- Neuroplasticity – An In-Depth Guide to How it Works and How to Transform Your Brain
- Training to Develop Synaesthesia for Improved Memory and Maths Ability (Theoretically)
- How to Train Like Bruce Lee for Insane Power and Speed
- A Complete Guide to Transhumanism
- The Surface Pro 3 – Ideal Productivity for Web Entrepreneurs
- Can You Bench Press a Dinosaur??
- The Neuroscience of Genius And Increasing Intelligence
- How Caffeine Affects Neurotransmitters and Profoundly Changes Your Brain
- A Detailed Guide to Your Brain – So You Can Start Hacking It
- Almost Every Bodyweight Exercise Ever (150+ Moves)
The Best Nooptropic Stack – Cognitive Metabolic Enhancers
As regular readers of this blog may know, I have been experimenting with nootropics (supplements etc that boost brain power) for a while. I’ve tried modafinil, CiLTEP, Piracetam, Bulletproof Coffee, yerba mate and more besides and I’ve had mixed results with them and mixed opinions.
Now though, I think I’ve found the sweet spot: I have a nootropic stack that’s allowing me to work harder and for longer and to be more creative.
And when I say it’s working, I’m not kidding. To give you an idea, I normally write 10,000 words a day maximum for my clients and this tends to take me most of the day. For the last two weeks though I’ve been pumping out 15,000-20,000 words a day. And I’ve been retaining a lot of the information much more. In the space of two days I now know a ton about cars and can reel off loads of different manufacturers and statistics off the top of my head. Previously I never tended to actually take much of what I was writing in… As an added bonus I’ve been sleeping better, working out more and feeling more energetic in the mornings. And as for creativity – I’ve had at least two breakthroughs with my apps that have resulted in direct increases in sales.
The stack is built entirely out of ‘cognitive metabolic enhancers’. Read on and I’ll tell you what those are, why they work so well and of course how you can start taking the stack yourself…
The Problem With Nootropics
Most of the nootropics I’ve toyed around with in the past like modafinil and Piracetam work by increasing levels of particular neurotransmitters in the brain, specifically things like dopamine, acetylcholine, norepinephrine etc. These have the effect of increasing attention, motivation and learning while helping you feel more alert and awake. Sounds good right?
Well unfortunately, it’s not entirely a positive story. For starters, we don’t really know 100% how nootropics like modafinil and Piracetam have their effect. If you’re happy taking a supplement that alters brain chemistry without you knowing how, then be my guest. For most people though this is a massive red flag – what other neurotransmitters are being affects?
Another problem is that no one neurotransmitter is ‘better’ than another. For instance, you might think that dopamine is great because it helps you to maintain focus and improves learning and motivation – but consider that it might also reduce creativity (1). In order to be focused and alert we want our brains to be ‘wired’, but actually the precise opposite is needed for creative thinking. It’s when our brains are relaxed that they’re free to explore our connectome (the huge network of neurons) and create unique and new associations. We are most creative when we are engaging our ‘default mode networks’, which is why creativity tends to flow when we’re tired, a little drunk or taking a stroll through the woods. Norepinephrine meanwhile is associated with ‘fight or flight’ and the last thing you want when you’re outrunning a lion is to be daydreaming.
In other words then, creativity and focus are really at polar ends of the spectrum. Increasing certain neurotransmitters will increase one, but it will decrease the other. Hmm… And it’s not like you can really increase or decrease neurotransmitters either – the brain responds to fluctuations in one with fluctuations in others. So when you increase your dopamine this causes an increase in norepinephrine because you brain is saying ‘this is important’. As we haven’t even discovered all the neurotransmitters, there’s no telling what other chemicals are rising and falling in response to nootropics.
Then there’s the small matter of tolerance. If you artificially increase one neurotransmitter in your brain too much, your brain will respond by deciding it needs to create less of that chemical. Suppress the expression of your neurotransmitters and your brain will make more. In the end, a nootropic that gives you desirable short-term benefits can actually give you the opposite effect in the long term. Feel groggy in the morning until you get your first mug of coffee? That’s not because caffeine wakes you up – it’s because you’re experiencing withdrawal symptoms (read this)! There’s no reason to think that something like modafinil wouldn’t do the precise same thing. And again, it’s possible that caffeine could actually be blunting your creativity (more here). Apart from anything else, tolerance means that these nootropics become less effective over time.
So in other words, if you rely on nootropics like modafinil then you’ll be cherry picking some ‘abilities’ for your brain while actually neglecting others. You’ll gradually start to build up a tolerance and you’ll be causing long-term changes that you probably aren’t even aware of. Nooot really a good idea.
Likewise, nootropics that try to increase brain plasticity are also misguided. Do you really want to increase plasticity indiscriminately? Sure, you’ll learn new skills quicker, but you’ll also learn bad habits quicker and change personality faster. Again, your brain is perfectly adept at knowing when to be plastic – it just needs more energy to do it more efficiently.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not demonizing nootropics generally. After all, we’re all more than happy to mess up our brains with alcohol and bad diets. Nootropics are no worse, at least we’re trying to go in the right direction. All I’m saying is that this isn’t a good long term solution. To me, something like modafinil or CiLTEP is what you use in the short term like a scalpel on very special occasions. If you know you need to increase focus for a few hours, using them once can be very effective and won’t risk building a tolerance.
Your Brain on ENERGY
So what then, is a good way to use nootropics? In my opinion at least, it’s to focus on those nootropics that focus purely on cellular energy. Some of these things aren’t even marketed as nootropics, but they are nevertheless much more effective at increasing all of your cognitive faculties.
The point is, that our brain is perfectly capable of switching between tasks and settings and will increase or decrease nootropics accordingly. Need to focus? Your brain will increase its production of dopamine and norepinephrine naturally. Need to learn? Up goes the acetylcholine. Had a long day? Adenosine and melatonin will make you sleepy. You can’t do this better than your brain already does, so if you try and change the levels yourself you’ll probably only end up sending everything out of whack.
The only time that your brain gets less efficient at altering states is when you are tired. When you’re tired, you will struggle to focus, you’ll struggle to regulate your mood and you’ll struggle to remember anything. The reason we procrastinate in the evening is actually because we’re too tired to resist the temptation. Likewise, we might struggle to provide our brains with enough energy to hold numbers in our short-term memory while performing maths. In fact, you’re even less moral when you’re tired because you don’t have the energy to think about the implications of your actions (2).
We often forget to consider it, but our brain requires energy to work – just like our muscles. And more energy, means better performance. While also happens to be why creatine is such an effective nootropic…
‘Cognitive metabolic enhancers’ is a term I’ve heard used to describe nootropics that increase brain function by increasing the ability of our cells and our mitochondria to produce energy. In short, they make our neurons more energy efficient and that makes our thinking more energy efficient. I’m not sure if this is an official term (I haven’t seen it anywhere else), but I’m going with it…
The Best Nootropic Stack
My own experiments confirm all this to be true. By increasing cellular energy I have found I can concentrate much more effectively for hours. At the same time though I can relax just as easily and daydream just as well to come up with creative ideas. I’m in a better mood all the time, I’m more motivated and I’m remembering more. My brain simply has more energy to do everything better.
Oh and as an added bonus, making your cells more efficient means you burn more fat and have more muscular endurance. I’m also waking up feeling much more energetic and starting work about an hour earlier (I can do that because I’m self-employed).
So what’s this magic stack? The one I have chosen is as follows:
- Vitamin D
- MCT Oil
- Omega 3 fatty acids
Each of these can help to increase energy in your cells but they become even more potent when used synergistically. Vitamin D for instance when taken in the morning helps to improve sleep and supports many metabolic functions (many of us are deficient). MCT oil provides you with immediate short-term energy because it much more rapidly enters the blood stream and provides the brain with ‘ketones’ which are a secondary source of energy that the brain prefers for certain tasks.
Lutein meanwhile, when taken with whole fat milk, has been shown in one recent study to increase our cell’s energy efficiency and is probably the single supplement that I believe is having the biggest positive effect (3).
Creatine recycles used ATP (ADP) so that our cells can re-use it. ATP is our ‘energy currency’ so this means our cells have more immediately available energy. One study has shown that supplementing with creatine can increase short-term memory and performance on IQ tests (4).
Omega 3 fatty acids increase cell membrane permeability over time, allowing more nutrients and energy to pass through. Omega 3 and coconut oil are particularly synergistic as the latter increases the former in the frontal cortex.
And garlic is a vasodilator which will widen the blood vessels helping more oxygen and nutrients to reach the brain. Training your VO2 max may also boost brain performance.
I’d also like to try experimenting with some other potential cognitive metabolic enhancers including: l-carnitine, CoQ10, beta-alanine and lipoic acid. I’ll let you know how those go in future posts. I also mentioned that I would very occasionally use another nootropic as a ‘scalpel’ for days when I *really* am working to the clock. My ‘scalpel’ of choice in these scenarios is CiLTEP but I don’t take it regularly.
So anyway, there you go. From my experimentation and research this is the best way to boost your brain power with smart drugs and to improve your overall health too. It’s safe, it’s natural and it has a number of other wonderful effects. To me, that’s what a nootropic stack should be like. Try it and let me know how you get on, I’d love to hear your thoughts.