When it comes to brain health and mental acuity, few people think of herbs. While Mother Nature’s herbal medicines humbly lay upon the earth in her rainforests, wilderness, and jungles devoid of any slick advertising campaigns, they show tremendous promise in the prevention of brain disease and in maintaining great brain health.
Remember: herbs are potent medicine so it is important to consult with your doctor before you start taking any herbs to prevent drug-herb interactions.
1. A Wise Sage
More than just seasoning for stuffing a turkey, recent research shows that sage is great brain food. A British research team conducted a study of sage’s therapeutic properties on a group of forty-four adults between the ages of eighteen and thirty-seven. Some participants were given capsules of sage oil while others were given a placebo of sunflower oil. Results showed that those who took the sage oil performed significantly better at memory tests than those who took the placebo. The people who were given sage as part of the study had improvements in both immediate and delayed word recall scores, as well as mood improvements. Additional research by the same scientific team led them to conclude that sage may also be helpful for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Fresh sage is an excellent addition to soups, stews, and chicken dishes.
2. The Curry Factor
Here’s another reason to enjoy your favorite Indian curry dishes: they typically contain the spice turmeric, a powerful food that helps protect your brain from disease. Research conducted by Greg Cole, PhD, associate director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the University of California in Los Angeles, showed that, curcumin, the yellow pigment in turmeric, is a potent weapon against inflammation and plaque build up in the brain. Inflammation and plaque have been linked to serious brain diseases like Alzheimer’s. Additional studies are having similar positive results. The easiest way to enjoy the benefits of curcumin is by adding turmeric to your favorite curry dish.
3. Ginger—Nature’s Anti-Inflammatory
Not just great in stir-fries, ginger is one herb that can do more than add flavor and spice to just about any dish, it also exhibits antioxidant effects and the ability to lessen the formation of inflammation in the brain. Ginger contains potent anti-inflammatory compounds called “gingerols” that are responsible for the herb’s magic. A study in the November 2003 issue of Life Sciences found that ginger offers protection against free radicals, which have the potential to be a serious threat to brain health.
The easiest way to enjoy the benefits of ginger is to grate 2 tablespoons of fresh ginger and add to a cup of boiling water. Steep and strain. Enjoy a cup of this warming ginger tea with a touch of honey or a few drops of the naturally-sweet herb, stevia. You can also add freshly grated ginger to soups, stir-fries, vegetables, or other dishes to pack extra brain health into your meals.
4. Ginkgo Biloba to Boost Brain Power
Ginkgo biloba has developed a reputation as the brain herb thanks to its many beneficial effects on the brain, including: increasing blood flow to the brain, assisting with memory and in the treatment of dementia, as well as positive effects on depression. Ginkgo also helps improve the availability of energy to brain cells, which may improve feelings of mental alertness.
In Germany, ginkgo is approved as a treatment for Alzheimer’s. A study of forty patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, showed that 240 milligrams of ginkgo biloba extract taken daily for three months produced noticeable improvements in memory, mood, and attention. Since then numerous other studies have shown similar positive effects on early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
Opt for ginkgo biloba standardized extract that contains twenty-four percent ginkgoflavonglycosides, also called “flavone glycosides,” the active ingredient which has the capacity to increase blood flow to the brain and lessen symptoms like depression, memory loss, and dizziness, all of which can be the result of reduced blood flow to the brain. For ginkgo’s preventive effects, forty milligrams three times a day is ideal.
5. Periwinkle: The Blue Flower for Grey Matter
Not just for English gardens anymore, the lovely blue flowering plant, periwinkle may help boost memory. Research shows that vinpocetine, a natural compound in periwinkle, helps transport oxygen and glucose to the brain. Since the brain needs both to function optimally, periwinkle may be beneficial for assisting to ease brain disease.
With around one hundred studies conducted on vinpocetine’s effects on humans, mostly in Hungary, it is not surprising that it has been used by Hungarian doctors to treat senility and blood vessel disorders in the brain for twenty-five years. In these studies it appears to boost memory and cognition in healthy people and in those with mild to moderate forms of dementia.
A double-blind study in 1985 in the European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, researchers tested vinpocetine’s effect on the short-term memory of twelve healthy women. The women who took forty milligrams of vinpocetine three times per day for two days scored thirty percent higher on short-term memory tests than the women in the placebo group.
Vinpocetine also thins blood, boosts circulation to the brain, and improves the brain’s ability to absorb nutrients, all of which improve brain function. Experts typically suggest dosages of two milligrams daily, taken with food. Vinpocetine appears to be safe for short- or long-term use. Check with your doctor if you are taking blood-thinning medications.
Locally known as Kemunting Cina, the Periwinkle is a perennial plant commonly found in gardens, by the roadside and even on playgrounds in Malaysia. Kemunting Cina is also the logo of MAKNA (Majlis Kanser Nasional or the National Cancer Council)
6. Rosemary to Increase Brain Circulation
This pine-like herb does more than just spice up a roast of beef, it offers anti-inflammatory protection to the delicate human brain. Research proves rosemary’s ability to increase blood flow to the head and brain, thereby improving concentration.
Historically, herbalists have used rosemary to strengthen memory. In England, rosemary’s memory strengthening ability was translated to mean that it would improve fidelity. As a result it was often given as a gift for the bride or groom as part of their wedding ceremony. Perhaps the gift-giver thought the herb would help the newlywed remember his or her vows.
Add rosemary to meat dishes or chop finely and add to bread, buns, or savory baked goods. There’s nothing as yummy as a still warm, freshly baked rosemary scone with tea.
Boosting your mental acuity and brain power can be as easy as eating Indian curries, rosemary biscuits, and drinking fresh ginger tea. Or supplement with ginkgo and vinpocetine to improve your brain health.
Michelle Schoffro Cook, BSc, RNCP, ROHP, DNM, is an international best-selling and seven-time book author and doctor of natural medicine, whose works include: The Life Force Diet, The Ultimate pH Solution, The 4-Week Ultimate Body Detox Plan, The Phytozyme Cure and HealthSmart News. Learn more at www.DrMichelleCook.com.