How to Boost Your Intelligence

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 thate not only holds neurons together but contains the receptor sites for neurotransmitters, the brain’s communication molecules. They are semi-essential, meaning that the body can make them but growing evidence shows that we just don’t make enough and need to get a direct source from diet or supplements.

The most abundant phospholipid in the brain is phosphatidyl choline (PC). Also important is phosphatidyl serine (PS).

Both PC and PS [7] have been shown to improve memory, concentration, speed of thinking and protect those with mental illness. [8] One study gave students a large dose of PC and reported memory improvement within 90 minutes. [9]

Lecithin granules or capsules are a direct source of PC. I supplement both PC and PS, together with pyroglutamate and B vitamins in my brain food formula, as well as making a point to eat six eggs a week, plus five servings of fish. These are also included in my children’s formula.

Brainmaker No.3 – Methylation nutrients

There are a billion ‘methylation’ reactions every few seconds in your brain. Methylation turns genes on and off, repairs DNA, makes neurotransmitters and phospholipids and is also needed to attach them to essential omegas. It is the builder, while omegas and phospholipids are the building material. If your homocysteine level in high you’ve got a methylation problem. Homocysteine, in children, predicts IQ and school grades. [10]

The three most important methylation nutrients are vitamins B12, folate and B6. But you also need methyl groups. Greens contain the natural ‘methyl’-folate vitamin, but it is an unstable form. That’s why most supplements contain the stable form called folic acid – but it has to be converted into 5-methylfolate (5-MTHF) to work properly and not everyone is good at doing this (see chart below). Recently, stable forms of methyl-folate have become available and are preferable in lowering high homocysteine levels, thus improving methylation. Lentils, beans, nuts and seeds are also an important source of folates. Later in life B12 absorption can become impaired so B12 is especially important to supplement in relatively high doses – from a base of 10mcg to 500mcg if homocysteine level is high. ‘Methyl’ B12 also works better than just B12 if you aren’t a good B12 absorber. TMG and zinc also help lower homocysteine. That’s why I include all these in my ‘Connect’ formula for supporting healthy methylation.

Other B vitamins are also important. Niacin, or B3, is particularly good for memory enhancement. In one study [12] 141mg of niacin was given daily to a group of subjects of various ages. Memory was improved by 10-40 per cent in all age groups. B5 (pantothenic acid) is essential for the brain to make acetycholine. A recent study looked at intake of B vitamins from age 7 to 20, and measured cognitive function at age 25 in 3,000 young adults. They found that the higher their intake of niacin (B3), B6, B12 or folate the greater were their cognitive abilities. [13]

It is important to remember that B vitamins should be taken in a complex, i.e. all together and, if you wish to concentrate on a specific B vitamin, take this in conjunction with a multivitamin.

Brain maker No 4 – pyroglutamate

The amino acid pyroglutamate and its derivatives, which are highly concentrated in the human brain and spinal fluid, improve learning, memory, concentration and the speed of reflexes.

Pyroglutamate does three things that helps memory and mental alertness. It increases the production of acetylcholine, it also increases the number of receptors for acetylcholine and improves communication between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. In other words, it improves the brain’s talking, listening and cooperation.

Pyroglutamate is found in many foods, including fish, dairy products, fruit and vegetables. The most common form found in supplements is arginine pyroglutamate. You need about 400mg to 1000mg a day for an optimal brain function.

So, for a healthy brain, you want to eat fish, eggs, greens, beans, nuts and chia seeds and supplement extra omega 3 fish oil, high in DHA and EPA, plus phospholipids and methylation nutrients – B6, B12 and folate, plus zinc and TMG. It is especially important for vegans to supplement these nutrients, including a seaweed derived source of EPA and DHA if unwilling to take fish oil capsules. Vegetarians have, on average, 60% lower levels of omega-3 in their blood than those who eat fish and much lower levels of brain-friendly DHA.

The real gold, if you want to optimise your intelligence is to both eat these foods and supplement:

  • A high strength multivitamin and mineral with at least 10mcg of B12, 10mg of zinc, 150mg of magnesium and all the rest.
  • An essential omega providing both DHA, EPA and GLA. You want at least 500mg of combined EPA & DHA a day, as well as three servings of oily fish a week.
  • A phospholipid complex, ideally with pyroglutamate.

Test your intelligence: Test your total intelligence in 5 minutes at: –

Dig deeper: read Optimum Nutrition for the Mind or Optimum Nutrition for Your Child and the recipe book Smart Food for Smart Kids. Also, the Alzheimer’s Prevention Plan.



  1. D Benton and G Roberts, Lancet, 1988
  2. H Pitch and WE Miller, Psychopharmacology, 1988 and O Blin et al, Psychopharmacology (Berl), 2009
  3. AD Smith et al, PLoS ONE, 2010
  4. F Jerneren, Am J Clin Nutr, 2015
  5. K Yurko-Mauro et al, PLoS ONE, 2015
  6. W Stonehouse, Nutrients, 2014
  7. G Grosso et al, PLoS ONE, 2014
  8. M Glade and K Smith, Nutrition, 2015
  9. V Knott et al, Pharmacol Biochem Behav, 2015
  10. S Ladd et al, Clin Neuropharmacol, 1993
  11. TK Nilsson et al, Pediatrics, 2011
  12. S Loriaux et al, Psychopharmacology, 1985
  13. B Qin, Am J Clin Nutr, 2017