Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Supplements for the Mind

This definitely sounds like the heading to some pseudoscience article on how eating "organic, non-GMO lawn clippings will unlock the other 90% of your brain." Well, it kinda is. At least, this post is to touch upon a field of supplements that have been used by people to increase their mental skills / brain capacity / etc.

As I mentioned in a prior post, we talked a lot about supplements in our CCS course. We touched a lot upon how some supplements may not contain exactly what they say they do, and/or how some supplements aren't really well researched / have significant evidence that they work.

This led me earlier in the year to look more into a particular group of supplements called nootropics - supplements that basically help your brain out in some way or another. As a college student, there's a lot of interest in something that will help me memorize all these organic chemistry mechanisms or something that will help keep me awake to memorize all these organic chemistry mechanisms (I definitely don't have my ochem final tomorrow).

I just wanted to report back on how ridiculous some of this stuff is.

There are a lot of communities and forums based around nootropics and the like. Most of them are full of babbling idiots talking about how "some study showed an increase in (mental capacity) in mice using (substance) and thus it must work," while others are going on about how "they definitely felt smarter after using said (substance)." There's just so much wrong with all of this. 

A lot of the supplements are pretty sketchy too - several supplements are "not authorized by the FDA, but their import for personal use is allowed. However, the sale of (supplement) is prohibited." It's all a pretty big mess, and I'm not quite sure if the possibility of being able to memorize a few more mechanisms outweighs the possibility of having the DEA meet me with the local police force when I go to pick up the mail.
Purchases of a lot of these nootropics are run through websites that are particularly sketchy themselves; more reliable vendors such as Amazon have pulled their listings of nootropic supplements had some of their listings banned by the FDA .

In the end, a lot of these supplements seem relatively risky; you may get a positive effect from them, but the side-effects/long-term symptoms are unknown (since most of the nootropics are fairly new substances).

However, there have been more "reliable" supplements and/or "stacks" - supplements that work well together. One particular example is caffeine and l-theanine, both of which are substances found in tea. L-theanine, simply put, has a calming effect while caffeine, which we are all familiar with, has a stimulant-like effect. The two together supposedly create a sense of alert-ness without the "jitters" of caffeine.

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