The Bulletproof plan to active untapped brain energy to work smarter and think faster — in just two weeks
By Dave Asprey
Who is Dave Asprey?
Dave Asprey has been recognised as the “father of bio-hacking” and is most famous for creating the Bulletproof company whose signature product Bulletproof Coffee has widely become popular.
Interestingly, Asprey was also one of the very first people to sell things over the internet selling ‘caffeine’ t-shirts to twelve countries.
Asprey was working full-time at one of the world’s first cloud computing companies as well as completing an MBA at Wharton, however, he was not able to perform at a high level describing how he felt “foggy” and how his “brain wasn’t working the way I needed it to. I couldn’t focus at work, I had trouble retaining new information, and I had started to feel a chronic, behabilitating fatigue that couldn’t be explained away by an entrepeneurs lack of sleep.”
Asprey just continued to work harder and harder with no results and was worried that he would fail his classes at Wharton. He describes how unfortunately “pushing the accelerator on a car with a broken engine won’t make it go faster, no mater how hard you press.”
Asprey addressed the problem from the point of view of a computer hacker and went to get a SPECT scan which would show him how his brain was actually working. Asprey describes how “Lo and behold, the scan showed that my pre-frontal cortex — the most highly evolved part of the brain that manages complex cognitive behaviour and decision-making — had very little metabolic activity and was creating almost no energy. When I tried to focus and think, the part of my brain that was supposed to jump into action simply didn’t show any signs of life. The pshychiatrist took one look at the scan and said the words that I will never forget ‘Dave, inside your brain is total chaos. I have no idea how you’re standing in front of me right now. You have the best camouflage I’ve ever seen’”
Asprey was freed by this news understanding that their was a real problem which he could tackle to get himself back on track.
“I just had to figure out the causes of my system’s weaknesses so I could eliminate them. As a career computer security technologist, that’s exactly what I did for a living — take control of complex systems. And just like that an idea was born: I would hack my brain to maximise its performance. You don’t have to know everything about a system to hack it.”
The Three F’s
If you wanted a species to live forever it would need to do only three basic things:
- Fear things
- F (reproduce…)
Our bodies have survived by being about to do the three things above no matter what the world throws at us.
In the 1960s neuroscientist Dr. Paul D. Maclean developed the “truine brain model” which provided a framework for understand how the brain uses energy.
In this model, the reptile brain controls low-level processes like temperature regulation and electrical systems. Every creature has this reptile brain, if you don’t get enough energy to this system you will simply die.
All mamals have the second level of the brain, which Asprey refers to as the “Labrador retriever brain” because those “big, happy dogs are such great examples of animals that bark at most things, eat nearly everything else, and try to mound whats left”. This level of the brain controls the three f’s and although it means well the very urges that it generates can cause massive brain-energy problems.
“You’re probaby familiar with the concept of fight or flight — our physcological response to a perceived threat. The ability to go into fight-or-flight mode was incredibly important when humans evolved, as lions and tigers were chasing us on a regular basis. Back then it would have been detrimental for us to stay focused on any single task when a pride of lions was lurking nearby. Our fight or flight response kept us a little bit distracted all of the time so that we could constantly scan the enviroment around us for threats.
…The problem is not only that lions don’t pose much of a threat anymore but also that our bodies can’t distinguish between real and perceived threats — they react the same way to any stimulus, from a lion to a bump in the night to an e-mail alert possible delivering some bad news….This constant state of monitoring for danger and then overreacting to minor threats keeps the body in a constant state of emergency — sapping our energy, and therefore our focus.”
When you resist the labrador urges you are using the third and final part of the brain called the “prefrontal cortex”. Every time that you resist the labrador brain you use up a large amount of energy. Every time you defeat the labrador you are making a decision with scientists now having proven that there are a limited number of decisions that a human can make in a day called “decision fatigue”.
“Each decision requires energy, and when you’re tired, hungry or have already made a lot of decisions, you run out of energy and start making bad choices.
Being able to make good decisions is therefore a pretty good measure of brain performance. When you have enough brain energy, you’ll be able to make better decisions for longer, and you’ll be a lot less emotionally reactive when you don’t want to be. Nothing will improve you’re life more dramatically than that.”
Inability to focus
Asprey asks why we can only focus for short amounts of time before become easily distracted. His answer is that it is largely a result of of the fight or flight response being turned on when it doesn’t need to be.
“Our friend the labrador doesn’t care abou the work you’re trying to focus on or what your kids are saying to you. His job is to keep you alive, so he is busy sussing out potential threats in your enviroment. Is that blinking light on the stove the start of a fire? Was that “ding” signalling” that you got a text message a sign of danger?…The problem is, when your Labrador is always screaming ‘Emergency!’ it’s impossible to focus on the things you need to get done.”
Asprey describes how it only gets worse when your brain doesn’t get enough energy. When your brain feels that it is getting low on energy, it triggers another emergency just as stressful as a tiger. When you’re brain is low on energy it triggers the release of cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline (the fight-or-flight hormone) to make emergency fuel. How could your brain focus with all of this going on?
The Benefits of Coffee
Asprey describes how coffee is king when it comes to ways to improve your cognitive performance with coffee being the number one source of polyphenols (Polyphenols are micronutrients that we get through certain plant-based foods.) in the Western diet. Asprey describes how studies have proven that the more coffee people drink the longer they live as well as how coffee drinkers were to less likely to die from common diseases.
So what is Ketosis?
“In the year 400 BC, the Greek physician who later become to be known as the ‘father of Western medicine’, Hippocrates, wrote about a miraculous recovery he has witnessed. When a man who suffered from debiliating seizrues abstained from food, he experienced an incredible improvement in his symptoms. At the time, of course, there was no name for epilepsy or an understanding of the seizures it cuases. But it was clear that when a person who was suffering stopped eating, the seizures also stopped. It wasn’t until the twentieth century tha the scientist George Cahill learned that fasting prevents seizures by putting the patient into a state known as ketosis.
During periods of fasting or sever carbohydrate restriction, the liver breaks down fatty acids to produce ketone bodies, water-solubale molecules that are ideal fuel for our mitocodria, much better than sugar. When your mitocondria are using ketones as fuel to create ATP, you are in a state of ketosis. This is a state of high performance.”
Asprey recommends the use of MCT oils to put the body in a state of ketosis with his product “Brain Octane Oil” being recommended as the best oil for this use case.
The importance of light
Asprey describes how its easy to imagine that since too much UV light is bad, we should just avoid it entirely, and that’s what we’ve largely done. But it turns out that your body requires some UV light to work properly.
“Newer artificial lights like white LED and CFL bulbs lack many of the sun’s freqeuncies that our bodies and brainds need. With our artificial lights, we’ve eliminated most the infrared, red and violet lighting that’s found in natural sunlight, and we’ve amplified the blue light beyond anything we have volved to handle….this is junk light.
One of the biggest problems with junk light sources is hiw much blue light they emit. Fluorescent lights emit substantially more blue light and less infrared light than incandescent bulbs or sunlight… Your mitochondria have to produce a lot of extra energy to process the blue light in LEDs, which burns oxygen and creates free radicals.
…We did not evolve to absorb this type of junk light. In fact, we couldn’t even see blue until a few hundred years ago. Ancient civilisations have no word for “blue”. In the Odyssey, Homer describes the sea as ‘wine dark’.”
Irlen syndrome is a visual processing disorder that a large subset of the population has. If you have Irlen syndrome you may have trouble reading for long periods of time because the contrast of the ages is overwhelming. This puts your brain in a state of chronic stress, making it difficult for you to focus and limiting your performance. It is recommended that sufferers from this syndrome wear custom-tinted lenses that block out specific light freqeuencies that stress your brain.
“When you get the right amount, nicotine does a lot for you. For starters, it gives you faster, more precise motor function. People show more controlled and fluent handwriting after taking nicotine and they’re also able to tap their fingers faster on a keyboard without sacrificing accuracy. Nicotine makes your more vigilant , too. Participants who used nicotine patches wer able to pay attention to a mentally tiring task longer than controls could. Nicotine gum has the same effect. Nicotine also sharpens your short-term memory: people who took nicotine better recalled a list of words they’d just read and also make fewer mistakes than people given a placebo when repeating a story word for word.”