Memory boosting drugs… are they worth the money?

A couple of years ago a new film came out called Limitless, in this film the main character is offered a drug that enables him to use 100% of his brain and by doing this he is very aware if his surroundongs, can recall all of his memories and can learn much faster than before. Before I saw this film I had never even considered that there may be these kinds of things out there but a quick google search shows up all kinds of drugs that claim to boost memory (obviously not to the extent of this film) but they are available to anyone with access to the internet.

For this blog I will only concentrate on the herbal drugs that are out there, this is because herbal drugs are potentially widely available to students and we will find out if they can be beneficial.

From my google search I found a herbal Nootropic drug called Doxiderol. This drug claims to improve memory, enhance focus, increase attention span, generate intense energy and improve the retention of new information. Doxiderol claims to start to work in only 15 minutes and improves both short term and long term memory.

What is in these drugs?

So by now you may be wondering what is in these miracle drugs that can work so fast, well you may be surprised, most of these things you will probably find in your kitchens already! Doxiderol, like many others like it is made up of caffeine, L-Theanine, vitamin B5, citcicoline, vinpocetine, and Acetyl-L-carnitine.

Can these different herbal supplements work?

  • Caffeine – in these drugs caffeine is used to improve the concentration and focus of the person taking the drug. Caffeine is widely available in the form of coffee or in most fizzy drinks such as Coca-cola. Nehlig (2010) found that caffeine only faciltates learning when information is presented passively (think of lectre theatre), and when information is purposely being learned (think of revision) caffeine has been shown to have no effect on learning. Although caffeine can improve concentration and focus at low doses (Nehlig, 2010) it has been shown to cause headaches in young children and adolences when consumed excessively (Hering-Hanit & Gadoth, 2003). Thus possibly having a negative effect on students trying to use it as a stimulant.
  • Acetyl-L-carnitine – in these drugs acetyl-l-carnetine is used as an antioxident as it can pass the blood-brain barrier. In the brain acetyl-l-carnetine has been shown to prevent the deterioration of brain cells (Ishii, Shimpo, Matsuoka & Kinoshita, 2000). A more natural way for a student to obtain acetyl-l-carnitine is to incorporate it into their diet. This can be found in red meats and (for vegetarians) small amounts can be found in fruits, vegetables, grains and eggs.
  • L-theanine – in these drugs L-theanine is used for its capabilities of reducing stress and stabilising moods. It is mainly used as it counters some of the negative effects brought on by the consumption of caffeine. Owen, Parnell, De Bruin & Rycroft (2008) found that when ceffeine and L-theanine are combined it improved the speed and accuracy of their participants. Haskell, Kennedy, Milne, Wesnes & Scholey (1973) studied this combination on headache and fatigue ratings and found that when used together these ratings reduced. Green tea is a good source of L-theanine.
  • Vinpocetine – in these drugs this is described as the viagra for the brain. This is becasue is it a vasodialotor and increases blood flow to the brain. There is not a way to take this naturally in food as it is a plant.
  • Citicoline and vitamin B5 – in these drugs these are used for their effect on the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is involved with the learning and retention of new information, and decreased levels have been found to prevent recall (Kramer et al, 1992). Citicoline increases the levels of choline, which then increases acetylcholine. To do this vitamin B5 is essential as it is used to breakdown the choline into acetylcholine. The best sources of vitamin B5 is liver, bran and sunflower seeds. The best sources for citicoline is beans, meats and eggs.

Is it worth it?

After looking at what is in the natural drugs that claim to improve memory it is not worth buying them (they can be very costly), and it is not worth giving them to students to improve their performance in Education, this is because a lot of what these drugs contain are already present in foods that can be consumed easily. Perhaps these foods could be incorporated in dinners that are offered at the education centres such as schools, colleges etc. to boost the students memories.

8 thoughts on “Memory boosting drugs… are they worth the money?

  1. If your interested in memory boosting drugs you should look into Modafinil and porvigil ( I think the two drugs are the same but have a very very slight variance, because these two drugs are the biggest players in performance enhancers for students right now.

    Modafinil elevates hypothalmic levels which means it keeps you awake and also keeps your attention high with the ability not to get bored. A study that used Modafinil and tested for attention and cognitive improvements over periods of 12, 22, 27 hours without sleep. Modafinil improved vigilance and tracking performance (this was a study on pilots) in a divided-attention task, CNS activation, oculomotor performance, and aspects of subjective mood, but the fascinating find in this study was that these effects where more noticeable between 24-32 hours without sleep (Cladwell, 2004).

    This shows that this drugs has cognitive improvements and can keep you awake in the library for many hours while you get your learn on.

    Another study looked at the cognitive performance of participants after having 300mg of Modafinil. Modafinil improved fatigue levels, motivation, reaction time and vigilance. In terms of self-assessments of cognitive performance with shows similar finds to my other experiment (Dinich, Jacobs, 2004).

    It’s actually hard to find study in which Modafinal doesn’t make a positive impact, anyway food for thought for you

    Cladwell., Cladwell. (2004). The Efficacy of Modafinil for Sustaining Alertness and Simulator Flight Performance in F-117 Pilots During 37 Hours of Continuous Wakefulness

    Dinich, Jacobs. (2004). Effects of modafinil on cognitive and meta-cognitive performance, Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, 19(5), 323-332

    • As a habitual coffee drinker, I found this blog very interesting. After reading your blog I went off and did my own mini literature review to find out some more. I found two study’s by the same author (Smith, 1994; Smith, 1999), that are worthy of a mention. In both study’s the author sought to examine the effects of breakfast cereal and caffeinated coffee on working memory, attention, mood and cardiovascular function (all of which are involved somewhat in the learning process). These studies randomly assigned participants to one of the groups formed by combining breakfast (cereal versus no breakfast) and caffeine (caffeinated versus decaffeinated coffee) conditions. The volunteers completed a baseline session between 8: 00 a.m and 8: 45 a.m. The breakfast/caffeine administration took place between 8: 45 a.m and 9:15 a.m. They then completed another test session (starting at 9: 45 a.m) and had a coffee break at 10: 45 a.m, followed by a final session starting at 11: 45 a.m. The author reported results indicating that those who consumed breakfast cereal had a more positive mood at the start of the test sessions, performed better on a spatial memory task, and felt calmer at the end of the test session than those in the no breakfast condition. Ingestion of caffeine had no effect on initial mood or working memory, but it did improve encoding of new information and counteracted the fatigue that developed over the test session. Caffeine increased blood pressure and pulse rate, whereas breakfast cereal consumption only had an effect on pulse. Overall, these results confirm previous findings on the effects of breakfast and caffeine, and demonstrate distinct profiles for two common examples of early-morning food and drink, breakfast cereal and caffeinated coffee (Smith, 1999).

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  3. I’ve seen a lot of blogs lately that look into the effects of different substances on memory and concentration. Along with what you can ingest (foods, drinks, drugs) there is research indicating that different smells can improve memory. The most common one I have come across in research is citrus and peppermint. In studies these have been shown to boost the attention of students. It is generally assumed that memory will only be enhanced through repeated exposure to the scents (Cann & Ross, 1989), however a study conducted at Harvard university suggests otherwise. Volunteers were exposed to a rose scent whilst they slept following revision. The next day they were given a test on what they revised. It was found that they recalled more information than the control group (who were not exposed to any scent) even though they were not exposed to the rose ouder again. It is theorised from this that the ouder intensified that transfer of memory into the hippocampus (linked to Long Term Memory).

    Cann & Ross (1989)
    http://www.jstor.org/stable/1423118?seq=2

    Harvard study
    http://www.microsofttraining.net/article-924-smell-can-induce-better-learning-environment-with-powerpoint.html

  4. Students could also adapt their diet around exam time as research has shown that food influences memory processes. Flavonoids (photochemicals found in plant based foods) affect areas of the brain and have been shown to improve memory (Manach, Scalbert, Morand, Remesy & Jimenez, 2004). Dietary sources of flavonoids include citrus fruits (e.g. grapefruits), berries, onions (including red onions), and pulses, green and white tea (Tsushida & Suzuki, 1996). All these sources are easy for students to get hold of and include in their diet.

    Research has found that flavonoids such as tea, blueberries, cocoa and grapes have a range of beneficial effects on cognitive processes (Youdim, Spencer, Schroeter & Rice-Evans, 2002; Spencer, 2008). Flavonoids improve memory by strengthening neuronal function, stimulating neuronal regeneration and helping to protect existing neurons against metabolic and oxidative stress (Spencer, 2008).
    Glucose has also been found to have positive effects on mental performance. Research conducted on students reported that glucose improve retrieval processes (Korol & Gold, 1998). Researchers also reported that glucose enhanced student’s attention. Glucose is found in food products such as fruit and vegetables especially grapes, peppers and tomatoes (Sizer & Whitney, 2006) and again is easy to include in students diet.

    Glucose is also found in milk. Students could easily incorporate milk into breakfast by adding cereal. This would have further benefits on cognitive functioning as eating breakfast is associated with improved memory skills (Michaud, Musse, Nicolas & Mejan, 1991) and examination performance (Phillips, 2005).

    References-
    Youdim KA, Spencer JPE, Schroeter H & Rice-Evans C (2002) Dietary flavonoids as potential neuroprotectants. BiolChem 383, 503–519.
    Spencer, J.P.E. (2008). Food for thought: the role of dietary flavonoids in enhancing human memory, learning and neuro-cognitive performance. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. Vol 67, 238–252.
    Tsushida T., Suzuki, M. (1996) Content of flavonol glucosides and some properties of enzymes metabolizing the glucosides in onion. J. Jap. Soc. Food Sci. Technol., 43, 642-649.
    Manach C, Scalbert A, Morand C, Remesy C & Jimenez L (2004) Polyphenols: food sources and bioavailability. American Journal Clinical Nutrition 79, 727–747.
    Korol, D. L., & Gold, P. E. (1998). Glucose, memory and aging. The American Society for Clinical Nutrition, Inc, 67, 7645-7715
    Nutrition Concepts & Controversies”; F. Sizer & E. Whitney; 2006
    Michaud C, Musse N, Nicolas JP, Mejan L. Effects of breakfast size on short-term memory concentration mood and blood glucose. J Adolesc Health 1991;12:53–7.
    Phillips, G.W. (2005). Does eating breakfast affect the performance of college students on biology exams? Bioscene, 30(4), 15-19.

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  6. Your blog topic is an interesting one and as you mentioned a lot of these pills contain caffeine, and students tend to take caffeine to make them feel more alert and increase concentration in the hope their learning and memory will benefit (Lieberman et al, 2002). However as you stated, caffeine does not appear to benefit learning; so I have researched into this to find out how and why through the effects caffeine has on memory. Bernstein et al (1994) found that caffeine actually delayed children’s short term memory recall and processing speed. Furthermore, Terry and Phifer (1986) conducted research and found that caffeine subjects recalled fewer words compared to the control as well as underperforming in correctly recalling the middle to end sections of the word lists. So from these studies it would appear that caffeine does not provide an advantage when it comes to short-term memory.

    So what about the effects on the long-term memory? Luszczki et al (2006) conducted research that showed that higher doses of caffeine actually impaired long-term memory. Additionally, Han et al (2007) found that long-term consumption of low doses of caffeine slowed that of hippocampus-dependent learning and impaired the long-term memory.

    So although caffeine works in increasing alertness and concentration, as a whole it appears that it can affect both long and short term memory in a negative manner. Thus contradicting the purpose behind a student’s motivation to consume caffeine through one source or another.

    References:

    Lieberman et al (2002) retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00213-002-1217-9?LI=true

    Bernstein et al (1994) retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0890856709641848

    Terry, W., & Phifer, B. (1986). “Caffeine and memory performance on the AVLT”. Journal of clinical psychology 42 (6): 860–863. doi:10.1002/1097-4679(198611)42:63.0.CO;2-T. PMID 3805299

    Luszczki, J. J., Zuchora, M., Kozinska, J., Ozog, A. A., (2006). “Caffeine impairs long-term memory in the step-through passive avoidance task in mice”. Annales Univeritatis Mariae Curie-Sklodowska 61: 792–796.

    Han et al (2007) retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17400186

  7. Another drug used inappropriately in education is Ritalin. Ritalin is a drug usually meant for people with ADHD to reduce symptoms of hyperactivity. However, abuse of this drug has lead to black market distribution in order to enhance people’s brain power without ADHD. This is a problem that cannot really be addressed due to the ethical problem of testing people for Ritalin abuse during exams etc. There would be no way of reducing the usage, even though Ritalin is a class B drug when used without prescription. Here is an article into Ritalin usage: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8106957.stm.
    For people who use Ritalin it would be an unfair advantage and I think drug use to enhance brain activity is wrong, just like enhancing performance in sport.

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