The Collison Newsletter February 2009

                   IMPROVING  MEMORY  with  HERBS* 


The results of many studies have revealed that the memory can be enhanced by the use of certain medicinal herbs. The following herbs seem to be the most effective:

·        Ginkgo biloba

·        Brahmi

·        Green tea

·        Rosemary


Before considering these herbs in detail, let us look at general aspects of memory loss and cognitive decline, namely, risk factors, lifestyle, diet and nutritional supplements.

Risk Factors in Memory Loss and Cognitive Decline 

·        Age

With increasing age, there can be a deterioration in mental function. Senile dementia and, in younger people Alzheimer’s disease, are the extreme examples of this.

·        Hypertension

A large preliminary study in 1998 found associations between hypertension and deterioration in mental function.

·        Nutritional deficiencies:

low serum folate

vitamin B12

thiamine (vitamin B1)

nicotinic acid (vitamin B3)

·        Toxicities such as narcotic poisoning, heavy metal poisoning and other organic toxins

·        Hypothyroidism

·        Depression

This mental state, whether endogenous (chemical) or exogenous (reaction to external events) is one of the main causes of memory loss.

·        Linguistic ability

Low linguistic ability in early life is a strong predictor of poor cognitive function and Alzheimer’s disease in later life.


When present, the above must be treated appropriately.

Lifestyle for Improving Memory and Concentration 

·        Exercise

Exercise has beneficial effects on cognitive functioning and well-being, especially in older people. People who exercise have been shown to have significant improvements in reaction time and measures of well being compared to those who do not exercise.


Diet for Improving Memory and Concentration 


·        Healthy diet

A healthy diet is associated with better cognitive performance in the elderly.

·        Fibre intake

A diet high in fruits, vegetables and fibre has been found to be associated with less age-related brain-function impairment. The greatest benefit was found to be associated with high fibre consumption.

·        Antioxidants

Diets high in antioxidant rich foods (plant-based and raw) may be beneficial in slowing age-related cognitive decline.

Nutritional Supplements for Improving Memory and Concentration 

·        Antioxidants:

vitamin C

vitamin E

vitamin A and carotenoids


·        Vitamins:

B6 (pyridoxine)


B3 (nicotinic acid)

·        Melatonin

This hormone is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain and regulates the sleep-wake cycles. Cognitive function is linked to adequate sleep and normal sleep-wake cycles.

·        Testosterone

Short-term testosterone supplementation improved cognitive function in healthy older men.

·        Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

This is an omega-3 fatty acid. Decreases in DHA in the brain are associated with cognitive decline during ageing. DHA is required for maintenance of normal brain function in adults and is essential for proper growth and functional development of the brain in infants.

HERBS for Improving Memory and Concentration

1.      Ginkgo Biloba 

Ginkgo has been used medicinally for thousands of years. Today, it is one of the top selling herbs.


Ginkgo is a unique tree. The trees can be very large, up to50m tall. The extract of the Ginkgo leaves contains flavonoid glycosides and terpenoids, and is used pharmaceutically, mainly as a memory and concentration enhancer.


Ginkgo extract has three effects on the human body:

·        improvement in blood flow (including microcirculation in small capillaries) to most tissues and organs

·        protection against oxidative cell damage from free radicals

·        blockage of many of the effects of platelet-activating factor (platelet aggregation, blood clotting) that have been related to a number of cardiovascular, renal, respiratory and CNS (Central Nervous System) disorders.


Ginkgo improves memory by increasing the blood flow to the brain. This is achieved by expanding the blood vessels and helping them to relax. When the brain gets less than the necessary amount of oxygen, supplied by the blood, the effects are fatigue, memory loss, poor concentration and other symptoms such as headache. It is of interest that the brain needs some 20% of the total amount of oxygen consumed by the body.


Alzheimer’s disease, senile dementia and “cerebral insufficiency” may benefit from Ginkgo. “Cerebral insufficiency” is a syndrome thought to be secondary to atherosclerotic disease (hardening of the arteries) characterised by impaired concentration, confusion, decreased physical performance, fatigue, headache, dizziness, depression and anxiety. Available evidence also demonstrates Ginkgo’s efficacy in the management of intermittent claudication (pain in the legs due to insufficient blood flow due to arterial disease).


The dosage for adults is a herbal extract equivalent to 2-3g of leaf daily.


Ginkgo should not be taken in combination with anticoagulant drugs (such as Warfarin and aspirin), certain antidepressant drugs such as SSRI’s, anticonvulsant medications (such as Tegretol) and antihypertensive medications.


Side effects include possible increased risk of bleeding, nausea and vomiting, headaches and restlessness. If side effects are experienced, the Ginkgo should be stopped immediately

2.      Brahmi 

Bacopa monnieri in a perennial creeping herb and common names include brahmi and water hyssop.


Like Ginkgo, Brahmi has been used in traditional medicine for some 3000 years for a wide range of conditions including “ …mental deterioration of the elderly, forgetfulness, cloudy thoughts, anxiety..”.


Research in 1963 isolated two active ingredients in Brahmi, namely Bacoside A that assists in the release of nitric oxide, allowing relaxation of the aorta and blood vessels thus aiding better circulation, and Bacoside B, a protein that nourishes nerve cells in the brain.


Further research published in 1996 showed that the nitric oxide in Brahmi has “an extremely positive effect on learning and memory recall, as well as on blood circulation and the function of the liver, lungs and kidneys”. Bsitosterol is a fatty acid found in Brahmi and it has antioxidant properties.


Brahmi can help support and improve all aspects of mental function, including comprehension and memory recall. It also helps overcome the negative aspects of stress. It has the unusual property of invigorating mental processes, whilst reducing the effects of stress and nervous anxiety. It is said to induce a sense of calm and peace. It is beneficial in insomnia and is effective in depression and related problems. As an antioxidant, Brahmi may retard ageing.


The dosage for adults is a herbal extract equivalent to 3-4g of whole plant, daily, by mouth.


Brahmi is said to be free of side effects if taken in the recommended dosage.

3.      Green Tea 

The benefits of drinking tea, and especially green tea, have been set out in detail in my September 2007 newsletter ‘A cup of Tea = A Cup of Good Health’ and my August 2008 newsletter ‘Tea and Health Benefits’.


Three of more cups of tea, especially green tea, is a worthwhile addition to your daily regime.

4.      Rosemary 

Rosemary is an aromatic spice and is included, for its lovely flavour, in a wide variety of foods. It is also a medicinal herb, again with a history going back for thousands of years. Since ancient times, it has been a symbol of friendship, loyalty and remembrance.


Rosemary is an antioxidant. It contains carnosic acid which fights off free radical damage in the brain and hence protects against neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. It is also thought to protect against the ill effects of normal ageing on the brain.


Rosemary is a warming, stimulating herb that increases the flow of blood to the head and brain, which may be one of the reasons why it is such a good memory booster. In addition, the compounds in Rosemary herb are said to prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, which is a chemical that induces the brain cells that are responsible for memory and reasoning to communicate with one another.


Many studies have shown that Rosemary seems to enhance the memory process directly, unlike other herbs.


One interesting study showed that the smell of Rosemary can boost mental performance. 144 volunteers completed a series of long-term memory tests, either in a scent-free cubicle or in one infused with Rosemary. Results showed that those in the Rosemary-infused cubicles had better long-term memory than those in the unscented cubicles. Furthermore, those exposed to the smell of Rosemary reported feeling more alert. (In contrast, in another aspect of the study, those exposed to lavender reported feeling less alert and performed worst in the memory tests.)


The dosage is 4-6 grams of Rosemary leaf per day. A tea can be prepared by adding 2 teaspoons (10 grams) of herb to 1 cup (250ml) of boiling water and allowing it to steep for 10-15 minutes. This tea may be taken several times a day. Rosemary tincture 2-5ml three times a day, may also be used. The concentrated volatile oil should not be taken internally.


Rosemary is clinically well tolerated. It has been consumed by people for over a thousand years.

5.      Others Herbs

There are many other herbs that are said to have beneficial effects on memory and concentration. These include:

  • Sage. This has been recommended at one time or another for virtually every ailment including for poor memory.
  • Huperzine A. This is a Chinese medicinal herb, found to improve cognitive function in elderly people with memory disorders.
  • Ginseng. This is promoted as an adaptogen, a product that increases the body's resistance to stress. This herb is rich in antiodxidants (ginsenosides) and has been shown to improve memory.
  • Vinpocetine. This is derived from the herb lesser periwinkle, and enhances brain circulation and oxygen utilization.

Many of the above herbs are marketed in combination.


One or more of the listed herbs especially Ginkgo, Brahmi, Rosemary and Green Tea are worth taking as a therapeutic supplement if it felt necessary to improve memory and concentration, as well as to  prevent or delay the deterioration of mental functioning often experienced in older age.


*Copyright 2009: The Huntly Centre.

Disclaimer: All material on the website is provided for informational or educational purposes only. Consult a health professional regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations expressed herein, with respect to your symptoms or  medical condition.   


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