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.
Board-certified neuropsychologist Brian Lebowitz, PhD and associate clinical professor of neurology at Stony Brook University, explains to MensHealth.com that the term "encompasses so many things," including prescription medications. Brain enhancers fall into two different categories: naturally occurring substances like Ginkgo biloba, creatine and phenibut; and manmade prescription drugs, like Adderall, and over-the-counter supplements such as Noopept.
Such competitive anxieties are already being felt in the workplace. Recently an advice column in Wired featured a question from a reader worried about "a rising star at the firm" who was "using unprescribed modafinil to work crazy hours. Our boss has started getting on my case for not being as productive." And on internet forums such as ImmInst (Immortality Institute), whose members share a nerdy passion for tweaking their cognitive function through drugs and supplements, people trade advice about dosages and "stacks" - improvised combinations - of neuroenhancers ("Cut a tablet into fourths and took 25mg every four hours, four times today, and had a great and productive day - with no side-effects"). In one recent post a 52-year-old - who was working full time, studying for an advanced degree at night and "married, etc" - wrote that after experimenting with modafinil he had settled on two daily doses of 100mg each. He believed that he was "performing a little better", adding: "I also feel slightly more animated when in discussion."
First half at 6 AM; second half at noon. Wrote a short essay I’d been putting off and napped for 1:40 from 9 AM to 10:40. This approach seems to work a little better as far as the aboulia goes. (I also bother to smell my urine this time around - there’s a definite off smell to it.) Nights: 10:02; 8:50; 10:40; 7:38 (2 bad nights of nasal infections); 8:28; 8:20; 8:43 (▆▃█▁▂▂▃).
“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.
Much of what she says is standard health advice. Avoid trans fats. Eat fresh vegetables and fruit. Avoid processed foods. Limit red meat consumption. It’s better to get your nutrients from food than from supplement pills. Exercise, get adequate sleep, and avoid stress. Since the brain runs on glucose, she wouldn’t agree with the low-carb diet folks; she says we need adequate sources of glucose in our diet, and recommends complex carbs, paying attention to the glycemic index.
Here’s how it works: Donepezil boosts serotonin and acetylcholine in the brain, chemicals that are usually found in high concentrations in the brains of young children which naturally decrease with age. As a cholinesterase inhibitor, Donezepil boosts brain function by increasing the amount of acetylcholine around nerve endings. In dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, the drug has been shown to improve memory function.
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.
A recent study at the University of Innsbruck in Austria found that participants that drank two cups of coffee per day improved memory, reaction time, and neuron signaling, more than the control. More notably, the 676 daily coffee drinker participants experienced less mental decline than nondrinkers over a ten-year period. In other words, bottoms up on your cup of Joe!
One curious thing that leaps out looking at the graphs is that the estimated underlying standard deviations differ: the nicotine days have a strikingly large standard deviation, indicating greater variability in scores - both higher and lower, since the means weren’t very different. The difference in standard deviations is just 6.6% below 0, so the difference almost reaches our usual frequentist levels of confidence too, which we can verify by testing:
We recently held an informative event in London with Dr Gill Hart, a biochemist and expert in the field of food intolerances and their global effect on health and we wanted to share some of the highlights of what Dr Hart covered. Based on some of her recent research (1), the talk offered some interesting insights into how food intolerances may have a role to play in our mental health. It honed in on the differences between food allergies and food intolerances within our immune system; some of the ways that our immune system, gut and brain are believed to influence each other, and how food intolerances, therefore, can play a role in mental health symptoms. She also spoke about how to go about testing and managing these intolerances through elimination diet strategies.
Zack explained that he didn't really like the term enhancement: "We're not talking about superhuman intelligence. No one's saying we're coming out with a pill that's going to make you smarter than Einstein! What we're really talking about is enabling people." He sketched a bell curve on the back of a napkin. "Almost every drug in development is something that will take someone who's working at, like, 40% or 50%, and take them up to 80," he said.
The price is not as good as multivitamins or melatonin. The studies showing effects generally use pretty high dosages, 1-4g daily. I took 4 capsules a day for roughly 4g of omega acids. The jar of 400 is 100 days’ worth, and costs ~$17, or around 17¢ a day. The general health benefits push me over the edge of favoring its indefinite use, but looking to economize. Usually, small amounts of packaged substances are more expensive than bulk unprocessed, so I looked at fish oil fluid products; and unsurprisingly, liquid is more cost-effective than pills (but like with the powders, straight fish oil isn’t very appetizing) in lieu of membership somewhere or some other price-break. I bought 4 bottles (16 fluid ounces each) for $53.31 total (thanks to coupons & sales), and each bottle lasts around a month and a half for perhaps half a year, or ~$100 for a year’s supply. (As it turned out, the 4 bottles lasted from 4 December 2010 to 17 June 2011, or 195 days.) My next batch lasted 19 August 2011-20 February 2012, and cost $58.27. Since I needed to buy empty 00 capsules (for my lithium experiment) and a book (Stanovich 2010, for SIAI work) from Amazon, I bought 4 more bottles of 16fl oz Nature’s Answer (lemon-lime) at $48.44, which I began using 27 February 2012. So call it ~$70 a year.
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.
The greatly increased variance, but only somewhat increased mean, is consistent with nicotine operating on me with an inverted U-curve for dosage/performance (or the Yerkes-Dodson law): on good days, 1mg nicotine is too much and degrades performance (perhaps I am overstimulated and find it hard to focus on something as boring as n-back) while on bad days, nicotine is just right and improves n-back performance.
Celastrus paniculatus, also known as the Intellect Tree, is perhaps one of the more interesting Ayurvedic medicinal plants that has been used for thousands of years, and one that I personally use quite frequently as part of the supplement “Qualia Mind”. In the Ayurvedic tradition, oil derived from C. paniculatus (Malkanguni oil) is used to enhance memory and intellectual capacity, as well as to improve dream recall and induce lucid dreams. In a study performed on healthy rats, the oil was shown to improve 24-hour memory retention after a single dose, an effect accompanied by a reduction in monoamines like norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin, indicating a decreased turnover of these neurotransmitters which, in turn, may aid in reducing conditions like depression. In another study with rats, C. paniculatus oil administered for 14 days reversed stress-induced spatial learning and memory impairment and restored working memory. In mice with scopolamine-induced memory deficits, the oil has been shown to improve both spatial and fear memory (a type of fear conditioning through which an organism learns to avoid detrimental situations or events). Traditionally, is taken in seed form, starting with 10 seeds and working up to 15 and finally 20 seeds.
For now, instead of reaching for a designer supplement, you're better off taking a multivitamin, according to some experts. It's well known that antioxidants like vitamins C and E protect cells from damage by disarming free radicals. Brain cells are especially vulnerable to these troublemakers because the brain generates more free radicals per gram of tissue than any other organ. Antioxidants also protect neurons by keeping blood vessels supple and open, ensuring the flow of nutrients to the brain.
Last summer, I visited Phillips in the high desert resort town of Bend, Oregon, where he lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their two daughters, Ivy and Ruby. Phillips, who is now 36, took me for coffee at a cheery café called Thump. Wearing shorts, flip-flops and a black T-shirt, he said: "Poker is about sitting in one place, watching your opponents for a long time, and making better observations about them than they make about you." With Provigil, he "could process all the information about what was going on at the table and do something about it". Though there is no question that Phillips became much more successful at poker after taking neuroenhancers, I asked him if his improvement could be explained by a placebo effect, or by coincidence. He doubted it, but allowed that it could. Still, he said, "there's a sort of clarity I get with Provigil. With Adderall, I'd characterise the effect as correction - correction of an underlying condition. Provigil feels like enhancement." And, whereas Adderall made him "jittery", Provigil's effects were "completely limited to my brain". He had "zero difficulty sleeping".
Mercury, as well as other heavy metals such as lead, can accumulate in brain tissue, as well as in the spinal cord, as they are fat-soluble - meaning that they can hide itself in fat tissue, which is abundant in both the brain and the spine. Once there, they can displace important nutrients for brain health such as zinc and iron, which are needed for neurotransmitter production, as well as induce an inflammatory process called oxidative stress among other things.
Jump up ^ EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies; European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Parma, Italy (2011). "Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to L-theanine from Camellia sinensis (L.) Kuntze (tea) and improvement of cognitive function (ID 1104, 1222, 1600, 1601, 1707, 1935, 2004, 2005), alleviation of psychological stress (ID 1598, 1601), maintenance of normal sleep (ID 1222, 1737, 2004) and reduction of menstrual discomfort (ID 1599) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006". EFSA Journal. 9 (6): 2238. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2011.2238.