Looking at the prices, the overwhelming expense is for modafinil. It’s a powerful stimulant - possibly the single most effective ingredient in the list - but dang expensive. Worse, there’s anecdotal evidence that one can develop tolerance to modafinil, so we might be wasting a great deal of money on it. (And for me, modafinil isn’t even very useful in the daytime: I can’t even notice it.) If we drop it, the cost drops by a full $800 from $1761 to $961 (almost halving) and to $0.96 per day. A remarkable difference, and if one were genetically insensitive to modafinil, one would definitely want to remove it.
As professionals and aging baby boomers alike become more interested in enhancing their own brain power (either to achieve more in a workday or to stave off cognitive decline), a huge market has sprung up for nonprescription nootropic supplements. These products don’t convince Sahakian: “As a clinician scientist, I am interested in evidence-based cognitive enhancement,” she says. “Many companies produce supplements, but few, if any, have double-blind, placebo-controlled studies to show that these supplements are cognitive enhancers.” Plus, supplements aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so consumers don’t have that assurance as to exactly what they are getting. Check out these 15 memory exercises proven to keep your brain sharp.
During pregnancy and after pregnancy there is often a concern for the potential depletion of the maternal nutrient reservoir due to the needs of the growing foetus. A nutrient that is particularly important for mental wellbeing and is also essential for the growth of the foetus’s brain, is DHA. This is an omega 3 fatty acid that is found in oily fish and is the primary structural component of brain tissue, as well as playing a crucial role in the maintenance of brain cells and neurotransmitter metabolism (our body can also convert plant sources of omegas 3’s into DHA, such as those found in flaxseeds or chia seeds into DHA, but the conversion can often very poor). Deficiency in this nutrient during pregnancy is common, namely because of lack of seafood intake (the most bioavailable source of DHA) due to poor eating habits and concerns of mercury levels in fish during pregnancy, as well as higher requirements during foetal growth, which can lead to depletion. Due to the role that DHA plays in neurotransmitter metabolism, deficiency in this nutrient has been correlated to symptoms of depression during pregnancy (7). In order, to support your intake of omega 3, aim to have 3 portions of oily fish a week from sources that are low in mercury. These are mainly small fish that have a short life-span such as sardines, mackerel and herring. If you are vegetarian or vegan, although omega 3 is less readily available, it is still possible to get this nutrient from your diet through flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts and seaweed. If you feel you may not be getting enough through your diet, you may want to consider using a good quality fish oil supplement (or algae based supplement if vegan) as an option. With fish oils, aim to choose a supplement that has been filtered for heavy metals and other pollutants to make sure you're getting the full benefits of the omega 3 oils.
The drug methylphenidate is marketed as the brand Ritalin and used to treat children and adults with ADHD. As of 2011, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 percent of Americans aged 4-17 were diagnosed with ADHD. The high number of people diagnosed with ADHD means that there is a vast amount of prescription drugs to treat this condition in medicine cabinets across the US. Ultimately, some of these drugs get diverted into the hands of non-prescribed users, such as college students who believe they may be able to improve their studying and performance on exams by taking these drugs.
But according to Professor David Weinshenker of Emory University, most people who take Provigil do not report euphoria or even a level of stimulation close to the effects of caffeine. For Weinshenker, the addiction potential of Provigil is limited, and it’s used in various treatment contexts. Provigil may be an effective medication therapy for depression, ADHD, autism and other disorders.
Creatine is stored as phosphocreatine, which acts as a high-energy reserve. Phosphocreatine decreases rapidly during brain activity. Supplementing with creatine (2 grams per day for 1 month) increased average brain creatine by 9.7%. It acts as an energy source for the brain to focus on learning tasks, as well as an energy source for storing memories.
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.
Bacopa is a supplement herb often used for memory or stress adaptation. Its chronic effects reportedly take many weeks to manifest, with no important acute effects. Out of curiosity, I bought 2 bottles of Bacognize Bacopa pills and ran a non-randomized non-blinded ABABA quasi-self-experiment from June 2014 to September 2015, measuring effects on my memory performance, sleep, and daily self-ratings of mood/productivity. Because of the very slow onset, small effective sample size, definite temporal trends probably unrelated to Bacopa, and noise in the variables, the results were as expected, ambiguous, and do not strongly support any correlation between Bacopa and memory/sleep/self-rating (+/-/- respectively).
As far as anxiety goes, psychiatrist Emily Deans has an overview of why the Kiecolt-Glaser et al 2011 study is nice; she also discusses why fish oil seems like a good idea from an evolutionary perspective. There was also a weaker earlier 2005 study also using healthy young people, which showed reduced anger/anxiety/depression plus slightly faster reactions. The anti-stress/anxiolytic may be related to the possible cardiovascular benefits (Carter et al 2013).
Your memory may decline with age and high-stress lifestyle. In this post, we cover supplements and nootropics that help improve memory, with the mechanisms. If you’re interested in cognitive enhancement that my clients and I have used for awesome results you should check out our book, SelfHacked Secrets. To receive the first chapter free click here.
Sun: This is a day I devote to spiritual disciplines and deep personal exploration, along with a hefty dose of neurogenesis, and for a day such as this, I’ll use a more potent neuron sprouting and ego-dissolving mix – most notably a blend of psilocybin microdose with Lion’s Mane extract and niacin (if the skin flush and increased blood flow from niacin tends to be too much for you, you can also use “nicotinamide riboside”, a form of vitamin B3 that has similar effects without the flushing).
NGF may sound intriguing, but the price is a dealbreaker: at suggested doses of 1-100μg (NGF dosing in humans for benefits is, shall we say, not an exact science), and a cost from sketchy suppliers of $1210/100μg/$470/500μg/$750/1000μg/$1000/1000μg/$1030/1000μg/$235/20μg. (Levi-Montalcini was presumably able to divert some of her lab’s production.) A year’s supply then would be comically expensive: at the lowest doses of 1-10μg using the cheapest sellers (for something one is dumping into one’s eyes?), it could cost anywhere up to $10,000.
Mosconi clarifies a few concepts. Other authors have advanced that the brain needs fat, including saturated fat, and cholesterol to function properly. Not so, Mosconi indicates that the fats we eat (saturated fat from animal protein) and cholesterol can’t even cross the blood-brain barrier. The brain needs a completely different type of fat: essential Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs). They include Omega-3s and Omega-6s fatty acids. Good sources of Omega-3s include fish, oils, eggs.
At this point I began to get bored with it and the lack of apparent effects, so I began a pilot trial: I’d use the LED set for 10 minutes every few days before 2PM, record, and in a few months look for a correlation with my daily self-ratings of mood/productivity (for 2.5 years I’ve asked myself at the end of each day whether I did more, the usual, or less work done that day than average, so 2=below-average, 3=average, 4=above-average; it’s ad hoc, but in some factor analyses I’ve been playing with, it seems to load on a lot of other variables I’ve measured, so I think it’s meaningful).
The evidence? In small studies, healthy people taking modafinil showed improved planning and working memory, and better reaction time, spatial planning, and visual pattern recognition. A 2015 meta-analysis claimed that “when more complex assessments are used, modafinil appears to consistently engender enhancement of attention, executive functions, and learning” without affecting a user’s mood. In a study from earlier this year involving 39 male chess players, subjects taking modafinil were found to perform better in chess games played against a computer.
Nootropics—the name given to a broad class of so-called "cognitive-enhancing" drugs—are all the rage in Silicon Valley these days. Programmers like nootropics because they’re said to increase productivity and sharpen focus without the intensity or side effects of a prescription drug like Adderall or modafinil. Some users mix their own nootropics using big bins of powders, purchased off the Internet or in supplement stores. And some take pre-made "stacks" that are designed to produce specific effects.
Flaxseed oil is, ounce for ounce, about as expensive as fish oil, and also must be refrigerated and goes bad within months anyway. Flax seeds on the other hand, do not go bad within months, and cost dollars per pound. Various resources I found online estimated that the ALA component of human-edible flaxseed to be around 20% So Amazon’s 6lbs for $14 is ~1.2lbs of ALA, compared to 16fl-oz of fish oil weighing ~1lb and costing ~$17, while also keeping better and being a calorically useful part of my diet. The flaxseeds can be ground in an ordinary food processor or coffee grinder. It’s not a hugely impressive cost-savings, but I think it’s worth trying when I run out of fish oil.
"Instead of messing it up, we should be appreciating something that nature has taken years to optimize," Dr. Lisa mentions. But, we aren't messing it up voluntarily or, at the very least, on any conscious or malicious level. She attributes our disregard for neuro-nutrition to a series of factors, which include the portion size of meals, how parents don't have the time to cook or teach children how to eat healthily, the big influence of cafeteria food, and our "always on the go" culture. According to her, this leads us to unconsciously choose meals which are poor quality and high in sugars, a deathly combination for our brains.
The above are all reasons to expect that even if I do excellent single-subject design self-experiments, there will still be the old problem of internal validity versus external validity: an experiment may be wrong or erroneous or unlucky in some way (lack of internal validity) or be right but not matter to anyone else (lack of external validity). For example, alcohol makes me sad & depressed; I could run the perfect blind randomized experiment for hundreds of trials and be extremely sure that alcohol makes me less happy, but would that prove that alcohol makes everyone sad or unhappy? Of course not, and as far as I know, for a lot of people alcohol has the opposite effect. So my hypothetical alcohol experiment might have tremendous internal validity (it does prove that I am sadder after inebriating), and zero external validity (someone who has never tried alcohol learns nothing about whether they will be depressed after imbibing). Keep this in mind if you are minded to take the experiments too seriously.
On the other hand, Phillips said, Provigil's effects "have attenuated over time. The body is an amazing adjusting machine, and there's no upside that I've been able to see to just taking more." A few years ago Phillips tired of poker and started playing competitive Scrabble. He was good, but not that good. He was older than many of his rivals and he needed to undertake a lot of rote memorisation, which didn't come as easily as it once had. "I stopped short of memorising the entire dictionary, and to be really good you have to get up to eight- and nine-letter words," he told me. "But I did learn every word up to five letters, plus maybe 10,000 seven- and eight-letter words." Provigil, he said, helped with the memorisation process but, "it's not going to make you smarter. It's going to make you better able to use the tools you have for a sustained period."
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."
After a month of testing nootropics, I’m not ready to commit to them permanently. They’re simply too untested, and while “move fast and break things” might be a good approach to building software, it’s not what I want for my brain. Still, I think we’ll likely hear more about nootropics, especially as recreational users of more powerful prescription drugs like Adderall and modafinil look for less harsh alternatives. Sometimes, when you’re working, you don’t want to put your brain on jet fuel—a little unleaded gas will do. And for those moments, nootropics could be a fertile testing ground for the intrepid body-hacker.
Similarly, we could try applying Nick Bostrom’s reversal test and ask ourselves, how would we react to a virus which had no effect but to eliminate sleep from alternating nights and double sleep in the intervening nights? We would probably grouch about it for a while and then adapt to our new hedonistic lifestyle of partying or working hard. On the other hand, imagine the virus had the effect of eliminating normal sleep but instead, every 2 minutes, a person would fall asleep for a minute. This would be disastrous! Besides the most immediate problems like safely driving vehicles, how would anything get done? You would hold a meeting and at any point, a third of the participants would be asleep. If the virus made it instead 2 hours on, one hour off, that would be better but still problematic: there would be constant interruptions. And so on, until we reach our present state of 16 hours on, 8 hours off. Given that we rejected all the earlier buffer sizes, one wonders if 16:8 can be defended as uniquely suited to circumstances. Is that optimal? It may be, given the synchronization with the night-day cycle, but I wonder; rush hour alone stands as an argument against synchronized sleep - wouldn’t our infrastructure would be much cheaper if it only had to handle the average daily load rather than cope with the projected peak loads? Might not a longer cycle be better? The longer the day, the less we are interrupted by sleep; it’s a hoary cliche about programmers that they prefer to work in long sustained marathons during long nights rather than sprint occasionally during a distraction-filled day, to the point where some famously adopt a 28 hour day (which evenly divides a week into 6 days). Are there other occupations which would benefit from a 20 hour waking period? Or 24 hour waking period? We might not know because without chemical assistance, circadian rhythms would overpower anyone attempting such schedules. It certainly would be nice if one had long time chunks in which could read a challenging book in one sitting, without heroic arrangements.↩
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The biohacking movement is trying to overcome its “N=1” problem (in which a sample size includes only the person doing the experimenting) by sharing experiences online or via meetups. But a biohacking group, like any community organized around a common interest, can easily become an echo chamber. James Alcock, Ph.D., a professor of social psychology at York University in Canada and the author of the book Belief: What It Means to Believe and Why Our Convictions Are So Compelling, says biohackers may be unwittingly painting one another an unreasonably rosy picture of how well nootropics work—even when they don’t.
One of the most common strategies to beat this is cycling. Users who cycle their nootropics take them for a predetermined period, (usually around five days) before taking a two-day break from using them. Once the two days are up, they resume the cycle. By taking a break, nootropic users reduce the tolerance for nootropics and lessen the risk of regression and tolerance symptoms.