A distant cousin of mine called Manori works at an elephant conservation park on the beautiful island of Sri Lanka.

Elephants are long-lived, highly social animals that have evolved a good long term memory. They are known to hurl stones at their keepers for months after having been fed foul-tasting medicine.

Manori tells me elephants are herbivores and feed on many different species of grasses, shrubs, vines and trees. Does their diet, I wonder, contribute to their memory and intelligence?

Humans know physical and mental stimulation counts for much if you want to hang on to a powerful brain. The old adage "use it or lose it" is good advice.

However, we also know we can do more to boost memory by eating foods and taking supplements that improve the structure of our brain cells and speed up the transmission of messages between them.

Here are some tips on how to acquire the memory of an elephant, rather than its size:

Take good care of your blood sugar levels and stop them from dipping as this considerably affects your ability to think clearly and retain information.

Choose small, regular meals throughout the day, avoiding sugar-based snacks, otherwise you'll notice an instant brain drain.

Caffeine and nicotine put you on alert but deplete your resources long-term. These are generally substitutions for good food and a good rest, so resist and you'll find a glass of water, a piece of fruit and a breath of fresh air have longer-lasting effects.

Alcohol and other intoxicating substances tend to affect your powers of judgement.

Fruit and vegetables contain antioxidants which protect your brain from free-radical exposure and degeneration. Blueberries, for instance, have been found to reverse damage in the nerve cells of aging rats.

All brightly coloured berries and dark green leafy vegetables are high in antioxidants.

The results of a recent long-term study in Chicago show that one of the main antioxidants, vitamin E, substantially reduces memory loss and learning caused by ageing. One of vitamin E's main functions is to protect the omega-3 fatty acids which are used to make brain cell membranes.

In order to keep your neural network well-oiled and responsive, eat cold-water fish or take fish oil supplements.

Ensure these are pollution free by checking with the manufacturer that traces of PCBs, DDT and heavy metals have been removed. Toxic metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and aluminium can accumulate in the brain and affect memory and concentration.

Also stay clear of the hydrogenated fat found manufactured foods

blocks the brain's ability use healthy oils.

If your mental hardware still has holes like a sieve, take lecithin on a regular basis. It contains an ingredient required to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which is associated with memory and learning.

You can buy lecithin granule form from health food stores. Sprinkle a tablespoon per day on to your breakfast cereal.

You don't need a brain large as an elephant's if you optimise its potential and provide it with the right ingredients.

Martina is a qualified
nutritionist at the Crescent Clinic of Complementary Medicine, 37 Vernon Terrace, Brighton. Tel: 01273 202221 or email: martina_watts @compuserve.com