In hopes of prolonging their lives and improving their health, a lot of the Silicon Valley elite are doing extreme experiments on their bodies. The latest fad among this set is sticking to a so-called ‘ketogenic’ diet that is considered an experimental treatment for diabetes and is exceptionally high in fat and low in carbs.
During the due diligence process for a startup called Virta Health, a low-carb, high-fat “ketogenic” diet was initially embarked upon by Ambar Bhattacharyya, a managing director with Maverick Ventures. Transition his body from burning fat as its primary fuel source, rather than glucose is the design and the function of the diet. Typically less than 30 grams of carbs each day is eaten by those on the diet.
He gave up after a few months after having lost about 7 pounds in the first week. “I started to get really cranky and had to drink a lot of coffee,” he recalled. “That meant a lot more bathroom breaks during our partner meeting.”
About a third of the office was on ketogenic diets as 2 other investors at the office tried it, Bhattacharyya said.
By coaching them to adopt lifestyle changes including carb restriction, people with type 2 diabetes are helped get off their meds, by Virta, the company that caught Bhattacharyya’s interest. Mixed feelings about body-hacking venture capitalists trying to get into nutritional ketosis, without supervision are expressed by its doctors.
“If you only try it for a month, you aren’t reaping the benefits,” says Sarah Hallberg, Virta’s medical director. “And if you’re not feeling well, it’s probably an indication that you’re not doing it right.” For Virta, she said, the nutritional regimen is only one part of an overall treatment plan.
After investing in Virta, Venrock partner Bryan Roberts gave nutritional ketosis a shot. But he also lost ten pounds after enrolling in the program even though his rationale for trying it was to provide product development feedback.
Trying out the product, which includes health coaching and peer support, was the reason for taking up Virta by Vishal Vasishth, a managing director at Obvious Ventures. “I had a great experience,” he said. “And I didn’t feel like I was having to make any sacrifices.”
After meeting Virta Health’s CEO Sami Inkinen, other investors became curious about the diet.
“A powerful tool, but a lot of things can go wrong”
He was able to get his blood sugar levels under control after working with scientific experts who had spent their careers researching the role of ketogenic diets in treating diabetes, said Inkinen, who once rowed from Monterey to Hawaii with his wife for a wedding anniversary.
“In the past, I was eating a carb-rich diet and I can’t tell you how many times I would literally fall asleep with my head on the keyboard at 3pm,” he said.
Inkinen wouldn’t recommend it to everyone despite being a proponent of the approach. “Outside of Virta’s work, there’s a lot of people biohacking themselves,” he said. “It’s a little scary to me because it’s a powerful tool, but a lot of things can go wrong.”
A slew of positive effects, including weight loss and sustained energy throughout the day were noted by some VCs who have tried the diet. Others said it caused headaches, at least in the initial weeks, and mood swings.
Although temporary, bad breath, which often smells sickly sweet, is another side-effect of ketogensis.
Through his investment in Bulletproof Coffee, Dan Scholnick, an investor with Trinity Ventures, became aware of ketosis. Bulletproof’s coffee, butter, and “Brain Octane Oil” concoction were included in his breakfast both times he tried it.
(Adapted from CNBC)