Boost Your Memory and Brain Function with Herbs

by HCHC on May 3, 2013

By Jillian Borchard, MS, RH(AHG), CNS, LDN
Clinical Herbalist and Licensed Nutritionist

Do you find yourself having trouble remembering things lately? Are you concerned about your brain function as you age? Are you a student who wants some support with retaining lots of new information? Are you a parent concerned about a child who has trouble concentrating? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions and want to learn about natural products that can help, read on!

I want to begin by telling you about rosemary ‐ yes, you heard right – the same kind of rosemary that you cook with. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) has a long history of use for increasing memory, concentration, and even creativity. Modern research has shown that rosemary contains a novel phytochemical called carnosic acid (CA). CA has been shown to activate a novel signaling pathway that protects brain cells from the ravages of
free radicals. CA becomes activated by the free radical damage itself, staying inactive until needed. Free radical damage (oxidative damage) is one of the primary causes of age‐related dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Scientists are even looking at ways to isolate CA as the basis for medications for the elderly and neurologically‐ill patients.

So you may be wondering, will eating rosemary help my memory? The answer seems to be “yes.” A clinical study was done at Tai Sophia Institute in Laurel, Maryland that showed 750mg of dried rosemary leaf had a statistically significant beneficial effect compared with placebo on cognitive function of 28 older adults with a mean age of 75. Interestingly, this positive effect was seen at the dose nearest normal culinary consumption, whereas the highest dose of 6000mg has a significant impairing effect.

Another interesting way to use rosemary to improve memory recall in the case of studying is through your nose! Researchers have learned that memory recall at least doubles when a past event is associated with a smell. That’s why certain smells can transport you back in time and bring up images, feeling, and memories associated with events of the past. A 2010 study in England looked at “Environmental Context‐Dependent Memory” effects using odors to effect memory. The researchers found that the use of rosemary scent during learning and again during recall testing led to a striking difference in memory performance. It was also discovered that something about the distinctive odor of rosemary is responsible for what makes it work. So, next time you need to remember something, use rosemary essential oil aromatherapy to help you remember.

Two other herbs I want to mention are Bacopa and Turmeric. Both herbs come to us from the Indian traditional Ayurvedic system of medicine. Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) should not be confused with Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica), which can sometimes happen because they both have the same common name Brahmi. Bacopa is traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine as a nerve tonic and to improve memory. Bacopa has been studied and shown to be beneficial for improving memory in healthy adults, improving memory in aging adults, improving concentration in children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, and it is also being studied for Alzheimer’s Disease. A 2008 study concluded that the neuroprotective effects of Bacopa appeared to be a result of its antioxidant activity which suppressed oxidative stress. Neurodegenerative disorders are associated with overwhelming oxidative stress. Another way that Bacopa may be neuroprotective is through its ability to inhibit the breakdown of acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme responsible for breaking down acetylecholine. Low acetylcholine levels have been observed in Alzheimer’s Disease patients.

Turmeric contains a constituent called curcumin which has been well studied for many different properties and health applications. In terms of memory, it hits a lot of bases that are involved with age‐related memory loss. A 2008 research paper on curcumin’s effect on Alzheimer’s Disease showed that the use of curcumin had a positive effect on memory. The paper suggests that this positive effect could be due to a combination of
activities that curcumin has that would all be beneficial for people with Alzheimer’s Disease. Curcumin has been shown to decrease beta‐amyloid plaque, a formation that is seen on brain tissue of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. It has also been shown to delay neuron degradation and to decrease microglial formation (immune cells thought to contribute to the neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s Disease). Additionally,
the anti‐inflammatory and antioxidant effects of curcumin have been well proven, which could also contribute to its benefit in age‐related memory loss.


Jillian is a practitioner here at the Center. Visit her page here.


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