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Brain Food: It Works on Gerbils

Scientists have figured out how to make gerbils smarter and hope the findings can be applied to you.

Dietary nutrients found in a wide range of foods ranging from infant formula to eggs increase brain synapses and improve cognitive abilities in gerbils, the researchers say.

Gerbils were given various combinations of three compounds needed for healthy brain membranes: choline, found in eggs; uridine monophosphate (UMP) found in beets; and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found in fish oils.

Other gerbils were given none of these, to serve as a baseline.

Then they were all checked four weeks later to see if they were any smarter, using gerbil-specific IQ tests such as navigating mazes.

The gerbils on the diet of brain food showed cognitive improvements in navigating mazes. Then the researchers dissected the rodents' brains and found biochemical evidence that there was more than the usual amount of brain synapse activity in the super-fed gerbils, consistent with behaviors indicating higher intelligence.

"I hope human brains will, like those of experimental animals, respond to this kind of treatment by making more brain synapses and thus restoring cognitive abilities," said researcher Dr. Richard Wurtman of MIT.

The results are detailed online in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal.

"Now that we know how to make gerbils smarter," said the journal's editor Dr. Gerald Weissmann, "it's not too far a stretch to hope that people's intelligence can also be improved. Quite frankly, this can't happen soon enough, as every environmentalist, advocate of evolution and war opponent will attest."

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Live Science Staff
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