Do Brain Boosters Really Work? The reality of brain supplements and tips
Joanna Helmuth, MD, a neurologist at the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco, is concerned. She’s worried about vulnerable people like vapenaysh6969, a Reddit user who recently asked for advice on the Nootropics subreddit, a message board where more than a quarter of a million people try to make their way through all the products. supposedly brain stimulating chemicals on the market. “I ordered phenylpiracetam,” vapenaysh6969 wrote. “I desperately need motivation after being unemployed for a year now.”
Dr Helmuth has studied the rise of pseudomedicine in brain health products, and she believes the industry – surprisingly worth $ 7.2 billion – is preying on people who are desperate for solutions. . It reminds him, in fact, of the days when nostrils were sold to cure cancer, before scientific treatments became available. People who worry about their memory, stress levels, or employability can be particularly vulnerable, but anyone can be caught in the hype, especially since the endless looping exhaustion of the pandemic and Covid brain fog continue. Piracetam and its analogue phenylpiracetam, for example, were used in the 1980s to help Russian cosmonauts deal with stress and fatigue on mission. They are not FDA approved and there is no evidence that they will help you find employment during a pandemic. (At least not on earth.) But that doesn’t stop people like vapenaysh6969 from betting their hopes, brains, and money on unproven treatments like them.
However, there are still plenty of science-based options for the potential hacker. So instead of getting sucked into a fake black hole, learn the best ways to improve your brain’s performance.
Hack your concentration at work
There is no shortage of promising supplements to help you think better and focus better. First, the bad news about products like these: In 1994, Congress passed a law that allowed supplement manufacturers to control themselves when it came to labeling claims. Companies could say pretty much anything they wanted, as long as they didn’t promise to cure a specific disease. Since then, there has been essentially “no verification process by which these products are reviewed by the FDA,” says Pieter Cohen, MD, of Harvard University, who studies adulterants and labeling errors on the product. supplements market. This means that no matter how hard the supplements claim to “reduce procrastination” or “fuel focus, accuracy, memory, literacy, learning and focus,” it hasn’t been proven that they did it in healthy people.
So what should you take to hyperdrive your brain at work? “Caffeine, hands down,” says Dr. Cohen. He recommends getting it from tea and coffee, which humans have used for centuries. Taking breaks, going for walks, and watching nature scenes are also well-documented productivity hacks. But the future of focus isn’t entirely bleak – we could eventually have a suite of digital therapies tested. The first game-based treatment for children with ADHD, Akili’s EndeavorRX, was approved by the FDA in June 2020 and essentially created a new category for non-drug attention modification games.
Hack your memory
Memory loss, including loss caused by dementia, is a particularly demoralizing area of brain science, where proposed solutions have failed again and again, much during the transition from animal research to worldwide application. real. That’s why you should be wary of “bioplausible” ideas: theories that make sense based on studies in cells or animals but may not work in complicated human brains.
It can be exhausting sorting through research and figuring out what it all means. That’s why the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation has created a database of drugs evaluated by neuroscientists called Cognitive Vitality Ratings. It has all kinds of so-called memory boosters, such as rapamycin, citicolin, and huperzine A, which can be sorted by their benefits, safety, and how much evidence they work. But we can save you a visit, because – surprise – the main steps recommended by the foundation to prevent Alzheimer’s disease are to sleep well, eat well Mediterranean style, maintain social ties, reduce stress, ‘use your brain in new ways, manage chronic disease and exercise.
A sci-fi option, however, could be coming. Cognito Therapeutics, a research-based company at MIT, is studying the use of light and sound to treat Alzheimer’s disease. By using these stimuli to evoke gamma waves in the brain, they saw the type of activated immune response that can reduce plaques common in disease. It sounds like another case of bioplausible science, but the difference is this: Rather than marketing the stimuli directly to consumers, Cognito initiated three randomized, controlled clinical studies in people with Alzheimer’s disease and obtained positive results.
Hack your performance
The idea of zapping the brain through the scalp to enhance specific abilities excites just about everyone. According to the search engine PubMed, there have been more than 5,500 scientific papers on transcranial electrical stimulation (TES) since 2011. A common target of TES machines in laboratories is the motor cortex, located at the top of the skull, where the tape on a pair of headphones would go. In studies, stimulation of this area has been used to stimulate motor learning and aid in motor recovery after brain damage. So, of course, companies jumped in to suggest that you could attach a stimulator to your head at home and, say, improve your running performance. Beware. There is credible research, including US Air Force research, on TES and skill acquisition. But whether home devices actually help you perform – or whether it’s the practice you do wearing them that helps – isn’t yet clear. Neuroscientist from Duke Murali University Doraiswamy, MD, a MH advise, also warns that home TES devices are not calibrated well enough and are certainly not sport specific. “Every millimeter in the brain is precious territory,” he says. “So if you’re off by even a millimeter, you can stimulate a bad circuit with unintended consequences.” These could range from burnt skin on your scalp to seizures.
Instead of paying hundreds of dollars for one of these systems, a better option would be a product that uses your own mental effort to improve performance, like a meditation app that encourages focus or a workout enhancer like Rewire. Rewire, an app and button system releasing in May, is largely based on research by scientist Samuele Marcora, Ph.D., who has shown that physical fatigue and cognitive fatigue exhaust the same circuit. By training them simultaneously, such as identifying different sounds with buttons while running, you can boost your athletic performance, or at least your ability to multitask. Training your brain to help your body can give you an edge in competition.
Hack your brain health
If you can afford to try and maintain your biological material by spending $ 15 for a box of IQ protein bars, loaded with nutrients supposed to stimulate the brain, or $ 18 for an organic lion’s mane mushroom, said to increase growth factor. nerve in the brain, they probably won’t harm you, according to preclinical studies. But consider how often ideas about the benefits of red wine, chocolate, and low-fat diets have changed over the past few decades. In science, an effect is only proven when it is statistically significant and replicated in large groups of people. A few animal or small group studies may be the start of something big, or it could reverse and sparkle.
Instead of gorging on processed foods or powdered extracts, it’s almost certainly best to get your nutrients from whole foods. One way to help your brain may be in your gut: Bacteria living in the gut can promote the production of neurotransmitters, including, according to some data, about 45% of the body’s serotonin. Other research has linked gut microbes to the production of calming GABA. Evidence suggests that the health and diversity of your gut bacteria may play a role in the development of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, anxiety, and depression, among other problems. Personalized gut microbiome modulators are not yet available, although researchers are working on them. For now, a man’s best bet is to get 30 to 38 grams of fiber a day, which feeds the body’s helpful bacteria, says Drew Ramsey, MD, an HD counselor and author of Eat to beat depression and anxiety. High-fiber options include oatmeal, beans, lentils, avocados, cruciferous vegetables, fermented foods, and fruits.
Above all, remember that our current situation has placed historic and unusual pressure on the human brain. You can’t fault anyone for wanting to optimize themselves. Brain scientists are simply suggesting that you would do well to keep this old healer’s Oath in mind when considering the latest fads: First, don’t hurt.
This story originally appeared in the May issue of Men’s health magazine.
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