Eating red meat 'improves memory by boosting key compound in the brain'

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Followers of the Atkins diet have been fed another excuse to eat large amounts of red meat - it contains a substance shown to boost memory and intelligence.

Followers of the Atkins diet have been fed another excuse to eat large amounts of red meat - it contains a substance shown to boost memory and intelligence.

Scientists have found that adding extra "creatine" - a naturally occurring compound found in muscle tissue - to someone's diet can significantly improve memory as well as increasing general intelligence. Researchers in Australia gave 45 volunteers a creatine supplement for six weeks, and compared them with a second group who were given a placebo.

The groups were taken off the pills for six weeks. Theythen swapped their supplements for a further six weeks. They were not told which supplement they were taking.

Caroline Rae of the University of Sydney in Australia, who led the study, carried out memory and IQ tests at the end of each six-week period to see if there were differences between the sets of volunteers.

Dr Rae said: "The results were clear with both our experimental groups and in both test scenarios. Creatine supplementation gave a significant and measurable boost to brain power."

For instance, after taking 5g of creatine a day for six weeks, the volunteers were better at remembering telephone numbers - the average length of the number that could be remembered went up from 7 to 8.5 digits. The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B: Biological Sciences, supports earlier research showing that taking creatine in the diet can boost levels of creatine in the brain.

Dr Rae said: "Creatine probably works by increasing the energy supply that the brain has ... [it] ... basically increases your thinking capacity." She added: "I think the only people that wouldn't benefit [from taking creatine supplements] are people who already eat a lot of meat, for example, 2 kilograms a day, like some body-builders."

However, there are disadvantages to eating too much creatine over long periods. The compound can exacerbate kidney problems and diabetes, and can lead to bad breath and flatulence, Dr Rae said.

"To be frank, taking the supplement can make you a considerably less fragrant person," she said. "However, creatine supplementation may be of use to those requiring boosted mental performance in the short term - for example, university students."

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