Upon first entering the world of smart drugs and brain health, many people take the Eric Braverman test found in his 2005 book The Edge Effect. In fact, many of the people who become interested in nootropics and smart drugs in the first place are educated through his material.
The Braverman test (also known as the Braverman assessment) is a subjective analysis of your brain neurotransmitters to see a snapshot of your dominant and deficient chemicals.
Many people complete the Braverman test while reading the book, though the PDF is available through many sources.
While understanding neurotransmitter imbalances from The Edge Effect is valuable information, 12 years after publication we have important insights that can help you to better interpret the results and supplement strategically.
What the Braverman Test Says About the Brain
The best part of the Braverman test is the emphasis on your individuality and unique brain chemistry. Many people purchase nootropic stacks, such as Qualia, Alpha Brain, CILTEP, or OptiMind, and believe these 1-size-fits all solutions will solve their problems.
The reality is, some nootropics work for some people and some don’t. For genetic and environmental reasons, we all have slightly different brain chemistries, which is why self-responsibility with smart drugs is so imperative.
While the Braverman test is a step in the right direction, there are a few flaws so it is important to take the results with a grain of salt.
#1. Subjective testing – the Braverman assessment does not really snapshot neurotransmitter levels. It essentially asks a series of questions to infer your neurotransmitters based on your behavior. Humans are notoriously bad at determining our own mental state.
#2. Neurotransmitters are part of the story – beyond the fact that the Braverman test doesn’t tell us our true neurotransmitters, even these brain chemicals only comprise a portion of our cognitive abilities and mental performance.
Other factors include the level of blood flow to the brain, the protective mechanisms that prevent neurons from dying, and a host of others.
With that more sobering and realistic view of the Braverman assessment, it is still a great place to get started.
Until technology adapts to get true snapshots of our neurotransmitter levels, this is one of the best options we currently have.
It is also the simplest and most affordable way for people to learn about their unique brain chemistry and change their lifestyle and supplementation accordingly.
Braverman Assessment Results and Interpretation
The Braverman neurotransmitter imbalance quiz is simply True / False questions that will take anywhere between 10 – 15 minutes to complete. Try to do it all at once, consider an average day (not your worst or best) and go through without thinking too much about each question.
As the test explains, once you are finished you will have a Dominant nature where your brain chemicals are normal or elevated and a Deficient nature, which needs dietary and supplemental support.
Because the test is subjective, we will not break it down into minor, moderate, or major deficits.
One of the biggest problems with The Edge Effect is high recommendations based on inaccurate (though better than nothing) data.
For focus and concentration, dopamine is one of the most important brain chemicals and any kind of deficiency can lead to loss of energy, fatigue, and poor attention span.
Because dopamine is also involved with mood and positive feelings, being deficient in dopamine could cause symptoms of sadness.
Dietary recommendations to consume more tyrosine and phenylalanine (such as most meat products) are spot on, but don’t really touch on other lifestyle habits that impact this brain chemical.
Lifestyle factors, such as hot showers and your sex life, can influence dopamine levels as well. Sex and ejaculation provide so much dopamine to the brain , it is possible for men to become addicted to a pornography habit .
Sweet foods also release dopamine, which means many sweet cravings could be related to a deficiency of dopamine in the brain. Limiting sweets helps us prevent instant dopamine hits versus manufacturing it on our own via amino acids.
N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine – this is a slightly more effective version of tyrosine, which you can supplement in small doses. Usually N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine is referred to as NALT.
Mucuna Pruriens – this is a natural bean found in Africa, which is one of the best sources of L-DOPA, which crosses the blood brain barrier and turns into dopamine.
Some people don’t like mucuna pruriens because it bypasses an enzymatic process in the brain called “tyrosine hydroxylase”, but this is one of the most effective ways to add dopamine to your brain without amphetamine based drugs like Adderall.
In contrast to dopamine, GABA is the neurochemical related to relaxation, sleep, and winding down. Some of the symptoms of a GABA deficiency include irritability, anxiety, and poor mood. People with deficiencies in GABA often have a difficult time going to sleep.
GABA is one of the primary mechanisms related to sleep and the human mechanism is an incredibly complex system. One of Dr. Eric Braverman’s recommendation is to eat complex carbohydrates at night (sweet potatoes etc), which can impact GABA production.
For people who don’t eat these types of food (such as a ketogenic diet), there are alternative lifestyle factors at play. For example, our circadian rhythm often determines the production of certain brain chemicals. If you go to sleep at the same time every night, your brain will known when it is time to produce GABA for you .
Beyond going to sleep at a similar time every night, a pre-bed ritual can aid your natural circadian rhythm. Turning off blue light can signal night and a close to the day . Apps for Mac include Flux , the iPhone now has settings integrated to turn off blue light as well.
GABA – don’t even bother. Such a small percentage of GABA crosses the blood-brain barrier, it is almost not worth it. Especially when there are more effective (natural) alternatives, just don’t buy GABA.
Lemon Balm – this Mediterranean herb has been used for thousands of years and helps improve GABA levels different than others. Instead of increasing GABA, lemon balm inhibits an enzyme called GABA transaminase which is responsible for breaking down the neurotransmitter . If you prevent this breakdown, that means more GABA remains in the brain.
Probiotics – while probiotics are a general health benefit, evidence suggests it is particularly interesting for GABA and serotonin upregulation . We know the gut has a role in enzymatic and brain function, but it seems mechanisms are particular to GABA levels.
Acetylcholine is the neurotransmitter largely implicated in memory formation, storage, learning, and brain speed. People who are deficient in acetylcholine often feel mentally sluggish, forgetful, and long-term effects include Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Dr. Braverman seems to have covered the acetylcholine section relatively well. From a dietary perspective, the more cruciferous vegetables and eggs that you eat, the better. Dairy and soy products are probably not worth the side effects, which makes them poor sources of choline in the scheme of your overall health.
CDP Choline / Alpha GPC – there are multiple choline sources, but only two that are yield high quantities of choline (which converts into acetylcholine). Both citicoline (CDP choline) and alpha GPC are great by themselves, but also go well with a host of other nootropic compounds.
Centrophenoxine – while this is a synthetic compound, it can increase the release of acetylcholine in the brain . Studies of centrophenoxine are scarce at the moment, but preliminary evidence suggests it is a great cognitive enhancer and particularly through the mechanism of increasing acetylcholine release in the brain.
Primarily associated with mood, a lack of serotonin can lead to depression symptoms. Many people experience poor sleep and memory loss as a result of low serotonin levels.
While serotonin is important, it is primarily considered the culprit responsible for depression. Serotonin might be involved with depressed patients, but it may also be a symptom of a larger problem . Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) are prescribed in alarming rates to boost serotonin levels.
Common serotonin over the counter supplements, such as 5-HTP, are okay but in an ideal world tryptophan would work better. Tryptophan turns into 5-HTP, but the enzyme “tryptophan hydroxylase” prevents overdose quantities of serotonin whereas 5-HTP skips this step .
Beyond the usual suspects Dr. Braverman mentions (fish oil, SAM-e, St. John’s Wort, and tryptophan), there is only one to add:
Microdosing psychedelics – if you are in a position to microdose psychedelic compounds, such as LSD or psilocybin, it may help to increase serotonin in the brain. At the very least, it influences serotonergic systems and have a host of benefits 
Taking the Braverman Test to the Next Level
The enthusiasm to go find neurotransmitter tests and quantify your own brain is great, but unfortunately there is no good outlet to learn about your real neurotransmitter levels. Both saliva and urine neurotransmitter tests are considered unreliable according to Dr. Weil .
Dr. Nora Gedgaudas (who specializes in a ancestral wellness approach to health), has the following to say about neurotransmitter tests:
“Save yourself dough and aggravation. Next time you’re wondering what neurotransmitters you might be short of, just take an internal inventory of how you are feeling instead…” 
Once you have taken the Braverman test and have your first reading, try to make a few (not all) changes to balance your brain chemistry and check again in 6 weeks. This will give yourself enough time to determine whether it worked (i.e: whether you feel better) and take the Braverman assessment without recognizing all the questions.
- References (Click to Expand)
- See “Introduction” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2701287/