Maximizing Brain Power: Pushing the Brain to Limitless
Can you develop 'super' brain power?
How would you like to access every last ounce of your brain's potential and bring it into action at will? In Limitless, a movie based on the book by Alan Glyn, the main character is able to access 100% of his brain's capacity by taking a little magic pharmaceutical pill. In the movie, Bradley Cooper plays Eddie Morra, a struggling writer who takes a new brain-enhancing drug and is suddenly able to access every memory, every word he's ever read and presumably see "50 steps ahead of everyone else."
A more recent version of this fantasy is "Lucy." Scarlett Johanssen plays a party girl who inadvertently ingests a batch of super brain drugs (called CPH4) and is soon able to access 100% of her brain's potential as well. Aside from the superpowers Lucy develops and the wealth-producing laser focus Eddie Morra develops in Limitless, why should we care?
There is a common myth that we are only using ten percent or less of our brain. If that were true, the idea that we have 90% of our brain power simply locked away in storage would entice anyone to seek the treasures beyond that door. We assume of course that if we could access more of our brain power we could accomplish things that would be considered superhuman.
The million dollar question is do drugs like MDT and CPH4 actually exist? Substances that would allow you access to all your stored memories and knowledge and apply them to practical situations at will? A substance that allows you to unlock your 'true' learning abilities so you can pick up complex languages overnight and master Chaos Theory the next day if you so desire?
Perhaps it is possible, but while today's 'smart drugs' are great for improving mental clarity, focus and endurance, they are a long way from allowing you to levitate people with your mind or instantly change your hair color.
How much of our brain do we use?
Movies like Lucy and Limitless are built on the premise that we aren't accessing all of our brain's power, that we are in fact only using about 10 percent of it at any time.
This is simply not true. We use all 100%, all the time, says neuroscientist David Eagleman. Even when we are asleep.
If you think about it this makes sense. I mean, if 90 percent of our brain were essentially collecting dust, we would be...
"…declared brain dead." Says UCLA researcher Ariana Anderson.
So what are you doing with your 100%?
Nootropics: Modern Brain Enhancers?
Nootropics are the name given to any drug that enhances brain function, either intentionally or as a side effect to treating a target disease. They are also known as neuroenhancers, smart drugs and cognitive enhancers.
The most common nootropic equivalents to the fictional NZT and CPH4 are Ritalin and Adderall. Both of these target executive function, while another, Modafinil/Provigil, enhances memory recall and consolidation. These are drugs developed for people with ADD but are known to enhance awareness and memory in people without these diagnoses.
They aren't alone however. Nootropic offerings are expanding and include brands like Nitrovit, Luminene, and many others. The trend in nootropics, as demonstrated by these proprietary blends, is to enhance brain function while nourishing and strengthening the brain and protecting it against free radical attack. Both Nitrovit and Luminene contain alpha-lipoic acid, gingko biloba, essential B vitamins and huperzine A, among other ingredients.
These are all compounds that have helped improve memory and cognitive function in clinical trials, and are generally considered to be good for maintaining brain health.
The significance of this information becomes apparent when you consider that experts such as Dr. Perlmutter, author of The Better Brain Book, are convinced that these compounds will help us regain lost mental clarity and improve our brain function, regardless of where we are starting from.
Real Life Guinea Pigs
Ritalin, Adderall, Modafinil/Provigil, Nitrovit, Luminene. The first two are FDA approved pharmaceuticals for ADD/ADHD, and the second is a 'memory-enhancing psychostimulant' prescribed for various sleep disorders. They are also drugs of choices for students, professors, truckdrivers and combat pilots alike who wish to remain alert during long, boring drives or detail-oriented tasks requiring extended periods of concentration.
Use of these drugs by people unaffected by ADD or other problems is widespread and well-known. In an interview with 60 minutes' Katy Couric, Kentucky college students admitted that pill-popping was commonplace and considered necessary by many to succeed in school. Statistics quoted in the interview stated as many as 80 percent of United States college students had or were using Adderall, Ritalin or a similar drug to enhance their ability to study and take exams.
Studies show these drugs DO work for people not diagnosed with attention deficit disorders. By stimulating dopamine production, a healthy brain may become more alert, focused and even interested in the task they are on. But before you go out and fake ADD to get your prescription filled, be warned, there are potential side effects. Turns out, Ritalin is lumped in the same amphetamine category as cocaine. Among the dangers are sudden heart problems and higher blood pressure; and oh yes, addiction.
The problem with drugs like this, according to the Genetics Science Learing Center at the University of Utah, is the potential to create permanent, undesirable changes to the brain with extended use. They go on to say that the drug is not addicting when taken as prescribed. However, when abused in higher doses, or crushed and snorted like cocaine, addiction is possible. This article evens suggests that cocaine is often substituted for Ritalin when the prescription is stopped.
Do all of the above psychostimulants have the potential to be addicting? Adderall, a Dextroamphetamine, can become addictive. Like similar drugs in this family, it can cause tics and twitches as well. Provigil? Yep. Considering these drugs trigger the same mechanism as cocaine to allow dopamine to flow into the brain, abuse of any of them can lead to addiction. Yet despite the potential pitfalls, use of these and other 'nootropics' is increasing. After all, they may not be the gateway to accessing full brain potential, but they may allow some people to accomplish tasks they never would without the drugs.
Healthy Brain Power
With all this talk about drug abuse, are neuroenhancers like Nitrovit and Luminene healthy alternatives to the person who would never consider pharmaceuticals to enhance their mental capacity? What about an option that doesn't require ingesting anything outside of a highly nutritious diet and mental exercise?
Natural solutions to stimulate brain power do exist.They are safe, effective and do not require a prescription to get started on. For those who have checked with their doctor or the equivalent and can stomach the supplements, the right regimen of brain healthy compounds can work wonders.
The top three ways to gain access to greater brain function? Mental exercise, physical exercise and brain friendly nutrition, including the right vitamin and nutrient supplements.
Did you know the brain can atrophy like a muscle? Exercise the brain like a muscle. Activities like cross word puzzles, sudoku, performing math without a calculator, reading; these are all activities that 'workout' the brain. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Puzzles, learning a new language, thought-provoking movies and even some video games can provide the mental stimulation you need as well.
Workout your brain everyday for a few minutes. Just as you would with a physical workout, set aside the same time everyday to devote to brain exercises. Try the following 'workouts' with a deck of cards:
1. After taking out the Jokers, divide a deck of cards into 4 suits as quickly as possible. You should have 4 stacks at the end of clubs, spades, hearts and diamonds.
2. Play memory match. Lay out all the cards face down on a table in front of you. Turn over two at a time, looking for a match. Each time you get a mismatch, turn the cards back over and each time you get a match, remove the two cards. Focus on memorizing the location of cards as you go along.
3. Use mnemonics to memorize a deck of cards. Don't worry, you won't start with the whole deck. Start off with two cards, three if you're brave. Use a memory palace, a place or route you are familiar with. As you walk through this palace in your mind, place the cards in a spot and fixate them with an image you will remember. Your 2 of clubs might be a famous celebrity beating 2 animals bloody with a club. Shocking, maybe, but it will stick. Think of what images are likely to stay with you and use that to your advantage.
As you move along through your memory palace, you will place more and more images associated with the cards along the way. Start with two or three and add another card each day.
Regular movement throughout the week keeps the blood flowing in the body and to the brain. Oxygenation is a good thing, so keep your blood pumping. Feel free to become the next Mr. or Mrs. Olympia (without the steroids,) but it isn't a requirement. If you are not a gym rat, hiking, yoga, gardening, and playing a sport you enjoy will work as well or better than being hardcore. In one longevity study, the longest living participants were those that didn't do regimented workouts, but stayed active through activities they enjoyed.
Superfoods like blueberries, the acai berry and various seeds and nuts; organic foods, whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. All of these foods are preferred eating for the brain savvy consumer. Healthy fats are absolutely essential for optimum brain function and can be derived from foods such as avocados, olive oil, low mercury fatty fish (anchovies and wild salmon,) nuts and supplements. Avoid excess sugar and alcohol, which can increase free radicals in the brain and impair brain function over the short and long term.
Healthy supplements, whether in a proprietary blend like Nutravit or Luminene, or purchased separately from a vitamin company, can have a profound effect on cognitive enhancement now and in your future. Brain health experts such as Dr. Amen and Dr. Perlmutter recommend several supplements tailored to the individual in question.
Among these are the following:
- Vitamins B-1, B-3, B-6, B-12
- Folic Acid
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin C
- DHA (Omega-3 fatty acid)
- Co-Q10 (co-enzyme Q10)
- Alpha-Lipoic Acid
- Acetyl L-carnitine
- Gingko Biloba
For specific dosages, read The Better Brain Book or look up Dr. Amen and pay his clinic a visit.
The Magic Pill
So-called 'Magic' pills offer a temporary fix, albeit a fast one. Certainly there is no magic pill like NZT that we know of, but even if there were, it would have to come without harmful side effects like addiction to be viable. While you could take one of the commercial drugs like Ritalin, Adderall and Provigil for temporary clarity and focus, finding a natural solution has several advantages.
For starters, good nutrition and regular exercise helps people look better and feel better while having positive effects on their body, including increased brain function. Also, a natural solution leads to long term, lasting lifestyle changes.
Best of all, there are many more natural ways to stimulate your brain than there are synthetic ones. In this respect, the possibilities truly are limitless, and isn't endless lifelong potential what we really want from a brain stimulant? If you could get an edge and avoid addiction, what would you do?
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