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Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of dementia, characterized by progressive memory loss, decline in cognitive function, and ability to perform everyday tasks. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, and modern medicine has little to offer for treatment of this devastating ailment. Alzheimer’s destroys neurons and their connections when amyloid plaque deposits and neurofibrillary tangles form in the brain. Sometimes referred to as Type 3 diabetes, Alzheimer’s is thought to be triggered by long term insulin resistance. This is corroborated by evidence that people with Type 2 diabetes are about 60% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

Prevention is paramount in reducing the chances of developing Alzheimer’s. Avoiding smoking, getting regular aerobic exercise, engaging in mental stimulation, and eating a well balanced, low sugar diet are all linked to lower occurrence rates. Where modern medicine falls short, herbal medicine offers perhaps the best approach. Holistic lifestyle changes coupled with targeted herbs make a huge difference in both preventing and treating Alzheimer’s Disease. As always, please consult a trusted and knowledgeable herbalist before beginning an herbal protocol due to the complex nature of personal constitutions and herbal actions, especially for serious conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

Through the ages

Sage (Salvia officinalis) is an herb long associated with wisdom and graceful aging; the ancient Latin proverb, Cur moriatur homo cui Salvia crescit in horto? translates to ‘Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?’ This ancestral knowledge holds water. Modern research confirms that several Salvia species enhance cognitive skills and guard against neurodegenerative disorders. Sage also helps to regulate the fluids of the body, mitigate several symptoms of menopause, and has the ability to turn graying hair dark again.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), an herb praised for centuries for its positive effects on memory (from Shakespeare’s Ophelia, “There’s Rosemary, that’s for remembrance”), demonstrates similar scientific significance. Recently, scientists discovered that diterpenes from Rosemary provided antioxidant protection and reduced neuronal cell death, brain inflammation and plaque formation. In one Japanese study, culinary-sized doses of Rosemary and aromatherapy using Rosemary essential oil had a positive measurable effect on improving cognitive function in subjects with Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

Two Skullcaps are Better than One

Both American Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) and Chinese Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) are effective against Alzheimer’s. In several studies, American Skullcap exhibited potent antioxidant effects on brain tissue and has great therapeutic potential against various oxidative stress associated mental disorders. American Skullcap is a nervine herb that has toning and calming effects on the nervous system, so it’s helpful for the agitation and fear Alzheimer’s patients often experience. Chinese Skullcap has a protective effect on neurons in the hippocampus and also reversed the reduction in neuron count in incidents of neural injury.

Draining the Swamp of the Brain

Desert dwelling herb Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon crassifolium) is drying and expectorating to mucous and inflammatory buildup in the body. Yerba Santa also has powerful anti-inflammatory effects on brain cells called ‘microglia’. Additionally, this ‘holy’ herb is effective in preventing cell death and can act as an iron remover. Too much iron in the body can contribute to neuron damage in aging and neurodegenerative diseases. 

Calamus (Acorus calamus) grows along lakes and ponds, acting as a purifying plant to sludge and pollution in the water. Similarly, Calamus improves memory recall and cognition by promoting cerebral circulation and removing stagnant material, awakening latent cerebral function. Herbalists use Calamus for many ailments, including treatment of head trauma patients to reduce fogginess and aid in concentration. It’s also a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. 

An Ayurvedic Approach

There are several outstanding herbs for Alzheimer’s from the Ayurvedic tradition, which is one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems, transcribed over 3,000 years ago in India. Ayurveda is based on the knowledge that true health is an ever-shifting balance between the mind, body, and spirit. It includes recommendations for diet, herbal medicine, exercise, and breathing techniques, among others. In much of modern day India, rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are lower than in places like the U.S. and western Europe.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), a well loved and widely used adaptogen, lowers cholesterol and cortisol levels. In this way, it provides feelings of restfulness and reduces stress and anxiety. While these effects alone are helpful in any Alzheimer’s protocol, Ashwagandha is also championed as a memory enhancing herb that has been clinically shown to inhibit and reduce the formation of dementia-inducing beta-amyloid plaques in the brain.

Bacopa, (Bacopa monnieri) often referred to as Brahmi, is a tonic herb with outstanding positive effects on the brain. Known traditionally to enhance cognitive function and improve memory recall, in clinical studies, Bacopa demonstrated inhibition of harmful plaque-forming enzymes while reducing and removing the accumulated plaque. Bacopa specifically reduces amyloid fibrils, which are one of the major causes of Alzheimer’s.

Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) is an amazing regenerative herb with the ability to heal wounds, regenerate skin cells, soothe the nervous system, and improve cognition and recall. It has both neuroprotective and neuro-regenerative properties, helping to rebuild neurotransmitters necessary for memory and learning. In addition, Gotu Kola is an impressive antioxidant, capable of mitigating and reversing oxidization due to buildup of plaques.

Medicinal Mushrooms

Last but certainly not least, our indispensable medicinal mushrooms must be mentioned! Lion’s Mane is perhaps the most famous nootropic mushroom. Its constituents offer neuroprotection, anti-inflammatory action, and stimulation of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF). In herbal medicine, we often use Lion’s Mane to treat brain injuries, as it supports brain regeneration and the creation of new pathways and connections. Clinical studies show that Lion’s Mane increases NGF levels, inducing the growth and proliferation of neurons. This helps prevent and treat neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s.

While Lion’s Mane may get much of the cognitive enhancing credit, other mushrooms like Maitake (Grifola frondosa) and Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) have also been clinically proven to stimulate NGF, supporting faster development of healthy neurons, and enhancing mitochondrial function. Maitake has the added benefit of lowering and regulating blood sugar levels. This is of essential importance in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, as it is so closely tied to diabetes. Reishi, often called the mushroom of longevity, boasts powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties as well as providing nervous system support and boosting overall mental clarity and acuity.

Check out more herbal products for brain health here!

 

Micaela Foley

Micaela Foley is a practicing herbalist and writer currently living in Providence, Rhode Island. She attended both ArborVitae School of Traditional Herbalism in New York City and Blue Otter School of Herbal Medicine in Northern California. Her herbal work is focused on accessibility, community healing, and issues of social justice. Her writing aims to be holistic, an attempt to interweave the scientific, political, spiritual, poetic, ancestral and contemporary.

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