Chapter 1

Chapters1-3 Printer Version

Chapter 2
Chapter 3

Chapter 3 Our Personal Journeys

“To fight a disease after it has occurred is like trying to dig a well when one is thirsty or forging a weapon once a war has begun.” —The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine

efore we embark on our Fantastic Voyage together, beginning with chapter 4, we would like to reveal a bit of our personal histories. In this chapter, we each explain how we arrived at the point where sharing this health information became a priority for us and how our lives intersected to create this book.

My story begins on the outskirts of Vienna, Austria, in 1924, with the death of my paternal grandfather from heart disease when my father was 12. My father carried on with his two passions: the Boy Scouts and music. In 1938, my father’s musical talent came to the attention of an American patron of the arts, who helped sponsor his escape from Hitler’s Europe. This enabled my father to immigrate to America, where he developed a national reputation as a brilliant concert pianist, conductor, and music educator.

I came along in 1948 and had the opportunity to study music with my father from the age of 6. When I was 15 he also developed heart disease. My father was the kind of person who, when he encountered (then novel) health ideas, such as cutting down on salt, adopted them immediately without a second thought. Unfortunately, we had very little insight into heart disease in the 1960s, and he died of a heart attack in 1970 at the age of 58. I was 22 years old.

I remained painfully aware of this family health legacy, which hovered over me like a cloud on my future. At the age of 35, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I was prescribed conventional treatment with insulin, but this only made things worse by causing substantial weight gain, which in turn created an apparent need for more insulin. As is typical in someone with type 2 diabetes, I already had high insulin levels, so this was a very bad idea indeed.

A digression is in order here. Starting at the age of 8, I became a passionate fan of Tom Swift Jr. and read all of the available books in this popular series. In each volume, Tom Swift and his friends would get into a terrible jam (and usually the rest of the world along with them). Tom would retreat into his lab and think about how this seemingly impossible challenge could be overcome. Invariably, he would come up with a clever and ingenious idea that saved the day. The moral of these tales was simple: there is no problem so great that it cannot be overcome through the application of creative human thought. That simple paradigm has animated all my subsequent endeavors.

So, in the spirit of Tom Swift, I decided to take matters into my own hands, approaching the issue of diabetes from the perspective of the available scientific literature. I tried to engage my doctor in a discussion of the issues, with only limited success. While he talked to me to some extent, he clearly had little interest in doing so, and admittedly, I was unusually demanding. Finally, exasperated with my persistent questions, he said, “Look, I just don’t have time for this; I have patients who are dying that I have to attend to.”

Not one to be easily put off by attempts to appeal to my sense of guilt, I couldn’t help but wonder whether any of these dying patients might have benefited from earlier explorations into ways to prevent disease. I decided to change doctors and, fortunately, found a physician, Steve Flier, M.D., with an open mind and, since he was just setting up a new practice, some time on his hands. My personal exploration, assisted through my dialogue with Steve, led to a set of health ideas that enabled me to get off insulin and control my diabetes simply through nutrition, exercise, and stress management. I lost more than 40 pounds and never felt better. I went on to articulate these ideas in The 10% Solution for a Healthy Life (Crown Books) in 1993, which became a best seller.

The ideas in the book kept me in good health and off diabetes medications for the next decade. Then, in 1999, I met a brilliant and open-minded fellow traveler, Terry Grossman, M.D., at a futurism conference organized by the Foresight Institute. Terry and I struck up a conversation and discovered a wide range of common interests, particularly in health and life extension. Our discourse quickly evolved into a close friendship and an intense collaboration on a wide range of health issues, with a sprinkling of other futurist issues thrown in as well, which has lasted and grown to this day. I’ve learned a great deal from Terry and hope that I’ve contributed ideas and insights to our partnership in return.

I can say that our relationship has been a uniquely fruitful intellectual journey of exploration and discovery. For one thing, I find the scientific issues underlying human health fascinating, particularly now that we are beginning to understand genetic and metabolic pathways in the language of information science. And for someone who has a keen interest in the 21st century and all of the marvels it promises to bring, I particularly appreciate the potential of this knowledge to enable us to actually live to see (and enjoy!) the remarkable century ahead.

This book represents the results of our collaboration, which in turn has built upon each of our decades of study of health issues. It is necessarily a work in progress and will always remain incomplete. My own work on technology trends indicates that human knowledge is growing exponentially and that the pace of progress is accelerating. Nowhere is this insight more evident than in the field of health. It seems that Terry and I discover at least one exciting new health insight each week (perhaps we are now down to one every six days!). It is fair to say that a number of our ideas have evolved significantly during the two-year period it has taken to produce this book.

I continue to devote a significant portion of my intellectual and physical energies to the pursuit of my personal health and health insights. I am able to use the same scientific method and information science skills in this endeavor, and I find the subject as intellectually satisfying as my other career as a pattern recognition scientist and inventor.

Along the way, I have encountered two unexpected conflicts. If you see someone standing precariously on a ledge, oblivious to the danger of a great fall, you feel a sense of obligation to inform that person of his or her unrealized plight. If the person is someone you care about, the urgency is even greater. I have not had to look very far to find many others who are desperately in need of the knowledge I have gained. Typical are adult male friends with elevated cholesterol, strong family histories of heart disease (or diagnoses of their own heart disease), and perhaps a few extra inches around the middle. Others include adult female friends with family histories (or their own diagnoses) of cancer.

Invariably, I get drawn into extended conversations on the topic of preserving health and well-being through nutrition and lifestyle. Often, these turn out to be longer conversations than either of us expected. To make the case, I feel compelled to go through a lot of the evidence. Then there are more subtle issues. Why aren’t the standard medical recommendations good enough? This is mostly genetics anyway, isn’t it? What happened to moderation?

If I make it through these issues, I’m inevitably asked to address the big question of palatability. Sure, you’ll live a long time, but who wants to live that way? If you eat this way, maybe it just seems like a long time! I maintain that this can be an enjoyable, even liberating way to eat and live, but it takes a bit of explanation.

The second conflict has to do with proselytizing. Being a scientist and a trained skeptic, I was always turned off by people with singular agendas. People out to save my soul or even just my health and well-being were strongly suspect. I have felt very uncomfortable, therefore, in this role myself, telling other people how they should eat or live. Recognizing my own resistance to these types of messages, I also realize what I am up against in terms of getting people to take these ideas seriously.

Ultimately, I feel a responsibility to share my knowledge on these issues, but I also need to achieve a certain loving detachment when it comes to people choosing their own eating and living styles. This is not an easy balance to achieve. It is hard not to feel some pride if someone accepts our ideas and then shares with me their excitement at 30 lost pounds or 50 lost cholesterol points. If nothing else, such experiences demonstrate that I was successful in communicating my thoughts.

I have come to consider it my responsibility to empower people to set their own priorities and to make their own compromises. That’s what I object to in the public health recommendations. They come precompromised, as if the American people were incapable of making their own decisions on these matters. As it has been said, “Lead me not into temptation, I can get there on my own.” We can deliver a complete message, and readers can consider it on their own terms and in their own time. Any follow-up is up to you.

Even this limited goal of effective communication is a challenging one. We have all, by necessity, erected formidable barriers to messages on health. We could hardly survive if we allowed all of the thousands of messages that bombard us daily to get through. It’s particularly difficult to penetrate the subtle yet common misconceptions, fears, and folklore—not to mention conflicting advice from experts—that underlie the public understanding (and misunderstanding) of nutrition and health. Food and its images are deeply interwoven in our rituals, fantasies, and relationships. While most people profess ignorance of nutrition and health, almost everyone maintains strongly held views on the subject and its relationship to the rest of our lives. Getting people’s attention, let alone truly broadening someone’s perspective, is not an easy task. But that is the challenge of any writer.

I have now influenced many people to adopt our ideas for improving
their health, while Terry influences many patients through his longevity-oriented medical practice in Denver. The physical and medical results that friends, relatives, associates, and many others have achieved have been deeply gratifying.

For myself, I feel that the cloud that I so strongly perceived during my 20s and 30s has dissipated, and I look forward to a long and healthy life, indeed to seeing (and enjoying) the century ahead. It is too bad that I cannot go back and share this knowledge with my father. Unlike many people, he accepted health and nutritional advice readily and easily. Unfortunately, the knowledge was not available in time to help him. If it were, he could be alive today.

I began my medical career some 24 years ago as a conventional physician. But after 15 years in practice, I found myself being drawn toward “integrative” medicine, “the field of health care that focuses on how biochemical individuality, metabolic balance, ecological context, genetic predisposition, lifestyle patterns, and other factors have the potential to strongly influence human physiology and the push-pull dynamics of health and disease.”1 As I began to study health from an integrative perspective, I became fascinated with the prospects for correcting imbalances in human physiology on a more individualized level. In 1994, I came to the realization that there were avenues available for me to help my patients in addition to conventional medical care. Focusing primarily on control of a patient’s symptoms, which is the fundamental basis of what I had been taught in medical school, was no longer enough.

After completing medical school in Florida, I did my residency in Colorado and then moved to the mountains west of Denver. During the 15 years I practiced there, I worked as a young version of an old-fashioned general practitioner. I delivered babies at the local hospital, was the doctor for the local jail, and gave the annual talk about the “birds and the bees” to all the fifth-grade boys. I practiced medicine like a typical small-town GP and, by and large, felt satisfied with the care I was providing. I realized that most people I “treated” weren’t really getting better, but they were receiving high-quality conventional care. Through prescription drugs, I was quite adept at bringing symptoms of high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease under “control.” While this meant my patients’ numbers were better—blood pressure or blood sugar was lower, or there was less chest pain—the underlying disease processes continued unchecked. This bothered me.

Life is a continual learning experience and, as a physician, I have come to regard pain as among the sternest but most effective of life’s teachers. Thanks to a major knee injury suffered on a local ski slope some years ago, I found myself in the formal role of patient for the first time in my life, and I sought conventional medical care. I went to the best orthopedic surgeon I knew, a colleague I held in enormous respect.

After several modalities of conventional treatment still left me with constant residual pain in my knee, I did what I have since discovered many of my patients have been doing for years: I began to look at alternatives. Along with life’s teachers are life’s angels, who show up in most unexpected places at most unexpected times. My angel appeared in the form of a patient advocate of alternative medicine. Through his persistence, this individual forced me to open my eyes to an entirely new, to me, parallel world of medical alternatives.

In my family, medical doctors were treated with a certain amount of reverence, and conventional medical care was the only alternative. Yet, my patient advocate of alternative medicine—and angel—taught me that there was an entirely different paradigm of medical care available, completely separate from the world of prescription medications and surgery in which I had lived for so many years. I learned that vitamins and herbs could actually be used to treat diseases. He convinced me to try to treat my painful knee condition with a specific herbal concoction derived from the inner bark of a certain type of pine tree that grew only in the south of France.

Feeling like something of a traitor—perhaps a bit like Adam and Eve nibbling at the prohibited fruit—I squeamishly began to take pine bark capsules. It took more than three months but, much to my surprise and gratification, the pain in my knee that I had been experiencing for over a year and a half went completely away. Being a scientist, I decided to perform an experiment to see if my improvement was really the result of the herbal concoction, a placebo effect, or simply a coincidence. I quit taking it. My knee pain returned with a vengeance. I restarted the pine bark extract and, within a few weeks, the pain went away. I repeated the sequence once again: I quit taking the nutritional extract and the pain returned. I restarted it and the pain resolved. As a physician, I am well aware of placebo effects, but these generally go away after a limited period of time. I continued taking the extract, and after a few years I noticed that the pain was gone whether I took it or not. I suspected this was probably just the natural course of the healing process; nevertheless, the nutritional extract seemed to have given me pain relief earlier on, and my interest in alternative medicine was piqued.

I undertook a serious study of integrative medicine with an emphasis on nutritional medicine. I began to learn how to treat diseases with vitamins and other nutrients rather than, or in addition to, prescription drugs. And the more I learned, the more I wanted to know. I went to numerous complementary medicine conferences and read everything I could find about nutritional medicine. There was so much to learn, I felt like I was back in medical school again.

As my knowledge and understanding increased, I slowly began to offer my patients the option of continuing with the conventional treatments they had been receiving from me (in most cases, prescription drugs) or the opportunity to try treatments involving dietary changes or nutritional supplements, either in place of or in addition to conventional care. I was surprised to find that the overwhelming majority of my patients wished to take advantage of these options.2

My patients did far better on combined care than they had on prescription medications alone. Over the past 10 years, I have treated thousands of patients who had serious chronic illnesses with nutritional protocols that I have learned and modified for my practice. For example, I see a large number of people with coronary heart disease. Most of these patients come to me looking for an alternative to some type of heart surgery that has been recommended to them. For some, I concur with their cardiologists and recommend immediate surgical intervention because the disease is too far advanced. Yet, for the significant majority, I find that the nutritional and lifestyle program I recommend for heart disease, involving diet, exercise, aggressive supplementation, detoxification, and stress management—as well as prescription drugs when needed—staves off heart surgery. At the same time, I am able to document quantifiable improvements in these patients’ conditions, such as going from abnormal to normal cardiac stress tests, eliminating angina pain, and improving exercise endurance.

I derive particular satisfaction from successfully treating people with diseases for which conventional medical practice has little to offer. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss in older individuals in this country, yet presently there are no prescription drugs or surgical procedures that can help prevent the inexorable decline toward blindness. To their credit, conventional ophthalmologists have recently begun to recommend multivitamin/mineral supplementation for their AMD patients based on the AREDS (Age-Related Eye Disease Study) sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.3

Yet, like Ray, I find the conventional supplement recommendations pre-compromised or too watered down, particularly since I have a family history of macular degeneration, and I don’t feel that slowing down the rate of visual decline is enough. I want my patients’ vision to improve. This requires a more aggressive nutritional approach: combining dietary strategies with much larger doses of vitamins and minerals and working to correct digestive disturbances that inhibit absorption of nutrients. Using this approach, it is possible for patients to stabilize and even improve their vision.4 This is rarely seen with one- or two-pills-a-day supplementation alone.

Among the greatest devastations for young parents is learning that their child suffers from one of the autistic spectrum disorders. Yet I get enormous satisfaction treating children diagnosed with such diseases. I have nothing but admiration for the dedicated pediatricians, allied health personnel, and special education teachers who have devoted their lives to working with these children. I am saddened, however, by the ineffectiveness of their approaches, which rarely alter the progression of these disease processes.

Our program involves a special diet (avoidance of wheat and dairy products), aggressive nutritional supplementation, correction of digestive disturbances, and detoxification strategies.5 The majority of children we treat under the age of 6 experience some degree of improvement on this regimen.

There is a long list of ailments for which conventional medicine alone provides limited benefit: chronic degenerative neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis; digestive disturbances, including irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, and Crohn’s disease; and multisystem diseases such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. For these, an integrated approach, using complementary therapies, is of considerable benefit. Tens of millions of American adults suffer from type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol. In the majority of cases, it has been my experience that where our program is followed strictly, the prescription drugs used to treat these conditions can be either reduced or eliminated entirely.

As the years passed and I gained more experience with nutritional medicine, I decided to write a book to share what I had learned with people outside of my practice. With the assistance of several physician colleagues and friends, I completed The Baby Boomers’ Guide to Living Forever in April 2000.

In the course of researching the topic of nanotechnology for this book, I met Ray at the 1999 Foresight Institute Conference in Palo Alto, California. He was there as one of the nation’s foremost futurists. Overhearing Ray discuss his interest in nutritional supplementation and other life extension therapies, I struck up a conversation. I asked him to look over the manuscript of my book and write a “testimonial” paragraph for the back cover, which he kindly agreed to do. A few months later, he flew from his home in Boston to my clinic in Denver to undergo one of the comprehensive health assessments and longevity evaluations we offer.

My nutritional medical practice in Denver has its share of celebrity patients, and Ray Kurzweil is one of them. Ray is unique in that I devote more of my time attending to his health concerns than any dozen of my patients, celebrity or otherwise, put together. But, then again, Ray is quick to admit that he is unusually demanding. I am not surprised that Ray became frustrated with a previous physician who preferred to spend his time on patients who “were dying.”

For my part, I have no regrets whatsoever about the amount of time I spend working with Ray on his personal health issues, or the fact that I have to defend every single opinion or suggestion I offer to him. Ray is another of the angels who have entered my life to guide me in the right direction. I feel a special sense of mission in helping him remain alive and well for many years into the future, as this unusually creative and gifted individual, who has already brought so many wonderful insights and inventions to the world, has much yet to share. He has also helped me to refine my focus and leave no loose ends in any medical endeavor.

Moreover, a number of other benefits accrued from the process of working with Ray. In the course of refining his personal health program, he and I began to explore numerous health-related topics, including diet, nutritional supplementation, exercise, detoxification therapies, hormone replacement, and even protection from NBC (nuclear, biological, or chemical) terrorism. We’ve both learned a great deal from our intense collaboration on health issues. Our dozens of e-mails back and forth turned into hundreds and now number in the tens of thousands. So much information was passed between us that we decided to organize it as the basis for a book.

As members of the baby boomer generation, Ray and I have more than a casual interest in our program. Since we are both now in our mid-50s, demographic analysis would ordinarily suggest that we each have perhaps 25 years left, with gradually declining vitality and health. By following the advice presented in this book, and with some help from the accelerating technologies that Ray speaks about, we hope to be not only alive but vital and “young” a quarter century from now—right at the time corridor when the prospects for truly radical life extension are likely to occur. It is our fervent hope (bolstered by extensive research) that by following the suggestions offered in Fantastic Voyage, we and our readers will be able to significantly increase our chances of being alive when extreme longevity becomes commonplace. To that lofty goal, we raise a toast—of freshly squeezed organic vegetable juice—in the hopes that we can join together with our readers to celebrate the 22nd century.


Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman M.D. Rodale: 11/2004 ISBN#1-57954-954-3