Concerned about your cognitive functions? Did you read “Brain Damage - 83 ways to stupefy intelligence” and realize that your mind’s been mercilessly mutilated? Fear not. There’s hope. Neurogenesis - the growth of brain cells - can be activated via several science-proven techniques. Many are recent discoveries, one is as ancient as bipedalism, one is futuristic, one is wet and weird. To pop open your head, read on:
Tea - Jumpstart your mental juices with the camellia sinensis infusion that’s been swallowed for 12,000 years. A 2010 National University of Singapore study of 719 Chinese adults aged 55+ concluded that tea consumption provided “better performances on global cognition, memory, executive function, and information processing speed.” Green and black/oolong tea delivered the highest benefits. Another 2010 study from UCLA of 4,809 participants aged 65+ indicated that tea drinkers who imbibed 1-4 times/week experienced cognitive decline at a rate 37 percent lower than non-tea drinkers.
Dual N-back Test - Schoolchildren in the Detroit area demonstrated a 5.0 fluid IQ gain after one month of training for 15 minutes a day, with this repetitive learning device that is often described as “boring.” The Dual N-back Test helps practitioners “focus on the necessary facts [and] squander less short-term memory on irrelevant details,” claims a June 11, 2011 Wall Street Journal article, that cited a 2010 report by researchers from the University of Michigan, University of Bern (Switzerland) and National Taiwan Normal University. Want to try it right now? Programs similar to the Dual N-back used in the study are available HERE and HERE.
Running - Nihon Fukushi University researchers in Japan, led by Dr. Kisou Kubota, determined that young people running 30 minutes a day 2-3 days a week for 12 weeks improved memory and other mental skills on an intellectual test. The smart gains collapsed when the joggers stopped their training, implying that ongoing exercise is required to maintain the benefit. Findings were presented in San Diego at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.
Strength Training - Scientists at the Brain Research Center at the University of British Columbia determined that elderly women who “strength train” do better in cognition tests than women who do toning work. Principal investigator Teresa Liv-Ambers found “encouraging” evidence of neurogenesis in brain scans of the weight-lifting women. Rat studies in Brazil - with weight-bearing rodents climbing ladders and negotiating mazes - reached parallel conclusions. The rats had considerably higher levels of B.D.N.F.; a growth factor that triggers neurogenesis.
St. John’s Wort is a medicinal plant (Hypericum perforatum) that’s been used for 5,000 years. In the Middle Ages it’s yellow flowers were harvested on June 24, the feast day of Saint John the Baptist. One of its derivatives, hyperforin, was tested in a 2010 study at the Universidad Catolica de Chile. The review concluded that hyperforin “has been shown to have cognitive enhancing and memorizing facilitating properties [and] neuroprotective effects against Alzheimer’s disease.” Another study, from Poland, claims St. John’s Wort can “relieve negative effects of stress on spatial working memory.”
Electric Hippocampal System - Researchers at the University of Southern California recently invented an artificial hippocampal system (the hippocampus is a major component of the brain located in the limbic system). The prosthetic device returned long-term memory capability to participating rats who were “pharmacologically-blocked”, and it enhanced the memory capability of rodents who had normal-functioning hippocampi. The researchers will next seek to duplicate the results in monkeys, with the eventual goal of creating devices that assist stroke victims, Alzheimer’s disease patients, and other humans plagued with forgetfulness.
Held-Breath Underwater Swimming - This fluid idea was initially advanced by Dr. Win Wenger, the author of 48 books, including How To Increase Your Intelligence and The Einstein Factor. He asserts that holding your breath underwater for 20 hours - 1 hour per day for 3 weeks - builds up carbon dioxide in the bloodstream to expand carotid arteries that feed circulation, thereby improving the physical condition of the brain, for a “10 or more points I.Q. gain; better span of attention; better span of awareness; better awareness of the interrelatedness of things and of ideas and/or perceptions; finding yourself way better at winning arguments or disputes!”
The cerebral upgrade is due to our body’s “mammalian diving response” - a physiological survival reflex that’s triggered by cold water contacting the face. The reflex allows mammals to submerge underwater for longer periods of time, optimizing respiration and conserving oxygen, by dropping the heart rate, increasing the blood pressure, and redistributing circulation. Competitive “apneic divers” can hold their breath underwater for over 17 minutes.
Does this really make you smarter? The “Thomas Edison of Japan” seems to be living proof. Yoshiro NakaMats - a nutty inventor with 3,200-4,000 patents, including the floppy disc, CD, DVD, digital watch, and taxicab meter - attributes his phenomenal creativity to holding his breath underwater. His ideas bubble up when he sits on the bottom of his swimming pool, scribbling ideas down on a Plexiglass water-proof pad, that he invented (see photo above and linked video).
Ready to start? Surprisingly enough, nearly all the techniques are free. Many work splendidly in combinations, like gulping a heady brew that mixes Green Tea with St. John’s Wort, or jogging furiously on a treadmill as you do the Dual N-back Test, before submerging your sweaty self in a cold pool to pump heavy iron in the deep end.
Didn’t think of that? Don’t worry, you will.
Hank Pellissier serves as IEET Interim Managing Director and Fundraiser. He was IEET’s Managing Director on January-October in 2012, and is an IEET Affiliate Scholar.