Sorry--I don't remember!
Is there any herbal support to help my memory? Thanks.
Memory. We all have issues with our memory from time to time regardless of age, gender or how well we take care of ourselves. When our kids continually forget to take their lunch to school, we sigh and shake our heads. But if we constantly forget something, we think we are headed down the road to dementia or Alzheimer’s! The fact is that there are many reasons for memory lapses so let’s see what we can do about them.
What can we do to have a better memory?
1) Lower stress.
When under mild stress, our memory can actually get better as our sympathetic nervous system kicks in and two hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine, are released into the body to help to stimulate the brain (and memory) really fast. Additionally, the adrenal glands (located on top of the kidneys or renal glands), release glucocorticoids, which are hormones that help keep glucose into the blood stream longer, so that the glucose can get to the brain to help it function faster. However, long-term stress can impair our ability to retrieve stored memories (1). When we are under constant stress, glucocorticoids are constantly being released, putting too much glucose into the body, thus ‘overwhelming’ the brain. The brains becomes less able to make neural connections or what is known as ‘long-term potentiation’ to help us retrieve past memories or even create new ones. Think of stress like jumping into cold water. Doing this everyone once in a while invigorates the body, but staying in cold water for long periods can cause it to shut down (hypothermia). Meditation is a great way to lower stress. So is supporting the adrenal glands with adaptogenic herbs, and taking herbs that help relax the nervous system. For more on these types of herbs, read Adaptogens by David Winston and/or Adaptogens, by Donnie Yance.
2) Watch our diet.
Avoid sugar. When you eat something sugary, your blood sugar (the amount of glucose that is in the blood stream) spikes up, then drops sharply. This constant swing is detrimental to the body. Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can starve the brain of nutrients thus impairing memory and cognitive function. Conversely, there have been several studies showing that excess sugar (hyperglycemia) in the diet of those with diabetes can actually cause brain cells to decay (2). This can even happen when the body reaches pre-diabetic stage so avoid eating too much sugar in any form.
Eat healthy fats: fish oil, olive oil, coconut oil, etc. Trans fats have shown to damage the brain by indirectly causing amyloid plaque to build up which is a neuropathological hallmark for Alzheimer's disease. (3)
Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Both groups have shown to protect against age-related issues, including cognition and memory.
3) Take herbs.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis, Lamiaceae family). Shakespeare called rosemary ‘the herb of remembrance” and in fact, the constituents in rosemary help keep acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter in the brain, from breaking down and thus keeps our brain (and memory) healthy. See below for a lovely tea recipe.
Bacopa. Bacopa monniera, monnieri helps with improving memory, concentration and learning, particularly where stress is present (4). Bacopa is said to support brain function where there is a nervous issue due to injury, stroke, nervous exhaustion, behavioral disorders or anxiety. Bacopa must take be taken daily for months in order to see results and is best taken in pill form. Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica). Although one must take care in picking stinging nettles, nettles are very nutritive and considered anti-inflammatory as well. They are best eaten cooked, or can be dried to make tea. There is one study that showed that diabetics who took stinging nettles tincture had improved cognition. (5). Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is another herb that has been shown to help with cognitive issues.
4) Exercise. Although the mechanism of action is not clear, exercise has been shown to reduce age-related losses in cognitive function including learning and memory (6).
5) Avoid pesticides and insecticides as they break down cholinesterase, the enzyme needed for acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter for brain and memory function. (7)
6) Sleep the right number of hours for your body. Harvard Medical research shows that people who are persistently sleep deprived are more likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes, and narrowed blood vessels. Each of these can decrease blood flow inside the brain thus impairing its ability to function. In another study, sleep-deprived mice developed more deposits of a protein called beta amyloid in the brain compared with mice allowed to sleep normally. This amyloid plaque has been linked to declines in memory and increased dementia in humans. (8)
7) Write it down! Carrying a notepad and jotting things down removes the stress of having to remember it.
8) Laugh at yourself. We all forget things, so don’t take it too seriously! Laughter releases other helpful neurotransmitter and hormone like substances that support healthier brain function.
1 small sprig of rosemary
1 teaspoon holy basil
1 teaspoon gotu kola
2 teaspoons stinging nettles
1/4 teaspoon stevia leaf (for taste)
16 ounces of water. Boil water, pour over herbs
and cover for 10 minutes. Strain and drink or served chilled.
You can find bulk herbs at Mountain Rose Herbs or your local health food store.
1. Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Robert Sapolsky
2. Too much sugar may cause “brain decay”; Janet Jankowiak, MD doi:10.1212/01.WNL.0000141255.98757.2f; Neurology August 24, 2004 vol. 63 no. 4 E9-E10
3. Nutr Biochem. 2012 Oct;23(10):1214-23. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2011.06.015. Epub 2011 Dec 29.
Trans fatty acids enhance amyloidogenic processing of the Alzheimer amyloid precursor protein (APP).
4. Alternative Medicine Review ◆ Volume 9, Number 1 ◆ 2004 Bacopa Monograph
5. Metab Brain Dis. 2014 Mar;29(1):121-30. doi: 10.1007/s11011-014-9480-0. Epub 2014 Jan 17. Urtica dioica extract attenuates depressive like behavior and associative memory dysfunction in dexamethasone induced diabetic mice. Grimm MO1, Rothhaar TL, Grösgen S, Burg VK, Hundsdörfer B, Haupenthal VJ, Friess P, Kins S, Grimm HS, Hartmann T. ,
6. Front Aging Neurosci. 2014 Feb 3;6:3. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2014.00003. eCollection 2014.
7. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Cholinesterase Inhibitors: Including Insecticides and Chemical Warfare Nerve Agents
8. Too little sleep, and too much, affect memory; POSTED MAY 02, 2014, 3:31 PM
Howard LeWine, M.D., Chief Medical Editor; Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications
Jayne Tamburello has a master’s degree in Herbal Medicine from Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH) and is the founder of Invibe Herbal, your one stop shop for healthy, organic herbal tea blends. Please visit our website at: www.invibeherbal.com. Jayne is also a licensed nutritionist (LDN), a certified nutritionist (CNS) and a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild, RH(AHG). She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.