Temporarily Unlocked For The HBS “Optimization Chat.” In 1964, a Canadian-funded expedition led by Montreal physician Stanley Skoryna sailed to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) to conduct an unprecedented ecological survey of its biosphere led to the discovery of rapamycin, launching an enduring field of biomedical research. Known by the science community as a life-altering, life-extending drug, “Rapamycin is the most effective known cancer-preventive agent in mice. It has even been suggested that rapamycin extends lifespan by preventing cancer.” (NLM)
The drug is known to mimic calorie restriction. It works by inhibiting mTOR. mTOR sends signals to cells affecting growth, metabolism, and autophagy (a process that clears old cells in favors of new ones). How do I know any of this? And why do I even care? I am certainly not alone.
Ask ten college-bound students with top-percentile ACT scores what they plan to major in and you may hear “neuroscience” or any other biological science. I would guess that you would hear this more than you would have a decade ago, when that same student may have replied with “computer science” or “engineering.”
Let’s call it the Huberman effect.
The dawn of the 21st century has witnessed an ever-increasing focus on personal wellness and optimization. This trend, fueled by technological innovation, a renewed interest in hyper-healthy foods and an influx of digital health and wellness brands, is transforming the health industry. Companies like Whoop, Eight Sleep, Apollo Neuro, Base, Oura Ring, and Apple, with its highly successful “Ultra” version, have paved the way for this new era of human optimization.
You may have also heard of Brian Johnson. He’s the entrepreneur who sold his company Braintree to Paypal for $800 million and then devoted his life at 45 to various methods of age reversal, attempting to shed his biological age down to 18 years. He’s wealthy, obsessive, driven, and uniquely focused on his own body. He’s not the only one (though his methods may be extreme). From a January 2023 Bloomberg BusinessWeek article on the anti-aging pioneer:
This year, he’s on track to spend at least $2 million on his body. He wants to have the brain, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, tendons, teeth, skin, hair, bladder, penis and rectum of an 18-year-old.
There’s a collective of data points that suggest the “Medicine 3.0” craze has provided tailwinds for an array of health-focused companies. Medicine 3.0 is a highly-personalized stage of sophistication in healthcare that we are accelerating towards. It’s predicated on “evidence-informed” as opposed to “evidence-based” guidelines around preventative measures for chronic conditions, which are now “the dominant source of morbidity and mortality.”
The growth of Restore Hyper Wellness is a testament to this trend. Founded with the mission to make wellness treatments more affordable and accessible, the company has expanded rapidly, offering a broad range of services, including cryotherapy, IV drip therapy, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy. They have democratized access to wellness treatments, typically reserved for professional athletes and the wealthy, to the general public. This shift has been instrumental in empowering individuals to take control of their wellness journey.
In parallel, a new breed of educators and influencers has emerged, with podcasts and digital platforms to spread awareness and knowledge about personal health optimization. Lex Fridman, an AI researcher at MIT, hosts a podcast known for deep, thought-provoking conversations on AI, mindfulness, and human potential. Dr. Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist and tenured professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, shares his deep knowledge about the brain and its impact on our behavior and well-being. Dr. David Sinclair, a professor in the Department of Genetics and co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging at Harvard Medical School, explores the science of aging and longevity. Finally, Dr. Peter Attia, a former surgical oncology fellow at Johns Hopkins Hospital, focuses on the science of longevity, nutritional biochemistry, and exercise physiology. Their collective influence has been instrumental in driving a cultural shift towards proactive, preventative health.
Simultaneously, we are seeing a reemergence of interest in hyper-healthy consumer packaged goods retailers. This trend is not about fad diets but about embracing nutrient-dense, whole foods that support optimal human function. Companies like Heart & Soil, Force of Nature, and ButcherBox are leading the charge in this space, delivering high-quality, grass-fed meats and organ meats, known for their dense nutrient profiles, straight to consumers’ doors. The popularity of these brands reflects a broader societal shift towards transparency, sustainability, and nutrient density in our food choices.
On the accountability front, wearable technology like Whoop, Eight Sleep, and Apple Ultra are playing a crucial role. These devices provide real-time data on a range of health markers, including sleep quality, heart rate variability, and physical activity. This personalized data empowers individuals to make informed decisions about their lifestyle and habits, reinforcing a culture of accountability and personal responsibility for health. Whoop, for instance, offers insights into recovery, strain, and sleep, enabling users to optimize their daily routines for peak performance. Apple’s Ultra wearable takes it a step further, integrating health tracking with a broader ecosystem of apps and services designed to support overall wellness.
The proliferation of eCommerce brands in this space is another critical aspect of this emerging industry. Companies like Thrive Market and Misfits Market are not just selling products; they are selling a lifestyle. They provide consumers with the insights they need to take control of their health, whether it’s high-quality, nutrient-dense foods, supplements, or wellness products. These companies are thriving because they align with the values and priorities of a growing segment of the population that is actively seeking ways to optimize their health and performance.
Human optimization is no longer a niche interest, but a full-blown cultural and economic trend. As we enter this new era, we see the intersection of technology, education, personal responsibility, and a renewed focus on the quality of the food we consume.
The data-driven insights offered by wearable technology are not just changing the way we approach fitness and health; they’re altering our perception of what is possible. With these tools, we are no longer passive recipients of health advice but active participants in our wellness journeys. This is one of the core tenets of prevention that Dr. Peter Attia espouses when referencing Medicine 3.0. For a deep dive, read his new book Outlive. There are endless nuggets like this one:
[Rapamycin’s] autophagy-promoting effect is only one reason why rapamycin may have a future as a longevity drug, according to Matt Kaeberlein, a researcher at the University of Washington. Kaeberlein, who has been studying rapamycin and mTOR for a couple of decades, believes that the drug’s benefits are much more wide-ranging and that rapamycin and its derivatives have huge potential for use in humans, for the purpose of extending lifespan and healthspan.
The education provided by influential figures in the realm of health and wellness is democratizing knowledge that was once confined to academic and clinical circles. The podcasts of Lex Fridman, Dr. Andrew Huberman, Dr. David Sinclair, and Dr. Peter Attia have made complex health, fitness, and longevity concepts accessible to the masses, sparking a widespread interest in personal optimization.
The resurgence of hyper-healthy foods underscores a collective reevaluation of our dietary choices. This shift is not just a rejection of processed, nutrient-poor foods but an embrace of those that provide us with the nutrients our bodies need to function optimally.
And the success of eCommerce brands in this space reflects a growing demand for products and services that support this optimization-focused lifestyle. These brands are not merely selling goods; they are providing the tools, resources, and community needed for individuals to take charge of their health.
The emergence of human optimization as a major industry underscores a profound shift in societal values and priorities. It speaks to a collective desire to not just live longer, but to live better. As more individuals strive to reach their full potential, companies, educators, brands, and services are rising to meet this demand, paving the way for a healthier future for a higher percentage of our citizens. This paradigm shift, driven by technological innovation, education, and a renewed focus on quality nutrition, is just the beginning of what promises to be a transformative journey towards optimized health and wellness. And to think, this resurgent interest in anti-aging methods may have all started with visits to the mysterious Easter Island. No, not the one in 1964. The ones where Dr. Peter Attia joined Tim Ferris and a rotating group of science-loving buddies.
By Web Smith | Edited by Hilary Milnes with art by Christina Williams