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Increase IQ using scientifically-backed approaches.

Learn how to identify and treat conditions that might be limiting mental performance.

Discover methods for increasing IQ and cognitive abilities.

Intelligence has a strong genetic component (R), to learn about how your genetic makeup might play a part in your mental capabilities go to SelfDecode.

Improve Brain Function

Working Memory is the king of performance, bar none. It is also a better predictor of success than IQ (R). And it can be trained. By practicing Dual-N-Back memory games, one can boost working memory significantly (R).

1) Juggling is a way to increase both gray and white matter in the brain (R). Few activities compare in their effect on the brain. Synchronizing left and right hands with a continuous rhythm increases the cross-talk between brain hemispheres.

2) Musical Instruments promote brain plasticity, which allows for the assimilation of new information and schemas. Regular, deliberate practice will give the greatest benefit here (R).

3) Knowing more words and multiple languages enhances a cognitive phenomenon called ‘co-triggering’. Co-triggering occurs when a person hears part of a word and begins guessing at the rest of the word. One’s personal lexicon can trigger a passive recollection that strengthens brain connections. (R)

My recommendation here is to learn a couple new words everyday, read heavily, and periodically study a new language.

4) Reading triggers a virtuous cycle in which the more words you master, the sturdier framework you have for incorporating others. You might have noticed, for instance, that when you read a new book, genre, or author there is a slight adjustment phase. Studies show long-term connectivity apparent in “embodied semantics” is evidence for persistent reading benefits (R).

5) Frequent movement. During prolonged sitting, there is a shift in physiology called ‘Inactivity Physiology’ (R). Fat-burning enzymes, such as lipase, decrease substantially while sitting. An easy solution is to stand up every thirty minutes and stretch. Bonus points for doing body-weight exercises like push-ups and jumping jacks.

Posture is commonly underrated as a way to influence your own physiology. By performing ‘power-poses’ one can affect their current physiological state (R).

Take care of the basics


There’s a common human misconception that we need to do some esoteric trick hack to get smart or accomplish more in the day.

In reality, the most impactful changes are usually the most simple and basic.

When it comes to trying to become smarter, many will turn to drugs like piracetam when they don’t even have the basics in place.

Even if I was a fan of racetams, it would still make sense to improve performance by carrying out much more basic steps.

These more basic changes usually subtract rather than add.  For example, if you want more time for being productive first think about all that time you can save by reducing TV, Facebook, etc…

If you want to be healthier, first think about what you can reduce in your diet before you start popping pills; reducing calories by 20% is probably more powerful than any drug or supplement.

Reducing excess carbs, protein, and fat is likewise a good idea, which can be accomplished by just reducing calories.

You can probably improve your intelligence by doing this more than any other single method.

Make sure you don’t have chronic issues

Taking care of the basics means if you want to become smarter it’s wisest to first make sure and fix any serious or chronic issues such as chronic inflammation, which will make you more fatigued in the day.   You will be less motivated and your mind will not work as well.

In this paradigm, you’ll be at peak performance or close to it the whole day, but your maximum level cognition won’t necessarily improve by much.

I’ve tried all kinds of cognitive enhancers and they either don’t work, cause brain fog or cause a certain mental instability where sometimes you’re on and other times you bomb.

Most of them just weren’t worth it.  With that said, many of them are, but people need to address the basics first.

There are 3 main disturbances of mental performance


Problems with blood sugar regulation/insulin resistance

Test:  Do you feel tired or lethargic after carbs? If yes, you likely have a degree of insulin resistance.  Check out the causes of insulin resistance.

Most people have some degree of insulin resistance, especially if they are over 40.

Not handling glucose properly will cause hypoglycemia, which I can say from all the research I’ve read and my personal experience that it wreaks havoc on the brain and causes all kinds of cognitive illnesses.

The best way to deal with insulin resistance is by having the right kind of diet for this condition.  See The Resistant Starch Diet that I have created.

Getting rid of insulin resistance is critical for performing optimally, which is why I made a separate post that addresses IR and solutions to overcome it.

Becoming less insulin resistant is taking care of the low hanging fruit, so don’t neglect this.



Do you get pains, aches or swelling? If yes, you likely have an inflammatory/autoimmune issue.

Chronic inflammation could take a serious toll on your performance.

When I had even low levels of chronic inflammation, I needed more sleep, my brain didn’t function that well, I’d get worn out more easily and there was a host of downstream events that seriously hampered me from achieving my true potential.

Later on, I realized this was a result of inflammation-inhibiting orexin neurons, besides the other damage, it was causing.

People need to get this under control before they start doing anything else.

Inflammation can be caused by a bad diet, food or chemical sensitivities, pathogens, injuries, gut permeability, toxins, etc…

It’s best to take care of the possible causes before you start with anti-inflammatory substances.

Start with taking care of food sensitivities and gut permeability.

Also, like always, a good diet and lifestyle is a must.

The same general tips for dealing with insulin resistance are relevant in tamping down inflammation.

With that said, if an individual still has inflammation for whatever reason, extra measures will need to be taken.

The most basic are to include lots of spices in your food.  For extra support, I’ve made a core list to dampen inflammation.

I’ve noticed that when I had inflammation I was much more sensitive to fatigue from glucose.

If I stray from my diet and don’t take supplements to make up for it, I’ll get inflammation and be more sensitive to glucose-induced fatigue – as in, a lower dose of glucose will cause fatigue (I experiment with dextrose, which is pure glucose).

So not only is inflammation an independent cause of fatigue, but I think there’s a negative synergism going on, where inflammation and glucose conspire to make you more tired than the addition of each of them.

Mitochondrial Dysfunction


Do you feel like you want to sit down after eating foods with principally saturated fat like butter? Then it’s likely your mitochondria isn’t up to par.

Mitochondrial breakdown is natural and part of the aging process.

But this doesn’t mean we can’t fight it.

Mitochondrial breakdown is at the heart of almost every chronic disease I’ve researched.

Some disorders, like depression, wouldn’t seem to have anything to do with mitochondria breakdown, but it does.

Fixing your mitochondria is so basic to improving your abilities that this should really be listed as number one.

I listed this last, however, since inflammation and insulin resistance lead to mitochondrial breakdown, so these causes must be taken away before you start fixing your mitochondria.

Once you’ve taken away the causes then you can start to rebuild your mitochondria and get on your way to becoming a new person.

Fighting inflammation


Lifestyle to fight inflammation

The four most critical lifestyle changes that reduce inflammation are

Foods to fight inflammation

These are the top foods that I’ve found combat inflammation the best

  • Cod liver – this is a tasty food. You should replace calories and other fats with this.  This should be your go-to meal, not fast food.
  • A veggie juice, with leafy greens, celery and cucumbers can really give the brain a boost.
  • Resistant starch,  in the form of semi-green bananas.  Read the research on resistant starch.  Hi-Maize resistant starch is also very good.
  • Dried Cranberries are also effective at improving brain function, and can mimic some supplements.
  • Good quality sourdough bread can really benefit the mitochondria. It contains lactate, which prevents hypoglycemia and builds your mitochondria.  Not to be used if you are very sensitive to gluten or have celiacs.

Core supplements for inflammation

Out of all of the substances that I’ve experimented with and did research on, I’d recommend the following:

  • Longvida Curcumin – Read my post on this type of curcumin.
  • Jasmine Tea – I’ve tried dozens of tea and this is the best for improving performance. Read how to prepare it so that it can replace a meal.
  • Boswellia -very effective.
  • Black Cumin Seed Oil
  • Grape Seed Extract
  • Licorice root  (restrict salt intake while taking this),
  • Probiotics – general (mixed)
  • NAG – this is especially good for inflammation from lectins in food.
  • Zinc – if you have a more vegan or vegetarian diet, this is critical.  If you consume lots of meat, this isn’t very important
  • K2
  • Lithium – Read more about lithium.
  • Melatonin – This is more meant for your circadian rhythm, but can also reduce inflammation

Protocol for mitochondrial enhancement


Some of the supplements above improve mitochondria, but these are more powerful when it comes to rebuilding mitochondria.  These are all to be taken in the day.

If you’re a student and cramming, I don’t necessarily advise mitochondrial enhancers the day of the test.  These are good for the day before.

  • PQQ – goes well with CoQ10,
  • MitoQ
  • C60 -The best long lasting mitochondrial enhancer.  This will reduce your need for sleep.
  • Niagen NAD+ This is a new supplement, but my guess is it’s going to become more popular because of its powerful effect on improving mitochondria.
  • Gynostemma
  • Trans-Resveratrol and  Leucine.  Read about how these can be synergistic.  Taken together, they are pretty powerful.

If you take these and don’t notice anything, then you either haven’t cultivated an awareness of what’s going on in your body or your mitochondria are in great shape, which means you probably haven’t experienced chronic inflammation for a long time.

If you are a vegan,  Creatine daily will make the biggest impact.

Equipment to increase performance


Exercise equipment

Interval exercise is the best mitochondrial enhancer, so don’t neglect that.

Exercise also brings down systemic inflammation in the body.

The exercises for mitochondrial health can be as simple as using a Pull-up bar or a Push-up bar (the only exercise I do these days, in addition to walking).

Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT)

After exercise, using LLLT is the most effective tool for increasing cognitive function, if done correctly.

See this post on how to use it and what the research says.

It works by lowering inflammation and improving mitochondrial function, but also increases various neurotrophic factors in the brain.

Bright Light

If you aren’t getting sun or being outside for at least 3 hours in the day, then I highly recommend bright light therapy.

You’d be surprised by how stimulating it is cognitive.

It is mainly used for depression, but I think it can offer enhancement as well.

In a double-blind placebo-controlled trial, bright light improved mood and enhanced sleep efficiency in people with major depressive disorder.

The study also mentions that night time cortisol levels decreased by a whopping 34%just by this one simple change.

I can attest to a better mood, better brain function and enhanced productivity even though I don’t have any disorder.

I suggest you get this lighting device – it’s the one I have.  The reason I bought it is because it was used in a study I read about that used light as a mood enhancer.  It works.

Light also increases BDNF and therefore is good for your memory.

If you work in an office and can’t get this one then I’d recommend a portable one.

If you aren’t getting any sun, it makes sense to also use a UVB light for 15 minutes, to reduce inflammation.  Don’t overuse it.

Light is the single most powerful tool you can use to shape your circadian rhythm.

Red glasses

I use red glasses to entrain my circadian rhythm and to improve sleep.

I’ve tried probably 7 pairs of glasses to block the spectrum that blocks melatonin secretion.

These Glasses are the best and they don’t look bad. They’re cheap and effective.   I wear them 2 hours before bed.

The red glasses really blocks out all light except red.  If you need more visual flexibility, I suggest the orange glasses. You need to wear them for longer to produce melatonin, but they’re more useful when you need to see more colors.


Other disturbances of cognitive performance can be heavy metals, toxins, beta amyloid, lipofuscin, etc…

The single most effective thing you can do in this arena is to drink filtered water.

I use a Berkey Filtration System for myself and recommend others do that as well.

If you drink a lot of water, as I do, it would be a good investment to get a Distiller (I use this as well).

Heavy metals and toxins are all around us, though.  The best thing to “detox” is to eat broccoli sprouts.

These are rich in sulforaphane, which activates the body’s primary detox mechanisms (nrf2 transcription factor).

Studies use this chemical when trying to understand the effects of activating nrf2.

The most effective supplement to excrete heavy metals is Modified Citrus Pectin.

Kombucha is also very good since it’s loaded with gluconate, which binds to most metals.

Training the Mind to Focus and Filter out distractions

Many studies have been done on meditation, mindfulness, and Nback and showed improvements in one form of intelligence or another.

My belief is that the core driver of enhancement of intelligence from these practices is the ability to ignore distractions and selectively focus.

Here’s a recent study that made big waves in the media:

People with higher IQs are slow to detect large background movements because their brains filter out non-essential information, say US researchers………..In an initial study on 12 people, there was a 64% correlation between motion suppression and IQ scores. In this larger study on 53 people, a 71% correlation was found ref.

So we see there’s about a 70% correlation between the ability to selectively focus and IQ.

I rarely come across such large correlations in studies like these.

The best way to accomplish selective focus is through meditation, mindfulness, timed standardized test studying (like for the LSAT or SAT) and back…

These methods I have found train the mind to focus and filter out distractions, which should result in an IQ boost and increased productivity.

After Removing the Bad

Once you’ve changed your diet and lifestyle, only then do I suggest you try to proactively increase your cognition with supplements.

My personal notes

I got all of this information from studies directly but mostly didn’t link to it.  All of the following supplements can be bought.   Sorry about the abbreviations – they are my personal notes, after all.

NGF increasers

BDNF increasers 

Myelin increase

Synaptic Plasticity increasers (Hippocampus) 

Tea, Soy, Berries, Carnitine, Cocoa, FastingFish Oil/DHA+EPA, Mg, Zn, Longvida Curcumin, Berberine, Rehmannia, BM, Resveratrol,  Saffron, Red Wine polyphenols, other Polyphenols, Uridine, Sirt1 activators

Neurogenesis (Hippocampus) 

Li, TestosteronePregnenolone, ApigeninUridine, Ashwagandha, Cocoa, GK, Tea/ECGC, Melatonin, Curcumin Flavanoids (citrus, tea, wine, cocoa), PC, Semax, Cerebrolysin.

Neurite outgrowth/Axonal growth/Dendrite growth

Exercise, Rehmannia/Catalpol (Nogo-A inhibitor), Curcumin, LM, Apigenin, GSE/BBE, Huperzine, Natto, Red Sage, RSV, Royal JellyTheanine, Coffee (trigonelline),
GinsengGL, Berberine,  GKPropolis, Colostrum (colostrinin), Ashwagandha, LLLT, EleutheroForskolin…Aromatase inhibitors… NGF(+)->neurite outgrowth… Hominis placenta, Citicoline, Uridine, PregnenoloneAdenosine (R), Hydergine.

Brain Circulation

Cr, Astragalus(Noticeable), Rehmannia(N), Cold showers(N), Garlic (N),  Reishi(N), BBE/PBE/GSE, Amla, ACV, Longvida Curcumin, Carnitine, Ceylon CinnamonGinger, Rosemary, PC, Ginseng, Theanine, NAC, Resveratrol, Nitrates(Beets, leafy greens), Leuc+RSV, Citrulline.

Long Term Potentiation(LTP)

Fasting, Berberine, Stabilized R-Lipoic Acid, Melatonin, OLE(Luteolin), P ginseng, Ashwagandha, Fisetin, Glycine, Artichoke(Luteolin), Forskolin, Taurine.

Health Tools I Wish I Had When I Was Sick

At SelfHacked, it’s our goal to offer our readers all the tools possible to get optimally healthy. When I was struggling with chronic health issues I felt stuck because I didn’t have any tools to help me get better. I had to spend literally thousands of hours trying to read through studies on pubmed to figure out how the body worked and how to fix it.

That’s why I decided to create tools that will help others cut down the guesswork:

  • Lab Test Analyzer – a software tool that will analyze your labs and tell you what the optimal values are for each marker — as well as provide you with actionable tips and personalized health and lifestyle recommendations to help you get there.
  • SelfDecode – a software tool that will help you analyze your genetic data from companies such as 23andme and ancestry. You will learn how your health is being impacted by your genes, and how to use this knowledge to your advantage.
  • SelfHacked Secrets – an ebook where we examine and explain the biggest overlooked environmental factors that cause disease. This ebook is a great place to start your journey if you want to learn the essential steps to optimizing your health.
  • SelfHacked Elimination Diet course – a video course that will help you figure out which diet works best for you
  • Selfhacked Inflammation course – a video course on inflammation and how to bring it down
  • Biohacking insomnia – an ebook on how to get great sleep
  • Lectin Avoidance Cookbook – an e-cookbook for people with food sensitivities
  • BrainGauge – a device that detects subtle brain changes and allows you to test what’s working for you
  • SelfHacked VIP – an area where you can ask me (Joe) questions about health topics

FDA Compliance

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.


1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (8 votes, average: 4.50 out of 5)


  • Alyssa

    I have a question. Does neuroinflammation always show up on structural MRIs? I have had several structural MRIs that were said to be normal, but I have wondered about neuroinflammation given my symptoms. At one point I had a C-reactive protein of 10, but it has went down.

  • Geert Rademaekers


    The list for BDNF has turned blanco?

  • al

    You should list the lions mane to for its nerve growth factor.

    1. Joseph M. Cohen

      I thought it was in there already, but it’s not…Thanks!

  • K

    You are right about the lsat helping iq joe take a look at this.

    So if am reading stuff online to get smarter does that not indirectly increase my productivity? the increased iq should pay off later on. the tortoise and the hare scenario? lol

  • K

    Does reading help build your iq? thanks

  • Kieron

    Hello joe If you just ate a healthy diet, such as one of yours, would you need any supplements at all?

  • Kieron

    So does n back help raise IQ or Not, you wrote recently that it was disproven?

    1. Joseph M. Cohen

      Probably if your focus is shit

  • Jean

    Astragalus is neuroprotective and neurosprouting. Therefore it could be added to the ‘Neurite outgrowth/Axonal growth/Dendrite growth category’

    “Besides the neuroprotective effect, AS-IV alone promoted neurite outgrowth.” Source:

    1. Joe


  • K

    Why did you not mention tdcs in this post Joe?

    1. Joe

      not for everyone

  • Kieron

    Hello Joe I have a Qustion, If my Iq is 103 at the moment and Am 25, could I increase it some how to mensa standard before Am 30? will you teach people how do raise their iq in your book, Thank you. Also is tdcs worth it thanks.

    1. Joe

      If I were you I’d do tdcs

  • Damien Blenkinsopp

    Here’s the link to the complete original study from the article Joe linked to on BBC – on Motion suppression/ selective focus:

  • speville

    Hi Joe.

    I know these studies are made on mice, but galantamine and GSE could contribute to neurogenesis.

  • kieron

    how do you know that if I rub my finger nails that my hair wont grow faster?

  • kieron

    is genius intelligence good web site

  • Andrew

    what is the optimal dosage NAC for 10mg of PQQ?

    1. Selfhacked


  • Glenn Marks


    The US government and the mass media selectively promote research that
    is favorable to the fish oil industry. The editorial boards of oil research
    journals often include industry representatives, and their editorial
    decisions favor research conclusions that promote the industry, in the
    way that editorial decisions in previous decades favored articles that
    denied the dangers of radiation and reported that estrogen cures almost
    everything. Marcia Angell, former editor of the NEJM, has observed that
    the “significant results” reported in published studies can
    be properly interpreted only by knowing how many studies reporting opposite
    results were rejected by the editors.

    One way to evaluate published studies is to see whether they tell you
    everything you would need to know to replicate the experiment, and whether
    the information they provide is adequate for drawing the conclusions
    they draw, for example whether they compared the experimental subjects
    to proper control subjects. With just a few minimal critical principles
    of this sort, most “scientific” publications on nutrition,
    endocrinology, cancer and other degenerative diseases are seen to be
    unscientific. In nutritional experiments with fish oil, controls must
    receive similar amounts of vitamins A, D, E, and K, and should include
    fat free or “EFA” deficient diets for comparison.

    In declaring EPA and DHA to be safe, the FDA neglected to evaluate their
    antithyroid, immunosuppressive, lipid peroxidative (Song et al., 2000),
    light sensitizing, and antimitochondrial effects, their depression of
    glucose oxidation (Delarue et al., 2003), and their contribution to
    metastatic cancer (Klieveri, et al., 2000), lipofuscinosis and liver
    damage, among other problems.

  • Glenn Marks

    In the combined analysis, the researchers
    found that regular aspirin users were 10 percent less likely than the
    others to have any type of heart event, and 20 percent less likely to
    have a nonfatal heart attack. While that sounds like good news, the
    study showed that the risks of regular aspirin outweighed the benefits.

    Aspirin users were about 30 percent more likely to have a serious gastrointestinal bleeding
    event, a side effect of frequent aspirin use. The overall risk of dying
    during the study was the same among the aspirin users and the others.
    And though some previous studies suggested that regular aspirin use
    could prevent cancer, the new analysis showed no such benefit.

    Over all, for every 162 people who took aspirin, the drug prevented one nonfatal heart attack, but caused about two serious bleeding episodes.

    “We have been able to show quite convincingly
    that in people without a previous heart attack or stroke, regular use
    of aspirin may be more harmful than it is beneficial,” said Dr.
    Sreenivasa Seshasai of the Cardiovascular Sciences Research Center at St. George’s, University of London.

  • Steve

    Heavy metals/toxic protection:

  • kieron

    after a n back session I feal more focus after a while my brain feals more grounded

  • kieron

    does duel n back work help the brain even just a little thanks

  • Steve

    You might as well add Cerebrolysin to NGF and BDNF categories.

    1. Selfhacked

      I don’t like injectable drugs

      1. Steve
        1. Selfhacked

          Thanks! I will add this to my experimentation list once I do some more research on it.

  • Steve

    Hi Joe and Happy 2014 to you and your family! I wish you all the best.
    Do you think, that “supplementing” with 5 raw eggs throughout the day can make up for not taking NAC? I’m just not sure whether the amino acid in the egg is the same kind. It’s just that my stack has been getting on the expensive side now and I am definitely looking to cut costs.

  • kieron

    what about electroshock to the head is that good and effective

  • kieron

    what about growth hormone wont that boost brain performance, aminos, peps, hgh any thoughts, also could you just take one from each one of your lists to cover all brain growth, thank you

  • kieron

    will vegan omega 3 formula from algae do the same job as fish oil

    1. Selfhacked

      As long as it has EPA and DHA

  • Rick

    Thank you, this was an interesting read.
    I’m new to this kind of stuff and curious as to why some of the supplements on are not on your list.

    1. Selfhacked

      It would take to long to describe why certain supps aren’t on the list. I think every supplement on that list can benefit cognition in a very particular circumstance and manner. They shouldn’t be haphazardly taken to improve cognition. This goes for the supps on my list as well. Every supp has a tradeoff and can worsen cognition if not used correctly. I don’t advocate wanton supplementation. I plan on writing a book that will go into detail when and how to use every supplement.

      1. Rick

        Kewl, i definitely want to learn more, and your site has given me a lot of insight(stumbled upon it after googling “brain fog”)
        At first i just listen to anecdotal reports and wanted to try out the “best nootropics” but now i realize that the key nootropic is actually – knowledge.

        1. Selfhacked

          Yes, I agree.

  • Gadi

    What is your recommended dose for amla?


    I’ve tried all of these substances. I do think these substances have their uses, but they aren’t for most people, IMO. I plan to post in the future about these drugs and who should and shouldn’t take them.

  • Will Hunter

    Why aren’t any of the racetams mentioned? Selegiline? Hydergine? Phenibut?

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