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.
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.
Still, even if you acknowledge that cosmetic neurology is here to stay, there is something dispiriting about the way the drugs are used - the kind of aspirations they open up, or don't. Jonathan Eisen, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Davis, is sceptical of what he mockingly calls "brain doping". During a recent conversation, he spoke about colleagues who take neuroenhancers in order to grind out grant proposals. "It's weird to me that people are taking these drugs to write grants," he said. "I mean, if you came up with some really interesting paper that was spurred by taking some really interesting drug - magic mushrooms or something - that would make more sense to me. In the end you're only as good as the ideas you've come up with."
The benefit of sequential analysis here is being able to stop early, conserving pills, and letting me test another dosage: if I see another pattern of initial benefits followed by decline, I can then try cutting the dose by taking one pill every 3 days; or, if there is a benefit and no decline, then I can try tweaking the dose up a bit (maybe 3 days out of 5?). Since I don’t have a good idea what dose I want and the optimal dose seems like it could be valuable (and the wrong dose harmful!), I can’t afford to spend a lot of time on a single definitive experiment.
He used to get his edge from Adderall, but after moving from New Jersey to San Francisco, he says, he couldn’t find a doctor who would write him a prescription. Driven to the Internet, he discovered a world of cognition-enhancing drugs known as nootropics — some prescription, some over-the-counter, others available on a worldwide gray market of private sellers — said to improve memory, attention, creativity and motivation.
Choline is a nootropic: it enhances your ability to pay attention and learn efficiently, probably because you use a lot of acetylcholine during mentally-demanding tasks, and choline helps you synthesize enough to work harder and go longer. 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.
Methylphenidate was accepted into medical practice in 1960 as a way to treat narcolepsy and ADHD. It works by inhibiting the reuptake of dopamine and norepinephrine into the nervous system, causing a flooding of dopamine and norepinephrine in the synapse between the nerves, which in turn leads to amplified signaling between neurons. It’s been said that these effects are basically the same as those of amphetamines (see more details below), which are synthetic, addictive, mood-altering drugs, used illegally in sports as a stimulant and also legally as a prescription drug – like Ritalin – to treat children with ADD and adults with narcolepsy.
Lebowitz says that if you're purchasing supplements to improve your brain power, you're probably wasting your money. "There is nothing you can buy at your local health food store that will improve your thinking skills," Lebowitz says. So that turmeric latte you've been drinking everyday has no additional brain benefits compared to a regular cup of java.
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.
The nootropic sulbutiamine, of the synthetic B-vitamin-derived nootropics family, is generally considered a low-risk supplement; however, some users have reported that the supplement has addictive qualities. While there is no firm evidence of sulbutiamine addiction, the risk may increase at high dosages. For instance, users who consume this supplement for 10 consecutive days may experience withdrawal for two to five days. There are also increased risks when sulbutiamine is taken with antipsychotic medications.
The single most reliable way to protect our brain cells as we age, most researchers agree, is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are chock-full of antioxidants and nutrients. In a study published in the October 1997 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers tested 260 people aged 65 to 90 with a series of mental exercises that involved memorizing words or doing mental arithmetic. The top performers were those who consumed the most fruits and vegetables and ate the least artery-clogging saturated fat.
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."
A study published in the Journal of Environmental Healths Perspective stated that "researchers, physicians, and others poked around in the dark crevices of the gene, (are) trying to untangle the clues that suggested gene function could be altered by more than just changes in sequence." This ties in perfectly with what Dr. Lisa mentions about how our lifestyles play a crucial role in how/if we manifest a certain cognitive disfunction. Which brings us to our next question: What kind of "brain diet" can help support this lifestyle?
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.)
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.
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.
Last spring, 100 people showed up at a Peak Performance event where psychedelic psychologist James Fadiman said the key to unleashing the cognition-enhancing effects of LSD — which he listed as less anxiety, better focus, improved sleep, greater creativity — was all in the dosage. He recommended a tenth of a “party dose” — enough to give you “the glow” and enhance your cognitive powers without “the trip.”
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?)
Nootropics are classically defined as something that a) improves brain health, and b) does no harm. So, while many treatments being advertised online and on TV can be classified as nootropics, some of them don’t fit the bill because of the dangerous and damaging side effects they also confer upon the unwary consumer. In fact, most of the results you might get from searching ‘best brain pills’ are similarly not that great, let alone the best.
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.
Large scale studies have shown the association between chronic low-grade inflammation and depression (8). For example, in a study that examined data from 14,275 people who were interviewed between 2007 and 2012, they found that people who had depression had 46% higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammatory disease, in their blood samples (9). Studies like these are paving the way towards a new understanding of the pathology of mental health conditions and how diet and stress can alter bodily systems, such as digestive function and consequently impact mental wellbeing. Measuring IgG antibodies in food intolerance tests has been implicated as a popular strategy to tackle symptoms related to sensitivities such as IBS, joint pain, fatigue, migraines, anxiety and depression. A recent survey on 708 people commissioned by Allergy UK, demonstrated how 81% of those with elevated IgG levels, as well as psychological symptoms, reported an improvement in their condition after following a food-specific IgG elimination diet (9). Taking this all into account, health professionals and those with poor mental health may want to consider the potential role of food intolerances in mental well-being and in managing common mood-related disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
Autism BDNF Brain brain fuel brain health Brain Injury Cholesterol choline DAI DHA Diabetes digestion Exercise Fat Functional Medicine gastric Gluten gut-brain Gut Brain Axis gut health Health intestinal permeability keto Ketogenic leaky Gut Learning Medicine Metabolism Music Therapy neurology Neuroplasticity neurorehabilitation Nutrition omega Paleo Physical Therapy Recovery Science second brain superfood synaptogenesis TBI Therapy tube feed uridine
"Over the years, I have learned so much from the work of Dr. Mosconi, whose accomplished credentials spanning both neuroscience and nutrition are wholly unique. This book represents the first time her studies on the interaction between food and long-term cognitive function reach a general audience. Dr. Mosconi always makes the point that we would eat differently and treat our brains better if only we could see what we are doing to them. From the lab to the kitchen, this is extremely valuable and urgent advice, complete with recommendations that any one of us can take."
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.
“Who doesn’t want to maximize their cognitive ability? Who doesn’t want to maximize their muscle mass?” asks Murali Doraiswamy, who has led several trials of cognitive enhancers at Duke University Health System and has been an adviser to pharmaceutical and supplement manufacturers as well as the Food and Drug Administration. He attributes the demand to an increasingly knowledge-based society that values mental quickness and agility above all else.
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.