Science in Action: Why Did I Sleep So Well? (part 5)

I have been sleeping much better than usual. Sharp easy-to-notice improvement. After the first time this happened I made a list of 9 possible reasons (lifestyle changes that might have been responsible). I later added one I’d overlooked: standing on one foot to exhaustion a few times.

Yesterday I stood on one foot to exhaustion four times, twice in the morning and twice in the evening. It took about three minutes each time (12 minutes total). Didn’t make any of the nine other candidate changes. And I slept much better than usual. So it is beginning to look like just that one factor is responsible. The one I almost forgot but also the one that seemed most plausible after i remembered it.


Science in Action: Why Did I Sleep So Well? (part 4)

I repeated the two things that remained on my list as possibilities for why I slept so well a few nights ago: 1. Looked at my face in a mirror a half-hour earlier than usual with a better sound source. 2. Stood on one foot until exhaustion (6 times). Lo and behold, I slept great. Now I’m pretty sure one of these two, or their combination, is responsible.

An unexpected twist is that I only slept 5 hours. Usually I’d still feel tired after that little sleep. But I feel like I slept 7 or 8.

I suspect the standing, not the faces, is the cause. Which would be ironic. Of the treatments I’ve studied by self-experimentation and found helpful, standing 9 or 10 hours, which greatly improved my sleep, was the most difficult. I loved what it did to my sleep. I still remember how wonderful it felt to be so well-rested the next morning. Even so I stopped doing it. As an experimental treatment, it was hard to measure how long I stood. As a lifestyle change, it was really hard to arrange so much standing. Whereas standing on one foot to exhaustion six times might be the easiest effective treatment I’ve studied (if it’s effective). Easy to measure, nothing to buy, no logistical problems.

I may try to repeat the earlier observation a few more times — as a kind of gift to myself — but now the main thing I want to do is separate the effects of the two factors, i.e., test one without the other.


Science in Action: Why Did I Sleep So Well? (part 3)

Yesterday I did two of the 10 or so possible things that might have caused me to sleep really well recently: (a) looked at my face in a mirror earlier than usual with voices behind the mirror (Factor A) and (b) stood on one foot until exhaustion (twice) (Factor B). And last night I slept better than usual — not quite as great as the first time but still really well. This seems to narrow down the possibilities to:

  • Factor A only
  • Factor B only
  • Factor A and Factor B

I have doubts about Factor A. After I figured out that seeing faces in the morning improved my mood, I tried for months to find the right “dose” (right time, right length) to improve my sleep. I didn’t find it. Whereas Factor B is merely a new version of something that has improved my sleep countless times, so much that I’ve noticed its effects when not looking for them. The effect might have been less clear last night than the first time because I only stood on one foot to exhaustion twice. The first time — I wasn’t paying attention, of course — I think I did it three or four times.

So today I did it six times. It was curiously exhausting. After I felt recovered (about an hour later), the rest of the day I felt really good, cheerful and energetic — better than after yoga. That doesn’t make a lot of sense. If I do something that makes me sleep better, shouldn’t it make me more tired?


Science in Action: Why Did I Sleep So Well? (part 2)

A few days ago (Tuesday night) I slept unusually well, presumably because Tuesday day had been unusual in some way. I made a list of nine possible reasons.

Today I realized I’d forgotten something: 10. Stood on one foot more than usual. To pass the time while looking at my face in the mirror I had stood on one foot while stretching the other leg, pulling my foot up behind me. I was curious how long I could do this so I did a few trials with each leg where I did it until it became too painful. I lasted about 2 minutes on one leg and 2.5 minutes on the other.

This might seem trivial — and I forgot about it. But standing on one foot continuously for a relatively long time surely stressed my leg muscles much more than usual. Previous research convinced me that standing many hours improves sleep. Maybe this “extreme standing” produces the same hormonal effects in a few minutes as normal standing does in ten hours. That would be wonderful!


Science in Action: Why Did I Sleep So Well?

Last night I slept extremely well. I slept about eight hours and woke up feeling really good. In the past I’ve slept this well only after being on my feet nine or ten hours. Yesterday I was on my feet maybe four hours. I usually sleep well but this was a distinct improvement.

What caused it? Yesterday had many unusual features (like most days), but I did deliberately vary one thing:

1. I looked at faces (actually, my face in a mirror) earlier than usual. Usually I start around 7:40 am; yesterday I started about 7:10 am. (Background: I discovered that seeing faces in the morning improves my mood the next day. For example, seeing faces Monday morning improves my mood on Tuesday. And makes my mood worse Monday night. Details here.) I’ve done this before — watched the faces earlier than usual — and hadn’t noticed anything unusual. Yesterday may have been different, however, because three days ago I changed something. I always listen to something (audiobook, a Google Talk, This American Life episode, etc.) while I look at my face in the mirror. Three days ago I moved the sound source directly behind the mirror.

This is my best guess why my sleep was better than usual. But yesterday was unusual in several other ways as well:

2. I went outside (in the shade) 30 minutes earlier than usual.

3. Usually wear contact lenses while sleeping but didn’t.

4. Usually wear a tooth guard while sleeping but didn’t.

5. Salmon for dinner, which isn’t unusual, but I had more than usual.

6. No aerobic exercise.

7. Did a lot of chores I’d put off. (Peace of mind?)

8. On the preceding days, the sound source was behind the mirror. In other words, it was the cumulative effect that produced better sleep.

9. The end of a cold.

Now I’ll do all sorts of things to test these possibilities.

There’s a saying No one believes a theory but the theorist; everyone believes an experiment but the experimenter. This illustrates why. The experimenter can see all sorts of confoundings and special circumstances that others cannot.


Science in Action: Omega-3 (more motor-learning data)

Background. I took 4 T of flaxseed oil during the day (instead of just before bedtime) and measured its effect with a cursor test. The test was how accurately I move the cursor from one point to another with a single movement. The result was a sharp improvement — some of which lasted, some of which didn’t. (Just to be perfectly clear: what’s varied is not my daily amount of flaxseed oil. It’s the time of day I take it. I’m varying the time between a short-lived peak in omega-3 concentration, which happens shortly after ingestion, and doing the cursor test. Usually they are far apart. The interesting data are what happens when I move them close together.)

New data. I tried the same thing again. Here are the results.
2nd test of FSO on cursor accuracy

The green line shows when I took 4 tablespoons of flaxseed oil. I took the oil at 8:30 am. The first test after that, at 9:30 am, showed the improvement. (In previous measurements of the short-term effects, it has taken closer to 2 hours to see the maximum effect.)

Here is a longer view, which emphasizes the constancy of the pre-test baseline.

wider view of results

For comparison, here are the earlier results.

earlier results with this test

Conclusions. When I take 4 T of flaxseed oil, it creates for a few hours a higher-than-usual concentration of flaxseed oil in my blood. I’m pretty sure the active ingredient is omega-3. This has two effects:

  • Better performance due to temporary effects. It’s hard to give these effects a good name. Better coordination, perhaps.
  • Better performance due to long-lasting effects. This is why performance was constant at a lower (better) level after the test than before. The higher-than-usual concentration caused a change (more “learning” than usual) that outlasted it. The concentration of flaxseed oil dropped back to average levels but the learning persisted.
  • Science in Action: Omega-3 (motor-learning surprise, continued)

    The results I described in the previous post surprised me because (a) my performance suddenly got better after being stable for many tests and (b) after the improvement, further practice appeared to make my performance worse. I’d never before seen either result in a motor learning situation. If you can think of an explanation of the result that practice makes performance worse, and animal learning isn’t your research area, please let me know.

    Learning researchers used to think of associative learning as a kind of stamping-in process. The more you experience A and B together, the stronger the association between them. Simple as that. In the 1960s, however, several results called this idea into question. Situations that should have caused learning did not. The feature that united the various results was that in each case, learning didn’t happen when the animal already expected the second event. If A and B occur together, and you already expect B, there is no learning. Theories that explained these findings — the Rescorla-Wagner model is the best known, but the Pearce-Hall model is the one that appears to be correct — took the discrepancy between expected and observed — an event’s “surprise factor” — rather than simply the event itself, to be what causes learning. We are constantly trying to predict the future; only when we fail do we learn.

    In my motor-learning task, imagine that the brain “expects” a certain accuracy. When actual accuracy is less, performance improves. Performance stops improving when actual accuracy equals expected accuracy. The effect of more omega-3 in the blood, and therefore the brain, was to increase expected accuracy. (One of the main things the brain does is learn. If we do something that improves brain performance in other ways, it is plausible that it will also improve learning ability.) Thus the sudden improvement. The decrement in accuracy with further practice came about because, when the omega-3 concentration went down, actual accuracy was better than expected accuracy. Accuracy was “over-predicted,” a learning theorist might say. So the observed change in performance was in the opposite-from-usual direction. Accuracy got worse, not better.

    Related happiness research. “Christensen’s study was called “Why Danes Are Smug,” and essentially his answer was it’s because they’re so glum and get happy when things turn out not quite as badly as they expected.”

    Science in Action: Omega-3 (motor-learning surprise)

    The more I played racquetball, the more accurate my shots became — the more control I had. It was a kind of learning: learning to place the ball. I was fascinated by how little we knew about how that learning took place. I studied associative learning in my own research. The motor learning during racquetball resembled associative learning in the sense that my actions (hitting the ball with the racket) were shaped by what happened next (accuracy of placement). Yet I knew nothing non-obvious about motor learning.

    This background of ignorance is why I find my latest flaxseed oil results so interesting. As I’ve posted, I’ve started using a new test in which I use the touchpad to “toss” the cursor from one spot to another (that is, move the cursor with a single finger movement), and measure how close it “lands” to the target. The function relating cursor position to finger position on the touchpad isn’t simple.

    Of course I wanted to see how flaxseed oil affected performance on this task. I doubted that it would. This task is untimed. No time pressure. It is like shooting free throws. Most of the previous tasks I’ve used that have shown a flaxseed-oil effect have been tasks where you respond as fast as possible. My balance test was go at your own pace, but it involved a huge amount of computation. Balancing my body on one foot for several seconds seemed to involve a lot more computation than moving a finger about an inch.

    Usually I take 4 tablespoons of flaxseed oil just before bedtime. One recent day I took it much earlier and did the toss test at 30-minute intervals before and for several hours afterward.

    Here are the results plotted as a function of test session number.

    toss results vs condition

    Here are the same results plotted versus the time of the test:

    toss accuracy vs. time of test

    Here is a close-up of the crucial data:

    toss accuracy vs. time of session (close-up)

    About two hours after I drank the flaxseed oil, my accuracy got worse. Then it slowly got much better. The amazing thing about the improvement is that it reached a maximum long after you would think that the effects of the flaxseed oil had worn off. My overall level of omega-3 is high because I take 4 T flaxseed oil per day. The effect of shifting when I drink the 4 T is just to change the timing of a short-lived peak. Usually that peak happens when I’m asleep and my omega-3 levels are reasonably constant while I’m doing the test. In this case the peak happened while I was doing the test.

    I’ll discuss what this might mean in a later post.

    Science in Action: Flavor-Calorie Learning (another simple example)

    At the heart of the Shangri-La Diet is the idea that we learn to associate flavors (smells) with calories. This learning was first shown in rat experiments. There’s some human evidence, but not much. If I could discover more about what controls this learning, I might be able to improve the diet. For example, maybe I could say more about what the flavor-free window should be.

    My earlier self-experimentation on this subject – I used tea for flavor and sugar for calories — was helpful. To my surprise, I found that really small changes in flavor made a noticeable difference. If I switched from one canister of Peet’s Gunpowder Tea to a new canister, the ratings went down, although everything else stayed the same. From this came the notion of ditto food: Foods with exactly the same flavor each time are especially fattening. I hadn’t realized what a difference it would make if you kept the flavor exactly the same each time.

    It’s been hard to learn more. After Christmas dinner, my mom gave me the leftover brandy (A. R. Murrow). I used it for a very simple experiment in which I learned to like it. I’ve never drunk brandy in any quantity and I started off not liking it. Every day for a few weeks, I drank one tablespoon. I drank it in a few sips over a few minutes. I didn’t eat anything else for at least 30 minutes. I rated how good it tasted on a 0-100 scale where 10 = very bad, 20= quite bad, 25 = bad, 30 = somewhat bad, 40 = slightly bad, 50 = neutral, 60 = slightly good, 70 = somewhat good, 75 = good, 80 = quite good, 90 = very good. The overall rating was the maximum of the ratings of the several sips. (The first sip usually tasted the best.)

    Here are the results.

    learning to like brandy

    I’ve observed similar results five or six times. They are more support for the most basic conclusions: 1. The effect is very clear. One tablespoon of brandy has only 30 calories. 2. A really simple experiment is easy.

    That’s a promising start but then it gets hard, or at least non-obvious. As a way to study flavor-calorie learning, this little example has several flaws: 1. Slow learning. 2. Expensive materials. 3. Little control of flavor. The best I can do is choose which liquor to buy. Soon I will run out of ones I haven’t used. 4. No way to separate flavor and calories in time. 5. No way to change the calorie source.

    An earlier demonstration used a soft drink. It’s really Science in Inaction: I’ve made zero progress in a year.

    Science in Action: Procrastination (evidence or anti-evidence?)

    Evidence is the raw fuel of science: We collect data, it pushes forward our understanding. But there is also anti-evidence: observations that have the effect of holding back our understanding. The clearest example I know comes from experiments that supposedly “tested” mathematical learning theories in the 1950s and later. The observation was that the theory could fit the data. Theorists wrote papers to report this observation. In fact, the theory was so flexible it could fit any plausible results. The papers, which were taken seriously, retarded the study of learning because they wasted everyone’s time. They gave the illusion of progress. Hal Pashler and I wrote about this.

    Another example of anti-evidence, I think, is the sort of data that linguistic theorists have been fond of: Observations that this or that sentence or sentence fragment strikes the theorist as grammatical, i.e., possible. Not studies of how people actually talk; the observation that a speaker of English or whatever could say this or that. The theorist’s judgment based on introspection. I’m not saying that this isn’t actual data of some sort; I just suspect that the value of these sorts of observations has been overrated and the net effect has been to keep linguists from collecting data that would push theorizing forward.

    Months ago I blogged about how I found that when I made playing a game contingent upon clearing off my kitchen table, I was able to clear off the table. Which had been messy for quite a while. My question: is this evidence or anti-evidence? If I think about this, and try to understand it, will I be deluding myself, as the mathematical learning theorists and the linguistic theorists deluded themselves? On its face, it seems like a very ordinary, very narrow observation, much like the observation that “George played with the game Dave brought over” is a possible English sentence. On the other hand, it is something unusual and helpful that actually happened, unlike an observation that this or that is a possible English sentence.

    When someone says “the plural of anecdote is not data,” you can be sure their grasp of scientific method is weak; lots of important discoveries have begun with accidental single observations. But those productive single observations are always surprising. My table-clearing observation was slightly surprising…

    Science in Action: Omega-3 (simple reaction time)

    A friend who has known me for years said I became more talkative recently — around the time I started taking flaxseed oil. In the letter-counting task I have been using, there is an increase in error rate at the same time that flaxseed oil is reducing reaction time — I become more “jumpy”. It is as if flaxseed oil lowers a threshold for action.

    Maybe I could measure this. Following some of Greg’s principles, I devised what experimental psychologists call a simple reaction time task: I see colored circles on my laptop screen and press a key on the keyboard as quickly as possible when a circle appears. The computer beeps 0-4 times depending on how fast I respond.

    With the letter-counting task, I kept improving for at least 100 sessions. With this task, I stopped improving (getting faster) after about 2 sessions. I took 4 T flaxseed oil around 2 pm and measured my reaction time before and after. Here are the results.

    flaxseed oil and simple reaction time

    My reaction time decreased with roughly the time course I’d seen in other tests. The percentage decrease was unsurprisingly small but it was quite clear. It was hard to tell how long it lasted.

    I was impressed how easy the whole thing was. It only took about an hour to write the experiment-running program (because I could modify something I already had) and the necessary pretraining (learning the task) was trivial (a few minutes, in contrast to weeks with the letter-counting task). I’m unsure how much follow-up of this I will do but it was reassuring to find similar results (flaxseed oil improves performance) in another task.

    Science in Action: Exercise (15-minute walk twice more)

    As part of my digression into the effects of exercise, I tested the effect of a 15-minute walk (= on a treadmill at about 2.8 miles/hour) twice more. Here are the results:

    effect of 15-minute walk (2nd test)
    effect of 15-minute walk (3rd test)

    Here is the result (posted earlier) of the first test:

    effect of 15-minute walk (1st test)

    Here is a test of a 40-minute walk:

    effect of 40-minute walk

    What do I learn from all this? For my omega-3 experiments, which might cover 6 hours, I should keep the walking involved under 15 minutes. If I want to get some sort of mental benefit from walking, I should spend 40 minutes or more. Less obvious is this: I take these results to indicate the existence of a mechanism that “turns up” our brain when we are doing stuff and turns it “down” when we are inactive. This suggests what Stone-Age activity consisted of: more than 15 minutes of walking. This also suggests that whatever the benefits of exercise, they require more than 15 minutes of walking to obtain.

    The practical question these results raise is how to use this effect to help me with what I do all day — most of which, such as writing, seems to be incompatible with walking. Walking breaks every few hours? What about running 10 minutes every few hours?

    Gary Taubes’ new book on food and weight comes out today. Taubes agrees with what I say in The Shangri-La Diet: Exercise is a poor way to lose weight. The results above provide a different reason to exercise, of course. But the details should change. My impression is that most people focus on burning calories; whereas these results suggest choosing exercise that best produces this reaction-time-lowering effect.

    Science in Action: Exercise (15-minute walk)

    Exercise reduces reaction time, I’ve found. What’s the threshold? I wondered — how little exercise do you need to get the effect? I wanted to know so that in my omega-3 experiments, I could be active — e.g., walk to a cafe — without distorting the results. Also, for practical reasons, I wanted to produce the effect as easily as possible.

    To learn more about the threshold, I walked on my treadmill for 15 minutes at a comfortable speed (2.8 miles/hour). Here’s what happened:

    effect of 15-minute walk

    If anything, the short walk increased reaction time. Thirty minutes of walking produced a clear (and repeatable) decrease, so the the effect appears to require between 15 and 30 minutes of walking.

    I did this experiment three days ago. Self-experimentation is many times easier than conventional science; blogging is many times easier than conventional publishing. A powerful combination, I hope.

    Science in Action: Exercise (more confirmation)

    How little exercise will produce the reaction-time-lowering effect I’ve found (here and here)? I decided to measure the effect of a 10-minute walk from a BART stop to a cafe. (Nicely integrating work and work.) But I got off BART at the wrong stop and my 10-minute walk took 40 minutes.

    Here is what happened:

    effect of 40-minute walk

    Just as with a 30-minute treadmill walk, the effect was delayed.

    This is more support for the idea that exercise temporarily improves brain function. The novelty in this particular experiment is that the exercise was “real” rather than on an indoor treadmill.

    For comparison, here are earlier results from much more strenuous exercise (30 minutes walking uphill on a treadmill):

    effect of 30 minutes on steep treadmill

    The effect of more strenuous exercise was larger and lasted longer. With the easier exercise (the stroll) there was a downward spike in reaction time; with the more difficult exercise (the climb) there was a more crater-like effect. The spike shape suggests the effect was sub-maximal; the crater shape suggests that the maximum effect was reached. Which makes sense because the climb was close to maximum effort, whereas the stroll was far below it.

    A kind reader pointed to a NY Times article on the brain effects of exercise. “Exercise can, in fact, create a stronger, faster brain,” says the article. “Create” refers to neurogenesis. The effects I’ve observed are more temporary — more like adding better fuel to a car.

    “The human brain is extremely difficult to study, especially when a person is still alive,” says the article. Not entirely true.

    Science in Action: Exercise (confirmation)

    During my omega-3 tests, I noticed that exercise seemed to be reducing reaction time (= better brain function). When I tested this, the results surprised me: Reaction time wasn’t lower immediately after exercise but became lower later. Did exercise have a delayed effect or was the shower I took soon after exercise responsible?

    To find out, I did a little experiment. The earlier exercise was 30 minutes on a flat treadmill at about 2.8 miles/hour; this time I walked 30 minutes on a steep treadmill at higher speed (about 3.7 miles per hour). Here are the results:

    exercise results

    Vertical lines show when the exercise started and stopped. This time there was improvement immediately after the exercise (unsurprising, given that it was much more intense) but even more improvement a half-hour later. I took a shower several hours later; it had no clear effect. The improvement lasted several hours before starting to diminish.

    The data are very clear. They imply the earlier results can be believed: Exercise does improve brain function in an unanticipated way. Losing weight with exercise is hard; improving brain function with exercise appears easy. I want to study this effect in detail. Not only should it teach me how to improve brain function, it should also suggest the best dose of exercise for the rest of my body.

    Science in Action: Methodology surprise and improvement

    I’ve been using a letter-counting test to keep hour-by-hour track of how well my brain is working. The test consists of 200 trials that ask how many of four displayed letters (e.g., YCAW) are from the set {ABCD}. for YCAW, the answer is 2. Faster answers = better brain function.

    For the first several hundred tests, I kept the location of the four letters constant: the center of the window. As soon as I answered, the next display appeared in the same position as the last one. The display never repeated immediately; for example UXRA was never followed by UXRA. But UXRA could be followed by UXAR. This was too easy because it looked like the A and R had switched places. This was a big difference from the usual appearance and it signalled that the answer had not changed. Overlap between one display and the next was probably important but was hard to measure.

    To make the test more uniform across trials, I had the display move up and down, which eliminated overlap between one display and the next. Successive displays appeared above center, below center, above center, below center, etc.

    To my great surprise, this made the task a lot easier. Here are accuracy scores before and after the change:

    accuracy before and after the change

    Before the change, mean accuracy was 94.9% (standard error 0.2); after the change, 97.4 (standard error 0.3). The error rate was cut in half, in other words. I had no idea this would happen.

    Reaction times were slightly more after the change. A treatment that changes reaction time and accuracy in conceptually opposite directions — makes the task harder in terms of reaction times (= longer reaction times) but easier in terms of accuracy (= great accuracy) — is very unusual. I don’t know of any other examples.

    The displays have always been big black letters on a white background — very easy to read. But this change made them seem more visible somehow. At some high level of my visual system, it was if the contrast had been improved. It’s a funny feeling because I thought I was seeing them perfectly clearly with the old procedure.

    Because accuracy is better it is now closer to constant, which is what you want in a reaction-time experiment. You want as much variation in reaction time as possible and as little variation in accuracy as possible.

    Science in Action: A Puzzle

    To learn how omega-3 affects brain function, I’ve been doing a letter-counting test several times per day. I’ve posted some results. Several times after exercise (treadmill and street walking) my reaction times were faster than expected — meaning my brain was working better than expected.

    Does exercise improve brain function? In a chapter on self-experimentation that he and I wrote, Allen Neuringer described several experiments in which other measures of brain function improved after exercise. I wanted to learn more about this for two reasons: 1. Reduce “noise”. If I know how much exercise is needed to get the effect, I can be careful to stay below level that while doing omega-3 experiments. 2. Practical value. You might call it nature’s caffeine.

    So I did a little experiment. I walked on a flat treadmill for 30 minutes and did the letter-counting test several times. Here are the results:

    exercise effect?

    The line shows the middle of the exercise; the exercise ended a few minutes before the first post-exercise test. To my surprise, the first post-exercise test showed no effect. I was wrong, I thought. But to my further and greater surprise later tests showed an effect in the predicted direction.

    Between the first post-exercise test and the second, I took a shower. I will need to see if showers have an effect. If not, then apparently exercise has a delayed effect. No one has ever proposed this, I’m pretty sure.

    Most of my self-experimentation has studied elements of ancient life. Omega-3, for example — I believe our ancestors ate lots of seafood (the Aquatic Ape Theory). They surely walked a lot.

    Science in Action: Omega-3 (more eggs)

    Recently I described how, while testing flaxseed oil, I noticed that some eggs I had eaten seemed to have had a flaxseed-oil-like effect. The eggs came from grass-fed chickens; such eggs are believed to be high in omega-3. So the inference was plausible. But was it true?

    To find out, I deliberately tested eggs. I used 2.5 large eggs (2 large, 1 small) to make scrambled eggs, which I ate. Here’s what happened:

    Egg test reaction times

    The blue line shows when I ate the eggs. The red line is the average of the pre-egg reaction times. The main result is that, as suggested by the earlier data, there was a flaxseed-oil-like effect. I’m not sure what to make of the lowest point. I had eaten half of a cheese-and-mushroom crepe before that measurement. If the crepe was digested quickly, that would have reduced reaction time. (Sugar drinks clearly do this.)

    Here are the accuracy values.
    egg test accuracy values

    Mostly there was little change in accuracy. However, one value (90%) was very low, the lowest value in a long time. It happened before the biggest changes in reaction times. It might be due to the eggs.

    My main conclusion is that yes, the eggs acted like flaxseed oil — presumably because of their omega-3. In addition, the results increase my belief that this method can measure the brain effects of ordinary food and can generate ideas worth testing.

    Science in Action: Omega-3 (VSE)

    VSE = Very Short Experiment. After VSL (Very Short List). I did this experiment yesterday. It took the whole day but the results were clear by noon.

    At about 7 am I took 4 tablespoons of flaxseed oil (Spectrum Organic). I measured my mental function with a letter-counting test. Here is what happened.

    RT results

    My reaction times decreased 2-3 hours after drinking the flaxseed oil. Over the next 6-8 hours they returned to baseline.

    For cognoscenti, here are the accuracy data:

    accuracy results

    Accuracy was fairly constant.

    These results resemble earlier time-course measurements (here and here). What pleases me so much is not the confirmation — after the earlier two results I had found the dip a third time and had found that olive oil does not cause a dip — but how fast and clear the main result (the dip) was. I could have done a mere four tests (7, 8, 10, 11 am) and found interesting results — I knew that the 8 am test was too early to see a difference so it would have been two tests “before” and two “after”. Six hours of testing can say something interesting about what we should eat and how to make our brains work best.

    If you’ve been reading this blog you won’t be surprised that flaxseed oil helps; what’s new is how easily I can test a big wide world of foods. Salmon, trout, herring, fish oil, olive oil, canola oil, walnut oil, soybean oil, and so on. All sources of fat. Not to mention eggs.

    I take 4 tablespoons of flaxseed oil most days; I am not suffering from too little omega-3, as most people are. This improvement is on top of the improvement produced by getting enough omega-3 most days. If I stopped taking flaxseed oil, my mental function would slowly get worse, as an earlier experiment (here and here) showed.