One of the most exciting areas opening up in nutrition is the discovery that not only can some nutrients make us more intelligent but the right ones can also improve our short and long term memory. Some also boost mood and energy.
How well we are able to concentrate affects practically everything we do, not just studying or taking exams. For instance, a better memory might improve our performance at work; it could also help us remember people’s names, or actually get the shopping we set out for. Most people would like to be better at solving problems and planning, to fathom how to get the best rate of return for our money, for instance. Then there’s mood. How many of us could say that we never get depressed, that we aren’t interested in knowing how to influence how we feel?
But are these real possibilities, or just wishful thinking? Certainly pharmaceutical companies are spending a fortune on the development of smart drugs. But drugs are drugs… they are foreign to the body and it is impossible to tell what their long term effects might be. The good news, however, is that there are natural substances, found in the body and in our food, that really can make us smarter. In fact, in many cases drug companies start with a nutrient and distort it, not because changing it makes it better or stronger, but because that’s how they make their profit, as they cannot patent a natural substance.
Lecithin is a super food that is normally extracted from soy. Its most important ingredient is phosphatidyl choline, known as PC, which is probably the body’s best source of choline. Choline is needed to make acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter that is important for thought transmission, and has been shown to improve performance in intelligence and memory tests.
PC itself is the major ingredient from which all cell membranes are made. The membranes of cells where most electrochemical activities take place, including those connected with thinking. PC Is also the major ingredient of mitochondria, the energy factories inside every cell of the body, where our food is burned for energy. So PC can help us build energy and combat fatigue, as well as enhance brain power.
Our grandmothers were right when they said that eating fish would make us brainier. Fish, it turns out, contain a nutrient called DMAE (di-methyl-amino-ethanol) that enhances memory and concentration, as well as energy and mood. DMAE, which occurs naturally in the brain in small amounts, achieves its effects by increasing the production of acetylcholine, important for memory and learning.
People given DMAE report that they feel more wide awake during the day and sleep sounder at night, often needing less sleep. After two to three weeks they commonly experience a mild state of stimulation which, unlike that produced by coffee and other stimulants, has no side effects and no let down when discontinued.
DMAE has also been shown to improve memory and learning, increase intelligence and raise physical energy. Powers of concentration may be considerably increased. In children it has been used to improve learning problems, under achievement and shortened attention span. It has even helped children with hyperactivity or behavioral problems.
Perhaps this interesting nutrient’s best bonus, however, is its effect on mood. Doctors and psychiatrists report that patients on DMAE are more affable, develop a more outgoing personality and show greater insight.
Your body can’t make acetylcholine for intelligent thinking without using pantothenic acid, also known as vitamin B5, for its assembly from choline. So if you’re taking lecithin, choline or DMAE, you need to make sure you have a source of pantothenic acid as well. Pantothenic acid is also a stamina enhancer as it is essential for making steroid hormones, including natural cortisone, which is particularly important when you’re under stress.
As people age, their memory tends to decline. This may be connected with a reduced ability to make certain substances, such as acetylcholine. When older people with age related memory losses were given pyroglutamate, their verbal memory improved. Other research trials, with people suffering from poor memory as a result of alcohol use, found that pyroglutamate significantly improved their short and long term memory retrieval and also helped their long term storage and consolidation of memory.
Pyroglutamate is a more potent relative of glutamine, the amino acid that can improve reduced mental performance. It is found in large quantities in the brain, cerebrospinal fluid and the blood, and is also present in vegetables and other foods. In Italy, a form of the nutrient called arginine pyroglutamate is used to treat senility, mental retardation and alcoholism.
Niacin, which is also called nicotinic acid or vitamin B3, has been shown to enhance memory. It also has many other important functions. When young and middle-aged subjects were given either niacin or a placebo, the ones who got the niacin managed between 10 per cent and 40 per cent improvement on memory tests.