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.
I eventually met Seltzer in an underground food court not far from the Pentagon. He's slim, with a shaved head, and he spoke precisely, rarely stumbling over his words. I asked him if he had any ethical worries about smart drugs. After a pause, he said that he might have a concern if somebody popped a neuroenhancer before taking a licensing exam that certified him as, say, a brain surgeon, and then stopped using the drug. Other than that he couldn't see a problem. He said that he was a firm believer in the idea that "we should have a fair degree of liberty to do with our bodies and our minds as we see fit, so long as it doesn't impinge on the basic rights, liberty and safety of others". He argued: "Why would you want an upward limit on the intellectual capabilities of a human being? And, if you have a very nationalist viewpoint, why wouldn't you want our country to have the advantage over other countries, particularly in what some people call a knowledge-based economy?" He went on: "Think about the complexity of the intellectual tasks that people need to accomplish today. Just trying to understand what Congress is doing is not a simple thing! The complexity of understanding the gamut of scientific and technical and social issues is difficult. If we had a tool that enabled more people to understand the world at a greater level of sophistication, how can we prejudice ourselves against the notion simply because we don't like athletes to do it? To me it doesn't seem like the same question. And it deserves its own debate."
As you are no doubt well aware, coffee and cigarettes have long been a popular combination. Ah, nostalgia. Just think back to the 1950’s and the man in the suit perfectly pairing his black brew with a cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth as he enjoyed the Sunday paper or rocked on a lazy afternoon out on the family patio. Heck, there’s even a movie called “Coffee and Cigarettes” and a song called “Cigarettes & Coffee” (in the former, you can see Bill Murray, Tom Waits, Steve Buscemi and Cate Blanchett partaking in their fair share of smoking and sipping).
Seltzer's decision to take piracetam was based on his own online reading, which included medical-journal abstracts. He hadn't consulted a doctor. Since settling on a daily regime of supplements, he had sensed an improvement in his intellectual work and his ability to engage in stimulating conversation. He continued: "I feel I'm better able to articulate my thoughts. I'm sure you've been in the zone - you're having a really exciting debate with somebody, your brain feels alive. I feel that more. But I don't want to say that it's this profound change."
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She reveals where she went astray. In a lecture she gave, she lamented the failure of science to offer a cure for Alzheimer’s or even an effective treatment. Someone in the audience asked, “How about olive oil?” She realized she didn’t know anything about the effects of nutrition on Alzheimer’s. She seems to have assumed that diet must be crucially important, and for some reason instead of studying conventional nutrition science, she got a degree in Holistic Nutrition. She bills herself as a certified Integrative Nutritionist and holistic healthcare practitioner. I couldn’t find where she studied, but Stephen Barrett has criticized the Institute for Integrative Nutrition on Quackwatch. Its training is not based on scientific nutrition. It seems most programs in Integrative Nutrition are 6- to 8-month correspondence courses with no prerequisites. I wonder what she was taught.
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One claim was partially verified in passing by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Supplementing potassium (citrate) hasn’t helped me much, but works dramatically for Anna, Kevin, and Vassar…About the same as drinking a cup of coffee - i.e., it works as a perker-upper, somehow. I’m not sure, since it doesn’t do anything for me except possibly mitigate foot cramps.)
If this is the case, this suggests some thoughtfulness about my use of nicotine: there are times when use of nicotine will not be helpful, but times where it will be helpful. I don’t know what makes the difference, but I can guess it relates to over-stimulation: on some nights during the experiment, I had difficult concentrating on n-backing because it was boring and I was thinking about the other things I was interested in or working on - in retrospect, I wonder if those instances were nicotine nights.
Of course learning, working memory and cognitive control represent just a few aspects of thinking. Farah concluded that studies looking at other kinds of cognition - verbal fluency, for instance - were too few and too contradictory to tell us much. Both Chatterjee and Farah have wondered whether drugs that heighten users' focus might dampen their creativity. After all, some of our best ideas come to us not when we sit down at a desk but rather when we're in the shower or walking the dog - letting our minds roam. Jimi Hendrix reported that the inspiration for "Purple Haze" came to him in a dream; the chemist Friedrich August Kekule claimed that he discovered the ring structure of benzene during a reverie in which he saw the image of a snake biting its tail. Farah told me: "There is some evidence that suggests that individuals who are better able to focus on one thing and filter out distractions tend to be less creative.
A big part is that we are finally starting to apply complex systems science to psycho-neuro-pharmacology and a nootropic approach. The neural system is awesomely complex and old-fashioned reductionist science has a really hard time with complexity. Big companies spends hundreds of millions of dollars trying to separate the effects of just a single molecule from placebo – and nootropics invariably show up as “stacks” of many different ingredients (ours, Qualia , currently has 42 separate synergistic nootropics ingredients from alpha GPC to bacopa monnieri and L-theanine). That kind of complex, multi pathway input requires a different methodology to understand well that goes beyond simply what’s put in capsules.
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.