Our latest podcast gives an overview of nootropics, the basics of solid thinking, book recommendations and more.
- If you’re looking to improve cognitive function make sure to figure out in what way with this list.
- The differences between Drugs, Nutraceuticals and Herbs
- How to use Coffee or Tea to enhance other Nootropics
- Hitting All the Basics for Cognition
- Herbs that Support Memory
- Herbs that Support Focus
- Herbs that just make you feel better
- Herbs that help Meditation
- 6 Useful Books for Better Thinking
- And Much More
There will be much more information on this topic here at Lost Empire Herbs in the future.
Click the link below to access the complete transcript.
The content found on the Vital Way podcast in Superman Herbs is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice, for the diagnosis or treatment of a health condition or as a substitute for medical counseling. Please review any information with your qualified healthcare provider before making any decisions concerning your health. You assume all risk for use, misuse or disuse of this information.
Logan: Hey, I’m Logan Christopher with the Vital Way podcast and today I’ll be flying solo. I have a very fun topic for you today. We’re going to be talking about cognitive function. I know it’s a pretty big word but it’s definitely an area of interest for myself and I know it is an area of interest for many other people. I’d say it was kind of always there in the background but what really enlightened this in me was seeing the movie Limitless. I don’t know if you’ve seen this one. It was a few years ago, a movie starring Bradley Cooper and in this movie he gets a hold of a fictional drug called NZT. As soon as he takes this drug, he is amazingly smart. He goes from struggling, trying to be an author to writing a book in a night. He is able to seduce women easily. He develops a system for timing the market and becomes really rich and a whole bunch of other things. It’s just the idea that you can do something and just have this amazing ability and thinking that goes along with it. Now of course, it’s a fictional movie but people are still interested in this subject. Is there anything out there that can even just give you a piece of this sort of intelligence from taking something?
Now as you know, I’m fairly anti-drug. Of course, they have their time and a place but a lot of the world of improving cognitive function by taking something is done with drugs. They have the term “nootropics” which can apply to both drugs as well as herbs. But with these nootropics, a lot of them are drugs. As I said, some of the popular ones, Provigil, modafinil and that’s about the extent of what I know that’s out there. There’s also the racetams like piracetam, aniracetam, a whole bunch of things that I really don’t have much exposure of using.
The thing is with drugs a lot are basically untested now. Some of these have been around for 30 or so years, maybe a little bit longer than that and seem to have some safety to them. But even then, I try to stay away from drugs because even if it’s having a singular effect, a lot of things could be happening in the background. You really don’t know much when we compare that to the use of herbs, things that have been used for thousands of years and these ancient systems of knowing what these herbs do and all the different interactions. That’s just really where I’d like to go.
Sort of in between the world of drugs and herbs is where they isolate a single component from an herb and use that. These called nutraceuticals are certainly ones that can help with cognitive function as well like L-thiamine, which they can extract from green tea. It is one of the many components in there but that can be a great one for calming. There are just different ways of looking at these, whether you want to go with drugs, whether you want to go with nutraceuticals or just more of the herbal, natural route. I prefer that last one for the most part and so we’re going to be talking mostly about that.
But before we dive into the herbs, a couple of things I want to say before that. First of all, when I say the words “cognitive function” if you’re interested in this or nootropics, really what do you mean by that? What is the benefit that you’re trying to get? Is it to improve your memory, which even that we can go short-term memory, working memory, long term memory as some of these different types of memory are used in studies? Are you looking to improve your creativity, just being able to come up with new ideas that can help you in different areas of your life? Are you looking to improve your attention and focus, your ability to do these things? This goes along with the next one like productivity. That’s a big subject that people like to use herbs, definitely one of the most well-known herbs being coffee. I’ll talk more about that but this can definitely help people with focus and basically put on the blinders and go deep into a project.
So attention, focus and productivity but there are definitely other aspects of that. That’s kind of the flipside, the creativity, depending on what you’re working on, what sort of benefits you want to get. Even motivation could be added in here. That’s kind of a part of cognition. Can you take something that will help you be motivated to do the things you want to do or to act in a sort of way that helps you to be productive? Really, when we’re talking about nootropics, it’s useful to get clear on what sort of benefit you want first because with the different herbs or other things, it depends on what sort of function you’re going for. I can talk more about these things and which herbs will be specific to more of these different areas as we go along.
Another aspect that is super important is when we’re talking about taking something in order to improve whatever sort of cognitive function, you have to realize that this is only a small aspect of what’s important. It’s really that like last 5 to 10% boost you can get out of these things. If you don’t have the foundation, if you don’t have the basics down then it doesn’t matter what you take.
One way you can think about this right is compare it to weight loss. Lots of people, these are definitely big markets but going out there with weight loss herbs or weight loss drugs, are these things going to actually work? Well if a person doesn’t eat right, doesn’t do any of the other stuff, no amount of pill popping is really going to get them in the right place. If they’d actually do that then it would definitely cause some other big side effects in doing so. It’s the same with our thinking and cognition. While herbs can certainly improve these different areas, if you don’t have the basics down then you’re looking at the wrong thing. You want to make sure you cover that foundation well and then add these things on top of it.
What are those basics? Just the basics of health are going to be super important. Good luck thinking great when you don’t get the proper amount or quality of sleep that you need. That’s one of the first things that begin to go. Same with water, another foundational thing. If you’re dehydrated, there goes your cognitive function. With just a small percentage of dehydration in your body, you’re not going to be able to think as well. Then of course the all-important area of diet. If you’re eating the wrong sort of foods that’s definitely going to impair your cognition. Most people have not yet built up the awareness to see that they eat a food and then feel what is happening in their body but if you really work at this a little bit, you can begin to say oh, I ate this food and then an hour later or maybe right after—that’s when you can sometimes tell—or maybe a couple of days later, my thinking was more foggy. This can happen with different foods that you have, some sort of intolerance for it, big ones being like gluten, dairy, also lectins that can be on the nightshade family, tomatoes, that sort of thing. All these things can definitely affect how you think.
One of the areas that has become more popular in health circles these days is talking about leaky gut. This is where food particles and toxins are passing through the gut wall, getting into our body. A similar sort of thing can happen with the blood brain barrier. You can have a leaky blood brain barrier. That means things that aren’t suppose to be crossing that barrier are now crossing your barrier and that certainly can affect your cognition as well.
Before we get into the herbs, nutraceuticals or drugs anything, you definitely want to take care of these foundation as best as you can. That doesn’t mean you can’t do the other things at the same time. Just make sure you’re paying attention to that. If you’re taking herbs to improve your cognition then focus that cognition on improving the foundation. I think that’s a good way to go with them.
Another somewhat basic that I do want to mention because it’s a big subject for Superman Herbs is the importance of the hormones. Now most people think of testosterone for sexual effects and for its athletic affects but it’s also a neurohormone. It definitely works on the mind. Deficiency in testosterone leads to things like depression, anxiety, that sort of thing. So you want to make sure and do the work to have the hormones optimized as well because if you don’t have that sort of foundation, once again it’s going to be hard to want to be active and creative and all that stuff if you don’t have the right testosterone going.
With all that said, now let’s finally dive onto the herbs and how these can help. Let’s start with some of the herbs that we currently have at SupermanHerbs.com but I’ll also be talking about ones we’ll have in the near future and also some other herbs that we don’t even have plans carrying but can definitely fit into this category and what all these different herbs can do.
The first up is schisandra. I really like this herb because it does so many different things. This is also one of the reasons why I like the herbs more than say drugs or even the single nutraceuticals. You can take them for improving cognition in the different ways but you’re generally going to have side effects and by that I mean positive side effects. You’re going to have other helpful effects within your body which is a very cool thing. Schisandra does so many things great for the liver. I mean in Chinese medicine, it enters all the 12 meridians, nourishes all 5 elements so it’s a huge thing. As an adaptogen, for me it works a little bit more on that mental level rather than the physical level like some of the other adaptogens. It certainly does both but I think of it more that sort of mental brightness.
In Chinese medicine, we have the shen. The shen is housed in the heart and in Chinese medicine the mind is housed in the heart. That’s basically what’s going on with the shen versus in the west we just think like everything is in our head. With the heart and the shen, that’s a really important component with schisandra because it also has all three treasures, jing, qi and shen—not a lot of herbs have all those—so it can really help with that mental clarity. That’s a big focus of a lot of the herbs, just being able to clear the mind, just sort of get rid of distractions.
One of my friends described it as kind of like coffee but without the buzz. I would say it’s a great herb of helping that sort of focus that you may need in all sort of different ways, not just necessarily narrow-minded focus. I certainly think it could be applied to bigger picture like creative type of work but it’s just going to sort of clear those cobwebs away.
Interesting enough, schisandra is also good for night vision which may or may not be related. The eyes are basically extensions of the brain tissue so I certainly think it’s working on that level. One of the issues with the eyes why so many people have problems is the eyes have very tiny capillary beds, extremely small things. So if your blood is clogged up, it becomes more sludgy. This definitely happens when people are diabetics. These blood cells can’t really get into the eyes and that’s why diabetics can begin to go blind as well as have neuropathy in other parts of the body. The blood flow is not getting there. Schisandra is sort of helping on this level. It helps with that circulation, which is attached to the heart obviously. It’s working on so many different levels. In Chinese medicine, even the liver, that’s certainly going to play a role on mental thinking as well because if the liver’s backed up and it needs to detox as well as sort of distribute the qi from the food throughout the body. If you can’t do this to the brain, to the functions of the brain then you’re not going to be thinking clearly.
My next herb on the list is lion’s mane mushroom. As I said, all the medicinal mushrooms really have some great immune system-modulating effects but lion’s mane is pretty unique in that it helps with nerve growth factor. Now this mushroom has been studied and is currently being more so studied for helping with people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. My memory went for a little bit right there. Lion’s mane really helps with these because it stimulates the nerves to grow and be able to re-grow, repair and everything that’s needed in that, which is unique among the mushrooms. There are certainly some other herbs that do this but lion’s mane is very cool for this.
Lion’s mane is something I’ve been taking fairly regularly. One thing I noticed with it is when I’m taking the lion’s mane regularly my memory just seems to be a little bit quicker, a little bit more on than at other times when it’s not. In general, my memory is pretty on when I’m searching for a word, just like I was searching for Alzheimer’s and dementia right there. Typically, that comes very quickly but like I said, lion’s mane I tend to notice that this seems to work a little bit better when I’m on it than when I’m not. The idea is you don’t need to wait till you have dementia or Alzheimer’s and things are starting to go. If you’re supporting it with something like lion’s mane then things are just going to work better the whole time and you’ll be good to go into your old age.
Now my absolute probably of all the herbs and it’s hard to say but my favorite nootropic is Bacopa, which is an Ayurvedic herb. This one I’ve only been using for a relatively short amount of time compared to some of the others but what’s interesting about this is with nootropics that are put together for supplements and usually they used isolated nutrients and nutraceuticals, Bacopa is one that is often included in its entirety just because it is so awesome in that way. Bacopa in many ways, I’d say what I feel from it is a similar sort of effect as schisandra, sort of that mental clarity, that ability focus.
A few months ago, I was down at San Diego networking at an event. I had a little bit too much to drink. My friend was quite hung-over the next day. Anyway, I gave him a little bit of Bacopa and immediately he felt better, his mind was clear and he just felt uplifted from that. That’s the kind of the effect. One thing I’ve been noticing is if people are sort of out of it in some sort of way, like being hung-over or some way not in their normal state, I think often times that is the good time to feel the effects of some herbs. So get hung over and test your herbs. But seriously, Bacopa is such a great herb and that’s something we’re going to have soon at SupermanHerbs.com. I can’t wait for it to come in because I had a small supply myself but ran out of that. That’s just something that’s awesome. I can’t wait for you to try it.
Similar but different herb—a lot of these have somewhat similar effects but slightly different—is gotu kola. This is another herb in Ayurveda. Actually at times, these have been confused. Another name for Bacopa is brahmi named after their god, one of the gods, of course. Sometimes, brahmi is used to describe gotu kola as well although these are definitely two different plants.
With gotu kola, this is more of a meditative plant in my mind. It definitely corresponds to the seventh chakra. This has been used historically and still to this day for that meditative nature. You take gotu kola. It’s going to help you with that focus but definitely a calm sort of focus, an ability to go inward and ability to really tune in to what you’re trying to tune in to. So it’s absolutely great for that.
It’s hard to say exactly what the difference is between that and bacopa. I think they’re definitely both in this category but slightly different effects. With the bacopa, I feel like that’s a little bit more of an ability to focus outward, gotu kola a little bit more to focus inward but these are just my experiences. Other people may have some different experiences. With many of these, it hasn’t been a long time of experimenting with them so you definitely may want to talk to some other people that are doing them.
So another adaptogen that is great for mental focus and this has been actually studied for quite a bit more in Russia and surrounding than in the west is rhodiola. Now rhodiola, usually rosea but some of the other varieties are used like the Tibetan varieties, this is a pretty amazing herb. It’s one of the classic adaptogenic herbs. It definitely helps on that physical level like physical fatigue and work capacity but it absolutely also works on the mental level like mental fatigue and mental work capacity. It really helps with these things.
One of the things we heard back from our athletes that were taking our Hercules formula and the Hercules 2 formula, the second of which has rhodiola in it, is they like that. It seemed to help them a little more to concentrate during the workouts and that was really from the rhodiola in there as well. So it’s definitely great for endurance but also this sort of mental concentration, that ability to not become fatigued mentally. I’d say that’s a big effect of rhodiola. So that is a great herb for that.
A few other herbs, lemon balm, this is one that grows over here in the US. This is a fun herb. It’s a little bit different and that’s what I want to do in listing these herbs, give you sort of different points of view and ways that herbs may support cognitive function. Lemon balm is really one that allows you to be calm. Think of lemon balm, you think calm. It’s really just something that allows stress to not sort of affect you much at all. In some ways, definitely the other herbs can help with this, too, but lemon balm just feels good. You just smell some lemon balm and you feel uplifted, you feel great, like not a care in the world. That can be a good state for certain things like I’d say creativity. It may not as much be the sort of hard, driven focus you want for some things where you want to be productive but once again, it depends on what you’re going for. Lemon balm is like that.
Rosemary is another one which most people are familiar with but rosemary is sort of a circulatory stimulant. It helps with the circulation. Rosemary does a whole lot and it definitely works all over the body but it seems to stimulate the mind as well. Now the effect is fairly subtle. I would say that with all these herbs, unless you are getting extremely concentrated extracts often times the effects are pretty subtle. That goes back to what I was saying like it has a 5% to 10% effect on what you’re doing but you can still feel it if you’re tuning in to what’s going on. Rosemary is definitely along those lines. Just smelling rosemary, that’s the thing with rosemary and lemon balm. Since they grow around where I live and probably many of you listening to this, you can get the effects through smelling the herbs to some degree. These are definitely the ones that have the aromatic component to it as opposed to say lion’s mane, not very aromatic.
So smelling the herbs and certainly the essential oils, that’s another thing you can work with to some degree. I mentioned coffee before. Coffee is kind of one of our classic nootropics because it is definitely being useful for that with caffeine being the active ingredient. But there’s so much more. Caffeine is great as sort of a driver for really being a stimulant in this effect. It’s great for that mental focus, for that productivity that you may want.
What I like to use coffee for is where I kind of want to single-mindedly focus on some sort of project. I definitely wouldn’t say it’s a great thing for creativity, at least not for me specifically. But if I know what I’m doing ahead of time, I can just kind of get into the zone a bit better with coffee. To a slightly lesser degree, same thing with green tea or black tea. These also have caffeine, just on a lesser level so that can help with that in more subtle ways. Depending on your tolerance to caffeine, one of these may be better suited to you than another.
Another reason I like to use coffee is sort of as a driver. Because of the effects of caffeine as well as what else is in it and sort of its affinity for the brain, I would say taking this along with some off the other nootropic herbs can be a great way to work with them. For instance when I do my coffee in the morning, I often will throw lion’s mane in there. I’ll definitely worked with bacopa, gotu kola and a lot of other herbs as well not necessarily for that commute of benefits. It can be a great way to take your herbs. But if you’re going for these benefits, I do recommend you try that as well.
A couple of other herbs, Tulsi, another one from Ayurveda, one of the principle adaptogen herbs. It has far-ranging effects, one of which it can definitely work with the mind. Ginkgo biloba is a pretty well-known herb that’s supposed to help with memory. The name biloba actually comes because the leaves have two lobes, sort of a signature for the brain because we have two lobes there. In some of these herbs I looked at studies, one thing that was interesting that sort of showcases why standardized extracts may not always be the best is that with the standardized extract, they are looking for whatever the active constituent is, which is just whatever scientists figure has the most active effect. They usually do this working with cells or rats, that sort of thing. But this idea means that if this active then everything else is inactive and therefore not important so let’s just make sure we have sometimes like even the most 80% active ingredient, which is an extremely strong extract. This is compared to something where you have an extract but it’s of everything that’s in the plant. It’s not concentrated or isolated to this one thing with everything else downplayed. In one of the studies I was looking at with ginkgo, the sort full spectrum extract had better results than the standardized one.
Another herb that can be worth playing with is sage. Sage in its different forms certainly can have some great effects. Usually, it’s not taken as much internally as it’s used like with Native Americans smudging things but it’s definitely considered one of these cognitive-boosting herbs as well. Certainly some other things can play into this, stress being a big factor in so many people’s lives. Working with any of the adaptogens, I mentioned a few of them here, schisandra, rhodiola, Tulsi, these can definitely help on that level as well as having some sort of nootropic effect.
Another area of focus would be, as I mentioned earlier, the shen. In Chinese medicine, they have a couple of different types of shen herbs. There are the uplifting ones and then the stabilizing ones. Shen stabilizers are more for people that have like anxiety, worry all the time. That’s going to stabilize that shen so they’re not being so shaken up by everything that’s going on as opposed to the uplifting ones. These are more just in general expanding of the shen. It can have that effect.
One of the herbs that is sort of a classic shen one is reishi, especially the wild reishi having more of this ability. I’d say the wild reishi is more of the uplifting shen while cultivated ones certainly have shen effects but it’s more of that stabilizing factor in there as well. You really know you’re working much better, as far as stress-wise, when things that used to bother you just don’t bother you anymore. Really I’d say most people I come across, most people out there stress out more over things that aren’t really that important so working with some of these different adaptogenic herbs, different shen herbs certainly help with that. If you’re not being bothered by the crap that’s out there as much then in general, you’re going to be able to function much better cognitively and otherwise, just a couple of ideas on that.
The last thing I want to finish up with here is kind of going back to the idea that you really need the foundations, the basics, if you’re looking for cognitive function. These herbs certainly can help. I’m very excited about then and what they can do because if you’re already working at sort of an elite level through having a good foundation through some of things I’m about to talk about, then you take an herb on top of that, that added 5 to 10% can be a big, big difference.
I wanted to just make a couple of book recommendations that can help people because as great as the herbs are, if you’re thinking is crap then how well are you going to perform cognitively in any sort of way? All these different aspects that go into it, I’d say this is probably one of the most better? If you want to get better at your memory, for instance, practice working your memory. You can do things such as learning how to memorize an entire deck of cards. This is something I’ve done in the past. It can be a fun exercise once you’ve done it. Then you can keep going forward with it and certainly get faster.
They have a world memory championships and all that but these are all skills. They can be learned. Yes, people start off in some ways smarter than others. You may have a higher or lower IQ than another person but we know it’s not all about IQ. Even IQ seems to be malleable but we have things like emotional intelligence as well, EQ, from Daniel Goldman, I believe it was. Everyone has advantages and disadvantages in different things but the belief that helps out is that all these things are trainable skills that you can increase and do things about them. Learning how to think, learning how to be productive, learning how to be creative and learning how to memorize, these are all going to make you much better at these things.
Just kind of a smorgasbord of books I was just looking over my library here: How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, a classic book by Dale Carnegie, probably almost a hundred years old at this point but there is such great stuff. If you are a person that worries, has anxiety and feels that these things are holding you back, the information in that book is golden. This book is worth reading for just about anyone but stuff like the worry formula that’s in there is just solid gold. There’s a reason why this book from a hundred years ago is still around and you can probably buy this on Amazon for a penny or something like that plus shipping.
I’m a huge fan of neurolinguistic programming. A lot of you may not know this but I’m a neurolinguistic programming trainer, master practitioner. I’ve been involved in this for quite some time and the deeper I go, the better results I get out of it because NLP is a model about modeling. Basically, it’s a model about thinking. It’s going in into the details of how you think and being able to work with that much better than just getting trapped in sort of the content of that. So this huge amount, it’s a pretty big field in there, lots of different skillsets and all that but this is definitely something I would say worth integrating.
If you want to improve your cognitive function, these different things like memory, creativity, attention, motivation, focus, NLP is going to have a wide variety of drills that is going to help you get there. I recommend investigating that. A pretty good place to start is the User’s Manual for the Brain, volume I. This is by L. Michael Hall and Bob Bodenhamer. It’s a pretty big manual. It’s actually basically a practitioner course in a manual but it’s a great foundation and it’s readable. One thing about NLP is the first few NLP books were very difficult to get through. They are more academic. They’re not very user-friendly but this book is. There’s a lot good NLP books out there. There’s a lot of not so good NLP books out there. This would be a good place to start for many people.
A couple other ideas, once again just go and look in through my bookshelf, De Bono’s Thinking Course. Kind of the title says it. It’s a thinking course. It’s a course about how to think and different ways you can do that. De Bono’s a pretty famous guy in the field. How to Think Like Leonardo Di Vinci by Michael Gelb, once again the title kind of says it all. Leonardo Di Vinci was a famous renaissance man that did a wide range of different things. I like to think of myself as a renaissance man in some aspects. I haven’t really gone for the art or music as much though I plan to at some point. But really I think there’s a lot of benefit from not specializing in a single thing but going kind of wide so thinking like Leonardo Di Vinci can be a useful skill set. This book will teach you how.
Another book I really liked is The Einstein Factor by Win Wenger. A lot of cool drills and things you can do in this book. This is where I learned that if you hold your breath underwater, it forces blood flow to the brain so it can improve thinking in a moment like that. A lot of very cool stuff in here. Super-Learning by Sheila Ostrander is another great book, tons of drills and all that. I probably have at least twice as many of that I can talk about but it’s probably more than enough to get you started.
If you guys have extra questions on this topic, you can always reach out to me via the website and check that out. But I hope this gave you sort of an overview of how I think about nootropics and cognitive function, the herbs that can help as well as different studies, practices and different things that are important to lay that foundation before you even get to the herbs and nutraceuticals.
That’s going to wrap it up for me and this is the Vital Way podcast. As always, we appreciate a review on iTunes if you care to do that. Just head on over there, leave that and it helps other people find the show. It can help spread the word so we can get solid thinking information and herbal information out to more and more people so that can improve their health and performance, cognitive and otherwise. Thanks for listening.