These days, nootropics are beginning to take their rightful place as a particularly powerful tool in the Neurohacker’s toolbox. After all, biochemistry is deeply foundational to neural function. Whether you are trying to fix the damage that is done to your nervous system by a stressful and toxic environment or support and enhance your neural functioning, getting the chemistry right is table-stakes. And we are starting to get good at getting it right. What’s changed?
It’s a frosty Monday evening in March, but in the back of Idea Coffee, a dingy café near the Empire State Building, things are heating up. A group huddles around a small black box—the $160 ApeX Type A brain stimulator, with its retro-looking meter and dial and two electrodes. It’s supposed to bolster learning by delivering a mild electric current to the brain. The guy who’s been experimenting with it for a week notes that the only thing he’s noticed so far is a metallic taste in his mouth.
Pyritinol: Pyritinol has anti-oxidant effects for supporting the long-term health of the brain. But its primary benefit is aiding glucose uptake for periods of extended mental strain. If you are studying or working for a long period of time, your brain will start to diminish its glucose (sugar) stores which are the primary way that the brain derives its energy.
Pop this pill and improve your memory. Swallow that one and reduce your cognitive decline. We see ads for such products all the time and I suspect they will increase as the baby boomers reach senior citizenhood. The most popular brain boosting supplements are fish oil pills and they are also probably the best studied ones. The results are not encouraging. When all the studies are pooled, we are left with the possibility of a barely significant improvement in recalling lists of words soon after they have been learned, but the effect does not last. Extracts of the ginkgo biloba tree are also popular, and here the prospects are even dimmer. There is no impact on memory, despite claims of increased circulation in the brain. And ginkgo can interfere with the action of anticoagulants and has also been shown to be an animal carcinogen.
The BoredAt websites - which allow college students to chat idly while they're ostensibly studying - are filled with messages about Adderall. Posts like these, from the BoredAtPenn site, are typical: "I have some Adderall - I'm sitting by room 101.10 in a grey shirt and headphones"; "I have Adderall for sale 20mg for $15"; "I took Adderall at 8pm, it's 6:30am and I've barely blinked." On the Columbia site one poster complains that her friends take Adderall "like candy", adding: "I don't want to be at a disadvantage to everyone else. Is it really that dangerous? My grades weren't that great this year and I could do with a bump." A Columbia student responds: "It's probably not a good idea if you're not prescribed", but offers practical advice anyway: "Keep the dose normal and don't grind them up or snort them." Occasional dissenters ("I think there should be random drug testing at every exam") are drowned out by testimonials like this one, from the BoredAtHarvard site: "I don't want to be a pusher or start people on something bad, but Adderall is amazing."
Chocolate or cocoa powder (Examine.com), contains the stimulants caffeine and the caffeine metabolite theobromine, so it’s not necessarily surprising if cocoa powder was a weak stimulant. It’s also a witch’s brew of chemicals such as polyphenols and flavonoids some of which have been fingered as helpful10, which all adds up to an unclear impact on health (once you control for eating a lot of sugar).
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The low-carb & high-fat diet (includes keto-diet) are not good for you because the brain needs glucose for fuel. It can burn fat. But, the brain’s preferred energy source is glucose. The key is to provide the brain with glucose without raising glucose/serum blood level. You do that by avoiding sugar and eating complex carbohydrates (fresh produce) that convert into glucose.
Including comprehensive lists of what to eat and what to avoid, a detailed quiz that will tell you where you are on the brain health spectrum, and 24 mouth-watering brain-boosting recipes that grow out of Dr. Mosconi's own childhood in Italy, Brain Food gives us the ultimate plan for a healthy brain. Brain Food will appeal to anyone looking to improve memory, prevent cognitive decline, eliminate brain fog, lift depression, or just sharpen their edge.
It’s that time of the year again. It’s Blue Monday. We’re halfway into January, trudging through the deepest and darkest of the winter months, as we try to keep our heads high after the Christmas festivities with the motivation of our New Year’s resolutions. Some of you may have never heard of Blue Monday and let’s just say you’re not exactly missing out.
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:
This research is in contrast to the other substances I like, such as piracetam or fish oil. I knew about withdrawal of course, but it was not so bad when I was drinking only tea. And the side-effects like jitteriness are worse on caffeine without tea; I chalk this up to the lack of theanine. (My later experiences with theanine seems to confirm this.) These negative effects mean that caffeine doesn’t satisfy the strictest definition of nootropic (having no negative effects), but is merely a cognitive enhancer (with both benefits & costs). One might wonder why I use caffeine anyway if I am so concerned with mental ability.
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.
I’ve been taking nootropics on and off for a month, and despite my spurts of productivity, I’m still not 100 percent sure that they’re working. I could well be placebo-ing myself into thinking I'm working harder and focusing better than I typically do. But apparently enough people are feeling some effect, placebo or not, because nootropics start-ups are thriving. There’s truBrain, Nootrobrain, Nootroo, and a host of others. Nootrobox, the company that makes my pills, says that it’s selling "five figures" worth of cognitive supplements monthly to customers that include top Silicon Valley executives and Hollywood moguls.
After we had ordered beers he said: "One of the most impressive features of being a student is how aware you are of a 24-hour work cycle. When you conceive of what you have to do for school, it's not in terms of nine to five but in terms of what you can physically do in a week while still achieving a variety of goals - social, romantic, extracurricular, CV-building, academic."
It doesn't take a neuroscientist with a degree in nutrition to get that diet can affect the brain. It does take a neuroscientist with a degree in nutrition to provide such a smart research-driven analysis of how and to what extent. Brain Food is based on the work of literally hundreds of scientists and provides a dietary roadmap to enhanced cognitive power. That Dr. Mosconi's book is also fully accessible to a layperson makes this a true must read. (Bonus: Chapter 16 is a mini-cookbook with "brain boosting" recipes including several that are kid-friendly.)
Is lifestyle truly important, though? According to Dr. Lisa, "genes load the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger." As someone who grew up very aware of my genetic predisposition (diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, breast cancer — you name it and someone in my family has it), I always thought that this weighed heavily on whether or not someone manifests an illness. But, groundbreaking research on epigenetics actually states the contrary.
A recent study at the University of Innsbruck in Austria found that participants that drank two cups of coffee per day improved memory, reaction time, and neuron signaling, more than the control. More notably, the 676 daily coffee drinker participants experienced less mental decline than nondrinkers over a ten-year period. In other words, bottoms up on your cup of Joe!
That left me with 329 days of data. The results are that (correcting for the magnesium citrate self-experiment I was running during the time period which did not turn out too great) days on which I happened to use my LED device for LLLT were much better than regular days. Below is a graph showing the entire MP dataseries with LOESS-smoothed lines showing LLLT vs non-LLLT days:
Recently I spoke on the phone with Barbara Sahakian, a clinical neuropsychologist at Cambridge University and the co-author of a 2007 article in Nature entitled "Professor's Little Helper". Sahakian, who also consults for several pharmaceutical companies, and her co-author, Sharon Morein-Zamir, reported that a number of their colleagues were using prescription drugs like Adderall and Provigil. Because the drugs are easy to buy online, they wrote, it would be difficult to stop their spread: "The drive for self-enhancement of cognition is likely to be as strong if not stronger than in the realms of 'enhancement' of beauty and sexual function." (In places like Cambridge, at least.)
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:
Not all drug users are searching for a chemical escape hatch. A newer and increasingly normalized drug culture is all about heightening one’s current relationship to reality—whether at work or school—by boosting the brain’s ability to think under stress, stay alert and productive for long hours, and keep track of large amounts of information. In the name of becoming sharper traders, medical interns, or coders, people are taking pills typically prescribed for conditions including ADHD, narcolepsy, and Alzheimer’s. Others down “stacks” of special “nootropic” supplements.
The available literature on cognitive enhancing practices at times appears to lump together nootropics and “smart drugs.” Smart drugs are not officially defined, but references to this group generally include Provigil (modafinil), Adderall and Ritalin. Any confusion about the addiction potential of different brain-enhancing drugs can spread misinformation about the individual drugs. There are many nootropics on the market, so the best practice is to focus on the addiction potential of each nootropic of interest or concern.
I am sort of a health nut. I only use natural medicines- never prescriptions. Lately I have been experiencing some brain fog in spite of my detoxing, so I tried this product. I LOVE IT! I really can tell a difference. I have tried many memory and brain support supplements before, but this one seems quite different. I love the daytime and separate night time formulas. I have never slept so soundly in my life. In fact, I've always had a lot of trouble sleeping, but I sleep like a baby and wake feeling refreshed and full of energy.
I took the first pill at 12:48 pm. 1:18, still nothing really - head is a little foggy if anything. later noticed a steady sort of mental energy lasting for hours (got a good deal of reading and programming done) until my midnight walk, when I still felt alert, and had trouble sleeping. (Zeo reported a ZQ of 100, but a full 18 minutes awake, 2 or 3 times the usual amount.)
70 pairs is 140 blocks; we can drop to 36 pairs or 72 blocks if we accept a power of 0.5/50% chance of reaching significance. (Or we could economize by hoping that the effect size is not 3.5 but maybe twice the pessimistic guess; a d=0.5 at 50% power requires only 12 pairs of 24 blocks.) 70 pairs of blocks of 2 weeks, with 2 pills a day requires (70 \times 2) \times (2 \times 7) \times 2 = 3920 pills. I don’t even have that many empty pills! I have <500; 500 would supply 250 days, which would yield 18 2-week blocks which could give 9 pairs. 9 pairs would give me a power of:
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.
Get plenty of sleep. It can be a real challenge to get seven to nine hours of restful sleep each night with a busy fulltime work schedule, but rest is essential to optimum brain functioning! A healthy nootropic pill can help to clear up brain fog and sharpen your concentration, but it cannot work miracles. If you are trying to power through on four to five hours of sleep each night, nothing is going to cut it.
Siberian Ginseng: Also known as Eleutherococcus senticosus, this herb is native to Russia, China, Japan and other areas of east Asia. There is not a lot of western research backing Siberian Ginseng as a nootropic yet, but the supplement has been used in traditional medicine in the Far East for quite some time. Plenty of anecdotal evidence backs it up as an excellent memory and attention enhancer.
Maddy Heeszel is a 20-something-year-old from Central California. She is a 4.0 GPA graduate from Brandman University with a B.A. in Liberal Studies, Multiple Subjects Teaching. Maddy works full-time as a freelance writer and social media marketer. She also owns a plant nursery. In her spare time, Maddy enjoys cooking, gardening, watching prank videos on YouTube, playing video games, learning new languages, and taking pictures. She also has interests in health, psychology, and nutrition. You can connect with her on Linkedin.
However, anthropology suggests that paleolithic diets were dependent of where people lived. Close to shores, they ate more fish; within the forest they ate plants; in areas with herbivores they ate more meat. Also, humans ate grains millions of years before the agricultural revolution. And, we can digest those just fine because of an enzyme earmarked to digest grains (amylase). So, paleolithic diets were as varied as they are today.
Farah told me: "These drugs will definitely help some technically normal people - that is, people who don't meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD or any kind of cognitive impairment." But, she emphasised, "They will help people in the lower end of the ability range more than in the higher end." One explanation for this phenomenon might be that the more adept you are at a given task, the less room you have to improve. Farah has a hunch that there may be another reason that existing drugs - so far, at least - don't offer as much help to people with greater intellectual abilities. Drugs like Ritalin and Adderall work in part by elevating the amount of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is something you want just enough of: too little, and you may not be as alert and motivated as you need to be; too much, and you may feel overstimulated. Neuroscientists have discovered that some people have a gene that leads the brain to break down dopamine faster, leaving less of it available; such people are generally a little worse at certain cognitive tasks. People with more available dopamine are generally somewhat better at the same tasks. It makes sense, then, that people with naturally low dopamine would benefit more from an artificial boost.
Sure, you could certainly swallow too much St. John’s Wort and create the same type of serotonin or neurotransmitter issues you could create with a synthetic smart drug, but it’s far more difficult to harm yourself with a nootropic compared to a synthetic smart drug. Although synthetic, laboratory-designed nootropics do indeed exist, even those are not as harsh on the biology as a smart drug and have a mechanism of action that is a bit more natural. Let’s begin with the more natural nootropics.
Participants (n=205) [young adults aged 18-30 years] were recruited between July 2010 and January 2011, and were randomized to receive either a daily 150 µg (0.15mg) iodine supplement or daily placebo supplement for 32 weeks…After adjusting for baseline cognitive test score, examiner, age, sex, income, and ethnicity, iodine supplementation did not significantly predict 32 week cognitive test scores for Block Design (p=0.385), Digit Span Backward (p=0.474), Matrix Reasoning (p=0.885), Symbol Search (p=0.844), Visual Puzzles (p=0.675), Coding (p=0.858), and Letter-Number Sequencing (p=0.408).
Its high levels of collagen help reduce intestinal inflammation, and healing amino acids like proline and glycine keep your immune system functioning properly and help improve memory. Bone broth is what I prescribe most frequently to my patients because it truly helps heal your body from the inside out. You’ll also be surprised at how simple and economical it is to make at home with my Beef Bone Broth Recipe.
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.
I have no particularly compelling story for why this might be a correlation and not causation. It could be placebo, but I wasn’t expecting that. It could be selection effect (days on which I bothered to use the annoying LED set are better days) but then I’d expect the off-days to be below-average and compared to the 2 years of trendline before, there doesn’t seem like much of a fall.