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Sunday December 30, 2007
Does essence of chicken improve brain performance? For health supplements, scientific conclusion holds more ground than hearsay.
BY LIM WEY WEN
DRINK this. It will help you remember, concentrate and be more relaxed when you answer the questions,” I recalled the usual chatter with my mother as she hands over a bottle of chicken essence to start off my exam days.
Nevertheless, I was determined to grab any extra edge I could have in the exam.
So, after giving the warm black liquid a little sniff, I gulped it down, trying to keep the salty concoction away from my taste buds (if that is possible).
“Most people will associate drinking essence of chicken with exams or when they are studying,” said Koh Joo Siang, general manager of Cerebos (M) Sdn. Bhd.
While years of consumer experience with health supplements used to be enough to bring in consumers by the droves, consumers in the information age are a more discerning and critical lot.
When we decide to buy a health supplement, we want to know whether it really works (which translates to scientific proof), how it works and when does it work best.
“It is not enough to say that a product works ... we must have scientific proof to back it up,” said Prof Dr Azhar M. Zain, of the Universiti Putra Malaysia Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences.
With a product that claims to increase mental performance, it is not a small challenge.
The question is how do you measure something as elusive as mental performance?
An example would be the study done by Dr Azhar in evaluating the effects of essence of chicken in fourth year medical students.
The students were given memory tests, mental arithmetics and comprehension tests after taking the drink for two weeks.
A more objective way to assess mental performance is by assessing brain activity, explained Dr Daniel Tsi, a scientist at Cerebos Pacific Limited, who is involved in the research on essence of chicken.
Recent advances in neurobiology and cognitive neuroscience have enabled scientists to find objective means to measure the capabilities of the brain, commonly called mental performance.
According to Prof Jin-Hun Sohn from the Department of Psychology at Chungnam National University in South Korea, there are many ways to evaluate mental performance, including the ability to perform cognitive functions, which he describes as a complex mental process.
Cognition can be described as mental processes involved in the daily attending to, acquiring, storing, retrieving and manipulating of information.
Its function supports our everyday activities, and intact cognitive processes are essential to our physical, mental and emotional-well being.
There are a few biological measures of cognition: an electroencephalogram (EEG), a nerve conduction velocity test, functional brain imaging and evaluation of brain size.
An electroencephalogram (EEG) will detect electrical activities (brain waves) in the brain; a nerve conduction velocity test will measure the speed of electrical impulses moving along a nerve; and functional brain imaging will mark locations of the brain which is active with colours, telling the observing scientist which part of the brain is working.
In the Science Park in Singapore, journalists were treated to the sight of an actual EEG facility as scientists showed us how it’s done.
A room, equipped with a chair, two big LCD screens, a highly customised PC and lots of colourful wires were enough to tell you the state of your brain.
Strapped up with multiple electrodes attached to his scalp, Low Shau Wei, our test subject for the day, looked anxiously at the screen showing his brain waves.
He was then asked to close his eyes and open his eyes. Immediately, the waves on the screen went from slow and big waves to fast and small waves.
“The EEG is a method to detect the electrical impulses coming from our brain, however minute it is,” said Chia Chew Sern, the in-house EEG specialist.
The electrodes attached to the scalp will send the information to the computer to convert the electric signals to brain waves visible through the computer screen.
The difference in brain waves when we are agitated or relaxed will tell the scientist exactly what state of mind we are in.
Commonly found in hospitals, the EEG is a valuable instrument used as part of the diagnosis workup in epilepsy and other problems.
As it is non-invasive, it is naturally a technique of choice for research to assess brain activity in subjects, Chia explained.
In both studies, the positive effects of the essence of chicken on mental performance were documented.
By doing both survey-based studies and objective studies to measure mental performance, one can be sure of the positive effects of essence of chicken, Dr Tsi said.
For Dr Tsi, providing scientific substantiation to Cerebos’ products is not just about competition.
“Our commitment is to create a scientific based product, something that you know why it works and why it benefits you on a scientific basis ... not just lip service,” he added.
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