Pills That Increase Your Intelligence (Mar, 1948)
Do you have to wear lipstick for them to work?
Pills That Increase Your Intelligence
BY DONALD G. COOLEY
CAN you feed your brain some special food to make it smarter? Scientists have always laughed at the idea. Now they aren’t quite so cocksure. Maybe your brain does have faster speed and quicker getaway when it runs on certain fuels. New scientific discoveries indicate that brain power can be stepped up by swallowing tablets. These pills are not stimulating drugs but concentrates of a food element
you eat every day. Let’s look into the strange story of one particular brain. It wasn’t a very good brain. In fact, it belonged to a fourteen-year-old imbecile boy who had an intelligence quotient of 42 (the average I. Q. is 100). Every year the boy grew twelve months older, but his mental age increased only four and a half months. He kept running an intelligence deficit. Then he was fed little white pills, a dozen and a half daily. Within two months his mental age leaped ahead one year and five months. Sixty days on brain pills and his mental age increased as much as it had in the last five years!
The food for thought that the boy consumed contained a single ingredient: glutamic acid.
You probably took some glutamic acid yourself the last time you ate. You’re made of what you eat, and, except for water, fat and minerals, you’re mostly protein. Now, protein molecules are immensely complex, but they consist of infinitely varied combinations of some two dozen simpler substances known as amino acids. Glutamic acid is one of these. You obtain it as such from foods. But your body also can manufacture it, by breaking down and reassembling other amino acids. Thus, it is not considered indispensable. Yet it seems to have a surprising capacity for enabling brain tissue to hit on all cylinders.
The case of the brightened imbecile would prove little if it stood as an isolated testimonial to glutamic acid. However, there are others. The boy was a patient of Dr. Kathryn Albert, who tried glutamic acid on eight mentally deficient persons, aged six to twenty-six, but with mental ages of two to eight years, and IQ’s as low as 22. All but one of them perked up mentally.
Dr. Tracy J. Putnam, a specialist in epilepsy, made one of the early reports on glutamic acid. He and his co-workers hoped that the chemical would reduce epileptic seizures. It didn’t. But there was a totally unexpected byproduct. The patients brightened up, mentally and physically. They were easier to get along with, more persistent in tackling problems.
Later, nine epileptics, two of whom were mentally retarded, were fed glutamic acid. Seven of them showed mental improvement so marked that after six months on glutamic acid, the average IQ increase was nine points. This astounds psychologists, who had believed intelligence is as unalterable as fingerprints.
Science is still seeking the full answer. But it does know that glutamic acid is the only amino acid that can be oxidized directly by brain tissue. To this extent it is a specific brain food. The theory is that glutamic acid increases the rate at which acetylcholine, a powerful chemical essential for nerve activity, is formed. And nerve activity, as far as the brain is concerned, is a synonym for thought.
The brain-power properties of glutamic acid are newly discovered, but the stuff itself has been known for a long time. Indeed, one of its salts is rather widely used as a condiment in some regions, because of its agreeable meatlike flavor. The acid got its name back in 1866 when it was isolated from the gluten of wheat. Animals grow just as well whether glutamic acid is provided in dietary protein or not. Its booster role for the brain, however, is emphasized by the fact that when patients cease to take it they drop back to their former intellectual level.
Because glutamic acid is a normal food element, and is even made in the body, it is not a foreign agent. Caffein stimulates the nervous system. So do various “pep pills” containing synthetic drugs. But they work in a very different way from glutamic acid. And there is no evidence that they give a long-term lift to the intelligence, however beneficial they may be temporarily.
Are people who tend to be dullish suffering from a dietary deficiency of glutamic acid? Or are their bodies incapable of making it fast enough?
Rat brains are not too unlike human brains in structure. F. A. Zimmerman and his associates placed a large number of intelligent, healthy rats on a diet providing all known nutritional essentials. Half the group, however, received supplements of glutamic acid. To test a rat’s intelligence, the rat is put at one end of a maze of blind alleys to see how long it takes it to reach food at the other end. The number of errors and the time required to eliminate false turns show the rat’s ability to learn.
The glutamized rats won hands down in tests against their mates which otherwise existed upon the same diet. They were definitely smarter. Similar results were recorded by Dr. Albert in rats forced to think their way around hazards in problem boxes.
These experiments clearly suggest that glutamic acid has a specific ability to improve brain function. Zimmerman’s rats were bright enough, as rats go, which is pretty bright. But on glutamic acid they became super-smart. We’re all smarter than we act, in that nobody fully uses his native brain power. Even if glutamic acid does not give us new intellectual tools, it does sharpen the ones we already have.
Just how does glutamic acid quicken the brain? There is no neat answer yet, but a good case can be made for dietary deficiency. School children, on the whole, are keener when given extra milk feedings. Milk protein (casein) is an especially rich source of glutamic acid. The greater mental alertness of milk-fed students might be laid not to the milk itself but to its generous dosage of glutamic acid.
Other outstanding sources for this brain food are wheat flour, egg white, and the protein of corn. Glutamic acid still can’t be bought like aspirin. You can insure a good intake with these foods, which also are high in other nutritional values. How much milk would you have to drink to obtain a dosage of glutamic acid equal to the supplements that boosted IQ’s ten points or so in the cases previously noted? Three to four pints would sufficeâ€”too much liquid for the average person, but a couple of poached eggs on toast, topped off with a glass of milk, would be a nice glutamic start for a brainy day.
We have been talking as if the brain were the same thing as the mind, or intelligence. Maybe it is. However, nobody has been able to put a ringer on an intelligence center in the body and say, “This is it.” If you wear a small hat size, don’t be downcast, nor proud if you wear a large one. The size of your brain, within ordinary limits, is no index of genius. Two brains of relatively huge size will illustrate this. One belonged to Napoleon, the other to an idiot.
One secret of intelligence, latest neurological research, indicates, lies not in the brain itself but in the covers (meninges) that enclose it inside the skull. Here are found the vessels that supply blood to the brain. Significantly, these blood vessels are oversize and numerous in the brain-covering membranes of men of genius.
Not only the volume of blood but its composition, the ingredients it contains, affects intelligence. A satisfactory method of altering blood composition so that exactly the right elements are carried to the brain is lacking. Glutamic acid experiments may be the first step toward this goal. The problem of making everybody smarter might be stated in deceptively simple terms. All you have to do is to see that the proper fuels get into the blood, that a very generous supply of this blood constantly courses through the brain, and the world is your oyster.