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Life Extension Magazine

LE Magazine September 2005
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Futurist Ray Kurzweil

On Building Bridges Toward Immortality By Jon VanZile

Improving on Biology Today

While Kurzweil’s book touches on subjects such as diet, nutrition, methylation, glycation, and inflammation, one theme is emphasized repeatedly: human biology can and should be improved upon.

This idea helps explain why Kurzweil has little use for current government recommendations concerning nutrient and supplement levels. Because humans are programmed to die around middle age, he says, it makes no sense to think that a healthy diet alone can provide sufficient nutrients needed to grant long life. In fact, many people are born with genetic deficiencies that can be overcome only by megadosing with the nutrients in which they are deficient.

“All the standards are inadequate,” Kurzweil says. “I’ve had these dialogues with the Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard and the American Heart Association. Frequently, I get back comments like, ‘Well, you’re right. What you’re recommending would be much better, but we have enough trouble getting people to follow these watered-down recommendations.’ My reaction to that is, ‘One of the reasons you may be having a hard time is that they don’t work.’”

He cites homocysteine as an example. Many people are born with a genetic deficiency that causes abnormally high homocysteine levels, a condition that can be corrected only with high doses—many times the US RDAs—of vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folic acid.

According to Kurzweil, the most common genetic variations known to science involve the way vitamins bind to enzymes. In many cases, the binding is somehow compromised, meaning that the only way to deliver enough of a given vitamin is to take much larger doses of it, because only a fraction will actually bind to the appropriate enzyme. He says this may help explain why leading medical journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association, have published articles recommending that all adults take a daily multivitamin.

“I think we should at least tell people what’s optimal,” says Kurzweil. “The Joslin Diabetes Center, for example, recommends a body mass index of 25, which is borderline overweight. Why not target 18.5, which is still within the healthy range?”

BUILDING A BETTER BRAIN

Futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts that in the near future, engineers will be able to “hack” harmlessly into the brain’s circuitry. Neural implants will allow the deaf to hear and the paralyzed to move with bionic limbs.

Then, by about the year 2020, machine intelligence will overtake human intelligence in raw computing power (it is already much faster). Not long after that, humans will invent “nanobots” that can be implanted in our brains. They will communicate simultaneously with our biological circuits, each other, and a vastly improved Internet. The result will be super-enhanced intelligence and mental powers that never decline.

Until then, says Kurzweil, it is up to each of us to protect our existing brain function. To do that, he recommends these supplements that have been clinically shown to enhance brainpower:

• Vinpocetine, which increases energy production and increases blood flow to the brain. When combined with ginkgo biloba, vinpocetine has been shown to enhance short-term memory.
• Phosphatidylserine, which can slow and even reverse memory loss in patients with age-associated memory loss.
• Acetyl-L-carnitine, which protects brain tissue from inflammation and may improve mood and concentration.
• Ginkgo biloba, which improves overall brain function and increases blood supply to the brain.
• Pregnenolone, which improves communication between neurons, enhancing memory and reducing anxiety.
• EPA and DHA, omega-3 fatty acids that may help relieve depression, aggression, and anxiety.
• Phosphatidylcholine, which may aid memory and learning, as well as reverse some age-associated damage to brain cells.

Bridge Two: The Biotechnology Revolution

While some people might be intimidated by the idea of massive nutritional supplementation, it is purely a short-term solution, says Kurzweil. He predicts that in the next decade or so, biotechnology will render many of our deadliest diseases and conditions powerless. This is the “second bridge.”

“Within 10 or 15 years, we’ll be able to reprogram a lot of biological processes away from disease and aging, to stop and reverse aging and maintain optimal health,” he says.

As an example of biotechnology at work, he cites obesity. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 60% of American adults are either obese or overweight. Obesity is closely linked to heart disease, various cancers, diabetes, joint injuries, inflammation, and a host of ill health effects. In a recent editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers estimated that the current generation of Americans may experience a shortened life expectancy of almost a year because of diseases associated with obesity.

Kurzweil, however, has little patience for this kind of prediction, arguing that it is dangerous when researchers make predictions based on one trend alone, as if life occurs in a vacuum. Instead, he predicts that before long, scientists will invent drugs that can turn off the body’s calorie-storage mechanisms. People will be able to eat as much as they want but never gain weight. If this sounds impossible, Kurzweil answers that it has already been done in rats, and that it is only a matter of time until humans make a similar leap.

He predicts that the same will hold true for any number of conditions. Heart disease drugs will reverse atherosclerosis. Cancer drugs may be able to restore damaged DNA and stop cell proliferation. Diabetes drugs will prevent insulin resistance before diabetes is diagnosed. The DNA of viruses will be mapped overnight and treatments will be designed to kill the viruses. “We’re gaining the technology to shape tools at the molecular level and have the models of disease progression that enable us to design new interventions,” he says.

Much of this will be possible because of our increasing understanding of the human genome. In the 1990s, scientists announced they had successfully mapped the entire human genome, ahead of schedule. The implications are enormous, as the genome carries in its 23 pairs of chromosomes the entire map of human life. In the coming years, as we unravel the complex interaction between gene expression and health, we will gain a greater understanding of what makes us sick or healthy.

“There’s some very exciting work being done with gene therapy,” Kurzweil says. “We’re understanding the triggers for diabetes and for the creation and eruption of vulnerable plaque. We’re in the early stages of developing gene tools.”

This revolution in biotechnology will allow us to conquer diseases and conditions that have plagued us for millennia. According to Kurzweil, however, this is only the beginning. The next bridge will carry us toward immortality on the backs of tiny robots.

CORE PRINCIPLES OF THE KURZWEIL PROGRAM

Ray Kurzweil believes in aggressive life extension—and lives by his own example. Besides daily exercise and a healthy diet, Kurzweil takes more than 250 supplements daily, often in doses much larger than the US RDAs. He closely monitors or tests at least 50 measures of his own health and recommends that everyone interested in serious life extension regularly test blood levels of important vitamins and nutrients.

In his new book Fantastic Voyage, Kurzweil lays out the principles behind a program that he says will bring health and long life. Following are some of those core principles.

• To maintain a slightly alkaline state, drink water that is slightly alkaline, with a pH of 9.5 to 10. This helps neutralize acidic by-products of metabolism. Kurzweil recommends drinking 8-10 glasses a day. Alkaline water can be made using a special alkalinizing water machine, which can be found at Fantastic-Voyage.net.

• Reduce your carbohydrate intake, especially of carbohydrates with a high glycemic load (such as potatoes and white rice) that cause a dramatic spike in insulin. In addition, eat more fiber and consider adding a starch blocker or supplement that blocks the digestive enzyme amylase to reduce further your body’s absorption of starchy carbohydrates.

• Increase your intake of healthy fatty acids, especially of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, through supplementation. Also, consider supplementing with the omega-6 fatty acids GLA and DGLA. Avoid saturated fats and restrict fat intake to 25% of calories.

• Make sure to obtain all eight essential amino acids every day. While this is no problem for meat eaters, vegetarians might be lacking. The eight essential amino acids for adults include phenylalanine, tryptophan, lysine, threonine, methionine, isoleucine, leucine, and valine. Histidine, a conditionally essential amino acid in adults, is essential in children, along with the amino acid arginine. Each has a slightly different therapeutic value. Two nonessential amino acids with therapeutic benefits are cysteine and tyrosine. For more information on the benefits of each amino acid, visit Fantastic-Voyage.net.

• To aid digestion, take digestive enzymes and eat organic foods. Other supplements that support digestive health include probiotics (healthy bacteria), aloe vera, garlic, and bioflavonoids. Other dietary tips include reducing or eliminating wheat, eating a wide variety of colorful vegetables, drinking tea instead of coffee, and eating frequent, small meals.

• Lose weight (if necessary) and maintain a healthy weight through regular exercise and proper diet. To aid weight loss by blocking the digestion of food, consider starch blockers and fat blockers such as the prescription drug Xenical® or the supplement chitosan.

• Eliminate refined sugar (soda, candy, foods containing corn syrup, etc.) from your diet. Refined sugar wreaks havoc with the body’s insulin response and may contribute to metabolic syndrome and diabetes, two risk factors for heart disease. Supplements that may help improve insulin sensitivity include chromium, lipoic acid, vanadyl sulfate, EPA/DHA, coenzyme Q10, carnosine, magnesium, conjugated linoleic acid, L-carnitine, vitamin E, vitamin C, biotin, arginine, glutamine, DHEA, and N-acetylcysteine. For more information on measuring insulin sensitivity and specific recommendations for diabetics or people with metabolic syndrome, visit Fantastic-Voyage.net.

• Reduce inflammation, which has been linked to numerous diseases such as heart disease and arthritis. This means increasing your intake of EPA and DHA, losing weight, exercising, and practicing stress reduction. Other natural anti-inflammatories include turmeric, green tea, boswellia, licorice, rosemary, and ginger. Onions and garlic also have anti-inflammatory properties. To measure your level of inflammation, have your level of C-reactive protein (CRP) tested.

• High homocysteine levels have been linked to stroke, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other conditions. To lower homocysteine, reduce dietary intake of red meat and eggs while supplementing with vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folic acid. In some cases, large doses of these vitamins, especially vitamin B6, are required to reduce homocysteine adequately.

• Follow a detoxification program to avoid environmental toxins and heavy metals. This means eating organic foods, drinking filtered water, and avoiding overexposure to electromagnetic pollution by minimizing the use of computer monitors, hair dryers, electric shavers, and other high-powered electric devices. Supplements that help the body detoxify include N-acetylcysteine, milk thistle, vitamin C, B vitamins, magnesium, and selenium. Chelation may help remove accumulated toxins.

• For people with high cholesterol, policosanol has been shown to be effective in reducing blood lipid levels. It may be even more effective when combined with statin drugs. Other supplements that may help ward off heart disease include vitamin E, gugulipid, and plant sterols. Phosphatidylcholine may also help reduce cholesterol.

• To reduce your chances of getting cancer, eat a diet rich in vegetables and low in saturated fat, exercise regularly, avoid smoking, maintain a healthy body weight, and have regular cancer screenings. Additionally, supplements that may help prevent cancer include vitamin C, selenium, coenzyme Q10, curcumin, melatonin, DHA/EPA, and folic acid.

• Maintain youthful hormone levels through hormone testing and supplementation with key hormones, including DHEA, growth hormone, and melatonin. Menopausal women may consider bioidentical estrogens and progesterone to reduce menopausal symptoms. Men over 50 may take supplemental testosterone to replace lost testosterone, and should consider taking saw palmetto and chrysin to limit the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone and estrogen. Men taking testosterone and other hormones should have regular prostate cancer screening.

Bridge Three: Nanotechnology—Evolution in Motion

Even Kurzweil acknowledges that his “third bridge”—the advent of nanotechnology—is “very futuristic.” However, having spent much of his life studying the rate of technological innovation, he is convinced that nanotechnology is the future.

“It sounds very futuristic, but I’d point out there are already many experiments in animals that use blood cell-sized devices,” he explains. “One experiment we write about in the book involves a device the size of a blood cell that cured type I diabetes in rats. Pancreatic islet cells are actually inside the device. Glucose gets into the islet cells to be measured and insulin is released. It works perfectly normally. That’s occurring today.”

Kurzweil predicts a future in which these tiny robots are everywhere, attacking a host of conditions and enabling humans to “go substantially beyond the limitations of biology.” Robots the size of red blood cells could be injected by the billions to carry oxygen more efficiently than can actual red blood cells. Neurons could be enhanced by tiny microcomputers implanted in the capillaries of the brain, which would communicate with biological cells, each other, and a wireless Internet. Still other robots could monitor our blood glucose and maintain a safe level of insulin, rendering diabetes powerless. The opportunities are endless.

“We’ll be able to provide full-immersion virtual reality from within the central nervous system,” he says. “‘Nanobots’ could shut down the signals coming from your real nervous system and put in place signals you would be receiving if you were in the virtual environment. Designing new virtual environments will be a new art form.”

This concept strikes to the very heart of what it means to be human. To many, the idea of tiny robots working within our bodies is literally heresy, evoking images of horror movies and a world populated by cyborg beings that have lost their essential humanity.

Once again, however, Kurzweil has no patience for this critique. This fear will be swept away, he says, by the enormous benefits associated with this technology. He points out that the miniaturization of technology is already increasing exponentially. Computers that once required whole rooms to operate now fit within the palm of a hand. It is only a matter of time before they can fit within the walls of human arteries.

“We will become our technology,” he says. “We’re going to merge with it and will be indistinguishable from it. It’s not going to be a matter of how we compete with the machines. We will become the machines.”

To Kurzweil, this is only natural. Technology is the next step in human evolution. Our biology was originally designed to deal with scarcity. From birth until death, the human body is designed to hoard calories, to crave fat and sugar, and to react to danger with stress chemicals that raise blood pressure and constrict arteries. Until recently, this made sense. It was logical for the survival of the species that following our reproductive years, people gradually succumbed to disease and death, thus freeing up resources for the young.

But that era is ending, says Kurzweil. We are entering the age of abundance, when manufacturing and energy will cost virtually nothing, when 1-3% of humanity can feed the rest of world with advanced agriculture, and when we improve on our original design through our insatiable drive to overcome our own limitations.

“This future isn’t an alien invasion,” he says. “It’s emerging from within our civilization, and it will literally be within us. It will be expanding human potential. That’s what the drive of the human species is all about.”