The Aging Brain and Healing Herbs to Improve Brain Function



Science is rapidly changing its ideas on the aging brain.  Along with brain exercises, herbal therapy can help improve brain health.

For years science made the assumption that as people aged they lost vast numbers of brain cells.  Recently this has been disproved.  It is now common knowledge that the brain continues to produce new neurons even as we age.

In the PBS special  The Brain episode 5 points out that “the normal aging process leaves most mental functions intact, and may even provide the brain with unique advantages that form the basis for wisdom.”

Brain Research

At the University of British Columbia in Vancouver B.C. the Brain Research Centre has discovered that “Cognitive and behavioural declines are not inevitable consequences of aging.”  They have discovered that mental and physical exercise such as crossword puzzles, playing difficult card games, weight training , cardio and even crafting can ward off declining mental function due to age.  Even something as simple as maintaining a strong social network can help maintain brain function.

Healing Herbs for Brain Health

Herbalists have used specific plants to improve brain function throughout the centuries. Some are well known to the public, others are not so well known. Brain herbs include:

Gingko Biloba – Improves memory, brain function, depression, cerebral and peripheral circulation.  It has tonic effects on ischemic areas and studies have shown that it has antioxidant effects.  It has been shown to be beneficial in cases of senile macular degeneration.  Gingko increases cerebral blood flow and by doing so offers relief of the side effects of aging.  Recent studies have shown that gingko is beneficial in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and if the mental deficiency is caused by vascular insufficiency gingko is effective in reversing the deficit.

Ginseng – enhances the natural resistance and recuperative power of the body.  Historically used as an old-age re-vitaliser ginseng has a wide range of therapeutic activities.  Ginseng protects the body against stress, radiation and various chemical toxins.  Ginseng is also known to improve the memory.  In addition ginseng’s action as an anti-platelet agent improves circulation

Rosemary – Strengthens blood vessels, reduces tremors, relieves headaches caused by constriction.  It is used by contemporary herbalists to stimulate the circulatory and nervous systems.  It has anti-spasmodic properties which make it beneficial in constrictive headaches.

Skullcap – is helpful in the aftermath of stroke.  It is antispasmodic and anticonvulsive.  In addition it is useful for nervous disorders, constrictive headaches and epilepsy.  Skullcap improves circulation making it effective for cerebral insufficiency

Cacao and Brain Health

Cacao is currently under study for its effects on the cardiovascular system as well as its effect on the brain.  One of the constituents of cacao that has a miraculous effect on the brain is magnesium.  Magnesium activates almost all enzymes needed for our neurons to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate).  With the proper levels of magnesium the brain works with focus and clarity.  With depleted magnesium the brain is cloudy.

Magnesium activates the enzyme that converts omega3 fatty acids into DHA.  DHA deficiency has been indicated in such neurological disorders as poor memory and Alzheimer’s disease.  It is also needed to build the protective myelin sheaths which protect nerve fibres.

Although cacao is not an herb, unrefined cacao is being studied for its antioxidant properties and flavanols which have promising pharmacological properties.

New findings in the study of the aging brain make it necessary for people to rethink what they have been taught on aging and its effects on the brain.