Rosemary, Surprisingly, Has The Power to Do This to Your Brain
This is about a study done (beginning from a skeptical viewpoint) that sought to discern whether rosemary’s legendary reputation for aiding memory functions is really true.
It is well known that rosemary, a woody perennial herb, has been connected with memory enhancement for many centuries. In fact, it has been known for much of this time as the “herb of remembrance“.
I like to see these scientific studies validate what those “in the know” have known for years about the benefits of aromatherapy and rosemary. Enjoy this article, and if you like it, please take a moment to share!
In folk medicine, rosemary has been associated for centuries with having a good memory. But is it worth investigating whether it really has any powers, asks Dr Chris Van Tulleken.
In scientific terms there are different kinds of memory.
There’s past memory – your experiences and what you learned at school. There’s present memory, which is your working minute-to-minute memory. And there’s future memory or “remembering to remember”.
This is for many of us the trickiest one. When it fails bad things happen – we forget to take our vital heart medicine or worse still to buy our spouse’s birthday presents. It’s the reason letters decompose in my back pocket over months even though I cycle past a postbox every day.
There are plenty of examples of people who have enormously improved their past memories, committing decks of cards to memory or whole new languages. But remembering to remember is more complicated. Like most people I would do almost anything for an improved future memory.
It turns out that there are compounds in rosemary oil that may be responsible for changes in memory performance. One of them is called 1,8-cineole – as well as smelling wonderful (if you like that sort of thing) it may act in the same way as the drugs licensed to treat dementia, causing an increase in a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine.
These compounds do this by preventing the breakdown of the neurotransmitter by an enzyme. And this is highly plausible – inhalation is one of the best ways of getting drugs into the brain. When you eat a drug it may be broken down in the liver which processes everything absorbed by the gut, but with inhalation small molecules can pass into the bloodstream and from there to the brain without being broken down by the liver.
The implications of this kind of research are huge, but they don’t mean you need to spend your days smelling of rosemary and your night sleeping on a pillow of lavender. The effects were measurable but modest and they give us a clue that further research into some of the chemicals in essential oils may yield therapeutics and contribute to our understanding of memory and brain function.
It’s also important to remember that any drug that has a measurable effect, even if inhaled from a traditionally prepared essential oil, may also have a measurable side-effect. You can’t tinker with brain biochemistry and expect things to be simple.
But if these studies may help eventually contribute to new drugs to treat dementia there is another very nice benefit – they also restore some credibility to the much maligned alternative health field.
Traditional healing practices weren’t all quackery. Modern medicine of the kind I practise in London may have many sophisticated treatments but it comes with side effects and can leave people feeling disempowered.
We have spent many years rubbishing alternative treatments but there is, I believe, a real benefit in allowing people to take control of their own health with treatments that make them feel better – even if we haven’t been able to prove how.