Tech millionaire’s reasonable explanation for why he spends $2m a year to be 18 again

Why would a 45-year-old father-of-three want to be 18 again? Chelsea Ritschel speaks to Bryan Johnson about his controversial quest to find the fountain of youth

Friday 10 February 2023 20:37 GMT
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The most shocking part about the time, money, and resources that Bryan Johnson dedicates to turning back the clock may be that it sounds completely reasonable when he explains it.

The tech millionaire, 45, recently found himself the subject of scrutiny after the publication of a Bloomberg feature titled “How to be 18 Years Old Again for Only $2 Million a Year.” The piece chronicled his efforts to regain his youth through a rigorous plan that he and his team of 30 doctors call Project Blueprint.

The article included a number of startling claims, such as Johnson’s suggestion that he wants to become 18 again.

“This really is an impassioned approach to achieve age 18 everywhere,” he told the outlet.

In his quest to find the fountain of youth, the entrepreneur, who made his wealth when he sold his company Braintree Venmo to PayPal for $800m in 2013, follows an extremely strict regimen. He eats a 1,977-calorie vegan diet, takes two dozen supplements and medicines, including zinc to supplement his diet and a microdose of lithium for “brain health,” and undergoes frequent, and often painful, medical procedures, such as blood tests, MRIs, ultrasounds and colonoscopies.

His focus extends to his physical appearance too, with Johnson revealing he undergoes cosmetic procedures such as weekly acid peels and face fillers.

The extensive treatment plan adds up, as he estimates he spends $2m a year on his efforts to both slow and reverse ageing.

As one would expect, Johnson’s quest has been met with judgement and criticism. Many have questioned the “point” or his end goal, while others have claimed the level of self-love is “not healthy”.

“What’s the point?  In my opinion, this seems like a pretty unfulfilling life - no matter how long it lasts,” one critic wrote on Twitter.

Johnson, who comes across as surprisingly easy-going and level-headed for someone who has dedicated every moment of his last two years to looking 18 again, offered reasonable answers for most of the questions.

Speaking to The Independent over Zoom, Johnson started from the beginning. He recalled being in a “bad spot” just 10 years ago while he was building his startup.

Johnson shared that, in addition to the pressures that came with being a founder, he was struggling with depression, and the challenges of being a father to three young children.

“A combination of things that make life challenging,” he said, adding that he blamed himself and what he described as “self-destructive behaviours”.

“I would routinely commit self-destructive behaviours, and specifically in the evening at seven o’clock, I would try to soothe my stress by eating food,” Johnson recalled. “And that caused me to gain a lot of weight, and that caused me to not sleep very well, which then caused me to not feel very well in life.”

He eventually decided to make a change.

What started as a simple way of taking control of his own life ultimately led to something more rigorous. He came up with the idea of creating a system “that would take care of [his] health better than [he] could”.

Essentially, he wanted to know what would happen if he could measure and monitor all of his organs and let them “speak for themselves” about what exactly they needed to be in an “ideal state”. At that point, he said he would remove himself from the equation.

“I basically removed myself from taking care of myself and built a system in place that takes better care of me than I could of myself,” he said.

The concept sounds like something out of a ‘90’s sci-fi film, but for Johnson, it was as simple as building a medical suite in his Venice, California, home and hiring a team of 30 doctors, who “work collaboratively” across all his body’s functions.

As for why one healthy individual would ever need 30 doctors, Johnson gave a reasonable answer: the team is so large because it is made up of specialists who each do a “given thing”.

“We use whole-body ultrasound to look at my lungs and my heart and my tendons and ligaments and muscle and all that kind of stuff, and so we need sonographers to work the ultrasound machines that specialise in the heart, and sonographers that specialise in the lungs,” he explained. “And so the team is a group of specialists that do a given thing. It’s a team that works collaboratively across all these different functions.”

The treatment plan, which Johnson said relies heavily on medical data and evidence, is led by Oliver Zolman, a 29-year-old regenerative medicine physician who received his medical degree from King’s College in London. Two years in, the plan appears to be working as well as Johnson and the team hoped. The 45 year old says that his epigenetic age, or biological age, has been reduced by five years.

The Independent contacted Dr Zolman for comment but did not receive a response.

Although we expected the millionaire self-care guru to be blissfully ignorant to how his experimental, all-encompassing treatment plan is not realistic for the average person, he is already aware.

Johnson says that the good news for those interested in his anti-ageing efforts is that the core of Blueprint happens to be the things we’re generally told will keep us healthy.

“It sounds more intimidating than it actually is,” he admitted, before revealing that the “core” of the plan hinges on the importance of prioritising sleep, getting exercise, and eating healthy foods such as vegetables, berries and nuts.

It turns out that the secret to anti-ageing really may be as doable as getting enough sleep, exercising and keeping those late-night fast-food cravings to a minimum.

“The data is compelling that if you do these things and you do these things well, you can slow your rate of ageing,” he told us. “That you can have dramatic effects on your body. It really is just basically saying it’s worth it to do the basic things we’re all told. And if you do them in a rigorous way, you can expect to have meaningful results in the speed at which you age and your overall health … In this phase of the project, it really is about slowing the rate of ageing.”

While Johnson comes across as relatable when he talks about the core components of his age-reversal plan, the relatability admittedly faded when we asked him to share which aspects of the rigorous process he considers his “least-favourite”.

“Nothing. I love it all. I sincerely love it,” he insisted, even as he admitted that “a lot of it is very painful”.

After we expressed doubt, the 45 year old likened his approach to that of any professional athlete at the top of their game.

“I enjoy the discipline. I enjoy what the project asks of me. It asks the ability to endure pain,” he said. “I treat my body as LeBron James would. This is my primary thing.”

But, while most athletes will allow themselves a little leeway, especially during off-seasons, Johnson never does - a key difference that became evident when we asked him about his favourite cheat meal.

Johnson, whose body fat hovers around five per cent, says he has no interest in cheating or “overeating or eating the wrong kinds of food”.

“It is repulsive to me,” he said of the idea that he would ever eat too much, or indulge in foods that aren’t meticulously planned out in his vegan diet. “It just has zero appeal.”

While Johnson’s life, with its strict rules and constant medical procedures, may seem like a form of torture to most, he insisted that he’s never been happier.

“I’ve never been happier. I’ve never been healthier. I’ve never had more energy. I’ve never been more stable. I’ve unquestionably never [been] better,” he told us. “This system is helping me be more healthy and happy than I could by myself.”

Perhaps one of the biggest criticisms of Johnson’s lifestyle focuses on his desire to be 18 again, a goal many have deemed worthy of mockery. Why, exactly, would a middle-aged father-of-three want to be 18 again?

According to Johnson, to understand the answer, we need to think more broadly about the future of human existence. He explained that Blueprint may seem to be about food and diet and anti-ageing, but it is also about the human race, and “what we’re going to evolve into”.

Johnson may want to obtain the body of a teenager on the surface level, but on an existential level, he is concerned about “our big goals as a species”.

“It’s time for the human race to get very serious about our future and to think about it in the most sober terms,” he told us, adding that, to him, this means “building systems that allow all of us to be our very best”.

Although he is the main beneficiary of the millions he is spending on age reversal and wellness each year, Johnson insisted that his vision is not solely about himself or the wealthy. It’s about everyone, he said, so that we can “move forward together with some seriousness”.

Johnson’s goal for everyone is that we will one day be able to “automate perfection”. That phrase may send an eerie tingle down your spine, but Johnson managed to discuss the topic of the future of humankind in a way that came across as perfectly reasonable. Some may say it was even convincing.

“Every society, every generation builds something that scaffolds the next society and the next generation. And so, if we’re thinking about our species, what are we trying to scaffold for? It might be if we can automate perfect so we don’t struggle with the things we struggle with today. Because we all know when we have a health issue, life stops,” he said.

Johnson argues that if these critical bodily functions could be handled essentially without “us”, “we might have more interest, energy, and excitement to think about our future”.

That isn’t to say Johnson considers himself invincible. He knows he’s still vulnerable to the same ailments and illnesses as everyone else, despite the experiments and age-reversing efforts. It is here that Blueprint’s core building blocks come in, with Johnson reminding us of the scientific evidence that supports the benefits of eating healthy foods, exercising and sleeping well.

“We know, of course, that people who do certain things in life, like eat healthy diets and exercise and sleep well have less disease than other people who don’t. So statistically I’m not more likely to have these [illnesses] but it’s not impossible,” he said, before admitting “biology is a very complicated system and we haven’t mastered it yet”.

Of his most outspoken critics, who have condemned his lifestyle as “nonsensical” or “horrifying”, Johnson posits that the criticisms aren’t really directed at him. He feels that they’re outwards expressions of his critics’ inner power struggles.

“So they’re just expressing … it’s not directed towards me, it’s their own internal dialogue manifesting itself,” he alleged, adding that the naysayers are really just “uncomfortable” with the idea that they may need to make “big life changes”.

Despite waving off the criticisms, which often target his youthful albeit middle-aged appearance, Johnson admitted that he may not look like what we’d consider the “image of health” without cosmetic procedures.

It is a downside of his lifestyle that, although there is “compelling evidence” that caloric restriction, or “reducing average daily caloric intake below what is typical,” is “potentially the single best extender of life,” it also has the result of loss of facial volume.

“People look at me and they make observations about my appearance because they’re not accustomed to that being the image of health, because they typically expect to see plumpness,” he said, adding that it’s “important” that those who may lead in his footsteps be aware there’s “trade-offs”.

He confessed that even his friends make the occasional comment suggesting a loved one “put some meat on those bones”.

“There’s this cultural thing, where plumpness is somehow correlated with health,” he explained, which is why a portion of his wealth goes toward cosmetic procedures that ensure he maintains a plumper appearance.

The comments may not bother him, but Johnson does worry that those with thinner skin may be upset by the insults, and, as a result, “discouraged from being their best selves”.

Johnson’s efforts may be over the top. He may spend too much money on what could end up being an unattainable goal. But he manages to make it seem like the most logical thing in the world.

If we also had the millions, the same steadfast dedication, and less fear of doctors, maybe we’d also follow in his footsteps to try and become the healthiest possible versions of ourselves. Because, as Johnson told us, “it’s common sense”.

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