Mosconi gets the anthropology right. Her foundation is based on two empirical findings. The first one is her studying of the “Blue Zones” or the five areas in the World associated with the greatest proportion of centenarians. And, her second one is her experience as a neuroscientist. She has seen thousands of brain MRIs while knowing what diet her patients ate. She uncovered a link between brain health and diet. The ones who ate a Mediterranean diet had far healthier brains (per MRIs) than the ones on an American diet. She also observed that 2 out of the 5 Blue Zones eat a Mediterranean diets. And, the three other ones have major overlapping components with a Mediterranean diet including complex carbohydrates (fresh produce) that have a lot of fiber, starches (sweet potatoes), nuts, fish, and not much meat and animal protein.
Racetams, such as piracetam, oxiracetam, and aniracetam, which are often marketed as cognitive enhancers and sold over-the-counter. Racetams are often referred to as nootropics, but this property is not well established. The racetams have poorly understood mechanisms, although piracetam and aniracetam are known to act as positive allosteric modulators of AMPA receptors and appear to modulate cholinergic systems.
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.
Smart drugs offer significant memory enhancing benefits. Clinical studies of the best memory pills have shown gains to focus and memory. Individuals seek the best quality supplements to perform better for higher grades in college courses or become more efficient, productive, and focused at work for career advancement. It is important to choose a high quality supplement to get the results you want.
How exactly – and if – nootropics work varies widely. Some may work, for example, by strengthening certain brain pathways for neurotransmitters like dopamine, which is involved in motivation, Barbour says. Others aim to boost blood flow – and therefore funnel nutrients – to the brain to support cell growth and regeneration. Others protect brain cells and connections from inflammation, which is believed to be a factor in conditions like Alzheimer's, Barbour explains. Still others boost metabolism or pack in vitamins that may help protect the brain and the rest of the nervous system, explains Dr. Anna Hohler, an associate professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine and a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.
I can test fish oil for mood, since the other claimed benefits like anti-schizophrenia are too hard to test. The medical student trial (Kiecolt-Glaser et al 2011) did not see changes until visit 3, after 3 weeks of supplementation. (Visit 1, 3 weeks, visit 2, supplementation started for 3 weeks, visit 3, supplementation continued 3 weeks, visit 4 etc.) There were no tests in between the test starting week 1 and starting week 3, so I can’t pin it down any further. This suggests randomizing in 2 or 3 week blocks. (For an explanation of blocking, see the footnote in the Zeo page.)
We’d want 53 pairs, but Fitzgerald 2012’s experimental design called for 32 weeks of supplementation for a single pair of before-after tests - so that’d be 1664 weeks or ~54 months or ~4.5 years! We can try to adjust it downwards with shorter blocks allowing more frequent testing; but problematically, iodine is stored in the thyroid and can apparently linger elsewhere - many of the cited studies used intramuscular injections of iodized oil (as opposed to iodized salt or kelp supplements) because this ensured an adequate supply for months or years with no further compliance by the subjects. If the effects are that long-lasting, it may be worthless to try shorter blocks than ~32 weeks.
Past noon, I began to feel better, but since I would be driving to errands around 4 PM, I decided to not risk it and take an hour-long nap, which went well, as did the driving. The evening was normal enough that I forgot I had stayed up the previous night, and indeed, I didn’t much feel like going to bed until past midnight. I then slept well, the Zeo giving me a 108 ZQ (not an all-time record, but still unusual).
However, normally when you hear the term nootropic kicked around, people really mean a “cognitive enhancer” — something that does benefit thinking in some way (improved memory, faster speed-of-processing, increased concentration, or a combination of these, etc.), but might not meet the more rigorous definition above. “Smart drugs” is another largely-interchangeable term.
But he has also seen patients whose propensity for self-experimentation to improve cognition got out of hand. One chief executive he treated, Ngo said, developed an unhealthy predilection for albuterol, because he felt the asthma inhaler medicine kept him alert and productive long after others had quit working. Unfortunately, the drug ended up severely imbalancing his electrolytes, which can lead to dehydration, headaches, vision and cardiac problems, muscle contractions and, in extreme cases, seizures.
Nootropic (new-tro-pik) is the term for supplements, also known as smart drugs, that improve brain function. They can be food substances like phenethylamine and L-Theanine, found in chocolate and green tea, respectively. Nootropics also include extracted and purified components of medicinal plants, as well as substances synthesized from chemical precursors, such as piracetam, the world's first official nootropic (piracetam was created in 1964 in Belgium by a team of scientists whose leader, Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea, coined the term). Since then piracetam has been widely used as a cognitive enhancer and to treat neurological diseases like Alzheimer's.
As with any thesis, there are exceptions to this general practice. For example, theanine for dogs is sold under the brand Anxitane is sold at almost a dollar a pill, and apparently a month’s supply costs $50+ vs $13 for human-branded theanine; on the other hand, this thesis predicts downgrading if the market priced pet versions higher than human versions, and that Reddit poster appears to be doing just that with her dog.↩
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.
Bacopa Monnieri: Also known as “waterhyssop,” this herb grows in wetlands around the world. It has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine. It is a powerful antioxidant which had demonstrated protective effects on cells. It also has anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is believed to play a major role in the development of dementia. Additionally, this herb boosts blood flow to the brain and activates choline acetyltransferase, a key enzyme which is necessary to synthesize the neurotransmitter cetylcholine.
Omega-3 fatty acids—DHA in particular—contribute to a healthy brain. “The brain’s membranes use these fats to improve cellular structure and brain signaling, which translates into better cognitive function,” says Vasanti Malik, ScD, a research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. DHA also quells chronic inflammation that can harm brain cells and lead to cognitive decline.
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.
A poster or two on Longecity claimed that iodine supplementation had changed their eye color, suggesting a connection to the yellow-reddish element bromine - bromides being displaced by their chemical cousin, iodine. I was skeptical this was a real effect since I don’t know why visible amounts of either iodine or bromine would be in the eye, and the photographs produced were less than convincing. But it’s an easy thing to test, so why not?
-Caviar contains a unique blend of nutrients that are perfect for the brain, including omega-3 fats (a brain-must), choline (a B vitamin needed to make memories), vitamin B6 and B12 (needed to support the nervous system), minerals like iron and magnesium (needed for healthy blood and tissues) and a good amount of protein combined with potent antioxidants like vitamin A, vitamin C, and selenium. [Because] caviar [can be] expensive, fatty fish would be my recommended alternative, especially Alaskan salmon [and] mackerel, bluefish, sardines [and] anchovies [to get the] omega-3’s your brain needs.
Last winter, I spoke again with Alex, the Harvard graduate, and found that, after a break of several months, he had gone back to taking Adderall - a small dose every day. He felt that he was learning to use the drug in a more "disciplined" manner. Now, he said, it was less about staying up late to finish work he should have done earlier, and more "about staying focused on work, which makes me want to work longer hours". What employer would object to that?
Drugs such as Adderall can cause nervousness, headaches, sleeplessness and decreased appetite, among other side-effects. An FDA warning on Adderall's label notes that "amphetamines have a high potential for abuse" and can lead to dependence. (The label also mentions that adults using Adderall have reported serious cardiac problems, though the role of the drug in those cases is unknown.) Yet college students tend to consider Adderall and Ritalin as benign, in part because they are likely to know peers who have taken the drugs since childhood for ADHD. Indeed, McCabe reports, most students who use stimulants for cognitive enhancement obtain them from an acquaintance with a prescription. Usually the pills are given away, but some students sell them.
A large review published in 2011 found that the drug aids with the type of memory that allows us to explicitly remember past events (called long-term conscious memory), as opposed to the type that helps us remember how to do things like riding a bicycle without thinking about it (known as procedural or implicit memory.) The evidence is mixed on its effect on other types of executive function, such as planning or ability on fluency tests, which measure a person’s ability to generate sets of data—for example, words that begin with the same letter.
My first dose on 1 March 2017, at the recommended 0.5ml/1.5mg was miserable, as I felt like I had the flu and had to nap for several hours before I felt well again, requiring 6h to return to normal; after waiting a month, I tried again, but after a week of daily dosing in May, I noticed no benefits; I tried increasing to 3x1.5mg but this immediately caused another afternoon crash/nap on 18 May. So I scrapped my cytisine. Oh well.
Sure, you could certainly swallow too much St. John’s Wort and create the same type of serotonin or neurotransmitter issues you could create with a synthetic smart drug, but it’s far more difficult to harm yourself with a nootropic compared to a synthetic smart drug. Although synthetic, laboratory-designed nootropics do indeed exist, even those are not as harsh on the biology as a smart drug and have a mechanism of action that is a bit more natural. Let’s begin with the more natural nootropics.
Zach was on his way to being a doctor when a personal health crisis changed all of that. He decided that he wanted to create wellness instead of fight illness. He lost over a 100 lbs through functional nutrition and other natural healing protocols. He has since been sharing his knowledge of nutrition and functional medicine for the last 12 years as a health coach and health educator.
These days, nootropics are beginning to take their rightful place as a particularly powerful tool in the Neurohacker’s toolbox. After all, biochemistry is deeply foundational to neural function. Whether you are trying to fix the damage that is done to your nervous system by a stressful and toxic environment or support and enhance your neural functioning, getting the chemistry right is table-stakes. And we are starting to get good at getting it right. What’s changed?