LIKE the rest of the organs of the human body, the brain gets exhausted too.

With information overload, students resort to so-called memory enhancers. These “brain boosters” stimulate cognition and allow the brain to function at its best.

Memory enhancers are food supplements that promote optimum memory use.

Commercial memory enhancers contain caffeine and other stimulants and make people stay alert, said Dr. Charissa Rañesses, a psychotherapist from the Psychotrauma Department of the Thomas Aquinas Research Center.

“Memory enhancing drugs contain very high levels of chemicals that increase wakefulness. They have caffeine, ephedrine, taurine, and some vitamins and minerals, which are brain stimulants,” Rañesses said.

A 2007 study by the Society of Neuroscience in Washington discovered that components of the glutamate system, namely ?-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole-4-propionic acid (AMPA) and N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, which are incorporated in memory-enhancing drugs, play major roles in memory formation and sharpness. Glutamate is a brain chemical that activates molecular compounds for the brain to function better.

According to the study, the AMPA receptor functions to boost the memory and fix mild cognitive impairments while the NMDA receptor improves comprehension and slows down memory deterioration.

The AMPA receptor used in the study as a component of “smart pills,” a type of commercial memory enhancer, improved the performance of college students who took it for three weeks. The grades of the students rose by up to 40 per cent.

Brain boosters by nature

Despite these studies, Rañesses said natural stimulants are still better than commercially sold memory enhancers. “Natural products like coffee and fish oils are the best memory enhancers. They provide natural chemicals that help the brain achieve its maximum capacity,” Rañesses said.

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Caffeine in coffee works as a memory enhancer by stimulating the central nervous system. Caffeine is said to boost nerve cell activity by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain. These receptors slow down the neurotransmitter function which lessens brain function efficiency.

Caffeine is moderately soluble in water. It is rapidly and completely absorbed from the stomach and intestines into the bloodstream, which distributes it to all organs of the body, including the brain.

Through the bloodstream, caffeine finally travels to the liver where it is converted into metabolites such as theobromine, theophylline, and a third dimethylxanthine, known as paraxanthine. Paraxanthine stimulates nerve functions.

Aside from coffee, fish oils also help improve memory by penetrating the cell membranes of neurons. “When the fish oil chemicals enter the neurons, the transmission of neurochemicals will increase. Abundant transmission of neurochemicals signifies that the brain is healthy and has reached its maximum potential,” Rañesses said.

In a recent study Rañesses found that fish oils reduce stress levels and increase alertness by increasing the activity of the neurotransmitters in the brain.

Although memory enhancers may have positive effects on the brain, they should be taken with caution, she said. For instance, ephedrine-loaded memory enhancers should be taken done in moderation since ephedrine increases blood pressure.

“People with asthma or heart disease are cautioned (against taking) memory enhancers because it triggers bronchoconstriction and increases blood pressure,” Rañesses said.

Rañesses said that as long as memory enhancers are not taken excessively, there will be no side effects like excessive salivation and perspiration, palpitation, widening of the eyes, and increased nervousness.

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“As long as they are taken as prescribed, memory enhancers can be effective stimulants,” she said.


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