April 28, 2023 Founders Note 014

014: The Brains Behind Parable

One of the perks of my job is getting to speak with very smart people regularly; one of those people is Con Stough, a professor in Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology at the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology at Swinburne University of Technology in Victoria, Australia – a position he’s held for 23 years – who serves as Parable’s chief science advisor. 

Con was critical in the creation of Daily™ – he brought his decades of experience designing and running clinical trials with pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals to our formulation room, and his expertise continues to inform our work and messaging. In short, we’re very lucky to have him as part of our team. 

In addition to his work at Swinburne University, Con runs Aristotle-EI, where he helps schools develop and track emotional intelligence in children, adolescents, and teachers, using a model and measure of emotional intelligence he developed. He’s also applied these learnings to the workplace, and, undoubtedly, to his seven-year-old son’s basketball team, of which he’s a coach. 

Today, I wanted to share some of Con’s wisdom with you. 

Cristina Poindexter: What drew you to work in neuroscience? Why do you do what you do?

Professor Con Stough: I’ve always been interested in finding ways to improve human intelligence, which to me means improving cognitive health, emotional intelligence, and well-being. My goal is to help us all maximize our human intelligence, both cognitively and emotionally. Then we make better decisions and get on better with each other – and then, I think, the world is a better place to live in. 

CP: You speak about cognitive intelligence and emotional intelligence distinctly. Are they separate or related?

CS: Both. I see them as Olympic circles –independent and overlapping. When we’re anxious or when we feel stressed, a lot of connections in the brain used for cognitive processes shut down. On the other hand, when we’re doing well cognitively and achieving things, that leads to increased emotional well-being as we hit our goals. 

A functional cognitive system also helps us experience more positive emotions and can help us better manage strong negative emotions such as anxiety, frustration and anger. Importantly the quality of our thoughts about different situations often leads to the type of emotions we experience – and, of course, the cumulative experience of our emotions dictates our well-being. 

My goal is to help us all maximize our human intelligence, both cognitively and emotionally. Then we make better decisions and get on better with each other – and then, I think, the world is a better place to live in. 

CP: Why do you think we need to take care of our brains?

CS: As we get older, a lot of cellular changes occur in the brain. There’s an increase in oxidative stress, inflammatory processes, and other metabolic processes, including how we use oxygen and how we use energy. These changes are in part genetic, in part due to lifestyle, and really just have to do with age. These changes affect our cognitive function and brain health, so it’s very important to find ways to circumvent these age-related changes in the brain.

CP: Your research has influenced nootropics, nutraceuticals, and pharmaceuticals. What’s your view on nootropics? 

CS: Nootropics are designed to improve specific aspects of cognition, quickly – or in scientific terms, acutely. They change one aspect of brain function that might be associated with cognitive processes, such as the neurotransmitters associated with memory, or more commonly, attention. So they’re very short-acting. 

If you take nootropics consistently, the brain adapts, and they become less efficacious. Nootropics, if they’re taken at all, should be taken very sporadically and not over a longer period of time. Piracetam, amphetamines, and nicotine are examples of nootropic cognitive enhancers – and they do nothing for your brain’s health long term! Nootropics can also be addictive and may even show withdrawal effects if discontinued.

I see cognitive intelligence and emotional intelligence as Olympic circles – independent and overlapping. When we’re anxious or feel stressed, a lot of connections in the brain used for cognitive processes shut down.

CP: So how is Daily™ different? 

CS: We designed Daily™ to improve cognition, but over a longer period of time. We designed it to ameliorate some of the biological changes that occur with increasing age, so we’re targeting changes in oxidative stress, inflammation, energy production, and so on that occur with increasing age. We also designed Daily to improve your mental well-being, enhance positive mood, and reduce stress. Nootropics don’t do that.

CP: Why didn’t you use adaptogens like rhodiola or mushrooms like lion's mane in the formulation for Daily™?

CS: Adaptogens, as a term, are plant-based ingredients that are believed to reduce or improve stress. It’s a very specific term that comes out of herbalism. It’s not a construct that is part of mainstream pharmacology because modern science can’t show the mechanisms by which they claim to work. As a scientist, the term “adaptogen,” referring to the adaptation of the stress response, isn’t grounded in evidence – but I’m not saying that they may not improve well-being or reduce negative moods.

Ultimately, given what we were trying to develop, they didn’t fit the criteria for our selection for Daily™’s formulation. There are not enough clinical trials in humans to generate evidence for their efficacy. They might still work, but they haven’t been researched enough to stand up to the ingredients we did choose, which all have robust evidence from human clinical trials. We know how the ingredients in Daily™ work, and what they work for.

CP: Okay, last one: What’s your favorite way to take Daily™?

CS: I put it in a blended combination of coconut water, raspberries, and blueberries. I usually drink it before my black coffee in the morning.

Huge thanks to Con for sharing his brilliance – and his delicious preparation of Daily™ – with us. Wishing you all an emotionally intelligent weekend.

Cristina Poindexter Co-Founder