The Meme King of Longevity Now Wants to Sell You

The Meme King of Longevity Now Wants to Sell You Olive Oil – The New York Times

“Ready on the count of three,” Jamie Love said to the hiking group as they huddled together for a photo. “One two three …”

“Don’t die!” they shouted in unison.

On a chilly Saturday morning in mid-December, about a dozen strangers gathered at the base of the Temescal Canyon Trail along the Pacific Coast in Los Angeles. Several of them, including Ms. Love, 38, who organized the outing, wore black T-shirts emblazoned with the bold white message “DON'T DIE.”

The hikers had come together with a common goal: to extend their lifespans through diet, sleep, exercise and all manner of technology.

Not in attendance was the gathering's spiritual leader, Internet star and hundred-millionaire tech founder-turned-longevity guru Bryan Johnson. Over the past year, Mr. Johnson has arguably taken the lead in the race among Silicon Valley rich men who will go to extremes in search of eternal life. (Move over, Messrs. Bezos, Zuckerberg and Thiel.) Now he's turning his longevity mission — and the online infamy he's earned as a result — into a lifestyle business, selling supplements and prepackaged meals to less wealthy people who would also like to live a very long time. The walk, one of more than 30 Don't Die Meet-Ups worldwide that day, was a mix of community building and guerrilla marketing tactics.

Mr. Johnson's deal in a nutshell: In 2021, he said he began spending $2 million a year measuring every aspect of his body, from lipid levels to urinary velocity to brain plaques, with the goal of tracking his aging to reverse procedure. He called it Project Blueprint.

Every day between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. he eats the same three vegan meals: “Nutty Pudding” (a mix of nuts, seeds, berries and pomegranate juice), “Super Veggie” (black lentils topped with broccoli and cauliflower) and a third, rotating one Dish consisting of vegetables, roots and nuts. He trains for an hour every morning and takes up to 111 tablets every day. (His throat muscles are possibly the strongest of all.)

Mr. Johnson claims that his regimen (or “protocol,” as he calls it) has already slowed the rate of his aging, giving him, at 46, the maximum heart rate of a 37-year-old and the gum disease of a 17-year-old. According to his website, he has the Facial wrinkles of a 10 year old and the facial wrinkles of a 10 year old. He publishes his test results so anyone can see pictures of his intestines or find out how long his nightly erections last. His “biological age,” he claimed until recently, was 42.5 years old, according to a measurement of changes in DNA over time known as the epigenetic clock. In other words, he spent about three years shaving – maybe a little over three years.

While the original goal of Project Blueprint was to improve health, Mr. Johnson now describes it as preparing humanity to thrive in a world dominated by artificial intelligence. Hence the new slogan: “Don’t Die.”

In an interview, Mr. Johnson said he doesn't care what people think of him today. “I’m more interested in what people in the 25th century think of me,” he said. “The majority of opinions now represent the past.”

Mr Johnson has an almost Trumpian ability to stay in the news. Since 2020, he has been the subject of five articles on Bloomberg documenting his quixotic ventures: the brain-reading helmet developed by his company Kernel; his ambition to become, as he has put it elsewhere, “the most temperate man in the history of mankind”; his decision to receive blood plasma from his 17-year-old son and give his own to his 70-year-old father; and a recent round of experimental gene therapy in Honduras. In September, Time photographed Mr. Johnson in his private gym, naked except for a carefully positioned kettlebell — an instant meme. The New York Post has followed his every move with satisfaction and has published more than a dozen articles about Mr. Johnson in the past year, including three about his penis.

On social media, where he has more than 700,000 combined followers on X and Instagram, he knows how to grab attention. He lists his strict requirements for a romantic partner (8:30 p.m. bedtime, “no small talk,” “must give plasma”) and compares himself to religious figures (“Jesus fed bread and alcohol, impaired and aged/I will you nourish”) “Nutrients that awaken and create life”). His shallow demeanor and sinister appearance have drawn comparisons to Patrick Bateman from “American Psycho,” a “Lord of the Rings” elf, a vampire and a “jacked cyborg.” One podcaster called him “Blood Daddy.” He likes to pose in crop tops.

Now, Mr. Johnson said, after three years of self-experimentation — which he called “Phase 1” of Blueprint — he is ready for “Phase 2”: helping others reproduce his process. Late last year, he started selling Blueprint brand olive oil. This month, more products, including vegetable powders and supplements in tablet form, became available on its website. In conjunction with the launch, Mr Johnson announced a “self-trial study” where participants can pay for a starter pack of Blueprint products, as well as blood work and other tests to track their results. The 2,500 places were filled within 24 hours.

For his fans who fly across the country to meet him and follow the Blueprint forums online, this moment is an exciting opportunity to spread the Johnson gospel. Some Blueprint proponents are even building their own companies based on his ideas. To his critics, it is a cynical attempt to monetize his popularity. Or worse, they call it pseudoscience that could harm the health of its followers.

The business is just part of the larger vision, Mr. Johnson stressed. If we can algorithmically direct the human body toward the sole goal of not dying, then, he said, we can somehow transfer that process to the planet itself. “Climate change is an alignment issue,” he said. “Replace my body with planet Earth.”

Why is he selling olive oil in the meantime? And why do people buy it?

Mr. Johnson grew up Mormon in Utah. Between college and business school, he worked for a credit card processing company that sold services to businesses. His sales ploy was to offer potential customers $100 for three minutes of their time. If they didn't go along with his plan, they could keep the money. He quickly became the company's top salesman.

In 2007, he founded his own payment processing company Braintree, which acquired the startup Venmo and was in turn acquired by eBay for $800 million in 2013.

A year later, Mr. Johnson divorced and separated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “You're reborn as a baby and you have to answer these really important questions that have no answers,” he said.

When I asked Mr. Johnson if he was building a religion, he said yes. “Belief systems have proven to be more powerful than countries, companies or anything else” in helping people achieve goals, he said. “Every religion has tried to offer a solution to 'Don't Die' – that is the product they have produced,” he added.

When talking about Blueprint, it's hard to avoid the term “cult.” Mr Johnson himself likes to joke: “Is this some sick and twisted cult trying to get me to go to bed on time?”

Jeff Tang, who recently founded a Blueprint-based meal prep company in the San Francisco area, said many companies “feel like cults at the beginning,” citing WeWork as an example.

Mr. Johnson's followers fall into two general categories: the health and wellness seekers and the tech people, who have become increasingly concerned with longevity in recent years.

Many Blueprint-curious Los Angeles walk participants said they were less concerned with maximizing their lifespan than with their “healthspan,” or healthy years. Some found the predictability of Mr. Johnson's plan appealing.

“Self-control and discipline — he just ignores that,” said Sirish Pulusani, 40, who works at a clinic that focuses on longevity. He wore an Oura ring, a Whoop bracelet and an Apple Watch – all of which measure body metrics.

Theresa Cowan, 36, said she wanted to eat natural foods like Mr Johnson's, which she believes could have healing properties, as opposed to fast food which “makes our cells die”. Ms Cowan, who has worked as an actress and singer, took her children Makayla and Samuel, 8 and 5, on the hike. She said she and Makayla plan to adopt the Blueprint Protocol and make videos about it. (“For people under 18, you should be particularly careful about this,” said Dr. George Kuchel, a professor of medicine at the University of Connecticut who studies aging.)

Ms Cowan added that she had not given her children any vaccinations or antibiotics. “I live my life against the grain,” she said.

A number of participants at the meeting shared stories of trauma, often related to health. Mr. Pulusani grew up with a severe case of eczema. Ms. Cowan's husband has a tumor in his bladder and she hopes to convince him to adopt the Blueprint lifestyle to heal, she said.

Four hundred miles up the coast that same day, about 50 people — mostly young people, mostly men — gathered for a Blueprint hike that began at Rockaway Beach, south of San Francisco. It was a tech-loving group: A former employee of Elon Musk's brain implant company Neuralink was there, as were a handful of founders from Y Combinator, the startup incubator. (One person who couldn't make it threw a Blueprint-style birthday party the next night in San Francisco, complete with olive oil syringes and blood bags full of passion fruit tea.) Mr. Tang, the organizer, had a cardboard cutout of Mr. Johnson's famous kettlebell photo.

Before the group left, Mr. Tang gathered everyone in a meadow and asked a series of ice-breaking questions, including whether they wanted to live forever. About half of the participants said yes.

Mr. Johnson occupies an odd position in the field of longevity research, which has attracted a surge in investment in recent years. If there is a spectrum between scientific accuracy and pure marketing, many experts argue that Mr. Johnson is on the advertising side.

Dr. Nir Barzilai, a professor of medicine and genetics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and scientific director of the American Federation for Aging Research, has spent years studying healthy seniors he calls “super-agers” and identified several genetic markers associated with longevity . He said he appreciated that Mr. Johnson had brought attention to the area of ​​longevity.

“But does it contribute in a scientific way?” asked Dr. Barzilai. “The answer is no.”

First of all, he said, Mr. Johnson's methodology was a far cry from that accepted by the scientific community for a century: clinical trials with large groups of people, some given treatment and others given a placebo, ideally double-blind. (What Mr. Johnson described to me as his new “clinical study” is…not that.) And Mr. Johnson has only experimented on himself so far.

“Even if it works for him – which I don't think it does – this unique individual has unique genetics that are unlikely to be applicable to a population,” Dr. Barzilai.

Dr. Barzilai also questioned Mr Johnson's decision to use so many different interventions at once that it was impossible to determine cause and effect – not to mention the risk of harmful interactions between treatments.

According to Dr. Barzilai, Mr. Johnson sometimes mixes health indicators such as lung capacity with age indicators. “The fact that he's better at the things he was trained to do doesn't make the rest of his body any younger,” he said. Other markers that Mr. Johnson measures may also correlate with age, but have not been proven to cause aging or senescence.

Also Dr. Barzilai was not particularly impressed with Mr Johnson's results. He only takes metformin, a diabetes drug whose life-extending potential he has studied, and practices intermittent fasting, which has been shown to extend the lifespan of mice but not humans. But as Dr. When Barzilai, 68, met Mr. Johnson at a conference in 2023, they took a blood test and got similar results: “We were both about three years younger than us,” he said.

Experts are also skeptical of Mr. Johnson's nutritional supplements. Valter Longo, a professor of gerontology and biological sciences at the University of Southern California, said taking a large amount of supplements carries the risk of unwanted interactions.

“Some supplements may give you the nutrients you are missing, but many, especially in high doses, are likely to interfere with normal physiology and ultimately cause more harm than good,” he said.

Andrew Steele, a biologist and author who writes about longevity, said there was no evidence that Mr. Johnson's products would help people live longer. “None of them have compelling human data that says this supplement or additive will improve life expectancy,” he said.

Danielle Meyer, a nutritionist at the University at Buffalo, said Mr. Johnson's diet is difficult for many women to follow. (Blueprint's female chief marketing officer followed the full regimen for 90 days, but has since switched to a less intense routine.) “Our stages in life have different needs,” Ms. Meyer said. “Women of childbearing age, menopause – all of these factors make it more complicated for women than for men.”

She also questioned the sustainability of the Blueprint program, citing research that showed strict diets were difficult to maintain. (Mr. Johnson limits his daily calories to 2,250 instead of the 3,000 he needs due to his body mass and exercise schedule.)

Mr. Johnson acknowledges that it can be difficult to tease apart the variables in his therapy and that the changes he measures with biomarkers have not been proven to cause or reverse aging. But he dismisses experts who criticize him, calling them the “longevity mafia.”

It's been slow to reach a scientific consensus, he said: “You'll die before you get that.”

In December, Mr. Johnson posted a video on YouTube titled “My ex-fiancée sued me for $9,000,000,” in which he responded to a lawsuit filed by filmmaker and former actress Taryn Southern following their separation in the year submitted in 2019. In a 2021 complaint, Ms. Southern alleged that Mr. Johnson withheld money he owed her for work, and that after their separation – after Ms. Southern was diagnosed with cancer – Mr. Johnson reneged on his promise to pay her rent and expenses to pay had not been complied with for a year. Ms. Southern sought at least $1 million in damages.

Mr. Johnson denied all allegations and denied the lawsuit. An arbitrator ruled that Ms. Southern was bound by a separation agreement she had previously signed, in which she forfeited her right to sue Mr. Johnson. The arbitrator ultimately ordered Ms. Southern to pay Mr. Johnson's legal fees.

In his YouTube video, Mr. Johnson called the lawsuit a blackmail — Ms. Southern's lawyers had originally demanded $9 million in a letter — and an example of “the dark underground accusation economy.” (Ms. Southern, who is bound by a confidentiality clause in the separation agreement, declined to comment.)

A December article in Vanity Fair highlighted Ms. Southern's side of the story. After she was diagnosed with cancer, Mr. Johnson called her a “bad deal” and a “net negative,” according to the complaint. Ms. Southern's account shows Mr. Johnson emotionally manipulating her and holding out the prospect of stock options in one of his companies to pressure her into signing the separation agreement.

Mr. Johnson dismisses the Vanity Fair article and critical threads about his behavior on X as “one-sided” because they rely on Ms. Southern's version of events. In an interview, he said that the anecdotes in the lawsuit were “completely fabricated.” He has so far declined to respond to Ms Southern's specific claims, arguing that doing so would not change people's minds.

When I asked about the perception that he was in control, Mr. Johnson told me that after the messy end of his previous marriage, he insisted that Ms. Southern – who also worked for his companies – sign agreements setting out the terms for the sake of clarity.

“It had nothing to do with control, everything to do with relationship hygiene,” Mr Johnson said.

Blueprinters I spoke to said the case hasn't changed their opinion of Mr. Johnson. “I just scrolled right past it,” Ms. Love said. “It’s not something I want to be aware of.”

Mr. Johnson calls his new suite of products the “Blueprint Stack” — a coding reference that, like “protocol,” evokes the metaphor of the human body as a computer and life as an algorithm.

Offerings include powdered versions of Nutty Pudding and Super Veggie, cocoa powder and a dried mix of nuts and blueberries. He also sells a “Longevity Blend Micronutrient Drink Mix (Blood Orange Flavor),” which includes the supplement creatine and the new-age favorite shrub ashwagandha, as well as four different pill products that overall represent a simplified version of his 100-Plus Pill regime. As a wink to his skeptics, he plans to rename his olive oil “Snake Oil.”

The current basic package costs $333 per month, but that only covers about 400 calories per day. Mr. Johnson said he plans to offer enough products to cover a person's entire daily calorie intake for less than $1,000 a month. (Adults typically need between 1,600 and 3,000 calories per day.)

“We’re trying to compete for the most nutritious food program in history,” he said. “So good that it's not crazy to say the UN should use it.” Mr Johnson is also talking to two companies – one offering gene therapy, another offering stem cells from young bone marrow – about agreeing a discount for Blueprinters . “The idea is to create the Costco of the health and wellness industry,” he said.

Mr. Johnson makes the recipes for his meals available on his website for anyone to cook—and sell. After the hike in Los Angeles, the group gathered around a picnic table where Adrien Cohen, 32, who recently founded a meal prep startup based in Blueprint, handed out containers of Nutty Pudding and Super Veggie.

Mr. Tang, whose previous project was organizing “T-parties” where men gathered to measure their testosterone levels, said his meal-prep company served 1,000 Blueprint meals a week in the San Francisco area . He said he plans to move away from the Blueprint branding, but for now it is a “signal banner for people who want to improve their health.”

Mr Johnson said he was pleased to see others building their own businesses around Blueprint. However, he has trademarked the Blueprint name and said he may eventually try to negotiate licensing agreements with the other companies that use it.

He declined to comment on his current net worth, but said he was less concerned with making money and more concerned with expanding Blueprint's reach. “This is not a money grab,” he said. (Mr. Johnson said the company's revenue so far was in the millions of dollars, a claim that could not be verified.)

But he said he was reaching the limit of the experiments he could perform on himself. Hence the new “clinical trial” in which volunteers consume Blueprint products for three months and then undergo testing to measure the results. (Participants must pay for the tests themselves, which run $800 or $1,600 depending on the scope of the test.) There is no control group, it is short-term, participants take 67 different therapies at once, and they are on the “honor.” System” to eat the blueprint package and otherwise maintain their staple diet.

Mr Steele said it was unlikely the new study would provide useful data. “It will be impossible to know how much of any observed effect is real or just the placebo effect,” he said.

Mr Johnson acknowledges that the design is not that of a clinical trial accepted by the mainstream scientific community. “Will this process be serious in the end? We’ll see,” he said.