“Often in life we remember the things we should forget and forget the things we should remember!”
How often do you wish your memory was better? Can’t find the car keys? Not sure if you paid or didn’t pay that bill? Do you have difficulty staying on task and being focused? Perhaps you don’t have a problem with remembering but your loved ones do! Is there anything that you can do to help them to stay on task and be focused as well as be able to retain clarity about matters that are important?
When it comes to memory there are surprising ways that we can improve our cognitive function through our choice of foods – “Whole food plant based’ (WFPB) choices that is!
According to Ophelia in “Hamlet”; “Rosemary is for remembrance”.
Rosemary is native to Greece where the Ancients used it for stimulating the brain and aiding memory. According to Dioscorides; “the eating of the flower in a preserve comforts the brain, the heart and the stomach; sharpens understanding, restores lost memory, awakens the mind, and in sum is a healthy remedy for various cold ailments of the head and stomach!” It therefore isn’t surprising that Rosemary has become very popular in nursing care facilities which care for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia where they are often diffused or used in massages.
Even the SMELL of certain herbs can affect the way our brain works. Take lavender for instance. Whilst it appears that inhaling the diffused oil doesn’t improve cognitive performance it CAN reduce anxiety and promote feelings of relaxation. Combining it with Rosemary may assist in promoting cognitive performance by stimulating the brain. The two combined may be very helpful to those who stress about performance but need to stay alert.
According to Dr. Greger (www.nutritionfacts.org), the volatile compounds (e.g. terpenes) found in essential oils, may enter the blood stream by way of the nasal or lung mucosa. These terpenes are small organic molecules which have direct effect on the brain by crossing the blood/brain barrier and acting on receptor sites or enzyme systems. There have now been scientific tests done which show increased cognitive concentration in measurable ways through the inhalation of Rosemary essential oil. “These finding suggest that compounds absorbed from rosemary aroma affect cognition and subjective state independently through different neurochemical pathways”. According to a Cognitive Drug Research study found that the aroma of Rosemary oil “increased performance in exam students while increasing free radical scavenging activity and reducing cortisol levels.”
Inhaling rosemary improved cognitive performance in exam students
Interestingly, the consumption of herbal compounds such as rosemary was even MORE effective than inhalation. It appears as if your competitive advantage doesn’t just stay with diffusing them, you can consume them as food and perform even better!
Berries have also been identified as a beneficial to cognitive function. The consumption of blueberries and strawberries have been associated with delaying cognitive aging by as much as 2.5 years. This is possibly due to the phytonutritional benefits which provide better oxygenation of the brain. Other plants which also trigger memory and thought process include; Ginger, Lemon, Grapefruit, Thyme, Black Pepper, and Coriander. Eaten or inhaled, it apparently makes little difference, they each provide much appreciated improvements to our ability to think clearly and retain our memories.
How is this at all possible? Well according to Nutritionfacts.org; plants can be considered as chemical factories that manufacture huge numbers of diverse bioactive substances, many of which have the potential to provide substantial neuroprotective benefits. In the case of the blueberries and strawberries it is thought that the anthocyanin phytonutrients affect the brain by boosting cognitive function – as witnessed on functional MRI scans.
Aromatherapy is beneficial to Alzheimer patients
What is even more exciting is that it appears as if the use of herbs aromatically (i.e. essential oil diffusion) may even be able to promote nerve regeneration! Scientists discovered in a clinical trial in 1998 that the human brain is capable of neurogenesis or renewal! (Nature Medicine, V4, N11, 1998). Prior to this study, mainstream medicine believed that “the inability to generate replacement cells is thought to be an important cause of neurological disease and impairment”. The study showed that using rosemary and lemon in the morning and lavender and orange in the evening. The study stated: “In conclusion, we found aromatherapy an efficacious non-pharmacological therapy for dementia. Aromatherapy may have some potential for improving cognitive function, especially in AD patients.” Even better, there were no side effects!
To ensure we retain as much cognitive function as possible as we age, we would be wise to reduce the consumption of processed and fatty foods with high energy refined sugars, saturated fats and high sodium content and substitute instead a diet high in phytochemicals and micronutrients. In effect we need to become ‘nutritarians’ – people who consume a high nutrient diet as opposed to poor nutrient diet.
Here are some important tips to remember;
- As with all essential oils, they should be used in small amounts and with caution in anyone in poor health.
- Oils used with the elderly and children should always be used 1/2 strength of the amounts that would be used in a normally healthy person.
- If the person is agitated or depressed try adding one of these essential oils- Jasmine, Rose or Neroli as they could also help.
To help with CONFUSION BLEND
- Black Pepper – 5 drops
- Ginger – 4 drops
- Grapefruit – 8 drops
- Helichrysum – 5 drops and
- Basil – 7 drops may be used.
Apply once or twice daily. This blend can be used in a diffuser also. If using this for Dementia patients with behavioral problems add 5 drops of Melissa!
A great blend to help with concentration and focus is CONCENTRATION BLEND
- Lemon – 20 drops
- Basil – 6 drops
- Rosemary – 2 drops
Mix oils then diffuse into the air.
In conclusion, as a student nurse working in the aged care facility I remember the sadness I felt as I watched elderly people fade away or become aggressive and confused. Doing my research for this article made me so much more aware of the potential for non-pharmacological treatments in improving the behavioral problems the elderly frequently experience with dementia as well as improve overall cognitive health, regardless of what your age. I am now more committed to helping my own family and the families of my friends and clients to utilise the power of plants for healing.
Certified Wellness Coach
Director – Essential Wellness Centre