Obliterate Conformity
ketones

It’s because of ketone bodies that I say “no, thank you,” to the stewardess who offers me chicken pasta, red wine, and chocolate cake during the ninth hour of a transatlantic flight. I’m starving, but it’s a firm “no.”  I’ll explain what my logic is.

Two million years ago, I was a hominid monkey known as Homo habilis, aka Handy Man, living in Lake Turkana, in northern Kenya. I wasn’t just any simian; I was the top ape in the Savannah, in fact the smartest creature since the birth of single-celled life. For the next two million years my descendants would outsmart every other species on the planet.

What made me special?

For one, I wasn’t surrounded by geniuses. Monkeys had already been around for 50 million years, during which they failed to crack open so much as a nut. Handy Man’s great forefathers, the Australopithecus, finally learned to run on two legs, but for another two million years kept running after deer that were five times faster than him. Australopithecus may have begun the marathon tradition, but from a nutritional standpoint, it was a zero-sum game. Aside from the rare and occasional leftovers from hyenas, their daily catch consisted mostly of tubers, lizards, vegetables, and fruit.

Along came our kind, the first standup apes with tools. We figured out a simple thing called the rock. Split it, and you can carve out stuff with the sharp end. Attach it to a stick, and you get a spear. Throw the spear at a saber-toothed cat, and you get meat, bone marrow, and saturated fats. Grunt. From this point onward, we tripled our brain size from a monkey-like 400ml to human-like 1,200ml in record time.

What was the real cause of this unprecedented evolutionary jump? Vegetarians may guess it’s not the meat, and they may be right. An increasing number of studies point at the same reason that made me say “no” to the stewardess.

The Power Of Ketone Bodies

Ketone bodies are high-grade jet-fuel for the human furnace, especially the brain. They consist of three water-soluble molecules produced by the liver under certain conditions like (1) fasting, (2) low-carb intake combined with high saturated fat intake, and/or (3) intense exercise. These three molecules (also known as beta-hydroxybutyric acid aka BHB, acetoacetic acid, and a byproduct known as acetone), may have played a significant role in getting us out of our monkey suits.

A person next to me on the flight skins her chicken and pushes the fatty part on the side of the plate. I try not to grunt at the remains. It’s the only part on her plate I should eat, should I want to continue ketosis, a state of being where most of my body’s energy supply comes from ketone bodies in the blood.

My dietary strictness has due causality. I’ve experienced a profound transformation ever since I began a ketogenic diet. I’m 50 and I’ve burned the bulk of my excess fat in less than three months, with only reasonable exercise. I feel amped up, alert, tuned in and ready to rock, more than I did in my crazy twenties. I’ve also shed the majority of my attention deficit disorder, and for the first time in my life, actually enjoy the stillness of the moment. All is going so well, mentally and physically, that I want to dive in deeper into whatever it is that I’m experiencing.

I’ve kept myself in ketosis by eating no less than 70 percent of my energy intake in saturated fats like coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, nuts, eggs, fish, and organic meat. I try to keep proteins below 25 percent and carbohydrates under five percent. Which means all sorts of stuff I used to love, like fruit, have become a rare treat. Even red wine, as it contains sugar. Forget the fact that I love Italian, Thai, Indian — I used to equate life with good red wine. Today, the potential of biohacking overrides the pleasure of a 2001 Barolo.

The science behind ketones is awe-inspiring. A recent study found that a ketogenic diet increases mitochondrial metabolism and signaling in brains. Under the regular western diet, the brain usually burns glucose. But when replaced with ketones, the genes in the hippocampus (responsible for learning and memory) accelerate mitochondrial enzymes and energy metabolism, while significantly reducing the oxidative stress that comes from burning glucose.

For thousands of years, fasting (a simple way to generate ketone bodies) has been used as treatment against epileptic seizures, without knowing why. In the 1930s, researchers found that ketone bodies prevented seizures by inhibiting glutamate release, confirmed again by another 2013 study.

Ketone bodies also lead to significant cognitive improvement in patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson disease in three to six months, which means it is a functional way to battle neurodegenerative diseases.

Aside from overhauling your brain, a high-fat diet is also shown to reprogram liver cells to dump their fat content, increase HDL (the good cholesterol), and reduce lipoproteins (associated with heart disease). And because our Base Metabolic Rate (50-80 percent of our total energy requirement) only burns fats and proteins, the distribution of energy is more efficient and serves the organs that most need it, without accumulating fat in our body.

Last but not least, by overhauling our mitochondria, ketone bodies also reduce the probability of chronic illnesses like autoimmune and cancer, which have reached historic, epidemic proportions in the 20th century, currently being addressed functionally only by a novel medicinal field called metabolomics, which typically advocates high saturated fat diets along with supplementation.

Bottom line: Ketone bodies are a cleaner, more efficient brain fuel that reduces oxidative stress, increasing mitochondrial activity, neuron signaling and cerebral blood flow – while naturally burning off fat reservoirs.

Which leads to my hypothesis. Considering the fact that ketone bodies have such a remarkable effect on the brain, including ability to partially rewire cognitive malfunction in less than half a year, is it too farfetched to assume that ketones had a major impact on the evolution of our brains over 2 million years, ever since Handy Man picked up his first rock and shortcut his access to saturated fats?

After all, the life of the Handy Man was a saga of intermittent starving and fat intake, optimal for the generation of ketone bodies.

There is further evidence to support the ketone-brain expansion hypothesis. Cambridge University researchers looked at fossil evidence for the past 200,000 years and found out that our brain size peaked about 20,000 years ago (at 1,500 milliliters aka cubic centimeters).

Behold, 20,000 years ago also happens to be the onset of the agricultural era.

Agriculture introduced us back to carbohydrates in the form of grains (wheat, rice, maize) and potatoes, which later evolved into bread, pasta, and tortillas. Pure carbs. Almost at the same time we also began to cultivate grapevines and fruits, mixing carbs and fructose as our new staple, while radically cutting down on saturated fat intake. That’s pretty much the staple of our slow-witted ancestor, the Australopithecus.

Result being, since the introduction of agriculture, we lost about 150 milliliters (the size of a tennis ball) in brain matter in less than 10,000 years, probably a lot faster in the last century with the onset of junk food and trans fats.  Scientists have tried to figure this mystery out by pointing the finger at “climate change,” “decrease in vitamins” and the “metabolic tradeoff between body size and number of neurons,” while one cognitive scientist, David Geary, believes that the culprit is actually the increase in population density. His logic being, the more complex the society, the less smartness (or brain capacity) you need to survive.

Having lived in London and Los Angeles, and caroused in New York and Tokyo, I would tend to disagree with David Geary. You need more brain cells to thrive in advanced societies. As far as the other theories are concerned, the lack of ketone bodies in modern life appears to be the best explanation for the “shrinking brains phenomenon.”

The Promise Of A New Ketogenic Era

So why should we be so concerned about ketones and brain function in the first place? Clearly we’re a magnificent species that has achieved incredible feats of progress. We’re on our way to Mars, for Pete’s sake, even after we lost a tennis ball of dark matter from the peak days. Besides, life is also about French toast with marmalade, Champagne with strawberries, and Italian Barolo with Gorgonzola noodles.

Modern lifestyle (with science, medicine, hygiene, ample nutrition, and safety protocols in every corner) has also extended our lives from late 20s (average age of a Roman Centurion) to mid-80s.

What more could we possibly need?

For one, the progress has come at an incredible cost. We’ve halved down our rain forests, polluted the environment, altered nearly half of Earth’s land mass, and accelerated the extinction rate to 1000 times normal levels in less than a century. Global warming is now a concrete mass-extinction factor within a lifetime, and so is the propagation of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. The environment is rapidly transforming against us, as we focus on making our daily bread.

And although we live longer than ever, only five percent of us are biochemically healthy, according to a 2013 study that maps the propagation of chronic disease. Latest metabolomic research shows that the main reason for this epidemic is nutritional deficiency and excessive toxins, due to the same modern lifestyle that awarded us all the progress. Technology is now accelerating toward singularity, while we are decelerating toward Australopithecus, with shrinking brains and inflating body mass. Maybe, just maybe, with an extra tennis ball of gray matter we wouldn’t be in this shape.

If ketone bodies offer us one potential way to get us out of a devolutionary spin, then we should take another look at these molecules.

In a very limited spectrum, we already are. Progressive diets like David Asprey’s Bulletproof Coffee are becoming fads in alternative health circles. Holistic doctors are recommending fasting and ketogenic diets to address cancer, neurodegenerative disorders and other chronic illnesses, even though  the majority of modern doctors largely negate the positive effects.

Even if we take the power of ketones granted, the biggest challenge is the associated lifestyle change. Fasting and elimination of carbs is not a switch-on routine, after a lifetime of culturally programmed nutrition habits. Which is why several companies are engaged in the research of externally sourced (exogenous) ketones that can mimic or replicate naturally occurring (endogenous) ketones. One of the most popular ones is MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) oil, which also exist in coconut oils, although in lower quantity. Taking MCT with your morning coffee is a terrific way to break the ice with a yogi at Erewhon, but is not a direct fix to ketosis.

Many novel sports drinks boast synthetic ketone salts (a delivery mechanism for beta-hydroxybutyric acid) but they often boil down to a marketing gimmick, as the amount of salts required exceeds USDA recommended guidelines by an astronomical factor (USDA recommendation is 1.5 grams per day, while functional level of ketone salts require at least 60 grams … although there is some evidence that USDA salt guidelines may be arbitrary, and that more healthy salts are actually necessary for us).

One of the leaders in exogenous ketones is Dr. Veech, whose work is published by the likes of Scientific American. To overcome the salt limitation set by USDA, Veech has been developing an artificial delivery method using esters (chemical compounds that bond with fatty acid molecules). His ketone ester drink was recently tested among competitive cyclists. The yield was a 2 percent advantage in speed over a 30-minute workout trial, equating to about 411 extra meters in distance, a huge advantage in competitive sports.

In a recent interview with Ben Greenfield, Dr. Veech explains that his formulation has a huge potential in a market where five million have Alzheimer’s, 600,000 have Parkinson’s and 33 million are obese. Yet he is facing obstacles from the companies — like corn producers — that could help him manufacture ketone esters in large quantities (they prefer to produce syrup and alcohol instead).

Interestingly, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), that uses over $3 billion a year to develop advanced military solutions and weapons (and is also known as the original developer of the internet), funded Dr. Veech’s research into ketone esters to improve the government’s special forces’ cognitive function and physical performance. The development took several years but the end result blew away the researchers. When they tested the ketone ester on rats, it improved the heart’s energy production by 28 percent.

So now that our special forces have a new super fuel, where does it leave the rest of us?

Monkey square 1.

As the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines prohibit the marketing of ketone salts, while DARPA is expropriating ketone esters for military use, the quickest way to achieve ketosis, for the time being, remains the way of our monkey grandfathers.

As long as Homo sapiens continue to journey toward perdition with shrinking brains, both artificial and natural means to repair our biochemical potential are fair game.

Ketone bodies may be one important factor to help us shed our skin of exceptionalism and give way to Homo Superior.

Published in Truth-OutNation Of Change, OpenDemocracy, DisInfo

 

It’s Monday morning and you’re preparing your first cup of coffee when the tanks roll into your neighborhood. Phone lines are cut, curfew is activated, and doors are broken down.

You sigh. It’s another “cleanout day” in the not too distant future.

The War On Terror has infiltrated every layer of society. Internet sites track the spread of extremism like the CDC tracks a lethal virus. The threat is pandemic and online news sources agree: In order to keep you safe, weekly cleanout campaigns must ramp up all across the nation – yet again.

Today you just happen to be in the red zone.

The main annoyance about being in a red zone is usually the loss of your phone signal. But today is different.

A close friend has gone missing – along with his past. Online he is linked to terrorist affiliations. The rest of his life has been erased.

You post a “WTF” remark on social media and 60 minutes later you hear a loud bang as the front door crashes in.

Dystopia As A Recurring Theme

The dystopian reality where everyone is a suspect and the war is an ongoing battle to “keep you safe” is a recurring theme in literature, sci-fi, movies, and historical reality – from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil to Augusto Pinochet’s Chile.

Dystopia is an archetypal projection of the future because it’s a repetitive construct of our past.

From the rise of the Hellenic tyranny to the 20th century dictators, tyrants have maintained power by waging clandestine wars against the citizens who doubt their legitimacy. It’s the perfect self-perpetuating machine. Enemies feed the totalitarian society with a purpose while the economy is fed with a permanent war.

It would be overly buoyant to expect that we’ve learned enough from our past to avoid a recurrence. Looking at the current fundamentals, you could argue that the table is set. We live in the midst of a burgeoning military industrial complex that Roosevelt warned us 50 years ago. Forty percent of every U.S. income tax dollar is spent on defense. Out of 162 countries studied by the Institute For Economics and Peace in 2014, only 11 were not in a conflict.

To build a tyranny, you first have to set the Reichstag on fire.

Meanwhile we’re still in the honeymoon phase of Internet’s promise. Cyberspace makes life more convenient, transparent, and in some ways a bit safer. Citizen surveillance catches racist cops and serial pedophiles. Even Arab Spring launched online. Unjust systems watch out for tweets. Only a few regimes remain immune, like North Korea where Internet is used exclusively by the government.

(North Korea is a gift to mankind because it provides a lucid example of how directly proportional the proliferation of alternate viewpoints is to the level of cultural evolution. Having a conversation with a North Korean is about as inspiring as having a conversation with a 19th century gramophone.)

Despite all the obvious advantages of total connectivity, the technological upside of digital tyranny is almost too sweet to pass up.

The Internet is an open system that already contains enough individual metrics to predict and alter your future behavior. Done right, digital totalitarianism doesn’t have to become apparent. It can layer up snugly with a seemingly normal society, growing innocently along with customer service quality.

Facebook can already predict your personality type, length of your relationship and job performance and use them to target you with products, content and activity. A British MP recently called for a parliamentary investigation of Facebook after finding out about their experimentation with “massive-scale emotional contagion” (a psychological technique to “converge” group emotions). More than two million American voters were influenced by a Facebook psychology experiment in the 2012 presidential election, and a similar, more massive campaign was executed on Election Day 2014 – with a Republican landslide.

For Facebook, it’s a way to improve conversion rates, but imagine these algorithms in the wrong hands. “Soft attacks” that erode your life by manipulating your social circle, credit record, career opportunities, and financial records. “Hard attacks” that erase your digital identity overnight and leave the vestiges for the cleanout crew.

Digital dystopia starts with the best of intentions. It can end up as a game changer for our species – by altering our evolutionary course.

The Evolution Factor

Evolution is driven by a simple principle that has both a purpose and a direction, proposes Robert Wright, a Princeton scholar and pioneer in the study of Evolutionary Psychology, in his book Non-Zero: The Logic Of Human Destiny.

The principle is communication – communication that leads to co-operation between increasingly complex entities, like cells or humans.

Cells formed because molecules began communicating with each other via chemical interaction through trial and error. The successful exchanges became the building blocks of life, after an infinite number of mistakes. The cells communicated with each other to form organisms and the organisms eventually united into a multi-organism known as human.

Life seems so incredibly precious because we’re the result of a series of infinitesimally improbable communication successes.

Biological evolution takes billions of years because it takes a generation to pass on a gene. Cultural evolution can take a quantum leap within years, weeks, or even hours – because it spreads via memes (ideas) that can combine, mutate and propagate instantly – if not hindered.

The modern human brain doesn’t differ from the caveman brain in terms of processing capacity. What sets us apart from the Cro-Magnon is our ability to exchange ideas faster.

Modern civilization started the day we invented the alphabet. It accelerated logarithmically the day we built the printing press. The next quantum steps came with electronic communication. As a result, the last century became a fury of cultural evolution. The bulk of what we have achieved and destroyed has unfolded in the last 100 years. The planet is a mess, alas, but meanwhile we’ve developed the tools to become truly powerful communicators (a trait that can also be used to save the planet).

With Internet, the next evolution phase is going to be fury to the power of three.

Only by controlling the principal infrastructure for communication can we hinder the inevitable progress of our species. Which in our case will increasingly be the Internet.

In the past when tyrants built ruling systems that limited the free exchange of ideas, a revolution eventually dismantled their regime. But what if the communication architecture was controlled by the tyrant?

The only way to stop the dystopian future is to spot the early symptoms, before it gets deep into our circuitry.

The Numbness Factor

We already know that the major portals and telecommunications companies are forced to co-operate with the NSA. That PRISM siphons the bulk of our communications and personal data. That 12,000 lobbyists in Washington are making sure the government is an extension of corporate policy, including portal policy. Google has become one of the biggest lobbying spenders in Washington D.C.

Yet we’re numb to it all. We live in an age of information glut where it’s difficult to distinguish between caliber journalism and conspiratorial garbage. And we don’t want to risk being associated with the latter. Investigative jewels, like Julian Assange’s recent Google Is Not What It Seems, risk getting lost in the noise.

Julian’s piece outlines how two Google executives, in particular CEO Eric Schmidt and Director of Google Ideas, Jared Cohen, have been getting cozy with the State Department, especially Hillary Clinton. Schmidt takes trips to Afghanistan and sets up think tanks that support US foreign policy. He hangs out with Kissinger, joins the Council on Foreign Relations as the “terrorism expert”, and states in his own book that information companies are the future “Lockheed Martins” in the fight against terrorism. Schmidt also enters into “formal information-sharing” agreements with the NSA, develops applications co-funded with the CIA, and launches spy satellites into space with the Pentagon.

Knock knock, anyone? Google already controls two thirds of the information we access on the Internet. A top-level affiliation between the dominant Internet engine, the military, the spy system, and the government is not just Bolognese.

Schmidt is most likely an incredibly brilliant guy who is following his conscience about what’s right. He may be thinking that American foreign policy may need a digital nudge to make the world a safer place. But he is facilitating an unholy alliance. What Schmidt doesn’t know is which power players may be controlling the algorithms tomorrow and with what intent.

Google hanging out with State Department may seem insignificant in the bigger scope of things. The problem is that it’s not an isolated event. It’s a drop in a flood.

The Endgame

Robert Wright finishes Non-Zero with a prediction about our destiny. But first he makes certain that we understand that evolution has nothing to do with the concept of ethics. The future is neither good nor bad.

Wright believes that evolution has a clear direction, an endgame that all cellular life tends to move towards – and it’s a benevolent one. As long as human societies are allowed to evolve without an interfering force, like a tyranny or a totalitarian structure, we move toward it.

It’s called consciousness.

Not only individual consciousness but the whole enchilada. A planetary-wide blooming that erases distinctions between organisms, fauna and flora, and creates one happy ball of light, before it goes intergalactic.

It sounds more like Philip K. Dick, and could take another billion years, but Wright is a scientist. He’s simply been observing how we roll.

That’s what we risk if we interfere with the Internet.

A happy ball of light.

 

Published by Truthout and HoneyColony.

Just moments before his life ended on April 10, 1955, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was having a lively discussion with his cousin on Park Avenue, New York. Most likely they were discussing his favorite subject, the “Omega Point,” his theory on the destiny of evolution. Pierre was a French philosopher, Jesuit priest, paleontologist, geologist, physics and chemistry teacher, botanist, and zoologist. Let’s just say he was well versed.

Pierre had cast all of his disciplines into a philosophical-theological-mathematical cocktail mixer, identified the common patterns, and fought against the literal interpretations of the Book of Genesis, in order to formulate a unified evolutionary theory of the cosmos. One that reconciled both the Jesuit and the Scientist.

In his book “The Phenomenon Man,” he describes the evolution of matter from the Big Bang to humanity, and projects an exponential curve to the end, the “Omega Point, by using the mathematical equation of increasing complexity and consciousness, an algorithm that he considered to be the secret sauce of the universe and its denizens.

Pierre had no doubts about the fate of humanity as he collapsed on the floor and a moment later regained consciousness, only to realize the inevitable. He was having a cardiac arrest. He may not have been a doctor, but he was a Doctor Honoris Causa. He only had a few minutes to ponder the yonder.

“The age of nations is past. The task before us now if we would not perish is to build the earth”

(more…)

Two evolutionary scientists from Princeton University were on my tail.

The Grants.

They’d been following me for months with their binoculars. I pretended not to notice. I maintained identical life habits just so they would get bored. But they never got bored. For three decades they never got bored.

What did they know about me that I didn’t?

Ordinarily, I would let it go. But in this case I couldn’t. I raided their camp. I bobbed into their archives. I pecked at their diagrams. The data was endless. Scribbles. Daily notes. Photographs. Projections. All about me.

And this is what I found out: The Grants wanted to turn my imminent extinction into a coffee table book.

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