Dave Asprey’s travelling medicine show

Jules Evans
8 min readJul 2, 2021

In the third century BC, Qin Shi Huang, the emperor of China, was obsessed with attaining immortality, so he sent his advisors throughout China to discover the elixir of eternal youth. They weren’t able to find it, so instead he ordered almost a million workers to build him a necropolis, where 70,000 terracotta warriors would guard him in the afterlife.

Today, in California, Silicon Valley billionaires are happy to spend a similar amount to try and become immortal gods. And many of them are turning for advice to Dave Asprey, the father of ‘biohacking’. Dave is the man behind Bulletproof Coffee, a podcaster, best-selling author and multimillion-dollar wellness entrepreneur who says he wants to live to 180, at least.

He has also, of late, used his wellness platform to criticize COVID lockdowns and enforced mask-wearing as ‘fear-porn’. The FTC recently sent him a letter warning him about health claims he’s made about how to ‘hack’ COVID. He’s not quite an all-out anti-vaxxer, but describes himself as vi-curious. In this spirit, let me say, I’m not anti-Dave, I’m Dave-curious.

A big part of Dave’s pitch is his origin story, which he always repeats. He grew up in a mouldy house which made him very ill. By his early 20s, he weighed 300 pounds, had arthritis, and had ‘almost no activity in my pre-frontal cortex’. Despite this, he had a successful career in Silicon Valley ‘teaching the people who made the internet’.

He searched for ways to improve his health and optimize his performance, and was not averse to venturing beyond the mainstream, for example by using attention-enhancing drugs like Modafinil. He says:

I was maybe the first Silicon Valley guy to raise my hand and say, “I’m doping. I’m taking the limitless drug. I’ve been taking it every day for eight years and it saved my career.” I would not have my MBA from Wharton without smart drugs. They have been fundamental to me being who and where I am today. I’m really grateful for them.

In 2004, he travelled to Tibet to learn meditation ‘from the masters’. While hiking around Mount Kailash, he tried Tibetan tea made with yak butter and found it very restorative. Inspired by the recipe, in 2014 he launched Bulletproof Coffee, for people who take their coffee seriously. A packet of Bulletproof coffee costs £16, compared to about £4 for normal ground coffee. But Dave says most coffee is coated with mycotoxins, which make your brain sluggish, while his is mycotoxin-free. Then you add his high-fat creamer (another £15) which contains grass-fed butter and MCT oil.

Bulletproof coffee was a huge success. The New York Times wrote about the ‘cult of butter coffee diet’. Jimmy Fallon repeatedly promoted it on his chat show, Joe Rogan had Dave on his podcast and plugged the coffee.

The science behind Bulletproof’s claims turned out to be weak. Other coffee companies know about mycotoxins and have technology to deal with it. Joe Rogan later tested Dave’s claims and decided: ‘He used my platform in a way that isn’t totally ethical. It seems to be bullshit and I feel bad. He doesn’t have a formal education in nutrition.’ Spotify has since deleted the three JRE episodes on which Asprey appears.

But never mind, the Bulletproof empire was rising. Dave launched the bulletproof diet, which advocated a high-fat, low-exercise regime (some cardiologists are not happy about this). He also launched the Bulletproof podcast, where he hosted various wellness influencers who in turn hosted him on their podcasts.

He launched other biohacking ventures like 40 Years of Zen, which ‘is a 5 day Master Program that brings you the benefits of 40 years of advanced Zen meditation’. It sounds similar to another venture called BioCyberNaut, in Sedona, which offers ’40 years of meditation training in 7 days’. I wondered if there was any legal dispute between them, and found a suit was filed by BioCyberNaut against Dave in 2019 (along with a countersuit — they finally settled). The same year, Dave’s sister and brother-in-law sued Dave for the IP around a mobile version of 40 years of Zen, claiming he is an ‘ego driven businessman intent on destroying those who do not yield to his will’. Dave countersued them as well.

It all sounds stressful, but Dave is super-resilient. He writes that he was recently

dealing with an exceptionally stressful family situation, a crisis at one of my portfolio companies... It was the highest amount of combined stress I’d faced in fifteen years. I meditate, I teach CEOs how to meditate with electrodes on their head, and I have designed nootropics to reduce anxiety and increase cognitive performance. Yet I’m still (mostly) human, and this level of stress should have left me depleted. Instead, I had far more energy than I expected. It was as if I’d reached another level of performance and resilience that I didn’t know was there before — aka I was younger.

Go Dave!

He is a cult figure in the Californian ‘biohacking’ scene and he runs the annual biohacking conference, which is meeting in Florida in September. ‘Who wants to come to Florida to hug me?’ he says.

He’s also written several best-selling books — the most recent is Super Human, in which he announces his intention to live until at least 180, and shows the reader various biohacks to become super human deities with rock-star mitochondria.

The book begins with the story of two cavemen. One tells the other about a new health innovation he has developed — fire. The other caveman, ‘Thog’, is not into it. He is a doubter, a hater, a nay-sayer. ‘Only one of those cavemen survived. It was not Thog’.

The message is clear. If you want to evolve into a super human and avoid extinction, don’t be a nay-sayer. ‘Are you out or are you in’, Dave asks. ‘I’m all-in. Join me.’

I’m not sure I want the person giving me health advice to say ‘Are you out or are you in? I’m all in.’ He’s a weird combination of a doctor and a high-intensity stockbroker. But that’s the American health market for you.

The book then splatters us with alternative health advice, much of which Dave says he has tried on himself. He says he has spent at least $1 million on his own biohacking. He’s had stem cells harvested from his bone and injected into his body on a Facebook livestream. He now says he has a 20-year-old’s brain, an IQ raised by 20 points, and a 15% longer penis.

Amazing! How do I get a super brain and a super dong? Easy. Just try intermittent fasting, infrared saunas, shockwaves to your genitals, stem-cell injections, anti-ageing drugs like Metformin and Rapamycin, ozone enemas, grass-fed meat, cayenne peppers, fisetin, ashitaba, oil swilling, Vitamin D, Vitamin C, turmeric, piracetam, glutathione, CoQ10, activated charcoal, jaw alignment surgery, stool analysis, fecal implants, young blood, nicotin and heroin. Heroin? Sure, it’s anti-ageing, why do you think Keith Richards is still alive? (Dave doesn’t directly recommend heroin but he does say members of the ‘elite’ of Sweden used it for many years for anti-aging) Give up gluten, glucose, grain and alcohol (except for ‘really good wine’).

Then measure it all, with blood tests, telomores measuring, sleep measuring, penis measuring, and neural feedback via the Halo neuro-electric headset which enables Dave to beat his 10-year-old son at ping-pong, because it ‘slows down time like Neo in the Matrix’.

Becoming a super human deity sounds pretty expensive. But luckily, Dave sells some of the products he mentions and can give us a good rate, or he has struck up cross-promotion deals with the vendors who can give his followers a discount.

You realize that Dave is selling several of the insider health hacks he tells you about, either through cross-promotion deals, or through his various businesses, such as the ‘Upgrade Lab’ he launched in Santa Monica, where you can try chi-chi treatments like the Atmospheric Cell Trainer or the ‘brain room’, which (according to Fast Company) ‘scans both sides of your brain with sensors, then plays some chill sounds’.

He presents himself as an explorer-educator, but he’s a salesman, it’s an infomercial, or a travelling medicine show. Maybe that’s simply what American medicine has always been — somewhere between a lecture, a sermon, a sales pitch and a carnival show.

It strikes me that the landscape of alternative media is deeply intertwined with alternative health, and with the $250 billion-a-year unregulated supplement market. So many of the biggest podcasters and bloggers in alternative media also make or have made fortunes in the supplement business.

Tim Ferris has 1.5 million newsletter subscribers and his podcast has been downloaded 700 million times. He is the father of ‘life hacking’, and it all started with his supplement business BrainQuicken.

Joe Rogan has 190 million downloads a month. He is an investor in the Onnit health supplements business, founded by fellow bro podcaster Aubrey Marcus. Onnit sells male-targeted health products like ‘Total Human’ and ‘Alpha Brain’.

Other well-known wellness influencers, bloggers and podcasters also make their money selling or being sponsored by health supplements, like Ben Greenfield, JP Sears, Andrew Huberman and Shawn Stevenson. Even Ben Shapiro, the blazered nerd of right-wing alternative media, has a side-hustle promoting health supplements.

Wellness influencers appear on each other’s podcasts, promoting each other’s books and mentioning ‘the new thing’ that is optimizing their life, which they happen to sell or are sponsored by. And the host never says ‘really? Is there evidence for that?Because if you do, you will not be invited onto their podcast to promote your own book / course / health supplement. It’s a perfectly enclosed ecosystem of mutually-enforced credibility. Or, as a friend put it to me, a circle jerk.

The same thing happens in the world of conspiracy culture, by the way — you appear on each other’s podcasts and never question each other’s theories, no matter how outlandish. Just say ‘wow!’ Alex Jones of InfoWars peddles conspiracy theories but his real earner is his million-dollar health supplement business. Don’t trust evil public health, try my miracle supplement!

Alternative media figures like to slag off Big Pharma, public health and mainstream news for being corrupt shills, but there are some blurred lines in the alternative media scene too.

Anyway, that’s America, the glorious free market of health, information and spirituality. I’m not anti-Dave for building his multi-million-dollar wellness empire. Like I said, I’m Dave-curious.