Hello, Reddit!

I am Andrew Hill. I received my Ph.D in Cognitive Neuroscience from UCLA, focusing on lateralized attention in the hemispheres and EEG and Neurofeedback techniques.

My current focus is on developing tools and technologies to enhance cognitive performance. I work with truBrain, an LA-based neurotech brain fitness startup. I serve as their lead neuroscientist, helping formulate their nootropic blends designed to enhance various aspects of cognition, including focus, attention, and wakefulness.

I'm also a founding director of Alternatives Behavioral Health, which includes the Alternatives Brain Institute, providing clinical QEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback services, mindfulness training, and a non 12-step substance abuse program.

I'm working with truBrain to examine the QEEG effects of nootropics and other cognitive enhancers. Nootropics are compounds intended to improve one or more aspects of cognition, or to provide neuro-protective effects. A strict definition of nootropics would also include few to no side effects - truBrain will be including caffeine in future products, which I would instead classify as a cognitive "enhancer."

QEEG is a band analysis of EEG power, often compared against a reference database to identify statistical outliers related to performance. Neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback used train EEG patterns to improve attention or other aspects of brain regulation, including sleep, stress, and mood. Mindfulness is a form of meditation that emphasizes paying attention in the present moment, and works to strengthen control of attention.

From assessment and training technology, to nootropics and other nutrition approaches, to behavior hacks and routines designed to improve performance, to new ways of thinking about ancient brain building exercises, I am working to bring people the tools to take control of their brains.

I’ve also discussed my work on a podcast with Dr. Drew Pinsky which will be airing in the near future!

Ask me anything!

Also a plug: Just two hours ago, truBrain launched the Indiegogo campaign for our new ThinkDrinks! Check it out here

Identity proof


Thanks - I'm closing this AMA now; I could answer your great questions all day long for weeks, but need to put a limit on the AMA.

If you have questions on our nootropics please don't hesitate to email us at [email protected] (that gets to /u/truBrainChris, Garret, and myself, plus a few other people). If you want to know more about QEEG and neurofedback, or meditation, contact me via Alternatives.

I also tend to hang out on the freenode IRC Channels ##Neurofeedback and #reddit-nootropics

Comments: 165 • Responses: 62  • Date: 

cge32 karma

I know this question is a bit late, but: what actual research has been done on truBrain? And what has been published? I often feel that a concern with companies selling supplements of this sort is the lack of rigorous published research; it seems to me that there is a place for such research even when it is not a regulatory requirement, and it would certainly go very far in convincing the public, as well as the research community, of your product’s efficacy.

The pilot QEEG study you list on your “results” page is concerning, particularly in how it is presented. As the page admits, it had no blinding, no behavioral assessment, and involved 7 people over one week. This might seem alright for an initial pilot study of a product that wasn’t already on the market, but the results don’t seem to actually be presented. Instead, most of what is discussed are what participants mentioned, along with some vague images that have colorbar legends with no units. The page admits that your averaged alpha change (in what? amplitude?) didn’t clear a reasonable threshold (e.g., p=0.5 or 0.1) of significance. Throughout, there’s no discussion of the actual quantitative results, and honestly, 90% of it sounds like picking bits out of the results that can be made to sound good. And, of course, there’s no reasonable methods section.

Then, you move to a huge font saying “truBrain shown to increase: Visualization, Attention, Focus, Calm” (punctuation added). That doesn’t seem to be at all a reasonable conclusion from the vague results you’ve presented, and certainly seems as though it may be premature and irresponsible.

Is this research presented anywhere in an appropriate scholarly format, with quantitative results and a methods section? Was it, as the logo you have with “UCLA” in it seems to imply, done at UCLA? If so, with what groups are you collaborating? I can’t seem to find any information on any of this. Even just putting something up on figshare or perhaps arXiv’s q-bio would be nice.

I’m a bit concerned too, honestly, at the closeness of the sample size (7) and the number of people on your “Our Team” page (11). Is there a connection?

The links to studies that you list appear to be links to a variety of previously published papers by unrelated groups looking at individual ingredients in a variety of contexts, many of which are unrelated to your usage.

Apart from these concerns about research publication, I do have a few questions about the presentation of your own team, and your own experience.

Firstly, I’m assuming that UCLA has some oddities with the way its programs are arranged, as your thesis lists your degree as being in Psychology, not Cognitive Neuroscience (Dr. Attar, on the other hand, does have hers list her degree as Neuroscience). You received this in 2012, and you don’t appear to have any refereed journal publications (chapters in books published by Springer are not quite the same). While your bio lists you as lecturing for UCLA through UEI, you don’t appear in the campus directory, and UEI isn’t exactly the same as even lecturing for a department. Yet you appear to be what amounts to the PI for truBrain’s research. All of this isn’t necessarily a problem, and there are certainly researchers who have excelled in this way, but what experience do you have in managing research beyond being a graduate student?

As one last note that particularly irks me: in several places on your website, you are described as “Dr. Andrew Hill, PhD.” There are also referenced to “Dr. Aida Attar, PhD.” I’ve rarely seen this double-mention format outside of dubious companies, and it would probably be a good idea to correct it.

I’m sorry if this seems particularly hostile, but as I am sure you realize, the dietary supplement field is rife with dubious science, and as a result I feel legitimate companies should be expected to be able to strongly defend their results against reasonable skepticism.

salamandyr14 karma

Thanks for your considered comments. We are indeed early in the research stage of the product. Just a couple of comments - one, the pilot study last year was small, wasn't blinded, and no, isn't published in any journal format.

The goals for that study weren't really to demonstrate scientific fact but to prove out our methodology and get some idea about the gross findings we would want to investigate further. Some of the 7 people were interns, yes - most of them had no affiliation with truBrain beyond incidental (population of convenience - friend of a friend, etc), and no, we didnt just test all the core team.

You are right to be skeptical of claims. One thing we have really tried to do is avoid making claims - we have put together a bunch of ingredients that seem to work well together by subjective report, and that have a large history of support for individual ingredients in the existing research literature. Our own research contribution has to come after formulating and finalizing product, to some extent. None of the marketing materials should say "we DO x" - that's one of the ways we are trying not to run afoul of the FDA. But we also don't have millions to run the product through huge clinical trials.

To address some of these limits, we recently completed a study with a slightly better design - ~ 20 people, double-blinded, placebo controlled, two days of testing for each person, QEEG measures, and on-task EEG measures. We did this project with Sang Lucci as their traders are a very active truBrain userbase.

I don't have result to report on for that yet - it's taking some time to crunch through what is > 200 QEEGs and reduce the data to the point where questions make sense, but we are almost there. So yup - you got us, the first bit of science we gave you wasn't a true experiment. I would still suggest that the investigations into our product are many times what any other nootropic company is doing, and also ask you to bear with us as we work on data.

Yes, I received my Psychology PhD from the department of Psychology at UCLA, in the Cognitive Neuroscience program.

Yes, I'm leading the EEG efforts in the research, although we have a few others helping. I am mostly an EEG clinician at this point, working with Alternatives - my expertise in working with QEEG and EEG in general is both clinical and "academic" in nature, and i've been doing both for quite a while. No I've not published first author papers or run a lot of large research studies before. You can find a couple book chapters I've published (in the realm of attention), but in stepping out of academia last year and working with two startups - one focused on delivering services and one building building a nootropic product - has meant chosing to try to bring tools to people, and to some extent I've dragging my research agenda along with me.

Please don't forget that truBrain is a young company working hard in a market we are helping to prove. If I want to run 7 people and look at the effect of their brains on and off truBrain I'll do it. I certainly won't cite it as published data, but I may talk about what I found informally. I don't think that rises to any suspicious agenda or ethical dilemma.

Stay tuned for more palatable results in from a more robust study design in a few weeks.

manmoth12 karma

As a followup to new studies, does your company have any interest in trying to push/research more experimental supplements?

I would characterize both products as a well thought out mix, erring on the cautious side, that would be most valuable to people with limited exposure to, but interest in, nootropics.

So I would then characterize your company as most interested in presenting already established nootropics to a wider audience than in doing novel supplements. Would you agree with that? Long term are you more interested in palatability (new flavors/drinks/gummis etc) than testing new or more edge supplements?

salamandyr3 karma

I shouldn't say tooo much, but long term I expect us to be bringing you more than just nootropics.

But experimental supplement / compounds are by their very nature probably not a good wide market product for a company like truBrain to provide. I'd not want to offer something with too unpredictable results or unknown safety profile.

Jedi_hugz11 karma

Hi Dr. Hill,

I am a recent graduate who plans on continuing education in the field of neuroscience (more specifically, positive emotion psychophysiology). I've been working with a lab at UNC-Chapel Hill that does research on emotions, and the work is so interesting. Your projects sound very similar and I'm glad you're doing this AMA. Thank you!

Which sets of behavior hacks and routines do you find are most effective in helping people adhere to lifestyle changes/programs? It seems that making little changes in many areas of a person's routine would be more effective than making big changes to just diet or exercise, for example. What are your thoughts?

Edit: added link to lab webpage.

salamandyr26 karma

Mindfulness / Meditation has the biggest bang for the buck. It's free, and it probably has at least as much effect on the brain as other approaches, but you must actually "do" it. This doesn't address adherence, but if one does develop discipline in one area (like a daily practice) it may translate to supporting other areas of change.

My take on how to meditate.

trevdak29 karma

Has your research shown much promise in prevention of neurodegenerative disorders?

salamandyr11 karma

We haven't done direct research with a neurodegeneration population. There is a fair amount of reseach suggesting that things like piracetam, choline, etc., are neuroprotective both for acute injury (hypoxia, etc) as well as for long term protection from aging effects, but good research here would have to be done in a longitudinal fashion, tracking people and their brains for years.

NorbitGorbit6 karma

do you think the regulations and restrictions for supplements are too restrictive or not restrictive enough?

salamandyr9 karma

About right, probably - I do think the routes for validating supplements, drugs, and other compounds is a bit too labor, time, and money intensive. A full scale clinical trial series takes years and millions of dollars, which de-incentivizes companies from doing full testing of compounds that don't have a large and obvious market.

TrustyTapir6 karma


salamandyr8 karma

I'm a bit adverse to noopept, as peptides tend to be "earlier" in regulatory chains, and there isn't enough research on noopept to speak to safety and efficacy in my opinion.

And I hate modafinil. It put me in the hospital with body-covering hives, that lasted weeks and left me with reactive histamine system for months. If you don't feel like eating today, google Erythema Multiforme Minor, to see what I was dealing with. Also, the cognitive enhancing effects are pretty minor - not as powerful as neurofeedback or mindfulness, or even piracetam imho, and definitely not sustainable. If you are narcoleptic it probably has good use, but I'm very adverse to it as an off-label drug for ADHD, etc. In fact, review papers show that there is an increased risk for side effects in people with attention issues.

TrustyTapir2 karma


salamandyr3 karma

No evidence of lack of efficacy, but people do often report issues with short term memory when they take slightly higher does of noopept.. the "narrow" dose response curve combined with the tiny tiny doses (10-15 mg) means to me that many people won't get nootropic effects, but may have anti-nootropic effects.

caseyc435 karma

(1)How long have you been working on this project with truBrain? (2)What other projects is truBrain working on for the future?

salamandyr7 karma

I've been dabbling in nootropics for many years - several years before working with truBrain. The truBrain 1.0 blend is pretty much what I arrived at via self-experimentation, and giving it to my friends and family. But I've been with truBrain since early 2013, when they launched. New products are coming (soon!) including a "ThinkDrink" which is truBrain in a liquid format.

ideal25451 karma


i was looking at the website; that's alot of pills to be taking! do people really take so many pills at once, once a day or are they on some kind of a schedule at least where you take separate pills throughout the week?

salamandyr3 karma

After the loading phase (the first two weeks) it drops to 3 pills in morning packet, 3 in afternoon packet. But we are sensitive to how much some people don't like swallowing capsules ... thinkDrinks will address that ;)

gjcbs4 karma

I am curious to know, if in any of your research you have found any statistical evidence of whether one believes and adheres to a "faith" or not has an impact on brain health?
Being a Christian who loves science already probably puts me in an outlier category, but my friends and I have long wondered about this. I realize this may not be totally within your intended scope of this AMA, I just thought I would ask.

salamandyr14 karma

There is indeed some evidence that a contemplative practice has huge brain health benefits. This can be faith-based practices (prayer) or secular mindfulness. Believing "in" something probably isn't what matters, versus having regular opportunities for contemplative practice.

finds_a_reason4 karma

What is your opinion of NSI-189? From what I've read it seems to have amazing potential.

salamandyr13 karma

This falls under my "too new to mess with" rule. I'm very adverse to RC's being used by self-experimenters. I think the risks are untenable.

DeaconNuno4 karma

Phenylpiracetam has recently been banned from Amazon, but I bought some before it was. The first few times I took it, sublingually, along with Alpha-GPC, I noticed a marked boost in energy and motivation. I've read that the tolerance to this substance develops quickly, which would explain why the effects after that were less and less. I was wondering what your opinion was on the substance, and any possible reasons for the ban.

In addition to this, I've taken Vinpocetine, L-Theanine, Ashwagandha, Huperzine A, and Brahmi herb in my stack. I've noticed marked enhancement of my ability to write about and discuss complex subjects while taking the stack. Is there anything I should know about these substances besides the tendency for some to increase mucous production (worsening certain blockages/asthma) and thin the blood?

Thanks very much for your attention to this subject.

salamandyr3 karma

I suggest you post this into r/stackadvice... I'm just going to tear this list apart and tell you that many things fail my personal risk tolerance (vinpo, huperzine), aren't sustainable (phenylp) or don't have very well understood methods of action or safety.

Get on with your badass psychonautic self, but be careful - nootopics shouldnt give you massive effects of stimulation or euphoria, or even superhuman powers.

Ultimately you should be looking for long term effects, not dose effects.. e.g. sustainable support over the long term is what most effective nootropics do; there is no Limitless pill.

kidsuserguide4 karma

What approach to food (paleo - vegetarian - vegan) have you seen to be most beneficial to brain health?

salamandyr13 karma

Brain health is about a few things when it comes to diet. I mostly concern myself with the quality of the fats consumed and avoiding insulin issues. This largely translates to maximizing Omega 3 fatty acids while minimizing Omega 6 fatty acids, and avoiding all sugars and starch where possible. For me that means a primal/paleo diet, of grass-fed beef and lamb, eggs from pasture-raised chicken, said pasture-raised chicken (especially liver), pork, wild fish, leafy and cruciferous vegetables, dairy in moderate amounts (as cheese/butter, not a drinking form, except for the steamed half-and-half that sneaks into my occasional latte), berries, and a few other fruits and nuts in moderation, plus liberal use of all the good fats I can get my hands on (coconut oil, avocado, butter, etc).

In another reply I mentioned I try to stay under 25 grams of carbs in any one sitting - in fact under 20 grams is usually what I adhere to. There is some evidence that degenerative processes involved in Alzheimer's have a connection with the blood sugar / insulin system in the brain. Some people are (probably prematurely) calling it a Type III Diabetes. Plus staying lowish in free carbs means most of the benefits of ketogenic diets, without much of the stress.

This is of course pretty hard to do as a vegetarian, unless you are ovo/pesco/lacto friendly, and I'm not sure it's possible to do as vegan. I've had vegetarian friends try, and fail - they just cannot get a sufficient quantity of fats, and end up exhausted and grumpy, and/or hungry.

Does that mean the paleo/primal/keto/lowcarb/atkins/yadda yadda diet is the only one that works in pro-brain ways? No, of course not. Humans are adaptable, and have a long and varied history eating all sorts of things.. but I think the science and my personal experience support high-fat, lowish carb diets free of sugars and high in vegetables as being among the best for brain health.

welsh_dragon_roar3 karma

Hi Dr Hill,

Just wondering if you know how far computer modelling has come along in terms of analysing the effects of virtual compounds and diseases on virtual brains? Not so much in a 'save the mice' sort of way, but in the context of being able to accelerate monitoring, so, as you've alluded to in another answer, there'd be no need to monitor someone for years, but to get a projection in minutes?

Many thanks!

salamandyr7 karma

Modeling has not come this "far". When modeling, you must always know the limits of what you are modeling. My "Dynamical Systems" professor at UCLA used to always shout "WHERE!" when describing what a model was trying to get at.. we dont know nearly enough about the brain to model it in a way that would allow predicting whole-brain or other wide-reaching effects. Instead, we tightly constrain our questions to the domains that the models seem to work in - for example, using neural mass models to "fit" the order of cortical patch activity contributing to the development of an evoked potential. This is simply selecting among likely patterns given what we know about cortical column activity... but all models "fail" when you ask broad question of them, that don't take the limits of the model into question.

AtoZZZ3 karma

As a cognitive neuroscientist, do you see/know if there are any long term effects of Marijuana usage? I know that opiates don't have any long term effects, I was wondering if the same can be applied to weed

salamandyr25 karma

I have seen QEEGs on many people including chronic cannabis users. Their brains look a great deal like inattentive ADHD brains. E.g. there is a large amount of alpha power that doesn't suppress / block when the eyes open - these brains are stuck in neutral. The patterns are so similar that I cannot tell long term stoners apart from inattentive ADHD people.

physicsdood5 karma

Are these people active stoners, or stoners who have quit and abstained for quite some time? What is qualified as "chronic"? Some people take a hit or two from a pipe or a vape before going to bed - while this is still a daily habit and probably not good for the long-term, it can't be as bad as those who wake up and immediately start taking bong rips until they go to sleep.

salamandyr4 karma

The literature is mixed on this, with conflicting findings.

From what I've seen in my practice, these are people with either active regular smoking practices or people who smoked a lot, for a while. E.g. i've seen this pattern in someone who wasn't inattentive as a child, and had been abstinent for > 6 months after smoking for a few years off and on.

And I've failed to see it in people who report smoking daily for years, and just took a month off to get a "clean" QEEG read. The degree to how smoking affects alpha power isn't clear - this really begs another research study!

The answer is probably "it depends" on a lot of factors, including the brain you start with and the type / amount / frequency of drugs you take.

That being said, when I do see this pattern in someone, I know that they are most likely inattentive, and probably have a history of it (ADHD-PI) or will disclose they have been smoking weed either recently or chronically.

palpatine662 karma

Thank you so much for this AMA! Have you seen scans of anyone that used to be a heavy marijuana user and stopped for several years? Can I fix my brain? :)

salamandyr1 karma

Yes - these tend to look like inattentive / high-alpha brains in my experience, even several years later, after years of heavy use.

Does yours? Maybe - maybe not. If you feel a beat slow sometimes, then possibly.. and yes you can probably train that EEG to improve it, with a QEEG and neurofeedback approach.

Pliableferret1 karma

Interesting, is it known how long they take to (or if) they return to normal activity?

salamandyr1 karma

No - there is a great deal of inter-individual variability, and the factors leading tho this aren't known yet, beyond the likelihood that there are multiple factors. Getting a snapshot of your brain (with QEEG) may provide some insight.

Aofwa1 karma

I find this pretty interesting. I've always thought I might have ADHD, and weed will only potentiate my confusion/inattentiveness to a level far beyond anyone else I know.

That being said, do you know of any treatment or nootropics that can possibly aid ADHD (That aren't hardcore stimulants)?

salamandyr3 karma

Neurofeedback has excellent research support for ADHD, and in my clinical experience tends to eliminate symptoms in most people, over a few months, and in a largely permanent way.

psifer3 karma

DO you take truBrain yourself on a regular basis? And if so, have you subjectively noticed significant cognitive improvement?

salamandyr7 karma

I have been taking these ingredients semi-regularly for over 5 years. Yes - I do notice a significant long term effect as well as subtle per-dose effects. The effects I notice are similar to what most people report - a sense of improved visual attention, improved verbal fluency (word finding), as well as some memory effects emerging longer term (I've gotten a lot of "recovery" of early memories).

MightyGreen3 karma

Do we have any idea about the longterm effects of taking nootropics? Are there any foreseeable problems or concerns?

salamandyr9 karma

There should not be - nootropics have a very long history of use in humans, and tend not to have many side effects. We have consciously chosen to avoid some of the newer "cognitive enhancers" without a long history of safety and track record of good effects. E.g. nootopics are probably very safe long term, but don't get fooled into thinking that all compounds people would call "nootropic" are as safe. The noot market is flooded with research chemicals and poorly understood, tested, or researched items. Caveat emptor!

EulerANDBernoulli3 karma

Hey Doc,

I am an applied math student, and a lot of my friends in math and physics are doing work in neuroscience. Is there a lot of math and modelling in the discipline?

salamandyr8 karma

Yeah, a great deal - and more and more every day. Some of this depends on what area of neuroscience you go into, and what questions you study, but good skills in MATLAB, R, and Python will make you a very desirable grad student or postdoc in many neuroscience labs.

EulerANDBernoulli1 karma

Hmm, I know 2/3 of those languages. My school has a very good Neuroscience department (Brain and Mind Institute in Southwestern Ontario). Maybe I will look into doing another M.Sc or Ph.D

salamandyr5 karma

Figure out what areas / question in neuroscience you are interested in. This will help you figure out toolsets / skills you need to master. E.g. if you are interested in EEG, then MATLAB based toolboxes (EEGLab, ERPLab, Fieldtrip) become very important.. if you are more into structure / function questions then MRI/fMRI (and SPM) becomes more important.

ProfessionalShill3 karma

Have you ever heard of the keto diet? there is a popular sub /r/keto . Do you think it's safe? What are the neurological implications? People complain they often feel really sluggish, and groggy for a few days, but then later experience remarkable clarity once they are "in ketosis"

salamandyr3 karma

I am for this sort of diet - I do think it's safe, and often pro-brain health. See below though on the similar question - I think you can get most or all of the benefits by being "near" ketosis, and actually being in it probably isn't necessary. I do a version called Primal Blueprint, but I modify it to per-meal and per-day carb limits (25 gm / 75 gm) and monitor my fats to be sure I'm getting enough. Sluggishness and tiredness on these sorts of diets is probably "not enough fats" or a dysregulated insulin system (from years of high-carb diets) that hasn't had it's signaling sensitivity improved yet b/c glycogen stores aren't depleted.

ChiefWilliam3 karma

For someone just beginning nootropics, what would be the most effective stack for focus/attention, verbal fluency, and short and longterm memory?

salamandyr5 karma

Well, I am the lead neuroscientist for truBrain.

I sure think it's a good starting place, but I'm obviously a biased source.

Check out the blend page - those are the amounts in a daily dose split across two packets (minus the listed prami - that's only in the boost packets).

Feel free to assemble your own blend based on what we have curated. E.g. I think it's a good starting place for nootropic compounds no matter who you buy them from.

ChiefWilliam2 karma

Thank you for the incredibly quick reply Dr. Hill! I'll definitely look into the resources you gave me. Additional questions though.

  1. Which racetam, in your professional and educated opinion, is generally the most effective for the things I listed above? I only ask because I saw you talking about how you don't like Noopept earlier and I had never heard anyone say anything bad about it.

  2. I've heard of powders that simply supply the body with Choline, and also supplements that both supply the body with Choline and encourage it to make more of it's own. Which is the best of the latter supplements on the market?

Going to your sources now after asking these two questions

salamandyr3 karma

I think piracetam is the best starting place for a racetam - the most "typical" results - the rest have more varied results in people, by all reports.

For truBrain we chose a cdp-choline form of choline; that and alpha-gpc are the best two forms for brain supplementation, I believe. We chose CDP because it apparently works in the uptake of choline and production of phosphatidylcholine.

Peoplephobopath3 karma

In other comments you've made, and on the website, it's said that prami is only used on days you need an 'extra' cognitive boost. How much extra is this boost? Could it be taken every day instead of just boost days and still offer the same punch as if it were only taken once in a while?

salamandyr2 karma

The dose for that packet is on the blend page. And prami might be able to be taken every day. This is was a choice for the truBrain product, to give you some different effects. You might chose to implement your own nootropic strategy differently,

MySixInchTaint2 karma

Dr. Hill,

Are you working closely with Aldous Huxley's writings and developing Soma?

"All the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects."

salamandyr5 karma

No, I'm not :)

There-is_No-spoon2 karma

Hey Doc. Thanks for doing this.

Could you take us through an average day of a Cognitive Neuroscientist. Do you teach classes? Spend all day in the lab? etc

salamandyr5 karma

Well, each cognitive neuroscientist will be different - it's a big field, looking at the intersection of mind and brain. Even within a topic or area, different scientists will have different activities.

Until last year I was a teaching fellow in a Gerontology course sequence, and also a Lecturer in courses for the Psychology and Neuroscience departments. This meant I spent a lot of time teaching, although lecturers are essentially temps in academia...

My methodology / training is in EEG - which means my lab work is intensive for a few weeks or months at a time gathering data, and then I spend months or years analyzing it. E.g. 90% of EEG-based cog-neuro work is after the experiment is "done", performed working on a computer.

For the past year and a half or so I've switched my focus out of academia. While I'll still lecture at times, these days I'm focused on my two startups - truBrain and Alternatives, and thus get to approach brain science from many different directions including pure research and applied (clinical) neuroscience.

gladiatorbarbie2 karma

Have you considered the difference of the effect of brain fuel with those with acute cognitive differences, such as Down Syndrome or Autism? Thanks for the AMA!

salamandyr6 karma

We have not - in general I'd not suggest people with dramatically altered brains try this blend.

I've done a lot of work with developmentally disabled children / adults, as well as with Spectrum disorders - many of these people have paradoxical effects to medications and supplements.

salamandyr8 karma

Also - there are some useful approaches that DO seem to work with these types of brains, including Neurofeedback.

scottwhitehead2 karma


salamandyr3 karma

Look down - answered the moda question.. short answer is I'm very adverse to it due to low effects on cognition, and it almost killed me.

carlsonbjj2 karma

Thoughts on ketosis and MCT oil?

salamandyr8 karma

I think you can get most of the benefits of a "ketosis" diet by simply never spiking blood sugar. Thus, I tend to endose a lower key approach that doesn't use ketosis as a goal, but control of carbs in general. Eg. I never eat more than ~ 25 grams of carbs at one sitting, and try to keep my daily intake below 75 grams. I think MCT oil is a good way to kick off energy use when you are transitioning to paleo/primal/keto lifestyles, but once you are in them then your fat metabolism is probably sufficient to get energy from dietary fats. E.g. I prefer coconut oil and fatty meats, vs MCT oil.

summerswag2 karma

Hey Doc, I'm currently studying Psychology for my Master, and I was wondering what similarities it has with Neuroscience and if Psychology graduates are being asked for within your area of Neuroscience? Thanks!

salamandyr5 karma

Yes indeed - Cognitive Neuroscience is a discipline at the intersection of Psychology and Neuroscience - the "wet mind". In fact my degree was conferred from a department of Psychology.

It's more about the courses and training in methodology (and research question scope).

Take psychology and add in the biological underpinnings - physiological psych, add neuroanatomy and systems neuroscience, maybe some neuropsychology, and a few courses that advance your research methods (tools / approach specific as well as statistics / research methods itself) and you have a degree that prepares you to be a cognitive neuroscientist.

theskepticalidealist2 karma

What do you think about peptides such as Semax and Selank?

salamandyr7 karma

I dont know enough about them - I shied away when I realized they were peptides. If they are neuroactive, then being peptides they probably act very "early" in a regulatory sense, and thus may have greater potential for side effects. I also couldn't find a lot of research on them, and at least one of them requires injection, which rapidly made me disinterested.

not_unoriginal2 karma

is there a better way to describe/understand the cliche "we only use 10% of our brain?"

salamandyr6 karma

We are using all of our brain all the time. Scans / imaging that show "hotspots" are either just a snapshot of one moment of time - or showing a peak of activity (versus all) or the difference in activity between two conditions. Somehow those maps showing "partial" activation mated with 80s movie plots and reproduced into a fallacy that just wont die.

We use many parts of our brain at once, and then perhaps many different parts a moment later. Assembling and re-assembling circuits and networks - in physical connectivity as well as analog (integration of chemical signals) and digital (electrical firing patterns) information - is how the brain works, both in the moment and in adapting to new patterns (learning / growing).

Also consider that much of how the brain does it's job is by not doing something - inhibition is essential in controlling patterns of activity. You don't even get oscillation without inhibition (negative feedback), usually. The higher "human" cognitive features (the ones you would want to "overclock" if you could) are probably mostly in frontal cortex.. failure of frontal inhibition might be called ADHD, or some other "frontal" syndrome. Either way, performance degrades dramatically with large amounts of frontal slow wave activity.

And high amplitude of high frequency activity, coordinated across more and more of the brain, in a growing pattern of activity? That's called a seizure.

ChronicPains2 karma

Hello doctor, your AMA timing is pretty convenient. I'm transferring into a school under a B.S. psychology major, but after doing some reading and rethinking of my interests both education and career wise, I've decided to switch into the major of cognitive science w/a neuroscience focus. One of the things I've wondered is what kind of career or subject fields this entails. I have a keen interest in how the mind works, specifically in thinking patterns and even the realm of dreaming.

My main questions are:

1) Is this major a good start to build towards that kind of field?

2) I'm considering a minor, so does psychology play a huge part in entering a research-type field, or should I minor into an engineering-type minor like computer science or math?

salamandyr3 karma

I'd challenge you to flip everything on it's head.

Figure out what question you want to investigate and work backwards. Dreaming? Thinking and Reasoning? Maybe consciousness? What aspects? Who is doing that work?.

Read their papers - figure out what kinds of methodology is being used in those areas of investigation. See what the questions are and what kinds of questions you would ask if you were doing that work. The first author of a paper probably wrote it; the last probably hosted it (the lab). The corresponding author of any paper will generally be happy to get an email from a student with questions, so you can even begin your research "career" before grad school, investigating the state of specific topics. Once you know what you want to study, and how it's being studied, you can determine what skills you need and want.

If you go towards a more computational neuroscience arena, you might find engineering very helpful - but you should try to get research methods courses and ideally some research experience as an undergrad if you want to go to grad school in a research discipline. Beyond that the actual major doesn't matter that much for grad school, although if you end up in a neuroscience or psychology department without many psych or neuro courses, you will have to "gap fill" a bit in your grad program.

tazcel2 karma

Hi Dr. Hill!

Late to the party, yet: since we're talking nootropics / mood enhancers, any thoughts on 5-htp https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5htp?

and/or on GABA https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GABA?

EDIT: also, what about creatine https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creatine#Improved_cognitive_ability?

Thanks much & good luck!

salamandyr3 karma

I'm averse to monkeying with serotonin-adjacent compounds. Thus no 5HTP or melatonin for me.

Does GABA cross the BBB? Maybe L-Theanine or picamilon is a better choice?

Creatine is great.. for bloating (/jk) - I really don't know enough about it, and it wasn't a good truBrain blend ingredient candidate d/t the amount needed. Some people already get annoyed at 3 capsules in the (non-loading) packets.

voloprodigo2 karma

Hi Dr. Hill, thanks for doing an AMA. What do you think are some cool applications of neurofeedback that we might potentially see in the future, and what do you think are some of the biggest challenges that have to be overcome before neurofeedback can become a more wide-spread tool?

salamandyr2 karma

Great questions - or at least pretty dear to my heart.

In the future I think neurofeedback will "collide" with BCI approaches. Neurofeedback and Brain Computer Interface are (sort of) the same "loop" run in opposite directions. A computer shaping brain activity vs. the brain shaping computer activity. What does this mean? Environments shaping to us to allow us to control them most effectively while they are shaping us to be our best selves.

There are a few challenges in adoption of neurofeedback. First is low-cost but useable, quality EEG gear. You only need 1-2 channels, but they need to be movable And the most important part of the brain to "train" for most neurofeedback approaches is the central strip (scalp sites C3, Cz, C4, etc). The forehead isn't usually a good place to train - due to somewhat unpredictable effects of frontal training, and due to a lot of EMG noise on the forehead. AFAIK the "forehead band" EEG systems out there that are low cost all suffer from basic issues related to the above.

The cost of EEF hardware / software for training has come down at the consumer level... you can buy a 2 channel EEG amp with software and silver electrodes you paste on the scalp (temporarily) for $1k-$1500 or so, and get very usable gear.

Clinical systems cost more - and have much more impressive visualization of EEG, games, etc., and range from $5-20K or so (for 2-21 channel systems). The multi-channel amps and reference databases used in QEEG brain mapping will set you back $15K or more for a good system, too.

The other hurdle you need to surmount before doing neurofeedback is .. "what do you do"? Where do you train? What frequency bands? Up or down? What about connectivity / coherence training? How long do you train for at once? How many sessions? What happens when you get adverse effects, or just non-optimal effects? Just EEG or HEG too?

Some of these questions can be answered in a standard way - many cannot. Much of neurofeedback is still an individualized process, where assessing one brain for it's patterns, referencing goals or presenting complaints against those patterns, and then deciding on a series of training protocols (sites and frequencies) to begin a training plan with. Based on responses you get to your starting places, you adjust your protocol.

Some of this is clinical knowledge that comes from a lot of training and years doing it. Some if it is things I teach my technicians to do in a 100 hour internship. Some of it could be automated and made very user-friendly for the home consumer... but there still needs to be assessment and interpretation, and guidance in the training process, and brains are complex - people respond and varied ways to the same approach.

Very little neurofeedback is one-size-fits-all, even with the most costly and complex systems (and I'm not convinced those work better than "cheap" $1200 consumer systems, given a good assessment (QEEG), some electrode application, software training, and some moderate clinical oversight.

breathe7772 karma

How would this research help people with movement disorders? I am an essential tremor and focal dystonia patient.

salamandyr2 karma

I don't think nootropics area good solution there, but biofeedback could very possibly help. Depending if you tremor and dystonia are "central" (brain) or peripheral, you might get better results with an EEG (neurofeedback) or EMG (peripheral biofeedback) approach.

Please feel free to direct (inbox) reply, and let me know where you are if you would like some suggestions for neurofeedback / biofeedback practitioners.

_LMiller2 karma

Whats the best medicine for migraines?

salamandyr9 karma

Meds are hit or miss; I'm not an MD either - so specific questions about pharmaceuticals should be answered by a medical doc, but I have worked with migraine a great deal. The best approach to them I've found is pirHEG - passive infrared Hemoencephalography training. This is a form of biofeedback that trains frontal blood perfusion dynamics, bringing up blood flow and making it more stable over time. pirHEG is so effective for migraines that most practitioners who use it will conclude a headache isn't a migraine type if it doesn't respond to pirHEG.

frebay2 karma

In your opinion, what is mindfulness?

salamandyr8 karma

Paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment, in a way that encourages awareness and allows reactive (secondary) thoughts to drop away.

I view most mindfulness and also classic (Theraveda) Buddhist meditation techniques as attention training, mostly.

I tend to recommend people starting with these techniques begin with a simple practice of ~ 5 minutes of "single point" awareness (concentration practices) followed by ~ 15 min of "present time" awareness (insight practice). I wrote up a short document on that if you want instructions: Don't just DO something, SIT there.

ibuds2 karma

You mention that you "work with truBrain to examine the QEEG effects of nootropics..." Can you elaborate on how you do this/what does this mean? Does that make it work better?

salamandyr2 karma

We have done a couple things - last year we measured the EEG of a small group of truBrain users on and off truBrain - we found within-subject changes that were very significant (but a bit individualized). Recently we did a study with the stock trading company Sang Lucci - looking at EEG under peformance conditions on and off truBrain. I'm still crunching that data, but both the early pilot and the recent study seem to show there are increases in eyes closed Alpha power and eyes open Beta power.

ibuds2 karma

Interesting stuff. So from what I understand, you're using EEG to prove that truBrain works? What's Alpha power and Beta power? Any other ways to show proof that truBrain works?

Love the indiegogo campaign. I never knew what nootropics were before, but I'm considering making a contribution...

salamandyr7 karma

Alpha and Beta are EEG bands - alpha is a "resting" or idling band - it should be strong with eyes closed but suppressed with eyes open. Beta is a band used more in active "thinking", and should be higher with eyes open.

plumtoid1 karma

So Piracetam is clearly safe, and it's legal for use. So what's the big deal with all the federally regulated questions? Is it more of a company claims sort of thing?

salamandyr4 karma

Yes - the FDA / FTC mostly watches for claims of efficacy. With the low risk of piracetam and no claims made, truBrain should remain largely un-targeted.

stormgasm71 karma

Do you see different brain patterns between scientists in different fields? For example, I'm a grad student in environmental earth system science and some of my friends are grad students in chemistry, physical therapy, and marine biology. Would our respective fields influence brain health and function (not sure if I chose the right words)?

salamandyr6 karma

Interesting question.. I'm guessing that no, there wouldn't be dramatic / significant differences.. but even if there were you woudn't know if the fields encouraged different brains or if different brains chose divergent fields.

Imthebestcya1 karma

I was thinking about majoring in cognitive science, since it seems to be an interesting new field that combines a lot of awesome subjects like neuroscience, philosophy, and artificial intelligence.

What exactly does a cognitive scientist do, given the amount of disciplines involved, at least according to the Wikipedia page? How is the field like right now, in terms of growth and stability? What kind of skills are generally used? Are there major subdisciplines inside cognitive science? What should a person do to prepare for a career in cognitive science?

salamandyr8 karma

Cognitive science is a pretty broad area - cog neuro is a bit narrower, but still quite broad. You can be working on basic science questions (how does attention work, what is sleep, what is reasoning, etc) or more specific questions (how does a specific pathology or issue work), and can be working on animal models, humans, or purely in silica.

The field is exploding, and there is a growing need for well trained researchers and clinicians. Neuroimaging tools and technologies are also advancing, both in terms of newer tech (high-field MRI) as well as using relatively "ancient" tech like EEG in newer ways (3-D source reconstruction using LORETA for instance, that approaches fRMI in spatial precision).

Figure out what questions you want to ask / answer, and this will help you figure out what you will be "doing".

[deleted]1 karma


LEfCH0 karma

I guess I'll ask a question: Any more work or see anything interesting in your field on synesthesia and/or ASMR things like we chatted about last year?

salamandyr4 karma

Not really - AMSR is still pretty fringe.. I don't really work in those areas either, there might be some interesting developments in synesthesia but I don't keep up on them closely.

GuitarDude101 karma

Outside of truBrain, what vitamins and/or supplements do you take daily (or on some sort of regular basis)?

salamandyr6 karma

vitamin D3, plus extra DHA.. and a multivitamin - that's mostly it.

carlsonbjj1 karma

do you take algal dha or fish oil dha?

salamandyr1 karma

Either. truBrain is moving over to an algal version, but if it's DHA then it's fine by me. I am careful to avoid all Omega 6 fatty acids - those show up in some fish oil preparations. Also fish oil should't produce "fishy" burps - if it does it's probably rancid. I think many brands are, so tend to stay away from brands that give me fishy repeats.

IN_THE_SACK1 karma

Supplements we should stay away from?

salamandyr7 karma

Anything that doesn't give you an idea of ingredients / amounts on the label.

Adams19911 karma

What is your opinion on Adrafinil?

salamandyr4 karma

I am averse to all the modafinil variants. See below - moda gave me EM Minor, and I dont think the -afinil's have much to offer in terms of cognitive enhancement compared to piracetam, meditation, or neurofeedback.

archbox1 karma

Did you finish your book?

salamandyr2 karma

No, my startups have taken on a life of their own ;)

rednicotine1 karma


salamandyr2 karma

It's extremely non-toxic, we have not been able to find any evidence of risk from piracetam, even at very high doses. I've read that article too, and yes, nootropic blends and doses don't work for everyone at every level. To some extent the ingredients in truBrain aside form the piracetam/choline are there in an effort to maximize the efficacy, smoothness, and length of the "piracetam effect".

There are a few reasons to avoid truBrain - one is hemophilia (piracetam increases cell membrane flexibility, which makes platelets more slippery) and another is renal failure, and piracetam uses the kidneys as a route of excretion.

BaronBifford1 karma

Are your brain-boosting techniques expensive? I worry that the day the use of brain-boosting techniques becomes widespread, it will shift more power to the wealthy if they are the only ones who can afford them.

salamandyr1 karma

Meditation is free, and among the most effective things you can do. Here is my free "lesson" on how to meditate.

And yes, a course of QEEG assessments and neurofeedback training is somewhat expensive. In [my clinic](alternativesbraininstitute.com) (for example) we often approach a course of neurofeedback with a beginning QEEG, 30 sessions of training (2-3 times a week) and another QEEG. This is often enough to move people's brains significantly. That costs a bit more than $4K, but takes a great deal of time and attention from me and my technicians.

As I point out in another comment here, consumer systems can be had for less, but the expertise to use them and the assessments are still both somewhat costly. Technology advancements have driven the cost of these things down and down, however. When I got involved with neurofeedback over 10 years ago, the cheapest system that worked well was about $10-12K. Now one can be had for 10% of that.. I don't think the trends would suggest that this stuff will get priced out of range, but the reverse.

troy7771 karma

Will your work help spinal cord injuries?

salamandyr2 karma

There is some work being done with biofeeedback and spinal cord injuries, but I'm not familiar enough with it to comment. And nootropics, etc., are unlikely to be useful there.

manmoth11 karma

What are your thoughts on Magnesium L-threonate as opposed to the normal magnesium you have in your blend?

Also, do you use the truBrain blend yourself daily, or do you use other things that you think work for you but you are not comfortable (due to risks or specificity) putting in a widely sold blend?

salamandyr7 karma

The L-threonate form is intriguing. We decided on the buffered (glycinate/lysinate) form because it seems to have the best absorption. Threonate and a few other forms seem to have interesting effects, but at relative dose amounts that means they cost significantly more.

And there is another answer that isn't scientific - beyond math - but we have to balance a few things when building a product. Unless we want to sprinkle "homeopathic" amounts of substances in our blend and hide the ingredients (known as "fairy dusting" in the supplement world), then we have to limit the number of things we put in truBrain or we end up with a giant handful of pills that nobody wants to swallow, or a product that is priced out of the consumer's reach.

Ultimately the goal for magnesium was to provide a buffering to the nootropic process itself. When I added it to my own stack in the pre-truBrain days, the idea was to provide support to cell firing, but also buffer over-activation.

When we designed truBrain 1.0, that logic led us to choose a form that had the best absorption as a decent cost, vs the one with the most interesting effects, at a great price premium for the end user. Plus, with less overall absorption, Threaonate may have different effects but will it support the main racetam/choline action as well as the glycinate version?

Also you may have already gotten the idea that I'm cautious. There are other forms of magnesium we considered but eliminated b/c of mixed safety hints in the research (the suggestion of mutagenic properties of orotate, for instance). One thing truBrain will never do is jump on the bandwagon of the latest nootropic, supplement, or research chemical and introduce it to our customer base before there is enough evidence of it's safety and efficacy.

NeuroCavalry1 karma

Hi Dr. Hill,

I'm not sure how AMA's work - this is the first I have been in, but if you are still here;

Could you shed some light on the biological pathway of 'how' a nootropic like, say, the thinkdrink or Piracetam (or whatever you are most comfortable explaining) works? Are things like withdrawal or tolerance a potential issue?

Second, what are your thoughts on the use of neural stimulation from something like a TMS to achieve nootropic effects?

salamandyr4 karma

Lot of great questions in your first AMA post.. :)

Couple of thoughts - I'm going to keep it brief.

1) TMS seems to have a hit or miss level of response. Also it seems to be temporary. Lastly, there is some evidence that changing networks might simply enhance one thing while impairing another - there is at least some evidence that improving one aspect can impair another. There was a WIRED article a couple years ago that gives a brief snaphot of that effect, though I think it was tDCS.

I am not 100% sure this is true for all people - but TMS probably acts like other of the "stimulation" or entrainment technologies - the effects appear to be transient and to not work for a lot of people. I tend to prefer EEG neurofeedback - conditioning or shaping the brain vs. entraining it.

2) (in reverse order). Withdrawal and tolerance tend not to be a problem with truBrain - the racetams and even choline may have some "reverse tolerance", in that racetam substances seem to work slightly better the longer you take them, and cdp-choline may play some role in choline uptake and not just be a "choline source". The other ingredients are non-habit forming as well, and shouldn't provoke tolerance/dependence.

3) There are many many mechanisms of action of any single component of truBrain. We of course don't even know them all. If you look over pubmed.com for piracetam, for example, there are many suggested mechanisms of action. Two that I think are most credible and likely for the "nootropic" effect are changes in mitochondrial activity and changes in cell membrane fluidity. E.g. it makes cells more flexible and slippery.

That's why you shouldn't take a racetam as a hemophiliac (acts this way on platelets as well as brain cells) but the fact that there is some effect on cell membrane means there is probably also an effect on cell receptors, signaling, etc - "rafting" of proteins in cell membranes is among the ways that receptors are instantiated and regulated.

Psycho_Delic1 karma

Have you ever read 'The Talent Code'?

And if so. Does Myelenation (Spelling?) play a big role in what you do?

salamandyr5 karma

I have not read it... and myelination is mostly "stable" for much of the life course (only slowly increasing after childhood) so it probably doesn't play into typical performance issues.

WhatImEating1 karma

Hi Dr. Hill,

As a graduate with an MBBS (British equivalent to MD), what advice would you give someone that is interested in becoming a cognitive neuroscientist? What programs would you recommend that would give me a look in the U.S?

salamandyr4 karma

If you already have an MD-type degree, then I'd simply get some research training. Perhaps get a "postdoc" style appointment or job with a professor / lab that is researching some aspect of cognitive neuroscience that you find interesting. You clinical skills may also be leveraged, working on humans, perhaps with clinical populations. Unless there is something else the PhD will give you, I'm not sure I'd spend the 3-8 years getting it (and if you do - stay in Europe to get it done more quickly). I'd simply learn enough about it to determine what kinds of questions I could ask, and then find someone to ask them with.

PandaManPartIII1 karma

I'm very late to the party, but just in case you're still here... and I apologise if this has been discussed elsewhere, but I haven't found it yet... Do you know roughly what the price for a dose (or set of daily doses) of Think Drink will be?

salamandyr2 karma

It wont be too far off what the pricing is on the Indiegogo campaign, when you figure in the incentives that are being offered at different levels.

I don't know the final to-market retail price; /u/truBrainChris can probably give you a better answer if you inbox him, but the best way to make sure that the thinkDrinks happen is to "pre buy" some now - $15 gets you 3 of them, and it just gets cheaper from there if you support at higher levels.



salamandyr9 karma

It's actually not that well agreed on that compromised substance abuse behavior is "progressive". Moderation approaches provide education around learning and triggers, and at Alternatives we also bring in a team approach (including CBT, mindfulness, neurofeedback, life coaching, etc) that meets the client where they are and helps them architect more control. We have good successes in helping people regain control of their lives - for some people this means abstinence, and for some it means moderation.