My first notion that this would be a miserable week was a sound in me like a bowling ball rolling across hardwood.
This week was supposed to be triumphant. I had just finished my first cup of Bulletproof Coffee—the bio-hacking buttered coffee superdrink created by Silicon Valley techbro Dave Asprey. According to its website, once I "upgrade my mind" with the coffee, I will get so smart that I can "find solutions to complex problems that leave others baffled." Not only that, but I will be empowered to "look awesome and stay healthy for life."
The drink has been slurped up by such celebrities as the band Third Eye Blind, some non-Kobe Lakers, pansexual Hollywood star Shailene Woodley and elder surfing statesman Laird Hamilton. Am I so much better than Stephan "semi-charmed" Jenkins and that other guy? I followed their lead and went Bulletproof for a week.
The current formula for Bulletproof Coffee is pretty simple: a cup of black coffee made with special "upgraded coffee beans," a lump of grass-fed butter and a splash of medium-chain triglyceride oil (an oil refined from coconut oil that allegedly has brain-energizing properties). The final step is to blend all the ingredients to emulsify the fats and coffee. Without this step, you're left with a scummy oil slick on top of your coffee.
Even with the emulsification, however, the resulting product is like an awkward cafe au lait when warm, and a slightly congealed movie-theater-popcorn tea when cool.
The first 15 minutes of drinking the stuff provided a serviceable caffeine buzz despite the strange flavor. I didn't feel any noticeable mental benefits, but I was willing to accept that greatness takes time.
Then I turned the bottle of Bulletproof MCT "Brain Octane" oil and noticed this ominous line: "Too much Brain Octane, especially if consumed on an empty stomach, can result in loose stools or a stomachache."
As if on cue, I went sprinting for the bathroom.
The first day was a blur of painful shitting, and the second was no better. A conservative estimate would be that I spent five minutes per hour on the toilet.
But I have learned that the odd flavor of Bulletproof Coffee is apparently an improvement from its inspiration.
Asprey came up with the drink's idea after trying yak butter tea (which is exactly what it sounds like) during a trip to Nepal. Asprey said the rejuvenation he felt inspired him to launch the entire Bulletproof lifestyle brand and to further explore the principles of bio-hacking.
Feeling weak and dehydrated, I altered the recipe and used even less MCT oil. I reduced from a scant teaspoon down to a few drops. I also reduced the total volume of coffee used, but kept the quantity of butter the same so I could have a better chance of downing the slurry before it cooled.
As far as the mental benefits go, I couldn't identify any. Maybe I was just distracted by the strange feelings of my insides, and maybe I was just frustrated by how much productivity I would have to catch up on after my constant bathroom trips. But my brain felt precisely normal.
At this point, I emailed Dr. Laszlo Kiraly, an associate research professor with a speciality in nutrition in the department of surgery at Oregon Health & Science University, to see what he thought of the product.
Kiraly informed me that MCT is primarily used in a clinical environment to help people with disorders that prevent them from absorbing nutrients, and that in this environment diarrhea is often a side effect.
For people who don't have absorptive disorders, Kiraly says, "If you're trying a product like this and you're finding the symptoms to be pretty drastic, certainly stop [taking] the product. If you have the wrong set of clinical circumstances and you add diarrhea on top of that, it certainly could be harmful to the health."
But do war reporters pull out of the action just because a bullet hits their intestines? No way.
In addition to the abject wreckage I imagined in my lower digestive tract, I was also getting some serious heartburn. It wasn't just that I was marking down the hours with trips to the toilet like some sort of sick cuckoo clock, everything I ate felt less pleasant.
I later learned from Kiraly that the research on the benefits of MCT oil was "largely theoretical," and that there weren't many large-scale, well-designed tests showing the mental boosts advertised by the product.
Given that Brain Octane is a minimally regulated dietary supplement, as long as the makers keep their claims about the benefits of the product vague enough, the Food and Drug Administration has very little to say about it. Buzzwords like "enhanced cognitive function," improved mental "performance," and increased "energy" remain largely subjective and non-quantifiable.
Waking up with a shocking fecal urgency, I realized it was pointless to go on like this. I didn't drink my Bulletproof this morning. I couldn't find the strength to be Bulletproof. I will never be a Los Angeles Laker. I will never be a member of Third Eye Blind. I will never be Shailene Woodley.
And I didn't stop shitting for another two days.