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How to Help Your Memory with American Ginseng


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Both the Chinese and the Native Americans, two cultures completely isolated from each other, used ginseng to increase their mental powers. So let's explore the evidence modern science has to offer. First we'll go to the end - the best research yet on how American ginseng helps memory was done right here in Australia in 2010.

Ginseng memory

Research in Australia - 2010

Researchers in Melbourne tested 32 healthy men and women aged from 18 to 40 - sat them down in separate rooms with headphones for the day and performed a large range of tests, the kind neurology books are filled with. They had to remember images, words, letters, numbers, shapes and faces. They were tested with number puzzles and problems involving shapes and sequences. They even tested how calm they were. Amazingly, all returned a week later for more punishment. This time, and again for the next three weeks, some of them were given capsules with an American ginseng extracts (100mg, 200mg or 400mg) and some received a capsules with no ginseng. This was changed around each week and they didn't know which they received. This is about as good as trials get - randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled and cross-over.

The results were clear - those who took American ginseng had significantly better working memory and mental performance, and were faster at making decisions than those who did not. Those who took ginseng were also significantly calmer and more relaxed. In most people even the lower dose of ginseng was effective. The researchers hypothesised that ginseng benefits were due to its effect on acetylcholine (see below) in the hippocampus and to a lesser extent the brain cortex.

20 years of research before the Australian trial

Not surprisingly, the Chinese were the front-runners. They knew what Korean ginseng could do and were keen to investigate its American blood-brother, which has much more of the saponin Rb1 than the Korean variety. They started out with testing both Rb1 and Rg1 on rats and mice, and found they both helped the animals learn things such as navigate mazes or how to avoid pain (please don't ask for details...).

The Canadians then beat the Americans to the punch - led by the University of Alberta in 1991. They knew they could zap the memory of rats with a drug called scopolamine and wondered if the American ginseng saponin Rb1 could prevent this. Sure enough it did and hence began the research on how it influences the well known nerve messenger acetylcholine. Christina Benishin went on to show that Rb1 stimulates the release of acetylcholine from the tiny brain memory centre called the hippocampus, and showed it worked by increasing the uptake of the choline. The implications of this research were barely noticed in the outside world, but this small research community must have realised the possibilities. Today many of the pharmaceutical drugs used for Alzheimer's disease work by stimulating acetylcholine in the hippocampus.

Enter the Rockerfeller University, New York - and you guessed it, they too found that the ginseng saponin Rb1 helped memory and learning, possibly through its action on acetylcholine. They also found it boosted the chemical messengers (mRNAs) that direct nerve messages in the forebrain and hippocampus.

Alzheimer's was again the focus of Japanese researchers in 2004. They had earlier done ground-breaking work on how ginseng is metabolised in the body and found that Rb1 changed in the body into a different substance called M1. They discovered that both Rb1 and M1 can actually help restore damaged nerve cells in mice with chemical-induced Alzheimer's disease. It did this by helping the passage of messages along the long tails of the nerve cells and pass "across the bridge" to the next nerve cell. In doing this the ginseng saponin helped to protect their memory.

The Hippocampus

To really get a handle on how your memory works, you need to know about the hippocampus. It's a little lump of tissue deep inside the brain that looks amazingly like a seahorse (hence the name). Untold numbers of rodents have been tested and dissected in the name of hippocampus research. We now know its main purpose is to help file away new memories and to recall the old. Damage your hippocampus and you'll have major problems learning and remembering new things and to a lesser extent, recalling old memories. The hippocampus is especially useful in spatial problems, such as remembering where you're going, knowing how to get there and remembering where you've been. London cabbies have been found to have bigger hippocampi than the average person!

So what's the Hippocampus got to do with Ginseng?

Three things:


Apart from taking ginseng, what other natural things can I do to improve my memory?

A good brain needs plenty of blood, so just about anything that's good for your heart will also help your thinking and memory. So:


And did you know the more you know the harder it is to learn new things? Because you filter learning through the stuff you already know. It's easier to be a child with a clean slate!

Please note:
Any scientific information has been assembled by Simply Ginseng from reputable peer-reviewed scientific journals. We have tried to ensure it is clear, balanced and without bias. This information should not be construed as claims for any of our products. Always consult your health care professional.Use only as directed. Always read the label.
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