Reports of a recent study in the British Medical Journal suggests that the brain’s ability to function can start to deteriorate as early as 45. University College London researchers found a 3.6% decline in mental reasoning in women and men aged 45-49 whereas previous research had suggested that cognitive decline does not begin much before the age of 60. Even more reason to look at what herbal medicines can do to help maintain healthy brain function.

Gingko biloba is the herb that is most widely known to aid cognitive function in dementia (including Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia) and there are many studies supporting its use for this purpose (see Ihl et al., 2011/2010;  Napryeyenko and Borzenko,2007). Recent research has also suggested that it improves cognitive function in middle-aged individuals as specified in the news article above.  In a 2011 randomised placebo-controlled clinical trial of 188 healthy subjects aged 45-56 years, performance of demanding cognitive tasks was aided by Gingko extract, administered over 6 weeks (Kaschel, 2011). Mechanisms of action underlying the benefits of Gingko include enhancing cerebral circulation and protecting neurons (e.g. Huang et al.,2011), and part of this may be due to its antioxidant properties.

A less-known herb traditionally used for aiding cognitive function is Bacopa monnieri. It has been shown in studies to aid cognitive function. A recent  randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial carried out on 98 healthy participants over 55 years of age showed an improvement of memory performance over a 12 week trial. Bacopa significantly improved verbal learning,
memory acquisition, and delayed recall (Morgan and Stevens, 2010). An initial in-vitro  study tested the neuroprotective effects of Bacopa extract in beta-amyloid protein-induced neurotoxicity. It protected neurons from beta-amyloid-induced cell death, possibly due to its ability to suppress cellular acetylcholinesterase activity.  It promoted cell survival and treated neurons expressed lower level of reactive oxygen species suggesting that Brahmi restrained intracellular oxidative stress which in turn prolonged the lifespan of the neurons.

Caution: The information here is offered for its educational value only and should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent disease; please contact your health care practitioner.



Huang M, Qian Y, Guan T, Huang L, Tang X, Li Y. (2011) ‘Different neuroprotective responses of Ginkgolide B and bilobalide, the two Ginkgo components, in ischemic rats with hyperglycemia’. Eur J Pharmacol.  PMID: 22197649

Ihl R, Bachinskaya N, Korczyn AD, Vakhapova V, Tribanek M, Hoerr R, Napryeyenko O (2010) ‘Efficacy and safety of a once-daily
formulation of Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761 in dementia with neuropsychiatric features: a randomized controlled trial’. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. PMID: 21140383

Ihl R, Tribanek M, Bachinskaya N (2011) ‘Efficacy and Tolerability of a Once Daily Formulation of Ginkgo biloba Extract EGb 761® in Alzheimer’s Disease and Vascular Dementia: Results from a Randomised Controlled Trial’. Pharmacopsychiatry. PMID:  2086747

Kaschel R. (2011) ‘Specific memory effects of Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761 in middle-aged healthy volunteers’. Phytomedicine. Nov 15;18(14):1202-7.

Limpeanchob N, Jaipan S, Rattanakaruna S, Phrompittayarat W, Ingkaninan K. (2008) ‘Neuroprotective effect of Bacopa monnieri on beta-amyloid-induced cell death in primary cortical culture’. J Ethnopharmacol. 120(1):112-7.

Morgan A, Stevens J. (2010) ‘Does Bacopa monnieri improve memory performance in older persons? Results of a randomized,
placebo-controlled, double-blind trial’. J Altern Complement Med. 16(7):753-9.

Napryeyenko O, Borzenko I. (2007) ‘Ginkgo biloba special extract in dementia with neuropsychiatric features. A randomised,  lacebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial’. Arzneim Forsch 57(1): 4-11