The following is a chapter-by-chapter summary of Transcend: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever, by Kurzweil and Grossman. Kurzweil believes that we are nearing an era in which medical science will advance fast enough to outpace aging and other chronic illnesses.
The book is essentially broken down into two sections. The first describes the current state of health and medical research and provides both background and motivation to stay healthy. The second section is a detailed plan for designing a healthy lifestyle. Almost every chapter includes Kurzweil’s trademark predictions and extrapolations for the future, and I’ve attempted to capture the gist of these as well.
Part 1: The Problem
Brain and Sleep
Plasticity in the brain means that functions are not hardwired to particular areas of the brain, which can re-organize itself based on informational input (e.g. studies of dyslexic students showed that relevant brain growth can be stimulated with letter differentiation training). This implies that the brain is like any muscle: use it or lose it. The brain can be exercised, but on the downside it is subject to addictions. A number of additional supplements may carry benefits:
- Vinpocetine increases blood flow and the production of ATP. It may enhance memory.
- Phosphatidylserine slows memory loss and lowers cortisol levels.
- Acetyl-L-carnitine strengthens mitochondria and reduces inflammation.
- Ginkgo Biloba increases blood flow and may reduce memory loss.
- EPA/DHA (Omega-3 fats) Keep membranes flexible, which enhances signal transmission. May relieve depression and anxiety.
- Phosphatidylcholine can help memory and learning.
- S-adenosyl-methionine plays a role in methylation (genetic triggering) and decreases with age. May help depression.
Today, implantable devices have been demonstrated that treat Parkinson’s disease and cure type 1 diabetes. Sleep is critical for mental health.
Prediction: In 2023, stem cells will be able to overcome nerve damage such as spinal cord injuries.
Prediction: In 2034, blood-stream nanobots will enhance memory and learning ability. They will also provide brain-to-brain communication and a virtual reality environment by intercepting signals from our senses.
Prediction: In 2023 sleep can be replaced with devices and medication.
How To Keep Your Heart Beating
Angioplasty and stents are important for immediate heart attack survival, but do not decrease the odds of a future heart attack; bypass surgery does decrease those odds. Blockages are usually caused by a process that begins with excess LDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol helps clear LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream. In addition to statins, a number of OTC supplements can help control cholesterol:
- Red yeast rice
- Plant sterols
- Vitamin E
Other risk factors of heart disease include blood pressure, stress, sleep apnea, high blood iron, periodontal disease, and hypothyroidism. A number of blood tests are available to measure the risk of heart disease.
Prediction: In 2023, drug therapies will be available to turn off bad genes or add new ones.
Prediction: In 2034, bloodstream nanobots “respirocytes” will replace some red blood cells greatly increasing oxygenation efficiency and reducing the emergency nature of a heart attack – new oxygen (breathing) will only be required every 4 hours.
A number of digestive issues can be treated with nutrition and supplementation. Pill cameras that can replace endoscopy are not widely used, but have existed since 2001.
Prediction: In the 2020′s nanobiotic cameras will perform automatic endoscopies and colonoscopies.
Thyroid hormone regulates many aspects of health. Cortisol strains the cardiovascular system, breaks down bone and muscle tissue, and impairs mental ability. It can be kept low by avoiding chronic stress, sleeping well, exercising, eating a low-glycemic diet, and supplementing with DHEA, natural licorice, and ashwaganda. Excess insulin can cause a “spare tire” of body fat around the waistline, increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, hinders “hormones of youth” and stimulates cortisol production. Excess insulin causes body tissues to become insulin-resistant eventually leading to type 2 diabetes. Growth Hormone (GH/HGH) decreases body fat, increases lean muscle, improves cholesterol and cardiovascular function, and combats age-related insulin-sensitivity. GH can be supplemented or boosted naturally by: deep sleep, exercise (particularly strength training), protein consumption, avoiding high-glycemic carbohydrates, certain amino acids, and supplemental DHEA. Hormone therapy may be beneficial for many older people. A wide variety of tests are available to determine hormone levels.
Regular sex is correlated with a number of health advantages: stress reduction, intimacy (via oxytocin), increased immune function, prostate cancer prevention, and pain reduction.
Prediction: The artificial pancreas will be invented in the 2010′s, providing a permanent treatment for diabetes.
Prediction: In 2023, robotic sex will be popular. In 2034, that will be replaced with virtual reality sex.
Glycation is the process of attaching a sugar molecule to another molecule such as a protein or fat. Chronically elevated blood sugar produces a toxic debris called AGEs that gum up enzymes, require detoxification effort, and accelerate aging. Browned food is another type of AGE. Symptoms of high AGE formation rate include high blood pressure, cataracts, and a non-zero coronary calcium score.
Inflammation is a primary mechanism for dealign with trauma and infection. However, chronic inflammation is associated with heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Inflammation can be reduced with proper diet, especially a good omega 3 to omega 6 ratio (which is dangerously imbalanced in a modern diet). Obesity, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and poor sleep can contribute to inflammation.
Prediction: In 2034, nanobiotic white blood cells will remove AGEs from the bloodstream as soon as they form. Along with fat insulin receptor blockers, this will allow us to eat whatever we like without ill effect.
Prediction: In 2023 most types of meat can be grown artificially in factories.
There are more than 100 different conditions defined as cancers, but all are characterized by an uncontrolled replication of cells, linked to a DNA mutations. The principal cause of these mutations are exposure to free radicals, which are a by-product of nutrient oxidation by cells (to produce energy) as well as from a variety of external sources. Eating healthy foods and avoiding junk is the best way to reduce cancer risk. Other significant lifestyle choices include: losing excess body fat, regular exercise, stress control, avoiding overexposure to sunlight, avoiding smoking and secondhand smoke, avoiding exposure to agricultural chemicals, and avoiding other environmental toxins. There are a number of screening procedures for men and women that can detect many cancers early enough for treatment. Many cancers relapse because there are cancer “stem cells” and future treatments are likely to focus on them.
Prediction: In 2034, bloodstream nanobots will identify and destroy cancerous cells.
It is now believed that lifestyle choices are responsible for 80% of disease and genes only the remaining 20%. Genomic screening is commercially affordable, and full genome analysis will be affordable within a few years.
Prediction: In 2034, gene therapies will erase virtually all genetic problems.
Prediction: By the late 2010′s, RNA interference (RNAi) drugs will revolutionize medicine.
Part 2: The Plan
Talk With Your Doctor
Key pillars to the TRANSCEND program are prevention and early detection of disease. The current healthcare system is optimized towards treatment of disease rather than prevention and detection, so you need to take charge of your medical strategy. Even if you direct your own course of screens and prevention, you still need a doctor to perform regular physical exams. Many specific tests must be requested by the patient as they aren’t a part of standard care, and patients should track their own test results. CAC scans are effective at detecting coronary artery disease very early, but are still not commonplace.
Prediction: In the 2020′s physicians almost never examine patients by hand (or stethoscope), using imaging technologies instead.
Prediction: By 2023, early detection will make heart disease and cancer much rarer and greatly improve survival rates.
The adrenal system helps suppress digestive, immune, and reproductive systems to free up resources in favor of muscle and mind to survive “fight or flight” situations. In the modern world, stressful situations (especially chronic stress) do not require extra resources, so this process causes damage. The adrenal system can be managed by reducing stress, avoiding tobacco, illegal drugs, and prescription benzodiazepines. Alcohol (two drinks per day for men under 65, one per day for older men and all women) and caffeine should be used in moderation.
Prediction: In 2023, there will be full-immersion virtual reality vacations via retina writing. In 2034 nanobots within the nervous system will incorporate all senses into virtual reality simulations.
Prevention and early detection are the two pillars that will help you live long enough to take advantage of the breakthroughs that will occur in medicine over the next two decades. The top risky behaviors for a middle-aged woman are smoking, low physical activity, being overweight, poor diet, and alcohol (either none or excess).
Self-assessment is important, including self breast/testicular exams, heart rate, blood pressure, body composition, waist-to-hip ratio, strength, flexibility, and aerobic conditioning.
Prediction: In 2023, many injuries and genetic damage can be fixed using stem cells. A process will exist to turn skin cells into adult stem cells, but it may be a good idea to save and freeze younger stem cells today, as they won’t be subject to further genetic damage.
Both tap and bottled water often contain environmental toxins, so tap water should be filtered and bottled water should be investigated for source and quality and should not come in soft plastic containers.
Simple sugars and other refined carbohydrates are high-glycemic and cause insulin spikes. These can lead to insulin resistance, which leads to type 2 diabetes. In addition, excess blood sugar leads to AGE formation, which accelerate aging, and interferes with the immune system and the functionality of vitamin C. They are also the primary cause of weight gain and obesity. They are addictive. After eating a high-sugar meal, the blood resembles “pink cream”. All artificial sweeteners except for Stevia and Splenda have known health concerns. The author is suspicious of Splenda, and only recommends Stevia in moderate amounts.
Dietary fats are essential to life. Unsaturated fats should make up the bulk of fat intake, but some saturated fat is necessary for structure. 3-7% of daily calories as saturated fat is recommended by the author. Trans fats are unsafe in any amount and should be completely avoided.
Protein is essential for building and maintaining body structures, but excess protein can place strain on the renal system.
A revised food pyramid is presented, emphasizing non-starchy vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats. A large recipe section is provided.
Nutritional supplements can be beneficial. Antioxidants help combat free radicals. Three basic supplements are recommended for everyone over age 30: a multivitamin, fish oil, and extra vitamin D.
Prediction: In 2023, implantable devices can monitor nutrient levels in the bloodstream and continuously release additional amounts to regulate those levels. By 2034, that function will be replaced by bloodstream nanobots.
Calorie Reduction and Weight Loss
American society is fat and getting fatter. Diets don’t work for the long term. Optimal weight can be achieved gradually through mild calorie reduction.
Exercise carries a wide variety of health benefits. One of the chief benefits is telomere length: three hours of exercise a week translate to a 10-year reduction in telomere wear. [Telomeres are DNA ends in chromosomes that wear down. When all the telomeres are gone, the cell can no longer replicate]
A variety of exercise techniques are presented.
Prediction: PPARd drugs (developed in 2008) can reproduce many beneficial effects of exercise. By 2023, successors to these drugs will allow couch potatoes a reasonable level of fitness with no exercise and enhanced performance to athletes.
Technology advances will greatly extend life, and the best current strategy is to stay in good health while we wait for these advances to occur. These advances will allow a “longevity escape velocity” and the average age at death of people born at the end of this century will probably be at least 5,000 years. The major “bridges” to longevity will be biotechnology followed by nanotechnology.
Our environment is awash in toxins, including many common household products such as cleaning products, hairsprays, and air fresheners. We can’t avoid toxins, but we can strengthen our body’s defenses and remove accumulated toxins. Simple ways to reduce exposure are:
- replace chemical cleaning products with natural cleaners (lemon juice, baking soda, vinegar borax, or commercially available products)
- use botanical-based pest control products
- use stand-alone air filters
- keep a lot of houseplants
- keep printers, copiers, and faxes away from workspaces and ventilate those areas
- avoid dry cleaning
- avoid wood or coal-burning stoves in favor of gas
- avoid smoking or venues where smoking is allowed
- eat organic whenever possible
- use headsets for cell phones
- use LCD monitors
- limit time near electric devices (e.g. electric shavers, hair dryers, electric blankets, heated waterbeds, overhead electrical lines, radio towers)
- avoid aluminum cookware and foil
- use natural versions of personal care products (e.g. soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste)
Prediction: In 2034, nanobots will clean toxins out of our bloodstream.