Modfinil, a drug used by narcoleptics, is sometimes used by college students as a study aid. While the drug certainly helps prevent drowsiness, it does not appear to boost cognitive performance. In fact, a study just published in PLOS ONE showed that health volunteers who completed a sentence completion test had a similar self-reported mood and equal number of errors as the control group. Unexpectedly, the modafinil group was significantly slower than that control group to complete the test. The lead researcher commented “Our research showed that when a task required instant reactions the drug just increased reaction times with no improvement to cognitive performance.”
This research is in contrast to a study published in the Journal of Appetite on Think Gum® that demonstrated that Think Gum® can be used to improve aspects of memory. In this study, students who chewed Think Gum® performed significantly better in multiple types of word recall tests. The magnitude of memory improvement was dramatic. Students in the Think Gum® group remembered over 25% more than either control group. Additionally, those students in the Think Gum® group felt significantly more alert, felt that they could better concentrate and felt they had enhanced performance as compared to the other groups.
While Provigil (Modafinil) might help you stay awake, it certainly won’t help you do better work. So although Modafinil may be useful to keep you awake during your all night study session, it isn’t such a great idea to take it during your math test when both time and accuracy count. For exams where answers matter, you will want to buy some Think Gum.
I am a medical ethnobotanist, which means I study plants that people use for medicine. Most of my work is cross-cultural allowing me the opportunity to work in countries outside of my own. My dissertation research focused on plants of Northern Thailand that are used to enhance memory and prevent cognitive impairment. For my research, I interviewed traditional Thai healers to determine what plants they used to improve cognition, then collected and tested these plants in the laboratory and in animal models. Laboratory testing was used to determine if these plants increased the levels neurotransmitters responsible for memory in the brain. Since my research was in Thailand, only plants endemic to the area were investigated. There was some overlap between plants used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine due to the proximity of these countries to Thailand, and the movement of people around South East Asia. Two plants, Ginkgo biloba and Bacopa monnieri, found in Think Gum, are used in Northern Thailand to enhanced memory. Neither of these plants were tested in the laboratory, as they have substantial research to support their traditional uses.
Ginkgo biloba L. (Ginkgoaceae) is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to improve memory loss from abnormal blood circulation. Similar to TCM, Thai Traditional Medicine is based on a system of elements and health is maintained by keeping these elements in balance. In Thai Traditional Medicine, it is used to circulate lom or the element of wind. Lom is the element believed to be responsible for the health of the brain (which is an earth organ) by circulating vital energy around the brain. Research by Krieglstein et al. (1986) found increased blood flow to the brain by subjects using Ginkgo extracts. Increased blood flow to and in the brain can protect it from neurodegenerative disorders as well as illness from hypertension.
Bacopa monnieri (L.) Wettst. (Plantaginaceae) is shown to improve memory and intellect in Ayurvedic Medicine, which originates in India. I discussed this plant with Thai healers, but because its use was already extensively documented in Thailand, no additional laboratory studies were conducted on this plant. It was found to have neuroprotective activity in the form of antioxidant protection against lipid oxidation in the brain (Limpeanchob, 2008).
My research also investigated the role of anti-oxidants on cognitive impairment. Since the brain has high levels of lipids, or fats, lipid oxidation can affect the brain and potentially decrease memory power. Consuming anti-oxidants can help to protect the brain from oxidation and therefore help to improve or maintain memory ability. Many plants have antioxidant protective attributes including blueberries. Increasing intake of fruits like blueberries was found to improve memory function in older adults and potentially prevent the deterioration of brain tissue (Krikorian et al. 2010). A number of other plants found in think gum, like peppermint and rosemary, have shown to have a positive affect on memory, but are found in the western hemisphere.
Krieglstein, J., T. Beck, and A. Seibert. 1986. Influence of an extract of Ginkgo biloba on cerebral blood flow and metabolism. Life Sciences 39(24):2327–2334.
Krikorian, R., M.D. Shidler, T.A. Nash, W. Kalt, M.R. Vinquist-Tymchuk, B. Shukitt-Hale and J.A. Joseph. 2010. Blueberry Supplementation Improves Memory in Older Adults. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry 58: 3996-4000.
Limpeanchob, N., S. Jaipan, S. Rattanakaruna, W. Phrompittayarat, and K. Ingkaninan. 2008. Neuroprotective effect of Bacopa monnieri on beta-amyloid-induced cell death in primary cortical culture. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 120(1):112-117.
A study presented at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society in Harrogate suggests that rosemary aroma may be an effective memory aid. The researchers led by Jemma McCready and Dr Mark Moss split a group of 66 participants into two groups. One group was tested for perspective memory in a normal room and the other group was tested for perspective memory in a rosemary-scented room. The results showed that participants in the rosemary-scented room performed better on the prospective memory tasks than the participants in the room with no scent. This was the case for remembering events and remembering to complete tasks at particular times. This study has received TONS of media attention and more detail can be found at Science Daily, The Daily Telegraph, and The Independent.
A recent publication in the prestigious British Journal of Psychology has answered some important questions regarding context-dependent memory. Namely, does the type of aroma used while imprinting information matter when it comes to context-dependent memory? The short answer is yes and the authors think that aromas which are perceived as more distinct are better than those which are more common. In the paper, the authors compare the aroma of Rosemary to those of Lemon, Basil, Orange and even Hyssop and find that Rosemary is the best. They suggest that the reason why Rosemary is the best at helping context-dependent memory is because ” it is both unpleasantness-inducing and distinctive. Odours that possessed only one of these properties ( i.e.lemon, which is distinctive, and hyssop, which is unpleasantness-inducing) revealed intermediate levels of context reinstatement.”
While I don’t agree that the odor of Rosemary is unpleasant, I do agree that it is very distinct. Ultimately, this paper is some of the strongest evidence to date supporting the use of Rosemary to help improve memory and information retention. Luckily, Think Gum® provides this same distinct aroma in a very pleasant tasting piece of gum, and should provide you with the same brain-boosting effects as described in the paper.