The hubris of a (not young anymore) man

By January 12, 2012Uncategorized

I awoke this morning feeling strangely down. It was early, but I should have been hyped because I’m off skiing with the ICE crew of European entrepreneurs.

After some soul searching I settled upon the cause of my disquiet: a renewed sense of my own mortality. I’m feeling this way not because it is my 39th birthday on Monday, or even because 40 is now very close, but rather because I got the results of a blood test yesterday which showed my mercury levels to be very high.

To set the scene, whilst this isn’t good news it isn’t too bad either. I have no symptoms and I think I should be able to get my levels back to normal by eliminating the exposure (certain types of fish) and undergoing some relatively mild therapy. It might take a while though.

Before I go on I want to take a moment to put my little drama into context. Overall I’m extremely lucky with my health and I’m acutely aware that compared to the problems of many a small over-concentration of mercury is a trifle.

Back to the story. I got myself into this mess by eating too much tuna. I should have known better. For the last 6-9 months I’ve included a 200g can of tuna in my breakfast as part of a high protein diet. That diet has served me well generally (I’m stronger and leaner, and have more energy) but I was aware that eating tuna carried a mercury risk and I ate it anyway, and without testing for a long time.

I think I allowed myself this blind spot because all the other aspects of my health are going well. The combination of a lot of exercise, careful eating, and supplements has me feeling better and younger than I have for years. Couple that with my support for the work of Ray Kurzweil, Aubrey de Grey and others who believe that the first people to live to 1000 years old are probably alive today and I think that at a subconscious leveI I was starting to feel literally immortal. Fiona has even been teasing me about it.

I think that is why the mercury test result was such a shock. My body is not working anything like as well as I thought and I am only narrowly going to avoid a major problem – at least I hope I am :-). In short, I’ve had a nasty reminder of my mortality.

I’m sure there are some people who will see this as evidence that eccentric diets are a bad, and that if I had cereal for breakfast like all normal (British) people I wouldn’t have a mercury problem. I don’t see it like that. Typical western diets put a lot of unnecessary strain on our bodies and don’t offer much protection against heart disease and cancer and we can all do much better. So I will carry on eating carefully.

There are some lessons though:
– Stop eating tuna and swordfish
– Remember that the arrogance of youth is folly. Bad things can happen and none of us should think that we will always beat the odds
– Tests are good – we should all do more of them, and soon. A general heavy metals test might be next for me.
– Pay more attention to potential dangers of foods that we eat a lot of, particularly anything unusual

  • Only the arrogant achieve greatness. Keep attacking.

  • yup, we often forget our mortality and the true legacy that you leave behind (rather than just our career legacy, which is too easily focused on).

    I had a wake up call in my 20’s and another one just recently, which I am adamant I won’t ignore this time

  • Just because you eat too much tuna doesn’t mean you’re not immortal 🙂 I still do silly amounts of endurance sports because I’m convinced I’m invincible (or that I at least haven’t found my limits yet) despite my fluff this summer. Switch to salmon for your omega 3 intake if you cut out tuna completely or go for a tuna that is more likely to have lower mercury levels like Pacific tuna.

  • Well you are certainly going to feel older after the ICE trip …. closer to 49 maybe…. by the way all this worry puts years on you….

  • Nic, I’d add one probably most important point: get checked out regularly. So many people I know try to eat and live healthy. Then I ask them if they’ve been to see a doctor recently and 9 out of 10 times, the answer is no. I’m whacky in the lifestyle and eating sense as well but one of the things I learned with age is to balance all my excess (in sports and diet) with regular check-ups just to make sure something isn’t going haywire. 

  • Hi Nic and thank you for all the hard work you put into your blog. Like most things in life, too much of anything is most likely not good for you. Eating however a fresh piece of tuna once a month I would argue is part of a good balanced diet.
    All the best and have a great weekend!