Can You Eat Yourself Smarter?

Here is a great presentation by Tim Lundeen from the recent QS Show&Tell. Tim is running some interesting self-experiments on diet and cognition.


QS_081023_03_Tim_Lundeen from Paul Lundahl on Vimeo.

Diet and cognition is a topic of such obvious interest that it regularly breaks through into the popular press and the science blogs. For instance, eating blueberries and walnuts make rats smarter.

Tim was specifically inspired by the many posts Seth Roberts has made about the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Tim uses a simple test of cognitive function as his dependent variable: he gives himself 100 very simple math problems and records the time it takes to complete them.
Here is one of the graphs Tim made in his self-study. The y-axis is the time it take to complete his 100 problems. On about day 80, he upped his dose of DHA from fish oil.
TimLundeenDHAGraph.jpg

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6 Responses to Can You Eat Yourself Smarter?

  1. Alex says:

    Is he advocating a 60% *fat* diet @ about 4:00?!

  2. Gary Wolf says:

    I think he is. Keep in mind that his total calorie count is very low, so this is not nearly as much fat as most people would eat at 60%. But this is interesting not only because it is unusual but because it points out that if you are trying to control blood sugar, and you are already eating very few carbs, you really don’t have much choices about where your calories can come from.

  3. Tyler says:

    In examining the posted graph from the eye of a statistician, I have to say that you can only learn one thing from it – Tim is getting better at math. Whether or not that is due to the DHA or simply from his increased practice cannot be determined without two things – 1) a reference no-DHA sample, and 2) a double-blind study involving a placebo.
    He’s probably getting better at math in the same way that a third-grader gets better at math – from doing his times tables.

  4. Joe Marfice says:

    Tyler (Sat, 11-29-08 02:00), I disagree.
    Considering the slope of the data before and after taking DHA doesn’t appear to change in any way, I’d say you can pretty conclusively state DHA has little to no observable effect.
    Your guess about why the slope is downwards appears correct. :-)
    Nothing like providing data to disprove your own thesis… and not noticing. Or caring.

  5. Gary Wolf says:

    I was looking back at this to link to it and noticed that some new comments came in after I stopped checking here. Both Tyler and Joe suggest that Tim’s results are fully explained by the practice effect. But this is incorrect, according to the data shown and the comments Tim makes at about 1:20 in the talk. The practice effect drives the time down from about 95 seconds to 80 seconds. This is represented on the graph by the drop in time from day 0 to day 40. Then there is a plateau from day 40 to day 80. Then Tim changes his dose, and there is a sudden decrease.
    This is not my experiment, and I think critical comment is important. Please continue to try to poke holes! But the naive attribution of the decline to practice is almost certainly wrong.

  6. Elena says:

    The problem with Tim’s experiment is that he is controlling the dose himself. The decrease in time may come because he unconsciously expects it.

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