Rosemary helps protect the brain
Reports published online recently in The Journal of Neurochemistry and Nature Reviews Neuroscience revealed the discovery of scientists in Japan and at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in La Jolla, California that a compound known as carnosic acid that occurs in the herb rosemary fights free radical damage in the brain in an animal model of impaired blood flow. Free radicals are believed to contribute to stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and the deleterious effects of aging on the brain.The finding may be useful in the development of a therapy for aged individuals and/or those with neurological disorders.
Dr Takumi Satoh of Iwate University in Japan, and Stuart A. Lipton, MD, PhD of the Burnham Institute’s Del E. Webb Neuroscience, Aging, and Stem Cell Research Center discovered that carnosic acid remains harmless until needed to fight free radical damage, upon which it activates a neuroprotective signaling pathway, making it a “pathological-activated therapeutic” or PAT drug. “This new type of drug works through a mechanism known as redox chemistry in which electrons are transferred from one molecule to another in order to activate the body’s own defense system,” Dr Lipton commented. “Moreover, unlike most new drugs, this type of compound may well be safe and clinically tolerated because it is present in a naturally-occurring herb that is known to get into the brain and has been consumed by people for over a thousand years.”
Drs Satoh and Lipton have filed a patent application for a series of compounds that have demonstrated improved benefits over the rosemary herb itself. “This is not to say that Rosemary chicken is not good for you,” said Dr. Satoh, “but it means that we can do even better in protecting the brain from terrible disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease, perhaps even slowing down the effects of normal aging, by developing new and improved cousins to the active ingredient in rosemary.”
Free radicals are highly unstable molecules that react with other molecules in a damaging process known as oxidation. Areas of the body with high energy output, such as the brain, are particularly vulnerable to damage from free radicals. The body normally defends itself against the harmful effects of free radicals with antioxidants, including superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase, as well as vitamins C and E. Animal studies have suggested that diets high in antioxidants can delay age-related memory loss (Joseph JA et al 1998; Perrig WJ et al 1997).
In addition to hormone therapy, a number of nutrients and supplements have been studied for their ability to enhance cognitive function. These agents act through a variety of mechanisms, including boosting antioxidant capabilities, improving blood flow to the brain, and reducing the rate of neuronal destruction.
Taking steps to improve one’s overall health is highly recommended to help prevent or minimize age-associated mental impairment. For example, exercising regularly, not smoking, and monitoring blood cholesterol levels can reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease and keep arteries open, supplying the brain with essential oxygen and nutrients.
Since most people tend to eat less as they age, the consumption of low-fat, nutrient-rich food is recommended to help prevent nutrient deficiencies. Eating large quantities of foods rich in antioxidants, such as blueberries, may provide protection from age-related mental decline.
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