The guide to methylene blue: A potential cognitive enhancer surges 300% in interest

Once a textile dye and malaria treatment, methylene blue has re-emerged as a cognitive enhancer, sparking interest among biohackers and mainstream consumers for its versatile benefits. The data in this article was provided by Antlerzz, a healthcare marketing firm specialising in the longevity industry.

Blue tongues are wagging about a super brain supplement. Yet, this is not a new innovation. Traditionally used as a textile dye and a treatment for malaria, methylene blue has been around for over 100 years. However, it is experiencing a remarkable resurgence – this time, as a potential cognitive enhancer. Bursting out from the back of dark clinical medicine cabinets, methylene blue is now being endorsed by biohackers across mainstream channels. Online searches for this versatile compound have skyrocketed 300% in the US in the past five years.But what exactly is methylene blue, and why is it generating such buzz? We explore its traditional uses, its emerging role in brain health, and the factors driving its newfound popularity.

Antlerzz founders Indi Kalirai (L) and Line Wegner Hausken (R)
Antlerzz founders Indi Kalirai (L) and Line Wegner Hausken (R)

What is methylene blue?

Methylene blue was initially used as a textile dye and later became a breakthrough malaria treatment. As a medication, it is listed on the WHO’s list of essential medicines. It’s primarily used to treat a rare blood condition called methemoglobinemia, where red blood cells struggle to carry oxygen. Methylene blue works by converting the form of iron in hemoglobin, which reduces oxygen transport, back to a form that allows it to function properly.

But this doesn’t explain the surge in interest. Over the past five years, searches for this potential cognitive enhancer have skyrocketed by 233% in the UK and a whopping 300% in the US! Online data trends indicate a growing awareness of the supplements potential brain benefits. This interest is particularly strong in the US, likely due to the wider availability of the supplement. Globally, the growth is slower (122% over five years), but there are regions where interest is starting to spike.

What uses are there for methylene blue?

Methylene blue is a highly versatile compound with many applications. Therefore, the recent spike in interest could be attributable to several factors. Yet, a closer look at the data indicates the largest search volumes are health related. Aside from the industrial uses as a dye, methylene blue’s uses include:

• Antiseptic Properties: Effective in preventing infections and treating minor wounds.

• Medical Diagnostic Tool: Helps identify leaks in the digestive or urinary system.

• Life-Saving Treatment: Combats methemoglobinemia, a condition hindering oxygen transport in blood.Studies also suggest it can help with low blood pressureimprove oxygen flow and circulation problems in people with severe liver disease and septic shock.

• Biological and Microbiological Applications: This includes cell staining and microorganism culture

• Nootropic: Methylene blues recent emergence as a nootropic is what has got people excited. It is being used as a cognitive enhancer to boost memory, mood and prevent protein buildup associated with Alzheimer’s.

Benefits of methylene blue

To understand the scale of interest in methylene blue, there are almost 10k searches for it per month in the UK – more than trendy superfood cacao powder. In the US there are over 60k searches. A significant driver behind this is the supplements reported benefits to enhance health and well-being. This versatile compound acts like a cellular energizer, boosting your body’s natural power plant – the mitochondria. This translates to a range of benefits:

Hype or reality? What’s driving the popularity? 

Studies into methylene blue are promising yet still in their infancy. A key driver behind the growing interest is social media and in particular the biohacking movement online. This explains the significant interest spike in the US, home to a large biohacking community. Social media’s visual nature might also play a role. Biohackers often showcase their blue-tinged tongues after taking methylene blue, creating a unique (and perhaps eye-catching) trend. This visual element could be a key reason why so many young people (over 40% of UK searches are by 18–24-year-olds) are curious about the supplement.

Methylene blue dose

There has been a rise in interest in taking at-home tests, indicating people looking for proactive measures to safeguard their health. Yet, in the US, dose related searches for methylene blue are only 3% of the total volume searching for the supplement. This is surprising given it can cause toxicity in high doses. Moreover, there is no agreed dosage for the supplement if taking it as a nootropic. Dosing can be individual because of variation in rates of absorption. It is suggested to begin with a small dosage and increase it if necessary. Studies using small dosages have shown positive results on memory and brain function. A small dosage is typically 0.5mg per kilogram of body weight. Furthermore, research indicates therapeutic doses should be less than 2mg/kg.

Side effects of methylene blue

Interest in the side effects of methylene blue also remain low in the UK and US. This accounts for only 4% of the total volume searching for methylene blue in the US. While therapeutic levels of methylene blue are generally considered safe, the Mayo Clinic highlights around 30 side effects and 180 medications that can interact negatively with it. Here’s a breakdown of what to watch for:

Common and Temporary Effects:

  • Discoloration: Your urine and stool may temporarily turn blue or green. This is harmless and usually resolves on its own.
  • Digestive Issues: Mild nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea can occur in some individuals. These are typically temporary and subside with continued use.

Less Common but More Serious Side Effects:

  • Allergic Reactions: While rare, allergic reactions like rash, itching, swelling, or breathing difficulties can happen. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience these symptoms.
  • High Blood Pressure: Methylene blue may elevate blood pressure in some individuals.
  • Breathing Issues: Shortness of breath is a potential side effect
  • Headaches and Dizziness: Headaches, confusion, or light-headedness may occur.
  • Chest or Abdominal Pain: Discomfort in the chest or abdomen can happen in some cases.
  • Serotonin Syndrome: This rare but serious condition can occur if methylene blue is combined with certain medications that affect serotonin levels.

While generally safe, methylene blue may interact with certain medications or health conditions. Consult your doctor before use, especially if you have G6PD deficiency, kidney/liver issues, low blood pressure, or take medications for depression or other conditions.

Considerations for users and the industry

The skyrocketing interest in the supplement as a cognitive enhancer presents exciting possibilities but also highlights the need for caution and responsible practices. While social media portrays a rosy picture, remember that methylene blue research is ongoing. Consulting a clinician before use is critical if you have pre-existing health conditions or medications. Don’t be swayed by visuals – focus on dosage guidelines and potential side effects.

Moreover, with rising demand, the industry needs to ensure responsible marketing and clear communication of potential risks. Transparency regarding dosage, side effects, and ongoing research is essential. Methylene blue’s potential is undeniable, but responsible use and ongoing research are key to unlocking its true benefits.

Photograph: FabrikaPhoto/Envato
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