Thursday, August 25, 2011


Readers are welcome to got to my contact page and submit questions for the blog. I will read all questions, but can't guarantee an answer personally, or on the blog. The likelihood that I will answer is quite high though, as I like answering questions more than I enjoy writing original blog articles. :)

Someone wrote in with this question: I read a number of your blog posts and got curious. Do you have a position on nootropics?

Learning about nootropics (aka "smart drugs" or brain enhancers) is actually one of the things that got me interested in health/longevity/performance-optimization in the early 90s. (My modest experimentation in that area hopefully at least didn't shorten my lifespan significantly.)

Nootropics is a very broad category of substances ranging from pure pharmaceuticals (such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and psychiatric medications etc) to plant formulations/extracts with some pharmaceutical actions (e.g., coffee and ginko biloba) to isolated amino acids and other compounds (e.g., choline, inositol, vitamin D, steroid hormones) that are available from regular food, or manufactured by the body from food.

Given how different the risk/benefit profile is for each of these items, each must be evaluated on its own merits and particularly with an eye to if it is intended to be used temporarily or chronically.

In opinion, very few (if any) qualify for sustained long term use as they invariably create imbalances or other side effects if there is no dietary or functional deficiency to begin with. (I doubt that most people are born with a genetic caffeine deficiency.)

The body can't do something out of nothing and is a finite system with finite resources. If one area of function (such as mental function) is artificially ramped up, function somewhere else will invariably have to be sized down at some point. A simple example is that drinking too much coffee may lead to exhaustion of the sympathetic side of the endocrine- and autonomic nervous systems.

In my experience, few things in the realm of brain performance beat the following basics on a long term basis:

  1. Sound nutrition: Anti inflammatory diet ("paleo"), appropriate macronutrient ratio for body-type/health-condition, vitamin/mineral supplements as needed.
  2. Sleep. (Sleep might even be #1)
  3. Restoration/maintenance of gut health (neurotransmitters are produced and/or metabolized in the gut).
  4. Restoration/maintenance of steroid hormone balance/production.

Bottom line: Make the whole body optimally functional, and the brain will be optimally functional. (This may sound a little boring for those who want quick, pragmatic tricks, but then, well, go google for "Mondo 2000 and nootropics" and you'll see what type of stuff intrigued my less mature self twenty years ago.)

On top of the lifestyle/restorative foundation sketched above, feel free to intermittently add your nootropics of choice as an occassional performance enhancer for whatever job you need to get done.

My personal favorites are L-tyrosine and caffeine when I want to boost dopamine (the "go-do-something" neurotransmitter).

A nootropic mix that I use occasionally rapidly unwind jet lag is Alpha-GPC in the morning combined with melatonin, phosphatidyl serine and magnesium chelates around bed time.

But really, a "paleo" diet + fixing up my adrenal glands is what has given me the best brain boost that I've ever experienced.

(As always, this is for educational and entertainment purposes only. Check with your government approved/licensed health care practitioner before making any changes in diet, exercise, and supplements.)

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