on May 25, 2009
if not forever.
I stressed over what grade to give Transcend and ultimately gave it an Amazon **** grade (say, B+). Why that high? Why only that high?
First, I'm an MD, PhD with 30 years of clinical practice
and 10 years of medical research. (Google bobblum.com or just "Bob Blum")
Ray Kurzweil was a classmate of mine at MIT in the sixties.
I just met Terry at the Foresight Convergence Conference in 2008.
I had read Fantastic Voyage, their first joint effort, several times and always had a hard time deciding whether to recommend it to friends and colleagues. 80% of Fantastic Voyage was first rate information. 20% was highly controversial, fringe medicine (alkaline water and obscure supplements).
I complained to Ray in a letter expressing concern about his personal health - 250 pills a day is just too many, portending too many interactions - and also to Terry. My advice was to please label or rate the scientific evidence that forms a basis for each of their drug recommendations. Terry told me that their forthcoming book TRANSCEND would solve the problem. It DOES. Most of that controversial 20% has been surgically removed. Gone is much of the pseudoscience.
What's left follows closely (and expands) the world according to Drs. Dean Ornish, Andrew Weil, and many other admirable health writers.
The book summarizes the best of current medical advice on how to stay healthy. If you're not a health professional and have not read many books like this I would strongly recommend it. So, for most of you that's my advice... buy the book (and live by it).
Now, I'll be more specific.
TRANSCEND is a mnemonic for their health recommendations: Talk to your doctor, Relaxation, Assessment, Nutrition, Supplements, Calorie Reduction, Exercise, New Tech, Detoxification. That's a worthy list.
In re: Talk to your doctor and Assessments. Much of this is a list of tests to request, and as they rightly state, many of these tests will not be covered by insurance. This means you will have hundreds of dollars in unreimbursed expenses for tests of unproven efficacy.
During my meeting with Terry at Convergence he emphasized the importance of carotid ultrasound and coronary calcium scoring for men over 45 or women over 55. I totally concur. There is nothing like seeing the calcium plaque in your arteries to put the fear of the Lord into you.
However, for many of the other tests (neurotransmitter levels, mineral analysis, digestive function, eg) it is unclear how often, if ever, the tests should be done. With the country's economy in tatters and healthcare already climbing toward 20% of GDP some of these tests will always be for the well-to-do, worried well.
In re: Nutrition. I bristled when I saw that 66 pages were devoted to low fat recipes, since (IMHO) this is usually a worthless page-filler. However, I've changed my mind on this. In this era when so many foods that are readily available are condemned (most fats, much of animal protein, fast carbs) readers want to know "ok, so what DO I eat?"
I actually made their soy yogurt Waldorf Salad, the quinoa, and the zucchini and have lost 3 pounds from my usually cerebrotonic, ectomorphic frame. Basically, folks, this is where to get your vitamins and minerals. As Mark Bittman (NY Times Food Critic) says, "it's the carrot, not the beta carotene." I single out for especial praise their Transcend Food Pyramid - they nailed it - veggies and water are the base.
In re: Supplements. This is the arena in which Ray and Terry were particularly on thin ice in Fantasic Voyage. Ray's mammoth daily consumption of supplements to "reprogram his biochemistry" is notorious. I was delighted to see that their public recommendations for supplements have been greatly toned down. Whether this reflects a change in their own personal consumption is not stated. Since I'm a great fan of Ray's proselytizing on behalf of the Singularity, I hope it does. When I asked Aubrey (Engineered Negligible Senescence) de Grey (he of the Methusaleh beard) how many pills per day he takes (in contrast to Ray K's 250), he said "none. My wife is a good cook."
And now, here's the key problem - no discussion of methodology for arriving at medical truth. It's called evidence-based medicine -
Wiki it - and it needs to be a core piece of every book like this. Inquiring readers want to know, "should I take Resveratrol or alpha-lipoic-acid? How about CoQ10 or calorie restriction? Should I take vitamin E even though large clinical trials indicate that it might contribute to my death?
The hundreds of references that were in Fantastic Voyage were a good thing - they must be there. Furthermore, it needs to be absolutely clear that many of the supplements that are still on their recommended list have only weak, inconclusive, or contradictory evidence. That Ray and Terry (and Andrew Weil) sell supplements is an obvious conflict of interest. They owe it to their readers to present all the evidence not merely that which supports the consumption of particular supplements.
Again, I recommend this book, especially for the lay reader, since I endorse the TRANSCEND plan. My key reservation is that the presentation of evidence (con as well as pro) needs to be expanded and better referenced.
Addendum (February, 2012): My personal diet and nutrition recommendations have departed from
what Ray and Terry recommend. Please see my essay "Optimal Nutrition: Are Fats Killers or Saviors?"
on bobblum.com. That article includes scores of links to videos and pdfs on the web. Everything is free;
I sell nothing.
In another article on my website I also addressed the key issue of clinical evidence:
how do medical scientists/ statisticians determine "Does Drug X Really Work?"
Also see my short piece entitled "Transcend Drugs!" that shows exactly how the Natural Standard
(THE authority on supplements) rates the supplements that Ray and Terry recommend in Transcend.
on April 28, 2009
Note: I read an advanced uncorrected proof. My copy was not entirely finished - it was missing a lot of diagrams, and had some notes from the authors to the publishers. However, the content (actual text) was entirely done. See below for the review.
It's nice to see that while the authors of the book both have products and services that they sell in conjunction with the topics in the book, they barely mention those - there is no upselling like in a lot of other books. If you're worried about that, rest assured it is not an issue.
The first thing to note about this book is that in the first part, a lot of it is repetitive from "Fantastic Voyage". Where "Fantastic Voyage" was filled with technical detail and a thousands of scientific data points to back up the claims, this book does not have that level of thoroughness. However, in many instances that's no longer necessary; a lot of the data points from "Fantastic Voyage" have already been proven in the ensuing years - most of the information is available online from independent sources. There is enough new information to make it worth reading, but those who've read "Fantastic Voyage" will find that they recognise a fair amount of the material. Of course, if you haven't read "Fantastic Voyage", you will find it all new, and well worth the introduction to the science behind physiology, nutrition, and medicine.
The second part of the contains action steps that people can take to actually improve their lives. There are nine - the book's title, "Transcend", is a mnemonic for remembering the steps: Talk with your doctor, Relaxation, Assessment, Nutrition, Supplements, Caloric restriction, Exercise, New technologies, and Detoxification. With regards to each, there are practical steps that you can take (ideally in cooperation with your doctor). The items are useful - they discuss tests you can ask your doctor for (and how to interpret them); supplementation and how it improves well-being; healthy recipes that you can make with reasonable ingredients in your kitchen; and even exercises you can do using resistance bands in your living room.
It's the second part of the book that really separates this book from the last one. It was highly interesting to read the last one, and provided a lot of scientific information. This one provides that, as well as practical information, and can be used to put into place steps that you can use to extend your life significantly.
on May 25, 2009
This book is the more practical version of "Fantastic Voyage", the duo's previous work. Practical in that it provides specific recommendations for a wide array of activities that are all required to live well (exercise, eating right, vitamins and supplements, etc). When I say "practical", I mean they've dedicated many, many pages to things like how to strength train with resistance bands, and how to cook specific healthy food entrees. I would say it's not quite as detailed in the treatment of vitamins and supplements as the previous book, but more mainstream in that regard. And there are enough words around the "why" so you feel comfortable making the investments in time and money to implement the advice.
The book uses an interesting "talk from the future" technique which I found increased readability. Periodically a reader/author dialog is presented where the authors might answer the reader from a perspective that is 25 or 35 years in the future!
I was a bit puzzled by the persistent name dropping of Dean Ornish in this book, since he was (is?) basically wrong about eliminating nearly all fat from the diet. This book says 40% fat is okay as long as it's the right kind of fat. Of course these authors have zero tolerance for trans fat. And in alignment with Gary Taubes ("Good Calories Bad Calories"), these authors agree that refined carbs are addicting and about as close to poison as you can legally sell.
There's a lot more in this book that I have not mentioned; it touches lightly on basic things, like cutting glycemic load to loose weight, all the way to caloric restriction, and of course vitamins and supplements and how they can help. And there are many other topics to round-out the current thinking on practices that enhance longevity. If you want a basic guide for what you can do now to live a healthier life, I'd say you can take pretty much everything in this book without worrying too much about wasting your time and money on hype and things that won't help you reach that goal.
on February 19, 2011
First of all, this is definitely a book worth reading for anyone who is interested in improving or maintaining good health as they age. The authors are correct when they state that most doctors are unaware of the benefits of supplementation; in fact this is an understatement: many doctors are totally clueless with regards to maintaining health. Doctors are trained to diagnose diseases from manifest symptoms - all the talk of preventive medicine is, for the most part, empty noise. So this is a valuable guide to supplementation and rudimentary physical exercise.
Where the book falls down, in my opinion, is when it mixes in a "view from the future" that is oriented around whizzy new technologies. The idea is that we'll develop tools to compensate for many of the side-effects of aging and these will, ultimately, permit us to live forever. Aubrey de Gray is well-known for promoting this mechanical view of longevity - the idea being that we only need to live long enough to reach the next breakthrough, which in turn will enable us to live long enough to reach the subsequent break-through, and so on. This is the "car repair" view of health whereby worn-out parts are replaced sequentially so as to maintain the car, even though over time no original parts remain.
Problem is, biochemistry is far more complex than auto repair. We know so very little about the human body that the assumptions made by all futurists are essentially risible. At best we might be able to prolong life into the second century but the fact is that neurodegeneration would remain a major problem. Visions of Swift's Struldbruggs flash immediately to mind.
Perhaps the real focus should not be on life extension but on the extension of function throughout life. In other words, instead of living to 80 with the last 15 years increasingly unpleasant and infirm, live to 80 with all your functions and faculties performing near peak. It's quality of life that matters, not just duration.
The authors' recommendations about the importance of exercise, good nutrition, and good lifestyle habits are all spot-on. Sad thing is, of course, that so few people will follow these recommendations.
on March 16, 2010
This is a book well worth reading (and paying for). The in-depth version came out a few years ago as 'Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever' and with Transcend most of the speculation about future technologies (MOST) has been cut out, and the focus instead is on "Bridge One", i.e., getting your frickin' act together TODAY. The themes are fairly obvious (exercise, stop eating crap, don't chug coffee every day), but the greatness is in the many details and specific recommendations (and substitutions for all those terrible foods and habits you enjoy indulging in). I have read all of Ray Kurzweil's books now (except his one on managing Diabetes, since it doesn't exactly concern me) and every one has been enlightening and provocative.
The book is clearly aimed at the middle aged, those who (according to the authors) have the most to gain and who are at the most risk, but even if you're my age (26 years old) you can get a lot of benefit from following this book, especially in the nutrition section. I've found many guys (and girls) my age are fairly active physically and intellectually, but because we haven't really begun to feel the effects of aging yet, diet is of very little interest to us. I have good friends who smoke regularly because: "So what man, I can run 10 miles!" This book makes it clear what is going on subtly, behind the scenes as you pump your body full of toxins and bad food, daily!
Because of this book and Fantastic Voyage, I have (over the last couple of years) become a vegetarian (from being a lifelong, HEAVY carnivore), gone from being a total coffee fiend to drinking about one espresso per day and mostly just green tea, begun to appreciate the value of at least some supplements and vitamins in pill form, and started reading a lot more extensively about future technological developments and the real potential of what we can do and experience if we live healthfully for the next 30-50 years. I originally bought these both for my 60-something father, but read them myself too, and I can say not only that I feel better but indeed I feel at 26 to adopt these measures I am WAY ahead of the game.
Get it, read it, consider it - and if you find it makes good sense, follow it.
on April 7, 2010
What do you get when you put a doctor that specializes in preventative medicine and the founder of the singularity concept in front of a typewriter together? A book about how to live forever. "Live forever? But that's impossible," you say. And perhaps it is. Then again, perhaps it's not.
In 2003, scientists finished collecting the human genome. The cost? A whopping one billion dollars. Now, in 2010, anyone can have it done for 350,000 dollars. And if you wait another ten years, you can probably have it done--all 25,00 genes--for 500 bucks. But why would anyone care to have his genome mapped, you might be wondering.
Already today, scientists can turn off particular genes using RNA interference (imagine turning off the gene that causes every unused calorie to be stored as fat); they can add new genes using gene therapy; they turn proteins and enzymes on and off at will--and they can even transform one type of cell into another. This is no small thing. Imagine being able to turn some of your skin cells into brain cells after suffering a major head injury in a car accident.
The future gives us even more reason to be hopeful. Doctors are rapidly working on techniques to delete the genes for telomerase that cancer cells need in order to kill us; to attack and kill undesirable `toxic cells' by activating the immune system; to move mitochondrial genes into the cell nucleus, where they will be more protected from damage; and to replace worn-out or damaged cells, and thus help us retain youthful vigor. In other words, they are unlocking the tools that will allow us to rejuvenate and extend the life of our cells.
And that's just on the genetics front. Through advances in nanotechnology, doctors will be able to remove bad cholesterol from our blood, monitor hormone and nutrient levels, remove toxins and destroy pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, cancer cells and prions. Nanobots (robots that are smaller then a human blood cell) will even be able to "perform a range of surgical procedures from inside the body, requiring no incisions and leaving no scar. Injected into a patient by the millions and operating synergistically, each nanosurgeon will perform its work one cell at a time, removing cancerous tumors, mending broken bones, or clearing blocked arteries with more precision than any human surgeon ever could." (405) Think of it: the end of diseases like caner, pulmonary heart disease--and even AIDS.
The catch? You have to live long enough for these technologies to emerge. The good news is that it won't be that much longer. With the mapping of the human genome and the birth of nanotechnology (they already have proto-nanoscale devices, called BioMEMS, that can release blood-clotting factors, monitor blood insulin levels, release dopamine into the brain of Parkinson's patients and monitor the electrical activity of patients suffering from neurological disease), health and medicine became an information technology--and information technologies double power every year. "This means that the ability to understand, model, simulate, and reprogram the information processes underlying disease and aging processes will be a thousand times more powerful in 1 decade and a million times more powerful in 2 decades." (xvii) So if you can prolong your life by even ten years, you stand to see improvements in medical science that just might save your life--and allow you to live another ten years!
Thus the Transcend program outlined in this book: a total health and wellness plan aimed at extending your life expectancy and helping you stay young. From simple exercise methods to nutrition and supplementation to health assessments, detoxification tips and even health food recipes--this book covers it all. It is quite literally the kitchen sink of health books, with all the up-to-date information you will need to live a long, healthy and happy life.
on May 29, 2011
If you are overweight or pre-diabetic, diabetic etc. the authors recommended that you go on their "low carbohydrate" diet until the issues with diabetes or weight resolve themselves. The diet is sensible and will produce good results, it has with me anyway. The trouble is sticking it out. Cravings for carbohydrates decrease or disappear, as the authors say they would, but still, sometimes one revert to old bad eating habits return for other reasons. This is not a criticism, just stating what you know already, that discipline is needed to live healthily. So no magic bullet to replace resolve in this book.
The authors make a good case for their premise that if you could make it until technology saves us, you will be okay. The book is evidence based(to a large extent). I gave it four stars instead of five because the authors push their products for making smoothies in the recipes section, all smoothie recipes are based on their products. Even so, this book is a must buy. This book is a synthesis of the best dietary, supplement and excersize advice available in my opinion. If only I could follow it consistently!
on April 17, 2016
This is a good introduction to longevity medicine, and the view of future technology is insightful. Truly a bold and unique vision of what is to come in medicine.
That said, the authors did not do their homework with their medical advice, but pretend that they have- this is troubling at best and dangerous at worst (this is coming from a practicing physician). Their advice to the reader is additionally tainted by their potential profit by the sale of supplements. I found this disappointing.
For example, they recommend vitamin E, saying with confidence that it will reduce the risk of heart attack by 3/4. This advice is based on a single study that was published in 1996. There have been dozens of studies on cardiac risk and vitamin E, and it still isn't clear if it helps at all... And if it does the benefit is likely small, and there actually may be some risks to taking it which offset the benefits.
The emphasis on supplements seems problematic in general. A healthy diet is the best medicine and should come first- and we know now that low sugar and high nutrition is the way to go. A pile of supplements without getting diet right is pointless. The advice the book gives regarding diet is partially correct, but they push low fat hard and this is not clearly supported by modern research either. A good number of studies support healthy high fat diets- fats are necessary to keep people healthy and help to stabilize blood sugars and weight.
There are a number of excellent ideas in this book along with bad/false ideas. I could forgive false ideas proposed with caution and no secondary gain- but these ideas are given with a confidence that makes the whole work feel inauthentic and poorly validated. Sifting the good from the bad is hard work, and I wish they did more of that for us before publishing.
on April 2, 2010
Following just some of the advice in this book can really improve your health. I gave up coffee for green tea. I also cut down on sugar, and I started using Smart-Balance to raise my HDL. And now I feel a lot better than I used to... no more being tired and sliggish, and best of all no more headaches.
There is also a lot of info on supplements that they don't try to sell you, but there is a website listed in the book where you can find them.
The authors list their sources and they are from some good medical journals and studies.
on June 11, 2009
Okay, this is the one book to read on the proverbial island, if you're looking for diet advice and healthy living. It represents the synthesis of cutting edge research in biology, nutrition, genetics, etc. The same nutrition principles are used nowadays by top athletes - this is the same information, distilled down and modified to suit ordinary people.
Some may be put off by the singularitarian and transhumanist overtones of the book. After all, Ray Kurzweil (together with Vernor Vinge and Aubrey de Grey) is one of the leaders of these movements. But if you ignore the book just because of that, you're making a big mistake. Just mentally skip over those parts.
If you're looking just to stay healthy and maintain your weight, this is it.
If you're looking to lose some weight, this is it. It's really just common sense advice - a balanced diet, exercise, sleep, relaxation, etc - but here it stands on the results of the most recent research.
If you're looking to build some muscle and put on some weight, this is the book to look at for nutrition (not for the exercise part). The diet it recommends is quite similar to some systems used by bodybuilders, just modified and adapted for regular folks.
The difference is mostly in the total number of calories, of course. But the nutrients remain roughly the same, no matter whether you're in maintenance mode, you're looking to shed some fat, or to add some muscle.
It's written from a practical perspective - "do this, eat that", they even give you recipes showing the principles described in the early chapters.
Supplementation is discussed on a vast scale, for those interested in that. There's really some serious information overload here.
Modern genetic testing techniques are discussed, for those who want to know which problems they are exposed to. Advice is offered on how to modify your diet and life style once you are informed by such a test that you are carrying a higher risk for certain things.
Forget Oprah, forget Atkins, forget the Cosmopolitan or the South Beach diet. This is the one diet book to rule them all.