All cognitive enhancers are not created equal

Everyone is selling some or other lotion or potion which is going to improve your health in general and brain functioning in particular.

It is worth doing a little bit of homework before you part with your hard earned cash. So here is a quick list of things to be on “watching” for when considering using a chemical (nootropic) to enhance your brain’s performance.

Weasel words – is there really any evidence behind the claim ?
Bioavailablity – will it actually get into your body ?
You are not a rat – who was it tested on ?
Get the dose right – how much do you need to produce the effect ?
Cognogenomics – is it right for your genes and your environment ?
Placebo effect – do you need to “believe in it” for it to work ?

Weasel words – is there really any evidence behind the claim ?

There are many “smart potions and lotions on the market” – beware ! If it sounds too good to be true – it probably is ! Be cautious of marketing hype.

Governments around the world are trying hard to tighten protect consumers from being exploited but protect yourself by being vigilant. Be on your guard for weasel words such as may enhance recovery or may benefit or it appears.

Only smart ones here are the company executives peddling the stuff.

NB. Lots of people get upset about big pharma making oodles of money, but the lotions and potions industry is also enormous. Big Pharma have to follow a lot of rules, but the lotions and potions industry often manage to fly under the radar of the regulatory authorities. So keep a balanced perspective on “the natural” is good and Bip Pharma is “evil”.  There is good and bad in both.

Bioavailablity – will it actually get into your body ?

If something works in a test tube or when injected into an animal, it does not mean it will get into you and work in you. Pharmacology has a fancy word to describe this phenomenon – it is bioavailablity.

It poses a big problem for pharmaceuticals companies, and even causes many potentially promising drugs to be ditched, because if the drug cannot survive the roller coaster ride and get to the neuron in your brai, then you don’t have anything.

 Lots of lotions and potions go straight through your body and end up in the loo.Rat running a maze

You are not a rat – who was it tested on ?

You may know a few people who act like rats, but physiologically speaking humans are not rats.

This is a big deal because we often handle chemicals differently.

Also, if a rat runs through a maze faster, is the rat really smarter ? Remember rats do not write exams or put together proposals. It might have run through the maze faster because it was really really hungry or it had a burning sensation at the bottom of its feet.

Get theCortisol and learning dose right – how much do you need to produce the effect ?

It is important to get the dose right. Many substances have been shown to be beneficial but not at the doses typically consumed ! A lot of the time, the dose is too low to produce any kind of physiological effect or if you took the chemical at the levels that produce improve brain performance the performance of something else would suffer i.e. side effect.

It is a hard concept to grasp but often times less is more.  Dose response curves are more likely to be parabola’s (yes, those awful graphs they made you draw a thousand of in high school algebra) not straight lines.

Most people would agree a little stress is probably a good thing – it gets you off your butt.  But too much stress can drive you to a point where your brain can’t function at all. A phenomenon sometime experienced during exams – “I went blank !”.

 

Cognogenomics – is it right for your genes and your environment ?

Okay, I made the word up – but I am trying to make the point that what happens in us is ultimately a mix of our genes and our environment.
Medicine is just beginning to get a handle on the fact that people react differently to drugs. In pharmacology the phenomenon is called pharmacogenomics. Nutritionists describe this variability s in response to diet as nurtigenomics.

What works for one person may not work for another. Differences are due to genes and environment.

Placebo effect – do you need to “believe in it” for it to work ?

Final point I want to make is, hey – some of the stuff marketed as cognitive enhancers doesn’t work at all from a scientific point of view BUT it still works in some people.

The reason, is because of a very powerful (very powerful) response called the placebo effect.

The best way to explain it, is to take you back to your childhood. Remember when you fell and hurt your knee. At the time you thought you would die, you howled and howled. Then your Mom came and fussed over you and she kissed it. In that instant, the pain subsided and everything was okay.

Your Mom’s gob did not contain a pain reliever, the simple act of fussing over you was what did it.

So, believing something works is sometimes all it takes.

I struggle a bit with this one, because if I cannot find the scientific evidence to back it up, I believe it doesn’t work, no ifs buts or maybes. For those of you less scientifically minded, if it works for you then cool. Just make sure you’re getting a real tangible benefit for your buck !

This is the third part of a 3 part series introducing Nootropics – “drugs” used to enhance cognitive performance. 
Part 1 – How to win a medal for brain performance
Part 2 – What can I take to  boost brain performance ?
Part 3 – All cognitive enhancers are not created equal

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Further reading

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How to download more facts into your brain Scent Of Fear boosts Performance For big decisions bringing in the bladder to “help” the brain is best

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Balance Eicosanoids Rein in insulin Dial down stress Sleep ! Increase Vit D Culivate microflora Think champion

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