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We can improve our intelligence by making healthy lifestyle and dietary changes, and supplementing these changes with nootropics. How do these factors improve our brain's processing power? In other words, what occurs in your brain when you engage in these habits and activities? They affect three important drivers of our brain's processing power, and all cognitive abilities. Everything recommended in this guide is linked to one of these drivers.
Drivers of the Brain's Processing Power and Cognitive Abilities
These three drivers are the key to enhancing cognitive abilities. When you improve all three of these drivers, there is a profound synergistic effect. You will be astounded by what you can accomplish. Tasks that once seemed draining and difficult will now seem trivial. Your brain will function at its maximum potential. Few people in life reach this potential.
Many people are under the false impression humans cannot create new brain cells. This is a myth. In 1986, Stanley Cohen and Rita Levi-Montalcini won the Nobel Prize in Physiology for discovering nerve growth factor (NGF). You can read the lecture Stanley Cohen gave here. Nerve growth factor stimulates the creation of new neurons by a process called neurogenesis.
Neurons are the core component of our nervous system. They are the driving force behind everything that happens in our brain. Having more neurons leads to a healthier, more functional brain. There are numerous things you can do to improve NGF production. Proper nutrition, regular physical and mental exercise, and even nootropic supplements all contribute to an increase in levels of NGF.
At the center of every cell there is a nucleus. Within the nucleus lies DNA, the blueprint for that cell. DNA is the biological instructions for every facet of our physiology. What color our hair is, how tall we become, is coded in DNA. DNA is packed into unbelievably tight coils. How unbelievably tight? It turns out there is over 6 feet of DNA in each cell.
This means the human body contains enough DNA to stretch to the Sun and back 300 times. That is over 270 trillion feet. The arrangement of these incredibly complex coils determines the function of the cell. Depending on how you twist the DNA you could get a liver cell or a nerve cell.
Established neurons are stable and have assumed a role in the brain. New neurons are plastic and have not yet been assigned a role. In order to learn new concepts, our brain needs new neurons. Think of the brain as a spider web of neurons. When we need to solve a novel problem, the relevant areas of this web become active. A "ripple effect" ensues and neurons are activated. Activation of these neurons allows you to think of ideas and concepts, which you then apply to solving the problem at hand. The larger the web, the more information you can access to solve a problem.
There are specific places in the web where neurons are created. These places are called the sub-ventricular and sub-granular zones. Neurons are then moved to areas where the web can be expanded. Faster creation of neurons allows faster expansion of this web. People with a larger neural web generally have higher levels of cognitive function.
You might think there is only so much space for the neural web to expand, but in reality, there is virtually an infinite amount of space. This spider web of neurons is not two-dimensional, but rather three-dimensional and it takes the shape of your brain. The web does not expand outward. It is expanded to areas between existing "silk lines". The web expands in size by becoming more crowded.
Different areas of the web are dedicated to different cognitive functions. The web is not uniformly crowded. One area is assigned to spatial reasoning, while another may be assigned to social abilities. Someone with superior spatial reasoning will have a densely crowded web in that area, but could have a sparsely crowded web in the area assigned to social abilities. Dependent on specific mental exercises, new neurons will be connected to different areas in the web. Our goal is to strengthen the most important areas in this "neural web".
An example of this idea in action was observed in the brains of taxi drivers. Brain scans of taxi drivers revealed the areas of their brains associated with navigation were unusually large. Because the taxi drivers were spending so much time navigating city streets, their new brain cells were being preferentially used to improve their ability to navigate. This increase in “grey matter" (part of the brain containing neurons) involved their posterior hippocampus. Additionally, the posterior hippocampus of veteran taxi drivers were larger compared to those who had been driving for a shorter period.
This example is important because it highlights the importance of correct mental exercise. Everything in this program will make your brain more receptive to change. Rest assured, had those taxi drivers followed this program, their posterior hippocampi would be even more developed. But you do not want to become an expert at navigation; you want to improve your intelligence. The mental exercise chapter will explain how.
The connections between neurons are referred to as synapses (synaptic connections). These connections allow your mind to navigate the neural "spider web". Neurons communicate by sending and receiving electrochemical signals through synaptic connections. Synaptic connections are continuously being created, strengthened, weakened, and destroyed. The brain's ability to do this is called synaptic plasticity. The more plastic a brain is, the more easily it weakens or eliminates obsolete connections and creates or strengthens new necessary connections.
You may be wondering how a new synaptic connection is created. Almost constantly the ends of synaptic connections are swelling up like balloons. Then, the terminal ends of neurons split right down the middle, leaving you with two synaptic connections instead of one. This process was discovered by Eric Kandel, and he received a Nobel Prize for it in 2000. His research showed that acquiring any piece of new information requires alteration of synaptic connections, and when people learn, they literally change their brain's wiring. While you have been reading this introduction, your brain actually engaged in this rewiring process.
If new synapses are not strengthened, they will not last long, and new memories will be forgotten. This happens easily and is why you cannot remember the beginning of this book word for word. Our ability to strengthen new connections (synaptic plasticity) plays an important role in not just memory formation and retention, but also the ability to learn. In theory, if you were unable to create new synaptic connections, you would be unable to memorize or learn anything new.
With the formation of more synaptic connections, your neural spider web becomes larger and more complex. When neurons are activated, the "ripple" that ensues activates other neurons multiple times by means of a greater number of connections. Think of each neuron as a room which contains information you might need to solve a problem. Creating more synaptic connections to a neuron is like installing more doors to that room. This gives you greater access to the information in that room. As long as you are installing doors on rooms containing important information, which is the goal of mental exercise, you are improving your ability to problem solve.
Once the brain matures, parts lose much of their plasticity, especially in the cerebral cortex where "thinking" takes place. This is why following all the advice in this regimen is important. Much of the advice presented aims to make the brain more plastic. The more plastic a brain is, the more receptive it is to mental exercise.
Neurotransmitters are what light up the neural spider web when it is in use. This happens every moment of life. There are an untold number of neurotransmitters, and each one plays a unique function in the brain. One neurotransmitter many people are familiar with is dopamine. Dopamine plays an important role in the brain's reward system, ability to stay motivated, and working memory. Different drugs can affect the way our brain produces, and uses neurotransmitters.
One drug that has a powerful effect on the brain's dopamine system is cocaine. Cocaine floods synapses in specific areas of the neural web with dopamine. This makes you alert, confident, motivated, and focused. Because dopamine acts upon the brain’s reward system, cocaine becomes very addicting. Recent research has identified dopamine as the "give me more" neurotransmitter. This means when you engage in an action that releases dopamine into your synapses, your brain actively seeks to re-engage in that action.
There are numerous available drugs that alter brain function by affecting neurotransmitters. Some can be dangerous, like cocaine, but others are safe, like caffeine. Nootropics target different neurotransmitters that are involved in learning, memory, synaptic plasticity, and even neurogenesis. The nootropics section will explain their varied and precise workings, as well as how to best utilize different nootropics to enhance cognition.
Neurotransmitter functionality is only one of the drivers behind cognitive performance. This cognitive enhancement regimen aims to improve all three. Improving all three drivers creates a strong synergistic effect. Creating neurons faster allows the neuron web to expand faster. Improving synaptic plasticity thickens the web's silk lines and facilitates the addition of new, important lines. Improving the functionality of neurotransmitters allows our mind to use the web more efficiently. Each driver is dependent upon and influences each other.
Having a greater number of neurons allows more synaptic connections to form. Having more synaptic connections amplifies the effect of neurotransmitter functionality. Amplified neurotransmitter functionality allows the brain to create new neurons and new synaptic connections more easily. An improvement in one area creates a ripple that improves the others. Improvements in all three areas create huge ripples which produces a profound synergistic effect.
1. Improving Your Intelligence is Possible After All
2. Lifestyle Strategies to Maximize Brainpower
3. Optimizing Your Diet for Mental Performance
4. Mental Exercise
5. Nootropic Supplementation
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