Are Nootropics Worth It? Pt. 1

I had a 55 average in Pathology class over the first two exams, and there were three more to go. I needed a 75% average total over those five exams in order to pass the class. There were six tests total in that class, 5 exams and one final exam worth the weight of the other five. A below 75% average on either the final or the average score of the first five would result in a failing grade.

My motivation was at an all time low, and I was not enjoying what I was doing. But never one to give up, I pushed myself to pass the class. Under surmounting pressure and the influence of nootropics, I achieved a 97% average over the next three exams to pass the class. Nootropics include synthetic compounds like 1-p-anisoyl-2-pyrrilidinone (aniracetam), 2-[(Diphenylmethyl) sulfinyl]acetamide (modafinil), and N-phenylacetyl-L-prolylglycine ethyl ester (noopept), and naturally occurring substances like caffeine, berberine, or gingko extract.

The few days before before the exams, I took 500 mg berberine, 80mg or so of caffeine from a cup of coffee, gingko, and if I recall correctly, Huperzine A. I felt very focused for a few hours on those supplements and was able to sift through a lot of information and retain it. Adderall was a no-no for me because I felt it would drain my body. I was open to trying modafinil, but I needed a prescription for it and didn’t want to put in the effort to obtain any at the time.

What these stressful cramming sessions reinforced was that nootropics work. There are drugs and natural compounds that greatly boost cognition, flooding our synapses with neurotransmitters that improve retention of information and increase our ability to focus.

But I never wanted to do that again. I’m not a burnt out Silicon Valley techpreneur and will never again be a burnt out student. The demand for nootropics comes from a culture that is very stressed and pressured. I have nothing against them, but do think the reason they’re in demand reinforces the need to seek balance. If nootropics are yang, yin is sleeping enough. There must be a balance or something will collapse.

As I explained years ago in this Youtube video, nootropic supplements simply don’t work as well for me when I’m burnt out. At the time, I was exercising intensely without eating enough. My sport involved getting stronger without gaining weight. I did it the wrong way, by consuming a fairly limited diet that did not fully satisfy my body. This resulted in adrenal fatigue and subclinical hypothyroidism (I diagnosed this myself, so I’m not 100% sure it was the case, but it’s going into the book).

After changing my diet, my symptoms improved. Whatever the case was, I was burnt out. By the time I had entered medical school I still was not fully recovered. After days where I would sit in lectures for 400 minutes, I often could not go to the gym afterwards because I felt too drained.

I took various supplements to decrease my stress and hopefully offset this, but they weren’t enough. My body needed recovery. Ultimately, I simply could not work out as intensely in medical school. Now that I’m out, I’ve made consistent progress in my workouts and unfortunately have ripped two pairs of pants because my hip adductors are getting larger from squatting.

So where’s the balance? I know that people reading this aren’t going to all of a sudden decide to become hunter-gatherers who don’t experience as much stress as someone working in an office trying to meet deadlines. And that’s not the solution anyway; it’s escaping.

The solution is to focus on the fundamentals first and foremost. Here they are:

  • Sleep:
    • use blue-blocking glasses at night, and keep your lights dim.
    • Do not stare directly into your phone, tablet, or laptop late at night. Use flu.x and other software to lower the blue-light.
    • Sleep on time and sleep enough.
  • Diet:
    • Consume a variety of nutrient dense foods like egg yolks, organ meats, broths, green vegetables, fish, nuts, and lentils.
    • Do not excessively restrict any type of macronutrient like fat, sugar, or protein.
    • Do not avoid cholesterol or salt, they are good for the brain.
    • Eat high quality protein. The amino acid tyrosine is the precursor to dopamine, norepinephrine (the “deficient” neurotransmitter in ADHD), and epinephrine, and tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin.
    • Seek balance in your diet and eat intuitively.
    • Eat spices and herbs in your food: turmeric, ginger, garlic, or rosemary, oregano, and thyme (all are neuroprotective which means they enhance cognition).
    • Limit refined sugar, refined salt, refined grains, and vegetable oils.
  • Exercise in moderation. Move. Stretch. Breathe.
  • Meditate, because it promotes neurogenesis (and because it feels amazing).
  • Spend time in nature.
  • Get grounded: allow your feet to touch the earth. This connects you to the earth’s magnetic field which reduces inflammation. Read “Earthing,” Dr. Jack Kruse, and follow Matt Blackburn on Instagram.
  • Have sex in moderation. Good sex, with someone that makes you feel good all around ideally.
  • Don’t be a procrastinator like me and do things earlier.

When you have a crutch to rely on, you will always forget the fundamentals. Nootropics will only work as long as you aren’t deficient in nutrients, and not too stressed or burnt out. Once those two things occur, they can’t work effectively because the reactions in the neurons necessary to for cognition to take place rely on minerals like magnesium and B vitamins. This perhaps explains why people who take adderall for a long time feel unable to focus when they are not on it anymore. This is also why I’m reluctant to try modafinil.

Naturally occurring substances that promote brain function however likely won’t deplete neurons/synapses or whatever it is as much. I need to look into this much more on a biochemical level to further understand how true this theory is. In some instances, what I just said may not be true. But from my own personal experience, it certainly seems to be.

Lastly, receptors in the brain can acclimate to nootropics very quickly. I experienced this with raw cacao beans and spirulina, naturally occurring substances that I’ve used in the past to enhance brainpower. They worked the best initially, but if I used them too often I did not get the same effect. The solution there is to cycle them, and again, focus on fundamentals first and foremost.

Conclusion

It takes work to practice prevention. It takes work to take care of yourself too. Make it a priority and see how it changes your health!

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