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Beyond Coffee | A Sustainable Guide to Nootropics, Adaptogens, and Mushrooms by James Beshara

12 July, 2021 - 6 min read


I. Brief Summary

I came across this book while exploring alternatives to coffee. This book is less dense on content, but a great starting point to explore nootropics and nutrients that help with productivity and focus. It's an introductory book on "brain food."

II. Big Ideas

There is a lot of stigma around brain health food. People have been consuming natural occurring ingredients for centuries to cure diseases and boost productivity.

Though being less dense, I found this book to be informational because of its structure and ratings on each brain food. There is a lot of conflicting overwhelming information on the internet. This is a great place to start if you want to skip that initial research. Below are some of my takeaways, most are obvious, but worth overstating:

  • Each super food is rated on 3 categories: sustainability, effectiveness and safety. This section is specially helpful if you are taking medications or pregnant. Combining them with your medication can have adverse effects.
  • When it comes to energy, focus, and productivity, brain foods are not enough. Sleep, exercise, diet and stress-management are equally important as consuming brain food.
  • Poor diet and high glucose levels have been linked to chronic fatigue.
  • Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night while waking up each morning at the same time. Waking up at different times each morning throws off your circadian rhythm and does not allow your body to create a stable, dependable one.
  • Take 300 micrograms (not milligrams, as that is too much) of melatonin about three hours before you want to fall asleep to kickstart your natural production of melatonin.
  • Practice 30 mins of aerobic exercise three times per week. Get your heart rate up and get your sweat glands going (your skin is your largest organ, after all, put it to work).
  • Consume everything in moderation. There is a lot of compelling research around intermittent fasting (eating within time boundaries of eight to ten hours each day) to optimize both cognitive function and lifespan.
  • Use meditation to manage stress.
  • Natural and brain focused supplements such as herbs and mushrooms include adaptogens and anti-inflammatories,sometimes called nootropics. Nootropics include wide varieties of supplements (like CDP-choline), roots (Maca), herbs (bacopa), fungi (lion’s mane mushrooms), coffee or teas (like matcha green tea), or drugs (like Adderall). Not all are equal. Not all are safe. Not all are well understood. Not all are meant for long-term consumption.
  • Avoid addictive, short-term, unsustainable approaches to exogenous compounds such as supplements, herbs and mushrooms. You want scientifically proven effects to build over time in a safe way.
  • FDA Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) status with the Food and Drug Administration is seen as a high distinction of safety in the food, medical, and nutritional spaces.
  • Omega-3 is the category of fatty acids, mostly derived from fish and are essential for brain and eye health. They are found in high levels in salmon and tuna and must be consumed through diet or supplements (i.e., the body cannot synthesize them). The most researched omega-3s are the two most biologically active, DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). The FDA recommends dietary supplementation of DHA + EPA combined not to exceed 2g/day.
  • Caffeine works by stimulating the autonomic nervous system and by blocking the action of a chemical in the body known as adenosine, which would otherwise cause drowsiness. Thus it gets its popularity from its classic effects of enhancing the central nervous system, elevating heart rate and respiration, and for having mood-altering properties. Matcha tea is a great alternative to coffee. It contains less than 80 mg of caffeine and includes another compound called l-theanine that adds a calm focus in addition to the reaction of caffeine. It helps reduce the anxiety that coffee can give you as well. However, over consumption of caffeine via coffee or green tea (matcha tea) can have adverse effect on your system. Caffeine has been generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA. One cup of coffee contains roughly 80 to 175 mg of caffeine.
  • Yerba mate, a South American tea, which has caffeine can cause insomnia, but can also cause cancer if consumed over a long period of time.
  • The flowing fungus, also known as “monkey head mushroom,” has a long history of both medicinal and culinary uses across Asia, Europe, and North America. Lion’s mane mushroom is thought to have many medicinal and neuroprotective properties, and while human studies are scarce, animal studies have shown promising effects including lowering cholesterol levels, combating stomach ulcers, lower blood sugar and decreasing neuropathic pain from diabetes, and synthesizing NGF (nerve growth factor) which may suggest a therapeutic role in neurodegenerative brain disorders.
  • Some of the unstable nootropics are nicotine, 5-HTP, Amphetamine, creatine, etc.
  • To summarize, drink green tea and coffee in moderation, take fish oil supplements and eat some mushrooms.

III. Quotes

  • Human beings have evolved in large part due to our advanced nervous system, which takes stimuli from our environment and translates them into sensations. Our bodies in turn react to these sensations by producing chemicals in our brain that help us cope with the environment.
  • We are each designed to express our unique brilliance.
  • The brain is an infinitely complex, ever-evolving matrix of magic.
  • The most interesting things about nootropics: they don’t have to be chemical compounds, at least not in the modern medical sense.
  • Two additional misconceptions about nootropics are that “they are unsafe” or “they don’t work.” However, that is the equivalent of believing something as vague and uninformed as “supplements are not safe” or “supplements don’t work”—some supplements are not safe and some are, some supplements work and others don’t.
  • Misconceptions are common with new trends, and they generally come about because something is still early in scientific and cultural discovery. Many of these misconceptions are similar to those two hundred years ago at the beginning of our cultural introduction to coffee, one of the original nootropics, with the concept of coffee houses.
  • Generally speaking, the research on adaptogens is growing but very scarce, and therefore, many compounds in this chapter do not have sufficient research for us to give them a sustainability score.
  • A big reason we put this book together for you is that we were craving this kind of lens when it came to cognition-enhancing supplements ourselves.