How to Boost Your Intelligence

  • 1 Sep 2017
  • Reading time 10 mins
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Intelligence isn’t something that is set in stone at birth. You can increase yours at any age. The trick is knowing how. Also, there are different kinds of intelligence that respond to different approaches. Intellectual intelligence responds to methylation nutrients, while emotional intelligence is linked more closely with omega-3 fats. However, for the best effect, you need a combination of nutrients.

I first put this to the test, with schoolmaster Gwillym Roberts, when we ran a pilot trial at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition back in 1985. I had worked out the key nutrients needed for the intelligent brain, and we tested the effects byof giving these to Gwillym’s secondary school students. Then, Professor David Benton set up a proper randomised double-blind study, in which we put 30 children on a high strength multivitamin and mineral, very similar to what I recommend today, and compared them to 30 children on placebos and 30 children on nothing.

In those days we only knew about IQ, not EQ(emotional) or CQ (connection). There’s also PQ(physical). (I’ll show you how to test yourself on all types of intelligence later.) So Professor Benton used the best measures for IQ and, after 7 months, the childrenkids on the vitamins had gone up a massive 10 points, versus 3 points on placebo and next to nothing in the control group. To put this in context a 5 point shift would get half of all childrenkids classified as ‘special needs’ back into the normal category.

BBC Horizon filmed the study, the Lancet [1] published it in 1987, and it hit front page news. Every vitamin supplement in Britain sold out the next day!

But here’s the irony. Thirty years on not one single nutrient we gave has been shown to raise IQ alone. It has to be in combination.

Meet the Brain Makers

I’m pretty certain I know why and I want to share this with you. It all comes down to understanding how the brain develops. The dry weight of your brain is 60 per cent fat. The trillions of brain cells are largely made out of essential fats, bound to phospholipids. The binding together of these essential brain components, depends on methylation nutrients, mainly B vitamins. These three families of nutrients – essential fats, phospholipids and methylation nutrients – are the brain makers.

Don’t think all this brain building ever stops. The average brain cell makes 10,000 connections to others and you are making these at a rate of one a minute! So, even as you read this you are (potentially) enhancing your brain’s connections. How and where these connections are made is key.

Women, for example, have more connections between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which increases their EQ and CQ over men’s. Men tend to higher IQ. But the amino acid pyroglutamate enhances the left and right brain connections, building more neuronal connections, as well as protecting memory, as shown in animal studies [2].

Achieving an optimal supply of all these nutrients is central, not only to intelligence and memory, but also your mood and emotional intelligence. As the speed of life and pace of change accelerates, and our lifespan extends, the brain, more than any other organ, feels the strain reflected in an ever-increasing incidence of depression, dementia and ADHD.

To what extent can these problems be avoided by an optimal supply of the brain makers? In past newsletters I’ve reported on studies showing that B vitamins [3] were remarkably protective against brain shrinkage – but especially in people with enough omega-3s [4], illustrating that brain makers work together. Those with an insufficient dietary intake couldn’t derive the remarkable memory boosting effects of the specific B vitamins (more on this later). Similarly, omega-3s, on their own, are way less effective. But there’s a third class of brain-friendly nutrients, called phospholipids. Everything in the diagram below, showsing what a neuron (brain cell) is made of starting with ‘phospha’ is (a phospholipid). I both eat and supplement these every day. Phospholipids have to bind to omega-3s to build brain cells, which is a process dependent on methylation, largely driven by B vitamins.

Brainmaker No.1 - Essential brain fats

As far as essential fats are concerned the most abundant in the brain is DHA – it makes up a quarter of the brain’s cerebral cortex. Oily fish contain roughly equal amounts of EPA and DHA. Only ‘DHA, alone or combined with EPA, contributes to improved memory function in older adults (45+) with mild memory complaints’, concludes a meta-analysis published last month in the Public Library of Services journal [4]. The benefit, they say, is apparently driven by DHA, at a daily level between 500 and 1,000mg. There is also evidence of benefit for schoolchildren. [5]

On the other hand, EPA has strong anti-depressant effects. Last year a meta-analysis concluded that ‘the use of omega-3 is effective in patients with diagnosis of depression’ [6]. A similar dose is needed for an effect.

These omegas have more of an effect on EQ (emotional intelligence) than IQ. That’s why studies show childrenkids become less aggressive and reactive and calm down. Which That’s what helps them concentrate better. The same is true for all of us. We become dumber when emotions are running high.

To achieve at least 500mg of both EPA and DHA does mean supplementing them, as well as eating fish. I take a twice daily capsule giving me 250mg of each, and eat oily fish three times a week, plus a tub of taramasalata – fish roe is a great source. I also eat chia seeds, the highest vegetarian source of omega 3.

Brainmaker No.2 - Phospholipids

All fish, not just oily fish, are an excellent source of the next brain maker – phospholipids, as are eggs. They are the backbone of brain cells – the essential fats literally hang off them creating the intelligent membrane ......

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