Hack Your Biology to Uncover Your Potential – Part 1 of an Interview with Dave Asprey

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Dave Asprey is a Silicon Valley investor and technology entrepreneur, the creator of Bulletproof Coffee, a New York Times bestselling author, and host of the top rated health podcast, Bulletproof Radio. In this episode of the Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dave talks with Daniel and Tana about how fixing a “hardware problem” led to finishing business school and setting out on a new path to success.


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Dr Daniel Amen: Hey, everybody, welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I am here with Tana, and we are here with our good friend Dave Asprey. Thank you for being with us. We're so excited. Dave is the founder and CEO of Bulletproof, the world's first human performance and nutrition company. He's also the creator of Bulletproof coffee, the host of the number one health podcast Bulletproof Radio, a Silicon Valley investor and technology entrepreneur who spent two decades and over $1 million to hack his own biology. Amen Clinics was actually part of that. Dave created Bulletproof coffee and the Bulletproof diet out of a sense of self-preservation. For much of his life, Dave was overweight and struggled with multiple autoimmune diseases and cognitive decline. After decades of dieting and calorie counting, Dave switched strategies, applying tools and tactics from the worlds of human physiology, nutrition, and burgeoning technologies. With a new understanding of human biology, Dave hacked his health to lose 100 pounds, increase his IQ, and lower his biological age. Dave has a new book called Headstrong, which I've already read and endorsed. I think it's awesome. He is going to be with us this week, where we're going to talk about his biohacking journey. We're also going to talk about the brain in business. We're going to talk about the mitochondria and much more. So, welcome, Dave.

Tana Amen: Yeah, welcome. So exciting to have you with us.

Dave Asprey: Thank you. It's a pleasure and an honor. When I was really struggling with my brain, back when I weighed closer to 300 pounds versus 100 pounds of fat that I lost, I was really kind of desperate. I was just about failing out of Wharton, my business school. I got a SPECT scan done after reading I believe it was your first book. This is going back, like, 15 years or something. Then, it absolutely set me on a different path. To be able to be on your show here a number of years later, it's an honor, and I really appreciate your work.

Tana Amen: That's so awesome.

Dr Daniel Amen: Well, thank you so much. As I always say, if you don't look at the brain, you don't know. You can come up with all sorts of interesting theories about why you're not doing well. So you read Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, and then you got a SPECT scan. What was that like for you?

Dave Asprey: I was already taking some nootropics back then, and I'd already been really working hard. I'd lost a bunch of the weight that I needed to lose, but I was really struggling, and I was concerned that I might not be able to hang in business school. I started telling myself, "Well, I'm working full-time. This is an executive program. I'm in here with a lot of these smart people. It's a top school. Maybe I'm not as smart as I think I am. Maybe I'm just not going to make it. Maybe I'm not trying hard enough." I was actually feeling a little bit stupid. Some of that's self-confidence related, but some of it's because my test scores were crappy. When I went in and I sat down with a psychiatrist ... I went with someone who trained with you, who was certified by you, but I hadn't met you yet.

It was pretty clear that he thought I was hitting him up for Adderall, which a lot of business students will do. A lot of college students are trying to take this as a performance enhancer, even though it's not an appropriate use for that drug. When I came back, after I got the injection in the arm and did the scan, he looked at my brain scan and he said, "Dave, you have the best camouflage of anyone I've ever met. Inside your brain is total chaos. I don't even know how you're standing here in front of me."

Tana Amen: That's funny.

Dave Asprey: The conversation shifted. I was an interesting referral, according to the Silicon Valley brain imaging guys. This was scary, on the one hand, but on the other hand, I got to tell you, Daniel, it was absolutely liberating. I'm a computer hacking by training. The first guy to sell anything over the Internet, it was a T-shirt that said, "Caffeine: my drug of choice." It was me. The first e-commerce platform ever. I'm a geek. That minute, when I heard that, literally, I almost felt a tear in my eye and like finally, someone believes me. The doctors didn't believe that I'm like, "No, something's not right in there." Then, it went from being, "Oh, it's not that I'm not trying. I have a hardware problem." Like if you're writing code on your computer trying to fix it but the processor's not getting enough power, what do you think's going to happen? That's what it was for me. It shifted from moral failing to basically a hackable problem.

That informed a lot of my work, which is that we have way more control over our biology and that our consciousness, our thinking, our thoughts, our emotions, everything, they are emergent properties that come out of our energy production in the body. You don't make enough energy, you won't have enough energy to regulate your emotions. You don't make enough energy, you won't have enough willpower. That was what inspired me to write Headstrong, was just how do you manage that energy that powers the brain first and foremost?

Tana Amen: That's awesome. That was actually a really good way to describe it, too, the hardware. If your processor's not working right. I really like that. That was a really good description. When people come in here, we notice they have that same feeling of relief, so I like the way you said that.

Dr Daniel Amen: That's why I got hooked on imaging, because almost immediately, people lost their shame, they lost their guilt, and they went, "Oh, it's medical, not moral," and they became more compliant with what I asked them to do, so I love that part. I know part of the story is mold exposure, and that's what caused some of the damage. We're going to do a whole podcast on mold. Dave actually produced fabulous movie called Moldy that I think everybody should watch, because it's an epidemic problem that very few people actually know about or take serious.

Tana Amen: Before we go, though, I just at least have to know, things got better at school?

Dr Daniel Amen: Oh no, we're just starting. I want to know ...

Tana Amen: Okay. You can't leave me hanging.

Dr Daniel Amen: ... the big biohacking lessons. Then, of course, for Tana's sake, tell her the rest of the story.

Dave Asprey: Here's the rest of the story. I found out that when I was working to pay attention, that there was just about no metabolic activity in my prefrontal cortex. What would happen is I would sit down to take a test, and the first 1 I'd get 100%, second question I'd get like 60%, third 1 20%, and after that, I couldn't even write. It was a linear decline. I'm like, "What is going on here?" I felt dumb, really dumb. Then, when I'm like, "Oh, no wonder. There's no blood flow in my prefrontal cortex when I work to pay attention. That explains it." All of a sudden, it wasn't that I was dumb. They have a name for the guy who graduates at the very bottom of medical school, the very lowest grade. You know what that is, right?

Tana Amen: Doctor.

Dave Asprey: Doctor, right. Well, same thing in business school. MBA. I probably wasn't at the very bottom of my class. We'll say I wasn't near the top, but my goal wasn't to be near the top. My goal was to get an MBA and learn what I wanted to learn and ignore everything I didn't care about and still pass, because that was more effective and more efficient, even though that probably irritated some of my finance professors. Sorry, guys. I did graduate. What was really touching is I got a chance to meet ... This is probably eight, nine years after this had really changed my life. I had a chance to meet Daniel at Joe Polish's Genius Network Conference. I just went up and said, "Wow, I get to shake your hand and say thank you, because you have no idea how much you've changed my life." A lot of my biohacking journey came about from switching this from being I need more cognitive enhancers or I just need more willpower to, no, I need to fix the hardware. Then I'll work on the willpower, then I'll work on the voice in my head and work on dealing with past trauma and all that stuff.

It was interesting, because when you actually saw my real brain scans, I remember you said, "Dave, if I saw your brain and I didn't know who you were, I would think that you were living under a bridge doing drugs." I was like, "Wow, okay. I felt like I was."

Tana Amen: That's so funny.

Dave Asprey: I did graduate, and I was working at a startup that ended up selling for $600 million. I was working full-time while getting my MBA.

Tana Amen: That's awesome.

Dave Asprey: I mean, I was succeeding. The point here, everyone listening to this, if you did a SPECT scan right now, I guarantee you ... Well, actually, you guys know, but the vast majority of people do not have super healthy looking brains. They're still good people. They're still performing well. They're still doing good things, but they're not everything they could be. That's what I want to get to come through here. Even in Headstrong, the idea is the subtitle: The Bulletproof Plan to Activate Untapped Brain Energy. The thing is it's always there, but you don't know it's there because you never tapped into it.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dave Asprey: It's sort of like if you're living on a property with an oil well that could be in the backyard but isn't, and one day you're like, "Oh, there's some oil." Then, all of a sudden, you have limitless energy flowing in your backyard, but you just don't know. I think it's there for everyone. Some people have a huge amount and some people have 20, 30% more energy. What else is more precious than that?

Tana Amen: I actually love that you said that, because when I met Daniel, I didn't believe in ADD. I thought it was a religion or something. I was like, "It's nonsense. It's an excuse for people to fail. It's an excuse to not try." I did not believe in it at all. I thought you just needed to work harder, try harder. When my family got scanned, I'm like, "Oh my god, this explains my entire life." All the chaos, drama, drama. It did the exact same thing of what you just said. What I love about what you just said was I was actually succeeding. I just didn't realize how hard I was having to work to do it. I didn't even know how hard I was having to work until after we got it straightened out. Then I'm like, "Oh my gosh, I never knew I could be so much more." Do you know? I didn't have to work quite as hard at it.

Dave Asprey: There's a mantra that we all repeat. It's like try harder. Here's the thing. When you get your brain working all the way, the try harder goes away, and you just do it. It feels effortless. The amount of struggle in my life has gone down by, like, 90%, and the amount of big things I can do that help a lot of people has gone up dramatically.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dave Asprey: It's because of getting that out of the way. Every time you try, you're burning mitochondrial energy. You're actually taking energy that could have gone to doing something just to try to do something, and it's because there's internal resistance. A lot of that internal resistance isn't thought patterns. It's actually energy that underlies the thought patterns, and that energy is a known system, at least mostly known, and it's hackable. It's like you can take your car and it's kind of slow. You take it into the race car mechanic, and they bolt a couple things on, change the fuel, and all of a sudden, you have a car that's twice as fast.

Tana Amen: Right. I love that. That's actually great. That's a great description.

Dr Daniel Amen: So, what Dave described in looking at his scan, when we do a concentration scan, we actually have them doing a task. In "healthy" brains, not normal, because normal's ...

Tana Amen: A myth.

Dr Daniel Amen: ... not common ... His brain started to turn off when he started to concentrate rather than turn on. It's that deactivation that occurs in people who have ADD that begins to explain their whole life, because the harder they try, the worse it gets.

Tana Amen: The chaos, the drama, the craving caffeine, all of that.

Dr Daniel Amen: There's a lot of negative mind stuff around that deactivation pattern. When you turn it back on, we'll talk about that coming up, it can just make a radical difference. One of my favorite stories is a woman who said, "I can't believe just fixing that one thing caused my children from going to people that I hated trying to manage to oh, aren't they cute."

Tana Amen: Right. It's amazing.

Dr Daniel Amen: It was just amazing how it changed her life and grateful that it changed your life, Dave.

Dave Asprey: Just one complaint. I lost some muscle mass in one part of my body as a result of this. The muscles in my middle finger totally got atrophied after this.

Tana Amen: Oh my gosh, that's so funny. You are a man after my own heart. That's hilarious.

Dr Daniel Amen: Forethought will do that. Forethought will do that.

Tana Amen: That's great.

Dr Daniel Amen: Dave Asprey's new book is called Headstrong. It's available for preorder. The website, Dave, is?

Dave Asprey: Orderheadstrong.com.

Dr Daniel Amen: Order headstrong.com. The flagship Bulletproof coffee shop is now open in Santa Monica. There's a second location in downtown Los Angeles coming soon.

Tana Amen: I just have to say one thing about Bulletproof coffee. I really love Bulletproof coffee. It was such a great idea. You guys sponsored one of our events, and of course, you hire the best people. They were amazing. Everyone at our event just absolutely loved them. They were just adorable. I love it because it's not too much caffeine, and it's loaded with this great stuff, the MCT oils and the short-chain fatty acids. It tastes great. It's the perfect amount of coffee, and it's just delicious. It's not this Venti-size thing that's going to just amp you up like crazy. It's just the right amount, and it's really yummy.

Dr Daniel Amen: When we come back, we are going to talk about amping your brain by strengthening your mitochondria. Stay with us.