Biohacking The Mind
(repost from a popular article I wrote on Medium and Test Taking Success.com)
Looking for a way to bend the mind? Nootropics have the power to enhance cognition as well as other benefits. This is the first of a series of posts outlining how nootropics work and potential beneficial effects. There is a bit of science thrown in for those wanting a more in-depth understanding.
Nootropics covered in this and other posts include choline, phosphatidylcholine, Alpha GPC, CDP Choline, and Yamabushitake (lion’s mane mushroom) extract.
The term nootropic was coined in 1972 and here is what Wikipedia has to say:
Nootropics ( /noʊ.əˈtrɒpɪks/ noh-ə-TROP-iks)—also called smart drugs or cognitive enhancers—are drugs, supplements, or other substances that improve cognitive function, particularly executive functions, memory, creativity, or motivation, in healthy individuals.
The use of cognition-enhancing drugs by healthy individuals in the absence of a medical indication is one of the most debated topics among neuroscientists, psychiatrists, and physicians which spans a number of issues, including the ethics and fairness of their use, concerns over adverse effects, and the diversion of prescription drugs for nonmedical uses, among others.
Nonetheless, the international sales of cognition-enhancing supplements exceeded US$1 billion in 2015 and the global demand for these compounds is still growing rapidly.
The word nootropic was coined in 1972 by a Romanian psychologist and chemist, Corneliu E. Giurgea, from the Greek words νοῦς (nous), or “mind”, and τρέπειν (trepein), meaning to bend or turn.
Let’s start off talking about Lion’s Mane.
Yamabushitake, the formal name is better known as the Lion’s Mane Mushroom. With the promise of boosting cognitive performance, it also affects inflammation, blood pressure, wound healing and lipids. We will focus primarily on the brain enhancing effects of yamabushitake.
When looking at supplements and products, you can find yamabushitake under the following names:
Hericium erinaceus (scientific name)
Pom Pom Blanc
This is my favorite way to consume yamabushitake:
Source of Mind Bending Yamabushitake
Yamabushitake is a mushroom frequently consumed in China and Japan and fortunately, without reported harmful effects. The mushroom grows on old or dead broadleaf trees, and the active compounds are extracted by a variety of methods.
Now for the exciting part. Yamabushatake promotes the process of neurogenesis or birth of nerve cells. By stimulating nerve-growth-factor (NGF), neurons are elongated, and myelin production increased. Think of myelin as the insulation around an electric cord and by protecting the wire, the electricity can travel faster. For the science aficionados, yamabushitake stimulates NGF through increased production of messenger RNA (mRNA).
The benefit of this process is an increase in neurogenesis in the hippocampus. This structure is critical for the consolidation of short-term memories into long-term memory for later recall as well as spatial memory required for navigation.
Another mechanism of potential benefit involves glutaminergic attenuation. Yamabushatake appears to dampen the excitability caused by glutamic acid (glutamine). While this may seem counter-intuitive, the balance between excitation and inhibition is essential for healthy cognition. Think of these two processes as the Yin – Yang of the brain influencing thinking and behavior. It’s the balance of these opposing forces that allows the mind to hum along smoothly.
Other mechanisms of benefit include protecting neurons from stress. A cellular structure called the endoplasmic reticulum becomes stressed when proteins are misfolded. The usual response is to decrease protein synthesis, but when unchecked the malfunctioning stress response can lead to a variety of disease states including diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s. The process is a bit more complicated and explained here.
The Aging Brain
While not top of mind for most high school, college or university students, age can ravage the brain. For example, β-amyloid accumulation is the process responsible for Alzheimer’s disease. The β-amyloid is an amino acid that forms plaques plugging up the neuron conduction and blocking signal transmission at the synapse.
Yamabushitake has been shown in rat studies to prevent cognitive decline caused by β-amyloid. A human study confirmed these findings and noted a significant improvement of dementia in those suffering from general cognitive decline.
The active compounds in yamabushitake also reduce anxiety, depression, and irritability while boosting concentration.
Yamabushitake may also lower blood pressure and decrease triglycerides. Through a PPARα mechanism, fat burning and increased metabolism have been seen.
Yamabushitake may act as a PPARα agonist and reduce triglycerides without any apparent effect on cholesterol. The PPARα agonist properties also decrease inflammation and can protect against neuronal degeneration.
Dose & Side Effects
General doses range from 150-500mg/day
Doses of 1,000 mg or more have been reported in the literature
Take with food for improved absorption
Itchy skin has been reported and may be related to nerve-growth-factor (NGF)
Try this popular nootropic combination.
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