Top Ten Supplements and Lifestyle Hacks that Have Helped Feel Better

Ryan Walraven, PhD
7 min readMay 4, 2024

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A friend recently called and asked me what supplements I used to “look so young,” after seeing a photo of me published on LinkedIn for a work event. It must have been a flattering photo, because I would argue I see my age when I look in the mirror. But perhaps we see what we expect to see, and are more sensitive to our own wrinkles, periorbital veins, aches, and pains. Certainly, some folks around us do seem to age faster, others slower. Whether that’s the case for me or not, I do feel some supplements, practices, and peptides have helped me more than others.

First, I’d argue there’s no substitute for diet, exercise, and sleep. I’m as susceptible as the next man when it comes to the occasional drink or donut. That said, I drank more in my twenties, and enjoyed more than my fair share of weed and coffee. One thing I’ve realized is that those things take a toll the next day, especially on sleep quality, energy, and motivation. The more I cut back, the better I feel. Quitting booze entirely appears to be the healthiest move, but I haven’t quite mastered that yet.

On top of those obvious practices, there are some supplements that make a different for me:

Magnesium Glycinate — This one helps me get to sleep. A large fraction of people are magnesium deficient, so the magnesium gives a health boost while the glycine also appears to boost sleep quality and help with collagen synthesis (which is good for your skin).

Creatine — People in the fitness world know creatine well, but studies show it not only helps with workouts and strength building, but with cognitive function. If you think as the brain like a large computational muscle (a huge over-simplification, but whatever), it makes sense. The creatine helps your brain stay hydrated and do its job.

Fasting — During grad school, the combination of drinking, poor sleep quality, and poor diet led to some metabolic dysfunction for me. I got exercise, and tried to eat fresh fish and vegetables throughout the week, but I also ate too much pizza and chocolate. Fasting — taking a break from eating for 8 hours or more — helped my body recover and clear the junk out. Sometimes I would fast for up to 72 hours, but the most common for me is about 40 hours. I simply don’t eat for a day. But to pull that off, you want to get electrolytes (sodium, potassium, and magnesium) or your muscles and heart can’t function properly. Please don’t try to leap into an extended fast without electrolytes, or talking to your doctor. In fact, be careful trying any of these things too quickly or intensely, without doing some research, as they will quite literally affect your brain and bodily function.

Piracetam — This supplement used to be available to buy online, and is one of the best known nootropics for helping with cognitive function throughout the day. Students would use it to study, and elderly folks used it to help with their day-to-day tasks as they got older. Unfortunately, the notorious Harvard doctor Peter Cohen made a name for himself by fear-mongering about it, and lobbied the FDA to pull it from shelves and online shops like Amazon. While I believe in talking to doctors, who are better experts on health and human biochemistry than I am, studies show that piracetam appears to be safe for long term use and have minimal side effects. It’s also a supplement you can quite literally “feel” working. I’ve cut back on caffeine, and now like to have a little of this during the day instead. There appear to be quite a few benefits to it!

BPC-157 + TB500 +GHK-Cu— Most of what I’ve mentioned so far affects mental well-being, but these two substances also help with physical well-being. BPC-157 is derived from a peptide (short chain of amino acids) found in the gut, and the weight-lifting community claims it can help heal injuries faster. The data is still out on that, but for me it has certainly helped alleviate long-term stomach problems and to help with some of my daily aches and pains. Studies indicate it may be good for helping repair damage to the brain gut axis, but the data is limited. I used it for a while almost every day, but now only occasionally take it once a week. Many users add in TB500, which can help with vascular growth and healing according to reports. However, some are wary because while increased vascular growth can help repair damaged tissue, it can also help tumors grow. These two are certainly experimental substances… and while this may scare some away, they are banned by certain athletic organizations (with warnings from the FDA as well) for giving unfair advantage to the users, and not having enough research backing.

GHK-Cu — This popular peptide appears in some over-the-counter skin creams, and is also injected by some athletes and weight-lifters. It helps with collagen synthesis, which is necessary for the health of our skin and joints. Combined with collagen, you can quite literally feel this peptide make your skin tougher over time. It’s bright blue, and warning — it does sting. Early studies appear to show a slew of benefits, including stimulating blood vessel and nerve outgrowth, increases collagen, elastin, and glycosaminoglycan synthesis, as well as supporting the function of dermal fibroblasts.

SemaxSemax is another peptide available over the counter in Europe. In fact, it was developed in Russia in the 80’s in an attempt to create a brain enhancing compound. Man, the Cold War was an interesting time… It has undergone extensive studies in Russia, but is not widely used in the West unfortunately. I say unfortunately because it helps with recovery from stroke, and improves neuroplasticity and recovery from brain injuries. Personally, it helped me recover from the chronic stress, poor sleep, and brain damage caused by spending over 7 years in a PhD program. The first few times I took it, I felt incredible, to the point where I was writing article and huge comments about it. My brain must have been amazed at the time to find itself ingesting something that was helpful for once. To quote wikipedia here, which cites a bunch of scientific studies: “in animals, Semax rapidly elevates the levels and expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and its signaling receptor TrkB in the hippocampus,[6] and rapidly activates serotonergic and dopaminergic brain systems.” Lion’s mane also elevates BDNF if you want to go the mushroom route instead!

Epitalon — This is another peptide, also developed in Russia, and prescribed by Putin’s anti-aging doctor, Dr. Khavinson. Epitalon was developed with the goal of lengthening telomeres, these chains of DNA at the end of our cells that shorten as we get older, and which are sometimes pegged as one of the causes of aging. However, telomeres may have an important role in preventing cancer, so one must be careful. Dr. Khavinson, however, actually believed peptides like epitalon could have anti-carcinogenic properties, and wrote several papers on it, and epitalon appeared to reduce the number of tumors in mice in studies. The explanation for how is complex, and involves gene expression, which is way beyond my field of study. Some users report that when testing telomere length before and after use, they saw improvements. That said, unlike Ghk-Cu, or BPC-157 or semax, this is not a peptide you will “feel.” YMMV.

Ipamorelin — Most people know that human growth hormone (HGH) decreases as we age, and as a result many anti-aging treatments have focused on way to increase it, or even involved injecting it directly. Unfortunately, direct use of hormones like HGH or testosterone may feel nice, but can lead to many side effects. Weight lifters are famous for getting HGH gut, and for having bulbous heads. Why? Because they HGH quite literally makes your organs grow. Imho, it’s not something you want to experiment with lightly, or you may risk looking like a cave troll. That said, it’s undeniable that HGH helps people heal and recover faster, which is why the lifting community uses it. As a result, researchers have investigated short term solutions with lower side effects, including ipamorelin, which helps your body produce more growth hormone for a short time without injecting it directly. There are still some potential side-effects, especially if it’s over-used, but it could be therapeutic in short bursts.

Medicinal Mushrooms — This category is broad, but friends will know I love mushrooms of all sorts and enjoy them in my coffee, with my dinner, in tinctures I make at home, or even out on a hike. Really, this could be a whole category, but I’ll list off my favorites here. Lion’s Mane can help release BDNF, and it taken by many people for cognitive benefits. The mushroom itself looks a bit like a brain, and I think there’s probably some sort of biochemical and mathematical connection between the compounds it uses to grow and how it helps the web of neurons in our brain. Turkey tail is another great one, brewed as a tea or taken as a supplement. It’s a beautiful mushroom you can find in the woods (though there are lookalikes), that has lots of anti-oxidants. Chaga, a mushroom that grows in birch trees, is a gross black bulbous fungus, and has been traditionally brewed into tea in Russia, Europe, and even North America by indigenous peoples. It makes an interesting dark tea full of antioxidants, and can go well when splashed in coffee. Easy to make at home with chunks you can buy online! Finally, there are everyone’s favorite psychedelic mushrooms. While I think many people view these as a fun party drug for concerts or hikes in the woods, studies show they may also be able to help relieve depression — but especially when combined with therapeutic sessions with a professional. Since I complained about Harvard here, I’ll give credit where it’s due and point out that Johns Hopkins is working on these studies (along with studies on the benefits of ketamine) and I think that’s great.

Turkey tail! I have lots of actual photos but my phone isn’t cooperating at the moment, so this will have to due for now.

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Ryan Walraven, PhD

I’m a physics postdoc, writer, and photoshopper who likes to send cats into space.