Sometimes called smart drugs, brain boosters, or memory-enhancing drugs, the term "nootropics" was coined by scientist Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea, who developed the compound piracetam as a brain enhancer, according to The Atlantic. The word is derived from the Greek noo, meaning mind, and trope, which means "change" in French. In essence, all nootropics aim to change your mind by enhancing functions like memory or attention.
You have probably heard and you already love the term “soul food.” You should know that there’s “brain food” too. Natural supplements are the best way to express your gratitude for all the hard work your brain does for you around the clock. These products aren’t reserved only for the elderly users. On the contrary, if you start using them while you’re still young and sharp, you can ensure the proper protection against all those age-related mental deterioration processes.
Surgeries – Here's another unpleasant surprise. You're probably thinking we're referring to a brain surgery, but that's not the only surgery that can influence the blood flow to your brain the bad way. For example, a heart surgery can cause hypoperfusion. How? Fat globules, which are released during these kinds of procedures, can find their way to your brain and disrupt the optimal blood flow.
I largely ignored this since the discussions were of sub-RDA doses, and my experience has usually been that RDAs are a poor benchmark and frequently far too low (consider the RDA for vitamin D). This time, I checked the actual RDA - and was immediately shocked and sure I was looking at a bad reference: there was no way the RDA for potassium was seriously 3700-4700mg or 4-5 grams daily, was there? Just as an American, that implied that I was getting less than half my RDA. (How would I get 4g of potassium in the first place? Eat a dozen bananas a day⸮) I am not a vegetarian, nor is my diet that fantastic: I figured I was getting some potassium from the ~2 fresh tomatoes I was eating daily, but otherwise my diet was not rich in potassium sources. I have no blood tests demonstrating deficiency, but given the figures, I cannot see how I could not be deficient.
Starting from the studies in my meta-analysis, we can try to estimate an upper bound on how big any effect would be, if it actually existed. One of the most promising null results, Southon et al 1994, turns out to be not very informative: if we punch in the number of kids, we find that they needed a large effect size (d=0.81) before they could see anything:
One thing I did do was piggyback on my Noopept self-experiment: I blinded & randomized the Noopept for a real experiment, but simply made sure to vary the Magtein without worrying about blinding or randomizing it. (The powder is quite bulky.) The correlation the experiment turned in was a odds-ratio of 1.9; interesting and in the right direction (higher is better), but since the magnesium part wasn’t random or blind, not a causal result.
[…] The verdict is out on brain health and aging. Scientists now know that memory loss and cognitive decline are not an inevitable part of growing older. In fact, the research proves quite the contrary. You can keep your mind sharp well into old age with a strategy that combines a healthy, active lifestyle with a brain-protecting diet and brain-boosting supplements. […]
*Results for individuals will vary, depending on existing health factors, lifestyle and level of fitness. The information contained on this site is intended to educate only and is in no way, a substitute for medical advice that your doctor or healthcare provider can offer, with whom you should always consult with before making any dietary changes. Information within should not be used for diagnosis, treatment or prevention of any disease. Testimonials and results contained within may not be an implication of future results. Testimonials on this site are based on the experiences of a few people and you may not have similar results. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
Directions As a dietary supplement take two(2) veggie capsules once a day. For best results take 20-30 min before a meal with an 8oz. glass of water or as directed by your healthcare professional. as a dietary supplement take 2 veggie capsules once a day . For best results take 20-30 min before a meal with an 8oz. Glass of water or as directed by your healthcare professional. — — Suggested Use: As a dietary supplement, adults take one (1) capsule per day. Do not exceed 2 capsules per day. Take 1 capsule at a time with or after a meal. No more than 2 capsules a day.
The chemical Huperzine-A (Examine.com) is extracted from a moss. It is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor (instead of forcing out more acetylcholine like the -racetams, it prevents acetylcholine from breaking down). My experience report: One for the null hypothesis files - Huperzine-A did nothing for me. Unlike piracetam or fish oil, after a full bottle (Source Naturals, 120 pills at 200μg each), I noticed no side-effects, no mental improvements of any kind, and no changes in DNB scores from straight Huperzine-A.
The first night I was eating some coconut oil, I did my n-backing past 11 PM; normally that damages my scores, but instead I got 66/66/75/88/77% (▁▁▂▇▃) on D4B and did not feel mentally exhausted by the end. The next day, I performed well on the Cambridge mental rotations test. An anecdote, of course, and it may be due to the vitamin D I simultaneously started. Or another day, I was slumped under apathy after a promising start to the day; a dose of fish & coconut oil, and 1 last vitamin D, and I was back to feeling chipper and optimist. Unfortunately I haven’t been testing out coconut oil & vitamin D separately, so who knows which is to thank. But still interesting.
As for newer nootropic drugs, there are unknown risks. “Piracetam has been studied for decades,” says cognitive neuroscientist Andrew Hill, the founder of a neurofeedback company in Los Angeles called Peak Brain Institute. But “some of [the newer] compounds are things that some random editor found in a scientific article, copied the formula down and sent it to China and had a bulk powder developed three months later that they’re selling. Please don’t take it, people!”
Nicotine has been shown to improve working memory, and research has also demonstrated that oral consumption of nicotine enhances memory consolidation in perceptual learning by enhancing the efficacy of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors and thereby enhancing the overall cholinergic system, which modulates memory formation. In other words, nicotine consumption improves the efficiency of acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter) receptors and, thus, improves the part of the nervous system that regulates healthy memory function. Some research also indicates that psychiatric populations suffering from cognitive deficits (such as patients suffering from schizophrenia) may enjoy even greater neuroprotection from nicotine consumption than healthy individuals. You may be concerned about using nicotine given its potential as an addictive substance. Well, nicotine plays a dual role in the brain by simultaneously promoting addiction and enhancing cognition. In fact, the processes are closely linked through the pathways by which they work. That means that when it comes to dosing nicotine, it’s all about moderation. Because nicotine can be easily abused and has high addictive potential, when using nicotine for cognitive enhancement, you must be precise with dosage and conscious of the amount you use. Studies have shown that moderate doses of nicotine typically produce cognitive enhancement, but very high doses can actually impair cognitive performance. A moderate dose would look something like 2-4 milligrams administered over 20-30 minutes, a dose easily available in the form of nicotine gum or spray. Later in this article, I’ll fill you in on my own personal dosage and use of nicotine.
Another promising "smart pill" is phosphatidylserine, or PS, a natural substance that helps cell walls stay pliable and is thought to boost the effectiveness of neurotransmitters, which relay brain signals. In a May 1991 study published in Neurology, neuroscientist Thomas Crook found that patients with age-associated memory impairment improved their scores on key performance tests after 12 weeks on PS. Yet more research is needed before doctors can know that the supplement is safe and effective.
There is no official data on their usage, but nootropics as well as other smart drugs appear popular in the Silicon Valley. “I would say that most tech companies will have at least one person on something,” says Noehr. It is a hotbed of interest because it is a mentally competitive environment, says Jesse Lawler, a LA based software developer and nootropics enthusiast who produces the podcast Smart Drug Smarts. “They really see this as translating into dollars.” But Silicon Valley types also do care about safely enhancing their most prized asset – their brains – which can give nootropics an added appeal, he says.
Some work has been done on estimating the value of IQ, both as net benefits to the possessor (including all zero-sum or negative-sum aspects) and as net positive externalities to the rest of society. The estimates are substantial: in the thousands of dollars per IQ point. But since increasing IQ post-childhood is almost impossible barring disease or similar deficits, and even increasing childhood IQs is very challenging, much of these estimates are merely correlations or regressions, and the experimental childhood estimates must be weakened considerably for any adult - since so much time and so many opportunities have been lost. A wild guess: $1000 net present value per IQ point. The range for severely deficient children was 10-15 points, so any normal (somewhat deficient) adult gain must be much smaller and consistent with Fitzgerald 2012’s ceiling on possible effect sizes (small).
Often her language is not that of a scientist. She uses buzzwords like detoxification and boosting the immune system. She avoids GMOs and things that she thinks are unnatural like “manufactured” minerals and salts. She says she takes royal jelly daily for its natural antibiotic effects; she says these effects are “known, but perhaps not scientifically confirmed.” If not scientifically confirmed, how are the effects “known”? She says plants produce phytonutrients to increase their life span, and then she leaps to the conclusion that humans will derive the same benefits from eating the plants.
Nootropics still exist largely in an unregulated gray area, which makes users somewhat hesitant to discuss their regimens. But I did speak to several people who told tales of increased productivity and sharpened focus. Bob Carter, a financial analyst for a start-up called LendingHome, says that nootropics have replaced his other morning stimulant. “I basically think of it as a substitute for coffee,” he says. “I think the problem with a cappuccino from Starbucks is that it gives you the feeling of being jittery. Whereas with this particular supplement, I feel more calm.”
The evidence? Although everyone can benefit from dietary sources of essential fatty acids, supplementation is especially recommended for people with heart disease. A small study published in 2013 found that DHA may enhance memory and reaction time in healthy young adults. However, a more recent review suggested that there is not enough evidence of any effect from omega 3 supplementation in the general population.
Caffeine (Examine.com; FDA adverse events) is of course the most famous stimulant around. But consuming 200mg or more a day, I have discovered the downside: it is addictive and has a nasty withdrawal - headaches, decreased motivation, apathy, and general unhappiness. (It’s a little amusing to read academic descriptions of caffeine addiction9; if caffeine were a new drug, I wonder what Schedule it would be in and if people might be even more leery of it than modafinil.) Further, in some ways, aside from the ubiquitous placebo effect, caffeine combines a mix of weak performance benefits (Lorist & Snel 2008, Nehlig 2010) with some possible decrements, anecdotally and scientifically:
Some supplement blends, meanwhile, claim to work by combining ingredients – bacopa, cat's claw, huperzia serrata and oat straw in the case of Alpha Brain, for example – that have some support for boosting cognition and other areas of nervous system health. One 2014 study in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, suggested that huperzia serrata, which is used in China to fight Alzheimer's disease, may help slow cell death and protect against (or slow the progression of) neurodegenerative diseases. The Alpha Brain product itself has also been studied in a company-funded small randomized controlled trial, which found Alpha Brain significantly improved verbal memory when compared to adults who took a placebo.
Farah was one of several scholars who contributed to a recent article in Nature, "Towards Responsible Use of Cognitive Enhancing Drugs by the Healthy". The optimistic tone of the article suggested that some bioethicists are leaning towards endorsing neuroenhancement. "Like all new technologies, cognitive enhancement can be used well or poorly," the article declared. "We should welcome new methods of improving our brain function. In a world in which human workspans and lifespans are increasing, cognitive-enhancement tools - including the pharmacological - will be increasingly useful for improved quality of life and extended work productivity, as well as to stave off normal and pathological age-related cognitive declines. Safe and effective cognitive enhancers will benefit both the individual and society." The BMA report offered a similarly upbeat observation: "Universal access to enhancing interventions would bring up the baseline level of cognitive ability, which is generally seen to be a good thing."
This product is a miracle! I have purchased it TWICE because it is so helpful with my memory and cognition. I bought this product because I needed to strengthen my memory and focus, and I wanted to be awake when I did it! I had just switched to a job that is second shift (2PM-11PM) and it was very difficult to adjust to those hours AND learn all of the new technical systems required for my new job. But after taking this supplement, I noticed a HUGE difference in a few days! I was awake and alert like it was 11AM everyday. But it wasn’t like the jolt you sometimes get from caffeine, more like an alertness after a good night’s sleep. No jitters, no headaches, no stomach upset. Just energy and the feeling of being AWAKE. I am now telling all of my co-workers about it!
One curious thing that leaps out looking at the graphs is that the estimated underlying standard deviations differ: the nicotine days have a strikingly large standard deviation, indicating greater variability in scores - both higher and lower, since the means weren’t very different. The difference in standard deviations is just 6.6% below 0, so the difference almost reaches our usual frequentist levels of confidence too, which we can verify by testing:
…The Fate of Nicotine in the Body also describes Battelle’s animal work on nicotine absorption. Using C14-labeled nicotine in rabbits, the Battelle scientists compared gastric absorption with pulmonary absorption. Gastric absorption was slow, and first pass removal of nicotine by the liver (which transforms nicotine into inactive metabolites) was demonstrated following gastric administration, with consequently low systemic nicotine levels. In contrast, absorption from the lungs was rapid and led to widespread distribution. These results show that nicotine absorbed from the stomach is largely metabolized by the liver before it has a chance to get to the brain. That is why tobacco products have to be puffed, smoked or sucked on, or absorbed directly into the bloodstream (i.e., via a nicotine patch). A nicotine pill would not work because the nicotine would be inactivated before it reached the brain.
As discussed in my iodine essay (FDA adverse events), iodine is a powerful health intervention as it eliminates cretinism and improves average IQ by a shocking magnitude. If this effect were possible for non-fetuses in general, it would be the best nootropic ever discovered, and so I looked at it very closely. Unfortunately, after going through ~20 experiments looking for ones which intervened with iodine post-birth and took measures of cognitive function, my meta-analysis concludes that: the effect is small and driven mostly by one outlier study. Once you are born, it’s too late. But the results could be wrong, and iodine might be cheap enough to take anyway, or take for non-IQ reasons. (This possibility was further weakened for me by an August 2013 blood test of TSH which put me at 3.71 uIU/ml, comfortably within the reference range of 0.27-4.20.)
According to the US Food and Drug Administration, "Piracetam is not a vitamin, mineral, amino acid, herb or other botanical, or dietary substance for use by man to supplement the diet by increasing the total dietary intake. Further, piracetam is not a concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract or combination of any such dietary ingredient. [...] Accordingly, these products are drugs, under section 201(g)(1)(C) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. § 321(g)(1)(C), because they are not foods and they are intended to affect the structure or any function of the body. Moreover, these products are new drugs as defined by section 201(p) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. § 321(p), because they are not generally recognized as safe and effective for use under the conditions prescribed, recommended, or suggested in their labeling."