In the post two days ago I looked at what exercise can do to de-rail the neuroendocrine system in two forms of over-training; today, I thought I would look into the how exercise can enhance the same system, and the area of nootropics more generally.
Firstly, to the burgeoning area of use of nootropic supplementation, 'smart drugs' & nutraceuticals for brain health and enhancement (aka. Overclocking the Walnut). Interestingly, the term nootropic seems to be a combination of two greek words 'nous trepein'; or, 'mind' and 'to bend' - so quite literally mind-bending.
Daniel Reid, in his book The Complete Book of Chinese Health & Healing: Guarding the Three Treasures, calls Nootropics 'The New Alchemy' - which is a title that has great appeal to me!
Despite smart drugs being 'new'; both Ayuvedic and Classical Chinese Medicine have long, long histories with experimenting with the nootropic effects of herbs and minerals (from a lore and self-experimention perspective, not double-blind as some would like - but still an amazingly rich source of information).
A fair number of which, like brahmi, via its possible aid in Alzheimer's disease treatment; are getting some decent research attention and funding at the moment.
Anyhow, the basic premise behind nootropics is that via ingesting the drug/supplement/herb, an altering in the amount of oxygen, blood, lipids, nutrients, enzymes and hormonal precursor substances reaching the brain occurs. This influences the rate of production, metabolic activity and speed of transmission of various neurotransmitters, and hormones, within the brain; neural glands and the central nervous system.
This then leads to (hopefully) improved memory functioning; cognitive enhancement; neuroprotective effects and induction of neurogenesis (nerve/neuron growth). A lot of the nootropic research is aimed at the grey matter (neuronal) side of the equation; fair enough, though enhancing the blood and oxygen flow should also effect the white matter (as the white matter helps facilitate this..if my calculations are correct). But, what about substances that target the white matter?
What about enhancing the production, regeneration and function of neuroglia cells; of providing optimal amount of the substances used to generate and protect the architecture of the brain, and it's support systems? Some degenerative disease of the brain target the white matter (MS; Alzheimer's), so finding out how to encourage regeneration of this neural tissue will be very helpful.(see Brahmi, above)
Musing about what else is actually in the cranial cavity; cerebrospinal fluid is produced in the choroid plexus of the brain, and provides buoyancy, cushioning and is involved with the immune system within the brain and central nervous system. Can it too be modified/enhanced? Via exercises, like the spinal wave, as well as supplementation and/or dietary change?
And when I say enhanced, does it have to be via exogenous nootropic substances added to the body? The body possesses a marvelous supply of its own mind-bending and regenerative substances (including DMT and endo-opioids); some of which (all?) are capable of some degree of control via bodymind practices, that it produces via the food we ingest. Just stop and think how cool that is for a second.
I find the exogenous (outside supplementation) nootropic stuff fascinating, but the self-production side of things is cooler still. And how would we best use exercise and bodymind practices to produce a nootropic effect? This is a very good question.
Can you get the same (or better) effects via skillfully using exercise; in combination with smart dieting (and possibly some cheaper substances like Fish Oils; Vitamin D (or get more sunlight) and herbal supplementation), than just using smart drugs and supplements - that will probably end up being quite costly?
I believe so. And I see myself turning a fair amount of my attention to this very topic in the coming years, what with the increasing rates of nervous system problems and the like appearing..plus Physical Alchemy is about regeneration and enhancement of all tissues of the body!
If you take the more powerful supplements and drugs, but don't address other problems in your body and lifestyle - you'll just be giving a confused, stress and unhealthy system some more, strong, chemicals to deal with - which may or may not work well. Or might help one aspect, whilst hindering others. Certainly the smart drugs do look very useful for people with more severe neurodegenrative conditions.
The use of powerful supplements and drugs echoes the 'heroic medicine' ideal; where we are 'fighting a war' against something 'out there', in this case neural degeneration - but this metaphor is just part of that 'Taker Mythology' (if you read Ishmael, which I reviewed a while back). The idea that we are at war with natural ecosystems - both the one 'outside', and the one on the inside, is not a particularly useful standpoint.. especially in regards to this thing we walk around in. What is involved in this degeneration occuring in the first place? Can that be prevented? How?
Using these substances, or approaching the nootropic selection of exercise, will work best from an ecological, systems theory perspective. It's not, necessarily, more of a certain compound or compounds - but an complex, multifaceted interaction of exogenous compounds with endogenous (and molecules somewhere in the conversion between the two) that produces the best outcome (regeneration); via optimal homeostasis across multiple systems. I think Kit's idea of Supervenience may prove useful in this regards.
More on my contemplations of using exercise to produce nootropic effects in part II! I'm off to get some powerful nootropic effects via sleeping. Zzzzz..