Exposure to cold temperatures and being on edge will each impair your working memory. That’s when you have to remember several bits of information for a short period of time. For example, the seven digits in a telephone number as your punch the numbers into your cell phone. Or the degrees of latitude you need to accurately punch into your GPS. There are two dimensions of this process; you have to learn it in the first place, and then recall it long enough to make the correct entry. Both physical and psychological stress will interfere with both.
Stress impairment of cognition is a major concern of the Department of Defense. Many battles are coordinated by soldiers having to relay via radio or a keyboard very specific instructions. Battlefield conditions are the perfect backdrop for mistakes to be made, and sadly, we read about missiles arriving at the wrong set of coordinates all too frequently. So is there something that can be done to minimize such errors? The U.S. Army has determined that the amino acid tyrosine may help. After a day of combat, soldiers were place in front of a computer screen and showed a series of random shapes. The screen then went blank and at various intervals, they were shown the same configuration alongside an almost identical array, except one of the objects was very slightly altered. The task was to correctly identify the exact match for extended periods of time following the initial viewing. Administering 150mg/kg body weight of the supplement tyrosine significantly improved the soldiers ability to remember, while drinking a glucose sweetened beverage helped with the initial learning. I’m a fan of whole foods and tend to avoid any type of supplement, especially vitamins. However, when circumstances call for it, I become a big fan of DuPont’s motto, “Better living through chemistry.” Tyrosine is the precursor for a number of stress-related neurotransmitters, and glucose is the only fuel that the brain runs on. Therefore, it makes sense. And if you are like me and prefer to avoid pills, drink skim milk. It’s loaded with protein that happens to pack a lot of tryrosine. This will not only help preserve your short term memory during stress, it will perk up your brain as well. Of course carrying skim milk for a week or more in a kayak isn’t practical, in which case supplements are an option.