Category: Articles

These posts aren’t associated with a particular podcast episode. They’re just good, old-fashioned writing on a variety of nootropic, neuroscience, or personal optimization topics.

We’ve got a pretty hefty archive of This Week in Neuroscience (TWIN) and Ruthless Listener Retention Gimmick (RLRG) links. And heaps of those links are pretty darn interesting. To stop these nuggets from being lost to the ages, every month we’ll be looking back at what we were reading and sharing a year or two or three (!) ago.

Episode 96 – Know Your Neurotransmitters:  Noradrenaline

TWIN:  Young children have less available working memory

Have you ever tried to get young children to remember multiple things?  Whether that’s not to touch hot objects, or how to play gently with the dog, things seem to go in one ear and out the other.

Turns out, neuroscience has an explanation for why adults have a better working memory than children.  While children do use the same area of the brain as adults when using short-term memory, there’s less activity in the brain.  Most adults can remember up to seven items in their short term memory at one time, but for young children, that number is more like one or two.

So next time you’re frustrated with your kindergartener for forgetting what you told her five minutes ago, remember:  she’s not ignoring you, she really can’t remember.

RLRG:  The protein that senses magnetic fields

It seems clear that animals can sense things that humans can’t.  Think of birds that migrate thousands of miles or animals that clear an area before an earthquake.

Scientist have long known that animals as diverse as sea turtles, butterflies, and wolves can sense the major north-south magnetic fields.

But thanks to a new discovery, we now know exactly which protein lets them do this.

This discovery isn’t the only news though.  It’s mired in a dispute over which collaborator was entitled to publish the findings first.  Drama, drama, drama.

Episode 97 – Emotional Intelligence

TWIN:  Part of your intelligence is genetically determined

You probably know a family that just seems blessed in the intelligence department.  Part of the reason why turns out to be three different genetic variants.

But before you start calling this genetic advantage unfair, although the genetic variants have statistical significance, even when all three are expressed optimally, that only translates to an extra 1.8 IQ points.

RLRG:  Test your emotional intelligence

IQ isn’t the only type of intelligence.  There’s also emotional intelligence, your ability to recognize emotions in yourself and others.

Wondering if you’re emotionally smart?  Then take the test!

Episode 98 – Adderall Perspectives

TWIN:  A new way to fight aging in the brain

Scientists have long known how to turn other cells into brain cells.  The problem for researching age-related diseases is that turning cells into brain cells would re-set the cell’s age — they’d go back to being “babies.”

New research has solved this problem.  Scientists have been able to turn skin cells into brain cells without resetting cellular age.

The upshot:  researchers will be able to more easily test medicine to fight age-related diseases.

RLRG:  A big, bloody brain cake

Just in time for October 31st, a way to combine celebrating Halloween with your love for neuroscience and the brain.

Metro.co.uk has a recipe for a huge cake — red velvet on the inside, bloody brain on the outside.  It looks scarily realistic, too.

Bloody brain cake

Episode 99 – Psychedelics:  New Perspective

TWIN:  Sleep protects you from catching a cold

Being sick is the ultimate anti-nootropic.  Unfortunately, nothing protects you 100%, but sleep could drastically reduce your chances of getting sick.

People who sleep less than 6 hours a night are more than four times more likely to catch a cold than those who sleep 7 hours or more.

And it’s not just run of the mill colds that sleep protects you from.  Getting enough deep sleep may prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s.  Beta-amyloid plaques are a precursor to Alzheimer’s.  People who have the most beta-amyloid plaques in their brains have the hardest time getting into and maintain deep sleep.

RLRG:  A fasting mimicking diet keeps you alive longer

In numerous studies, fasting and caloric restriction prolong the lives of animals.  But food is one of the great human pleasures, and it’s no fun being on a permanent limited-calorie diet.

The good news is that Professor Valter Longo has found the 80/20 of fasting: the fasting mimicking diet.  Just five days is enough to slow down aging.

Here’s how it works:

  • Day 1:  Eat 1,090 calories, of which 10% should be protein, 56% fat, and 34% carbs.
  • Days 2 – 5:  Eat 725 calories, of which 9% should be protein, 44% fat, and 47% carbs.

If you’re generally pretty healthy, do this five-day “fast” once every 3 – 6 months.  If you’re obese or have other health risk factors, you can do this diet much more frequently, up to once every 2 weeks.

Episode 100 – Card-carrying Genius

TWIN:  Your brain activity is a fingerprint

Everyone knows that fingerprints and retinas are ways to identify a unique individual.  Turns out, you can also identify people based on their brain activity.

Regardless of what activities you’re doing, certain brain regions activate together, in a way that is unique to each human.  This is based on the activity in your brain, not the physical structure.

RLRG:  Toddler temperament is influenced by gut bacteria

Scientists studying young children found a significant correlation between the diversity of gut microbes and disposition.

Children who have the most diverse gut bacteria had more pleasant moods and were more curious, sociable, and impulsive.

Clearly, there’s communication between gut bacteria and the brain.  Still to be discovered:  which one starts the conversation.

PS:  For more neuroscience, sign up for Brain Breakfast — brain boosting goodness delivered to your inbox every week.

Pretty much every episode of Smart Drug Smarts covers yet another way to make your brain even better and healthier.  Some are things you’re already doing, some are things you’ve heard about but haven’t tried, and some are things you never even knew were cognitive enhancers (methylene blue, anyone?).

So, just how dedicated are you to improving your brain? Pick your poison (errr…  cure for lackluster gray matter) — we’ve got options from easy, like blueberries, to out there, like DMT.

Easy Cognitive Enhancers

Alpha-GPC

Want better memory and focus and a longer attention span?

One option to make sure you’re getting enough choline.  Choline is an essential precursor to acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays essential roles in activating muscles, attention, responsiveness to sensory stimuli, motivation, learning, memory, and REM sleep.

Alpha-GPC is a great source of choline because it has a large amount of choline by weight (it’s 40% choline) and is very polar, so passes through the blood-brain barrier easily.  It’s also extremely safe – fewer than 1% of people experience side effects, with the most common being upset stomach and headache.

If you’re ready to start taking Alpha-GPC, the recommended dose is 200mg per day.

Blueberries

You’re probably already eating blueberries.  And if you’re aren’t, well why the heck not?!

It shouldn’t take much convincing:  Not only are they delicious, but they are also fantastic for your brain.  They boost long-term memory, short-term memory (aka working memory), and access to words and concepts.  They reverse loss of balance and coordination in older rats and improve memory and concentration in children.

Inspired to eat more blueberries?  There isn’t a magic amount, but eating half a cup of blueberries a few times a week should give you all the benefits.  Look for:  fresh, whole blueberries, frozen fruit, 100% pure blueberry juice (no concentrates), or freeze-dried blueberry powder.  Avoid:  juices with added sugar or that are made from concentrate and baked or cooked blueberries, since exposure to heat degrades flavonoids.

Melatonin

Melatonin, the sleep hormone, makes you fall and stay asleep.  Environmental levels of lightness affect your circadian rhythm, which, in turn, affects melatonin production, so that melatonin is actively produced at night, when it’s dark.

Among other indignities that occur as you age, your pineal gland is calcifying, meaning it’s producing less melatonin at night.  This is why older adults have a hard time staying asleep — they produce enough melatonin to fall asleep, but not enough to stay asleep throughout the night.

Melatonin is very safe (it’s something your own body produces after all), but taking the right dose is tricky.  The ideal dose — 0.3mg — of melatonin is very small, which is quickly metabolized by your body.  So if you take 0.3 mg of melatonin before bed, you’ll fall asleep easily, but it won’t be enough to keep you asleep throughout the night.

So what should you do?  Look for pills with between 0.3 – 1mg of melatonin and try to find a time release option, like this time-release melatonin supplement, so that your body is exposed to low levels of melatonin throughout the night.

What you should not do is take a megadose of melatonin.  Many companies sell pills of 3mg and higher, which is 10x the recommended dose.  There’s no danger of overdosing, but you’ll blow out your melatonin receptors, meaning that melatonin supplements will stop being effective.

Gratitude

Ah, gratitude.  It’s one of the buzzwords of the moment, it seems. But turns out those hippies were on to something.

Regularly practicing gratitude has a host of benefits, including better interpersonal relationships, faster recovery from heart surgery, better sleep quality and duration, fewer PTSD symptoms, and protection against future cognitive trauma.  And the most incredible benefit:  living up to 10 years longer.

Here’s how to get the benefits of gratitude:

  • Small doses of regular gratitude are better than occasional big bursts of gratitude (think buying someone flowers vs. an expensive piece of jewelry).
  • Write thank you notes and give them to people who aren’t expecting them.
  • Keep a weekly gratitude journal.  It’s actually more effective than a daily one.
  • Focus on what you’re grateful for, and let go of small, daily annoyances.
  • Notice small things people have done to give you a better life, like running water, a working car, or a good cup of coffee.
  • Take a moment in transition times, like while waiting for the coffee to brew, to focus on gratitude for 30 seconds.

Unconventional Brain Boosts

Ketosis

Who knew that fat could be so good for you?  Ketosis a state in which your brain draws energy from ketone bodies, instead of glucose, its usual energy-source.  Being in ketosis makes you feel more lucid and your thinking sharper, and who wouldn’t want that?

So, here’s how to get in ketosis, according to Dr. Dominic D’Agostino:

  • Follow a modified ketogenic diet, with 65-70% of calories coming from fat.
  • Consume 150-200g fiber per day.
  • Start intermittent fasting.
  • Spend time out in the sun.
  • Take MCT oil and ketone salts.
  • Finally, supplement with 4-8g of salt and magnesium before bed.  This isn’t going to put you into ketosis, but will make sure your body has everything it needs while you’re in that state.

Nicotine

Nicotine has a reputation as an evil drug that’s not entirely deserved.  Granted, smoking cigarettes is really awful, but nicotine is only one of 500 – 700 chemicals in tobacco (which turn into more than 7,000 when tobacco is smoked).

The unique thing about nicotine as a smart drug is that it’s both a stimulant and a relaxant — it keeps you alert when you’re tired, but calms you down when you’re stressed.  It also increases focus, helps you sustain attention, controls hunger, and reduces pain.

But, there is a catch.  It’s really addictive.  More addictive than heroin, actually.  And, long term use causes blood vessels to constrict, which is no bueno for your heart.

Verdict:  if you want to try nicotine, use the patch or nicotine gum, and don’t use it every day.

Hypnosis

Does hypnosis seem a bit woo-woo to you?  Well, get over it, because hypnosis has real, concrete benefits, including:  controlling pain, reducing swelling and other signs of physical trauma, improving cognitive performance, and changing the way we are able to use our brains.

Even better:  you can learn to hypnotize yourself for all these benefits.  Of course, if you have no experience with hypnosis, getting started with a trained professional can make things easier.  And once someone has helped take you into an experience of hypnosis, it will be easier for you to return to that state of mind on your own.

Reality check:  Unfortunately, although all children are hypnotizable, only two-thirds of adults are.  So if you’re in the non-hypnotizable group, keep reading for a different brain boost to try.

Out There Mental Maximizers

Psychedelics

We got to talk to two psychedelics experts Dr. Dennis McKenna and Dr. Rick Strassman about natural psychedelics and DMT, respectively.  Psychedelics are under a lot of misconceptions, but they have therapeutic potential we’re only just beginning to understand.  And besides being possible treatments for everything from PTSD to depression, psychedelics can boost creativity and lead to new ways of thinking for healthy users.

Curious about trying psychedelics?  Here’s Dr. McKenna’s recommendations:

  • Do your research.  Start with Erowid.org, the best online resource on psychedelics.  Find out what to expect from a trip, how long it will last, and any contraindications.
  • Start with the smallest active dose possible.  See how it goes.  You can always take more next time.
  • Make sure you’re in a positive mindset and in a safe and comfortable place, preferably with a sober babysitter if you’re new to psychedelics.
  • Avoid psychedelics if:  you’re on SSRIs, you have a genetic proclivity to schizophrenia, you have an underlying mental illness, or you’re in a fragile psychological place.
  • Relax and be open to the experience!

Methylene Blue

Here’s a weird cognitive enhancer:  methylene blue, which has been used as a textile dye and a parasite treatment for fish.

But it’s so much more than that.  It’s a memory enhancer, antioxidant, and neuroprotectant.  It improves the oxygen consumption of cells, increasing cellular energy, which in turn enhances memory — both long- and short-term — as well as being neuroprotective and antioxidant.

Be careful:  methylene blue has a hormetic dose response, meaning low doses are beneficial, while high doses are dangerous, and can even be fatal.  Never take more than 5mg per kilogram of body weight (and less if you are obese).

PS:  Want more cognitive enhancing goodness?  Get our free, weekly newsletter!

Had I just woken up?

Or had I been awake?

I was sure I was awake — although I couldn’t actually see anything.

I also couldn’t feel anything.  That is, I literally couldn’t feel anything.  (And here I mean literally from back when literally meant “literally,” before literally started meaning “not literally, but figuratively.”)

I wasn’t scared.  Because I knew if I wanted to feel something, I could do so.  I just had to move.

But I hadn’t twitched a muscle in…well, I wasn’t sure how long.

What time was it, anyway?

Senselessness and Sensibility

Have you ever woken up in bed, and before you open your eyes, before you move, you don’t know where your limbs are?  You’re sure they’re still there, but whether your arm is down at your side or splayed over your head, you really have no idea.

Those motor neurons haven’t fired in a long time.  The part of your mind that monitors your body is like an air traffic controller who comes back from a coffee break to find no blips on the screen.

Then, with the faintest internal whisper of “wiggle my pinky finger,” the position of your finger, your elbow, arm, shoulder — it all flashes back to life.  You’ve refreshed the buffers and your input streams are back online.

But if you don’t send an outbound signal to your body, you can maintain a sort of proprioceptive silence.  It’s a state that’s easily broken.  If a fly lands on you, or a breeze blows across your skin, or a kid tickles you… your bodily sensations fire up, the same as if you sent a move impulse.

But if you wait, you can sometimes feel a strange sense of spacelessness.  It’s as if you’ve entered a large, empty room that may or may not have borders.

Unfortunately, you can’t explore this space the way you normally would — by moving around inside it.  Because the moment you move, the illusion shatters.  Physical sensations implode the imagined environment, putting you firmly back in the driver’s seat of your own body.

The only way to search the boundaries of this space is with thought.  Pure, inwardly-directed thought.  Rumination.  Decision.  Amazing capabilities of our brains — but apparently secondary ones, given the persuasive argument made by neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert that the brain’s raison d’etre is to direct physical movements.

When we accidentally find ourselves in this “hey, my physical senses are offline” state, we’re operating on a tight time frame.  We’re like a secret agent in the movies who has snuck into the highly guarded enemy stronghold, racing against time to get what we’re after before our cover is blown and we’re swarmed by guards.

In this case, the “guards” are just the dumb-luck odds of physical reality interrupting our reverie.  A bug will land on you.  A breeze will blow.  The person in bed next to you will roll over.  The real world just doesn’t stay still for very long — and unless you’ve been mainlining novocaine, you’re going to notice.

This is one of the prime advantages of a sensory deprivation tank.

Alone With Yourself

Alone in a tank is just where I found myself (or rather, where I couldn’t find myself) when I realized I wasn’t sure if I’d been asleep or not.

Inside a sensory deprivation tank there are no bugs, no breezes, no bed-mates.

There’s also no light, no sound, and no temperature differential.

There’s not a lot of anything — except for water and dissolved epsom salts (about 140 pounds of salt from what I hear).  And also time.

Time is really the commodity you’re buying when you buy a “float.”  It’s time when you can’t be bothered.  The forces that can’t bother you range from your boss to your kids to CNN to gravity.

The forces that still can bother you include your own mind.

In fact, that’s about the only thing on the list.

Stripping away the distractions of the physical world and laying in a pool of skin-temperature salt water, you’re naked, alone, buoyant, safe, and temporarily devoid of both obligations and opportunities.

Of course, you can stand up and walk out — there aren’t locks on the doors, just a suction-seal to keep out sound — but if you choose to stay in the pool, you’re choosing to be with yourself in a way that’s almost impossible to match in terms of experiential purity.

There is nothing to distract you from you.

The ancient Greeks’ Temple of Apollo at Delphi said many things through its human oracles, but the one they chose to carve into the rock was: “Know Thyself.”

If getting to know yourself is normally like a game of “Where’s Waldo,” getting to know yourself in a floatation tank is more like a blank white page with Waldo just standing there with no crowd to fade into.

If you hate being in a float tank — and some people do hate it — the inescapable conclusion (for those who choose to confront it) is that whatever is bothering you is you.  There’s a lack of plausible suspects when you’re in a dark, silent room with imperceptible temperature and neutral buoyancy.

I Love Nothing (With a Capital “N”)

Some of us love float tanks.  We love them for the opportunity they provide to grope around in our inner perception, reaching for the walls like a blind person (literally, in this case, as well as figuratively).

Where can our minds go when all distraction is removed?

What bothers us when there is nothing there to bother us?

What are we capable of when the cognitive crutch of physical reality is removed?

Can I remember things when I can’t jot on a Post-It or save to my Google Calendar?

Can I stick to a decision when the only accountability is to my own mind?

The simplest questions — things like “Am I awake?” — become legitimately confusing.  Questions that we would never, ever ask in the normal hubbub of perceptual reality.

What time is it, anyway?  How can you measure the passage of time with no clock?  Has it been 30 minutes since the last time you wondered, or 90?  Maybe your session has ended already, but they forgot to tell you?  What if you’ve been here for 17 hours?  (These are the sorts of quackish speculations that bubble up when your brain has gone without input for a while.)

Ganzfeld Effects

“Ganzfeld Effects” are the name for hallucinatory sensations that the brain produces when, deprived of sensory input, it strains to find signals in the “noise” of a silent stream.

Think about your ability to follow a spoken conversation in a loud room.  Lots of people might be talking, glasses clinking, dogs barking… But once you lock onto a speaker’s voice, you ignore the extra sounds and follow the conversation effortlessly.  The human brain has been described as a “pattern recognition machine” — but a big part of pattern recognition is pattern amplification.  The brain splits a promising subset of the total stimuli off from the perceptual firehose and amplifies it as if to say “How about this?  Is there something here worth focusing on?”

In familiar environments, we quickly latch onto the correct data-slice and proceed with our lives.

But in the blackness of a floatation tank — or the undifferentiated white-out of a blizzard, for example — the brain over-amplifies meaningless sensory information, straining to find a something in the nothing.  Sane, sober people wind up hallucinating without madness, without drugs.  It’s just the brain doing its best in unfamiliar conditions.

Whispers and Reminders

I find that my hallucinations in the tank are mostly auditory.  Sometimes I “see” blooms or ripples of color — especially in the peripheral areas of my visual field.  But nothing that ever coalesces into an image of anything in particular.  Never an armadillo, or a tractor-trailer, or a muppet.  This happens for some people, but apparently not for me.

Many times, however, I will “hear” voices.  Something that was just said — words in English, the right rhythms of speech — but too quiet to hear clearly.  Like hearing words through a wall with only the vowels coming through, the consonants muffled and lost.

Other times I can hear the words — or actually, recall them — because the voices stop talking as soon as I shift my attention to listen, like criminals caught discussing a plan.  But still, even in cases where I can “overhear,” the words make no sense.  They’re sham sentences, with syntax but no meaning.  Like a self-licking ice cream cone.

All this is very, very strange.  And it’s even stranger because the induction process of a floatation tank is so mundane.  Boring, even.

Maybe in today’s hyper-stimulated world, boring-ness is the greatest novelty we can find?

Ultimately though, I think the magic of a tank is its ability to disassemble our normal view of ourselves, allowing us to see in isolation the inner workings that — when combined with our normal physical surroundings — add up to what we think of as “us.”

It’s like the face of an old mechanical clock, which reliably tells the time and which we barely think of otherwise…

But open the face and inside is a mysterious cosmos of interlocking gears and springs and who-knows-whats.  Each one is fascinating, complex, delicate, and the obvious product of intense refinement and craftsmanship.  Considering that the finished clock is the combinatorial result of all these microcosms, suddenly the familiar becomes awesome again.

Now… what time do you think it is?

“How do smart people breed stupid people?”

It’s a question from one population geneticist to another.

The second geneticist can tell from the goofy grin on his colleague’s face that the answer is going to be a joke.  He thinks about it and finally shrugs.

“By repeatedly screwing their sisters!” the first one squeals.

(Population geneticists aren’t selected for their senses of humor.)

Today, kids, we’re going to be talking about incest.  Now I’ll grant you up-front that incest is pretty much universally reviled.  But here’s the thing: Incest is defined culturally.  (More on this below.)

The less morally-culpable term is “inbreeding,” defined as follows:

“…to breed by the continued mating of closely related individuals.”

Animal breeders have used inbreeding as a technique from time immemorial to achieve many useful results.  Everything from creating cows that give more milk, to dogs that snuggle with kids instead of eating them.

Despite its long pedigree, inbreeding brings with it well-known dangers: the root cause of which is the accumulation of genetic goofs.  Such goofs would normally be masked by a working spare in the second set of chromosomes received from the animal’s mom or dad.  But this assumes a respectable genetic distance between mom and dad.

In animal breeding, it’s often “worth it” (from our perspective) to risk a genetic misfire by breeding close relatives — because the worst-case scenario is just an underperforming cow.

Do I care so much if the milk on my breakfast cereal comes from a less-than-stellar bovine?

Nope, not really.

We humans get a lot more persnickety when it comes to the reproductive strategies of our own species.  And for good reason.  For one thing, the “worst-case” scenario I mentioned above isn’t really the biggest biological misfire possible.

The true disaster scenario from inbreeding is an irretrievably rotten stretch of genetic material, with no spare, and a fatal flaw thus literally written into the resulting embryo or fetus.  The likely result is a “spontaneous abortion” (miscarriage).  This doesn’t cause much emotional strain if you’re a rancher and it’s happening to a cow; it does if you’re human and it’s happening in your immediate family.

Note:  Severe genetic maladies also occur for dozens of reasons that have nothing at all to do with inbreeding — but inbreeding significantly boosts the likelihood.

Human cultures worldwide — along with most animals — share an automatic revulsion to close inbreeding.  And interesting studies have shown that our degree of revulsion tracks closely with our genetic “distance” from the relative under consideration.

(i.e. Sociologist asks student: “Would you rather screw your first-cousin or your half-sister?” “Um, can I choose ‘None of the above’?” “Nope.  You’ve gotta pick one.” “Your study sucks.”)

You share half your genetic material with your mom, your dad, and any full siblings.

With half-siblings and grandparents, this overlap drops to 25%.

Corollary:  If you’re ever playing “Would You Rather…?” and some sick bastard asks if you’d rather sleep with your mom or your grandma — from a genetic perspective, the “correct answer” is your grandma.

For first cousins, the percentage of full genetic overlap drops to “only” 12.5%.  That’s just one gene out of eight.

And that’s where things get messy.

So what was incest, again?

As described above, inbreeding is simply a strategy for managed reproduction, with no judgment implied.

Incest, by contrast, is inbreeding plus moral editorializing.

Incest is inbreeding when we think it’s gross.

Nowadays, in most of the world, our definitional umbrella for incest extends pretty far.  The majority of you reading this will not have given serious romantic consideration to your first cousins.  I contend that this is a good thing.

This broad definition of incest is far from a universal norm, though.  Until modern times, cousin-marriages — known to sociologists as “consanguineous” marriages — were widely practiced in much of the world.

 In many places, they still are.

The reasons for consanguinity’s popularity in the olden days were pragmatic.  Until recently, most people eked out a rural existence with few potential mates living within a day’s walk.  Of those available nearby, many were often blood relatives.

The other reasons had to do with family loyalty.  Marriages inside a kin-group keep wealth and property consolidated.  And while divorce was less common in the past, the early death of a spouse was much more common.  Consanguineous marriages reduce the number of competing interests when settling estate claims.

So — this still happens?

It doesn’t just happen.  In some parts of the world, consanguinity is more popular than mini-skirts.

(Okay, that’s a bad joke — because consanguinity is most prevalent in the Arab world, which never really embraced mini-skirts.)

According to a report from the 2009 Reproductive Health Journal, Pakistan holds the dubious honor of being home to the world’s most consanguineous marriages — with a whopping 70% of marriages between blood-relative brides and grooms.  In Saudi Arabia, the number is 66.7%.  In Iraq, it’s 60%.

All in all, it is estimated that 1.1 billion people are either married to cousins, or the children of consanguineous unions.

Maybe it’s not so bad?

Albert Einstein married his first cousin.

So did Charles Darwin.

Consanguinity is not a practice limited to the Arab world, or the Amish, or people who shipwreck on desert islands while vacationing with their cousins.

In 2003, Discover Magazine published an article offering up a defense of close-but-not-too-close levels of inbreeding.  The authors pointed out that while the odds of serious genetic disorders do rise, they may not rise enough to warrant the fact that, say, 31 out of 50 US states have outlawed first-cousin marriages.

One point the article emphasized was that inbreeding’s negative effects are inversely proportional to the genetic health of the original breeding population.

In other words, if your family has a healthy genetic makeup with comparatively few defects, you may be able to (choke down your disgust and) safely inbreed for a few generations without any bad results.  If your family is not so genetically well-endowed, you won’t have to wait multiple generations to see problems.

The point made by Discover was that although the chances of congenital defects increase, the increase is still to a comparatively small number.

“Tripling the risk” sounds bad.

“Becoming 2% more likely” sounds a lot more palatable.

But if the base rate of a certain problem is 1%, then “tripling the risk” and “becoming 2% more likely” are the same thing — both get you to 3%.  Savvy statisticians and science writers can spin facts like this to suit their own agendas.

(Was it the hidden agenda of the Discover writer to seduce his own cousin? I can only say that the evidence does not discount such a possibility.)

I admit it.  I’m biased.

But I’ll admit my bias up-front: I’m pro-smarts.

I think our global society will succeed or fail based on the careful marshaling and increase of our collective cognitive resources.

I agree with Einstein (the cousin-f**ker mentioned earlier), who famously said:

“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”

If one accepts this idea, and adds the follow-on premise that smart people will inevitably create new problems, the implication is an ongoing intellectual arms race, with humanity continually bailing itself out of some dodgy jam it just recently got itself into.

Note:  This is exactly like every single TV sitcom’s plot, only with global catastrophe hanging in the balance.

So let’s grant Discover its point that serious congenital defects — while more likely in consanguineous marriages — are still not thaaat likely.

But now, let’s leave aside birth defects and official diseases with scary-sounding names.  Because…

Inbreeding makes people dumb.

Yes, exceptions exist.  Dumb is relative.  And everything I’m about to say is based on averages and likelihoods and “Normal Distribution Curves.”

A Normal Distribution, you may recall from science class, is the famous chart of a “bell-shaped curve” that can be used to predict everything from household power bills to the distance of the spitball you just threw at your teacher from the previous spitball you threw at your teacher.

In 1965, a Japanese study of cousin-marriages showed an average IQ deficit of 7 points in the resulting children.  (See more here.)

A 1993 Indian study showed an even further drop: 11.2 points of IQ.  (Among India’s 140 million Muslims, it’s estimated that 22% of marriages are consanguineous—meaning tens of millions of people.)

Intelligence, like other multi-variable traits, exhibits a “normal distribution” in any reasonably large population.  If consanguineous marriages reduce children’s IQ by somewhere between 7 and 11.2 points (we’ll round to 10 to keep the math easy), we can visually imagine taking the IQ-curve — with its peak normally at 100 — and sliding it to the left by 10 points, so its hump sits centered at 90.

To be fair, a 90 IQ isn’t very dumb.  Someone with 90 IQ is smarter than one out of every four people he meets.  This is not someone who wears a drool-bucket and is baffled by door handles.

But the problem isn’t what consanguinity does to the middle of the IQ curve; it’s what it does at the edges.

Amputating our allotment of geniuses.

Genius, if you go by the numbers, is defined as IQ 160 and above.

Normally, you’ll get six folks this smart in every 100,000 people.  That’s the straight Vegas odds if you’re betting on genius.

If you slice 10 points off the average IQ to accommodate consanguineous marriages, then to find how many geniuses you’re left with, you have to look at the number of people who would normally have had a 170+ IQ.  These are the only ones who will still be left at genius-level after the 10-point decrement.

The bell-curve has tapered down to super-skinny at this point.  As likely as not, you’ll have nobody with a 170+ IQ in a 100,000-person population.  Just 0.38 people per 100,000, to be exact.

So if you’re really hell-bent on doing it, consanguinity will cost your society almost 95% of the geniuses that random-ass luck would have given you for free.

Numbers Geeks:  You can see my calculations here.

Meanwhile, by sliding the bell-shaped curve left, you’ve pushed a much fatter slice into the dangerously low IQ territory.  An IQ of 70 used to be the cut-off for “borderline mental retardation” (back when that term was in vogue).  The term is no longer used — and the numbers-only designation wasn’t a good one — but this remains a level of measured intelligence at which teachers and social workers start making additional assessments to see, “Can this person really take care of himself?”

At straight Vegas odds, 70-and-below IQ “should” be just about 2.5% of the population.

But applying the 10 point penalty drops the entire 80-IQ-and-below population into the 70-and-below range.  Doing so quadruples the size of this group.  (A full 10% of the population on the standard IQ curve sits at 80 and below.)

Sometimes “tradition” is just plain dumb.

Can anything justify defoliating our limited supply of geniuses and simultaneously quadrupling the number of cognitive hard-luck cases?

Maybe.

But whatever it is would have to be pretty damn compelling.

Consanguinity doesn’t cut it.  Trading away all those IQ points for easier probate law and a convenient reduction in the number of in-laws… That’s just a bad bargain.

These days, over 60% of the world’s population lives in cities — cities complete with dance halls, Internet dating sites, and busybody spinsters with nothing better to do than help you hook up.  There’s no longer any geographical imperative for us to boink our relatives.

Of course, I realize the main motive force behind consanguineous marriages is not rational decision-making; it’s cultural inertia.  (Yes, that self-same bugbear who mandates European lawyers wear powdered wigs, and afixes Confederate Flag bumper stickers to the occasional pick-up.)

But culture, tradition… Are these really sufficient excuses for people to make their next generation dumb?

I am not trying to denigrate the Arab world, or the Amish.*

* Actually, nix that.  I’ve started with the letter “A” and will be denigrating all sociopolitical groups in alphabetical order.  Baathists and Belgians — you’re next!

I’m saying that sometimes studies like those cited above give us a clear signal that such-and-such cultural norm is demonstrably wrong.  When these signals come, we should count them as lucky breaks — even when they require us to break with tradition.

By ditching consanguineous marriage, cultures get what biology owes them anyway: a fresh shuffle to the genetic deck.  And the implementation is as simple as encouraging people to date outside their immediate gene pool.

That shouldn’t be too tough a sell, right?

A Conciliatory PS: 

I don’t expect I’ve got too many readers in consanguineous relationships, or who are the children of such relationships.  But I could be wrong.  With the overall number being about one person in eight worldwide, I could be very wrong.

If what I’ve written here offends you, or has left you wistful for additional IQ points that you might have had under different parentage, let me offer the following:

According to family lore, when I was a baby, my dad dropped me square on my head from a not-insignificant height.  Who knows how many IQ points this might have cost me, but if they ever do a large-scale study on head-dropping babies (they won’t), the results won’t be good.

But still, if they did — and if my family had a long tradition of head-dropping babies (we don’t) — I would still be eager to be among the first generation to formally shit-can that tradition.

We’re back with another installment of “cool stuff we’ve learned from neuroscientists.”  And we had plenty to choose from:  ketamine, LSD, Cannabidiol, and chocolate (oh yeah!).  Without further ado, here’s the best of what we’ve learned in the last three months…

Things You Should Be Doing

Exercise

Well duh you say, everyone knows exercise is good for your health.  But did you know exercise is equally important for your brain?  Exercise causes the growth of both neurons and synapses (connections between neurons), particularly in the parts of the brain responsible for memory and creative thinking.

Two things to remember:

  1. Complex movement (as opposed to a simple, repetitive movement like running on a treadmill) is your best bet for improving cognitive function.  Think body weight training intervals or trail running.
  2. Frequency is more important than intensity for cognitive function and longevity.  You’ll get more cognitive benefits from moving more every day than going into “beast mode” on the weekends.

Deliberate practice

We’ve all heard the maxim that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert.  Well, turns out that number is hardly scientific — what’s really important is spending a lot of time practicing, and making sure that practice is deliberate.

What’s deliberate practice?  It’s practicing a skill in a way that pushes you to improve as much as possible, through the right sequence of training, often guided by a teacher.  It’s constantly analyzing and measuring your performance, getting feedback quickly and early, and changing what you’re doing based on that feedback.  For a long time.  (It’s not really fun — but no one ever said being an expert was a walk in the park.)

Not being obese

There’s literally nothing good to be said about being obese.  Obviously, it’s horrible for your physical health.  But it’s also bad for your brain.  Obesity impairs episodic memory (the ability to remember previous events), working memory (short-term memory), and executive function (the ability to switch between tasks, focus, and filter out distractions).  The good news is, if you’re exercising regularly (see above), it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be obese.

Things You Should Be Eating

Chocolate

This has to be the easiest recommendation to implement.  Eat more chocolate.  Why?  People who eat a small amount of chocolate at least once a week perform better cognitively on tasks measuring working memory, abstract reasoning, visual-spatial memory, and ability to multitask.

Aim to eat 25-50 grams (4-8 small squares) a week.  Dark chocolate is better because it has more flavanols (the brain-boosting component of chocolate), but milk chocolate will still give you some benefits.

Souvenaid

Ok, this one is something to keep an eye out for in the future, but drinking 125 mL of a medical food called Souvenaid protects against Alzheimer’s-related memory loss.  Seems like a simple thing to avoid dementia, right?  Souvenaid is a mix of phospholipids, antioxidants, vitamins B6 and B12, folic acid, choline, DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid), and uridine.  (Beware:  simply taking each of these components as separate supplements probably won’t result in the same protective benefits.)

Supplements You Should Be Taking

Ginseng

If you want a better memory, take Ginseng.  It’s really that simple.  Ginseng improves memory, boosts your mood, and improves cognitive function despite mental fatigue.  It’s even better for mitigating mental fatigue than Modafinil.

To take:

Take 400mg a day (it’s actually more effective than a higher dose of 600mg).  For the full benefits, look for Asian ginseng, that boost both short- and long-term memory.  Make sure you’re taking pure supplements from a reputable brand.  Both Ginsana and Cereboost are high quality.  Two words of caution:  don’t take it too late in the day because it might disrupt your sleep, and talk to your doctor if you have diabetes.

Bacopa Monnieri

Bacopa might be the best natural extract out there for cognition.  It’s an antioxidant, is anti-inflammatory, promotes synaptogenesis, is adaptogenic (helps the body adapt to stress), and reduces beta-amyloid, a protein linked to Alzheimer’s and dementia.  It improves memory and helps you learn faster.

To take:

Take 300mg a day of a supplement that has 55% bacosides (the active compounds in Bacopa). The best brands are KeenMind and Synapsa.  Take Bacopa in the morning or early afternoon to avoid disrupting your sleep and with food to avoid stomach upset.

If You’re Going to Do Drugs, Take These

Cannabidiol

Not the same as marijuana, it’s just one of the active compounds (not psychedelic though), and is actually derived from industrial hemp.  Among its myriad benefits, it’s:  antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, neuroprotective, blocks tumor growth, promotes bone regrowth in broken bones, minimizes muscle cramps, and is a sleep aid.  On the cognitive side, it’s neuroprotective and can increase focus.

To take:

Methods of administration:

  • Transdermal.  Effective delivery with a localized relaxation effect, but you will smell a certain way.
  • Oral.
  • Vaping.  Quick and efficacious delivery, but there’s a risk of cancer.

Dosing:

  • To focus:  10-20 milligrams
  • To sleep:  40-50 milligrams

LSD

Only you can decide if you want to experience an acid trip (although Steve Jobs described it as “one of the most things” in his life).  But the post-trip, long-term benefits are where LSD really shines.  You can expect some personality changes, becoming more open, more community-minded, and feeling more connected to nature.  Even better for the brain, you’ll see greater cognitive flexibility, and the growth of new, permanent connections in your brain, particularly the cortex, the brain area responsible for cognition.

Plus, even if you have a bad trip, your brain will still benefit in the long run.

Ketamine

Ketamine has a bad rap.  And we’re certainly not suggesting you fall down a K-Hole as a casual weekend activity.  But, if you’re suffering from depression, it’s a treatment option to be aware of.  Unlike traditional antidepressant therapies, ketamine works almost immediately, offering relief from symptoms within two hours, and lasting up to two weeks.

Very Important Warning

Do not just buy some ketamine from your local drug dealer.  Street ketamine can be cut with all sorts of nasty stuff, and this treatment should really be administered under the supervision of a doctor.

PS:  For more of the best of neuroscience, sign up for Brain Breakfast — brain-boosting goodness delivered to your inbox every week.

Practical Advice for Navigating Autoimmunity in Everyday Life

In Episode 136, Dr. Terry Wahls shared the clinical results of her latest research.  Wahls herself is a walking testimonial to the effectiveness of the dietary changes now known as “the Wahls Protocol™” — and clinical research is currently providing further evidence to reinforce her recommendations.

For those who experience the daily challenge of living with an autoimmune disease, practical how-to information is of more immediate interest than quantitative research studies.  And Dr. Wahls has graciously shared her knowledge of the subject with us, answering specific questions relevant to people suffering autoimmune issues when implementing the Wahls Protocol™.


Q:  I have an autoimmune disease — How do I cope?

A:  A guided plan.

Dr Wahls suggests a framework, a set of principles to guide you to optimal health. Her book, The Wahls Protocol, provides a detailed plan to help people interpret their individual situation.

Her general suggestions include:

  • Work with a practitioner.
  • Together, examine your family history, your lifetime of environmental exposures and current symptoms to design a nutraceutical support program specific to your needs.
  • This program should be monitored so that minerals are not over-replaced, creating even more problems.
Dr. Wahls’ overall premise is that every individual has their own unique set of genetic predispositions, which are influenced by a lifetime of environmental factors. [Studies such as this one provide the answer to the “why” and “how” questions you may have.]
So there is no single, uniformly correct recipe for autoimmunity relief.

Q:  I am having a flare-up!  How can I quiet the inflammation and how long will it take?

A:  Key Nutrients

While there is no one specific remedial cocktail, Dr. Wahls does suggest the following to help quell inflammation:

  • Bone broth – rich in minerals and the amino acid glutamine, which his very helpful to healing the gut.
  • Fish oil, cod liver oil, liver, mussels and oysters because of their essential fatty acids Vitamins E, A, and K.
Again, the answer depends on the factors mentioned above, as well the specific bacterial and yeast species in the bowels, which influence intestinal permeability and the extent to which a person will be sensitive to exposures.

Q:  I had my DNA tested and I have so many genetic polymorphisms.  What should I do?

A:  Tracking and Tinkering

Dr. Wahls recommends that each person should pay attention to their unique habitat comprised of their:

  • Unique set of genetic vulnerabilities,
  • Unique set of lifetime environmental exposures and
  • Unique intestinal make up (specifically the bacteria and yeast organisms living in their bowels).

Because of our individuality, regardless of the health protocol or prescription, symptoms and responses must be monitored, tracked and tinkered with.  More on that below!

Focusing too much on what tests like 23&Me reveal, while interesting, can be confusing and overwhelming.  We are in the infancy of our understanding of our genetics and their variations.  In fact, sometimes the results from genetic test can reveal polymorphisms that are conflicting.  Again, follow Dr. Wahls’ main recommendation to work with a knowledgable practitioner.

Q:  I seem to react to so many things – even “healthy” foods!

A:  The Elimination Diet

Strip out the typical allergens and then re-introduce one food at a time, following a specific protocol. Dr. Wahls’ book outlines the process in detail.

Keep a log of new health strategies you implement. Note your responses. Be adaptive, change things that aren’t working. Tinker! Your life is just one, giant experiment.

Some people may react to “seemingly healthy” foods and nutrient, like kale, beef, citrus, and spinach.

Is the answer food sensitivity testing?

Dr. Wahls explains that there are two main types of food sensitivity testing:

  1. Those that look for reaction at the cellular level – body’s cellular response to challenges from a wide array of substances and
  2. Cytotoxic testing, which involves observing with the microscope the reactions of the blood cells (principally the activity of the neutrophils) to the food extracts in the presence of the patient’s serum.

Both testing methods have been shown to be at best incomplete and at times unreliable.

According to Dr. Wahls, there is no one, single test that can reliably account for all the challenges to the immune system.  She cites lectin as an example of one such challenge for which no such test exists.


Q:  I am nutrient deficient.  Should I supplement?

A:  Practitioner Monitoring and Testing

It is easy to overshoot, which can then bring about its own set of issues.  Supplements are just that – supplemental and not meant to be habitual.

Sometimes our unique “habitat” of vulnerabilities and life stressors may lead to nutritional gaps and supplementation may be necessary.

Do you have a nootropics skeptic in your life?

Are you tired of having to explain that no, there is no “limitless” drug, and yes, nootropics really do work, and yes they’re perfectly safe?  Then step right up because after answering the same old questions about nootropics for the hundredth time, we’ve put together a cheatsheet of comebacks and rebuttals you can swipe the next time you come across a skeptic.


How to Talk to Skeptics About Nootropics Infographic

Know someone else who needs help talking to a nootropics naysayer?  You can embed the infographic using the code below.  Don’t forget to link back to us!

Add this image to your site:

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!

It’s been an exciting year here at Smart Drug Smarts.  With 2016 hurtling towards us faster than the neuronal impulse in a well-sheathed axon (you knew we’d say something like that, right?) we thought a quick retrospective might be in order.


Podcast Milestones

Ep-100-SDS

Top Episodes of 2015

Episode 81: Optimizing Your Sleep
Optimize-Your-Sleep

Episode 74: Know Your Neurotransmitters: Dopamine
Neurontransmitters-Dopamine

Episode 66: Starvation and Its Benefits
Starvation-benefits

Episode 93: Semen — The World’s Sexist Antidepressant
semen

Episode 83: Aniracetam – First of the Ampakines
Aniracetam-first-ampakines

Future Plans

We’re working on an expanded version of our Smart Drugs Library. We can’t give too much away just yet, but we’re pretty darn excited, and this guy is going to be making a grand appearance. Nerd Otter Avatar

We’ve got a book in the works for late 2016.  Yes, with chapters, pages, and the ability to paper-cut yourself!  And a whoooole dollop of neuroscience.  🙂


The Team

We’ve worked all over the place.

Jesse
Jesse: I had to record one podcast episode with a T-shirt over both my head and the microphone, because I’d just gotten the lease on a new house, and it had hard floors and ceilings and literally no furniture, but it was the only quiet place with working Internet that I had to record the call — so the T-shirt was the best I could do to dampen the echoing noise of reflected sound. Pretty ridiculous.
Hannah
Hannah: For strangest place, it has to be a tie between a dessert-themed cat cafe in Saigon and a train through the Serbian countryside. The best place hands down was on the deck of a house overlooking the ocean in Hawaii (shoutout to going on vacation with your parents!).
Rhiannan (1)
Rhiannan: The Yen Cafe, Ho Chi Minh. Found it accidentally with Jesse one day. Feels like you’re hanging out in an oversized tree house, and we had the whole upstairs to ourselves for the day. Bonus: we were asked to take a break to have our palms read.
Michelle
Michelle: My daughter’s middle school band pep rally performance. It was a painful experience — between the butt numbing bleachers, the spotty WiFi, and the deafening band, which made up for lack of skill with enthusiasm and decibels approaching dangerous levels…not my most productive work experience.

We’ve been around the world

Total Countries Visited: 27

Hannah
12
Rhiannan
9
Jesse
5
Michelle
1 (But doesn’t her hometown of “Sammamish” sound exotic?  Well, strange anyway…try saying it eight times fast.)

We love drugs (smart drugs, that is)

Jesse

Synthetic: Sulbutiamine; Natural: Lemon Balm.
Hannah

Nexus.  It’s my first time taking a racetam and I love it!
Rhiannan

Caffeine, Omega-3s, and Nexus.
Michelle

Mitogen – it’s chock full of all the things needed to sustain and augment a healthy brain.

And, we’ve read some great books!

Hannah

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
Michelle

Does the New Year have you creating resolution lists designed to propel you to better health, wealth and well-being?  If so, you’re far from alone.  If you’re the average American, then according to Nielsen, “staying fit and healthy” topped your list last year — followed closely by “lose weight.”

2015 Nielsen resolutions.png

And — surprise, surprise! — these were the same goals held by most Americans in 2014, as well.

It turns out there’s a reason for the lack of year-to-year progress.  Most people, despite their stated goals, don’t follow any dietary health or weight loss program.  The disconnect between goals and actions explains a lot, doesn’t it?

The other big 2015 goals fell under the general umbrella of “becoming more productive” — which would presumably then allow goal-achievers to set their sights on more fun goals like enjoying life, spending time with family, hobbies, etc.

Achieve Your 2016 New Year’s Resolutions

Want to avoid this frustrating trend of “Resolution Recycling”?  Clear the slate — at least your personal slate — so that a “new and noteworthy” goal can top your list for 2017?

Suggestions for turning resolutions into reality range from setting small, achievable goals, to telling others your intentions so you will be held publically accountable.  All great advice.

But how about something even more concrete to help you conquer those goals related to achieving health, fitness and productivity?

Enter Nootropics:  Something “noo” to help you reach your goals!

What is a nootropic?  The word derives from the Greek word noos, which translates roughly to “mind.”  Nootropic is a general term for a class of chemicals — some naturally-occurring, some man-made — that offer cognitive benefits to the human brain.

To  qualify as a nootropic a compound must be only beneficial, non-toxic and follow the hippocratic decree to “do no harm.”

Unlike some media representations (remember the Limitless movie?), nootropics will not give you superpowers… But they can enhance your mental strength and staying power — making you more alert and focused without the side effects associated with better-known stimulant chemicals, like the ever-popular standby, caffeine.

(While definitely a “cognitive enhancer,” caffeine doesn’t qualify as a nootropic because of its negative side effects — the potential for tolerance build up and the post caffeine “crash.”)

Nootropics are best known for improving mental clarity and focus, improving short-term and long-term memory and boosting mood.

Recent research has shown that some nootropics may also provide physical benefits as a nice bonus to their cognition enhancing qualities.  These “smart drugs” also facilitate the body’s metabolic processes related to the production of new tissues and the release of energy from food and fat stores.

Here’s how the physical-cognitive double-whammy works:  Increased blood flow and glucose traveling to the brain are boosts to cognition — but they also promote the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the body’s intracellular fuel.  More fuel means more energy. Studies indicate that this energy boost can result in increased physical activity and performance and and thus, weight loss.

Try these four nootropics, each of which can give a double-bang for your neurological buck, and work through that list of 2016 Resolutions.

Alpha GPC:

  • Alpha GPC is a choline-containing supplement that in higher doses than achieved through natural food sources (like eating eggs and liver) has been linked to increased fat oxidation and muscle gains.
  • Research indicates that most people do not get adequate levels of choline in their diet.
  • Choline aids the transport of dietary fats throughout the body to your cells where they can be burned for energy.  Alpha GPC is a more bioavailable form of the substance, making it easier for you to reach your healthy New Year’s goal.

L-Carnitine:

Mucuna Pruriens:

  • A plant based, natural source of L-Dopa — a precursor to dopamine, that lovely neurotransmitter in our brains that motivates us to “do” (and enjoy doing) life.
  • Dopamine, typically recognized for increasing mental alertness, also possesses antioxidant properties and increases levels of human growth hormone, crucial to protein synthesis and the development of muscle growth.
  • Mucuna Pruriens can increase your levels of dopamine, improve your mood, give you energy to exercise, regulate blood sugar, and lose weight.  Plus it can provide an extra fringe benefit — an increased libido!

Rhodiola Rosea  see Episode #57

  • An adaptogenic herb that acts upon serotonin receptors in the brain.  Most known for its stress reducing and mood enhancing  qualities.
  • Studies show it reduces exercise related fatigue, improves post workout recovery and promotes fatty acid utilization, so you can use those fat stores for energy.  It’s also  been shown to reduce hunger and/or binge and junk eating.
  • It can increase your energy, speed up your exercise related recovery, help you burn fat, all the while making you feel more happy and alert.

Panacea Alert!

Taking nootropics will not magically transform you into a chess champion or an Olympic athlete.  Nothing can compensate for poor diet, lack of exercise and sleep deficits.

And while some nootropics have fast-acting (“acute”) effects, many of their best results — like long-term neuroprotection — are not typically immediate, but build gradually.

Achieve Your 2016 Health and Fitness Goal

Move your body regularly, get adequate rest, eat food that your great grandmother would recognize and try one (or all!) of these supplements.

You will be well on your way to reaching your 2016 goal to “Stay Fit and Healthy” (which we all know is really code for “Look Good Naked”).

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