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16 Things We Learned From 600 Minutes of Talking to Neuroscientists

Smart Drug Smarts is dedicated to the relentless improvement of your brain.  But for someone wading into our back-catalog of episodes looking to improve his or her brain right now: information overload.

It makes for some great listening, but there’s a lot of information — over 600 minutes of interviews — to distill in order to get to actual tips you can implement.  So we’ve rounded up the best, most actionable kernels of wisdom we’ve learned in the past three months.

If you’ve been listening the whole time, have you been taking notes every minute?  Probably not.

If you’ve missed a few episodes, here’s a quick and dirty way to play catch-up.

And if you’ve never even heard of the podcast, you can still use these tips to improve your brain.  😉

You can thank us later.

How to Form Habits

  1. It’s easier to make a new habit than to break an old one.   So, instead of trying to quit a bad habit cold turkey, replace it with a new, better habit.  Example: Every afternoon, you reach for a Snickers bar.  Instead of skipping an afternoon snack, replace it with something healthier.
  2. Make new habits effortless.  If you have to think about it, you probably won’t stick with it.   Continuing the eating healthier example, it’s easier if you just don’t keep any Snickers around than if you rely on your willpower to not eat the Snickers in front of you.
  3. Prepare for moments of weakness.   Think about situations that will stress your willpower, and prepare for them, so you’re ready when they arise and they don’t derail your new habit.  If you’re trying to quit smoking, think about everyday situations that trigger your desire for a cigarette and how you can neutralize any cravings.
  4. Timing is key.  The best time to start a new habit is during periods of transition, when your normal routine is already changing.  So if you have a big move or new job coming up, you might want to wait to start that new exercise habit until then.

Eat More Turmeric

  1. Turmeric is amazing.  Is there anything turmeric can’t do?  It’s an adaptogen plant that provides a host of benefits, from reducing psychological stress to regulating the immune system to calming inflammation.  It’s also a powerful antioxidant.
  2. All things being equal, cooking with turmeric is better than taking a supplement.  Your body can more easily absorb curcumin (the active substance in turmeric) when it’s cooked with fat.  Start with 1 teaspoon dried turmeric or ⅛ teaspoon fresh.
  3. There are lots of delicious ways to cook with turmeric. turmeric latte and this Moroccan lamb and pumpkin stew.
  4. You’d rather take a curcumin supplement?  For best results, look for supplements that have 95% extract of “curcuminoids,” with 5% “preserved volatile oils.”

You Should Be Fasting

  1. Benefits of Fasting:  Improved cardiovascular health, reduced cancer risk, gene repair, increased longevity, and better cognitive clarity.
  2. There are multiple fasting protocols, but all of them have been found to provide benefits, so experiment to find the best one for you.
    1. Feeding Window.  Restrict your daily eating to a limited number of hours.  Fast anywhere from 12 to 18 hours a day.  Example: You only eat between 12pm and 8pm.
    2. 24-Hour Fast.  Don’t eat for 24 hours.  You can do this anywhere from once a month to twice a week.
    3. Alternate-Day Fast.  Don’t eat (or severely restrict your calories) every second day.  On eating days, eat as much as you want.
  3. The transition period is the worst.  When you’re transitioning to fasting, it’s normal to feel lethargic or find yourself becoming angry more easily.  Fight through it at the beginning, and you’ll find your body has adjusted and your energy levels and emotions will rebound.  (How long “the beginning” is will depend very much on the fasting protocol you follow.)

Try These Natural Compounds

  1. Schizandra.  (See Episode 118.)  Schizandra makes the body’s stress response more efficient.  If your cortisol levels are too high, it will lower them — and vice versa.
  2. White Sage.  Supports learning, while diminishing anxiety.
  3. Ginseng.  (All three types: American, Chinese, and Korean)  Ginseng is a powerful adaptogen that helps the body cope with stress, particularly physical.
  4. Chia.  Yes, the little seeds that you can paint on the outside of pottery animals.  (Who knew?)  It’s also a natural treatment for stroke.  Mix 1 tablespoon chia seeds with 10 tablespoons water until it forms liquid jello.  Drink it twice a day following a stroke for 6 months.  That amount can taper down to once a day after a couple of months.

Smell and Cognitive Decline Are Linked

  1. Being unable to tell the difference between smells is one of the first clinically diagnosable symptoms of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, due to the intimate connection between smell and memory.

Learn anything new and surprising?  Off to stock up your kitchen pantry with turmeric and chia seeds?  Tweet us and let us know!

4 comments

  1. Patrick says:

    Hey Smart Drugs,

    This is quite on point. I discovered your website a few days ago and I have been wondering where to start. Having a summary like this goes a long way in offloading most of the information overload. Do you take guest posts, btw? I would like to contribute some of the info that I have learned in my little interaction with smart drugs.

    Cheers,

    Patrick

    1. Hannah Sabih says:

      Thanks for the kind words Patrick! Glad the post was helpful. We’re definitely open to guest posts, check out http://smartdrugsmarts.com/write-for-us/.

      Thanks!
      Hannah

  2. Alex McMahon says:

    Awesome, easy to incorporate tips! did a 24 hour fast last week and even hit a morning workout and sprints, felt great the whole time and wasn’t ravenous.

    1. Jesse Lawler says:

      Excellent, Alex! I think the “I can’t workout while on a light fast” idea is an (imaginary) roadblock for a lot of people, and glad you pushed past it with success. You might lose something in the way of explosive power while having less glucose/glycogen than normal in your system, but I think for most folks on a fast up to, say 36 hours in length, this is really unlikely to affect their performance (except maybe psychologically). 🙂

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