Hands up, who wants to get smarter? Perhaps you’re a student with exams coming up or just wanting to take preventative action against age-related memory decline. Well, the herbal world has got you covered. Nootropic is a fancy word for “acting on the brain” and refers to a class of herbs that enhance cognition and protect your brain.
Memory is your individual ability to encode, store, retain and recall information 1. The stress and fatigue associated with modern lifestyles can be detrimental to your brain function. Age also impacts memory and during your 40s hormones and growth proteins that facilitate memory begin to decline 2.
What can nootropic herbs do?
Nootropic herbs enhance memory, increase alertness and improve mental performance by:
- Increasing circulation to the brain
- Provide precursors to neurotransmitters
- Improve the functioning of neurons
- Protecting the brain from free radicals and oxidative stress
- Providing usable energy to the brain3
Bacopa monnieri or Brahmi is an Ayurvedic herb with a 3000-year history of traditional use for balancing mood, increasing memory mental processing and healthy brain ageing 2.
Modern research is supporting these traditional indications by revealing one of the components, bacosides, enhance nerve impulse transmission and facilitate the repair of damaged neurons 1. Clinical trials have shown an increase in learning and improved memory retention when compared with controls 4.
You need to play the long game with Bacopa as the effects become apparent after about eight weeks.
Camellia sinensis contains caffeine plus an amino acid, theanine which balances the stimulating effect of caffeine to increase alertness and clarity. Its ability to enhance alpha brain waves (similar to those produced by meditators) has made it the favoured beverage of Buddhist monks for centuries.
Green tea also contains high amounts of an antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate (ECGC) that helps protect the brain from free radical damage3.
Four cups of green tea per day provide a therapeutic dose.
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.” Ophelia, Hamlet, Shakespeare.
The powers of Rosmarinus officinalis on the mind also have a long history of traditional use as ancient Greek students wore rosemary garlands to aid in memory recall 5.
Rosemary is a herbal multi-tasker when it comes to brain function. It increases nerve growth factor, which is responsible for the repair and regrowth of nerve tissue, making it a supportive therapy for those who have suffered from a stroke4. It is a potent antioxidant, protecting the brain from free radical damage. Rosemary’s ability to inhibit the enzyme, acetylcholinesterase increases the amount of acetylcholine available in the brain2. This neurotransmitter has a crucial role in memory formation.
So it looks like both Shakespeare and the ancient Greeks were on to something!
Rhodiola rosea is a herb native to the arctic regions of Europe and Russia. It increases both stamina and focus and provides mental clarity under stress 2. Rhodiola is thought to work on multiple neurotransmitters (dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin) 3.
In a proofreading testing, Rhodiola significantly decreased the number of errors made when compared to a control group 2.
Centella asiatica is another Ayurvedic herb that has brain-boosting effects. Gotu Kola promotes the growth of neurons. By reducing the amount of corticosterone produced during stressful situations Gotu Kola can increase the concentration and focus 3. This herb has been found to provide benefit to children with learning difficulties2.
More than nootropic herbs
Remember (pun intended!) the foundation of brain health, as with all health is a nutritious diet, regular exercise and plenty of refreshing sleep.
Combining this with herbal nootropics can improve your mental performance, protect you from age-related memory decline and help you make full use of your potential.
Norelle Hentschel is a degree qualified Naturopath and operates a clinic in Crows Nest, North Sydney. She enjoys helping people sleep better and can assist with a broad range of health conditions or general health maintenance.
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- Srinath S. Memory Enhancing Medicinal Herbs. J Pharm Sci Res. 2014;6(10):331-333. doi:10.1155/2012/606424.
- Chaudhary H, Rathee P, Rathee S, Rathee D. Natural memory boosters. Pharmocognosy Rev. 2008;2(4):249-256.
- Pranav J. A REVIEW ON NATURAL MEMORY ENHANCERS (Nootropics). Unique J Eng Adv Sci. 2014;(December).
- Avila C, Evans S, Morgan A, Avila CC, Evans S, Morgan A. Herbal Wisdom : memory and migration Part 1 – Western herbalists in Australia. Coolabah. 2011;(5):15-33.
- Cakic V. Smart drugs for cognitive enhancement : ethical and pragmatic considerations in the era of cosmetic neurology. J Med Ethics. 2009;35:611-615. doi:10.1136/jme.2009.030882.