Hacking Cognition

In this protocol, we focus on nootropics, behavioral interventions, and measurement techniques around hacking towards your optimal cognitive state. Cognition encompasses a wide range of activities carried out by the brain, here we cover hacks that modulate domains directly related to high functioning: attentional control and working memory. However, emotional intelligence, stress and anxiety and their interplay can also have a great effect on overall cognitive performance, and certain nootropics and behavioral interventions have been shown to affect these neural pathways.

Achieving peak performance in any domain is an iterative process. With this guide, we offer a starting point, from which the most well-regarded interventions can be tried, measured, and then evaluated. We will soon be offering tools to keep track of your hacks and the effects they are having. Return to this guide for updates.

Look here to learn more about the most performance-relevant, measurable of aspects cognitions.

Best Practices & Optimal Daily Routines

Nootropics Regimen

Nootropic supplements can either acutely act to improve cognitive performance, or they must be taken regularly over several months in order to have a measurable effect. Both are useful dimensions of a cognitive enhancement regimen. For the most part, we focus on nootropics that have been shown to enhance working memory, and attentional control, as these aspects of intelligence, are most closely correlated with professional success, health, and general happiness in life.

Look here for a deep dive into a list of popular nootropics, including our favorites, and for references to the scientific literature surrounding the nootropics below.

In selecting doses for our regimens, we have used as a guide the highest quality scientific studies for nootropics, and the recommended intake values for vitamins and minerals that the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies produces.

Nootrobox Stacks

Combining the scientific literature outlined in this guide and through personal experience, HVMN has developed the Nootrobox "stacks," which combine the most effective and well studied nootropic compounds into specific blends geared towards immediate as well as long term cognitive benefit, sleep, and general health. These stacks are produced in pharmaceutical grade, CGMP (Current Good Manufacturing Practice) certified laboratories and undergo a series of rigorous quality control testing.

Look here for descriptions of Sprint, Rise, Yawn and Kado-3.

Look here for the purity and safety studies conducted on every lot of these stacks that is produced. Including testing for active ingredients, as well as toxins and contaminants, such as heavy metals and bacteria.

Dose-related terms

RDA (recommended daily allowance) is the level of supplementation that is optimal for 97 - 98% of the population. AI (Adequate Intake) is the recommendation when there is not sufficient evidence to establish an RDA, this level of intake is "assumed to ensure nutritional adequacy."

Long-term Cognitive benefit:

These compounds can be taken on a daily basis to promote cognitive function and stress resilience.

Nootropics

  • Bacopa monnieri: the most effective dose of Bacopa monnieri is 300 mg/day, taken over a period > 3 months. We recommend consuming 300 mg doses daily.

Supportive Vitamins, Minerals, and anti-oxidant compounds

  • Fish oil - DHA and EPA: Experts recommend consuming > 650 total milligrams of fish oil (EPA + DHA) with a ratio between 1:2 - 2:1 EPA: DHA. For healthy adults, we recommend consuming >650 mg of EPA and DHA, at a 1:2 ratio, as this may bias the blend towards cognitive benefits.
  • Vitamin D: vitamin D comes in a variety of forms, but we recommend vitamin D3 (also known as cholecalciferol), which has the most evidence behind it. By some estimates, vitamin D deficiency is widespread, and in 2011 The Endocrine Society issued guidelines for vitamin D indicated at least 1,500-2,000 IU/day of supplemental vitamin D in adults might be required to achieve a sufficiently high blood concentrations to see benefits. For healthy adults, we recommend 2000 IU/day of vitamin D3.
  • Vitamin K: for individuals with blood clotting disorders who are on medication, vitamin K intake needs to be carefully controlled. The adequate intake value ( a measure of the minimal requirement for healthy living) of vitamin K is 120 micrograms for healthy adult males and 90 micrograms for healthy adult females. However, there is not enough data in the scientific literature to put forward an RDA value. For healthy adults, we recommend taking at least 150 micrograms of vitamin K per day, including women.
  • Magnesium: For healthy adults, we recommend taking 200 milligrams of magnesium per day.
  • α-GPC: alpha-glycerophosphocholine plays a supportive role in neuronal health. For healthy adults, we recommend a dose of 300 mg taken twice daily.
  • B-complex Vitamins: Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12: the B vitamin complexes play important roles in general health, and low levels of both B6 and B12 are associated with cognitive decline. People who may be at risk for vitamin B deficiency are those with impaired kidney function, autoimmune disorders, people with alcohol dependence, older adults, vegetarians, individuals with gastrointestinal surgery or disorders, and pregnant and lactating women who follow strict vegetarian diets. For healthy adults, we recommend a supportive dose of any amount of B vitamins, particularly if you are in one of the above at risk categories.
  • Astaxanthin: Astaxanthin is a strong anti-oxidant. For healthy adults, we recommend a supportive dose of astaxanthin, with optimal doses between 1-12 mg/day.

Short-term cognitive benefit:

Take these nootropics on an as-needed basis when certain goals call for short sprints of concentration.

  • Caffeine to increase blood flow and mental arousal, and attentive capacity. Individual responses to caffeine can be variable, but a starting dose of 100 mg, roughly one cup, is a good place to start.
  • The combination of Caffeine and L-theanine has been shown to enhanced attention and focus more so than caffeine by itself. In studies, the best effect sizes have been seen with 100 mg of caffeine and 200 mg of L-theanine, taken in combination.

Anti-stress compounds:

We acknowledge that there is tremendous variability in how individuals respond to stress. The nootropics below have been shown to promote cognitive resilience to stress or mitigate the cognitive deterioration caused by stress. In particular, the calming properties of L-theanine may mitigate the over-stimulative effects of pure caffeine. As a result, we recommend taking these two nootropics in combination for enhanced focus and attention on a daily basis or as needed.

  • L-theanine: We recommend 200 mg of L-theanine, taken in combination with 100 mg of caffeine for acute, maximal cognitive benefit. In isolation, for stress-reduction, we recommend 200 mg of L-theanine taken twice daily.
  • Rhodiola rosea: Rhodiola Rosea has been demonstrated to exert strong anti-fatigue effects, preserving cognitive function, during states of exhaustion. We recommend taking 300 mg/day of Rhodiola Rosea extract, with 3% Rosavin and 1% Salidroside content.
  • L-tyrosine: L-tyrosine has been shown to exert anti-fatigue and anti-stress effects, especially regarding cognitive function. We recommend a dose of 100 mg/kg of L-tyrosine for acute stress, and a supportive dose of 200 mg for everyday use.

Behavioral Modifications

In order to reach peak cognitive performance, it is important to consider making changes to your diet, exercise and sleep, to optimize your body and mind.

  • Hacking Diet: Dietary interventions can have a strong influence on brain health and cognition. In particular, intermittent fasting has been shown to increase neurogenesis, the production of new neural cells in the brain.
  • Hacking Exercise: Exercise, particularly extended aerobic exercise, can be beneficial for brain health. Exercise stimulates the creation and preservation of new neurons.
  • Optimal Sleep: Behavioral modifications to optimize quantity and quality of sleep, such as stress and anxiety reduction and meditation, is a critical part of an optimized cognition regimen.
  • Meditation and mindfulness: Meditation can reduce stress levels and improve mental clarity.
  • Single tasking vs multi-tasking: Multi-tasking can severely reduce most people's performance on the tasks being assessed. However, there is strong evidence to suggest that training for multi-tasking can optimize performance. We recommend carefully selecting times when you will multi-task, picking to parallelize tasks that will yield much greater benefit than when performed in a serial fashion. Also, this set of tasks should be one you will often perform, thus allowing you to train your brain to optimize processing of these jobs.

Measuring Cognition

Cognition can be divided into a variety of different characteristics. In tracking the effects of nootropics, the most studied aspects of cognition are attention and working memory (numeric, semantic, and spatial).

Methods to measure cognition:

  • Cognitive tests: Computer-based cognitive testing platforms, such as the Cambridge Brain Sciences testing platform have greatly expanded our ability to measure the performance of the brain.
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG): The EEG is one of the least invasive methods by which brain activity can be measured. Specific EEG signatures are associated with relaxed vs. attentive states. Consumer-based EEG platforms, such as Emotiv, are still new, and there is some concern for how consistently they measure EEG signals as compared to gold standard clinical setups.
  • Stress and Anxiety questionnaires: Questionnaires, like the state-trait anxiety index, may be able to gauge your stress level on a daily basis.
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HVMN Co-founders Michael Brandt and Geoffrey Woo