In my SkepDoc column in Skeptic magazine (text available online) I reviewed the video series “Awakening from Alzheimer’s,” in which a journalist interviews numerous “experts” and claims that Alzheimer’s is for the most part preventable and can be reversed in 9 out of 10 patients! The recommendations of those “experts” are all over the map. There is nothing even remotely approaching a scientific consensus. They claim the main cause of Alzheimer’s is everything from gluten to obesity to lack of sleep to chronic Lyme disease to toxins spewed by “leaky gut” syndrome. They claim to have reversed Alzheimer’s with a wide variety of treatments: everything from coconut oil to a ketogenic diet to probiotics to strenuous exercise to various long lists of dietary supplements to psychological interventions that are considered successful if they make patients cry. There is no satisfactory evidence to support any of their claims.
Cacao contains powerful flavonols, compounds that act as antioxidants and help preserve the brain’s stem cells. “Stem cells produce new brain cells,” says Dennis Steindler, PhD, director of the Neuroscience and Aging Lab at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, “and chronic inflammation or the beginnings of disease can damage these reparative cells and the other at-risk brain cells used for standard operating procedures, like memory and thinking.” Flavonols have also been shown to support the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory and mood, notes Steindler. Stick to a square or two of dark chocolate daily.

The evidence? A 2012 study in Greece found it can boost cognitive function in adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a type of disorder marked by forgetfulness and problems with language, judgement, or planning that are more severe than average “senior moments,” but are not serious enough to be diagnosed as dementia. In some people, MCI will progress into dementia.
Subjects with a history or presence of clinically important cardiac, renal, hepatic, endocrine (including diabetes mellitus), pulmonary, biliary, gastrointestinal, pancreatic, or neurologic disorders that, in the judgment of the Investigator, would interfere with the subject's ability to provide informed consent, comply with the study protocol (which might confound the interpretation of the study results), or put the subject at undue risk.
"Over the years, I have learned so much from the work of Dr. Mosconi, whose accomplished credentials spanning both neuroscience and nutrition are wholly unique. This book represents the first time her studies on the interaction between food and long-term cognitive function reach a general audience. Dr. Mosconi always makes the point that we would eat differently and treat our brains better if only we could see what we are doing to them. From the lab to the kitchen, this is extremely valuable and urgent advice, complete with recommendations that any one of us can take."
I started with the 10g of Vitality Enhanced Blend, a sort of tan dust. Used 2 little-spoonfuls (dust tastes a fair bit like green/oolong tea dust) into the tea mug and then some boiling water. A minute of steeping and… bleh. Tastes sort of musty and sour. (I see why people recommended sweetening it with honey.) The effects? While I might’ve been more motivated - I hadn’t had caffeine that day and was a tad under the weather, a feeling which seemed to go away perhaps half an hour after starting - I can’t say I experienced any nausea or very noticeable effects. (At least the flavor is no longer quite so offensive.)
It wasn't always helpful, but it does work sometimes. The first two days gave me stomach and head pain, so I began to test with taking before or after food, and with or without food. The bottle says to take before food, but I preferred taking this with food, more food is better. This doesn't go well in the stomach with something like chocolate, so take this with something like bread or a meal. More importantly, stay very hydrated unless you want a headache, these pills are very hydro-demanding. The pills also work better if you get your blood moving, just a short walk is fine. Energy drinks and coffee go very well with these, as I had a very clear minded experience when taking these with a Monster Java, it was like a cool breeze blowing away the mental fog.

Bought 5,000 IU soft-gels of Vitamin D-334 (Examine.com; FDA adverse events) because I was feeling very apathetic in January 2011 and not getting much done, even slacking on regular habits like Mnemosyne spaced repetition review or dual n-back or my Wikipedia watchlist. Introspecting, I was reminded of depression & dysthymia & seasonal affective disorder.

Blueberries and blackberries are at the top of the list of brain-boosting foods because they are exceptionally rich in chemicals called anthocyanins, which are among the most potent antioxidants. "But the real message here is that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables of all kinds does more than keep your heart healthy," says Tufts University neurobiologist James Joseph. It's healthy food for thought.

You have the highest density of mitochondria in your brain’s prefrontal cortex, which helps to explain why I feel Unfair Advantage in my head first. You have the second highest density in your heart, which is probably why I feel it in the center of my chest next. Mitochondrial energizers can have profound nootropic effects! At higher doses mitochondrial energizers also make for an excellent pre-workout supplements.
Since my experiment had a number of flaws (non-blind, varying doses at varying times of day), I wound up doing a second better experiment using blind standardized smaller doses in the morning. The negative effect was much smaller, but there was still no mood/productivity benefit. Having used up my first batch of potassium citrate in these 2 experiments, I will not be ordering again since it clearly doesn’t work for me.
Such competitive anxieties are already being felt in the workplace. Recently an advice column in Wired featured a question from a reader worried about "a rising star at the firm" who was "using unprescribed modafinil to work crazy hours. Our boss has started getting on my case for not being as productive." And on internet forums such as ImmInst (Immortality Institute), whose members share a nerdy passion for tweaking their cognitive function through drugs and supplements, people trade advice about dosages and "stacks" - improvised combinations - of neuroenhancers ("Cut a tablet into fourths and took 25mg every four hours, four times today, and had a great and productive day - with no side-effects"). In one recent post a 52-year-old - who was working full time, studying for an advanced degree at night and "married, etc" - wrote that after experimenting with modafinil he had settled on two daily doses of 100mg each. He believed that he was "performing a little better", adding: "I also feel slightly more animated when in discussion."
Choosing to take smart drugs is not an effective or long term solution. Smart drugs may help you study faster or keep you awake longer, but they are not your best option. Most of the ADHD medications are based on an amphetamine structure and they are not healthy for your heart or your liver. Also, by taking smart drugs, you are putting yourself at considerable risk for addiction to these substances.
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:
Interesting. On days ranked 2 (below-average mood/productivity), nicotine seems to have boosted scores; on days ranked 3, nicotine hurts scores; there aren’t enough 4’s to tell, but even ’5 days seem to see a boost from nicotine, which is not predicted by the theory. But I don’t think much of a conclusion can be drawn: not enough data to make out any simple relationship. Some modeling suggests no relationship in this data either (although also no difference in standard deviations, leading me to wonder if I screwed up the data recording - not all of the DNB scores seem to match the input data in the previous analysis). So although the 2 days in the graph are striking, the theory may not be right.

Farah has also been considering the ethical complications resulting from the rise of smart drugs. Don't neuroenhancers confer yet another advantage on the kind of people who already can afford private tutors? Writing last year in the Cavalier Daily, the student newspaper of the University of Virginia, a columnist named Greg Crapanzano argued that neuroenhancers "create an unfair advantage for the users who are willing to break the law in order to gain an edge. These students create work that is dependent on the use of a pill rather than their own work ethic." Of course, it's hard to imagine a university administration that would require students to pee in a cup before entering an exam hall. And even with the aid of a neuroenhancer, you still have to write the essay, conceive the screenplay or finish the grant proposal. Moreover, if you can take credit for work you've done on caffeine or nicotine, then you can take credit for work produced on Provigil.
Paul McHugh, a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University, has written sceptically about cosmetic neurology. In a 2004 essay he notes that at least once a year in his private practice he sees a young person - usually a boy - whose parents worry that his school performance could be better and want a medication that will assure it. In most of these cases "the truth is that the son does not have the superior IQ of his parents", though the boy may have other qualities that surpass those of his parents - he may be "handsome, charming, athletic, graceful". McHugh sees his job as trying to get the parents to "forget about adjusting him to their aims, with medication or anything else".
Encouraged by TruBrain’s magnesium & my magnesium l-threonate use, I design and run a blind random self-experiment to see whether magnesium citrate supplementation would improve my mood or productivity. I collected ~200 days of data at two dose levels. The analysis finds that the net effect was negative, but a more detailed look shows time-varying effects with a large initial benefit negated by an increasingly-negative effect. Combined with my expectations, the long half-life, and the higher-than-intended dosage, I infer that I overdosed on the magnesium. To verify this, I will be running a followup experiment with a much smaller dose.
Dr Hart talked through food intolerance tests that are available through a number of well known companies, including York Test for whom she is Scientific Director. A possible strategy could be to use such testing to identify intolerances, follow an elimination protocol, temporarily removing on foods triggering an IgG response; and then work to improve your gut health to support longer term well-being. Foods that are rich in collagen and its amino acids, like glycine and proline, are great for healing connective tissue, which is what the intestines are made up of. A traditional food, rich in these amino acids, that has made its way into our kitchens again after rediscovering its therapeutic properties is bone broth. Another example of a group of traditional foods that can be used therapeutically in building digestive health, are fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi. These are abundant in probiotics, which are the ‘good’ bacteria our digestive system needs to help keep a good balance and protect the intestinal barrier from pathogens, toxins and parasites. Once these foods have been introduced on an everyday basis along with eating a healthy nutrient-dense diet and the possible use of supplements to help restore balance, you may be able to reintroduce foods that were previously triggering an IgG response carefully, one at a time, whilst monitoring symptoms.
Blinding stymied me for a few months since the nasty taste was unmistakable and I couldn’t think of any gums with a similar flavor to serve as placebo. (The nasty taste does not seem to be due to the nicotine despite what one might expect; Vaniver plausibly suggested the bad taste might be intended to prevent over-consumption, but nothing in the Habitrol ingredient list seemed to be noted for its bad taste, and a number of ingredients were sweetening sugars of various sorts. So I couldn’t simply flavor some gum.)
I noticed what may have been an effect on my dual n-back scores; the difference is not large (▃▆▃▃▂▂▂▂▄▅▂▄▂▃▅▃▄ vs ▃▄▂▂▃▅▂▂▄▁▄▃▅▂▃▂▄▂▁▇▃▂▂▄▄▃▃▂▃▂▂▂▃▄▄▃▆▄▄▂▃▄▃▁▂▂▂▃▂▄▂▁▁▂▄▁▃▂▄) and appears mostly in the averages - Toomim’s quick two-sample t-test gave p=0.23, although a another analysis gives p=0.138112. One issue with this before-after quasi-experiment is that one would expect my scores to slowly rise over time and hence a fish oil after would yield a score increase - the 3.2 point difference could be attributable to that, placebo effect, or random variation etc. But an accidentally noticed effect (d=0.28) is a promising start. An experiment may be worth doing given that fish oil does cost a fair bit each year: randomized blocks permitting an fish-oil-then-placebo comparison would take care of the first issue, and then blinding (olive oil capsules versus fish oil capsules?) would take care of the placebo worry.
Qualia Mind, meanwhile, combines more than two dozen ingredients that may support brain and nervous system function – and even empathy, the company claims – including vitamins B, C and D, artichoke stem and leaf extract, taurine and a concentrated caffeine powder. A 2014 review of research on vitamin C, for one, suggests it may help protect against cognitive decline, while most of the research on artichoke extract seems to point to its benefits to other organs like the liver and heart. A small company-lead pilot study on the product found users experienced improvements in reasoning, memory, verbal ability and concentration five days after beginning Qualia Mind.
I'm not mad, I'm disappointed. This product did not work at all. It didn't even feel like it was just a caffeine pill (usually what supplements that don't work are actually made of). It literally does nothing. In hindsight, I feel like I did when I was a kid and ordered $4.50 X-ray sunglasses from the back of a comic book. Deep down knew it was too good to be true, but secretly I hoped it would work. Shame on me for getting sucked into a bunch of hype.
While you may not find yourself mixing an LSD homebrew in your kitchen anytime soon, a bit of better living through science may be exactly what you need to upgrade your productivity, creativity and overall cognitive performance. You’re now equipped with every shred of knowledge necessary to do so, whether you choose a risky smart drug approach, a natural nootropic approach, a synthetic nootropic approach, or a blend of all three.
My first impression of ~1g around 12:30PM was that while I do not feel like running around, within an hour I did feel like the brain fog was lighter than before. The effect wasn’t dramatic, so I can’t be very confident. Operationalizing brain fog for an experiment might be hard: it doesn’t necessarily feel like I would do better on dual n-back. I took 2 smaller doses 3 and 6 hours later, to no further effect. Over the following weeks and months, I continued to randomly alternate between potassium & non-potassium days. I noticed no effects other than sleep problems.

Bacopa Monnieri:  Also known as “waterhyssop,” this herb grows in wetlands around the world.  It has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine.  It is a powerful antioxidant which had demonstrated protective effects on cells.  It also has anti-inflammatory properties.  Inflammation is believed to play a major role in the development of dementia.  Additionally, this herb boosts blood flow to the brain and activates choline acetyltransferase, a key enzyme which is necessary to synthesize the neurotransmitter cetylcholine.
When Giurgea coined the word nootropic (combining the Greek words for mind and bending) in the 1970s, he was focused on a drug he had synthesized called piracetam. Although it is approved in many countries, it isn’t categorized as a prescription drug in the United States. That means it can be purchased online, along with a number of newer formulations in the same drug family (including aniracetam, phenylpiracetam, and oxiracetam). Some studies have shown beneficial effects, including one in the 1990s that indicated possible improvement in the hippocampal membranes in Alzheimer’s patients. But long-term studies haven’t yet borne out the hype.
But what does this all have to do with food? Our gut helps keep our body’s immune responses and inflammation under control. Additionally, gut hormones that enter the brain or are produced in the brain influence cognitive ability, like understanding and processing new information, staying focused on the task at hand and recognizing when we’re full. (3)

My answer is that this is not a lot of research or very good research (not nearly as good as the research on nicotine, eg.), and assuming it’s true, I don’t value long-term memory that much because LTM is something that is easily assisted or replaced (personal archives, and spaced repetition). For me, my problems tend to be more about akrasia and energy and not getting things done, so even if a stimulant comes with a little cost to long-term memory, it’s still useful for me. I’m going continue to use the caffeine. It’s not so bad in conjunction with tea, is very cheap, and I’m already addicted, so why not? Caffeine is extremely cheap, addictive, has minimal effects on health (and may be beneficial, from the various epidemiological associations with tea/coffee/chocolate & longevity), and costs extra to remove from drinks popular regardless of their caffeine content (coffee and tea again). What would be the point of carefully investigating it? Suppose there was conclusive evidence on the topic, the value of this evidence to me would be roughly $0 or since ignorance is bliss, negative money - because unless the negative effects were drastic (which current studies rule out, although tea has other issues like fluoride or metal contents), I would not change anything about my life. Why? I enjoy my tea too much. My usual tea seller doesn’t even have decaffeinated oolong in general, much less various varieties I might want to drink, apparently because de-caffeinating is so expensive it’s not worthwhile. What am I supposed to do, give up my tea and caffeine just to save on the cost of caffeine? Buy de-caffeinating machines (which I couldn’t even find any prices for, googling)? This also holds true for people who drink coffee or caffeinated soda. (As opposed to a drug like modafinil which is expensive, and so the value of a definitive answer is substantial and would justify some more extensive calculating of cost-benefit.)


The chemicals he takes, dubbed nootropics from the Greek “noos” for “mind”, are intended to safely improve cognitive functioning. They must not be harmful, have significant side-effects or be addictive. That means well-known “smart drugs” such as the prescription-only stimulants Adderall and Ritalin, popular with swotting university students, are out. What’s left under the nootropic umbrella is a dizzying array of over-the-counter supplements, prescription drugs and unclassified research chemicals, some of which are being trialled in older people with fading cognition.
The Neurohacker Collective is a group of scientists, academics, and creatives who, among other things, sell nootropics. One of its premier products is Qualia Original Stack (OS), which has 41 ingredients. The large print says it improves focus, mood, and energy within 30 minutes and “supports long-term brain health.” A 22-dose supply costs $129. Such stacks operate on the idea that synergies among ingredients yield additional benefits.
She repeats the oft-refuted advice to drink at least 8 glasses of water a day. She claims that drinking water improves cognitive performance. Her citation for that claim is a small study in which participants were instructed to fast overnight and not eat or drink anything after 9 pm, so they were presumably somewhat dehydrated. There is no evidence that people who are not dehydrated benefit from increasing water intake.
In 2011, as part of the Silk Road research, I ordered 10x100mg Modalert (5btc) from a seller. I also asked him about his sourcing, since if it was bad, it’d be valuable to me to know whether it was sourced from one of the vendors listed in my table. He replied, more or less, I get them from a large Far Eastern pharmaceuticals wholesaler. I think they’re probably the supplier for a number of the online pharmacies. 100mg seems likely to be too low, so I treated this shipment as 5 doses:
Dark chocolate. Let's end with the good stuff. Dark chocolate has powerful antioxidant properties, contains several natural stimulants, including caffeine, which enhance focus and concentration, and stimulates the production of endorphins, which helps improve mood. One-half ounce to 1 ounce a day will provide all the benefits you need, says Kulze. This is one "superfood" where more is not better. "You have to do this one in moderation," says Kulze.
The general cost of fish oil made me interested in possible substitutes. Seth Roberts uses exclusively flaxseed oil or flaxseed meal, and this seems to work well for him with subjective effects (eg. noticing his Chinese brands seemed to not work, possibly because they were unrefrigerated and slightly rancid). It’s been studied much less than fish oil, but omega acids are confusing enough in general (is there a right ratio? McCluskey’s roundup gives the impression claims about ratios may have been overstated) that I’m not convinced ALA is a much inferior replacement for fish oil’s mixes of EPA & DHA.

One thing I notice looking at the data is that the red magnesium-free days seem to dominate the upper ranks towards the end, and blues appear mostly at the bottom, although this is a little hard to see because good days in general start to become sparse towards the end. Now, why would days start to be worse towards the end, and magnesium-dose days in particular? The grim surmise is: an accumulating overdose - no immediate acute effect, but the magnesium builds up, dragging down all days, but especially magnesium-dose days. The generally recognized symptoms of hypermagnesemia don’t include effect on mood or cognition, aside from muscle weakness, confusion, and decreased reflexes…poor appetite that does not improve, but it seems plausible that below medically-recognizable levels of distress like hypermagnesemia might still cause mental changes, and I wouldn’t expect any psychological research to have been done on this topic.
Tomatoes - does that include tinned? And what about passata? And while we are at it, are frozen veg as good [or very nearly] as fresh? I'm particularly thinking of green veg like peas, broad beans, green beans. Fresh peas are a seasonal rarity, so are broad beans and green beans in supermarkets are often rather tired after their long trip from Kenya.

Powders are good for experimenting with (easy to vary doses and mix), but not so good for regular taking. I use OO gel capsules with a Capsule Machine: it’s hard to beat $20, it works, it’s not that messy after practice, and it’s not too bad to do 100 pills. However, I once did 3kg of piracetam + my other powders, and doing that nearly burned me out on ever using capsules again. If you’re going to do that much, something more automated is a serious question! (What actually wound up infuriating me the most was when capsules would stick in either the bottom or top try - requiring you to very gingerly pull and twist them out, lest the two halves slip and spill powder - or when the two halves wouldn’t lock and you had to join them by hand. In contrast: loading the gel caps could be done automatically without looking, after some experience.)
The Lynches said that Provigil was a classic example of a related phenomenon: mission creep. In 1998, Cephalon, the pharmaceutical company that manufactures it, received US government approval to market the drug but only for "excessive daytime sleepiness" due to narcolepsy; by 2004, Cephalon had obtained permission to expand the labelling so that it included sleep apnoea and "shift-work sleep disorder". Net sales of Provigil climbed from $196m in 2002 to $988m in 2008.
Cytisine is not known as a stimulant and I’m not addicted to nicotine, so why give it a try? Nicotine is one of the more effective stimulants available, and it’s odd how few nicotine analogues or nicotinic agonists there are available; nicotine has a few flaws like short half-life and increasing blood pressure, so I would be interested in a replacement. The nicotine metabolite cotinine, in the human studies available, looks intriguing and potentially better, but I have been unable to find a source for it. One of the few relevant drugs which I can obtain is cytisine, from Ceretropic, at 2x1.5mg doses. There are not many anecdotal reports on cytisine, but at least a few suggest somewhat comparable effects with nicotine, so I gave it a try.
For 2 weeks, upon awakening I took close-up photographs of my right eye. Then I ordered two jars of Life-Extension Sea-Iodine (60x1mg) (1mg being an apparently safe dose), and when it arrived on 10 September 2012, I stopped the photography and began taking 1 iodine pill every other day. I noticed no ill effects (or benefits) after a few weeks and upped the dose to 1 pill daily. After the first jar of 60 pills was used up, I switched to the second jar, and began photography as before for 2 weeks. The photographs were uploaded, cropped by hand in Gimp, and shrunk to more reasonable dimensions; both sets are available in a Zip file.

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.
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