Ray Kurzweil (b. 1948), is a noted computer scientist, futurist, and author of a number of books, most notably The Singularity Is Near, in which he states his case for a scenario of the future so technologically advanced that it’s literally beyond imagination. In part, according to him, the singularity will result in humans living longer than ever, perhaps hundreds or thousands of years; in order to reach that point in which technology allows such extended human lifespans, we must practice anti-aging regimens now. And Kurzweil does this. He allegedly takes as many as 77 different supplements for anti-aging and health purposes. Here’s why Ray Kurzweil’s supplement stack is the wrong approach to anti-aging. [i]
Here’s a partial list of the supplements he takes:
- Comprehensive multi-vitamin, coenzyme Q10, grapeseed extract, resveratrol, bilberry extract, lycopene, silymarine, linoleic acid, lecithin, n-acetylcysteine, garlic, l-carnitine, pyrodoxal-5-phosphate [a form of vitamin B6], echinacea, B12 shots.
- Chromium, metformin, Gymnema sylvestra.
- Policosanol, gugulipid, plant sterols, niacin, oat bran, grapefruit powder, psyllium, lecithin, Lipitor [a statin].
- Arginine, TMG, choline.
- Aspirin, lumbrokinase.
- EPA/DHA, curcumin.
- Folic acid, B6.
- EDTA, DMPS.
- Intravenous glutathione
- Intravenous phosphatidylcholine
- PtC, DHEA, Testosterone, l-3-C, chrysin, nettle, ginger.
- Saw palmetto complex
- L-theanine, beta-sitosterol, Phosphatidylserine, Green tea extract.
- GABA, melatonin, glycerylphosphatidylcholine, nextrutine, quercertin.
- Lutein, bilberry extract.
- Antioxidant skin creams.
- Betaine HCL, pepsin, gentian root, peppermint, Acidophilus bifodobacter, fructooligosaccharides [prebiotics], fish proteins, l-glutamine, n-acetyl-d-glucosamine.
- N-acetyl-carnitine, carnosine, quercertin, alpha lipoic acid
While Kurzweil’s supplement regimen allegedly costs thousands of dollars a day, he can probably afford it. The real questions that arise are:
- Do you need to take so many supplements for optimal anti-aging?
- Could Kurzweil be overdoing it, and instead of counteracting aging, be promoting it?
To answer these questions, we need to know what they do.
On the list, several are polyphenols, and as we saw in the section on too many polyphenols, it’s possible he could be taking too much and/or the supplements overlap in mechanisms and they’re not all necessary. Doses are not listed in the sources I’ve seen, but in that group, grape seed extract, resveratrol, curcumin, green tea extract, and quercetin are all polyphenols and have many overlapping effects.
Furthermore, Kurzweil eats a high-polyphenol diet, reportedly including raspberries, blackberries, dark chocolate, and green tea. If that’s typical for his food, Kurzweil may have a polyphenol intake, including supplements, of many thousands of milligrams daily. There’s a tremendous lack of knowledge whether that amount of polyphenols is either necessary for health, or even harmful to health. Kurzweil wants to live longer to take advantage of future anti-aging medicine and technology, which implies that he wants either a guarantee or a reasonable shot that his regimen will work. But there could be a good chance that his regimen is harmful, tipping on to the far side of the hormetic J-curve into toxicity.
Kurzweil also takes a statin drug, Lipitor, which probably does more harm than good. His cholesterol is reportedly around 100 mg/dl, a value so low that it endangers his health. Higher cholesterol is associated with longer life.[ii] Low cholesterol, below 160 mg/dl, is associated with violence, suicide, and cancer.[iii] Besides lower cholesterol, statins have all kinds of nasty side effects, such as muscle pain and memory loss, which isn’t surprising, since cholesterol is a necessary and vital component of cell membranes. Statins aren’t even very effective at preventing heart attacks. In this matter, Kurzweil adheres to some very old-style thinking on the cause of cardiovascular disease; insulin resistance likely plays a huge role, and lowering cholesterol does little if anything.
Kurzweil doesn’t appear to take magnesium or zinc. Both are powerfully involved in anti-aging and are arguably much more important than many of the other supplements he takes.
You have to get your theories of aging right in order to effectively fight aging. Science has found a number of good theories and measures as to what promotes aging or counteracts it; calorie restriction stands, for now, as the archetype of an anti-aging intervention. Fewer calories, or substances that mimic the physiological processes that occur with fewer calories, offer the best shot at counteracting aging. Given our relative paucity of knowledge on the realities of preventing or reversing aging, however, it doesn’t make much sense to use a shotgun approach like Kurzweil has, in my estimation. As we’ve noted, some of these may be counterproductive or harmful. Just as in medicine, the first objective in fighting aging should be to do no harm.
We could mention a few more items on Kurzweil’s list that might do harm. A multivitamin may contain iron, copper, and calcium, which are on my list of supplements not to take. He does take aspirin, in his case likely a good thing, but I won’t bore the reader by going through the entire list. Many of them strike me as ineffective at best.
The Pareto principle states that 20% of inputs cause 80% of outputs. Using this principle, it stands that each additional supplement does not add equally to the desired outcome, which is anti-aging and long life. So, even if you think Kurzweil’s approach is the way to go, if you found the top dozen or so supplements, you’d be effectively duplicating the longevity effect, even if that involves quite a bit of guesswork. Here are what I believe to be the most effective supplements on the list:
- Grape seed extract
- Metformin (a prescription drug)
- Green tea (though I’d just drink it, not take the extract)
- EPA/DHA (omega-3 fatty acids)
I have difficulty getting too excited about anything else on the list. Hopefully, Kurzweil also practices intermittent fasting and strength training, key interventions which I discussed in my book Stop the Clock: The Optimal Anti-Aging Strategy. Those interventions could make much more of a difference than at least half the supplements he takes, in my estimation.
Some supplements truly fight aging, but figuring out which ones they are from a long list isn’t always easy. Most – maybe all – of the supplements on Kurzweil’s list are backed by science, but have only a few animal experiments to their credit. Not all of them by any means have been shown to prolong lifespan in experimental animals. Besides, just because a supplement affects a certain physiological parameter doesn’t mean that it works via a unique biochemical mechanism. Many of the supplements on his list likely do the same things, so many of the supplements are superfluous. They either chelate iron, deactivate mTOR, increase insulin sensitivity, or all of these at once.
One of the keys to living a long life is to maintain insulin sensitivity, as the famous experiments of Cynthia Kenyon have shown. While supplements like metformin or curcumin can help maintain insulin sensitivity, the most effective tools for that are exercise, especially strength training, and avoidance of sugar, refined carbohydrates, and industrial seed oils.
Becoming or remaining lean and muscular potently prevents insulin resistance, so that’s a requirement for long life.
Other interventions include keeping iron levels in the low normal range, intermittent fasting for maintaining autophagy at youthful levels, along with other key lifestyle factors like a good social life with lots of friends, a decent marriage, staying active, even going to church. Supplements can be important, and I wouldn’t have written an entire book about them if they weren’t, but don’t count on them alone to prolong your life. Neglect of the other factors would likely negate any advantage you get from them.
PS: Check out my Supplements Buying Guide for Men.
[ii] Ravnskov, Uffe, et al. “Lack of an association or an inverse association between low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol and mortality in the elderly: a systematic review.” BMJ open 6.6 (2016): e010401.
[iii] Engelberg, Hyman. “Low serum cholesterol and suicide.” The Lancet 339.8795 (1992): 727-729.
Comments on Engelberg, Hyman. “Low serum cholesterol and suicide.” The Lancet 339.8795 (1992): 727-729.
Th original paper
Wow, he sure looks healthy for 69… /sarc
Whenever I see someone over-supplementing like that and obviously ingesting/absorbing more iron than pumping it, I am reminded of the following quote:
“People don’t want to exercise. They don’t want to eat healthy food. They don’t want to stop drinking; they don’t want to stop smoking; they don’t want to stop having dangerous sex. They want to take a pill. Well, good luck.”
– Richard Veech, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
You’ve often mentioned that berberine has the same antiaging effect as metformin. Do you think one is superior All herbalists recommend against taking berberine long term because it’s ‘harsh’ on the system. Some commenter on another thread reported that metformin had wrecked her Dad’s kidneys.
I personally have taken an oregon grape root (500mg) cap /d for the last 3 years – so not much berberine at all.
Is it enough to get the benefits of berberine?
Here in Oz apart from the odd Chinese herbalist no one knows or sell berberine. The ignorance is profound.
Really? The Australian herbalists I know’ALL kmpw about berberine’s uniquely powerful medicinal qualities. Hardly surprising when you think about it. It is recognized as such in every (I’m not joking, without exception ) every herbal ever written over the centuries.
Honestly Bill !
In fact I think that’s why there’s an almost cautious reverence about it ‘ Because it is known to be so powerful. No idea about metformin. Never taken it. I wonder whether the people who developed metformin were inspired by berberine.?
Thanks for the study you linked to I couldn’t find mention of dosages though.Which seemed a little strange. Dosage maketh the poison after all.
It’s obviously a remarkable substance.
Not to mention a curiously beautiful name. Just saying the word evokes a kind of magic.
Stuart – berberine has the same or even better anti-diabetic effect of metformin. Compared head to head in a hum,an clinical trial, berberine did better. While I assume (and it’s a good assumption) that the anti-aging and anti-diabetic effects of berberine are intimately entwined, I don’t know that for a fact, and there is far more data on metformin, since it’s been prescribed so much and for so long. Berberine in contrast is more popular in China.
I doubt that metformin wrecks anyone’s kidneys. Diabetics are very prone to kidney problems anyway. Metformin is quite safe when used as directed but is of course prescription and use should be under a doctor’s care.
Long story but while berberine has extended lifespan in one lab animal (Drosophila), it’s just not clear whether berberine is the same, worse, or better than metformin for anti-aging. My bet is that they’re quite similar. Mostly I’ve only taken one cap (500 mg) a day of berberine myself, and it’s enough to benefit you, that much I know. I had a longstanding gut problem caused by antibiotics and it went away the day after I started berberine.
I’m not sure how much berberine there is in 500mg of oregon grape root (which AFAIK is slightly higher in berberine than both Gold Thread Goldenseal.or Barberry) I think it’s 8- 10%.
Do you know? I googled it but gave up looking. I’m a bit surprised that it’s not common knowledge.
And would you be comfortable taking 500mg/d of berberine long term? As in for decades? With regular short breaks ( about a week ) of course.
Low cholesterol leads to a shorter life? This is FAKE NEWS!
So is the ridiculous suggestion that the earth is round. It’s all the media’s fault don’t you think?
Evil , SO evil.
Deniis may have given this link in another post, but here it is again…a review examining LDL cholesterol and lifespan. Correlation is not causality, but this is consistent with many other data points such as the such as the lack of meaningfully improved health outcomes from statins…
The title: Lack of an association or an inverse association between low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol and mortality in the elderly: a systematic review
Oops, sorry for the spelling mistake
I read the article a long time ago claiming he spent thousands a day, and dubious that a person could spend that much on what is mostly OTC supplements, I researched if it was true. It was an error and the real amount as per Kurzweil is thousands a month or year. Even for a millionaire spending thousands a day would be a huge burden. As per the latest info he takes 100 pills a day down from over 200 a few years ago.
Dennis, I am fascinated how many pills from about how many supplements do you take per day? I dont need the names as I bought your book, just would be interested in the numbers.
Probably about a half dozen on any given day.
Does he even lift?
The perfect response!
I would divide anti-aging strategies into 3 categories:
First, strategies which are pretty much a sure thing: Regular exercise; not smoking; not being overweight; not abusing drugs; eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. I would call this the low-hanging fruit. If you do this stuff, you can probably buy yourself 5 or so extra years of life and perhaps 10 extra years of vitality.
Second, the “chicken soup” strategies. Stuff which is not quite as sure, but can’t hurt: Calorie restriction; avoiding junk food; avoiding sugary drinks, etc. Since the evidence for this stuff is weaker than that for the “low hanging fruit” strategies, it’s pretty likely that there is significantly less benefit.
Last, the “pie in the sky,” which is how I would categorize Kurzweil’s supplementation program. Since the evidence for this stuff is weak at best, one can be pretty sure that even if it does work, it’s not going to have a huge impact. What is more, there is a decent chance that some of this stuff is actually harmful.
So it seems to me that it’s another case of the 80/20 rule in action. i.e. you can get most of the benefits of life extension by doing only a small fraction of the popular strategies. And with very little risk of adverse effects.
Perhaps I am biased because that’s the strategy I use: Regular exercise; limited junk food; no smoking or drug abuse; calorie restriction; and eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Oh, and hope for medical advances 🙂
I disagree completely with you about your second category. The evidence ( for example presented here by PD ) is pretty good.
Maybe you’ve missed it ?
I wonder if all the antioxidants people are taking doesn’t promote cancer. Aren’t oxidizing agents used by the body to kill off cancerous cells? I do know that high stress for short amounts of time seem to improve health. If you squash the reactions to these stresses then does it defeat the purpose of the stress all together?
I would think a better plan would be to take these on some sort of schedule were at times you take nothing at all.
There’s a lot we don’t know. We may find that you can’t have it all and stopping stress or inflammation at the same time stops the bodies response that removes damaged cells.
Funny you should bring this up. Just this week, there was an episode of a daily German “knowledge” TV show about whether we actually need vitamins. An experiment with our favourite nematodes was discussed, where free radicals were encouraged by some chemical treatment or other. These worms then lived longer, unexpectedly.
Treatment of another group that were then given vitamins (C & E?) actually then lived shorter than the control group.
(40 minutes into this video…sorry, no subtitles:
It then discusses research with 40 young athletes, which revealed that vitamins were actually disadvantageous, presumably because they interrupt the body’s own defenses against the free radicals produced by strenuous exercise.
What would be really ironic is if they found that all these people that lived so long actually lived in areas with toxic radiation or some other toxin in the environment instead of eating a lot of fruits and vegetables or whatever causing their long lives
There was a group of Taiwanese that lived in an apartment complex where the sheet rock in the complex came from China and was contaminated with radioactive waste. They had LESS cancer. I can’t remember the amount reduction but it was substantial.
Just to be sure I’m not against vitamins but I think it might be profitable to cycle them.
I enjoyed your response and wondered what the best supplements would be for women.
Thanks, Jan, the best supplements for women are nearly identical to those of men. Of the 8 supplements from Kurzweil’s list that I deemed the most effective, they can be taken by both men and women.
I have a feeding tube, so the only meals I get are Ensure and the supplements recommended by Kurzweil and his doctor partner, Terry Grossman, which are approved my by own doctor. In addition to the Kurzweil accomplishments you mentioned and his musical devices used by professionals the world over, he has also contributed to medicine by inventing medical devices used the world over. So, thank’s for your opinion, but I’m sticking with Ray Kurzweil.
Sorry to hear about your feeding tube, but Ensure is toxic waste.
I find trying to second guess someone smarter than me and that has much greater resources than me (both money and access to other great medical and research people) is a exercise in both futility and conceit.
And I say that as a person with a physic departments(Bowling Green University) evaluation of a IQ of 160.
You’re right. People who are better than us – more money, fame, and power – should never be criticized. They are beyond criticism, and we should just be quiet. Even you with your
Ivy LeagueBowling Green IQ of 160, all you should do is worship at their feet. Thank you so much for showing me my moral turpitude in suggesting that Kurzweil might be mistaken about something. Sackcloth and ashes for me – it is still Lent, after all.
The world should stay as it is, speaking power to truth.