The research literature, while copious, is messy and varied: methodologies and devices vary substantially, sample sizes are tiny, the study designs vary from paper to paper, metrics are sometimes comically limited (one study measured speed of finishing a RAPM IQ test but not scores), blinding is rare and unclear how successful, etc. Relevant papers include Chung et al 2012, Rojas & Gonzalez-Lima 2013, & Gonzalez-Lima & Barrett 2014. Another Longecity user ran a self-experiment, with some design advice from me, where he performed a few cognitive tests over several periods of LLLT usage (the blocks turned out to be ABBA), using his father and towels to try to blind himself as to condition. I analyzed his data, and his scores did seem to improve, but his scores improved so much in the last part of the self-experiment I found myself dubious as to what was going on - possibly a failure of randomness given too few blocks and an temporal exogenous factor in the last quarter which was responsible for the improvement.
"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."
Since LLLT was so cheap, seemed safe, was interesting, just trying it would involve minimal effort, and it would be a favor to lostfalco, I decided to try it. I purchased off eBay a $13 48 LED illuminator light IR Infrared Night Vision+Power Supply For CCTV. Auto Power-On Sensor, only turn-on when the surrounding is dark. IR LED wavelength: 850nm. Powered by DC 12V 500mA adaptor. It arrived in 4 days, on 7 September 2013. It fits handily in my palm. My cellphone camera verified it worked and emitted infrared - important because there’s no visible light at all (except in complete darkness I can make out a faint red light), no noise, no apparent heat (it took about 30 minutes before the lens or body warmed up noticeably when I left it on a table). This was good since I worried that there would be heat or noise which made blinding impossible; all I had to do was figure out how to randomly turn the power on and I could run blinded self-experiments with it.
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She speaks from professional and personal experience. When she first moved to the United States from Italy at age 24 she was struck by how shifting from the Mediterranean-style diet she grew up on to a standard American diet negatively impacted her physical health and work performance. The experience led her to more closely study nutrition and the link between diet and brain health. In this excerpt from a longer interview, she discusses the brain foods you should be eating.
In 3, you’re considering adding a new supplement, not stopping a supplement you already use. The I don’t try Adderall case has value $0, the Adderall fails case is worth -$40 (assuming you only bought 10 pills, and this number should be increased by your analysis time and a weighted cost for potential permanent side effects), and the Adderall succeeds case is worth $X-40-4099, where $X is the discounted lifetime value of the increased productivity due to Adderall, minus any discounted long-term side effect costs. If you estimate Adderall will work with p=.5, then you should try out Adderall if you estimate that 0.5 \times (X-4179) > 0 ~> $X>4179$. (Adderall working or not isn’t binary, and so you might be more comfortable breaking down the various how effective Adderall is cases when eliciting X, by coming up with different levels it could work at, their values, and then using a weighted sum to get X. This can also give you a better target with your experiment- this needs to show a benefit of at least Y from Adderall for it to be worth the cost, and I’ve designed it so it has a reasonable chance of showing that.)
Thanks to the many years of research in the field, we know now that what we eat can have a strong impact on our mental health. Not only can it protect us from developing Alzheimer's, but it's an act of self-care on its own. "Biology is all about harmony, about finding equilibrium and homeostasis," says Dr. Lisa, which is why her approach differs from food restrictions and focuses on minimizing intake of those foods that don't help us feel better.
The desire to improve cognitive functioning has probably existed since the dawn of human consciousness. Throughout our evolution, increased mental agility has been associated with fitness and improved odds of survival and success. Although concoctions to stimulate brainpower have existed in Chinese and Indian medicine for hundreds of years, Western nootropics were not developed until 1964.
In August 2011, after winning the spaced repetition contest and finishing up the Adderall double-blind testing, I decided the time was right to try nicotine again. I had since learned that e-cigarettes use nicotine dissolved in water, and that nicotine-water was a vastly cheaper source of nicotine than either gum or patches. So I ordered 250ml of water at 12mg/ml (total cost: $18.20). A cigarette apparently delivers around 1mg of nicotine, so half a ml would be a solid dose of nicotine, making that ~500 doses. Plenty to experiment with. The question is, besides the stimulant effect, nicotine also causes habit formation; what habits should I reinforce with nicotine? Exercise, and spaced repetition seem like 2 good targets.
Mosconi gets the anthropology right. Her foundation is based on two empirical findings. The first one is her studying of the “Blue Zones” or the five areas in the World associated with the greatest proportion of centenarians. And, her second one is her experience as a neuroscientist. She has seen thousands of brain MRIs while knowing what diet her patients ate. She uncovered a link between brain health and diet. The ones who ate a Mediterranean diet had far healthier brains (per MRIs) than the ones on an American diet. She also observed that 2 out of the 5 Blue Zones eat a Mediterranean diets. And, the three other ones have major overlapping components with a Mediterranean diet including complex carbohydrates (fresh produce) that have a lot of fiber, starches (sweet potatoes), nuts, fish, and not much meat and animal protein.
Still, even if you acknowledge that cosmetic neurology is here to stay, there is something dispiriting about the way the drugs are used - the kind of aspirations they open up, or don't. Jonathan Eisen, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Davis, is sceptical of what he mockingly calls "brain doping". During a recent conversation, he spoke about colleagues who take neuroenhancers in order to grind out grant proposals. "It's weird to me that people are taking these drugs to write grants," he said. "I mean, if you came up with some really interesting paper that was spurred by taking some really interesting drug - magic mushrooms or something - that would make more sense to me. In the end you're only as good as the ideas you've come up with."
However, as a result of the efficacy of this type of stacking, the supplement world is saturated with brain-boosting blends, and it can be difficult to cut through the confusion and figure out what really works and what could be a waste of time and money, or downright dangerous. The fact is, when creating your own stack, you must carefully think about your specific needs and goals. For example, if you want to reduce anxiety and depression, but don’t necessarily care to enhance your cognitive performance or get through a day of work in a sleep-deprived state, you could just stick to a single nootropic that increases dopamine levels, such as Mucuna pruriens or tryptophan. Or if you wanted to reduce anxiety and depression while simultaneously improving your memory because you’re studying for a school or work exam, you could add Bacopa monnieri to the mucuna or tryptophan. Then, let’s say you want long-term cognitive performance to the mix that lasts an entire day: in this case, you’d add a racetam, and to avoid an end of day crash, a touch of choline or DHA. It’s a bit like cooking in the kitchen, isn’t it?
Since Racetams result in increased uptake and demand for acetylcholine, stacking choline with this nootropic will further enhance your results. Studies have shown that choline supplementation can improve performance on memory tests as well as social behavior. Choline also plays a key role in the production of phospholipids that are incorporated into brain cell membranes.
Alex recalled one week during his junior year when he had four term papers due. Minutes after waking on Monday, around 7.30am, he swallowed some "immediate-release" Adderall. The drug, along with a steady stream of caffeine, helped him to concentrate during classes and meetings, but he noticed some odd effects; at a morning tutorial, he explained to me in an email, "I alternated between speaking too quickly and thoroughly on some subjects and feeling awkwardly quiet during other points of the discussion." Lunch was a blur: "It's always hard to eat much when on Adderall." That afternoon he went to the library, where he spent "too much time researching a paper rather than actually writing it - a problem that is common to all intellectually curious students on stimulants". At eight he attended a two-hour meeting "with a group focused on student mental health issues". Alex then "took an extended-release Adderall" and worked productively on the paper all night. At eight the next morning he attended a meeting of his student organisation; he felt like "a zombie" and went back to his room. He fell asleep until noon, waking "in time to polish my first paper and hand it in".
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Eliminating foggy-headedness seems to be the goal of many users of neuroenhancers. But can today's drugs actually accomplish this? I recently posed this question to Chatterjee's colleague Martha Farah, who is a psychologist at Penn and the director of its Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. She is deeply fascinated by, and mildly critical of, neuroenhancers, but basically in favour - with the important caveat that we need to know much more about how these drugs work. While Farah does not take neuroenhancers, she had just finished a paper in which she reviewed the evidence on prescription stimulants as neuroenhancers from 40 laboratory studies involving healthy subjects. Most of the studies looked at one of three types of cognition: learning, working memory, and cognitive control. A typical learning test asks subjects to memorise a list of paired words; an hour, a few days, or a week later, they are presented with the first words in the pairs and asked to come up with the second. Neuroenhancers did improve retention, especially where subjects had been asked to remember information for several days or longer.
It’s not clear that there is much of an effect at all. This makes it hard to design a self-experiment - how big an effect on, say, dual n-back should I be expecting? Do I need an arduous long trial or an easy short one? This would principally determine the value of information too; chocolate seems like a net benefit even if it does not affect the mind, but it’s also fairly costly, especially if one likes (as I do) dark chocolate. Given the mixed research, I don’t think cocoa powder is worth investigating further as a nootropic.
Here’s a thing or two you should know about your brain, so you can have a better understanding of natural brain supplements. This is the most important organ in our body that controls every single action we take. On the other hand, this importance comes at the huge price for our body’s energy levels. Our brain usually requires up to 20% of the body’s energy to function properly. The energy consumption can easily rise above 60%, if your brain engages in a series of intense mental activities.
Whole pill at 3 AM. I spend the entire morning and afternoon typing up a transcript of Earth in My Window. I tried taking a nap around 10 AM, but during the hour I was down, I had <5m of light sleep, the Zeo said. After I finished the transcript (~16,600 words with formatting), I was completely pooped and watched a bunch of Mobile Suit Gundam episodes, then I did Mnemosyne. The rest of the night was nothing to write home about either - some reading, movie watching, etc. Next time I will go back to split-doses and avoid typing up 110kB of text. On the positive side, this is the first trial I had available the average daily grade Mnemosyne 2.0 plugin. The daily averages all are 3-point-something (peaking at 3.89 and flooring at 3.59), so just graphing the past 2 weeks, the modafinil day, and recovery days: ▅█▅▆▄▆▄▃▅▄▁▄▄ ▁ ▂▄▄█. Not an impressive performance but there was a previous non-modafinil day just as bad, and I’m not too sure how important a metric this is; I must see whether future trials show similar underperformance. Nights: 11:29; 9:22; 8:25; 8:41.
People charged with doing simple tasks did not exhibit much of an increase in brain function after taking Modafinil, but their performance on complex and difficult tasks after taking the drug was significantly better than those who were given a placebo. This suggests that it may affect “higher cognitive functions—mainly executive functions but also attention and learning,” explains study co-author Ruairidh Battleday.
Your mileage will vary. There are so many parameters and interactions in the brain that any of them could be the bottleneck or responsible pathway, and one could fall prey to the common U-shaped dose-response curve (eg. Yerkes-Dodson law; see also Chemistry of the adaptive mind & de Jongh et al 2007) which may imply that the smartest are those who benefit least23 but ultimately they all cash out in a very few subjective assessments like energetic or motivated, with even apparently precise descriptions like working memory or verbal fluency not telling you much about what the nootropic actually did. It’s tempting to list the nootropics that worked for you and tell everyone to go use them, but that is merely generalizing from one example (and the more nootropics - or meditation styles, or self-help books, or getting things done systems - you try, the stronger the temptation is to evangelize). The best you can do is read all the testimonials and studies and use that to prioritize your list of nootropics to try. You don’t know in advance which ones will pay off and which will be wasted. You can’t know in advance. And wasted some must be; to coin a Umeshism: if all your experiments work, you’re just fooling yourself. (And the corollary - if someone else’s experiments always work, they’re not telling you everything.)
Jump up ^ Sattler, Sebastian; Forlini, Cynthia; Racine, Éric; Sauer, Carsten (August 5, 2013). "Impact of Contextual Factors and Substance Characteristics on Perspectives toward Cognitive Enhancement". PLOS ONE. PLOS. 8 (8): e71452. Bibcode:2013PLoSO...871452S. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071452. ISSN 1932-6203. LCCN 2006214532. OCLC 228234657. PMC 3733969. PMID 23940757. Retrieved April 5, 2014.