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Food for Thought (Literally!)

If you're smart about what you eat, you might actually become smarter!

A study by dietary scientists at MIT found evidence that eating more of certain food nutrients may actually improve cognitive abilities such as learning and memory.

They gave one group of gerbils a diet rich in three different compounds that are important in the production of healthy brain cells: Choline, found in high levels in eggs and liver; Uridine monophosphate, or UMP for short, found in beets; and DHA, an Omega-3 fatty acid commonly found in fish oils.

Other groups received two of the three compounds, for example choline and DHA, but not UMP. A final group of gerbils were fed a diet without any of the three compounds.

After four weeks on the diets, gerbils from each group were tested on a variety of cognitive tasks, such as learning to navigate mazes. Gerbils with all three food supplements performed much better at these brain-intensive tasks than gerbils without any food enrichment.

Gerbils that got choline plus either UMP or DHA were also better than normal at learning and memory tasks. Gerbils that were fed UMP and DHA, but not choline had smaller increases in cognitive abilities, but were still a bit better than normal.

The scientists also found that the brains of gerbils with the dietary enrichment had increased synaptic activity compared to the control gerbils. In other words, eating these three compounds for four weeks resulted in increased brain activity.

It still is unclear if other animals, such as humans, will show the same dramatic benefits from these brain-healthy foods as gerbils do, but it certainly is "food for thought!"

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