Whether it is Work, University Exams, A-levels, or general homework we all know how distressing it is wanting to enjoy your freeitime when you have the lingering burden of work hanging over your head! What if there was something to boost your brain power, and make working less of a chore?
How does our brain process information?
The brain is a complicated matrix of billions of neurons. Science has dictated that 95% of the human brain is developed by the age of 6 and the rest is simply growing and developing as we reach adolescent years [1,2].
Learning is a hugely complex ordeal. It combines neurons and sensory information to create (hopefully) long lasting memories. It is thought that as we learn a new skill we make and break connections (neurons) in the brain. Scientists have dictated that we never cross the boundaries of memory and learning together. We simply learn which is stored in long term memory and can be retrieved when we require it. Scientists also believed there is no one central point in the brain that is dictated to memory, but it is stored all over. This is why when learning it is important to use as many of the senses as possible. Additionally, it’s thought that frequency of use may lead to increases ability to store and remember in the long term. Repetition is a hugely popular method of learning .
The adolescent brain is more sensitive to stress than an adult brain is. When we are stressed we overproduce the hormones cortisol and noradrenaline. This stimulates the feeling that our ancestors would have felt in a fight or flight situation. This will begin to produce symptoms of extreme stress, e.g. rapid heart rate, anxiety and insomnia. The system used for stress control is our Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenalin system or HPA. Studies have shown that the HPA system in teenagers is ‘switched on’ more than in adults. A recent study found that 43% of young teens reported feeling stressed everyday. This number increased to 59% as they reached later teenage years. As a result the pre-frontal cortex typically used to regulate emotion is unable to which may cause them to act irrationally .
What can benefit brain health and boost knowledge?
We often hear the phrase ‘Brain Food’ which refers to foods that boost the health and efficiency of the brain. Some of these sources can be consumed in dietary form or as a supplement.
Iron is a well-known component of the human diet. It can be consumed in both haem and non-haem form. The haem form of Iron is better absorbed than the non-haem form. Haem Iron comes from red meats and poultry whereas non-haem comes from nuts and leafy green vegetables. Iron is mostly associated with blood cell production but it also has ties to cognitive abilities. The European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) has confirmed that Iron is responsible for promoting cognitive abilities. Adequate iron intakes become particularly important when it comes to a child’s development. Iron is also seen as important in periods of intense study. It is thought to promote memory, attention, problem-solving and ‘learning intelligence’ .
Zinc is a trace element in the body, despite the diet not demanding a large volume of Zinc, many are deficient in it because it is found in very few foods. The richest sources of zinc include Beef and Oysters. According to EFSA Zinc is required for energy production and normal cognitive function. Zinc is thought to promote the health of brain structures that allows it to function efficiently. It aids growth, and health of the nervous pathways that allow for efficient messaging thought to improve ‘mental performance’ .
Ginkgo Biloba is a native Asian herb popular in Chinese medicine. Another common name for Ginkgo is the maidenhair tree, which is supposedly one of the oldest living plants known to exist. Ginkgo is a very popular supplement known to stimulate the health of the brain and cognitive function. It has been linked with improved memory, and clearer thought processes. Not only is it thought to improve intelligence but also to reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s in the future. Supposedly, the actives Ginkgolides and Bilobalides increase blood circulation to the brain providing it with greater nutrients, energy and oxygen which is thought to improve mental performance. One study focusing on memory and mental performance found that after 6 weeks of a 240mg daily dosage of Ginkgo Biloba extract, memory recall was vastly improved [5,6].
Ginseng is often referred to as Panax Ginseng and is another traditional Chinese Herb. Typically paired with Ginkgo Biloba the pair work in synergy to promote cognitive health. According to a highly respected scientist conducting research for the Cochrane Review, JinSong Geng stated,
“...ginseng appears to have some beneficial effects on cognition, behaviour, and quality of life” .
The active ingredients of Ginseng are called ginsenosides. These are thought to act upon the brain by improving break down of carbohydrates thus providing more available energy. Furthermore, it acts as an adaptogen. Adaptogens control and manage stress within the body, this can be physiological or mental. Therefore help the body stay in-tune and physiologically free from stress.
Green tea is a common drink amongst all ages but should be promoted for use during times of intense mental concentration and study. It is an extract of the Camellia Sinensis leaves that according to many herbal guides is incredibly effective at promoting cognitive function and channelling concentration.
Other health tips to remember when studying or revising:
- Make time to sleep. REM sleep allows the body to rest and recuperate, consolidating memories from the day. If you are having trouble sleeping why not try a natural herbal remedy such as 5-HTP.
- Take regular breaks from work.
- In many cases, food is fuel, take regular snacks breaks for healthy foods as this will keep the body energised.
- Mix your revision techniques so you don’t become bored. Do some note taking followed by story boards, followed by lists, followed by exam questions.
- Ensure that you stay hydrated.
- WCKD. (2013). The Teenage Brain: Research Highlights. Available: http://howyouthlearn.org/research_teenagebrain.html.
- Ford. D. (2011). How the Brain Learns. Available: https://www.trainingindustry.com/content-development/articles/how-the-brain-learns.aspx.
- EFSA. (2009). EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA); Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to iron and fo. EFSA Journal. 7 (9), Pg. 1-20.
- EFSA. (2009). Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to zinc and function of the immune system (ID 291, 1757), DNA synthesis and cell division (ID 292, 1759), protection of DNA, proteins . EFSA Journal. 7 (9), Pg. 1-34.
- Nordqvist.J. (2015). Complementary Medicine / Alternative Medicine Ginkgo Biloba: Health Benefits, Uses, Risks. Available: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263105.php.
- Kaschel. R. (2011). Specific memory effects of Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761 in middle-aged healthy volunteers.. Phytomedicine . 18 (14), Pg. 1202-1207.
- Geng. J, et-al. (2010). Ginseng for cognition.. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 8 (12), eCollection.