The Aromatic Herb That Makes You Smarter

The herb has been used for thousands of years by humans.

The herb has been used for thousands of years by humans.

The scent of rosemary can improve cognitive performance, making people faster and more accurate, research finds.

Rosemary is a very popular herb in the Mediterranean region, with many dishes cooked with fresh leaves.

Extract of rosemary has long been used by humans, going back to ancient Egyptian civilisations.

For the study, 20 people were exposed to varying amounts of 1,8-cineole, the main component of rosemary.

The results showed that the more 1,8-cineole they had in their bloodstream, after inhaling it, the faster and more accurate they were on cognitive tests.

The study’s authors explained the results:

“Here we show for the first time that performance on cognitive tasks is significantly related to concentration of absorbed 1,8-cineole following exposure to rosemary aroma, with improved performance at higher concentrations.

Furthermore, these effects were found for speed and accuracy outcomes, indicating that the relationship is not describing a speed–accuracy trade off. “

Volatile 1,8-cineole is also found in many other aromatic plants, such as bay, wormwood, sage and eucalyptus.

The plants use the essential oil to deter herbivores and to attract predators of herbivores.

The component of rosemary also made people’s mood slightly worse — perhaps because not everyone appreciates the smell.

Dr Mark Moss , the study’s first author, said:

“Only contentedness possessed a significant relationship with 1,8-cineole levels, and interestingly to some of the cognitive performance outcomes, leading to the intriguing proposal that positive mood can improve performance whereas aroused mood cannot.”

The study was published in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology (Moss & Oliver, 2012).

When These Muscles Are Fitter You Grow More Brain Cells

Neurological health is improved when these muscle groups move more.

Neurological health is improved when these muscle groups move more.

Using the leg muscles helps to grow healthy new brain cells, research discovers.

The legs do not just receive messages from the brain about when to move.

Leg movements — especially those bearing weight — send vital messages back to the brain.

The new brain cells created by movements of large muscle-groups in our legs help us deal with new challenges and adapt to stress.

The study provides an insight into why patients with diseases that limit their mobility can rapidly decline.

Dr Raffaella Adami, the study’s first author, said:

“Our study supports the notion that people who are unable to do load-bearing exercises — such as patients who are bed-ridden, or even astronauts on extended travel — not only lose muscle mass, but their body chemistry is altered at the cellular level and even their nervous system is adversely impacted.”

The conclusions come from a study in which mice’s hind legs were restricted in movement for 28 days.

This restricted the growth of new brain cells by 70%.

Dr Adami said:

“It is no accident that we are meant to be active: to walk, run, crouch to sit, and use our leg muscles to lift things.

Neurological health is not a one-way street with the brain telling the muscles ‘lift,’ ‘walk,’ and so on.”

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience (Adami et al., 2018).

The Feeling That Expands Time and Increases Well-Being (M)

The emotion that makes people feel time-rich and provides a psychological boost.

The emotion that makes people feel time-rich and provides a psychological boost.

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The Simplest Way To Improve Memory And Learning By 30%

The activities that cause a 30 percent hit to learning and memory.

The activities that cause a 30 percent hit to learning and memory.

Getting enough bright light could be one of the simplest ways to improve memory and learning.

Too long spent indoors in dim lighting causes damaging changes to the brain’s structure and function, research finds.

Continual exposure to dim lighting hurts parts of the brain that are central to memory and learning.

The study of rodents found they lost 30 percent capacity in their hippocampus — a structure important for memory — when they were kept in dim light for four weeks.

However, when the rats were exposed to bright light for four further weeks, their performance and brain capacity recovered completely.

Professor Antonio Nunez, who led the study, said:

“When we exposed the rats to dim light, mimicking the cloudy days of Midwestern winters or typical indoor lighting, the animals showed impairments in spatial learning.

This is similar to when people can’t find their way back to their cars in a busy parking lot after spending a few hours in a shopping mall or movie theater.”

The study is the first to show the effects of changes in normal levels of environmental light on brain structure and function.

The researchers found that in dim light, there were significant reductions in the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor.

This peptide helps maintain healthy connections between neurons.

Joel Soler, the study’s first author, said:

“Since there are fewer connections being made, this results in diminished learning and memory performance that is dependent upon the hippocampus.

In other words, dim lights are producing dimwits.”

Light does not act directly on the hippocampus, though, but rather via other sites in the brain.

A peptide called orexin could be involved in how light influences the hippocampus.

It may be possible to use this information to provide a boost for people with eye problems.

Dr Lily Yan, study co-author, said:

“For people with eye disease who don’t receive much light, can we directly manipulate this group of neurons in the brain, bypassing the eye, and provide them with the same benefits of bright light exposure?

Another possibility is improving the cognitive function in the aging population and those with neurological disorders.

Can we help them recover from the impairment or prevent further decline?”

The study was published in the journal Hippocampus (Soler et al., 2017).

Gamma Wave Healing Promoted By These Nuts

How to strengthen the gamma brain waves related to cognition, learning, memory and even healing.

How to strengthen the gamma brain waves related to cognition, learning, memory and even healing.

Eating nuts regularly strengthens gamma brain waves related to cognition, learning, memory and even healing, new research finds.

Pistachios were particularly good at boosting the brain’s gamma wave response.

Gamma wave healing

Gamma waves are critical for faster cognitive process, healing learning, memory and even sleep.

Peanuts, meanwhile, enhanced the brain’s delta response.

The delta response is important for deep sleep, healing and healthy immunity.

Because of their antioxidant content, nuts have already been shown to benefit the heart, reduce inflammation and slow the aging process.

Dr Lee Berk, the study’s first author, said:

“This study provides significant beneficial findings by demonstrating that nuts are as good for your brain as they are for the rest of your body.”

Research on gamma waves and nuts

For the research, different people ate six different types of nuts: walnuts, pecans, pistachios, peanuts, cashews and almonds.

Their brain waves were measured using EEG recordings.

All the different types of nuts contain antioxidants, with walnuts containing the highest levels.

The study’s authors write:

“Nuts are a major source of flavonoids.

They are potent antioxidants with known mechanisms that provide cardioprotective, anticarcinogenic, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Studies have shown that absorbed flavonoids penetrate and accumulate in brain hippocampal regions involved in learning and memory.”

The study was presented at Experimental Biology 2017 (Berk et al., 2017).

Cognitive Enhancers: Do Nootropics And Supplements Work?

Cognitive enhancers like nootropics and nutritional supplements may be fashionable, but do they really work?

Cognitive enhancers like nootropics and nutritional supplements may be fashionable, but do they really work?

Although wisdom may come with age, our brains don’t get any faster.

Many areas of cognitive function decline over time: attention wavers, processing speed decreases, memory starts to crumble.

All kinds of methods for fighting back against this brain-wide slow-down have been suggested.

There is training with computer programs, popping pills, taking nutritional supplements, meditating or even getting some more exercise.

Some want to ward off the scourge of a rapidly aging population: dementia.

Others are looking for competitive advantage against younger, faster brains.

So: what to choose?

These methods, along with many others, are often presented as though they’re all roughly equivalent, but this isn’t true.

The scientific evidence currently available is much stronger for some of these options than others.

This post examines what the research currently tells us about each method for cognitive enhancement and delivers a verdict on each.

1. Brain training

Computer programs that promise to improve cognitive function become all the rage a few years ago, mostly on the back of the success of Nintendo’s ‘Brain Age‘ game.

Many other companies jumped on the bandwagon and the market for brain fitness software increased massively.

But what about the science behind the hype?

Certainly cognitive training has been shown to be effective in a few randomised controlled trials, but the evidence is still quite limited.

The first large study in older adults without dementia failed to find an improvement in daily functioning from the training, but it did slow decline.

Also, this study’s method has been criticised.

Other studies have found benefits for specific groups such as children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia.

Whether advantages gained by these groups might be effective for others is a matter for debate.

The real challenge for brain training is showing that practising one type of mental skill transfers over into other real-life benefits.

Doing puzzles like Sudoku or completing crosswords probably only improves your performance on those specific tasks.

One study, though, does suggest that training working memory can increase fluid intelligence – what we use to solve problems which don’t rely on things we already know.

The study, published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that gains in fluid intelligence were proportional to the amount of working memory training completed.


Evidence for the benefits of cognitive training for everyday functioning is still very limited.

Brain training software is mostly ‘inspired by science’ rather than based on it.

Treat marketers’ claims with extreme scepticism.

Side-effects are probably limited to repetitive strain injury and a depleted wallet.

2. Drugs

Until recently the main chemical cognitive enhancer most people used was caffeine.

But there are a whole batch of drugs that could challenge caffeine’s dominance as the safe stimulant of choice.

Of these, two well-known for their ‘off-label’ use are Modafinil (also known as Provigil) and Ritalin.

Modafinil was originally developed to treat narcolepsy, but is now used by many people as a cognitive enhancer.

Studies reported by the Academy of Medical Sciences have shown that Provigil does indeed improve aspects of memory: mainly verbal working memory, planning performance, working memory and executive inhibitory control (ability to stay on-task).

Other important aspects of cognitive function such as attention, however, were not affected by Modafinil.

This study found Modafinil did not enhance spatial memory span, rapid visual information processing or attentional set-shifting.

This study also found that Modafinil did not enhance attention.

The reason many use Modafinil is that it doesn’t seem to have any short- or long-term side-effects and it is not addictive (although it’s lack of side-effects may well have been exaggerated).

For example, it doesn’t increase blood-pressure or heart-rate, as caffeine does.

It may give you a headache, though, just like caffeine.

Ritalin was originally developed to treat ADHD yet adults have begun using it as a cognitive enhancer.

It seems to work best in young people, enhancing spatial working memory and cognitive flexibility.

Effects on other aspects of cognition such as verbal learning and long-term memory are relatively small.

In most people Ritalin tends to improve mood, increase activity and arousal, but it’s effects are more varied and can include anxiety, tiredness and lowered mood.


Amongst the chemical cognitive enhancers Modafinil is currently fashionable for grown-ups.

But is it really that much better than caffeine?

This study and this study suggest that in warding off sleep Modafinil is no more effective than caffeine – and caffeine is legal and readily available.

Probably better to stick to tea or coffee.

3. Vitamins and other nutritional supplements

There are all kinds of claims for the abilities of nutritional supplements to enhance cognition.

For example, vitamin B6 has been found to enhance memory (but far from conclusively) and there are many other claims being made by marketers for vitamins E, B12, folate, neurosteroids and so on.

However, in reviewing the research the Academy of Medical Sciences points out that most of the studies are few, far between and small in scope.


Unproven, but probably not dangerous as long as you’re not exceeding the recommended daily allowances.

On the downside supplements can be costly.

4. Meditation

Meditation, like nutritional supplements, is another modern cure-all, but what does the evidence tell us about its effect on cognitive function?

A review of the research published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences looked at the effects of meditation on cognitive function.

There is some limited evidence that meditation can benefit cognitive function overall, and memory in particular.

But this research is at an early stage and needs to be replicated by different researchers.

A major problem in this research is the fact that there are many different types of meditation.

It might be that there is some kind of common active ingredient in meditation, but this has yet to be identified.


Meditation still has to be considered unproven as a cognitive enhancer but it probably won’t do you any harm, plus it’s free.

5. Exercise

Whether you’re old or young, fit or even suffering from a neurodegenerative disorder, aerobic exercise has been found to be beneficial for cognitive health.

Randomised controlled trials, along with reviews of many of these trials (such as this one in Neuromolecular Medicine), have shown that exercise improves cognitive function across the board.

It has also been found to be particularly good at enhancing executive control processes (e.g. planning and working memory).

Exercise is also thought to encourage the growth of new brain cells.

In the past scientists always thought that neurogenesis – growing new brain cells – was impossible in humans.

Studies, though, have shown that we can grow new brain cells.

Research reviewed in Neuromolecular Medicine suggests physical exercise can promote neurogenesis in the hippocampus – an area of the brain thought to be important in memory and learning.


The evidence for exercise boosting cognitive function is head-and-shoulders above that for brain training, drugs, nutritional supplements and meditation.

Scientifically, on the current evidence, exercise is the best way to enhance your cognitive function.

And as for its side-effects: yes there is the chance of an injury but exercise can also reduce weight, lower the chance of dementia, improve mood and lead to a longer life-span.

Damn those side-effects!

The results are in (for now)

Even though exercise is the current winner for enhancing cognition, this might change in the future.

Maybe better drugs for enhancing brain function will be developed – possibly en route to improved treatments for conditions like Alzheimer’s.

Or maybe studies on nutritional supplements, brain training software or particular forms of meditation may provide firmer evidence.


On current evidence exercise is clearly the best method for increasing useful everyday cognitive functioning.

And in the future we may even have exercise regimes that are specifically targeted at enhancing cognitive function.


The Superfood That Reverses Brain Ageing

One glass per day for 12 weeks improved brain function and cognitive abilities.

One glass per day for 12 weeks improved brain function and cognitive abilities.

Concentrated blueberry juice improves cognitive function in older people, research finds.

Those who drank the juice also had better blood flow and activation in their brains as well as improvements to working memory.

The boost to brain power is likely down to the flavonoids in blueberries.

Flavonoids have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Dr Joanna Bowtell, the study’s first author, said:

“Our cognitive function tends to decline as we get older, but previous research has shown that cognitive function is better preserved in healthy older adults with a diet rich in plant-based foods.

In this study we have shown that with just 12 weeks of consuming 30ml of concentrated blueberry juice every day, brain blood flow, brain activation and some aspects of working memory were improved in this group of healthy older adults.”

For the research, 12 people were given the equivalent of 230g of blueberries in a concentrated juice each day for 12 weeks.

The remaining 14 were given a placebo.

After 12 weeks, all were tested for brain function and cognitive abilities.

The study’s authors conclude:

“…blueberry concentrate consumed once per day (30 ml, providing 387 mg anthocyanins) for 12 weeks increased activation of brain areas associated with cognitive processes including memory and executive function, which tend to deteriorate with age.”

Antioxidants are key to the beneficial effect of blueberries.

A previous study also found blueberries stave off brain ageing, as do walnuts and strawberries.

The results for memory in this study were marginal.

However, previous research has found that blueberries can improve memory and cognitive function.

The study was published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism (Bowtell et al., 2017).

The Simple Sign That Your Brain Is Healthy

The study used data from 475,397 people in the UK.

The study used data from 475,397 people in the UK.

A strong handgrip is a simple sign that your brain is healthy, new research finds.

The study of almost half a million people found that stronger people — as measured by grip strength — performed better on tests of reaction speed, memory and logical problem solving.

The link was found in young and old alike.

Dr Joseph Firth, the study’s first author, said:

“When taking multiple factors into account such as age, gender, bodyweight and education, our study confirms that people who are stronger do indeed tend to have better functioning brains.”

The study used data from 475,397 people in the UK.

The link between strength and brain health suggests that weight training can be beneficial to the brain.

Dr Firth said:

“We can see there is a clear connection between muscular strength and brain health.

But really, what we need now, are more studies to test if we can actually make our brains healthier by doing things which make our muscles stronger – such as weight training.”

It is known that aerobic training improves brain health, but the effect of weight training on the brain has not been fully investigated.

Dr Firth said:

“These sorts of novel interventions, such as weight training, could be particularly beneficial for people with mental health conditions.

Our research has shown that the connections between muscular strength and brain functioning also exist in people experiencing schizophrenia, major depression and bipolar disorder – all of which can interfere with regular brain functioning.

This raises the strong possibility that weight training exercises could actually improve both the physical and mental functioning of people with these conditions.”

The study was published in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin (Firth et al., 2018).

The Best Books For Boosting Linguistic Skills (M)

Lifelong readers have more empathy with others, are less prejudiced, have higher mental flexibility and are even likely to live longer, healthier lives.

Lifelong readers have more empathy with others, are less prejudiced, have higher mental flexibility and are even likely to live longer, healthier lives.

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The Benefits Of Electric Bikes For The Brain

People got a boost to their mental performance and feel better using this type of bike.

People got a boost to their mental performance and feel better using this type of bike.

Electric bikes can provide an even greater boost to brain function and mental well-being than ordinary bikes, research concludes.

Electric bikes contain motors that provide assistance to the cyclist.

Older people enjoyed using the e-bikes even more than regular bicycles.

The reason is that e-bikes give people confidence that they will be able to complete their ride.

Even without much physical exertion, being outside makes people feel much better, the study found.

Dr. Louise-Ann Leyland, the study’s first author, said:

“It is really encouraging that this research suggests older adults’ cognitive function (particularly what we call executive function as well as processing speed) could be improved by cycling in the natural/urban environment, even when that was on an electrically assisted e-ike.

Furthermore, we found that some aspects of mental health and well-being increased in participants, who cycled on an e-bike for an hour and a half a week for an eight-week period.

This suggests that there may be an impact of exercising in the environment on executive function and mental health. “

The study included 100 people aged 50 to 83 who were asked to do three 30-minute rides per week for 8 weeks.

The results showed that cycling outdoors provides a brain boost, even when people use e-bikes.

Professor Carien Van Reekum, study co-author, said:

“Among the older adults involved in this project, e-bikes have a number of very positive benefits and in some cases even more so than standard cycles.

What surprised us is that these benefits are not only linked to the extra levels of exercise.

We had thought that those who used traditional, pedal-only powered bikes would have the greatest brain and mental health boost, as they would be giving their cardiovascular systems the biggest workout.

Instead, people who used e-bikes told us that they felt more confident in completing the requested activity of three 30-minute rides a week for eight weeks, compared to pedal bikers.

The fact that the group was able to get outside on a bike, even without much physical exertion, is likely to make people feel mentally better.

If having a bit of extra help from an electric motor encourages more people to cycle, the positive effects can be shared across a wider age range and with people who are less confident on a bike.”

The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE (Leyland et al., 2019).