Tagintelligence enhancement

Fructose Fogs the Brain New Study on Rats Suggests

A high intake of fructose impairs the cognitive abilities of rats by interfering with insulin signaling, but omega-3 fatty acids (n-3) reduces those negative effects effects according to a study from the Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology UCLA published in Journal of Physiology.

Although headlines today, including my own, emphasize the study’s findings regarding the impairing effects of high levels of fructose, the study also highlights the importance of n-3 acids, specifically DHA, to cognitive function. The authors of the study conclude: “In terms of public health, these results support the encouraging possibility that healthy diets can attenuate the action of unhealthy diets such that the right combination of foods is crucial for a healthy brain.”

The study, conducted by Rahul Agrawal1 and Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, consisted of four groups of six rats:

  • one group ate an n-3 deficient diet with a fructose solution
  • one group ate an n-3 deficient diet without a fructose solution
  • one group ate an n-3 sufficient diet with a fructose solution
  • one group ate an n-3 sufficient diet without a fructose solution

Each group was tested on a Barnes maze, a standard measure of spatial learning and memory in rodents. Prior to beginning their special diets all of the rats had been trained in the maze for a five days were found to be of equal cognitive condition.

The study found that an n-3 deficient diet hampered the rats’ performance on the maze, and that adding high fructose intake to an n-3 deficient diet made things substantially worse. The rats with an n-3 sufficient diet but a high level of fructose did significantly better than those with a n-3 deficient diet and a high level of fructose, but still did worse than those with a deficient n-3 level but no fructose. Here’s an illustration of the latency in completing the maze (lower is better):

Comparison of latency times in Barnes maze test

The study notes: “Although there was a preference towards fructose drinking in comparison to the food intake, no differences were observed in body weight and total caloric intake, thus suggesting that obesity is not a major contributor to altered memory functions in this model.”

Full Paper: The Journal of Physiology: ‘Metabolic syndrome’ in the brain: deficiency in omega-3 fatty acid exacerbates dysfunctions in insulin receptor signalling and cognition

This is a new study and has yet to be replicated, and so far its implications for human diets is unclear. “We’re not talking about naturally occurring fructose in fruits, which also contain important antioxidants,” Gomez-Pinilla said in a pres release. “We’re concerned about high-fructose corn syrup that is added to manufactured food products as a sweetener and preservative.”

Although studies have found positive benefits in taking DHA supplements (see Wikipedia for an overview), previous study by Nutritional Sciences Division at King’s College London on the DHA levels in vegans and vegetarians concluded that although those who don’t eat meat have significantly lower levels of DHA “There is no evidence of adverse effects on health or cognitive function with lower DHA intake in vegetarians.” However, there are now a number of algae based vegan DHA supplements.

What’s Next for Cognitive Training Games?

brain

Most of the cognitive training games of 2011 resemble the simple games you can play online for free or apps designed for smartphones. However, in ten years, we can expect many of the big developers, following Nintendo’s lead, to introduce critical gaming elements. Envision games featuring improved graphics, compelling gameplay, and engaging storylines that compel players to train their brains often and in a variety of ways. Imagine a role-playing game (RPG) in which your character’s level and progress are determined in part by your performance on a variety of cognitive training tasks, and the selection of tasks are dependent on the class chosen by the player, and thus tailored made for each individual user. Much in the same way that RPG style games will foster unique training experiences, cognitive training games in general will become tailored to individual interests, focusing on training specific cognitive mechanisms, rather than providing a general training regimen that the user may not be looking for. […]

Non-Conscious Defenses- Starting all the way back in the 1950’s, firms have sought to understand human psychology in order to capitalize on our biases and tendencies through influencing us on the sub-conscious level. In the past couple decades however, research into non-conscious processing and subliminal priming have begun to unravel the fascinating ways that people develop preferences for products and how they estimate value. Companies have been following this research closely and already implement their findings into many forms of media: magazines, movies and even presidential election commercials (5). Expect that training games will begin to offer cognitive defenses against advertising seeking to influence us on the sub conscious level.

The Future of Brain Workouts

See also: N-Back Training Exercise Still Holding Up in Tests

N-Back Training Exercise Still Holding Up in Tests

soakyourhead screenshot
Above: the Soak Your Head Dual N-Back Application

I’ve covered research on how most brain training exercises don’t actually hold-up in tests. The good news is that dual n-back training, also covered here previously, is continuing to hold up in tests:

Jonides, who is the Daniel J. Weintraub Collegiate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, collaborated with colleagues at U-M, the University of Bern and the University of Tapei on a series of studies with more than 200 young adults and children, demonstrating the effects of various kinds of n-back mental training exercises. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and by the Office of Naval Research.

According to Jonides, the n-back task taps into a crucial brain function known as working memory—the ability to maintain information in an active, easily retrieved state, especially under conditions of distraction or interference. Working memory goes beyond mere storage to include processing information.

Medical Express: A Brain Training Exercise That Really Does Work

(Thanks Bill!)

Soak Your Head offers a free Web-based n-back training program, but it requires Microsoft Silverlight. You can find a list of other applications here.

Another way to boost your mental capabilities? Play first person shooters. This NPR story provides an overview of the research. You can also find a research paper that looks at multiple studies here (PDF).

The best way to stave off cognitive decline, however, may be to spend time socializing with friends.

Coffee: The Original Smart Drug and Aphrodisiac

Coffee: Grounds for Debate, a title in the Philosophy for Everyone series, argues that coffee is a performance-enhancing drug for thinkers. “The appropriate analogy is that coffee and philosophy go together like foreplay and sex,” insist editors Scott F Parker and Michael W Austin. “You can have one without the other, but the latter is better with the former and the former often leads to the latter.” Philosopher Basam Romaya says: “With the use of coffee, critical thinking abilities are sharpened, attention to detail enhanced.” This is a venerable claim: in the 16th century, Sheik Abd-al-Kadir, an Arab scholar, said: “No one can understand the truth until he drinks of coffee’s frothy goodness.” […]

So what about impotence? That does seem to have been overstated. The Women’s Petition Against Coffee prompted a broadside from men who argued that it “makes the erection more Vigorous, the Ejaculation more full, adds spiritualescency to the Sperme”. Initially I wasn’t sure what “spiritualescency” means, either, until I read in this book that caffeine increases sperm motility. That said, some say coffee may harm the sperm while speeding it on its way, which makes a kind of sense.

The Guardian: Can coffee wreck your marriage?

(via James Governor)

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