The following are some of the questions regarding brain foods
and nutrition that I've received from subscribers to the Brainpower
Newsletter. An answer (or my opinion) follows each, of course.
Q: Teachers recommended that I consume carbohydrates before
or during the exam. This made me wonder. How many grams of carbohydrates
I should consume per 15 minutes or per hour?
A: I should start by acknowledging that I'm not an expert,
though I do try to keep up on the latest news and research on
nutrition in general and brain nutrition specifically. One thing
that is clear is that complex carbohydrates are less likely to
give you that "let down" after a while, because the
are processed more slowly. So I would go with whole wheat products
versus white flour ones, or whole-grain rice versus white rice,
and so on. Stay away from sugars too.
As for amount, you might do best to experiment with that.
I am happy to hear that they'll let you eat during the tests.
You can experiment when you aren't taking a test though, to see
how you feel an hour or two after having a sandwich made with
whole grain bread, for example, or how well you function mentally
if you snack on some protein/carbohydrate food like sunflower
seeds every fifteen minutes. I am guessing that both body size
and other individual differences are important, which is why
a bit of self-experimentation is called for.
Q: What do you know about eating the seeds of fruits (such
as apples, apricots, and peaches) to increase brainpower? Is
A: Many fruit seeds are poisonous. The ones you mention all
have cyanide in them (although you might have to eat a lot to
get sick). Nuts, on the other hand, have many great things in
them (amino acids, proteins, good oils) for brainpower.
Q: Have you ever tried any supplements like fish oil or
lecithin to improve your brain?
A: I seem to feel better and think more clearly when I take
my fish oil supplements (and the health benefits are pretty well
documented), as I've doing every day lately. I used to take lecithin,
and might again. Interestingly, apart from any brain-related
benefits, about fifteen years ago when I took lecithin and cayenne
together for three weeks, my resting heart rate dropped from
about 68 to 48. Cleaned out the arteries? I like to think so
- and that would be good for blood flow to the brain I'm sure.
Though I stopped after a few weeks my heart rate stayed low for
years, and is still only back to about 60.
I also feel a bit more alert when I take niacin, although
the "flushing" effect is almost too itchy at times.
That may be resolved by taking the non-flushing form of vitamin
Q: Is it safe to mix many different brain-improving supplements
in one day?
A: Good question - one which I should probably let a doctor
answer. I suspect that the supplements which are essentially
just foods, like the simple herbs, can be used together. I have
mixed a lot of different things without any problems, but I can't
say for sure how many and in what combinations they are safe.
Q: Does smoking and drinking alcohol always hurt brainpower,
or can they help in some way?
A: From what I understand (research is always being done on
these questions), the nicotine in cigarettes may actually improve
your concentration temporarily. The problem is their addictiveness
and long-term effects. It seems clear that cigarettes harm your
body/brain over time if you are a regular smoker. So unless you
are one of the rare people (like my wife) who can have a smoke
once per month without becoming addicted and increasing the frequency,
it is better to stay away from smoking.
Alcohol once per week - or even several times weekly - will
not harm the brain according the research I have seen, as long
as you keep it to two drinks or so. In fact, there is recent
research showing that drinking alcohol may help prevent Alzheimer's
Q: Which is better for the brain: Choline or Vitamin B-12?
A: B12 has a key role in the normal functioning of the brain
as well as the nervous system. It's also involved in the metabolism
of every cell of the body. Because B-12 also is used to produce
the sheathing on nerve cells called myelin, a deficiency can
decrease the efficiency of nerve signal transmission. This is
thought to hurt memory and other cognitive functions. In fact,
it is thought that in 10% of cases of people with memory loss
who don't have Alzheimer's disease, the culprit is a B-12 deficiency.
Choline is taken for brainpower by some because it's the chemical
precursor of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is involved
in various parts of the brain. Research indicates that acetylcholine
metabolism may be needed for proper functioning of memory and
intelligence. But I really don't know which is better for the
brain. I would want to have enough of both.