Dementia: The two herbs which may support cognitive function – ‘brain tonic’

Dementia: Dr Sara on benefits of being in nature

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As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia, though symptoms can vary widely from person to person. Although there are some risk factors you can’t change, there are many that you can. This will not mean that you definitely do not develop the condition, but can make it less likely. By 2025, Dementia UK reports more than one million people will be living with dementia in the UK.

Hilda Hayo, Chief Executive of Dementia UK, says that there is “no conclusive way” to prevent dementia.

Nonetheless, “you can reduce your risk by cutting down on or avoiding high fat or processed foods like cakes and pastries, sweets, cheese, red meats, fried and fast foods as well as butter and margarine.”

The chief executive noted: “Vascular dementia is caused by the blood supply to the brain being interrupted; and the cells are then starved of oxygen, so eating healthy, fresh food that maintains health and good circulation is really important.”

“Food which has long been considered brain healthy includes fish, green leafy vegetables, nuts and olive oil.”

Hilda said: “These foods are typically part of the Mediterranean diet, where there is low consumption of dairy and meat products, and there is evidence that the people who live in areas following these traditional diets live long, healthy lives.”

There may also be some herbs that are a good idea to add to your diet, according to medical herbalist Sebastian Pole, “to support cognitive function for better brain health and prevention of dementia”.

Gotu kola is an herb in the parsley family, which has been used in the traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine systems.

Pole stated: “It is a rejuvenative tonic, with particular effect upon the brain, helping to restore cerebral functioning that may have been compromised due to excess stress, trauma or illness. It will also improve cognitive functions such as memory, learning and recall.”

The herbalist added that Brahmi may be useful as “a brain tonic” as “it has the dual effect of promoting the intellect and improving cognitive functioning and learning ability, whilst also protecting brain cells against degeneration”.

Some dementia risk factors are impossible to change, such as age and genetics, however, research suggests other risk factors may also be important and may be possible to change.

The Alzheimer’s Society (AS) says that although getting older is the biggest risk factor for dementia, evidence shows there are things you can do to help reduce your own risk.

These include keeping active, eating healthily, drinking less alcohol and not smoking.

The AS also adds that “keeping your mind active” is likely to reduce your risk of dementia.

“Regularly challenging yourself mentally seems to build up the brain’s ability to cope with disease. One way to think about it is ‘Use it or lose it’,” the charity explains.

The NHS suggests that risk factors such as hearing loss, untreated depression, loneliness or social isolation, or sitting for most of the day, may also be important.

“The research concluded that by modifying the risk factors we are able to change, our risk of dementia could be reduced by around a third,” the health body says.

It adds that experts agree that what is good for your heart is also good for your brain, meaning that you can help reduce your risk of dementia by keeping your blood pressure at a healthy level.

“Being overweight or obese can increase your blood pressure and the risk of type 2 diabetes, both of which are linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia,” it states.

The NHS Health Check can help find early signs and tell you if you’re at higher risk of certain health problems that can also increase your risk of dementia.

It is a free check-up of your overall health for people aged 40 to 74 who do not have heart disease, diabetes or kidney disease, and have not had a stroke, and is offered every five years.

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