4. Substances that help
Apart from the prescribed substances that support the usual bones and organs when you are on the BigD, there are a couple of others aimed at the brain that I’d like to mention.
First a lightweight
My mother was 82 when she passed away, and her brain was a sharp as a needle. When I was about 10, she told me about a new product she had heard about that was “Good for your brain”: Nutritional Lecithin Meal. I think it came with the same door-to-door salesman that sold Rawleigh’s products, or maybe the Tupperware people sold it under the counter, but it was a permanent feature of her every breakfast.
I didn’t think of it again until I found it in a health food shop about two years ago. I looked it up on the net, and found that people are still saying good things about lecithin, including that it improves memory. I had a quick check on possible side effects, got the OK from my specialist and I have been taking 1-2 teaspoons of lecithin granules with my morning cereal ever since. I don’t know if it’s really working, but I think it makes me feel smarter (isn’t that the same thing?).
Now the heavyweights
Other, more industrial strength substances are smart drugs, which I find fascinating. I first heard about them at a Deakin Lecture in 2008, which was broadcast as Brave New Mind on the ABC (click on SHOW TRANSCRIPT). Smart drugs were designed to improve mental functions such as thinking, memory, intelligence, motivation, attention, and concentration in people with neuro-psychiatric disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia or ADHD. However, they have been found to have similar beneficial effects on the brains of healthy people.
Ritalin for ADHD and Modafinil for sleeping disorders are now being used by people who want to be that little bit smarter, say during exams, or important or stressful situations. For example, Ritalin is being widely used as a cognitive enhancer in the US, including 16% of some students in colleges. The journal Nature published the results of a reader survey, reporting that 1 in 5 respondents (20%!) had taken smart drugs to improve their performance. These are scientists! What about the rest of us?
Obviously there are other issues, like side effects, short and long term, physical and mental; the effect on still developing brains (late teens to early 20s); the ethical of using smart drugs for unfair advantage (to get better grades, etc), employers demanding their use, etc; the effect on society. The legal side is pretty tricky too. Regulatory authorities haven’t caught up. There are few smart drug policies, protocols or laws outside their pharmacological use in any country. Some of these drugs are available on the internet.
As I said, fascinating. They may move from the grey market to over-the-counter, or be proscribed. I like the idea of getting a brain boost when I need it (especially when I am trying to remember Mandarin!), but it seems a little extreme. My current attitude is: let sleeping dogs lie. I think I’ll hold off for a while, until I need them. (Hopefully I’ll know when that time comes.)
Your comments or experiences very welcome!