Foods, scents fuel brainpower for finals
Chip Bolton is mired in a sort of collegiate no-mans land. The East Tennessee State University junior is right in the middle of finals. Though one of the less glorious experiences college has to offer, finals are still an academic rite of passage. Stressful and draining, these tests take their toll on students. But there are ways for a collegian to strike back, maximize performance and come out of the whole thing smelling like a rose.
"Well I already had two exams last week, one was a project and one I took early. This week I have Physics Two, Static's and Strength's of Material and Engineering Drawing," recounts Bolton. He admits that, for most students, this time of the year is anything but wonderful, saying, "It's just overwhelming studying."
There may be a way for students who are overwhelmed to get back into mentally tip-top shape for upcoming tests.
"There are herbs and foods that can boost memory," reveals Mindy Green, the director of education for the Herb Research Foundation. "The herbs that are known to help with mental acuity, like Gingko, work over time and increase blood flow to the brain," she explains.
For those overzealous students out there ready to grab the pre-finals Gingko, Green points out that it isn't an instant panacea. She says it could take a few weeks for students to see some positive results.
There are also other herbs out there that can boost brainpower too. "Another herb -- rosemary, does also have some mental capacity to stimulate circulation. ...Rosemary prevents the breakdown of neural transmitters," she says.
Nancy Pcsolyar, a registered dietician, has a specific protein that students should look for that might help out with exams. "Usually what we're looking for is a high protein diet made preferably with soy protein isolate." Soy protein isolate is a pure vegetable oil that can be found in of all places - vegetables. (Guess mom was right about eating that broccoli.)
There are also some general guidelines that Pcsolyar has when it comes to an intellectually nutritious diet. "Foods that are complex carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables and whole wheat grains definitely help out. And very lean proteins like eggs and soy and fish."
But when it comes to fish not all filets are equal. Pcsolyar recommends salmon and bluefish for the IQ crowd.
Students don't always have to "eat" something to improve their memory. They can also use their nose to sniff out a more effective way of studying.
"Scent is an incredible trigger for memory," explains Green. She goes on to say that there has been research that shows when students study while smelling a certain scent, then take a test while enjoying that same aroma, they perform better.
Some of the more thought provoking scents out there include grapefruit, peppermint and basil.
Green also cautions that though certain herbs, scents and foods may help one's memory, they aren't likely to turn a Homer Simpson into an Einstein. She advises, "I'm not sure somebody will see a five point jump in their average."
Of course many students know that sometimes the difference between an A and a B is just a few points. A little burst of brainpower there certainly wouldn't hurt.
Just as some foods and herbs can have a positive effect on test-takers, others can do just the opposite. Green lists sugar and aspartame, an artificial sweetener, as her top two no-no's before test time.
Pcsolyar has her own list of brain draining foods to stay away from. "Certainly your simple carbohydrates or anything with sugar or white flour aren't any help at all."
There's another critical factor having nothing to do with food that can hamper a student's effort for A's - stress.
A 1999 study done by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke showed that when stress hormones were blocked in rats, their hippocampus, which is an important part of the brain when it comes to memory, increased it's production of brain cells.
Other research has shown that when humans are under stress the brain is inundated with a hormone called glucocorticoids. The surge of these hormones is anything but helpful to a scholar preparing for those finals. Glucocorticoids have a negative impact on both short-term and long-term memory.
Kelly Carpenter is a sophomore at Appalachian State University in North Carolina. With her first final this Friday, she says she definitely gets stressed out right about now. "Just anytime somebody walks up to me and I feel like killing them, I know I'm getting stressed," she says laughingly.
Fortunately foods can help alleviate stress too. Pcsolyar advises, "Calcium magnesium is the best mineral to help with relaxation. It can lessen headaches; help with insomnia and muscle aches. Also, nine out of ten adults and children are deplete in that area."
Pcsolyar recommends that students get their calcium magnesium at the health food store and as long as they're picking some up, she says it's important that the mineral be accompanied by zinc, phosphorous and manganese to help with absorption.
If there isn't a health food store near campus, cramming collegians can also get a dose of calcium magnesium in yogurt.
There are some other simple things that a student can do to keep from getting stressed and it involves an all-time favorite college pastime - drinking. Not beer... Water.
"I do believe the college kids especially need to focus in on drinking eight to ten purified or filtered glasses of water a day. And lastly, fresh air does wonders. It might be good to get out and take some walks," says Pcsolyar.
Carpenter hasn't tried the calcium magnesium yet, but she does have a few coping strategies to keep herself from committing murder one, among them is Pcsolyar's fresh air strategy.
"I don't spend all my time studying. Sometimes I go for a walk go or to the park. ...Or I just watch a movie and try not to think about it. If you study too much, you'll go crazy."
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