppers)
- Innate ability to “see” in the absence of light or even sight
-Natural hearing enhancement…24:45
- Hunter-gatherers were better equipped, physically, with their ears; perhaps because of time spent outdoors attuned to the frequencies of nature.
- Turnip greens, collard greens, parsley, mustard greens, broccoli, etc. shown to decrease the risk of hearing loss
- Adjusting your diet would be far cheaper and less convenient than what some self-experimenting types are doing (ear implants).
-The natural “sixth sense” within us to navigate to true north…26:42
- We possess a tiny amount of magnetite in our ethmoid bone (located between the eyes in the nasal cavity).
- Researchers suggest this built-in compass made hunting, migration, etc. possible.
- We have perhaps lost this ancestral skill with the advent of road maps, GPS navigation.
-Natural ways to enhance our brains…27:30
- Walnutsare rich in omega fatty acids, melatonin
- Lion’s mane mushroom(use code: BENGREENFIELD to save)
- Bacopa flower(memory)
- Green tea(cognition)
- All of the above have been used for centuries, if not millennia
-Natural alternatives to things like photobiomodulation, light therapy, PEMF, etc…29:15
- Greeks engaged in “heliotherapy”; sunbathing akin to what we know as photobiomodulation.
- John’s Wort, chamomile, etc. can be used to ward off seasonal affective disorder.
-And Much More!
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