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David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
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Bryan Cranston
Actor
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Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
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Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
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Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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Smart drugs: All-natural brain enhancers made by mother nature

Can nicotine keep Alzheimer's at bay? Dave Asprey explains how natural drugs can create super humans.

DAVE ASPREY: Since this is Big Think, let's talk about the things that help you think big. And you might think, oh, great, this is going to be a Tony Robbins discussion. No. This is a discussion around nootropics, or what's known as smart drugs. I have been using smart drugs for more than 20 years, both the pharmaceutical side and the natural side, where you have lots of plant compounds. I've even formulated some for my company, where it puts together things -- oh, look, there's studies on rosemary. There's studies for this extract of seaweed -- good studies that show that these are increasing your ability to get things in and out of your memory, or making your brain work better.

And it turns out Mother Nature apparently wants us to be higher performance, because she makes a couple of really potent smart drugs, and you might even have used one or both of them. The most commonly consumed cognitive enhancing substance on the planet is coffee. Now, yeah, Bulletproof coffee -- I probably have a bias for saying that -- nut no, seriously, 90% of people drink coffee, and caffeine is a very well-studied performance enhancer, at least over the short period. You can't drink coffee for three days straight and expect to perform well at the end. But could we go deeper than that? And by the way, coffee itself, at this point, I feel comfortable saying it's an anti-aging substance, given the preponderance of studies. All of the big four killers and things like that, they seem to get better. So you have a cognitive enhancer that looks like it's beneficial in many different aspects. I'm all-in on that one.

But what about nicotine? Well, is that a cognitive enhancer? It turns out that nicotine actually, since 1988, has been studied and shown to be an anti-Alzheimer's agent. What? I actually interviewed a guy -- I call him Dr. Nicotine -- his name's Andrew Newhouse -- on Bulletproof Radio. And he's the guy who wrote the first paper in 1988 at Vanderbilt University, and has been studying nicotine ever since. Smoking is bad for you. Chewing tobacco is bad for you. Vaping is bad for you. However, a little bit -- we're talking micro-dosing -- of oral nicotine is a potent cognitive enhancer. You feel one milligram, which is about 5% to 10% of a cigarette's worth; you feel it a lot. And so I will tell you, Super Human was written with the aid of both coffee and nicotine. However, the recommendations in Super Human for nicotine are, you don't want to be using a lot of nicotine, because a lot of nicotine isn't good for you. And smoking is never good for you. To say tobacco and nicotine are the same thing is not a good idea. So I tell people, look, if you're over 40, one milligram a day might be a good idea, because it enhances mitochondrial function, and because we don't want to get Alzheimer's as we age. And maybe over 50, you want two milligrams a day, so just a little bit. But trust me. You'll like that one milligram a day, because it feels good. In fact, nicotine can improve typing speed by up to 15% in healthy people. That's a lot, especially if you're writing a book like Super Human. I typed faster. Not really. I dictated a lot of it.

But what are some of the other things you can do? One of my favorite drugs that I write about is called aniracetam. And it is a pharmaceutical substance. It's spelled A-N-I-R-A-C-E-T-A-M. It's been around for about 50 years, and it was pioneered in Russia. This is something that's neuro-protective, and it enhances the ability to get things in and out of your memory. They call it memory I/O. So when I'm sitting here, talking, saying, what was the name of that study, how do you think I do that? Well, I did do the research. But I also use cognitive enhancers in order to make my brain work better. Because you know what? It feels really good to have a brain that works, especially as you age. And it's entirely possible to do this just from food. But there's another level that you get when your diet's dialed in, when your sleep is dialed in. It's OK to then add the plant-based, naturally occurring cognitive enhancers. And if you still wanted more, look at the pharmaceuticals that have a very high upside, and maybe no downside or very small downside, and to decide if they're part of the equation for you.

  • Nootropics are colloquially known as 'smart drugs' – substances that increase cognitive function in healthy people. The word nootropic is a combination of two Greek words, noos meaning 'mind' and tropein meaning 'towards'.
  • Dave Asprey discusses two naturally occurring smart drugs: Caffeine and nicotine. The latter might be a surprise, but while smoking, chewing tobacco and vaping have negative health consequences, there's evidence to suggest microdosing one milligram of nicotine, about 5% to 10% of a cigarette's worth, may protect against Alzheimer's.
  • Beyond naturally occurring smart drugs, Asprey discusses aniracetam, a pharmaceutical cognitive enhancer pioneered in Russia that may improve memory input and recall.



A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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How often do vaccine trials hit paydirt?

Vaccines find more success in development than any other kind of drug, but have been relatively neglected in recent decades.

Pedro Vilela/Getty Images
Surprising Science

Vaccines are more likely to get through clinical trials than any other type of drug — but have been given relatively little pharmaceutical industry support during the last two decades, according to a new study by MIT scholars.

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