The secret to making your brain work better

Want to improve your cognitive function? Then you’ll need to get a handle on your supplements ‘stack’

Tiffanie Darke March 29 2022

This article is a repost which originally appeared on Financial Times Magazine

Edited for content.

Our Takeaways:

· Supplements can be used to enhance brain function

· Nootropics can yield benefits without the side effects of more commonly used substances, like caffeine

· Foods like eggs which are high in Choline and phospholipids are good for brain health and function

“I take lion’s mane with a daily microdose of psychedelic, and B6 to switch on the brain and get more ideas,” says writer Catherine Frenette, of the effects of her supplements regime. “I did it all through writing my latest book: I had a short deadline and needed to stay at my desk. It absolutely worked. Without doubt, I’m working better.”

Tired, unfocused brain in need of a boost? The traditional recourse – coffee – is, it turns out, very pre-pandemic. A stimulant made for 2019’s office-worker world, when we were all just striving to “keep up”, it’s a short-term fix that burns through your adrenal reserves and leaves you, ultimately, depleted. Nowadays, that’s not good enough. Enter the latest nootropics – cognitive enhancers that will take users up and up, and could support brain function and health in the long term.

Unlike coffee, these new nootropics, or smart drugs, nourish the brain without cashing in on its energy reserves. The brain is the body’s most hungry organ, consuming 20 per cent of our energy, so it is vital that it is well fed. Stimulants such as coffee, Adderall or “study drug” Modafinil operate by robbing Peter to pay Paul: increasing dopamine while simultaneously depleting reserves.

“We think it’s normal to be tired and forget things. That’s not normal. We should be feeling better”
Michelle Gundry, clinician nurse

There is much debate about which nootropics to take, how to take them – and how much to take. In online forums, the nootropic hive mind bandies about options that include amino acids like L-theanine and glutamine, the salt magnesium threonate, nutrients citicoline and phosphatidylserine, adaptogenic herbs such as rhodiola and Bacopa, or the ubiquitously trending cordyceps.

“Everybody wants to know about brain biohacking right now,” reports Dr Tamsin Lewis, founder of Wellgevity, a personalised preventative healthcare service. “Everything starts with the brain. If you can change your neurochemistry you move differently, you interact differently, the whole filter to your day changes.” Lewis, who began trying nootropics following a head injury, believes plenty of improvement can be gained, but counsels: “There’s no one-size-fits-all – everyone’s baseline function is different.” She also cautions that some supplements are not dosed correctly or do not include their ingredients in a bioavailable form – it’s important to look for clarity when it comes to dosages.

Lewis recommends to her patients personalised blends of intravenous ingredients, including B vitamin complex and alpha lipoic acid. She says the latter is “a great enhancer of mitochondrial function, naturally increasing levels of glutathione [an amino acid involved in cell repair]. It can make your brain feel very clear for a good few weeks.”

Another compelling ingredient is Cognizin, a version of choline, which is a compound derived from food, particularly eggs. It promotes the production of phospholipids, which make up the membranes of our neural cells. Studies of Cognizin demonstrate up to a 25 per cent increase in attention, memory and focus in patients versus a placebo. It is an ingredient available in brain-boosting supplements from Qualia to Mind Lab Pro. Julian Lee, CEO of green tech business Binding Solutions, began taking Cognizin as one of the ingredients in the super-supplement Lyma. “I have remarkably better energy and focus during the day,” he reports. “Things have really shifted. I’m 50 and in very good health and spirits – I feel much younger than my age. Mentally, clear as a whistle.”

“If you can change your neurochemistry you move differently, you interact differently, the whole filter to your day changes”
Dr Tamsin Lewis, founder of Wellgevity

Over at Matt Roberts Evolution in Mayfair, where longevity doctors, physiotherapists and microdosing and psychedelic experts operate in tandem, a 60-something client is emerging from an intravenous glutathione infusion to treat her “brain fog”. “Glutathione cleans out her cells,” explains clinician nurse Michelle Gundry. “We think it’s normal to be tired and forget things. That’s not normal. We should be feeling better.” Matt Roberts Evolution also has coffee on the menu, but with a difference: “Mushroom coffee,” confirms Roberts, “made with cordyceps to give you the kick you need without the comedown.”

Medicinal mushrooms such as lion’s mane show some evidence of supporting neural health and cognition. Roberts recommends magnesium threonate for sleep (good sleep is essential for brain recovery and memory) and the supplement NAD, which is essentially niacin (a vitamin B3 extract), or its more hardcore sister, NMN. NAD may increase human-growth hormone response and therefore the ability of the body’s cells to regenerate. “Watch how you take NMN, though,” he says, “as it needs to be attached to a fat molecule to be absorbable.” Like almost everyone else I spoke to, Roberts cites gut health – in the form of a diet rich in plants and fermented foods – as a key element in the quest to improve brain function and adaptability.

Neuroplasticity is also on the mind of Clinique La Prairie, the Swiss health and beauty brand, which declares it a fundamental aspect of healthy ageing. Cognition, says Professor Bogdan Draganski, a neuroscientist at the University Hospital of Lausanne and a member of CLP’s scientific committee, is a key target for biohackers – or “neurohackers”, as he calls them. Last year, Clinique La Prairie came out with its own health supplement range, Holistic Health. It has been formulated with the patented nootropic Cognivia, which showed a nine per cent increase in numeric working memory.

Much of the interest in neurohacking is fuelled by the work of key professors at Stanford, Harvard and Yale. Neuroscience professor Andrew Huberman at Stanford School of Medicine is one such guru, as is Harvard professor of genetics David Sinclair. Both publish their work daily on social media and have amassed huge followings. Sinclair believes it’s possible not only for us to halt cellular decline but to reverse it. Huberman recommends easy hacks such as 30 minutes of sunlight every morning to set the circadian rhythm and “put you in control of your nervous system”.

Huberman also likes to publish his “stack”, which is how wellness nerds refer to their supplement regime. On a recent podcast he listed his latest, which included eating foods that are rich in omega-3s and/or supplementing with omega-3s to get 2-3g of the fatty acid EPA per day; phosphatidylserine, a lipid-like compound abundant in meat and fish; choline, which helps in modulating brain circuits; and creatine – a supplement the fitness-obsessed use to bulk up, “but which is good fuel for the brain – at least 5g a day”, he said.

“The science is changing all the time,” says James Heagney, gym director of KX health club in South Kensington, where Chelsea’s most ambitious wellness disciples go for workouts. “We follow the research to choose not just the nutrients gaining in popularity but those that have scientific backing.”

Heagney is currently looking at “dopaminergic supplements for focus and concentration, the amino acid tyrosine to improve alertness, and adaptogens like gingko and holy basil”. As a 4am riser, and with two young children to wrangle, Heagney is laser-focused on his own “stack”. “Increased performance and cognition is where it’s at,” he says. “Brain function is everything in the body.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Psychedelics Show Promise in Treating Mental Illness: Depression, Anxiety, Addiction, and PTSD

One in five U.S. adults will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, according to the National Alliance of Mental Health. But standard treatments can be slow to work and cause side effects.

To find better solutions, a Virginia Tech researcher has joined a renaissance of research on a long-banned class of drugs that could combat several forms of mental illness and, in mice, have achieved long-lasting results from just one dose.

This article is a repost which originally appeared on SciTechDaily 
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Edited for content and readability - Images sourced from Pexels 
Study: DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2021.109836

Using a process his lab developed in 2015, Chang Lu, the Fred W. Bull Professor of Chemical Engineering in the College of Engineering, is helping his Virginia Commonwealth University collaborators study the epigenomic effects of psychedelics.

Their findings give insight into how psychedelic substances like psilocybin, mescaline, LSD, and similar drugs may relieve symptoms of addiction, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The drugs appear to work faster and last longer than current medications — all with fewer side effects.

The project hinged on Lu’s genomic analysis. His process allows researchers to use very small samples of tissue, down to hundreds to thousands of cells, and draw meaningful conclusions from them. Older processes require much larger sample sizes, so Lu’s approach enables the studies using just a small quantity of material from a specific region of a mouse brain.

And looking at the effects of psychedelics on brain tissues is especially important.

Researchers can do human clinical trials with the substances, taking blood and urine samples and observing behaviors, Lu said. “But the thing is, the behavioral data will tell you the result, but it doesn’t tell you why it works in a certain way,” he said.

But looking at molecular changes in animal models, such as the brains of mice, allows scientists to peer into what Lu calls the black box of neuroscience to understand the biological processes at work. While the brains of mice are very different from human brains, Lu said there are enough similarities to make valid comparisons between the two.

VCU pharmacologist Javier González-Maeso has made a career of studying psychedelics, which had been banned after recreational use of the drugs was popularized in the 1960s. But in recent years, regulators have begun allowing research on the drugs to proceed.

In work by other researchers, primarily on psilocybin, a substance found in more than 200 species of fungi, González-Maeso said psychedelics have shown promise in alleviating major depression and anxiety disorders. “They induce profound effects in perception,” he said. “But I was interested in how these drugs actually induce behavioral effects in mice.”

To explore the genomic basis of those effects, he teamed up with Lu.

In the joint Virginia Tech – VCU study, González-Maeso’s team used 2,5-dimethoxy-4-iodoamphetamine, or DOI, a drug similar to LSD, administering it to mice that had been trained to fear certain triggers. Lu’s lab then analyzed brain samples for changes in the epigenome and the gene expression. They discovered that the epigenomic variations were generally more long-lasting than the changes in gene expression, thus more likely to link with the long-term effects of a psychedelic.

After one dose of DOI, the mice that had reacted to fear triggers no longer responded to them with anxious behaviors. Their brains also showed effects, even after the substance was no longer detectable in the tissues, Lu said. The findings were published in the October issue of Cell Reports.

It’s a hopeful development for those who suffer from mental illness and the people who love them. In fact, it wasn’t just the science that drew Lu to the project.

For him, it’s also personal.

“My older brother has had schizophrenia for the last 30 years, basically. So I’ve always been intrigued by mental health,” Lu said. “And then once I found that our approach can be applied to look at processes like that — that’s why I decided to do research in the field of brain neuroscience.”

González-Maeso said research on psychedelics is still in its early stages, and there’s much work to be done before treatments derived from them could be widely available.