Menopausal women searching for safe and effective alternatives to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) will inevitably come across “phytoestrogens”, either in their whole food form or as a concentrated extract in a supplement. But what exactly are phytoestrogens and how do they work in the human body? Are they even safe? Many answers remain unknown to the general public and the literature can offer mixed results as well. Let’s clear up some of the confusion. The term “phytoestrogen” can literally be translated into “plant estrogen”. In the 1950’s, this estrogenic activity was discovered in plants when researchers investigated the cause of
Ayurveda or “the science of life”, is a widely popular system of healing and is considered the oldest as described in ancient Indian texts dating back to 3500 BCE. Classically, Ayurveda is a holistic method of treating health by addressing the physical, mental and spiritual aspects in unison. Diet, exercise and meditation play a key role in this traditional but highly effective system. Naturally, Ayurveda uses a wide variety of herbs and minerals in various combinations that still continue to be used today and that have been described in detail in numerous texts. Ayurveda and homeopathy are considered on par with the western based pharmacological medical system and are recognised by the government of India as legitimate medical systems.This brief review of Ayurveda and cognition will not cover the time-honored principles of Ayurveda, rather it will focus on the experimental and clinical evidence on the use of the herbs. There are many herbs that are highly regarded in Ayurvedic medicine including: Mucuna pruriens, Centella asiatica, Withania sominefera and many others. Unfortunately, many of the published studies reporting the use of such herbs are of poor quality in terms of design, quality, sample size, statistical analysis (or a lack of ), not blinded and therefore allowing bias, and would not be accepted by many researchers as meaningful. However, two herbs that have good scientific data behind their use are turmeric and Bacopa.Epidemiologists, or scientists who study health in populations, often observe that the incidence of various neurological diseases in countries like India are often at the lower end of the spectrum. This indicates that lifestyle, diet, and the use of herbs and spices seem to be offering protection to the Indian population when compared to the western countries. The regular use of various herbs and spices in the diet, such as turmeric in curries and Bacopa in tea, has been implicated in their protective effects.
Bacopa is an herb that grows throughout the Indian sub-continent and is so highly revered that it is called brahmi after one of the major Hindu deities, Bhrama the God of Creation. Bacopa is a popular and widely used herb throughout the whole of India, due to its remarkable and positive effects on cognition in persons of all ages.Typically the whole of the plant is used, especially the leaves and stem. There are various active components including alkaloids and saponins, but the main active compounds for cognitive effects are thought to be bacosides A and B.
Bacopa has been subject to extensive research in both animals and humans and produces a multitude of physiological effects. First, Bacopa is regarded as an important adaptogen. An adaptogen is any compound that helps the body maintain normal status-quo during any form of stress. Stress may be described as the sum total of all the reactions of the body that disturbs its normal equilibrium and homeostasis. In Ayurvedic texts, Bacopa is considered a tonic for both the brain and the body and this may reflect Bacopa’s ability to help the body cope with stress. As an example, animals given aspirin to cause stomach ulcers were largely protected when given Bacopa at the same time. Second, Bacopa has been used in patients to treat epilepsy, anxiety, insomnia, as well as for providing a mild analgesic effect.Perhaps the most important therapeutic effect of Bacopa is in the field of cognition. Bacopa has been studied for enhancing memory in children as well as in seniors. Behavioural animal studies confirm that Bacopa improves motor learning; in other words, animals seem to remember tasks better or are able to escape a maze much quicker than untreated animals. Other studies have shown that Bacopa protects against various toxins that act on the nerve cells as well as reversing amnesia induced by such toxins.
Human Studies on Bacopa
One human study involved children who were given Bacopa syrup. It was given to 20 children under the age of eight, while another group of children of same age were given syrup without any Bacopa in it. Improvements were noticed in word association, pattern recognition and other reasoning tests in the Bacopa group compared to the placebo group; these improvements were statistically significant. A second study in 19 children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was carried out for 16 weeks. Like the previous study, positive results were noticed in various tests related to sentence repetition, memory, and other learning tasks. Researchers in Australia investigated the effects of Bacopa and tested the compound in 18 normal healthy adults at a daily dose of 300 mg. The study participants were evaluated two hours after intake with a battery of cognitive tests involving factors such as verbal recall of numbers, symbol recognition, speed of comprehension, reaction times and others. However, no difference was found in the Bacopa group when compared to the placebo group. Next, the researchers evaluated the same group after chronic use of Bacopa at a 300 mg dose for 12 weeks; this time they found significant improvements in cognitive function. Other research groups in India have also found similar benefits for chronic use of Bacopa. Thus it seems that Bacopa works very well when taken on a regular basis. The mechanism of action of Bacopa seems to be that Bacopa increases levels of acetylcholine (Ach), an important chemical messenger in the brain. Bacopa’s ayurvedic reputation as a “brain tonic” for children and adults (especially seniors) has been confirmed by researchers.
The brightly colored spice turmeric is a widely used condiment in South East Asia and beyond. Besides food application, the spice is used as a coloring agent, food preservative and for health benefits. Ayurveda lauds the diverse application of turmeric; its uses range from treating intestinal problems, fever, cataracts, inflammation and heart disease. It is also used as an antimicrobial, a topical treatment and of course for cognitive health. The active ingredients of the turmeric root are the three curcuminoids, of which by far the largest component is curcumin. Much of the research supports the use of curcumin in healthy brain function.Many research groups are actively looking at curcumin’s brain protective effects. One of the key requirements for any compound (natural or pharmaceutical) is the ability to cross the blood-brain-barrier (BBB). The BBB offers a defense against unwanted entry to many compounds both friend and foe. The brain is after all the command center and thus must be protected at all costs. The BBB acts as a gatekeeper, allowing access to key nutrients such as glucose and certain minerals, but also preventing access to others and therefore posing a challenge to the formulators of natural health products.
Longvida®- The Best Curcumin Supplement Available
After studying the curcumin molecule for many years, scientists at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) finally came up with a formulation that could get across the BBB and thus provide cognitive effects. They called this product Longvida® (see www.longvida.com) and patented it. While a number of animal studies showed the positive effects of this molecule, the scientists wanted to see if the benefits could be translated to humans. Researchers led by Dr Di Silvestro at Ohio State University looked at 30 healthy adults and gave hem the Longvida® formulation. They found that not only did Longvida® deliver high quantities of free curcumin due to its very high bioavailability, the highest in any formulation (see figure 1), but it also reduced the levels of beta amyloid peptide. This small protein like structure is thought to be one of the culprits in the causation of cognitive decline. Acting like Velcro, this glue-like protein sticks to the nerve cells causing their death. The fact that Longvida® reduced its circulating levels was a significant finding.
The Ohio State University Study is Important for the Following Reasons:
A very low dose was used (only 80 mg which is the exact dose in AOR’s CurcuViva). The study was for only 30 days and it was remarkable that a significant effect was seen in such a short duration!
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