We are known to have access to roughly 20% of our brain abilities. What happens to the rest 80%? They remain dormant and not utilised. Watch the trailer below. The movie is called Limitless and it's about a struggling author who drastically improves his life by gaining 100% access to his brain abilities. All by simply taking a pill.
But did you know that this movie is not entirely a fiction? Biohacking the brain for improved performance is real and it's happening among us. There are world leaders, entrepreneurs and artists that have been doing this all along, and now you can do too. Here are 10 ways to biohack your brain for improved performance, health and longevity.
Please Note: Keep in mind that natural supplements aren’t always 100% safe, this is especially true if you take other medications. Talk to your doctor before adding any brain supplements and check for possible drug-interactions here.
UPDATE 6 March 2018: I've started taking Unfair Advantage after reading the book HEAD STRONG by Dave Asprey. The book covers details on the importance of our mitochondrial function, avoiding mold (foods, drinks and properties!) and the ketogenic diet. I highly recommend you to read his book and check out his product(s). You will be amazed! In the meantime, this article's top 10 ways to biohack your brain still remains more than relevant today.
#1 Nootropic Supplement
Nootropic supplements are legal supplements that improve the physical health of the brain, memory and clarity. There are different brands and manufacturers with varying ingredients. Therefore some products may work for you while others may not. Ideally, an effective nootropic supplement should contain separate ingredients for:
- Tissue building and repair (amino acids for the brain)
- The production or release of neurotransmitters (brain signals)
- Brain stimulant for attention, clarity and focus
- And, little to no filler ingredients.
Neuro-Peak is a natural nootropic supplement which currently ranks #75 in Amazon’s Best Sellers Rank.
- DMAE (Dimethylaminoethonal) to promote the production of acetylcholine (neurotransmitter),
- PHOSPHATIDYLSERINE, for cell membrane structures, supporting memory and brain nerve cell health,
- BACOPA MONNIERI, a natural chemical compound found in Bacopin (herb) to support memory function,
- RHODIOLA ROSEA EXTRACT, a Russian herb to prevent brain fatigue and stress
- GINKO BILOBA EXTRACT, herb extract for mental alertness, concentration and brain blood circulation,
Which essentially ticks all the boxes for it to be a highly-recommendable nootropic supplement. Nootropics are also known as smart drugs or cognitive enhancers and multiple studies have proven its effects (1,2). However, the use of such supplements by healthy individuals remain controversial and debated among scientists and health care practitioners due to factors including ethics and fairness of their use. Nonetheless, nootropics are now a billion dollar industry and if this is your first time hearing about it, you might be missing out.
#2 Magnesium Threonate
Magnesium is an essential dietary mineral required in more than 300 enzyme systems including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation. As important as it is, magnesium is the second most deficient nutrition in developed countries (3,4). Common signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency include:
- Lack of focus and clarity
- Brain fog
- Low tolerance to stress
Studies have shown that magnesium supplementation is effective in many mental disorders including depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia (5-8). There are many forms of magnesium supplements to choose from, but only magnesium l-threonate crosses the blood-brain barrier, making it the best for the purposes of brain supplementation (9). It’s unique ability to enter and increase magnesium concentrations in the brain makes it an excellent choice for improving:
Make sure to look for magnesium threonate supplements and NOT the inexpensive variants of magnesium such as oxide or sulfate as they yield very low bioavailability. The only reported side effects of magnesium threonate are headaches and drowsiness in the first week or so of use (10).
Citicoline is a naturally occurring compound in the body. It was originally developed in Japan for stroke patients and was later introduced to European countries as a prescription drug for brain disorders. Today, citicoline is marketed as a brain supplement (11). Citicoline is yet lesser known in today’s market of nootropics but it’s one of the most effective. It’s known to:
- Build healthy brain cell membranes
- Improve blood flow to the brain
- Improve brain plasticity
- Increase brain energy by stimulating the mitochondria
- Reduce harmful effects of free radical damage and inflammation (main causes of brain ageing)
- Elevate levels of acetylcholine (neurotransmitter involved with memory and learning)
Some of the known side effects include insomnia, headache, diarrhoea, low or high blood pressure, blurred vision and chest pains (12).
Vinpocetine is a new brain booster that blurs the line between brain supplement and smart drug. It’s based on vincamine, a chemical found in periwinkle (Vinca minor), a species of flowering plant native to central and southern Europe. In the medieval times, it was used to treat headaches, memory loss and vertigo (13). Vinpocetine is known to:
- Improve memory
- Fight brain fog
- Improve mental clarity
- Protect against brain ageing
- Decrease brain inflammation
- Improve the brain’s ability to use glucose (especially after a stroke)
In some parts of the world, vinpocetine is only available through prescription but is currently available in the U.S. as a brain supplement. The FDA is currently in the process of reviewing vinpocetine. Unfortunately, it is speculated that vinpocentine will be made unavailable for the general public NOT due to safety concerns but because many believe that it should be classified as a drug and not a supplement (14).
Did this come as a surprise?
Although all of the aforementioned brain-enhancers were in the forms of tablets, pill or herbs, please don’t take this lightly. Health and performance can't be bought. It must be earned. Exercise is one of the most effective and natural means of promoting brain health and mood regulator without the side-effects.
Numerous research shows that exercise improves cognitive function by the mechanism of increasing levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (NDNF). This protein is known to improve memory, learning and higher thinking by stimulating the growth of new neurones and strengthening existing neuronal pathways in the brain. For example, a 2010 study on primates in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that regular exercise improved brain blood circulation and helped the monkeys learn new tasks twice as fast when compared to non-exercising monkeys.
And of course, we all know that exercise has a ton of other health benefits too:
- Weight control
- Disease prevention (Diabetes, Cardiovascular, Cancer etc)
- Strengthen bones and muscles
- Improves mood
- Improves body efficiency (coordination, balance, agility etc)
With over 9,000 studies under its belt, it is widely accepted that turmeric is the most potent herb known to man (I strongly recommend you to read this article for more information on turmeric. You NEED to take this daily). Curcumin is the main bioactive compound that makes turmeric so powerful. Studies have shown that turmeric can potentially prevent cancer, fight inflammation and improve Alzheimer’s disease. Turmeric is also a brain booster with the following effects:
- Increase levels of dopamine and serotonin (chemicals responsible for happiness in the brain)
- Antidepressant effects that rival Prozac
- Increase blood flow to the brain as effective as physical exercise
- Improving memory and attention in elderly within an hour after taking a single dose (15)
When taking turmeric it's important to note that the addition of piperine (black pepper) increases turmeric absorption by up to 2,000%. Therefore products with high % of curcumin (NOT turmeric) and black pepper are recommended. Follow this link to read more about turmeric and the product that I personally recommend to my family, friends and patients.
As side effects, high doses of turmeric may cause diarrhoea and nausea.
Acetyl-l-carnitine (ALCAR) is an amino acid that increases both mental and physical energy (16). This compound is naturally found in red meat, seafood and dairy products. However these sources do not provide sufficient amounts of acetyl-l-carnitine to have any significant clinical effects. Red meat is the highest source of ALCAR at about 56-162mg per serving whereas the recommended dose ranges from 630 to 2,500mg per day and up to 4,000mg for Alzheimer’s (17,18). Therefore this compound is only effective when taken in the form of pills. ALCAR is known for its:
- Powerful antioxidant properties, protecting the brain from free radical damage
- Increase in neurotransmitters: serotonin and norepinephrine (antidepressant)
- Improve mental clarity, focus, mood, processing speed and memory
- Helpful for chronic fatigue syndrome (19), Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
#8 Lion’s Mane
Also known as a “Smart Mushroom”, Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) is an edible mushroom found in parts of Asia, North America and Europe. The fungi have a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine for the past 2,000 years. The most recent 2013 study concluded that: “this mushroom is rich in some physiologically important components, especially β-glucan polysaccharides, which are responsible for anti-cancer, immuno-modulating, hypolipidemic, antioxidant and neuroprotective activities of this mushroom (20).” It’s been said that lion’s mane can impart “nerves of steel” and the “memory of a lion”. The fungi has shown to:
- Improve mental function: memory, intelligence, motivation, concentration
- Improve a wide range of cognitive and neurological disorders (anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (21)
- Produce NGF (Nerve Growth Factor) used for the growth and maintenance of neurones.
#9 Gut Flora
Your gut is filled with good bacteria that become disturbed throughout life. A baby born through cesarian section misses out on the much-needed exposure to bacteria in the mother's womb and birth canal. We are exposed to an array of toxins including pollution, antibacterial hand soap, processed foods, antibiotics and smoking. This all leads to a state of gut bacteria deficiency/imbalance.
A recent study published by the Canadian Medical Association (2013) have linked the disruption of our normal gut flora (the good bacteria in your gut) with many inflammatory and immune-related diseases such as allergy, asthma and cancer. The statistics are jaw-dropping:
- A five-fold increased risk of allergies
- Triple the risk of ADHD
- Twice the risk of autism
- An 80 percent increased risk of celiac diseases
- A 50 percent increased risk of becoming obese (also linked with dementia)
- A 70 percent increased risk of type-1 diabetes
The gut bacteria is also known as your “second brain” as the gut directly communicates with the brain via the vagus nerve (the 10th cranial nerve that runs from your brainstem into the enteric nervous system). A healthy gut flora prevents brain disorders, regulates mood and behaviour.
Some of the best foods for your gut flora are kimchi, kefir drinks and other fermented foods. If fermented foods are not your thing, I would strongly recommend taking probiotics. Read this article for more information on gut bacteria, its health benefits/risks and the product that I personally recommend.
And finally, Chiropractic.
The brain and the spine combines to form the central nervous system and it is a known fact that the spine directly impacts brain function. But how does chiropractic help? Here’s a quote from Dr Heidi Haavik:
“We do know that spinal function does affect brain function. There’s now solid evidence that adjusting the spine changes brain function. This is the fourth time that the effect of adjusting the spine has on the brain has been studied. This last time it was studied and confirmed by an independent medical researcher.”
Her research has been published in Neural Plasticity and found the following:
- Chiropractic adjustments causes changes in the prefrontal cortex of the brain
- Chiropractic adjustments improves sensorimotor function relevant in fall-prevention (Falls are the leading cause of injury-related visits to emergency departments in the U.S. (22))
- Improved joint-position sense in upper and lower limb
- Better ability to perform mental rotation of objects (Think problem-solving and clarity)
Chiropractic offers so much more than just alleviating musculoskeletal conditions:
- Improves balance and coordination through activating mechanoreceptors in the neck
- Improves immune function
- Relaxes the brain and relieve stress on a physiological level
- Improve joint flexibility
- Reduce joint inflammation
- Improve posture and text neck
- Prevent AND improve degeneration
As more people are warming up to the concepts of wellness and preventative health care, demand for chiropractic is increasing. Not to mention that people are becoming more and more sedentary, glued to their computers and smartphones!
Biohacking your brain is no longer a gimmick and nor is it condemned. It’s a viable way of boosting brain capacity, function and health. There are many different ways you can achieve this, I personally prefer the natural route of combining regular chiropractic care, exercise, kefir/kimchi and turmeric, but I am considering to incorporate vinpocetine.
Which option appeals to you most?
- Frati P, Kyriakou C, Del Rio A, Marinelli E, Vergallo GM, Zaami S, Busardò FP (January 2015). "Smart drugs and synthetic androgens for cognitive and physical enhancement: revolving doors of cosmetic neurology". Curr Neuropharmacol. 13 (1): 5–11. doi:10.2174/1570159X13666141210221750. PMC 4462043. PMID 26074739.
- Lanni C, Lenzken SC, Pascale A, et al. (March 2008). "Cognition enhancers between treating and doping the mind". Pharmacol. Res. 57 (3): 196–213. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2008.02.004. PMID 18353672.
- Magnesium Fact Sheets for Health Professionals https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/ available from National Institutes of Health
- Khan, Asaduzzaman MA (2013). "Hericium erinaceus: an edible mushroom with medicinal values". Journal of complementary & integrative medicine. 10 (1): 253–258. doi:10.1515/jcim-2013-0001. PMID 23735479.