On an early April morning, Dave Asprey wakes up in Los Angeles and begins his daily routine.
First, he removes his Zeo, a small biometric headband that monitors his sleep and tells him that, over the past 774 nights, he’s slept an average of 5 hours and 58 minutes. He then opens one of three Ziploc bags filled with 30 pills each, a cocktail of yellow, amber, black, and white. “I don’t know if I can tell you what all of these are from sight, but I could probably guess on 80% of them,” Asprey says.
The pile well exceeds the daily recommendations for vitamins B12, K1, C, and D3, among others, not to mention a hit of L-tyrosine, an amino acid aimed at improving thyroid function, and several “smart drugs” with names like modafinil, Ciltep, and aniracetam, all of which, he claims, improve cognition. Asprey has gotten so used to downing this daily cocktail that he simply loads the whole thing into one hand and throws it back as if he were polishing off a large popcorn at the multiplex. “I remember my college days, when we did beer bongs,” he says. “It’s just like that.”
Asprey is a high-functioning 42-year-old with no major health issues—unless you count as a mental illness the fact that he, probably the world’s most famous “biohacker,” has spent some $300,000 in the last decade or so trying to hack his brain and body for peak perfor- mance. “I’m always running experiments,” he says. Done taking the pills, he rips the top off a plastic vial of pyrroloquinoline quinone and squirts it into his mouth (something he does four times a day hoping it will boost mitochondrial function), then knocks back a teaspoon of sea salt “mined in Utah or the Himalayas from pollutant-free ancient seabeds.” His breakfast is liquid, and took him seven years to perfect: 14 precisely measured ounces of coffee, to which he adds two table- spoons of butter and two of MCT oil, to create a concoction that looks something like a recently poured Guinness. All in all, he’s proud to declare his output “some of the most expensive pee on the planet.”
Depending on whom you ask, “biohacking” can mean anything from hooking up your brain to neurofeedback technology to “boost creativity” to engaging in mindful meditation to simply choosing to take the stairs instead of the elevator to burn more calories. “Bodybuilders are some of the best biohackers out there,” says Asprey. “They manipulate themselves for a goal.”
However, by far the most controversial part of the biohacking movement is in the category of nutrition, where a growing number of self-experimentalists are actively toying with diets many doctors would describe as extreme, if not downright dangerous. And it’s here where Asprey is making not only his name but also his fortune.
Asprey is the man behind Bulletproof Coffee, a proprietary version of his daily breakfast drink, which has spawned something of a craze: This summer, he opened the first official Bulletproof Coffee shop, in Santa Monica, and he has plans for more. An executive at Twitter has lobbied to get Bulletproof served in the company canteen, and on The Tonight Show, actress Shailene Woodley told Jimmy Fallon that Asprey’s coffee “will change your life!” As the drink gained in popularity, Vogue Australia asked, “Is Bulletproof Coffee the new green juice?” (“So far there are no scientific studies on the effects of drinking butter bombs for breakfast,” the magazine concluded.)
Asprey also runs an annual Bulletproof Biohacking Conference, which, even at $1,599 a pop, has routinely attracted hundreds of paying participants since its debut in 2013.
“Dave’s a marketing genius,” says fellow biohacker Steven Dean, who drinks Asprey’s coffee concoction every morning. “But I genuinely believe he’s interested in understanding the ways his body works.” Others have been more critical, pointing out that often his recommendations are made on the basis of shaky science. But Asprey remains undeterred. “It’s kind of a revolutionary act,” he says of the human experimentation he and other biohackers conduct outside the confines of the scientific establishment. “It’s scary. If I’m in charge of my body, I might make a mistake. What if I do something wrong?”