Have you ever forgotten why you headed into the kitchen or made a beeline for the linen closet? Forgetfulness is usually an inconvenience, but it can also be a symptom of mental decline — a terrifying prospect for most of us. Lots of herbs and herbal supplements are sold as memory boosters. Research is underway on some, while others may have anecdotal support for their memory enhancing benefits but little or no scientific support — yet, anyway.
An untested herb can still have great potential, but a healthy dose of skepticism is just common sense, especially in the face of outrageous claims. You know, if something sounds too good to be true. . . .
You might be hearing some of these herb names for the first time, as they hale from across the globe:
I mention these memory enhancing herbs as a group because they represent a place to turn for options, and can be useful resources when researching memory related conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. Not all are likely to yield results, but one way to defeat your enemy is to recognize your allies, so why not check out the buzz? WebMd is a good place to start (I’ve included some links), but don’t stop there.
Your Memory May Be Better Than You Think
Happily, sometimes memory problems aren’t a sign of big trouble. For all of us who like to hold onto the good thought, here’s a pretty neat example I found reassuring. It’s called the “doorway effect,” or the brain’s predisposition to deprioritize memory under certain circumstances. This is a real thing, and one you’ve probably experienced a thousand times:
You find yourself in front of the open refrigerator with your hand actually reaching out, only to discover you’ve forgotten what you were reaching for; were you lusting after those wholesome celery sticks or that deliciously chilled Snickers bar?
Doorway effect is a specific example of how the brain’s short term memory functions. The idea is that walking through a doorway (like into the kitchen) triggers the brain to clear the decks for more important, newer tasks, shelving the older ones. It sees the doorway passage (a between event) as the end of one thing and the beginning of something new.
Think of it like the process of making a recipe: You place an ingredient you need on the kitchen countertop, and put it away after you use it. It’s still in the kitchen, just not within easy reach. In responding to certain triggers, like walking through doorways, the brain puts countertop ingredients (thoughts, ideas, objectives) back in the cupboard, so you have a harder time remembering them.
Better example: You’re watching television, see a commercial for car wax and decide to wash your vehicle. You walk out of the family room, down the hall and into the garage. Standing next to the nicely coiled garden hose, you suddenly realize you’ve forgotten what you were going to do — wash the car. The act of going through the family room doorway triggered your brain to deprioritize the car washing idea. Your body is still physically headed to the garage, though. When you reach your destination and search your short term memory for information about your motivation, it’s gone.
This may help explain why you keep forgetting where you put your glasses (thank God!). It’s a glitch that happens to completely healthy — if healthily befuddled — brains. You can check out a Scientific American article on the subject here: Why Walking through a Doorway Makes You Forget
Oh, and my advice is to go for the Snickers bar two times out of three.
Brenner, Charles B. and Jeffrey M. Zacks. “Why Walking through a Doorway Makes You Forget.” Scientific American. 12/13/2011. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-walking-through-doorway-makes-you-forget/
Foster, Steven. “Fresh Clips: Can Ginkgo Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?” http://www.motherearthliving.com/health-and-wellness/fresh-clips-can-ginkgo-prevent-alzheimers-disease.aspx
Hill, Maria. “6 Brain Boosting Herbs To Improve Your Productivity.” http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/6-brain-boosting-herbs-to-improve-your-productivity.html
Jatwa, Vivek, Praveen Khirwadkar, Kamlesh Dashora. “Indian Traditional Memory Enhancing Herbs and Their Medicinal Benefits.” ” Indian Journal of Research in Pharmacy and Biotechnology.” 2014. https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&as_q=common+brain+herbs&as_epq=&as_oq=&as_eq=&as_nlo=&as_nhi=&lr=&cr=&as_qdr=all&as_sitesearch=.edu&as_occt=any&safe=images&as_filetype=&as_rights=
Tilson, Ariel. “Memory Boosters: These Herbs Won’t Let You Forget.” 2009. http://www.motherearthliving.com/natural-health/memory-boosters-these-herbs-wont-let-you-forget.aspx
WebMd. “Maca.” http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-555-maca.aspx?activeingredientid=555&activeingredientname=maca
WebMD. “Ashwaghandha.” http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-953-ashwagandha.aspx?activeingredientid=953&activeingredientname=ashwagandha
WebMD. “Brahmi.” http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-761-brahmi.aspx?activeingredientid=761&activeingredientname=brahmi
WebMD. “Dragon’s Blood.” http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-30-dragon%27s%20blood.aspx?activeingredientid=30&activeingredientname=dragon%27s%20blood
WebMd. “Gotu kula.” http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-753-gotu%20kola.aspx?activeingredientid=753&activeingredientname=gotu%20kola
WebMd. “Holy Basil.” http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-1101-holy%20basil.aspx?activeingredientid=1101&activeingredientname=holy%20basil
WebMd. “Huperzine A .” http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-764-huperzine%20a.aspx?activeingredientid=764&activeingredientname=huperzine%20a
WebMD. “Rhodiola.” http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-883-rhodiola%20%28roseroot%29.aspx?activeingredientid=883&activeingredientname=rhodiola%20%28roseroot%29