Seven ways to boost your brainpower

Eat strawberries and blueberries
Researchers at Tufts University in Boston found that blueberries are the ultimate brain food because of their rich antioxidant content. Elderly rats fed the human equiva- lent of at least a handful of blueber- ries a day improved in coordination, concentration and short-term mem- ory, a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience reported. Another recent study found that strawberries could be a key to optimum brain- power. Professor Bernard Rabin, a neuroscientist at the University of Maryland, found that freeze-dried or frozen varieties of the fruit boosted brain function in animals. Reporting in the journal Nature, Rabin suggested a strawberry-rich diet might be beneficial to humans, too.

Learn to juggle
Juggling balls for 60 seconds a day can boost your brainpower signifi- cantly, found researchers at the Uni- versity of Regensburg in Germany. They carried out brain scans on sub- jects and found that in those who taught themselves to juggle, certain areas of the brain had grown. Dr Arne May, who led the research, said jugglers had more grey matter - largely nerve cells - in the areas of the brain that process visual motion information. However, when they stopped juggling, their brains reverted back to their normal size.

Opt for broccoli
Scientists at King's College London named broccoli as one of five veg- etables and fruits found to contain substances that act in the same way as drugs used to treat degenerative brain conditions such as Alzheimer's. Most of the drugs used totreat Alzheimer's act as inhibitors of an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase, which is responsible for the break- down of the brain neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Potatoes, oranges, apples and radishes were found todisplay anti-acetylcholinesterase activity, but broccoli had the most potent effect. "As yet, it is unproven that eating broccoliwould have abeneficial effect on Alzheimer's," says professor Peter Houghton, wholed the study. "But the long- term effects of regularly consuming these compounds in vegetables belonging to the brassicaceae (cabbage) familymight certainly bebeneficial in reducing adecline inacetylcholine levels in the central nervous system."

Get more iron
Inadequate levels of iron are known to cause a drop in concentration andenergy. When Dr Michael Nelson of the department of nutrition at King's College London looked at the scores in verbal, reasoning and memory tests of 140 schoolgirls, he found that those whose diets were high in iron had higher IQs and per- formed significantly better in cogni- tive assessments. "Our results firmly indicated that poor iron status in adolescent girls has a detrimental effect on their academic perfor- mance," Nelson says. "By supple- menting their diets with extra iron, it is quite probable that cognitive function would improve." While supplements may be pre- scribed by a GP if iron levels are too low, a diet packed with iron-rich foods will help. Red meat, leafy green vegetables, fortified breakfastcereals, sardines and eggsare good sources.

Don't skip breakfast
When the exam results of 500 schoolchildren were analysed at the University of Israel, it was found that those who had eaten cereal on the morning of the exam had better results than those who ate nothing. A more substantial breakfast of grilled bacon and eggs seemed to have an even more positive effect.

Get moving
A study of secondary school pupils found that those who exercised reg- ularly performed better in exams and tests of mental agility. Researcher Angela Balding, of the University of Exeter's health educa- tion unit, tested more than 1,400 schoolchildren and found sport or physical activity boosted academic success. "We found a definite link between those youngsters who were active three or four times a week and those who did better in the class- room," Balding says. "One theory is that the kids who are more active get more oxygen to their brains more often. As a result, their brains could be more receptive to learning new information and retaining it."

Have a bit of what you fancy
Researchers in America recently suggested that junk food boosted performance in tests. A study of schoolchildren at the University ofFlorida found that those who atelunch consisting of foods such ashot dogs, chocolate drinks, pizzasand biscuits recorded an improvement in test results. Professor David Figlio and his colleagues looked at schools where pupils traditionally struggled to achieve high grades for the paper published in the British Journal of Public Economics. When a pre-exam fast-food lunch containing 8% more calories than usual was provided, the subjects scored an average 7% higher grades in maths and history and a 4% improvement in English. "We are certainly not recommend- ing junk as brain food - but just for test day, it can help get scores up," Figlio says, adding that the approach, "is a bit like loading on carbohydrates for athletes".

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