I remember my mother worrying about her memory as she searched for her car keys, or forgot whether she needed to buy eggs.

The reality is that we all lose some cognition as we age. Some people have minor cognitive decline, and others develop neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s which may lead to more substantial dementia.

Normal age-related memory loss can be contributed to oxidative stress and neuroinflammation. In other words, inflammatory reactions in the brain can have an enormous impact on memory and cognitive function. It follows that the more inflammation that you experience, the more likely you are to experience difficulty with your memory. If you want to increase your memory, you need to decrease your inflammation and oxidative stress.

Decreasing oxidative stress isn’t rocket science. It involves increasing the amount of anti-oxidants you eat. Most of us get the majority of our anti-oxidants in our diet in fruits and vegetables. That said, there are many kinds of anti-oxidants, and some are found in nuts, grains, legumes, and seafood. So having a diet with a wide variety of food is also important. Simply ‘googling’ anti-oxidant superfoods will give you a laundry list of foods that you should be eating (hopefully not all at one sitting.)

But of course, none of us are perfect. And the reality is that our diets often don’t fully encompass the range of anti-oxidants that would required to optimize our health, much less our brain health. That’s when supplements might be helpful.

But which ones?

One that has been around for a long time is ginseng. If you haven’t been in the natural medicine world for long, you may not have heard of ginseng. This little root (which looks like a pale version of a multi-lobed carrot) packs a lot of punch, and has substantial anti-oxidant capacity. Furthermore, in a 2011 clinical trial of 82 people, taking ginseng orally led to the reduction of oxidative stress.(1)

That’s great! Reducing oxidative stress is the first step. The mechanistic studies for ginseng are strong. But does ginseng actually help memory?

So far the clinical data is hard to interpret. Most of the studies on ginseng have been done on people who are healthy and aren’t experiencing cognitive decline. Thus, it’s not a surprise that they didn’t see significant improvement. In the one study that has been done with people who were experiencing age associated memory impairment, ginseng was added to a multi-vitamin and then compared to placebo. After 9 months, it was shown that people who had the multi-vitamin with ginseng had more memory improvement than those who didn’t have ginseng.(2)

Ginseng for memory? Why not? It’s anti-oxidant properties have been touted for years in the sports medicine world. But that’s another topic. Next time you’re worried about being forgetful, just remember ginseng!

 

 

1 Kim HG, Yoo SR, Park HJ, Lee NH, Shin JW, Sathyanath R, Cho JH, Son CG. Antioxidant effects of Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer in healthy subjects: a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Food Chem Toxicol. 2011 Sep;49(9):2229-35. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2011.06.020. Epub 2011 Jun 15.

2 Neri M, Andermarcher E, Pradelli JM, Salvioli G. Influence of a double blind pharmacological trial on two domains of well-being in subjects with age associated memory impairment. Arch Gerontol Geriatr. 1995 Nov-Dec;21(3):241-52.