In our emerging Undoctored conversations on how to prevent/reverse early cognitive decline that would otherwise lead to Alzheimer’s dementia, it will help to understand a basic distinction among two general strategies: nootropic vs. neurotrophic strategies. Let me explain.
Nootropic strategies are health practices, nutritional supplements, or prescription drugs that yield improvement in some aspect of mind function such as memory, learning, problem solving, creativity, etc. But the mind benefits last only as long as the strategy is ongoing with a return back to prior brain function when it leaves. Nootropics do not have any beneficial effects on brain anatomy, biochemistry, or health. Nootropics are here and gone without brain benefit. Nootropics typically work by enhancing the production or reducing the clearance of a neurotransmitter such as acetylcholine or dopamine that mediates some aspect of mind function. The popular nootropics piracetam and vinpocetine are good examples: both increase clarity, alertness, ability to shift attention, recall lists of information, and increase creativity. But, once the effects wear off, you are no better off than you were. If cognitive decline were in progress, it would proceed unimpeded by nootropic agents. The prescription drugs for Alzheimer’s dementia, such as Aricept, are nootropics that also have no effect on preventing or slowing cognitive decline or dementia. There is nothing wrong with taking a nootropic except that our expectations should be modest.
Neurotrophic strategies, on the other hand, are health practices, nutritional supplements, or prescription drugs that yield some positive change in mind function along with an alteration in brain anatomy and biochemistry. The best example are strategies that increase the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, that cause brain cells (“neurons”) to reproduce and extend connections (“synapses”) to other neurons. In other words, neurotrophic factors potentially increase the number and density of brain cells and their interconnections. As you can imagine, this is a potentially powerful strategy that has greater hopes of preventing and reversing cognitive decline than the temporary “cosmetic” effect of nootropics. (Factors with neurotrophic effects can also exert nootropic effects.) Exercise is an example of a neurotrophic strategy, as consistent exercise has been shown to increase hippocampal volume (the part of the brain damaged in dementia) by about 2% over one year, a substantial increase. Transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS (that we have been discussing in our Undoctored Inner Circle Virtual Meetups and that I have been using with interesting results) also has been shown to exert neurotrophic effects via increased BDNF, as well as provoking durable improvements in mind function after several sessions (3-months is the longest time period examined).
Understand this nootropic vs. neurotrophic distinction and our future discussions on how to prevent/reverse cognitive decline will make better sense. Nootropics are fun to play with, but neurotrophic factors yield the real improvements in brain health that we are seeking. This is a conversation in rapid flux, as the science to support neurotrophic strategies is literally changing daily.
Rest assured that the basic strategies that comprise the Undoctored Wild, Naked, Unwashed program articulated in the Undoctored book get you off to a powerful start. Grain/sugar elimination, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acid restoration, iodine and thyroid normalization, magnesium, and cultivation of healthy bowel flora all exert a powerful and synergistic effect on brain, as well as overall, health. I call the synergy among these strategies the “2 + 2 = 11” effect, as the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. The future conversations I will have are therefore about neurotrophic strategies that add to the synergistic effect of the basic Undoctored program.
Give it a try: Ask your doctor how to prevent dementia. In the 10 or 15 minutes you are allotted by insurance constraints and that doctors hide behind to conceal their health ignorance, your doctor is likely to dismiss your question because you don’t yet have dementia, even though prevention is key and modern medical “treatment” is virtually useless. This is because your doctor has no tools—i.e., no prescription drugs nor procedures—that prevent or reverse cognitive decline. He/she will therefore likely brush off your question or offer the usual useless advice such as “eat a balanced diet and everything in moderation,” neither of which do anything. This means that the entire spectrum of powerful strategies that have been shown to prevent or reverse cognitive decline are in your hands—in your Undoctored hands. And the results you obtain are hands-down superior to what the doctor could offer.
We will be discussing tDCS and other neurotrophic strategies in our Undoctored Inner Circle conversations, as they are relevant to our interests in preventing cognitive decline and dementia, especially since most doctors are helpless in providing such advice. Preventing cognitive decline is therefore a perfect example of something you can achieve on your own, Undoctored.