Omega-3 fatty acids—DHA in particular—contribute to a healthy brain. “The brain’s membranes use these fats to improve cellular structure and brain signaling, which translates into better cognitive function,” says Vasanti Malik, ScD, a research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. DHA also quells chronic inflammation that can harm brain cells and lead to cognitive decline.
Seriously. Every single thing you experience comes through your brain. It create the fabric of your reality, and by the same token, the energy your brain makes is what allows you to shape that reality. Work, relationships, success, happiness — everything depends on your brain, and building a stronger one will trigger upgrades that extend across every aspect of your life.
We can read off the results from the table or graph: the nicotine days average 1.1% higher, for an effect size of 0.24; however, the 95% credible interval (equivalent of confidence interval) goes all the way from 0.93 to -0.44, so we cannot exclude 0 effect and certainly not claim confidence the effect size must be >0.1. Specifically, the analysis gives a 66% chance that the effect size is >0.1. (One might wonder if any increase is due purely to a training effect - getting better at DNB. Probably not26.)
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.
A picture is worth a thousand words, particularly in this case where there seems to be temporal effects, different trends for the conditions, and general confusion. So, I drag up 2.5 years of MP data (for context), plot all the data, color by magnesium/non-magnesium, and fit different LOESS lines to each as a sort of smoothed average (since categorical data is hard to interpret as a bunch of dots), which yields:
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.
And without those precious nutrients, your brain will start to wither. In a recent Bulletproof Radio podcast episode [iTunes], I talked with neuroscientist Dale Bredesen about why neurodegeneration happens. One of the three most common causes of brain aging is a lack of specific brain nutrients (check out the episode to hear about the other two main causes of brain aging, and what you can do about them).
Taurine (Examine.com) was another gamble on my part, based mostly on its inclusion in energy drinks. I didn’t do as much research as I should have: it came as a shock to me when I read in Wikipedia that taurine has been shown to prevent oxidative stress induced by exercise and was an antioxidant - oxidative stress is a key part of how exercise creates health benefits and antioxidants inhibit those benefits.
Ampakines bind to AMPARs to block uptake of glutamate, thereby increasing synaptic responses, and this has indeed been shown to minimize the effects of conditions such as Alzheimer’s. Ampakines are also being studied as possible treatments for schizophrenia, depression, ADHD and more. But there is a huge risk associated with ampakine consumption. They are now tightly regulated because if you exceed a safe dosage, you will begin to suffer neuronal damage from glutamate toxicity, which leads to some of the very conditions that ampakines are thought to attenuate. Ampakine consumption can also lead to a decrease in long-term synaptic depression (LTD), a process by which specific synapses (the space between neurons across which information is sent) are intentionally weakened in order to avoid a plateau in the efficiency of your synapses. In other words, it allows your neurons and their connections to continue growing in efficiency. LTD is believed to be necessary for healthy synaptic plasticity (the adaptability of synapses), memory function and motor skills. To be honest, there is debate over whether cognitive functions like motor learning are truly dependent upon LTD, but it is possible that if you were to take a higher-than-recommended dose of an ampakine, the overstimulation that would result may lead to suppressed LTD and consequently to poor memory and motor function.
But while some studies have found short-term benefits, Doraiswamy says there is no evidence that what are commonly known as smart drugs — of any type — improve thinking or productivity over the long run. “There’s a sizable demand, but the hype around efficacy far exceeds available evidence,” notes Doraiswamy, adding that, for healthy young people such as Silicon Valley go-getters, “it’s a zero-sum game. That’s because when you up one circuit in the brain, you’re probably impairing another system.”
The real culprit at the heart of the problem may be impossible to regulate – the human desire to have a supercharged brain. For now, this wish is still largely relegated to the domain of fiction. Researchers point out that increasing the power of certain parts of the brain, such as areas responsible for learning and focus, would likely deprive other parts of the brain that are needed to live. Despite the appeal of a super-brain, a better goal is still to maintain a balanced brain and lifestyle.
A protein source linked to a great brain boost is fish -- rich in omega-3 fatty acids that are key for brain health. These healthy fats have amazing brain power: A diet with higher levels of them has been linked to lower dementia and stroke risks and slower mental decline; plus, they may play a vital role in enhancing memory, especially as we get older.
One reason I like modafinil is that it enhances dopamine release, but it binds to your dopamine receptors differently than addictive substances like cocaine and amphetamines do, which may be part of the reason modafinil shares many of the benefits of other stimulants but doesn’t cause addiction or withdrawal symptoms.   It does increase focus, problem-solving abilities, and wakefulness, but it is not in the same class of drugs as Adderall, and it is not a classical stimulant. Modafinil is off of patent, so you can get it generically, or order it from India. It’s a prescription drug, so you need to talk to a physician.
Some nootropics users are hopeful that the drugs could be permanently “neuroprotective”—in other words, that the compounds could slow down the neuronal aging process, and help avoid cognitive deterioration later in life. (For what it's worth, most of the users I spoke to said that didn't matter much to them. “I doubt anything I’ve tried has made me smarter in a long-term way,” Baker says. “That’s still science fiction.”)
I’m wary of others, though. The trouble with using a blanket term like “nootropics” is that you lump all kinds of substances in together. Technically, you could argue that caffeine and cocaine are both nootropics, but they’re hardly equal. With so many ways to enhance your brain function, many of which have significant risks, it’s most valuable to look at nootropics on a case-by-case basis. Here’s a list of 13 nootropics, along with my thoughts on each.
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.
At dose #9, I’ve decided to give up on kratom. It is possible that it is helping me in some way that careful testing (eg. dual n-back over weeks) would reveal, but I don’t have a strong belief that kratom would help me (I seem to benefit more from stimulants, and I’m not clear on how an opiate-bearer like kratom could stimulate me). So I have no reason to do careful testing. Oh well.
Forums including reddit.com/r/Nootropics/ have more than 140,000 subscribers discussing products with names like Orange Brainwash and GodMode. Nootropics are blends of ingredients touted as a low-risk way to enhance learning, memory, motivation, and even serenity. These ingredients range from herbs such as water hyssop (Bacopa monnieri) and arctic root to chemicals such as vinpocetine.
For example, prenatal exposure to pthalates, which are chemical compounds that are commonly added to plastics to increase their durability and flexibility, have been linked tobehavioural abnormalities characterised by shortened attention span and impaired social interaction. Pthalates are an extensive group of chemicals, and whilst not all of them have been studied, several have shown to have negative health impacts. This class of chemicals is found abundantly and can find they can find their way into food packaging, cosmetics and household cleaners - making them virtually impossible to avoid. However, a growing awareness about the potential negative impact on health has led to the production of pthalate-free cosmetic and personal care products, as well as cleaning products. It may, therefore, be a significant step to try to avoid these chemicals by choosing products wisely, as well as trying to buy vegetables, fruit etc that haven’t been wrapped in plastic.
Last winter, I spoke again with Alex, the Harvard graduate, and found that, after a break of several months, he had gone back to taking Adderall - a small dose every day. He felt that he was learning to use the drug in a more "disciplined" manner. Now, he said, it was less about staying up late to finish work he should have done earlier, and more "about staying focused on work, which makes me want to work longer hours". What employer would object to that?
If this is the case, this suggests some thoughtfulness about my use of nicotine: there are times when use of nicotine will not be helpful, but times where it will be helpful. I don’t know what makes the difference, but I can guess it relates to over-stimulation: on some nights during the experiment, I had difficult concentrating on n-backing because it was boring and I was thinking about the other things I was interested in or working on - in retrospect, I wonder if those instances were nicotine nights.
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.
Similarly, Mehta et al 2000 noted that the positive effects of methylphenidate (40 mg) on spatial working memory performance were greatest in those volunteers with lower baseline working memory capacity. In a study of the effects of ginkgo biloba in healthy young adults, Stough et al 2001 found improved performance in the Trail-Making Test A only in the half with the lower verbal IQ.
The beauty of this stack is that nature has already given us a perfectly packaged combination of caffeine and theanine in the form of green tea, whether a cup of green tea, a bowl of matcha tea, or even a green tea extract supplement as a substitute for a cup of coffee. This is an especially convenient stack to use during a time when you don’t want the excess stimulation of coffee or caffeine in isolation, such as during an evening dinner at a restaurant or in the latter stages of a workday when a cup of coffee might keep you awake too late into the night.
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)
Brain consumption can result in contracting fatal transmissible spongiform encephalopathies such as Variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease and other prion diseases in humans and mad cow disease in cattle. Another prion disease called kuru has been traced to a funerary ritual among the Fore people of Papua New Guinea in which those close to the dead would eat the brain of the deceased to create a sense of immortality.
Dr. Mosconi: I love apples. When I’m at the office though, I’ll bring homemade trail mix [made with] higher quality dried fruit, nuts and seeds. [It's] packed with brain-essential nutrients that come from goji berries, Brazil nuts, walnuts, cacao nibs, pistachios, hemp hearts and more. Plus, I drink plenty of rose water throughout the day, which is very anti-inflammatory.
…Phenethylamine is intrinsically a stimulant, although it doesn’t last long enough to express this property. In other words, it is rapidly and completely destroyed in the human body. It is only when a number of substituent groups are placed here or there on the molecule that this metabolic fate is avoided and pharmacological activity becomes apparent.
More than once I have seen results indicating that high-IQ types benefit the least from random nootropics; nutritional deficits are the premier example, because high-IQ types almost by definition suffer from no major deficiencies like iodine. But a stimulant modafinil may be another such nootropic (see Cognitive effects of modafinil in student volunteers may depend on IQ, Randall et al 2005), which mentions:
Nootrobox co-founder Geoffrey Woo declines a caffeinated drink in favour of a capsule of his newest product when I meet him in a San Francisco coffee shop. The entire industry has a “wild west” aura about it, he tells me, and Nootrobox wants to fix it by pushing for “smarter regulation” so safe and effective drugs that are currently unclassified can be brought into the fold. Predictably, both companies stress the higher goal of pushing forward human cognition. “I am trying to make a smarter, better populace to solve all the problems we have created,” says Nootroo founder Eric Matzner.
The nootropics community is surprisingly large and involved. When I wade into forums and the nootropics subreddit, I find members trading stack recipes and notifying each other of newly synthesized compounds. Some of these “psychonauts” seem like they’ve studied neuroscience; others appear to be novices dipping their toes into the world of cognitive enhancement. But all of them have the same goal: amplifying the brain’s existing capabilities without screwing anything up too badly. It’s the same impulse that grips bodybuilders—the feeling that with small chemical tweaks and some training, we can squeeze more utility out of the body parts we have. As Taylor Hatmaker of the Daily Dot recently wrote, “Together, these faceless armchair scientists seek a common truth—a clean, unharmful way to make their brains better—enforcing their own self-imposed safety parameters and painstakingly precise methods, all while publishing their knowledge for free, in plain text, to relatively crude, shared databases."
As it happened, Health Supplement Wholesalers (since renamed Powder City) offered me a sample of their products, including their 5g Noopept powder ($13). I’d never used HSW before & they had some issues in the past; but I haven’t seen any recent complaints, so I was willing to try them. My 5g from batch #130830 arrived quickly (photos: packaging, powder contents). I tried some (tastes just slightly unpleasant, like an ultra-weak piracetam), and I set about capping the fluffy white flour-like powder with the hilariously tiny scoop they provide.
Maca root has been used by indigenous people groups in South America for thousands of years. It’s part of the mustard family found primarily in Andean regions and some of its primary uses include improving sexual function, memory and learning as well as reducing the effects of osteoporosis. The standard effective dose ranges from 1,500 to 3,000 mg.
Before taking any supplement or chemical, people want to know if there will be long term effects or consequences, When Dr. Corneliu Giurgea first authored the term “nootropics” in 1972, he also outlined the characteristics that define nootropics. Besides the ability to benefit memory and support the cognitive processes, Dr. Giurgea believed that nootropics should be safe and non-toxic.