It’s easy to write off cognitive issues like forgetfulness, brain fog, and difficulty concentrating as a normal part of aging. But just because these symptoms are more common as we get older, that doesn’t mean they’re normal — nor that you have to accept and live with them.
When you look at the forces that age the body and cause what we consider to be age-related symptoms, brain cells aren’t that different from any of your other cells. When any cell generates the energy it needs to function optimally, the process produces free radicals; they’re the byproducts of life itself. Free radicals cause inflammation, which sets the stage for the cell to age, a link that’s been dubbed inflammaging. It’s a natural, internal process that you can’t entirely stop — your brain will age over time.
But what you do have some control over are the external variables that help dictate how and how quickly the brain ages, and to what degree the process disrupts cognitive functioning. Those variables generally fall into two categories.
The first category is outside factors that accelerate, exacerbate, or amplify free radical damage and thus the aging process. The second category is behaviors that enhance cognitive function by actively and specifically supporting the brain’s cells and its processes and slowing the inevitable collateral damage of free radicals. Address both, and you’ll go a long way toward preserving a healthy, active mind.
7 Best Herbs and Spices for Brain Health
It’s possible that a number of herbs and spices may help improve your brain health, and some of them may be already sitting in your fridge or pantry. Several of these herbs and spices have been studied for their effects on Alzheimer’s disease, while others have been tested for their overall effects on cognition (i.e. the mental action or process involved in thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering).
Here’s a look at some of the herbs and spices found to benefit the brain in scientific studies. 1
A spice known for its pungent scent, sage might also improve cognition and aid in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, a research review published in 2017, suggests sage contains compounds that may be beneficial for cognitive and neurological function.1
Try adding sage to butternut squash, roasted chicken, turkey, tomato sauce, or in a white bean soup. Sage can also be consumed in tea form.
Turmeric is a spice long used in Ayurveda. It contains a compound called curcumin, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects (two factors that may benefit brain health and overall health).
According to a review published in 2010, preliminary research suggests that turmeric may boost brain health and stave off Alzheimer’s disease by clearing the brain of beta-amyloid (a protein fragment). The buildup of beta-amyloid is known to form Alzheimer’s-related brain plaques.
In addition, turmeric may shield brain health by inhibiting the breakdown of nerve cells in the brain.2
Turmeric is a key ingredient in curry powder, which typically also includes such spices as coriander and cumin. To increase your intake of turmeric, try adding curry powder or turmeric to stir-fries, soups, and vegetable dishes. Include a couple of dashes of black pepper to enhance the absorption of turmeric.
Long used as a treatment for dementia, ginkgo biloba is a commonly taken remedy in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and well known for its benefits. It’s thought that ginkgo biloba might help improve cognitive function in part by stimulating circulation and promoting blood flow to the brain.
Although research on ginkgo biloba has yielded mixed results, there’s some evidence that this herb may enhance cognitive function in people with Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment.3
Furthermore, a research review published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2015 suggests that a ginkgo biloba extract called EGb761 may be especially helpful in slowing decline in cognition among patients experiencing neuropsychiatric symptoms in addition to cognitive impairment and dementia.4
A core feature of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, neuropsychiatric symptoms include depression and other non-cognitive disturbances. Ginkgo Biloba Benefits, Uses, Side Effects
Another Ayurvedic herb, ashwagandha has been found to inhibit the formation of beta-amyloid plaques in preliminary research, according to a review study published in 2010.5
What’s more, the review says preliminary studies have indicated that ashwagandha may benefit the brain by reducing oxidative stress (a factor that may contribute to the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease).5 5
One of the most popular plants in herbal medicine, ginseng contains anti-inflammatory chemicals called ginsenosides. According to a review published in 2018, scientists have observed that ginsenosides may help reduce brain levels of beta-amyloid in preliminary lab studies.6 6
In alternative medicine systems such as Ayurveda and TCM, Gotu kola has long been used to improve mental clarity. Findings from animal-based research suggest that this herb may also help the brain by fighting oxidative stress.
In a preliminary study published in Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology & Physiology in 2003, for instance, tests on rats demonstrated that gotu kola may inhibit Alzheimer’s-associated oxidative stress and improve cognitive function.7 7
An herb often taken in tea form and frequently used to ease anxiety and insomnia, lemon balm may help improve cognitive function.
For a study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry in 2003, 42 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease took either a placebo or lemon balm extract for four months. At the end of the study, those given lemon balm showed a significantly greater improvement in cognitive function (compared to those given the placebo).
6 Brain Boosting Herbs To Improve Your Productivity
6 Top Brain Herbs
- Brahmi is the top herb for rejuvenating the brain and nervous system. It helps the left and right sides of the brain to work together. Brahmi improves all aspects of mental functioning including the ability to learn new information, to retain what we learn and our ability to remember.Brahmi packs a double whammy of benefits because it supports our intelligence while reducing the effects of stress on the brain. It offers 4 primary benefits:
- improved capacity for attention and focus,
- improved ability to withstand emotional stress
- reduction in nervousness and anxiety
- improved immune system function.
- Gotu kola is another herb that has high impact on brain functioning. Known as mandukaparni in sanskrit, it also balances the brain and helps all aspects of brain functioning, but is best known for its ability to improve blood circulation and memory.
- Ashwaghandha is another top herb for the brain. It reduces the effects of overwork and is one of the best for promoting mental clarity and cognitive functioning. It boosts the brain’s memory and is very helpful in supporting the immune system.Ashwaghandha does wonders for nervous exhaustion and protects the brain against brain cell deterioration. It is an important protective herb.
- Vacha which means “speech” is an important herb for the brain. It promotes better concentration, clarity and speech. It has a stimulating effect which means that it treats depression and mental sluggishness. Vacha promotes mental clarity and a strong memory at the same time it detoxifies brain tissues.
- Tagara known as Indian valerian helps emotional and nervous conditions.
- Tulsi oxygenates the brain and improves circulation which improves feelings of well-being and mental cognition.