DHEA & Kurzweil’s Transcend: Nine Steps To Living Well Forever

by Claudius J West

Ray Kurzweil is an inventor and futurist who wants to live forever. He used to take 250 pills a day to help achieve that goal. Now, he takes 150 pills a day.

On the weekends, he spends his time getting intravenous transfusions of a chemical cocktail meant to help him last. That’s hardcore.

ray kurzweil by jenterke

Illustration by Jenterke

If that’s what it takes to become immortal, then the vast majority of us are not sitting pretty.

Not only would we balk at the weekly transfusions, but 150 pills a day is a lot to swallow financially. Conservatively estimating the cost at a dollar per pill, that’s $4500 per month, or $54,750 per year.

Would an extra helping of broccoli suffice? I didn’t think so.

Dr. Terry Grossman is the co-author, with Ray Kurzweil, of Transcend: Nine Steps To Living Well Forever.

Transcend is a mnemonic  for remembering the Nine Steps. They are:

Talk to your doctor
Calorie Reduction
New Tech

I read the book and enjoyed it. How did it change my actual everyday practices? Except for a few supplement recommendations, the book mostly confirmed or bolstered my already existing practices and beliefs.

In my first draft of this post, I intended to share with you nuggets of information from Transcend that you might not find in other sources.

But while I was doing that, something else surfaced.

A Warning About Studies

In 2005, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a study that said there was a slight increase in death from supplementing with vitamin E.
But it turns out it wasn’t really vitamin E the investigators were studying—it was alpha-tocopherol, which is “only one component of vitamin E. Vitamin E consists of eight components: four tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma, and delta) and four tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma, and delta), yet this study addressed only one component.”  (p.316)

That’s not kosher.

“The most important fraction in vitamin E, which contributes to vitamin E’s well-known antioxidant benefits, is gamma-tocopherol, which constitutes about 70 percent of the vitamin E found naturally in food. Supplementing with just alpha-tocopherol actually depletes the body of gamma-tocopherol. Studies of vitamin E products that contain all of the tocopherols together show substantial health benefits.” (p.316)

I guess we shouldn’t believe everything we read.

The challenge of knowing what to believe is further illustrated by the following story.

Kurzweil and Grossman (p.77) recommend that if you are concerned about maintaining a better hormone balance and reining in your cortisol production, then practice the following steps:

  • Manage stress
  • Sleep well and long enough
  • Exercise regularly and vigorously
  • Eat a low-sugar, low-glycemic-load diet
  • Take herbs such as licorice or ashwaganda.
  • Supplement with DHEA

Here’s your horse-smell

That all sounds reasonable. I’ll even give a pass to ashwaganda, which, in Sanskrit means “horse’s smell,” and is otherwise known as poison gooseberry. Poison gooseberry?

(Also, an anonymous author at WebMD.com says that “Ashwagandha has a lot of uses. But so far, there isn’t enough information to judge whether it is effective for any of them.” Ouch.)

But I want to focus  on DHEA.

I used to take DHEA. It’s probably a good thing I stopped, because I wasn’t being responsible about how I took it. To be responsible, I needed to have my DHEA-sulfate level tested before I started gobbling DHEA.

Why be responsible? DHEA is a precursor of testosterone. That sounds like a good thing, but DHEA can also increase prostate-specific antigen, which is a key marker for prostate cancer. Increasing your PSA is not what you want. If your PSA goes up, stop the DHEA. Of course, you will only know if your PSA goes up if you’re testing regularly, and you probably aren’t.

Handling The Truth

DHEA hormoneMy first brush with DHEA came from reading muscle and fitness magazines. According to the magazines I read, anything that promised to boost testosterone was the Holy Grail, all the better to build meatier muscles, and DHEA was it.

Here’s the difference between believing what you read in magazines or on bottle labels and believing what you read in books: Kurzweil and Grossman tell us that in 2006 the Mayo Clinic published a study showing that “DHEA supplementation had no effect on body composition, muscle strength, physical endurance, bone density, insulin sensitivity, or quality of life.” (page 79)

Are you kidding me? But those are all of the reasons the muscle mags said we should be taking DHEA—greater muscle strength, more endurance—-and the Mayo Clinic says it’s all bosh?

Here’s the thing about believing what you read in books. With the Internet, we can deep sea dive into all the information we can stand. I figured I owed it to you to see what this Mayo Clinic study was all about, to find out if it was conducted on animals or humans, to put actual eyes on the scene. Because Transcend’s Selected References did not include a citation of this Mayo Clinic study they referred to, not providing the title of the study nor the names of the authors, I did my own search.

When I googled “DHEA Mayo Clinic 2006” using Google Scholar, I found no such study.

Clicking over to MayoClinic.com, I found a special page just for searching Mayo Clinic authors—beginning with the year 2007. Dang it.

By searching all studies the Mayo Clinic lists about DHEA, I did find three studies that could almost fit the Kurzweil and Grossman almost-citation, two of them from 2004, and one from 2005—-none from 2006.

The studies were conducted on elderly men and women, as well as on “hydorandrenal”  [sic] women.” (I saw “sic” because “hydroandrenal” is not a word I could find in my dictionaries, though “hypoadrenal” is a real word.)

Jeez, it’s the Mayo Clinic; you’d expect them to use the correct medical term, wouldn’t you?

The studies were done on elderly men and women. I’m prepared to accept that studies on the elderly are equally valid for those who aren’t elderly. After all, it’s the elderly who are more likely to have lowered DHEA levels and thus show the biggest effects from supplementation.

My point is to be skeptical about what we read, this post included. As it turns out, using DHEA comes with significant caveats, that is, it should only be used in conjunction while testing your body’s DHEA and PSA levels.

Thanks to the Internet, it’s easy to confirm or allay our skepticism.

Have you ever encountered incontrovertible proof that conflicted with one of your strongly held opinions? What did you do about it?

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