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.
A key area that has been widely researched is the link between the microbiome (bacteria) in the gut and the brain. The hypothesis is that alterations in bacteria due to changes in our environment such as increased hygiene, increased exposure to antibiotics, refined and processed foods and stress have led to disturbances in short-chain fatty acids (SFCAs), which are byproducts of fermentation in the gut when bacteria come into contact with indigestible fibre found in food.
Avocados. Avocados are almost as good as blueberries in promoting brain health, says Pratt. "I don't think the avocado gets its due," agrees Kulze. True, the avocado is a fatty fruit, but, says Kulze, it's a monounsaturated fat, which contributes to healthy blood flow. "And healthy blood flow means a healthy brain," she says. Avocados also lower blood pressure, says Pratt, and as hypertension is a risk factor for the decline in cognitive abilities, a lower blood pressure should promote brain health. Avocados are high in calories, however, so Kulze suggests adding just 1/4 to 1/2 of an avocado to one daily meal as a side dish.
(As I was doing this, I reflected how modafinil is such a pure example of the money-time tradeoff. It’s not that you pay someone else to do something for you, which necessarily they will do in a way different from you; nor is it that you have exchanged money to free yourself of a burden of some future time-investment; nor have you paid money for a speculative return of time later in life like with many medical expenses or supplements. Rather, you have paid for 8 hours today of your own time.)
Walnuts are chock-full of heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory nutrients, and are the only good nut source of alpha linolenic acid (ALA), HuffPost Healthy Living earlier reported. That means they help promote blood flow, which in turn allows for efficient delivery of oxygen to the brain. And research presented at the 2010 International Conference on Alzheimer's found that mice with the disease who were regularly fed walnuts had improved memory, learning and motor skill coordination, according to MyHealthNewsDaily.
Not long ago I met Anjan Chatterjee, a neurologist at the University of Pennsylvania, in his office at the labyrinthine Penn hospital complex. Chatterjee's main research interests are in subjects like the neurological basis of spatial understanding, but in the past few years, as he has heard more about students taking cognitive enhancers, he has begun writing about the ethical implications of such behaviour. In 2004 he coined the term "cosmetic neurology" to describe the practice of using drugs developed for recognised medical conditions to strengthen ordinary cognition. Chatterjee worries about cosmetic neurology, but he thinks that it will eventually become as acceptable as cosmetic surgery; in fact with neuroenhancement it's harder to argue that it's frivolous. As he notes in a 2007 paper: "Many sectors of society have winner-take-all conditions in which small advantages produce disproportionate rewards." At school and at work, the usefulness of being "smarter", needing less sleep and learning more quickly is "abundantly clear". In the near future, he predicts, some neurologists will refashion themselves as "quality-of-life consultants" whose role will be "to provide information while abrogating final responsibility for these decisions to patients". The demand is certainly there: from an ageing population that won't put up with memory loss; from overwrought parents bent on giving their children every possible edge; from anxious employees in an efficiency-obsessed, BlackBerry-equipped office culture where work never really ends.
By analyzing the brain images, the team found that these patients, compared with people who weren’t susceptible to the placebo, had a difference in volume between the right and left sides of the limbic system in the brain, which is involved in instinct and mood. There were also differences in the number of nerve cell connections between the prefrontal cortex and other brain areas. Personality questionnaires revealed that these people had a higher self-awareness and openness than nonresponders.
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.
Somewhat ironically given the stereotypes, while I was in college I dabbled very little in nootropics, sticking to melatonin and tea. Since then I have come to find nootropics useful, and intellectually interesting: they shed light on issues in philosophy of biology & evolution, argue against naive psychological dualism and for materialism, offer cases in point on the history of technology & civilization or recent psychology theories about addiction & willpower, challenge our understanding of the validity of statistics and psychology - where they don’t offer nifty little problems in statistics and economics themselves, and are excellent fodder for the young Quantified Self movement4; modafinil itself demonstrates the little-known fact that sleep has no accepted evolutionary explanation. (The hard drugs also have more ramifications than one might expect: how can one understand the history of Southeast Asia and the Vietnamese War without reference to heroin, or more contemporaneously, how can one understand the lasting appeal of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the unpopularity & corruption of the central government without reference to the Taliban’s frequent anti-drug campaigns or the drug-funded warlords of the Northern Alliance?)
I took 1.5mg of melatonin, and went to bed at ~1:30AM; I woke up around 6:30, took a modafinil pill/200mg, and felt pretty reasonable. By noon my mind started to feel a bit fuzzy, and lunch didn’t make much of it go away. I’ve been looking at studies, and users seem to degrade after 30 hours; I started on mid-Thursday, so call that 10 hours, then 24 (Friday), 24 (Saturday), and 14 (Sunday), totaling 72hrs with <20hrs sleep; this might be equivalent to 52hrs with no sleep, and Wikipedia writes:
Power times prior times benefit minus cost of experimentation: (0.20 \times 0.30 \times 540) - 41 = -9. So the VoI is negative: because my default is that fish oil works and I am taking it, weak information that it doesn’t work isn’t enough. If the power calculation were giving us 40% reliable information, then the chance of learning I should drop fish oil is improved enough to make the experiment worthwhile (going from 20% to 40% switches the value from -$9 to +$23.8).
My first time was relatively short: 10 minutes around the F3/F4 points, with another 5 minutes to the forehead. Awkward holding it up against one’s head, and I see why people talk of LED helmets, it’s boring waiting. No initial impressions except maybe feeling a bit mentally cloudy, but that goes away within 20 minutes of finishing when I took a nap outside in the sunlight. Lostfalco says Expectations: You will be tired after the first time for 2 to 24 hours. It’s perfectly normal., but I’m not sure - my dog woke me up very early and disturbed my sleep, so maybe that’s why I felt suddenly tired. On the second day, I escalated to 30 minutes on the forehead, and tried an hour on my finger joints. No particular observations except less tiredness than before and perhaps less joint ache. Third day: skipped forehead stimulation, exclusively knee & ankle. Fourth day: forehead at various spots for 30 minutes; tiredness 5/6/7/8th day (11/12/13/4): skipped. Ninth: forehead, 20 minutes. No noticeable effects.
(If I am not deficient, then supplementation ought to have no effect.) The previous material on modern trends suggests a prior >25%, and higher than that if I were female. However, I was raised on a low-salt diet because my father has high blood pressure, and while I like seafood, I doubt I eat it more often than weekly. I suspect I am somewhat iodine-deficient, although I don’t believe as confidently as I did that I had a vitamin D deficiency. Let’s call this one 75%.
The blood half-life is 12-36 hours; hence two or three days ought to be enough to build up and wash out. A week-long block is reasonable since that gives 5 days for effects to manifest, although month-long blocks would not be a bad choice either. (I prefer blocks which fit in round periods because it makes self-experiments easier to run if the blocks fit in normal time-cycles like day/week/month. The most useless self-experiment is the one abandoned halfway.)
Caffeine, Tulsi and Astragalus: Tulsi is one of the greatest calming adaptogens that exists, trusted and revered for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine and culture. Tulsi has been researched and shown to uplift mood, support digestion, and promote balanced energy. Because it’s also an anxiolytic (causes anti-anxiety effects) tulsi, similar to coffee with L-theanine, does a good job balancing out any over-stimulating effects of the caffeine in coffee. But you can also take things one step further and blend in astragalus, which, in Chinese medicine, is considered a “strong” Ki invigorating herb that provides a stable source of non-crashing energy. Astragalus also contains an enormous variety of saponins, flavonoids, and polysaccharides, and is considered to be a “longevity adaptogen”. Pairing with antioxidant-rich coffee and tulsi produces a match made in longevity heaven. For this blend, which I often use if drinking coffee in the afternoon, I’m a fan of the Four Sigmatic Adaptogen Blend, which contains coffee, astragalus, tulsi and cinnamon.
We started hearing the buzz when Daytime TV Doctors, started touting these new pills that improve concentration, memory recall, focus, mental clarity and energy. And though we love the good Doctor and his purple gloves, we don’t love the droves of hucksters who prey on his loyal viewers trying to make a quick buck, often selling low-grade versions of his medical discoveries.
Second, users are concerned with the possibility of withdrawal if they stop taking the nootropics. They worry that if they stop taking nootropics they won’t be as smart as when they were taking nootropics, and will need to continue taking them to function. Some users report feeling a slight brain fog when discontinuing nootropics, but that isn’t a sign of regression.
One of the other suggested benefits is for boosting serotonin levels; low levels of serotonin are implicated in a number of issues like depression. I’m not yet sure whether tryptophan has helped with motivation or happiness. Trial and error has taught me that it’s a bad idea to take tryptophan in the morning or afternoon, however, even smaller quantities like 0.25g. Like melatonin, the dose-response curve is a U: ~1g is great and induces multiple vivid dreams for me, but ~1.5g leads to an awful night and a headache the next day that was worse, if anything, than melatonin. (One morning I woke up with traces of at least 7 dreams, although I managed to write down only 2. No lucid dreams, though.)
Adderall, a stimulant composed of mixed amphetamine salts, is commonly prescribed for children and adults who have been given a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But in recent years Adderall and Ritalin, another stimulant, have been adopted as cognitive enhancers: drugs that high-functioning, overcommitted people take to become higher-functioning and more overcommitted. (Such use is "off label", meaning that it does not have the approval of either the drug's manufacturer or the FDA, America's Food and Drug Administration.) College campuses have become laboratories for experimentation with neuroenhancement, and Alex was an ingenious experimenter. His brother had received a diagnosis of ADHD, and in his first year as an undergraduate Alex obtained an Adderall prescription for himself by describing to a doctor symptoms that he knew were typical of the disorder. During his college years, Alex took 15mg of Adderall most evenings, usually after dinner, guaranteeing that he would maintain intense focus while losing "any ability to sleep for approximately eight to 10 hours". In his second year, he persuaded the doctor to add a 30mg "extended-release" capsule to his daily regime.
The hormone testosterone (Examine.com; FDA adverse events) needs no introduction. This is one of the scariest substances I have considered using: it affects so many bodily systems in so many ways that it seems almost impossible to come up with a net summary, either positive or negative. With testosterone, the problem is not the usual nootropics problem that that there is a lack of human research, the problem is that the summary constitutes a textbook - or two. That said, the 2011 review The role of testosterone in social interaction (excerpts) gives me the impression that testosterone does indeed play into risk-taking, motivation, and social status-seeking; some useful links and a representative anecdote:
The truth is that, almost 20 years ago when my brain was failing and I was fat and tired, I did not know to follow this advice. I bought $1000 worth of smart drugs from Europe, took them all at once out of desperation, and got enough cognitive function to save my career and tackle my metabolic problems. With the information we have now, you don’t need to do that. Please learn from my mistakes!
[…] The 7 Best Brain Boosting Supplements | Live in the Now … – Natural Health Recipes » Top 12 supplements for brain on October 18, 2012 at 7:37 AM … Gingko Biloba, Phosphatidyl Serine and Coenzyme Q10. Opt for the best brain supplements and stay fit with an active brain. You should be very careful while choosing the right supplement […] Reply. […]
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.
*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.
The reality is that cognitive impairment and dementia are also on the rise, and sometimes symptoms of forgetfulness and confusion are not so innocuous. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, someone in the United States is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease every 66 seconds. By the middle of this century, that is expected to grow to every 33 seconds.
Jesper Noehr, 30, reels off the ingredients in the chemical cocktail he’s been taking every day before work for the past six months. It’s a mixture of exotic dietary supplements and research chemicals that he says gives him an edge in his job without ill effects: better memory, more clarity and focus and enhanced problem-solving abilities. “I can keep a lot of things on my mind at once,” says Noehr, who is chief technology officer for a San Francisco startup.
Provigil may well confer a temporary advantage on healthy people, but this doesn't mean that it's ready to replace your morning espresso. Anjan Chatterjee told me that there "just aren't enough studies of these drugs in normal people". One study, published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests that Provigil can be habit-forming. A group led by Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, scanned the brains of 10 men after they had been given a placebo, and also after they had been given a dose of modafinil. The modafinil appeared to lead to an increase in the brain chemical dopamine. "Because drugs that increase dopamine have the potential for abuse," Volkow's report concluded, "these results suggest that risk for addiction in vulnerable persons merits heightened awareness." (Cephalon, in a response to the report, notes that Provigil's label urges physicians to monitor patients closely, especially those with a history of drug abuse.) On the website Erowid, where people vividly and anonymously report their experiences with legal and illegal drugs, some modafinil users have described a dependency on the drug. One man, who identified himself as a former biochemistry student, said that he had succeeded in kicking cocaine and opiate habits but couldn't stop using modafinil. Whenever he ran out of the drug, he said, "I start to freak out." After "four to five days" without it, "the head fog starts to come back".
A constituent of the turmeric spice, curcumin was first discovered for its brain health benefits when epidemiological studies revealed those in regions with a high consumption of the curry spice turmeric had fewer reported cases of cognitive diseases. It is theorized that the unmatched anti-inflammatory power of curcumin, in combination with its unique antioxidant make-up, inhibits the formation of amyloid build up in the brain.
A Romanian psychologist and chemist named Corneliu Giurgea started using the word nootropic in the 1970s to refer to substances that improve brain function, but humans have always gravitated toward foods and chemicals that make us feel sharper, quicker, happier, and more content. Our brains use about 20 percent of our energy when our bodies are at rest (compared with 8 percent for apes), according to National Geographic, so our thinking ability is directly affected by the calories we’re taking in as well as by the nutrients in the foods we eat. Here are the nootropics we don’t even realize we’re using, and an expert take on how they work.
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.