It’s a frosty Monday evening in March, but in the back of Idea Coffee, a dingy café near the Empire State Building, things are heating up. A group huddles around a small black box—the $160 ApeX Type A brain stimulator, with its retro-looking meter and dial and two electrodes. It’s supposed to bolster learning by delivering a mild electric current to the brain. The guy who’s been experimenting with it for a week notes that the only thing he’s noticed so far is a metallic taste in his mouth.
You have probably heard and you already love the term “soul food.” You should know that there’s “brain food” too. Natural supplements are the best way to express your gratitude for all the hard work your brain does for you around the clock. These products aren’t reserved only for the elderly users. On the contrary, if you start using them while you’re still young and sharp, you can ensure the proper protection against all those age-related mental deterioration processes.
Starting from the studies in my meta-analysis, we can try to estimate an upper bound on how big any effect would be, if it actually existed. One of the most promising null results, Southon et al 1994, turns out to be not very informative: if we punch in the number of kids, we find that they needed a large effect size (d=0.81) before they could see anything:
Piracetam is well studied and is credited by its users with boosting their memory, sharpening their focus, heightening their immune system, even bettering their personalities. But it’s only one of many formulations in the racetam drug family. Newer ones include aniracetam, phenylpiracetam and oxiracetam. All are available online, where their efficacy and safety are debated and reviewed on message boards and in podcasts.
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.
It’s 3 p.m., and I am crushing my e-mail inbox. At this time of day, I’m typically struggling to stave off the post-lunch slowdown by downing another cup of coffee or two. But today, message after message is flying off my fingertips effortlessly—work e-mail, personal e-mail, digital errands I’d been meaning to run for months. I’m in the zone, as they say, and for this burst of late afternoon productivity, I might have nootropics to thank.
There are a ton of great rosemary snack options. Personally, I always keep some flavored natural sea salts in my desk to spice up my snacks and meals at the office. Here’s a great option for rosemary flavored sea salt. Another great choice is the Parmesan Rosemary Popcorn from Quinn’s Popcorn. They never use GMO corn, coatings or chemicals on the bag, or any other scary stuff found in traditional microwave popcorn. This is truly microwave popcorn reinvented.
A third of participants in clinical trials on Modafinil have reported crippling headaches. An additional 11% experienced nausea, while others reported an array of other side-effects ranging from nervousness to diarrhea. Dizziness and insomnia may also result from Modafinil use. I can attest that the side effects are very real. In fact, I had to stop using Modafinil after 2 days when my headaches became so intense I ended up at the ER.
I asked Marcus which nootropic he would want if he were stranded on a desert island. "I guess it would depend on the challenges I was facing on the island. If staying healthy was the biggest challenge, then I'd choose AC-11," he said. "If I needed to stay motivated to rebuild the village, I would choose Mucuna [pruriens]. If I was hunting, I'd choose Huperzia serrata, for mental acuity and speed."
I posted a link to the survey on my Google+ account, and inserted the link at the top of all gwern.net pages; 51 people completed all 11 binary choices (most of them coming from North America & Europe), which seems adequate since the 11 questions are all asking the same question, and 561 responses to one question is quite a few. A few different statistical tests seem applicable: a chi-squared test whether there’s a difference between all the answers, a two-sample test on the averages, and most meaningfully, summing up the responses as a single pair of numbers and doing a binomial test:
The ingredients in her recipes are representative of her thinking. Local raw honey. Organic everything. Free-range eggs. Organic, grass-fed whole milk (I assume she means feeding grass to the cows, not feeding it to the milk). Filtered water. Goji berries. Açai berry powder. Ginseng extract with royal jelly and bee pollen. Organic spirulina powder. Even Himalayan pink sea salt, for heaven’s sake! Good grief!!
I noticed on SR something I had never seen before, an offer for 150mgx10 of Waklert for ฿13.47 (then, ฿1 = $3.14). I searched and it seemed Sun was somehow manufacturing armodafinil! Interesting. Maybe not cost-effective, but I tried out of curiosity. They look and are packaged the same as the Modalert, but at a higher price-point: 150 rather than 81 rupees. Not entirely sure how to use them: assuming quality is the same, 150mg Waklert is still 100mg less armodafinil than the 250mg Nuvigil pills.
It’s not clear that there is much of an effect at all. This makes it hard to design a self-experiment - how big an effect on, say, dual n-back should I be expecting? Do I need an arduous long trial or an easy short one? This would principally determine the value of information too; chocolate seems like a net benefit even if it does not affect the mind, but it’s also fairly costly, especially if one likes (as I do) dark chocolate. Given the mixed research, I don’t think cocoa powder is worth investigating further as a nootropic.
The basic idea is to remedy a deficiency (not look for acute stimulant effects) and magnesium has a slow excretion rate18, so week-long blocks seem appropriate. I can reuse the same methodology as the lithium self-experiment. The response variables will be the usual mood/productivity self-rating and, since I was originally interested in magnesium for possible sleep quality improvements, a standardized score of sleep latency + # of awakenings + time spent awake (the same variable as my potassium sleep experiment).
Age discrimination is alive and well throughout the whole of the UK, a piece of legislation does nothing to ensure that people over the age of 50 get a fair crack of the whip when applying for employment, Employers dont need to give a reason for not employing a person over 50 all they need to say is that theyre unsuitable opr a more suitable candidate got the position, albeit they are usually younger!
I stayed up late writing some poems and about how [email protected] kills, and decided to make a night of it. I took the armodafinil at 1 AM; the interesting bit is that this was the morning/evening after what turned out to be an Adderall (as opposed to placebo) trial, so perhaps I will see how well or ill they go together. A set of normal scores from a previous day was 32%/43%/51%/48%. At 11 PM, I scored 39% on DNB; at 1 AM, I scored 50%/43%; 5:15 AM, 39%/37%; 4:10 PM, 42%/40%; 11 PM, 55%/21%/38%. (▂▄▆▅ vs ▃▅▄▃▃▄▃▇▁▃)
Lisa Mosconi has a web and media presence and a book Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power. She claims, “There is increasing evidence that implementing the lifestyle changes described in this book has the potential to prevent Alzheimer’s from developing and also to help slow down or even halt progression of the disease.” What’s more, “eating for your brain…actually helps you achieve peak performance in every part of your life.”
Recently I spoke on the phone with Barbara Sahakian, a clinical neuropsychologist at Cambridge University and the co-author of a 2007 article in Nature entitled "Professor's Little Helper". Sahakian, who also consults for several pharmaceutical companies, and her co-author, Sharon Morein-Zamir, reported that a number of their colleagues were using prescription drugs like Adderall and Provigil. Because the drugs are easy to buy online, they wrote, it would be difficult to stop their spread: "The drive for self-enhancement of cognition is likely to be as strong if not stronger than in the realms of 'enhancement' of beauty and sexual function." (In places like Cambridge, at least.)
Thanks to the many years of research in the field, we know now that what we eat can have a strong impact on our mental health. Not only can it protect us from developing Alzheimer's, but it's an act of self-care on its own. "Biology is all about harmony, about finding equilibrium and homeostasis," says Dr. Lisa, which is why her approach differs from food restrictions and focuses on minimizing intake of those foods that don't help us feel better.
Since my experiment had a number of flaws (non-blind, varying doses at varying times of day), I wound up doing a second better experiment using blind standardized smaller doses in the morning. The negative effect was much smaller, but there was still no mood/productivity benefit. Having used up my first batch of potassium citrate in these 2 experiments, I will not be ordering again since it clearly doesn’t work for me.
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."
To make things more interesting, I think I would like to try randomizing different dosages as well: 12mg, 24mg, and 36mg (1-3 pills); on 5 May 2014, because I wanted to finish up the experiment earlier, I decided to add 2 larger doses of 48 & 60mg (4-5 pills) as options. Then I can include the previous pilot study as 10mg doses, and regress over dose amount.
A constituent of the turmeric spice, curcumin was first discovered for its brain health benefits when epidemiological studies revealed those in regions with a high consumption of the curry spice turmeric had fewer reported cases of cognitive diseases. It is theorized that the unmatched anti-inflammatory power of curcumin, in combination with its unique antioxidant make-up, inhibits the formation of amyloid build up in the brain.
Alpha Brain's most noticeable impact on hunting was making it easier to wake up early. Since I'm typically not a morning person, this was striking, and helpful. I also felt slightly more organized, and a curious sense of emotional stability. These changes could also be attributed to parenthood, and my determination to do the deed and get home as soon as possible.
Mosconi does not make a persuasive argument that the brain requires anything unique, anything more than the same good nutrition that benefits the entire body. Her Brain Food plan provides much good advice about healthy lifestyle and diet, but the good advice is mixed with unsupported claims, speculations, extrapolations that go far beyond the evidence, and some very questionable ideas. (Himalayan pink sea salt? Water that doesn’t hydrate?) Her plan might reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s; it might not. Is it any better than any of the many other plans recommended in the “Awakening from Alzheimer’s” videos? The only way to tell would be to do controlled studies, which have not been done or even contemplated, as far as I could see. It might not be any better than the general health advice provided by science-based conventional medical practitioners. There may be no difference between eating for your brain and eating for your entire organism.
On 15 March 2014, I disabled light sensor: the complete absence of subjective effects since the first sessions made me wonder if the LED device was even turning on - a little bit of ambient light seems to disable it thanks to the light sensor. So I stuffed the sensor full of putty, verified it was now always-on with the cellphone camera, and began again; this time it seemed to warm up much faster, making me wonder if all the previous sessions’ sense of warmth was simply heat from my hand holding the LEDs
These are the most highly studied ingredients and must be combined together to achieve effective results. If any one ingredient is missing in the formula, you may not get the full cognitive benefits of the pill. It is important to go with a company that has these critical ingredients as well as a complete array of supporting ingredients to improve their absorption and effectiveness. Anything less than the correct mix will not work effectively.
Finally, it’s not clear that caffeine results in performance gains after long-term use; homeostasis/tolerance is a concern for all stimulants, but especially for caffeine. It is plausible that all caffeine consumption does for the long-term chronic user is restore performance to baseline. (Imagine someone waking up and drinking coffee, and their performance improves - well, so would the performance of a non-addict who is also slowly waking up!) See for example, James & Rogers 2005, Sigmon et al 2009, and Rogers et al 2010. A cross-section of thousands of participants in the Cambridge brain-training study found caffeine intake showed negligible effect sizes for mean and component scores (participants were not told to use caffeine, but the training was recreational & difficult, so one expects some difference).
My answer is that this is not a lot of research or very good research (not nearly as good as the research on nicotine, eg.), and assuming it’s true, I don’t value long-term memory that much because LTM is something that is easily assisted or replaced (personal archives, and spaced repetition). For me, my problems tend to be more about akrasia and energy and not getting things done, so even if a stimulant comes with a little cost to long-term memory, it’s still useful for me. I’m going continue to use the caffeine. It’s not so bad in conjunction with tea, is very cheap, and I’m already addicted, so why not? Caffeine is extremely cheap, addictive, has minimal effects on health (and may be beneficial, from the various epidemiological associations with tea/coffee/chocolate & longevity), and costs extra to remove from drinks popular regardless of their caffeine content (coffee and tea again). What would be the point of carefully investigating it? Suppose there was conclusive evidence on the topic, the value of this evidence to me would be roughly $0 or since ignorance is bliss, negative money - because unless the negative effects were drastic (which current studies rule out, although tea has other issues like fluoride or metal contents), I would not change anything about my life. Why? I enjoy my tea too much. My usual tea seller doesn’t even have decaffeinated oolong in general, much less various varieties I might want to drink, apparently because de-caffeinating is so expensive it’s not worthwhile. What am I supposed to do, give up my tea and caffeine just to save on the cost of caffeine? Buy de-caffeinating machines (which I couldn’t even find any prices for, googling)? This also holds true for people who drink coffee or caffeinated soda. (As opposed to a drug like modafinil which is expensive, and so the value of a definitive answer is substantial and would justify some more extensive calculating of cost-benefit.)
As expected since most of the data overlaps with the previous LLLT analysis, the LLLT variable correlates strongly; the individual magnesium variables may look a little more questionable but were justified in the magnesium citrate analysis. The Noopept result looks a little surprising - almost zero effect? Let’s split by dose (which was the point of the whole rigmarole of changing dose levels):
It is incredibly easy to abuse and become addicted to methylphenidate, and misuse is shockingly prevalent, even among so-called “non-affected” users: with students, biohackers, soccer moms and busy executives popping it – and many of the other smart drugs below – like candy. It’s also not all it’s cracked up to be. Side effects include insomnia, stomach ache, headache and anorexia. Overdoses (which may occur easily as it can be difficult to estimate and regulate dosage) can lead to agitation, hallucinations, psychosis, lethargy, seizures, tachycardia (rapid heart rate), dysrhythmia (irregular heart rhythms), hypertension and hyperthermia. Methylphenidate is particularly hazardous to developing brains, especially those of younger students who are frequently prescribed the drug or who – often in high school and college – use it without a prescription. The prefrontal cortex, located behind the forehead, is responsible for cognition, personality-expression and decision-making, and develops well into the mid-20s, at which point it takes over as the “rational” part of the brain. In the central nervous system, and particularly in the prefrontal cortex, dopamine levels must have a natural rise and fall in order for healthy rational processes (executive control) to develop. By influencing dopamine levels, methylphenidate can negatively impact this healthy cognitive development, especially when it is abused or used too frequently.
as scientific papers become much more accessible online due to Open Access, digitization by publishers, and cheap hosting for pirates, the available knowledge about nootropics increases drastically. This reduces the perceived risk by users, and enables them to educate themselves and make much more sophisticated estimates of risk and side-effects and benefits. (Take my modafinil page: in 1997, how could an average person get their hands on any of the papers available up to that point? Or get detailed info like the FDA’s prescribing guide? Even assuming they had a computer & Internet?)
Huperzine A: This compound is found in a firmoss plant called Huperzia serrata. Studies conducted on Huperzine A so far have not used the best methodology, so scientists are still not sure how beneficial this compound is for preventing or treating Alzheimer’s disease. But one review of studies on Huperzine A concluded that the compound “appears to have beneficial effects on improvement of cognitive function, daily living activity, and global clinical assessment in participants with Alzheimer’s disease.”
However, they fell short in several categories. The key issue with their product is that it does not contain DHA Omega 3 and the other essential vitamins and nutrients needed to support the absorption of Huperzine A and Phosphatidylserine. Without having DHA Omega 3 it will not have an essential piece to maximum effectiveness. This means that you would need to take a separate pill of DHA Omega 3 and several other essential vitamins to ensure you are able to reach optimal memory support. They also are still far less effective than our #1 pick’s complete array of the 3 essential brain supporting ingredients and over 30 supporting nutrients, making their product less effective.
“In this fascinating investigation, Lisa Mosconi presents research that crosses disciplines to argue that what goes on in your brain—from your mood to your cognitive abilities—is very closely tied to what you put on your plate. In addition to being a compelling read, readers will find tips and outlines on ways they can change their diets for optimal brain health.”