Fish Oil Makes Me Smarter
Richard Sprague worked with the late Seth Roberts on a brain reaction time testing application for the iPhone. Seth had a proven theory that certain foods and activities could help his brain be more or less reactive. Seth died suddenly last year, but Richard continued to work on the project and I came up with some interesting things that he shares in this talk -- including whether or not fish oil makes him smarter.
iPhone | Zenobase
I want to be smarter. There’s been so many incredible talks and people that I’ve seen around these last few days and I feel like I’m having a hard time keeping up. And my friend, the late Seth Roberts was interested in this question to and as Gary said there are many of you in this Quantified Self community know Seth really well. He was a bestselling author and invented a lot of interesting things and ideas about self-tracking and personal science.
I met him when we were both living in Beijing a few years ago, and like anyone of us who has had the privilege of talking with him, every conversation I had with him was a real treasure.
He spent several years working on this idea that he called brain tracking. He had this whole system he called brain reaction time testing, and he thought it could help determine which kinds of foods and which kinds of activities could help you with this. I was developing an iPhone version of this when he died suddenly last year, but I continued to work on it and I came up with some interesting things I want to share with you today.
The basic idea is that you presented some kind of stimulus like this, in this case six green balls and you wait until one of the balls changes to res like this and you’ve got to respond to this really quickly. You repeat this test a number of times and you save it and you watch it over time and you look at this each and every day, a couple of times a day and you see how things change over time.
Let me just give you a quick demo here, this is a quick little video here, so you know, I enter something about the experiment here and I start it and I’m just going to press that button at the bottom and then as fast as I can, hit one of those balls.
Seth had many variations of this and this is the iPhone version that we’re working on. But the basic principles was he had a lot of very subtle details on this, but when it’s over you end up producing these charts. And by looking at the results and comparing it with anything unusual that you have eaten or did during that period, Seth believed that you could tell if something you did was good for your brain or not.
He, as Gary just mentioned, he did a very famous experiment involving butter and he found that if he had half a stick of butter his performance would be better in this test, and he was pretty sure of the results and he tested it many times over many years, and he even got a bunch of you, working with Geno Merita, crowd sourced the test and it was very fascinating.
One of his fans, a guy named Alex Chernavsky, using a similar kind of test, found that soy increases his performance. Contrary to what some of us had thought about maybe the dangers of soy, more recently Alex tried doing this with flax seed. And again a little contrary, someone said yeah, this would definitely improve it. But in his case he was able to show that it didn’t really seem to have much of an affect.
Now I’m a long-time self-tracker myself and I do all kinds of things and I’ve tested myself all these kinds of ways and I throw it all in the Zeo base, and munch it. I’ve tested it now for the past few years using this brain reaction time test, and I found that my daily results are bout the same day to day regardless of what I do and it doesn’t seem like very many of these things matter.
The first one is obviously that a lot of people think is test it with sleep, and so I have a Zeo, and I strap it on every night and I carefully measure exactly how much sleep, RAM, deep sleep etc., now how does that effect my brain reaction time. And you can see right here on this chart just to show you, higher numbers are better. Red means a night that I had a little bit more REM sleep, blue is I had less REM sleep and it goes off and up to the right because there is a little bit of a training effect. So over time I’m getting better and better just because I’m getting better at it.
But you can see that the amount of sleep I have doesn’t really seem to make much difference which I thought was very counter intuitive. So something about this test is able to distinguish between you know what you get out of sleep and what you don’t get out of sleep.
I also tried it with alcohol. So this was interesting, so I had a drink or two of alcohol and the next day I do a test and I find out that interestingly my test results don’t change that much and that again was kind of odd.
That’s when I discovered this, so this is just ordinary castor fish oil, it’s super cheap, it’s not organic and it mold free and nothing weird about it, it’s very cheap and I just pop up a couple of pills every day or two whenever I feel like it and I found this. And this was very exciting to me when I noticed this because this is a very significant result, and it was for me doing it randomly over time. And I notice that when I do this test I really do feel better on those days and it’s remarkable how a better performance I have.
So I thought, well what happens like how long does it take for this effect to fade and so I tried that to and this is what happens. So a day or two after I’ve taken some fish pills the effect seems to fade away which was interesting. So it reverts back to the mean, which again is sort of an indicator that there is some kind of interesting phenomena going on.
Well, after that I decide you know, I had been prescribed statin drug many years ago and I stopped taking it because I wasn’t sure what long-term effects it would have on my brain. I was able to control my cholesterol other ways but I wanted to see like does it really impair my brain function or not, and so I did the same test. And low and behold, the same kind of thing. I found this dramatic effect that statin is really helpful for my brain reaction time.
And so I think of all these things and I think about it in the context of Seth, and I really wish he was around right now because I think he would be very impressed and very happy to see this. And I’m so sorry that I’m able to show it because I’m looking at this data and I’m thinking, wow I found the secret and I know how to be smarter. Take more fish pills, but that’s the whole point of Quantified Self, right. You want to measure yourself and you want to get better at this. But then I saw this chart, and see that final data point there, that’s April 25th, that’s six fifty P.M. and it’s Seth’s final brain reaction time test.
He dies suddenly at four PM the following day of a conclusive coronary heart attack. And knowing what I know now about how this test works, I’ve no doubt that with a score like that, Seth was feeling very smart that day. In fact when I searched through all of his data, he had over 90,000 data points over years and years of this test, and I found that that last data point was his best one ever. And I’m left wondering what to think. Like there’s no question that fish oil makes me smarter but like so many other things that we do to improve ourselves, am I just trading one thing off for another. And I don’t know the answer to that question, but I know how Seth would answer it. Keep measuring.
So if you would like to try this test for yourself, please follow me on Twitter or send me an email and try the app for yourself and see what makes you smarter. Thank you.