Professor David O Kennedy published a book in 2014 called Plants and the Human Brain. In his book he summarizes the last 15 years of research into cognitive nutrition, including the work he's done with colleagues at the Brain Performance Nutrition Research Center at Northumbria University. It's a great read and a good guide to what sorts of herbs and other plants to include in our weekly diet and it is all based on hard science rather than mere assertion or trendy but unsubstantiated beliefs.
After many years recruiting teens from across the city to join us for a year of culinary adventures, we’re relying on the city’s network of talented youth service providers to fill the gap and cultivate the next generation of smart, resilient youth leaders. While this isn’t where we wanted to be, we’re reaching for gratitude and sharing KUDOS one last time.
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The chemical Huperzine-A (Examine.com) is extracted from a moss. It is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor (instead of forcing out more acetylcholine like the -racetams, it prevents acetylcholine from breaking down). My experience report: One for the null hypothesis files - Huperzine-A did nothing for me. Unlike piracetam or fish oil, after a full bottle (Source Naturals, 120 pills at 200μg each), I noticed no side-effects, no mental improvements of any kind, and no changes in DNB scores from straight Huperzine-A.
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.)
A cup of coffee before a big exam can help your brain perform at its best. That’s because caffeine improves short-term memory and speeds up reaction times, according to New Scientist. Researchers from the National Institute on Aging found that individuals who drank more caffeine had better scores on memory tests, which explains why has been linked to a lowered risk of Alzheimer’s disease. It can also help prevent Parkinson’s disease and relieve headache pain. But don’t overdo it—too much caffeine can make you jumpy or irritable. Look out for the signs that you’re drinking too much coffee.
Caveats aside, if you do want to try a nootropic, consider starting with something simple and pretty much risk-free, like aromatherapy with lemon essential oil or frankincense, which can help activate your brain, Barbour says. You could also sip on "golden milk," a sweet and anti-inflammatory beverage made with turmeric, or rosemary-infused water, she adds.
L-Alpha glycerylphosphorylcholine or choline alfoscerate, also known as Alpha GPC is a natural nootropic which works both on its own and also in combination with other nootropics. It can be found in the human body naturally in small amounts. It’s also present in some dairy products, wheat germ, and in organic meats. However, these dietary sources contain small amounts of GPC, which is why people prefer taking it through supplements.

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.
I asked him if piracetam made him feel smarter, or just more alert and confident - a little better equipped to marshal the resources he naturally had. "Maybe," he said. "I'm not sure what being smarter means, entirely. It's a difficult quality to measure. It's the Gestalt factor, all these qualities coming together - not only your ability to crunch some numbers, or remember some figures or a sequence of numbers, but also your ability to maintain a certain emotional state that is conducive to productive intellectual work. I do feel I'm more intelligent with the drugs, but I can't give you a number of IQ points."
Adaptogens are also known to participate in regulating homeostasis through helping to beneficially regulate the mechanisms of action associated with the HPA-axis (think back to the importance of proper HPA-axis function which you learned about in my last article on breathwork), including cortisol regulation and nitric oxide regulation. Through these mechanisms, they can protect against chronic inflammation, atherosclerosis, neurodegenerative cognitive impairment, metabolic disorders, cancer and other aging-related diseases. There are plenty of adaptogens with potent benefits, but the ones you learn about in this article are an excellent start to begin building or expanding your stress-adaptation toolbox.
My general impression is positive; it does seem to help with endurance and extended the effect of piracetam+choline, but is not as effective as that combo. At $20 for 30g (bought from Smart Powders), I’m not sure it’s worthwhile, but I think at $10-15 it would probably be worthwhile. Sulbutiamine seems to affect my sleep negatively, like caffeine. I bought 2 or 3 canisters for my third batch of pills along with the theanine. For a few nights in a row, I slept terribly and stayed awake thinking until the wee hours of the morning; eventually I realized it was because I was taking the theanine pills along with the sleep-mix pills, and the only ingredient that was a stimulant in the batch was - sulbutiamine. I cut out the theanine pills at night, and my sleep went back to normal. (While very annoying, this, like the creatine & taekwondo example, does tend to prove to me that sulbutiamine was doing something and it is not pure placebo effect.)

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This tendency is exacerbated by general inefficiencies in the nootropics market - they are manufactured for vastly less than they sell for, although the margins aren’t as high as they are in other supplement markets, and not nearly as comical as illegal recreational drugs. (Global Price Fixing: Our Customers are the Enemy (Connor 2001) briefly covers the vitamin cartel that operated for most of the 20th century, forcing food-grade vitamins prices up to well over 100x the manufacturing cost.) For example, the notorious Timothy Ferriss (of The Four-hour Work Week) advises imitators to find a niche market with very high margins which they can insert themselves into as middlemen and reap the profits; one of his first businesses specialized in… nootropics & bodybuilding. Or, when Smart Powders - usually one of the cheapest suppliers - was dumping its piracetam in a fire sale of half-off after the FDA warning, its owner mentioned on forums that the piracetam was still profitable (and that he didn’t really care because selling to bodybuilders was so lucrative); this was because while SP was selling 2kg of piracetam for ~$90, Chinese suppliers were offering piracetam on AliBaba for $30 a kilogram or a third of that in bulk. (Of course, you need to order in quantities like 30kg - this is more or less the only problem the middlemen retailers solve.) It goes without saying that premixed pills or products are even more expensive than the powders.

Potassium citrate powder is neither expensive nor cheap: I purchased 453g for $21. The powder is crystalline white, dissolves instantly in water, and largely tasteless (sort of saline & slightly unpleasant). The powder is 37% potassium by weight (the formula is C6H5K3O7) so 453g is actually 167g of potassium, so 80-160 days’ worth depending on dose.


I take my piracetam in the form of capped pills consisting (in descending order) of piracetam, choline bitartrate, anhydrous caffeine, and l-tyrosine. On 8 December 2012, I happened to run out of them and couldn’t fetch more from my stock until 27 December. This forms a sort of (non-randomized, non-blind) short natural experiment: did my daily 1-5 mood/productivity ratings fall during 8-27 December compared to November 2012 & January 2013? The graphed data29 suggests to me a decline:
Choline is a nootropic: it enhances your ability to pay attention and learn efficiently,[18] probably because you use a lot of acetylcholine during mentally-demanding tasks, and choline helps you synthesize enough to work harder and go longer.[19] Choline also links to decreased brain inflammation in a dose-dependent manner — the more choline you eat, the less inflamed your brain tends to be.[20]
After informally testing various formulas of Qualia OS on themselves and friends, Collective founders did an unblinded pilot study with nine volunteers that Dr. Stickler says showed significant benefits in cognitive function and stress response in eight of the subjects. Still, he admits this isn’t airtight scientific proof that the product works. He says the Collective is hoping to do a placebo-controlled study, but in the meantime, he’s confident the stack works because of the results he’s seen in patients.

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.

“It is surprising and encouraging that it may be possible to predict the magnitude of a placebo effect before treatment,” says Tor Wager, a neuroscientist at the University of Colorado Boulder, who was not involved in the research. More work is needed to see how the predictive features hold up in other populations and for different pain conditions, he says.
Safety Warning Do not exceed recommended dose. Not intended for pregnant or nursing mothers or children under the age of 18. Individuals taking blood thinners, any other medications, or have any known medical conditions should consult a physician before using any herbal supplements. Discontinue use and consult your doctor if any adverse reactions occur. Not intended to treat obesity; consult a physician before beginning any weight loss program. KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN. DO NOT USE IF SAFETY SEAL IS DAMAGED OR MISSING. KEEP BOTTLE CLOSED TIGHTLY AND STORE IN A COOL, DRY PLACE. Do not exceed recommended dose. Not intended for pregnant or nursing mothers or children under the age of 18. Individuals taking blood thinners, any other medications, or have any known medical conditions should consult a physician before using any herbal supplements. Discontinue use and consult your doctor if any adverse reactions occur. Not intended to medical conditions; consult a physician before beginning any weight loss program. KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN. DO NOT USE IF SAFETY SEAL IS DAMAGED OR MISSING. KEEP BOTTLE CLOSED TIGHTLY AND STORE IN A COOL, DRY PLACE. CAUTION: Do not exceed recommended dose. St. John’s Wort may contribute to photosensitivity resulting in skin irritation and redness in persons exposed to strong sunlight or tanning booths. Avoid use in patients at risk of bleeding, taking anticoagulants, or with clotting disorders, based on case reports of bleeding. Discontinue use 2-3 weeks prior to some surgical and dental procedures due to increased risk of bleeding. Avoid use in couples who are trying to conceive, based on theoretical reduction of fertility. Pregnant or nursing mothers, children under 18, individuals with history of seizure, taking MAO inhibiting drugs, or with a known medical condition should consult a physician before using this or any dietary supplement. This product is manufactured and packaged in a facility which may also process milk, soy, wheat, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and crustacean shellfish. — This product is a dietary supplement. If you feel an adverse reaction, please contact our support staff immediately to notify us of the issue so that we can offer assistance. Please consult with a physician prior to beginning this supplement. This product has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Keep out of reach of children. Do not use if safety seal is damaged or missing. Store at a room temperature. Avoid in patients at risk of bleeding, taking anticoagulants, or with clotting disorders, based on case reports of bleeding. Discontinue use 2-3 weeks prior to some surgical and dental procedures due to increased risk of bleeding. Use cautiously in patients with history of seizure, based on reports of seizure due to Ginkgo seed ingestion. Not intended for children under 18 years of age. Avoid use in couples who are trying to conceive, based on theoretical reduction of fertility. Pregnant or nursing mothers, children under 18, individuals making MAO inhibiting Drugs, or with a known medical condition should consult a physician before using this or any dietary supplement.
These little chemicals prompt the immune system to kick in and fight back against the stress through inflammation, as though stress is an infection. While inflammation helps protect us against illnesses and repairs the body when you do something like cut yourself, chronic inflammation is a different animal. It’s been linked to autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, anxiety, high blood pressure and more. (2)

Most people I talk to about modafinil seem to use it for daytime usage; for me that has not ever worked out well, but I had nothing in particular to show against it. So, as I was capping the last of my piracetam-caffeine mix and clearing off my desk, I put the 4 remaining Modalerts pills into capsules with the last of my creatine powder and then mixed them with 4 of the theanine-creatine pills. Like the previous Adderall trial, I will pick one pill blindly each day and guess at the end which it was. If it was active (modafinil-creatine), take a break the next day; if placebo (theanine-creatine), replace the placebo and try again the next day. We’ll see if I notice anything on DNB or possibly gwern.net edits.

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.
We all wish success came in a pill form. That was the premise of the hour and half Adderall commercial/ thriller film ‘Limitless’ starring Bradley Cooper. In the film he popped a transparent round pill and instantly his brain power skyrocketed- anything became possible. Most of us wished that pill existed- and now it does. Donepezil is a drug that is used to treat Alzheimers, but it’s effects on normal people make Adderall and Vyvanse look like a cup of coffee.

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.
The chemicals he takes, dubbed nootropics from the Greek “noos” for “mind”, are intended to safely improve cognitive functioning. They must not be harmful, have significant side-effects or be addictive. That means well-known “smart drugs” such as the prescription-only stimulants Adderall and Ritalin, popular with swotting university students, are out. What’s left under the nootropic umbrella is a dizzying array of over-the-counter supplements, prescription drugs and unclassified research chemicals, some of which are being trialled in older people with fading cognition.

Colorful vegetables and fruits—such as leafy greens, peppers, beets, and berries—are high in carotenoids and anthocyanins, antioxidant pigments that provide their bright hues. “Antioxidants protect brain cell linings from the damage caused by free radicals, which are harmful molecules that cause inflammation and result from factors like a poor diet or smoking,” explains Janis Jibrin, RD, adjunct professor of nutrition at American University in Washington, D.C.

All of the coefficients are positive, as one would hope, and one specific factor (MR7) squeaks in at d=0.34 (p=0.05). The graph is much less impressive than the graph for just MP, suggesting that the correlation may be spread out over a lot of factors, the current dataset isn’t doing a good job of capturing the effect compared to the MP self-rating, or it really was a placebo effect:

Besides Adderall, I also purchased on Silk Road 5x250mg pills of armodafinil. The price was extremely reasonable, 1.5btc or roughly $23 at that day’s exchange rate; I attribute the low price to the seller being new and needing feedback, and offering a discount to induce buyers to take a risk on him. (Buyers bear a large risk on Silk Road since sellers can easily physically anonymize themselves from their shipment, but a buyer can be found just by following the package.) Because of the longer active-time, I resolved to test the armodafinil not during the day, but with an all-nighter.
The word “nootropic” was coined in 1972 by a Romanian scientist, Corneliu Giurgea, who combined the Greek words for “mind” and “bending.” Caffeine and nicotine can be considered mild nootropics, while prescription Ritalin, Adderall and Provigil (modafinil, a drug for treating narcolepsy) lie at the far end of the spectrum when prescribed off-label as cognitive enhancers. Even microdosing of LSD is increasingly viewed as a means to greater productivity.
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.
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.
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.)
It is not because of the few thousand francs which would have to be spent to put a roof [!] over the third-class carriages or to upholster the third-class seats that some company or other has open carriages with wooden benches. What the company is trying to do is to prevent the passengers who can pay the second class fare from traveling third class; it hits the poor, not because it wants to hurt them, but to frighten the rich. And it is again for the same reason that the companies, having proved almost cruel to the third-class passengers and mean to the second-class ones, become lavish in dealing with first-class passengers. Having refused the poor what is necessary, they give the rich what is superfluous.
Real extra virgin olive oil is truly a brain food. Thanks to the powerful antioxidants known as polyphenols that are found in the oil, including EVOO in your diet may not only improve learning and memory, but also reverse the age- and disease-related changes. (7) The oil also helps fight against ADDLs, proteins that are toxic to the brain and induce Alzheimer’s. (8)
Farah was one of several scholars who contributed to a recent article in Nature, "Towards Responsible Use of Cognitive Enhancing Drugs by the Healthy". The optimistic tone of the article suggested that some bioethicists are leaning towards endorsing neuroenhancement. "Like all new technologies, cognitive enhancement can be used well or poorly," the article declared. "We should welcome new methods of improving our brain function. In a world in which human workspans and lifespans are increasing, cognitive-enhancement tools - including the pharmacological - will be increasingly useful for improved quality of life and extended work productivity, as well as to stave off normal and pathological age-related cognitive declines. Safe and effective cognitive enhancers will benefit both the individual and society." The BMA report offered a similarly upbeat observation: "Universal access to enhancing interventions would bring up the baseline level of cognitive ability, which is generally seen to be a good thing."
Another factor to consider is whether the nootropic is natural or synthetic. Natural nootropics generally have effects which are a bit more subtle, while synthetic nootropics can have more pronounced effects. It’s also important to note that there are natural and synthetic nootropics. Some natural nootropics include Ginkgo biloba and ginseng. One benefit to using natural nootropics is they boost brain function and support brain health. They do this by increasing blood flow and oxygen delivery to the arteries and veins in the brain.
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