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What You Should Be Eating, Taking, and Doing According to Neuroscience

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.

One comment

  1. John says:

    So to be smarter, eat chocolate while somehow losing weight and load up on the LSD, Ketamine, and Cannabids? I know some people who have done this and it didn’t exactly make them smart. Maybe they are just outliers and a larger sample size is needed?

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