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What Is Neurohacking? See How It Can Help Your Thinking Grow Sharper, Clearer and More Focused

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What Is Neurohacking? See How It Can Help Your Thinking Grow Sharper, Clearer and More Focused about Advanced Brain Power

Mention of hackers and our thoughts turn to news articles regarding criminals who break into computer systems, locate personal information and steal money. But neurohacking is in no way malevolent. Just the opposite in fact. It’s about using a combination of strategies to improve the way our brain functions so we have a more rewarding life experience.

How much time a person devotes to this depends on their personal goals. It can range from simply swallowing a few brain-supporting supplements to revamping the diet, meditating, playing brain-enhancing computer games, changing our brainwave frequencies and more. When it comes to improving the brain, the sky really is the limit.

Key Takeaways

  • The brain is not fixed as previously thought. It's dynamic and flexible. This neuroplasticity means we can take charge of our brain health by the way we live our lives. Neurohacking takes advantage of this new realization.
  • It involves any strategy shown to improve neural activity and brain function. This includes diet, nutritional and herbal supplements, "smart drugs", physical exercise, mentally stimulating games, yoga, meditation, electrical stimulation, magnetic pulse technologies, and more.
  • Since the brain is malleable, these strategies can rewire the brain or change its brainwaves to improve thinking, focus, creativity, learning, reaction times, and memory.

Neurohacking: The Movement To Improve Brain Function

Some take recreational drugs to give a feeling of euphoria or create an out-of-body experience, but they can also have unwanted physical and psychological downsides.

Neurohacking is different.

Neurohacking, also referred to as “brain hacking”, [1] gives us the opportunity to take charge of our own mind and brain health - and by extension, physical health - by incorporating diet, nutritional and herbal supplements, legal “smart drugs” (nootropics), bioelectrical technologies, and other strategies for cognitive enhancement and to improve the brain’s capabilities. These include improving focus, expanding creativity, faster learning, quicker thinking and reaction times, and a better memory.

Used in Ancient Times

Neurohacking has a long history, in a sense, because herbs and plant extracts have been used to enhance the brain since ancient times. For instance, Rhodiola rosea L. (Golden Root) has been used for hundreds of years in Europe to stimulate the nervous system, decrease depression, enhance work performance, and eliminate fatigue.[2]  Drinking coffee is another obvious example of a way to improve focus, attention and concentration that goes back centuries. But our modern understanding of neurohacking is much more recent.

The term “nootropic” was first used half a century ago by Dr. Corneliu Giurgea, a Romanian chemist, to describe substances that activate and enhance cognitive function. He coined the term after he created a drug called piracetam in the early 1960s that had cognitive enhancing abilities. [3] The potential of this approach led to the idea of neurohacking, first described in 1993.

Other chemicals continued to be explored for their nootropic potential and by the start of the new millennium scientists also began experimenting with devices placed on the scalp to non-invasively stimulate specific areas of the brain and increase its performance using weak electrical currents.

Neuroplasticity

It was about this time the concept of neuroplasticity, or brain “plasticity”, began to be appreciated. Rather than being a passive, fixed structure that wears out over time, advances in neuroscience research were showing that the brain is dynamic and flexible. It can be exercised, re-shaped, rewired, and have its function maximized. As well as going to the gym to improve our physical performance, we can also create our own home-based mental gym to improve our brain’s mental performance.

Once it was realized that the brain is not a machine, that neuroplasticity can be improved, and we have the ability to sharpen our own minds, interest in neurohacking began to take off. Many people of all ages are now looking at human enhancement through supplements and techniques that allow them to enjoy the following advantages.

What Are The Benefits Of Neurohacking?

Different compounds, stimuli and methods are used to manipulate neurons, change their properties, and alter the brain’s wiring. They can act in many different ways, targeting brain metabolism, energy production, blood flow, detoxification, neuronal transmission, communication and growth. Therefore, no single compound or stimulus can achieve all the following, but the many different forms of neurohacking have been shown between them to:

  • Improve memory: Able to retain short-term information and use it
  • Enhance creativity, focus and concentration: Be productive for longer
  • Learn faster: Absorb and process new information more quickly
  • Improve mental performance: Enhances the brain’s capabilities and mental abilities
  • Better overall brain function: Improved cognitive performance and overall well-being
  • Improve physical performance: By connecting brain impulses to muscle vibrations (neuromechanics) it’s possible to improve walking and running ability and other physical functions
  • Reduce anxiety and improve mood: Promotes relaxation and emotional regulation
  • More restful sleep: Improves sleep quality and duration of sleep
  • Increase empathy: Better able to connect with others

Nootropics And Supplements

What are nootropics? 

These are bioactive compounds that enhance brain function, performance, or mood. They achieve this by supporting each of the following brain structures, functions, and activities[4] :

  • Neurotransmitters: These molecules carry nerve messages from one nerve cell to the next. They play a part in virtually every function in the body including thoughts, memory, learning, senses, and feelings. Efficient neurotransmitter communication is essential for these processes to be conducted effectively.
  • Synapses: Neurotransmitters are released at junctions called synapses. When synapse activity is optimal, they dynamically change (synaptic plasticity) to promote many cognitive processes, especially learning and memory.
  • Brain structure: This includes the creation of new brain cells (neurogenesis), their growth, activity, and repair.
  • Blood flow: The brain has enormous energy requirements, so it needs plenty of oxygen, glucose, and nutrients. And that means good blood flow is needed to carry and deliver them to the brain.
  • Free radicals: Because of the brain’s high energy requirements and metabolic activity, it generates a lot of free radicals. One of the hallmarks of cognitive aging is a shortfall in the production of antioxidants to combat them. Nootropics can come to the rescue by controlling levels of free radicals and eliminating their excess.
  • Sleep: During sleep our body may be at rest, but the brain remains active albeit at a low level. During sleep, data acquired during the day gets fixed into the memory and it’s also during sleep that the brain does its housekeeping, eliminating waste products. Nootropics help the brain perform all these tasks.

Since no single nootropic can target all these brain processes, there’s no reason why different nootropics can’t be used in combination to take advantage of their different properties and synergistic effects for more comprehensive brain support. These combinations are called nootropic stacks.

Let’s now explore some of the best nootropics and supplements for boosting brain health.

Top supplements for biohacking your brain

Coffee fruit extract

Caffeinated coffee helps reduce fatigue, keeps us alert and provides a much-needed pick-me-up. But for some people a cup of joe makes them jittery and gives them headaches. One solution is to consume a supplement containing whole coffee fruit extract derived from the bright red fruit coffee beans grow inside.

The supplement boosts brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein involved in the development, maintenance, and function of the central nervous system. Dubbed "Miracle Gro" for the brain, it protects brain cells from free radicals, lifts mood, speeds learning and improves memory.

One study of healthy people in their twenties and thirties found coffee fruit extract boosted BDNF in the blood by 91% compared to just 5% in the placebo group and 21% for those drinking freshly brewed coffee. Another found it shot up by 143% compared to 31% each for green coffee caffeine powder and grape seed extract. Other studies found the extract noticeably reduced mental fatigue, increased alertness, attention, accuracy, and decreased reaction time.

Citicoline

Also known as CDP-Choline, citicoline combines the vitamin-like essential nutrient choline with cytidine, a component of the RNA portion of human cells.

Citicoline boosts three important neurotransmitters: acetylcholine, noradrenaline, and dopamine. Acetylcholine is one of the main drugs for treating Alzheimer’s as it’s essential for learning, memory, language and comprehension. And low levels of noradrenaline and dopamine will make you feel unmotivated, have trouble focusing and be low in mental and physical energy.

Citicoline also raises energy levels in brain cells. One study found energy increased by 14% after healthy volunteers took citicoline supplements for 6 weeks. They said they felt sharper, more alert, more productive at work, and more energetic.

Without healthy brain cell membranes, the effectiveness and speed of communication slows down. To stay healthy these membranes need fats called phospholipids. These are vital for memory, cognitive function, concentration and mood. The brain uses citicoline as a raw material to make these essential phospholipids.[6]

Bacopa Monnieri

This herb has been used in traditional Ayurvedic (Indian) medicine for thousands of years to strengthen memory, bolster cognition, improve concentration and relieve anxiety.

The first human study in 1980 demonstrated its ability to reduce anxiety and enhance concentration and memory. A 2001 study found bacopa improved verbal learning, concentration, memory consolidation (the ability to turn short-term memories into long-term ones) as well as a reduction in anxiety. In another study bacopa showed improvement in attention, cognitive processing, and working memory.

It’s able to achieve these remarkable results because it acts on many different pathways that lead to a reduction in free radicals, less inflammation, greater cell protection, increased blood flow and higher levels of acetylcholine.

Vitamin B12

B12, found only in animal foods, is needed to make the protective coating that surrounds nerves. A deficiency can lead to nerve damage. Among the many symptoms of deficiency are brain fog, confusion, memory loss and dementia. Inadequate levels are surprisingly common even among meat eaters.

A major research project for the US Department of Agriculture involving 3,000 men and women found 39% had low plasma B12 levels. Although it’s a problem assumed to affect older people, the research team found 26- to 49-year-olds had about the same B12 status as those aged 65 to 83. [7]The problem is widespread because the absorption of B12 is a complex process that requires the digestive system to be in a very healthy state, which it often isn’t.

B12 is best taken in supplement form as a patch absorbed through the skin or an under the tongue spray to avoid having to navigate the digestive system.

L-Theanine

This amino acid, found in tea, crosses the blood-brain barrier to provide noticeable and measurable effects within 30 minutes. It’s been shown to improve cognitive performance, promote attention and focus, lift mood, induce relaxation, and enhance the quality of sleep.[8]

One human study concluded that “l-theanine may contribute to improving attention, thus enhancing working memory and executive functions.” [9] Another found “cognitive functions, verbal fluency and executive function scores improved after L-theanine administration.”[10]

Huperzine-A

The Chinese moss plant (Huperzia serrata) has been used for centuries in Chinese folk medicine. An extract of this plant can improve learning and memory in healthy people and help those with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease.

It works in multiple ways in the brain, raising levels of acetylcholine, lowering free radicals, protecting cells from toxins, and in animal models it promoted the growth of nerve cells in the hippocampus, a key memory and learning area of the brain.

In one study huperzine capsules were shown to “enhance the memory and learning performance of adolescent students.” [11] Another described it as having “potent neuroprotective activities.”[12]

Diet & Lifestyle Strategies

Serious neurohackers will look beyond supplements to what they need to eat on a daily basis. The brain will benefit from supplying it with every nutrient it needs that the body can’t make for itself. 

There’s no single best diet but one developed to support the brain is called the MIND diet which was shown to promote a more youthful brain.

The brain also benefits from physical exercise and other strategies such as yoga and meditation, positive thinking and breathing techniques.

Brain games and brain training

The phrase “use it or lose it” doesn’t apply solely to our muscles but also to our brain. A major study found consistent evidence that the more often people play board games, cards, crosswords and sudoku, the less cognitive decline they suffer throughout life.

Even reading books is protective. It’s been shown that vocabulary, reasoning, concentration, and critical thinking skills are improved by exposure to books.

Learning, playing, and listening to music also promotes cognitive function and sharpens memories as does learning a new language.

Keeping the brain engaged, whatever you choose to do, is likely to build cognitive resilience and be protective throughout life.

Computer games have also been developed for this purpose, with different games developed to train different aspects of brain function. Many independent scientific studies support brain training.

For instance, one showed auditory processing speed increased on average by 135% and was largely retained three months later, with no further training. Another found a significant improvement in visual processing speed which was substantially retained even five and ten years later.[13]

Other Neurohacking Therapies

Neurofeedback

Brain cells are electrically active and the different types of electrical pattern (brainwaves) they produce tell us a lot about how the brain is functioning. Too many of some types of brainwave and not enough of others can make us feel sluggish or lose focus and concentration.

In neurofeedback therapy, electrodes are placed on the head to monitor brainwave activity and the information it gathers, which reflects the participant’s current mental state, is fed back. With practice, and the help of a therapist, brain waves can be altered to improve clarity, focus, lower anxiety and stress, enhance sleep quality, and achieve an optimal mental state. Previously this involved visiting a specialized clinic but today can be carried out online with remote supervisors.[14]

Transcranial magnetic/electrical stimulation

Transcranial magnetic therapy delivers magnetic pulses to alter activity within the brain. When it’s placed near a person’s head, the pulse stimulates nerve cells. Numerous studies show transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) improves cognitive functioning. It’s most commonly used to treat depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) delivers a mild electrical current to the brain through electrodes placed on the scalp. The technique has been shown to improve memory by 50 to 65 percent. Devices for home use are available.

Another technique called deep brain stimulation is not a do it yourself approach because it requires a surgeon to implant an electrical device inside the brain to generate electrical pulses. It's used to treat conditions such as Parkinson's disease.

Binaural beats and brainwave entertainment

Like neurofeedback, the idea behind binaural beats is to change brainwave activity. It refers to the brain’s capacity to synchronize its own brainwave frequencies with the rhythmic sounds of external stimuli. This is called brainwave entrainment.

When one sound frequency is heard in one ear and another sound frequency is heard in the other ear, between them they create the perception of a new sound frequency called a binaural beat. This alters brainwave activity to induce a specific mental state. It can be used to increase focus and concentration, enhance creativity, and improve memory. However, the frequencies chosen are critical. One study found fast frequencies improved memory while slow frequencies worsened memory. You can listen to binaural beats on YouTube to achieve the desired mental state.[15]

Summary

The centuries old idea of the brain as a fixed structure has completely changed over the last quarter of a century. The new science of neuroplasticity shows the brain can, with the right stimuli, adapt and change for the better. This means we can take charge of our brain health and maintain and/or improve its current abilities by the choices we make. These choices range from the foods we eat to the supplements we take and other lifestyle and high-tech strategies. The more strategies we employ the greater the chances of seeing improvements in our abilities to focus, concentrate, learn, and remember.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is neurohacking? 

It refers to a self-improvement strategy, an ongoing process, which aims to optimize brain performance by using a variety of approaches shown to support brain function.

Are brain nootropics safe? 

Herbal and nutritional nootropics are safe in the recommended dosages. Some nootropics are only available on prescription, however. They are used to treat various mental health problems and may come with side effects.

What is the difference between biohacking and neurohacking? 

Biohacking uses drugs, gene editing, implants, microchips, robotic limbs and other forms of biological self experimentation aimed increasing human potential and the human experience. It's outside the conventional medical field and there are questions regarding medical ethics. Neurohacking is a form of biohacking but is less like science fiction. It's focused specifically on health practices that improve brain repair, function, and performance.

Are brain workouts real? 

Yes, the brain is malleable, and this neuroplasticity allows us to exercise the brain to improve its performance.

  1. Tenca M, et al. Chapter Eight - What is neurohacking? Defining the conceptual, ethical and legal boundaries Developments in Neuroethics and Bioethics Vol 3 2020 203-231
  2. Panossian A, et al. Rosenroot (Rhodiola rosea): traditional use, chemical composition, pharmacology and clinical efficacyPhytomedicine. 2010 Jun;17(7):481-93.
  3. Malík M, et al. Nootropics as Cognitive Enhancers: Types, Dosage and Side Effects of Smart Drugs Nutrients. 2022 Aug 17;14(16):3367.
  4. Adaes S WHAT ARE NOOTROPICS? Neurohacker MARCH 29, 2021
  5. Silveri MM, et al. Citicoline enhances frontal lobe bioenergetics as measured by phosphorus magnetic resonance spectroscopy MR Biomed. 2008 Nov;21(10):1066-75.
  6. Tran T The Cognitive Benefits of Citicoline verywellhealth November 09, 2023
  7. Tucker KL, et al. Plasma vitamin B-12 concentrations relate to intake source in the Framingham Offspring study Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Feb;71(2):514-22.
  8. Tomen D L-Theanine Nootropicsexpert March 21, 2024
  9. Baba Y, et al. Effects of l-Theanine on Cognitive Function in Middle-Aged and Older Subjects: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Study J Med Food. 2021 Apr;24(4):333-341.
  10. Hidese S, et al. Effects of L-Theanine Administration on Stress-Related Symptoms and Cognitive Functions in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial Nutrients. 2019 Oct 3;11(10):2362.
  11. Sun QQ, et al Huperzine-A capsules enhance memory and learning performance in 34 pairs of matched adolescent students Zhongguo Yao Li Xue Bao. 1999 Jul;20(7):601-3.
  12. Tun MK, et al. The pharmacology and therapeutic potential of (-)-huperzine A Exp Pharmacol. 2012 Sep 5;4:113-23.
  13. BrainHQ Rewiring The Brain show and tell PositScience
  14. Santhosh I Hacking Your Brain Waves: How Neurofeedback Works and Why It Matters tomorrow.bio Jun 05 2023
  15. Pearce K The Ultimate Guide To Binaural Beats For Brainwave Entrainment diygenius November 7th 2022
Advanced Brain Power

Advanced Brain Power

Unique Proprietary Formula For Healthy Brain Function*

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