Herbs for Memory: Maintain Your Brain

Though nothing so far can cure or prevent dementia, many herbs show promise in combating its memory-threatening menace.

| June/July 2011

Imagine this. You’re driving in the city. Nothing is familiar. You’re not even sure of the cardinal directions. You hesitate at an intersection, car horns blaring behind you. Yet you’re not a new arrival to this place. You’ve lived in this city for many years, are within five miles of your house—and you have recently received the diagnosis of dementia.

Defining Dementia

Many people wonder whether mislaying the keys or blanking on the names of acquaintances at cocktail parties telegraph an insidious downslide into dementia. Taken alone, minor episodes of forgetfulness are normal. People with dementia don’t just forget a friend’s name, but much of their shared history. It becomes difficult to interact with other people, think abstractly, solve problems, speak, write, and comprehend printed and spoken words. This chronic, progressive condition can eventually erode the ability to perform simple tasks as basic as getting dressed in the morning.

There are more than 60 types of dementia. The most common type is Alzheimer’s disease (AD), which afflicts more than 35 million people worldwide and 5.5 million Americans. This is followed by vascular dementia (also called multi-infarct dementia) and Parkinson’s disease (a disease that impairs muscle control).

Unfortunately, dementia lacks a cure. Drugs such as Aricept and Namenda can produce modest improvements, but do not stop the course of the disease.

Herbal Defense

Worldwide, traditional healers prize selected herbs for sustaining mental function. So far, the research on herbs to enhance memory in normal people and in those with dementia remains preliminary. As with pharmaceuticals, no herb has yet been shown to cure dementia, or to prevent it from developing. Nevertheless, some experts are quite optimistic about particular herbs. 

One such expert is Con Stough, Ph.D., a professor of neuropsychology at the Brain Sciences Institute at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia. He points out that, while pharmaceuticals tend to have a single action, herbs can have multiple, often synergistic actions.  Because AD and other dementias have multiple causes, this herbal multitasking is important.

6/30/2016 12:26:26 PM

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