How to Amp Your Brain by Taking Care of Your Body’s Batteries – Part 2 of an Interview with Dave Asprey

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

In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dave Asprey discusses the mitochondria with Dr. Amen and Tana. Learn how you can help the “power cells” in your body in order to be less stressed, less inflamed, and even nicer to be around.


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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. Tana and I are here with our friend Dave Asprey, author of Head Strong coming soon, also the founder and CEO of Bulletproof, the creator of Bulletproof Coffee, the host of the number one health podcast, Bulletproof Radio, we are having so much fun with Dave now that his middle finger, the muscle there has atrophied.

Tana Amen: People who have not been listening are not exactly sure what you're talking about.

Dr. Daniel Amen: They will figure it out. We've been talking about biohacking your brain. The first step obviously is to look at your brain because if you don't look you don't know. But there are these little pieces of your cells called the mitochondria that have really become very interesting to you. Can you talk about how you learned about them, what hurts them, what helps them, and why that really took center stage in Head Strong?

Dave Asprey: Over the past almost 20 years, I have spent about a million dollars on hacking my own biology. This is because I am a professional biohacker. It's not necessary to do that to get control of your own biology, but I am oftentimes experimenting, I'm using brand new therapies. Now at this point the SPECT scan is a respected and proven technology. The very early days when I had this done it was like, "A what scan? No one's ever heard of this before." I'll always go to the new cutting edge things. I realized when I looked back over all of the problems that I've experienced, and I had chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, all of those were toxic mold-related by the way, arthritis, cognitive dysfunction, high risk of stroke and heart disease, there is a common uniting element of all of those things. It's inflammation, and the uniting element behind that is mitochondria.

These mitochondria, two billion years ago these were free floating little red bacteria, and through some strange fluke that we're still debating how this happened, they merged with the cells that are us. Now, the story you heard in high school if you remember this stuff is that we harness them to become the power plants of our cells. The story that is more accurate, at least from the way things work, is that these little guys saw our cells and said, "Hey look, a petri dish. Let's move right in and take over." In your brain you have about 15,000 of these tiny little red former bacteria in each neuron, in each cell in the brain. In the heart you have 15,000, and in the eyes you have 15,000, and the rest of your body you have a few hundred to a couple thousand. The parts of the body that require the most energy for life have the most of these power plants, or you could also call them batteries. 10% of your body weight is mitochondria, and there's about a quadrillion of these, way more than there are bacteria in your gut, and they listen to the environment. These are semiconductors. They're light sensitive, they're magnetically sensitive, they're heat sensitive, they're vibration sensitive, and they make light. They actually can talk to each other with little biophotons. They're fascinating.

What these little things do is they control which genes get expressed. They power hormone production. If you're going to have a thought in your mind, something has to make enough electrons for you to have a little spark across the synaptic gap. What's going on here is these guys really are in charge. They don't listen to you very well. They'll sense your stress levels if you're stressed about your mother-in-law, or your job, or whatever else, but they'll listen more closely to whether or not it's bright light at midnight and they think it should be night time. Is it too hot? Is it too cold? Is there too much physical stress? They're constantly checking millions of times a second to see what's going on, and then talking with each other and deciding how much energy you're allowed to have. If you're ready in fight-or-flight mode to run away, then they're going to take energy and they're going to basically set the battery up in your body for running instead of setting up the battery in your body for recovery, repair, restoration, for making hormones, for producing new proteins. You end up realizing, wow if I manage the stuff that these little guys listen to, they're going to make my life a lot easier. If you ... Go ahead.

Dr. Daniel Amen: No no, I'm sorry. Keep going.

Dave Asprey: Okay. If you're one of these tiny, ancient bacteria, you have only really four things that you need to do, and this is why I wrote Head Strong. These rules apply for the largest mammal and the tiniest life form. Number one, run away from or kill scary things. This is a basic rule for life, protect yourself. Number two, eat everything. When I was 300 pounds I certainly did that more than I would like. This is one of those don't allow famine to kill your species, which is the rule. The other rule is make sure you reproduce quite frequently. That's another thing that might get us in trouble sometimes. The fourth thing that's really I'm discovering more and more is build a community. This is why we get biofilms that form from bacteria, and this is why you get packs of dogs, and we get tribes of people, and even political parties and stuff like that.

It turns out that those four behaviors are amplified from a quadrillion ancient bacteria all the way up, and those become our instincts and our behaviors. In my work in the creation of cloud computing and artificial intelligence, my undergrad degree is in a subcategory of artificial intelligence, we look at something called emergent phenomena. What's going on here is when you get those four rules repeated a cabillion times, technical term, what you end up with is the ego. You end up with the automatic thoughts, what you write in your books, Dr. Amen. These things, they're actually coming from these core instincts. Well, you then take all this extra energy in your brain, your human brain, your smart brain that understands what's a threat, what's not a threat, and you use it to control, impulse control.

Well, it turns out that if these things have enough energy because you feed them right and because you train them right and you make the environment right, their stress level goes down, and then all of a sudden they set your biology up for success, and then you have fewer automatic negative thoughts. Then that frees up even more energy so you end up both turning up the amount of energy because they're wasting less energy freaking out about the environment they didn't need to, and it makes you happier and it makes you a nicer person. That's why I wrote Head Strong because when people have enough energy they're nicer to each other. We're wired to build community, but only after we make sure that we ate enough, we killed scary things, and we had a mate, and after that we'll be nice to people. Just enough energy makes us nicer.

Dr. Daniel Amen: What are the things that hurt our mitochondria?

Dave Asprey: One of the biggest things is toxins. Toxins come from man-made toxins. They also come from nature-made toxins. There's been an ancient war between bacteria and fungus. Antibiotics are byproducts of fungus, of mold, and they kill bacteria. Well, if 10% of our body weight is ancient bacteria, you can imagine that Mother Nature's toxins that come from certain types of mold might be really bad for us. So is glyphosate, the toxin that we're spraying on our soil and our food for weed control. So is mercury that they used to put in your mouth from dentists. These things, even the toxins that grow in coffee, from the mold in coffee, which are a big part of the Bulletproof Coffee recipe, these are proven to be mitochondrial respiratory toxins.

Think about it like this. You have an iPhone, a brand new phone, and the first day you have it it charges easily and it lasts all day long. After you've had it for six months and you've charged and discharged the battery a few times, now it loses its charge at 3:00 in the afternoon. Something is affecting the efficiency of the charge, and when you take toxins, the efficiency of the charge in the battery in your body drops. You simply can't hold the energy, you can't make enough energy all day long. I talk very specifically, avoid toxins that are respiratory or mitochondrial toxins, the biggest one being toxic mold in your food, but and in your environment breathing it's really bad. Then sugar. Sugar's a short-term enhancer and a long-term destroyer of mitochondria, so you want to no have huge swings in blood sugar. You want to avoid grains because grains both contain many of these toxins, and they have their own toxins that cause inflammation.

The other big one that is completely not talked about, but I talk about it a lot in Head Strong, is light. Since now we've shown that mitochondria are light sensitive, we know that bright white and blue LED lights are like the corn syrup of lighting. They're terrible for for your mitochondria. They create stress in the eyes, a 23% increase in damage to the cells in the eyes. They trigger advanced macular degeneration in earlier age, which is a mitochondrial disease. The eyes are an extension of the brain, so when you basically torture your eyes with these white LED lights that you can buy for cheap right now that are supposed to be more energy efficient, they actually create cognitive stress. They actually create sugar cravings because your brain gets tired from the low quality light. You stress the mitochondria in the eyes and the mitochondria signal other mitochondria with chemicals, and probably with light, that are deeper in the brain and deeper in the rest of the body, and you end up with fatigue because of poor quality lighting. Who would have thought [crosstalk 00:09:45]

Dr. Daniel Amen: That means turn off the gadgets.

Tana Amen: That's interesting.

Dave Asprey: Turn off the gadgets and get rid of your indoor LED lights. Use incandescent bulbs. Use halogen bulbs. These are more like sunlight and I've just lost track. In fact, I just had one of the Bulletproof coaching students just said, "Dave, I read the first chapter of Head Strong," and I'll send the first chapter to anyone. Go to and you can get the information on that. He said, "I read it and now I understand. Monday through Friday I have intense sugar cravings and I'm tired when I come home from work at 5:00. I eat exactly the same thing on the weekends, and I don't have any sugar cravings." He's like, "It's the light in my office." The next day he wore a baseball hat and looked a little dorky and some sunglasses indoors and he didn't have a sugar craving.

Tana Amen: Oh, that's so interesting.

Dave Asprey: It's awesome.

Tana Amen: Yeah. You know, I actually know a couple people who had mitochondrial dysfunction, and that's really a nasty thing for people to go through. It's actually life-threatening, but fascinating to watch what somebody has to go through when their mitochondria literally are not functioning properly. Have to stay home, be on a ton of medications, they have zero energy. It's really scary. I actually read a study that was really interesting as well that when women are, it was done on women but probably anybody, but they did this study on overweight women, and when they were overweight and they were pre-diabetic. When they first started exercising it was really hard because their mitochondria were not functioning properly, right, and they were insulin-resistant and had a hard time. But over time, over four months of cutting out sugar and exercising at a moderate pace, not intense but just moderate, just enough where they could actually manage it, their mitochondria became more efficient. I thought that was really fascinating.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah. 10% of your body is the mitochondria. All right, before we run out of time, what are things you can do specifically to help them?

Dave Asprey: Well, aside from avoiding toxins that I already talked about, eating more plants that contain polyphenols is terribly important. Polyphenols, we like to call them the antioxidants from plants, but they're actually signaling molecules to your mitochondria that do a lot more than just antioxidant function. The most common source is coffee in our diet. It's a big source of polyphenols, one of the reasons it's in Bulletproof Coffee [inaudible 00:12:07] taste good, it has that. Green tea, dark chocolate, and any sort of herb and spice, the brightly colored ones, those tend to have dramatic amounts, so use more spices and herbs. Not the MSG stuff, but the real ones. Those are precious and there's nothing stopping you from tripling the amount of oregano you use. It actually matters for the mitochondria in your body. On top of that, just this avoiding fructose, high fructose corn syrup, avoiding processed foods is really important.

Then switching to a higher fats, but higher healthy, undamaged fat diet is terribly important. If you can get into ketosis it really helps. Ketosis is a fat burning mode. Normally you have to fast for three or four days or go on an extreme like an Atkins kind of a diet in order to do it, but there are easier ways. Brain octane oil, which is one of the ingredients in Bulletproof Coffee, is known to increase ketones. When you can get ketones into your mitochondria, you actually turn down inflammation.

When you burn fat for fuel you end up getting about 147 electrons, and electrons are the unit of energy that our body runs on, versus glucose or sugar, which gives about 36 electrons. It's a big difference and it turns down inflammation right away so people feel the food cravings and sugar cravings go down within a half hour of getting some ketones present. There's so more science about why that works. We can go into it maybe in the next episode as it's helpful, but bottom line is eating good quality fat makes healthy cell membranes and makes more energy in the brain, and you would see that in your clinics, Dr. Amen, right away. If someone comes in not eating toxins with ketones present, their brain's going to look different than if you have someone who's like a corn syrup, margarine consumer, or eating fried french fries at a restaurant every night. Their brain's going to look different, right?

Dr. Daniel Amen: You know, I'm not sure if I told you but my granddaughter has a seizure disorder, and on a ketogenic diet her seizures went away.

Tana Amen: A very strict one.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I mean, she had 160 one day. Now it's sort of to modified Atkins and she's done amazingly well. You know, I just couldn't recommend Head Strong more. Go to You can read the first chapter for free, learn about Bulletproof and Dave's world. Is it that people could go and learn about the podcast and all the other things your company does?

Dave Asprey: Yeah.

Dr. Daniel Amen: When we come back, we're going to talk about one of the most important medical issues of our time. We're going to talk about mold and the brain. Stay with us.