The Unbalanced Brain Part 2

This is the second installment of The Unbalanced Brain, which is a series providing a guide to increase your mood and decrease chances of degenerative diseases through the use of a well rounded diet, exercise, and stress relieving practices. You can find the first part here.

As you saw in the first part of this series, many of the mood and degenerative diseases that humans face are caused by chemical / hormonal imbalances in the brain. In contrast to taking prescription drugs in order to balance our brains, it is important to search for and treat the root of the problem. Diet is one of the most important parts of maintaining a balanced brain, but I will also explore the ways exercise and stress management can help balance the chemicals in your brain.

Overweight and Malnourished

The greatest tragedy with the standard American diet is the lack of nutrition given the calories consumed. When one envisions malnourished individuals, it is of starving children in places in the world with a low socio-economic status. Just like these starving children, a majority of western populations are malnourished.

There are a number of essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that humans need to consume on a regular basis in order to maintain a balance of chemicals in the brain. A lack of these nutrients leads to many of the mood disorders and degenerative diseases that are already common and on the rise.

Vital Nutrients to Maintain a Balanced Brain

The large majority of overweight or obese individuals are missing most, if not all, of the vital nutrients that they need in order to balance the chemicals in their brain. It would be impractical and time consuming to go through the list of these nutrients so I will instead focus on the ones that get little attention in most health sources.

Many of the long-latency deficiency diseases (such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, and autism) are caused or exacerbated by a lack of a few major nutrients. The body undergoes two processes called “methylation” and “sulfation,” which are both relatively unknown but extremely important. In order for your body to perform these processes, you must maintain a sufficient amount of folate (folic acid), vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. Not only are all three of these necessary for proper methylation and sulfation, but they impact your mood as well.

An insufficient supply of folic acid has been linked to a large number of mood disorders. This includes depression, anxiety, and a number of others one can resolve by eating sunflower seeds, beans, peas, lentils, or any leafy vegetable like spinach. Similarly, vitamin B6, which can be found in many types of meat, regulates and produces serotonin in order to balance your brain. Finally, lacking vitamin B12 can lead to significant depression, memory loss, and other brain problems.

Tip: Eggs are a great source of B12 as are oysters and crab.

Many of the most important nutrients for your body are the ones that help you detoxify /remove toxic chemicals that will negatively affect your brain. In order to maintain a healthy detoxification system you must ingest sufficient doses of:

  1. Magnesium – this is one of the three important nutrients for detoxification. Sufficient magnesium will help you to relax, but diets that are high in salt will negate this effect. In order to increase the amount of magnesium in your body make sure you ingest enough sunflower or pumpkin seeds, nuts (such as almonds or cashews), and dark chocolate above 70% cocoa (such as you might find in a traditional cacao ceremony). A deficiency in magnesium will also prevent your body from synthesizing enough serotonin. Nonetheless, you want to maintain balance so make sure you do not consume excessive magnesium. A common symptom of this is diarrhea.
  2. Zinc – while zinc is the least important of the three main detoxification minerals, it is important to maintain sufficient doses. Zinc is needed for dopamine production in the brain and having insufficient amounts is one of the causes for a chemical imbalance. If you are looking for a way to increase zinc, pumpkin seeds are best. Get them dry roasted with the shell remaining. Shell fish are another great source of zinc.
  3. Celenium – most of the detoxification is done with celenium, which makes it an ultra-important nutrient. Like zinc and magnesium, you can find ample celenium in most types of seeds as well as eggs, lean poultry, and fish.

What Do You Eat Instead?

Instead of getting these vital nutrients, most diets are laden with high carbohydrates and sugar. One of the most dangerous culprits for disrupting the balances in your brain is high fructose corn syrup. Modern media has caught on to the anti-high fructose corn syrup trend, but there are still plenty of foods to watch out for.

The amount of sugar that humans consume has exponentially increased since the Paleolithic era. Even humans two hundred years ago ate a relatively small amount of sugar compared to modern man. One of the causes for this is the invention and large-scale production of high fructose corn syrup.

Just looking in one cupboard of my roommates’ food, I see that over 55% of the processed items have this ingredient. That is relatively low compared to a randomized study of processed foods. High fructose corn syrup is even in non-sweet foods, such as Ketchup.

As it pertains to your brain, high fructose corn syrup is far sweeter than regular sugar and rushes directly to the brain unlike natural sugars. This inflames the brain and causes insulin resistance, which is the leading cause for diabetes as well as hormonal changes that affect mood and degenerative diseases.

Balancing Your Brain Through Diet

As this and the first part have made clear, diet is one of the most important ways to balance your brain and avoid mood and degenerative disorders that will not only decrease your productivity and efficiency, but can even lead to death. Although you have probably spent years abusing your brain and your body, it is never too late to get a fresh start. Reset your diet by removing as much processed food as you can. The only processed food I have remaining in my diet is dark chocolate, which I rigorously examine for the fewest possible ingredients. A good brand with few bad ingredients is Green & Black’s

If you make the change in your diet today, you will face significant changes within only a few weeks. It takes time for the body to acclimate to your new diet and remove the toxins from your old habits, but the human body is exceptionally resilient.

Exercise – Fertilizer for the Brain

Exercise is often prescribed as a way to maintain physical health, but many people do not understand the application of exercise for balancing chemicals within the brain. The brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) are both secreted in higher quantity during and after moderate exercise. If you don’t know what these are, don’t worry – simply put, these things act like fertilizer for your brain cells to make faster connections and remain healthier.

Moderate levels of exercise are also known to increase levels of dopamine, which increases your ability to focus. Prescription drugs can perform the same exact task, but are also unnatural and unsustainable.

A regular routine of exercise is far more sustainable and effective for providing the brain with dopamine in the long-term. Pharmaceutical drugs can often imbalance other parts of the brain and lead to chronic depression, poor moods, and general unhappiness.

At the same time, exercise produces serotonin, which is another neurotransmitter that is required for a healthy and balanced brain. Specifically, the serotonin can help you to calm down and purge the cortisol from your body. Not only will purging cortisol help you maintain a better weight, but it will stop brain cell destruction as well.

Testosterone and Detoxification

Exercise can also promote a number of other brain boosts though heightened testosterone production. Increased testosterone is linked to higher brain function and motivation and lacking this vital hormone can lead to depression and other mood disorders. Please note, this does not mean you should go out and buy testosterone supplements. The point of focusing on exercise is to provide a sustainable model for balancing the chemicals in your brain so that you may lead a happier and more productive life.

While your body detoxifies through many methods, regular sweating is one of the main and most effective ways to release harmful toxins. Many of these toxins are not only negatively affecting your body, but are making their way to your brain as well. When toxins enter the brain, it can cause inflammation just like any other part of the body.

Stress Relief Through Sleep and Meditation

With university students surrounding me, I can’t begin to tell you how many think that sleeping is a waste of time. The phrases “you can sleep when you’re dead” and “sleep is for the weak” are common refrains. For the chemical balance in your brain, this is a destructive mentality that will lead to many negative short-term consequences that can detract from your happiness and wellbeing. You may be able to get away with it once in a while, but use it as a tool not a rule.

Sleep deprivation is linked to depression, Alzheimer’s weakened brain function, as well as a number of physical and decision making problems. From a biological standpoint, most peoples’ brain need approximately 7 – 8 hours of sleep every night in order for fundamental neuro-chemical reactions to take place.

This reduces the cortisol hormone to regular levels, which otherwise  kills brain cells in the hippocampus region of your brain. Sleep is also a powerful period for the brain to organize thoughts and relieve stress. Commonly, sleep deprivation will also result in a lack of energy that most people try to fill with unhealthy food, which has disastrous effects as you saw in the first two sections of this series.

Other ways that some people find stress relief is through something called cannabidiol, which is a hemp-derived CBD product.

Taking a Moment to Unwind

For a lot of people “meditation” is a buzzword that has either philosophical or new age connotations, but what I (and many others) really mean is simply taking a moment to rest from the sensory overload we face in this technological world. As your physical stress level has a very real impact on the chemical balance within your body and brain, it is important to take time out of every day in order to just sit or lay down and train your brain. There are many philosophies on meditation and how it should be done, but even a few breaks for five minutes to lay down during the day will be useful.

My Recommendations and Wrap-Up

The chemical balance in your brain can only be healthy when you prioritize things like sleep, relaxation, exercise, and diet. An epidemic of mood disorders and degenerative diseases have made millions of people miserable across the planet and modern prescription pills are not necessarily the answer. The long-term effect of most medication is  totally unknown. They haven’t been around long enough so there is no way of knowing how they affect your long-term health and general wellbeing.

Obviously, you might not be able to avoid them completely. Your genetic makeup is totally different and I am no expert on the mutations that occur with brain chemistry. Nonetheless, the large majority of cases can be solved by maintaining a good diet that is high in Omega 3 fatty acids and essential vitamins and minerals, while low in carbohydrates that are not derived from a natural source.

However, maintaining a balanced brain doesn’t just come from diet alone. Try to maintain a sleep schedule that offers at least 7 – 8 hours of sleep every single night. Exercise every day (just a walk!) and take some quiet time every day. This is what has worked for me. I hope that it works for you too.

The Unbalanced Brain Part 1

Attention deficit disorder, clinic depression, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, multiple personalities, anxiety, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia. We have all heard of these brain disorders that cause loss of productivity, memory loss, and even death. In the United States and places where western medicine is practiced, these conditions are often blamed on chemical imbalances that require a special prescription drug in order to fix. Upon further scientific inspection, it is obvious that the chemical imbalances in the brain are caused by diet, exercise, and stress more than anything else. Instead of creating further imbalance within the brain by encouraging chemical concoctions, it is time people recognized the natural methods to live happier and clearer in their everyday lives.

The Power of Pills

Growing up in an upper-middle class American neighborhood, I witnessed my fair share of medicating for attention deficit disorder and a multitude of other brain disorders. In fact, my best friend was prescribed a drug similar to Adderall in order to perform better in school. He went from being one of the most fun, energetic, and spontaneous children I’d ever met to one of the most studious, least creative, and focused. For a span of 2 – 3 years as much as I wanted to be friends with him, it was like spending time with a totally different person. He had different friends that fit his medicated personality and we rarely spent time together.

The same friend always had a reputation for his diet, though. He was a maniac for sweet and sour candies and although his parents tried, his daily diet was atrocious. Meals were few and far between with candy or other processed foods comprising a large percentage of his diet. Essential vitamins and minerals were missing completely from his diet and when his mom cooked, it often came out of a box.

Although he eventually stopped taking the prescription pills and became the same best friend I have to this day, the story does not always turn out so great. In fact, it would have been possible to simply use CBD oil drops to get some of the same effects, but prescription drugs always have more clout.

The poor diet is indicative of a huge percentage of American youth and the increasing number of parents willing to medicate children to fix the problem is astounding. Unfortunately, the prescription pills are extremely powerful, but not in the way billion dollar prescription drug companies would have you believe.

Using Diet to Balance the Brain

If you think of your body as a car, plane, or machine of some sort then you might recognize just how important your diet is. The human body, and particularly the brain, is arguably one of the most complex and beautiful of any machines. Like cars and planes, the human body needs fuel to provide power for our everyday lives. It is important to fill your body with the optimum fuel in order to see the most efficient results.

The brain is mostly comprised of fat and the primary way of maintaining a well-powered mind is through the fats that you eat. As you may have heard, Omega 3 fatty acids are the healthiest type of fats that you can supply as fuel for your brain. The Omega 3 fatty acids help to build the cell membranes, balance your blood sugar, and increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) activity. The BDNF activity is essential for supporting existing neurons and promoting neurogenesis. Perhaps most important for fixing the unbalanced brain is the Omega 3 fatty acids’ ability to reduce the inflammation of the brain that is the cause of many brain disorders commonly treated with prescription pills.

The cell membranes in your body are also made of Omega 3 fatty acids, which are more fluid and allow connections to be made more freely. In comparison, trans-fats that comprise the largest percentage in our fry-happy culture are rigid and stiff. This has a direct correlation to slower and stiffer connections between cell membranes.

Hacking Neuro-transmitters to Achieve Balance

The food and drink that you ingest on a daily basis has a profound impact on the neuro-transmitters that influence your mood and allow your brain to function at a much higher capacity. Maintaining a balance with these four important neuro-transmitters is necessary:

1. Dopamine
2. Seratonin
3. GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid)
4. Acetylcholine

Most common processed foods distort the balances in the body in the short-term and provide long-term problems for your body. Many refined carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, and pizza, and refined sugars will temporarily increase the body’s serotonin levels, but this prohibits the body from making and regulating levels efficiently over the long-term. Even if you do not gain weight, abusing refined carbohydrates can lead to all types of brain imbalances and mood disorders.

The lopsided consumption of complex carbohydrates and sugar leads to many of the chemical imbalances that are treated with prescription drugs. Consumption of carbs increase the abundance of cortisol in the body in addition to the short serotonin spike. This increased cortisol activity is responsible for reducing the serotonin beyond balanced levels. Interestingly, common depression and many other brain and mood disorders are treated with prescription drugs that are designed to artificially boost serotonin receptors in the brain. If you remove certain foods, you will not have this problem in the first place!

Food for Thought – Increase Mood and Balance

Even though this is only the first part of this series to re-balance your mind, we will provide some food choices to guide you. Try to incorporate these into your daily diet and phase out some of the refined carbohydrates that we warn you to avoid. Some of these can be used as standalone meals, while others provide a great snack while you’re on the go or at work / school.

• Omega 3 Fatty Acids – if you are going to consume high fat products try to get as many Omega 3 fatty acids as you possibly can. There are many high protein products that are full of these including eggs and salmon. Many small fish will have a healthy dosage of Omega 3s, but make sure you are avoiding high mercury fish that might be harmful for your brain. If you use oil at low heat, opt for extra-virgin olive oil that is also packed with Omega 3 fatty acids. Most corn and soy oils have excess Omega 6s, which can cause inflammation of the brain and contribute to mood or degenerative disorders.

• Carbohydrates vs. Complex Carbohydrates – do not let anyone tell you that carbohydrates are bad for your body. In most cases, carbohydrates from natural foods, such as nuts and vegetables, are packed with fiber and phytonutrients. The fiber within the natural carbohydrates is useful because it slows the absorption of sugar and fat and keeps a balance of neuro-transmitters within the brain. In comparison with the complex carbohydrates (such as pizza, pasta, and bread), the slow release of natural carbs helps to avoid a surge to the brain, which causes imbalance and depression. You can find natural carbs through raw / hulled sunflower seeds, shelled and dry roasted pumpkin seeds, dry roasted cashews, raw pecans, and raw almonds. Leafy green vegetables, such as kale, arugula, spinach, and chard are all good sources of natural carbohydrates as well.

Hacking Your Unbalanced Brain

Sometimes our environment can provide serious enough stimulus to make us anxious, nervous, or depressed. Unfortunately, that is a part of life, but we can limit the bad moods and chronic depression with dietary habits, a healthy exercise regimen, and ample stress relief techniques. Many degenerative and mood disorders have been linked to imbalances of chemicals within the brain, but instead of correcting these problems through natural methods, prescription drugs are often the quick fix. In the remaining parts, I will analyze the effects of diet on your brain further as well as exercise and stress.

The Ultimate Guide to Intermittent Fasting

Compared to any other health supplement, research on intermittent fasting is scarce. After all, there is little money in telling people to eat less often. The bit of data that exists is very clear, however: intermittent fasting (IF) is extremely healthy no matter what your health goals.

Most people have found intermittent fasting as a method of losing fat and gaining muscle. Indeed, there are tremendous hormonal changes involved with intermittent fasting that can allow practitioners to gain lean mass, but the anti-aging and disease prevention aspects are as important if not more so. While there may be some other intermittent fasting guides, this is my ultimate guide to this practice.

First, I’ll explain how you can get started even if you have no experience. Then I’ll detail the scientific research to help you determine whether it is something you would like to pursue. This is going to be a long one so grab some…tea!

Stop Eating and Start Living

The concept of intermittent fasting is not one that most people are willing to try. I’ll admit, willfully depriving yourself of food seems like a bad idea when you are hungry. As I’ll explain in more detail later, the only reason you feel regularly hungry is because of the expectation of food and the choices that you consume. Understanding this will allow you to easily start with intermittent fasting and overcome the first few weeks of moderate unpleasantness. Here are some methods you can use in order to start intermittent fasting, which have helped me very much:

1. Start with one day

Intermittent fasting is no different than anything else. If you consider doing IF for the rest of your life, it will seem daunting. Just tackle the first day and you will realize that it is not that bad to eat only 4 – 8 hours a day. With a single day on your belt it is infinitely easier to move to day two, three, and before you know it you will be fasting normally.

2. Determine your goals

Before you start an IF protocol, you should determine your goals. If you want to use it for body composition (i.e: fat loss, muscle growth) purposes, then you can do a Lean Gains style 16 hour fast with an 8 hour feeding window every day. If you would prefer to practice IF for anti-aging and disease prevention, you can even get away with 36 hours of fasting. It all depends on what you are looking to do, but remaining under 72 hours is recommended.

3. Time your IF for social purposes

Technically, you can do an intermittent fast from 9:30 am until 5:30 pm. With this schedule, you will not only eat more meals and calories, but you will probably cheat more often. Consider social situations and the temptation to eat dinner later than 5:30pm. I make it easier on myself by allowing my 8 hour feeding window (when I eat) from 12pm – 8pm.

4. Wake up and drink water

If you choose the IF protocol that I advocate, fasting overnight and then until 12-2pm, then it is a good idea to overcome hunger in the morning with a few choice methods. First, drink water as soon as you wake up. It may not seem like it, but your body is naturally dehydrated while you sleep. Ensure you replenish the water as soon as you wake up and the feeling of hunger will slightly dissipate.

5. Fasting is better with tea / coffee

When I fast in the morning, I make sure to drink a little bit of tea. This will not break the fast so long as there is no additional sugar or cream. Drink it warm and straight and it will help to focus and remove any hunger pangs.

Some people, including prominent biohackers like Jolly and Dave Asprey, enjoy Bulletproof® coffee. This formulation includes coffee, MCT oil, and butter. The ingredients offer a lot of calories that the body can burn as fuel, but without disrupting essential bodily functions, such as cell repair. I have yet to try it, but many endorse it. It will definitely make the start of your fast that much easier.

6. You won’t be hungry forever

The hormones that inform hunger are based primarily on habit more than anything else. The reason you are hungry during the morning is because you are used to eating then. After a few weeks, (approximately 4 or less) you will not be hungry at all during your fasting periods. Within the first week, the hunger should dissipate. Knowing that you will not have to live with hunger forever is a great way to begin from a psychological perspective.

7. Choose a day to indulge

Some people consider it wise to have a “cheat day” consisting of whatever foods you would like. I am a staunch opponent of such days, but I do have higher calorie / carbohydrate days as well. My days include 85% dark chocolate, almond butter, and more sweet potatoes, which are all healthier / cleaner sources to indulge upon.

8. Stay busy while fasting

One of the reasons it is so easy to fast overnight is because you are sleeping. If you are awake, make sure you are staying busy as best as you can. At the beginning you are not going to help your cause if you focus on your lack of food!

9. Food choices matter

You may find intermittent fasting to be a great way of easily improving your health, but none of it will matter if you do not properly eat during your feeding window. I advocate (and practice) a low-carbohydrate, mostly Paleo style diet that is high in fat and protein. I was raised as a vegetarian for 20 years. So no, I’m no steak and potatoes hillbilly.

10. It isn’t for everyone

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that intermittent fasting is for everyone. See how you feel for a few weeks and determine whether the practice is right for you. Sure, there is plenty of evidence that it is a healthy and optimal practice, but for some people it just doesn’t work. My health conscious friend Madelyn has tried to no avail. Don’t feel let down if you would rather not pursue it!

Pregnant or breastfeeding mothers should probably not fast nor should those with serious medical conditions. Speak to a doctor if you feel more comfortable with their advice.

Increased Brain Function

Now that you have some tips to get started, we will dive into the science of it all. Here at The Hacked Mind, we love improved brain function! Conventional wisdom indicates that frequent meals are the best way to keep your brain focused and productive. It’s common to see individuals consuming meals, snacks etc. to maintain the calories they need to think creatively and function more efficiently. So, how does intermittent stack up against constant / frequent consumption? Turns out, it’s much better.

In the same way reduced oxidative stress improves aging, it also improves memory. This is one of the reasons why animal studies show decreased Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease. The subsequent cellular stress resistance offers the brain plenty of benefits.

One of our favorite neurotransmitters, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), is like fertilizer for the brain. It promotes neurogenesis and increases brain capacity. Typically, BDNF increases with physical activity, but intermittent fasting has a similar impact. If you can’t get enough exercise, start fasting!

Dietary restriction, whether caloric restriction or intermittent fasting (but we love the latter!), can lead to the stimulation of new stem cells and synaptic plasticity. The connections between neurons (through synapses) are made quicker and more efficiently.

Whether you want to improve your brain function in the present so that you can make quicker connections, think more creatively, and be more efficient or just prevent brain function deterioration with age, it is a good idea to take up intermittent fasting.

There are other tools that have this neurogenesis effect as well. For example, something like cannabidiol oil has been implicated in reduced inflammation in the brain. Even the alkaloids in a microdose of ayahuasca can be profound for neurogenesis.

TL;DR: IF can improve brain function in the short term by producing BDNF neurotransmitters. They also help prevent long-term brain deterioration.

Disease Prevention, Wellness, and Aging

Diseases of civilization have become an important topic in modern discourse. Things like cancer, diabetes, and others are some of the biggest killers throughout the world and in the United States particularly. As medical care recipients far outweigh healthier individuals, the country’s medical finances are in disarray. Therefore, it is striking to find a practice like intermittent fasting that is so simple and can profoundly affect the body’s chances of contracting any of these diseases.

Diabetes

For diseases, such as diabetes, one of the most important factors is insulin resistance. Due to modern food abundance, it is easy to elevate blood sugar levels beyond what our ancestors could have ever done. In doing so, our hormones have fallen completely out of balance. Problems with insulin are undoubtedly the cause of most diabetes related problems. Researchers in Berkeley, CA tested calorie-restriction and a form of intermittent fasting on animals and came to startling conclusions.

Throughout the studies, fasting glucose concentrations decreased. Three studies found decreased circulating glucose concentrations after 20 – 24 weeks. In plain terms, the animals were properly regulating sugar to avoid diabetes.

In human studies, the scientists were unable to come to such conclusions. However, they did record more insulin sensitivity in patients who had undergone the intermittent fasting protocol. Even when people ate as much as they wanted during the eating window, so long as they spent 16 – 20 hours fasting, they were able to increase blood sensitivity.

TL;DR: IF can improve blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity, which are the two biggest biomarkers of diabetes.

Cardiovascular Disease

Poor cardiovascular performance is a result of many lifestyle factors, such as dieting and exercise. Clogged arteries are a leading factor in cardiovascular disease and elevated cholesterol (of certain types) levels often point towards a brewing storm.

A study at the University of Utah questioned 500 people who had fasted at least 1 day per month and found that they were 40% less likely to have clogged arteries. Furthermore, after only 3 weeks of intermittent fasting protocols, patients were able to see increased HDL levels (good cholesterol) and decreased triglyceride levels (bad). Decreased blood pressure in humans has not been seen, but is apparent in animals.

TL;DR: IF decreased biomarkers that point to cardiovascular disease while improved those that indicate cardiovascular health. Additionally, clogged arteries seem to be less of a problem for those with this dietary regimen.

Cancer

No human cancer studies with intermittent fasting exists, but animal studies are clear: intermittent fasting decreases the likelihood of getting cancer. After only 16 weeks eating the same foods, but in restricted fasting windows, mice had a 33% lower risk for certain cancer types.

The most likely explanation, which would indicate a similar benefit in humans, is the autophagic process. Autophagy is a process that degrades damaged cell membranes. Often the process will support the death of cancerous cells, but continually eating brings the body out of an autophagic state.

TL;DR: Animal studies show a dramatic decrease in cancer after only 16 weeks of IF; largely by allowing the body to perform autophagic functions.

The Gender Gap

Between all of the studies, an interesting caveat of intermittent fasting becomes apparent. With insulin sensitivity was tested with intermittent fasting, women saw little to no improvements. For decreasing triglyceride levels, the results were the same. That does not mean women should or cannot partake in intermittent fasting, but studies seem to indicate less benefit or a higher level of health before participating.

Anti-Aging

The research regarding aging and caloric restriction is clear, but who wants to eat less? With intermittent fasting you can get many of the same benefits as caloric restriction, but while eating more of what you want.

Oxidative stress is one of the primary factors in aging and intermittent fasting can reduce the damage to your cells. The scant evidence indicates intermittent fasting decreases the markers of oxidative stress (including 8-isoprostane, nitrotyrosine, protein carbonyls, and 4-hydroxynonenal adducts) while increasing the anti-oxidants levels in the body. Again, this has to do with autophagy along with other factors.

A 1956 modified intermittent fasting study in Spain followed elderly subjects for 3 years. One of the groups had a standard diet and this resulted in 219 days in the hospital with 13 deaths over the trial. The other group with intermittent fasting included in their routine managed only 6 deaths and 123 days in the hospital. Pretty, striking right?

Hormones have a particularly important role as well. Insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) stimulates growth and reproduction, but this drives aging even quicker. With decreased IGF-1 from intermittent fasting, your body starts to repair cells.

TL;DR: Oxidative stress, the major component in aging, is reduced through IF without the need to reduce calories consumed. Joy! Eat more delicious food! Decreased IGF-1 also allows more cell repair to take place.

More Muscle, Less Fat

If increased brain function, anti-aging, and disease prevention don’t tickle your fancy, one of the most common / popular uses for intermittent fasting is for body composition. Whether you are trying to shed a lot of weight or just remove the last bit of belly fat before summer, intermittent fasting can help. Best of all, for biohackers like myself, intermittent fasting is an “easy win”. The only thing you have to restrict is when you eat. No exhausting yourself on the treadmill or eating bland food.

Much of the body composition conventional wisdom is flawed. As the authors of Man 2.0: Engineering the Alpha are aware, theories about metabolism are wrong. While eating more often can increase the metabolic rate, the thermic effect of food is based on caloric intake rather than timing. If you compact the same number of calories in a shorter window, you’ll have the same metabolic rate and your body will be burning at the same speed as otherwise.

A study in Louisiana showed that metabolic rate remained the same and subjects lost 4 +/- 1% of their body fat as a result of an IF regimen. Others indicate an increase in fat oxidation, which is correlated to fat-weight loss.

Common sense also indicates that with a shorter window of eating, there is less likelihood of overeating. It is not only impractical, but often uncomfortable to eat too many calories / meals with a short feeding window.

Hormones of Hunger and IF

As my free book Brain Hacking 101 indicates, balanced hormones and neurotransmitters are of the utmost importance for your general wellbeing and health. Optimizing them naturally can be incredibly effective and that is exactly what intermittent fasting helps you to do with hunger and body fat storage.

Ghrelin

You have probably never read about ghrelin, but it is one of the most important factors when trying to begin an IF regimen. This hormone is responsible for the feeling of hunger. The cells responsible for producing ghrelin operate on a circadian rhythm that is determined by meal times. Therefore, you only get hungry because of when you are used to eating, not necessary when you need to eat (within reason).

You will see a metabolic increase during short term fasting periods because your body has an evolutionary response to get off of your ass to find some food. Once you can optimize production of ghrelin, you can get by with eating less with ease.

Leptin

There is always one trickster in the bunch and leptin is just that. This hormone is most responsible for thyroid hormones that regulate fat loss and metabolism. Because leptin is produced in fat stores, the less you have the harder it is to produce. This can result in stagnation, plateaus in physical fitness and body composition.

When leptin can be spiked, through the process of intermittent fasting feeding windows, it can help burn more body fat. From a body composition perspective, it is actually better to have a day with higher calories and carbs. Some promote a “cheat day” that allows for eating whatever is desired, however I would suggest something far more conservative. I incorporate a high calorie day, which corresponds with high intensity training. My poison is 85% dark chocolate and almond butter.

Insulin

As indicated earlier, insulin is one of the most important benefactors of any IF regimen. Many consider the early morning hours to be the best time to eat carbohydrates due to insulin sensitivity. However, it turns out that insulin sensitivity is only greater due to fasting over night, not because of the morning. Therefore, if you are fasting for 16 hours or more (rather than 8-10 for sleeping) you will see better insulin sensitivity.

More importantly for muscle growth, if you want to take advantage of carbohydrates, it’s best to utilize them later at night. Increased carb intake at night promotes higher growth hormone (GH) production, which will impact muscle repair.

You’re One Hack Away

Intermittent fasting may not be for everyone, but those who test it and overcome a brief period of change usually find that it is an incredibly effective method to improve your life. Busy entrepreneurs, doctors, and anyone else can appreciate a schedule with fewer meals that can improve health and memory. Even aesthetically minded individuals can find common ground with the body composition benefits of IF protocols. Using the information provided above and the evidence to back it up, try for yourself!

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The Ultimate Guide to Nootropics

When it comes to my cognitive health, I’m of the opinion that a healthy diet, lifestyle choices like intermittent fasting, cold showers, and avoiding alcohol will optimize your brain alone. Most people can see tremendous benefits with a few of these lifestyle hacks.

For those “next level” junkies (myself included), sometimes getting an added boost can come through nootropics / smart drugs. These are compounds that vary in efficacy to improve mood, memory, focus, alertness, motivation, and general cognitive abilities.

You Already Use Cognitive Enhancers

Most of my audience already used cognitive enhancing nootropics before they even knew what it was. When I was introduced to the concept of “smart drugs”, I was a little skeptical. Then I realized both caffeine and omega-3s were considered to be in that category.

One of the most popular nootropic “stacks” includes a combination of caffeine and L-theanine, which is a natural compound often extracted from green tea. I was glad to see natural compounds utilized in optimized quantities. Even the best creatine supplement can be considered a neuro enhancing smart drug.

Ease into Nootropic Drugs

A lot of the people that get started with nootropic drugs are attached to a specific outcome. They hope to use the pill to answer their problems with anxiety, focusing on work, studying for school – whatever the case may be. Taking this approach often leads to excessive consumption at the start, but beginning with the recommended dosage is definitely the safer bet.

In reality, you may not need to take any higher level nootropics at all. With modern diets deficient in organ meat, you may just need more choline for cognitive enhancement. Before you start keep some of these ideas in mind:

Goals – make sure that you have clearly defined goals when you are taking any drug. Just because someone else said that it was a cognitive enhancer doesn’t mean it is useful for you. A lot of people in the nootropic community ironically mix compounds that promote opposite neurotransmitter / hormones.

For college students a combination of memory enhancement and alertness might be useful. There are many students that already take amphetamines like Ritalin and Adderall (yes, you read that right – they are amphetamines). Once you learn about nootropics, you will see there are alternatives that are just as effective, but safer.

The best goal to use is simply improving mitochondrial health. This will upregulate all other aspects of your brain and body.

Product Quality – as with anything that you are ingesting or eating, the quality needs to be as high as possible. There are also a few worthwhile nootropic drugs that are not regulated by the FDA, which means that it is up to the buyer (and seller) to be transparent and honest. Look for independent third party testing where it is applicable and do the proper research.

There are ample resources for finding high quality smart drugs. You can use a forum called Longecity, which has a long history of nootropic usage. The subreddits for nootropics are also great for getting feedback on the quality of different vendors.

Tracking Changes – this is one of the most important aspects of nootropic drugs. Any smart drug requires ample evidence before I test it, but continued usage only comes after verifying enhanced cognitive performance through various self-tracking methods.

There are so many tools to test and track cognitive enhancement so this is a no-brainer (pun intended). If you are not tracking any changes that you make, you are going to end up overworking your organs and altering neurotransmitter and hormone function for no reason. There are disadvantages of supplementing with nootropics so little to no improvements warrant discontinuing the drugs.

Recommendations – there are a lot of recommendations on the internet about dosing. Some are scientific and some are arbitrary. There is a lot of individuality, but a good rule of thumb when starting out with nootropics is to start with a dosage that is at or below recommendations. Rarely should you try a higher dose than is recommended. Again, some great sources for recommendations are community-based portals like Reddit (see their FAQ / getting started page).

Where to Start

Before discussing some of the nootropic compounds you can utilize for enhanced cognition, I should note that pre-made drug combinations are not created equal. As much as I believe in Onnit’s goals and respect Aubrey Marcus and Joe Rogan, a lot of the products seem to have low doses of ingredients with some unnecessary filler.

Perhaps it is just me (this is a distinct possibility), but scientifically Alpha Brain seems to be lacking. If it works for you – great, but don’t count on all of these being optimized for cognitive enhancement. On the flip side, some of the products from are formulated with studies and effective doses in mind… and by the community.

Now, let’s get into some of the specific compounds:

Racetams – I’m a fan of Bulletproof coffee so when I heard that Dave Asprey had “…used piracetam and aniracetam for years…” My ears perked up. As soon as I heard that Tim Ferriss utilized piracetam and even phenylpiracetam, I was really intreagued.

It turns out, the racetam line of smart drugs is the oldest and most well-studied since the term “nootropics” has been around. The grand-daddy, piracetam, is a cognitive enhancer that improves memory retention and has neuro protective properties. Double-blind, placebo controlled studies on college studies proved the efficacy of piracetam.

Other potent analogues include aniracetam and oxiracetam, which are equally appealing for different reasons. They can act faster, promote stimulating effects, and even improve anxiety and nervousness. When you get really brave, there are also analogues like pramiracetam, phenylpiracetam, and colouracetam, but they are not for the feint at heart.

The racetams also work extremely well with choline supplementation according to numerous human and animal studies done over the past 40 years. See Reddit for good starting dosages on the racetams. You can usually get them in powder of capsule form from a few vendors online .

Caffeine + L-Theanine – This is a great beginner stack that utilizes natural compounds found in coffee and green tea. Many of us have experience utilizing them, but with the most effective doses they can optimize further. The evidence indicates a ratio of 1 part caffeine to 2 parts L-theanine works best. Your toleration of caffeine will determine the best starting point, but 50-100mg will be effective for most people.

The caffeine will help to promote alertness, attention and wakefulness, but the L-theanine helps to mitigate many of the negative side effects of caffeine. More importantly, there seems to be a synergy that allows you to focus on your tasks a lot better. Another option are cannabidiol tinctures, which are growing in popularity because they can interact similar to caffeine with adenosine receptors.

Traditional Chinese Compounds – even though nootropics and smart drugs are modern concepts, traditional Chinese medicinal practices have existed with these compounds for thousands of years. Many of them are still being used in rural Chinese villages even as Wall Street financial traders find them.

  • Asian ginseng (panax) – this drug has a relaxing / calming effect, which can improve learning capabilities. It can also reduce stress and anxiety. Look for extract from the berries (highest ginsenoside content, which is the active ingredient) and then the root. The seed has the least.
  • Ginkgo biloba – this has antioxident properties and can also reduce stress / anxiety. The quality of memory is improved and well-studied
  • Polygala – there is only one modern study proving neuro protection and enhanced memory, but polygala is one of the “Yuan Zhi” 50 fundamental herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine

Ayurvedic Compounds – as with the traditional Chinese medicine, the Ayurvedic Indian cultures were ahead of their time with nootropics. Their contributions include:

  • Bacopa monniera – this herb helps improve cognition by reducing anxiety. It is fat soluble, which is why traditional Indian families take this with ghee even in rural villages.
  • Ashwagandha – also known a Indian ginseng, this ayurvedic herb can reduce anxiety and improve concentration and focus.

Nutrients – you can use all of the supplements in the world, but if you don’t have the right nutrients you aren’t going to get very far! Certain things, such as DHA / EPA, are important for brain health. Krill oil is a good source of DHA that is well-absorbed. Other things like magnesium and zinc can be particularly useful if you are deficient.

Parting Words and Caution

Recently a friend of mine published a study that involved mitochondrial function and enhanced cognitive abilities. Many in the nootropic community jumped to what were, in his mind, highly unsafe conclusions about supplementation. It brought home to me how uncharted many of the smart drug waters really are.

Another important factor to consider is that many of the prescription drugs that could be considered nootropic / cognitive enhancers are actually amphetamine derivatives. Some of the compounds are effective for a reason and as Tim Ferriss mentioned, “there is no such thing as a free lunch with nootropics.”

Overall, if you take nootropic usage seriously and adequately research and track your data, there are plenty of benefits to be had. If you are eating poorly and have poor lifestyle habits, you will probably see more advantages by changing those first. It may not be as easy as popping a pill, but it will be longer-lasting.

Whatever you decide to do – track, track, and track.

7 Reasons to Take Cold Showers and 1 That Really Matters

Today, I could not turn the shower faucet to the right any further. Victory.

My first experience with cold showers was excited but short lived. Joel Runyon had a blog post and YouTube video discussing cold showers and how to begin. I was pumped and I gave it a try. I tried it, I yelped, I nearly peed myself, and then I stopped for a while.

It was too uncomfortable. I didn’t want to replace hot, enjoyable showers with frigid, painful experiences. Despite all of the health benefits, I now know that being uncomfortable is exactly what cold showers are all about.

If health isn’t high on your priority list, getting used to discomfort on a daily basis should be. By subjecting myself to discomfort now, I increase the likelihood I can stay the course in other areas of my life that are more important. This is one of the main reasons I’m such a proponent of psychedelics like peyote or even microdosing the plant medicine ayahuasca.

Best of all, there are plenty of health benefits associated with cold shower therapy.

Living a Meaningful Life

Anyone who leads a meaningful life will attest to a few truths. In order to achieve anything, discomfort is going to play a massive role. Whether you are uncomfortably broke and have to borrow money to put gas in your car or if you experience discomfort asking the most beautiful woman on a date, purpose and meaning come with sacrifice.In many cases, the sacrifice is living with discomfort.

Conditioning your brain to accept, survive, and embrace discomfort is one of the practices that can greatly impact the rest of your life. Entrepreneurs, athletes and other professionals may consider cold shower therapy trivial when pursuing their goals, but don’t miss out on the big picture. It isn’t about the cold water. It’s about the discomfort associated with cold showers, which you can overcome every day towards a greater goal in life.

No Way That is Healthy

If you have heard your parents’ conventional wisdom growing up, you’re probably not too fond of the cold. Supposedly, it can make you sick, but plenty of studies have showed this to be a myth. The truth, is that cold shower therapy is one of the healthiest modes for your body to regulate your internal temperature and it actually strengthens your immune system. It is considered a hormetic stressor, meaning that exposure to low level toxins can improve your health.

Improved blood circulation – showering with cold water is in going to improve your blood circulation between organs and skin considerably. With cold temperatures, blood flows to your organs for protection to keep them the warmest. Warm water sends the blood rushing to the skin so alternating between cold and hot (as I will detail later) can be a great way of improving your blood circulation. If you are just beginning, it might be best to stick to a cold shower only.

Improved mood – it is hard to quantify mood and indeed it is altered by many things. As my Unbalanced Brain series indicates, there are scientific reasons for many mood disorders. Cold showers can stimulate noradrenaline secretion in the brain, which is associated with improving mood disorders like depression.

Increased immune strength – unlike what your mother told you, spending time in the cold can actually increase your immune strength. Those who take cold showers typically exhibit higher white blood cell counts as well as higher concentrations of plasma, T helper cells, and lymphocytes.

Increased testosterone levels – I’m always looking for healthy and natural ways of increasing my testosterone levels. It’s a boon in the gym, it makes me feel more motivated in general, and manipulating it naturally is the safest long term method I can think of. When I heard that cold showers can vastly increase testosterone production, I was even more thrilled. Not only is testosterone elevated during the shower, but throughout the day as well.

Metabolic advantages – from a body composition perspective, cold showers are also incredibly useful. The cold water induces an increased metabolic rate. The cold temperatures force your body to re-regulate the body temperature continually, which utilizes many calories. Mark mentions that an evolutionarily retained adaptation to cold water exposure is a layer of protective fat. Therefore, get your cold shower short and sweet and then get out. Longer exposure to cold therapy is not necessarily better.

One thing that is super helpful is added benefits to mitochondria. Cold thermogenesis is a powerful tool for improving the number of mitochondria that you have.

Better breathing – you may hyperventilate as soon as you get in a cold shower, which is a pretty natural response. However, the panic will only make the experience worse so it is in your best interest to breathe calmly and deeply. Few people breathe deeply so you may need cold showers to help you do so.

Make Your Life Easier

One of my favorite things to do is give actionable tips to get started. In this case, making it easier to take cold showers may be against the principle of increasing your acceptance of discomfort, but I’m going to give you some tips and practices anyway.

Big goals require discomfort to achieve – as soon as you make the realization that the goals you want to achieve most in your life are subject to discomfort, it should be an easy sell. The difference between making a good impression, standing your ground, and being successful could be altered by getting used to discomfort.

Joel’s TEDx talk compares his decision to strike out as an entrepreneur to the experiences felt during a cold shower. It isn’t going to be fun, it might be a bit scary, to many it seems stupid, but it’s all a matter of discomfort.

It starts with day 1 – when I first considered cold showers one of my biggest fears was “for how long?” Do I need to take cold showers for the rest of my life? If you think about it, you will never get there. Just take it a day at a time. Get in the cold shower one day for a few minutes, get out, and you will be fine. Then do it the next day. It will get easier and easier so long as you can maintain the practice.

Don’t try it gradually – unless you have health problems, I would not try to go from hot to cold over the course of your shower. In my experience, I forgot to get cold a lot of the times, in the hot water it is easy to talk yourself out of a cold shower, and partial immersion into cold shower therapy just doesn’t seem to work. It might work for you, but based on my experience it is not an effective method.

Work up a sweat first – I have the advantage of living in Austin, Texas so cold showers can be actually quite nice after the scorching heat of the southern United States. Nonetheless, you can even do this in colder climates by doing rigorous exercise or working up some sweat before you get in. It’s a great way to cool off and it can also help prevent muscle soreness and fatigue after heavy weight lifting sessions.

Focus on your breath – you’re going to get panicked, but it will only make things worse. Taking a cold shower is like quicksand. The faster you can accept what is happening and embrace it, the faster you can recover from the shock. This is one of the reasons I find cold shower therapy to be incredibly meditative. With maximum stimulation all around you, it is your job to maintain a steady focus and calmness with your breath and your focus. It helps to show how much you can actually block out with your mental capabilities. Now think about using this in an uncomfortable setting outside of the shower. Pretty helpful, huh?

What Are You Waiting For?

If you are dedicated to your aspirations and goals, taking a cold shower has profound tangible and mental benefits. Not only do you increase your physical health by taking cold showers, but you will build mental toughness in the face of extreme discomfort. By building discomfort resistance over many years, you will be ready when you need to be. Whether you are an athlete or an entrepreneur or anything that requires you to face and conquer fear, a cold shower is an easy win in the right direction.

What do you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments and report back to me if you have tried it! Use something else to make you uncomfortable?