Consider something as simple as a phone call. You hear the phone ring – your auditory capacity kicks in. Next, you decide whether to answer – decision-making comes into play. You reach for the phone – calling your motor skills to work. You answer – using your voice – all controlled by your brain, all done in mere moments, without conscious thought. Your brain works non-stop, consuming mental energy and physical resources.
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Forums including reddit.com/r/Nootropics/ have more than 140,000 subscribers discussing products with names like Orange Brainwash and GodMode. Nootropics are blends of ingredients touted as a low-risk way to enhance learning, memory, motivation, and even serenity. These ingredients range from herbs such as water hyssop (Bacopa monnieri) and arctic root to chemicals such as vinpocetine.
Ampakines are structurally derived from a popular nootropic called “aniracetam”. Their basic function is to activate AMPA glutamate receptors (AMPARs). Glutamate (a neurotransmitter) is the primary mediator of excitatory synaptic transmission in mammalian brains, which makes it crucial for synaptic plasticity (the adaptation of synapses, the space between neurons across which information is sent), learning and memory, so when you activate or stimulate glutamate receptors, you can trigger many of these functions. AMPARs are distributed across the central nervous system and are stimulated by incoming glutamate to begin the neuroenhancing benefits they’re often used for. But it is possible to have too much glutamate activity. When excess glutamate is produced, accumulates and binds to AMPARs, the result is excitotoxicity, which is a state of cell death (in the case of the central nervous system and your brain, neuron death) resulting from the toxic levels of excitatory amino acids. Excitotoxicity is believed to play a major role in the development of various degenerative neurological conditions such as schizophrenia, delirium and dementia.
Research in animals shows that blueberries may help protect the brain from the damage caused by free radicals and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer's disease or dementia. Studies also show that diets rich in blueberries improved both the learning and muscle function of aging rats, making them mentally equal to much younger rats.
(On a side note, I think I understand now why modafinil doesn’t lead to a Beggars in Spain scenario; BiS includes massive IQ and motivation boosts as part of the Sleepless modification. Just adding 8 hours a day doesn’t do the world-changing trick, no more than some researchers living to 90 and others to 60 has lead to the former taking over. If everyone were suddenly granted the ability to never need sleep, many of them would have no idea what to do with the extra 8 or 9 hours and might well be destroyed by the gift; it takes a lot of motivation to make good use of the time, and if one cannot, then it is a curse akin to the stories of immortals who yearn for death - they yearn because life is not a blessing to them, though that is a fact more about them than life.)
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."
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) cannot be made by the body which means they must be obtained through diet. The most effective omega-3 fats occur naturally in oily fish in the form of EPA and DHA. Good plant sources include linseed (flaxseed), soya beans, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and their oils. These fats are important for healthy brain function, the heart, joints and our general wellbeing. What makes oily fish so good is that they contain the active form of these fats, EPA and DHA, in a ready-made form, which enables the body to use it easily. The main sources of oily fish include salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards and kippers. Low DHA levels have been linked to an increased risk of dementia, Alzheimer's disease and memory loss whilst having sufficient levels of both EPA and DHA is thought to help us manage stress and helps make the good mood brain chemical, serotonin. If you're vegetarian or vegan, you may wish to add seeds like linseed and chia to your diet, or consider a plant-based omega-3 supplement. If you are considering taking a supplement speak to your GP first.
While the mechanism is largely unknown, one commonly mechanism possibility is that light of the relevant wavelengths is preferentially absorbed by the protein cytochrome c oxidase, which is a key protein in mitochondrial metabolism and production of ATP, substantially increasing output, and this extra output presumably can be useful for cellular activities like healing or higher performance.
Some people warn of the dangers of modafinil. There are anecdotal personal accounts online of people becoming dependent on this drug. Modafinil is the generic of the brand Provigil, a nootropic. Provigil is FDA-approved to stimulate wakefulness in people suffering from sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy and sleep apnea. Initially, Provigil was thought to have a benign, non-addiction-forming profile. As such, the Drug Enforcement Administration classifies Provigil as a Schedule IV drug, a category reserved for drugs with low abuse potential; however, recent research conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has found that Provigil may in fact be addictive.
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:
But while some studies have found short-term benefits, Doraiswamy says there is no evidence that what are commonly known as smart drugs — of any type — improve thinking or productivity over the long run. “There’s a sizable demand, but the hype around efficacy far exceeds available evidence,” notes Doraiswamy, adding that, for healthy young people such as Silicon Valley go-getters, “it’s a zero-sum game. That’s because when you up one circuit in the brain, you’re probably impairing another system.”
Your brain loves omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to play an important role in cognitive function. According to the New York Times describing research in the journal Neurology, low levels of these unsaturated fats in the blood are linked with smaller brain volume and worse performance on certain tests of mental function. Omega-3s, which are found in salmon and other cold-water fish like tuna, may improve the retention of brain cells and also bolster the brainpower of younger adults. According to University of Pittsburgh research published last year, adults under age 25 who increased their omega-3 intake over six months improved their scores on tests measuring working memory.
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Take the synthetic nootropic piracetam, for example. Since piracetam has been shown to improve cell membrane function and cause a host of neuroprotective effects, when combined with other cell membrane stabilizing supplements such as choline and DHA, the brain cells on piracetam can better signal and relay messages to each other for a longer period of time, which improves cognition and brain activity and decreases risk of a crash. So one example of an intelligent “stack” is piracetam taken with choline and DHA.
The use of cognition-enhancing drugs by healthy individuals in the absence of a medical indication spans numerous controversial issues, including the ethics and fairness of their use, concerns over adverse effects, and the diversion of prescription drugs for nonmedical uses, among others. Nonetheless, the international sales of cognition-enhancing supplements exceeded US$1 billion in 2015 when global demand for these compounds grew.