Cognition is the ability to think, learn, and remember, thus forming the basis for an individual’s capacity for perception, reasoning, creativity, problem-solving, and possibly intuition.[i] The topic of cognitive health is not new, yet botanicals are only recently rising to the top due to new and exciting research. Indigenous people have used Many of these botanicals for thousands of years, and now modern medicine is proving their safety and efficacy.
To understand how to address improving focus, concentration, and cognitive health, it is best to understand the underlying physiology of cognitive health. Two primary areas of focus (pun intended) should be neurotransmitters and reduction of potential damage from free radicals (neuroprotection).
Neurotransmitters and Cognitive Health
Boiling this down into the simplest of terms, five neurotransmitters play a role in cognitive health: norepinephrine, dopamine, acetylcholine, GABA, and serotonin.[ii] Norepinephrine and dopamine are linked to cognitive and working memory[iii], while acetylcholine is involved in learning and short-term memory.[iv] GABA is supportive by playing a role in calming stress-related cognitive problems[v] and serotonin supports learning and memory.[vi]
Neuroprotective and Cognitive Health
Botanicals also provide neuroprotective benefits, which will positively impact cognitive health. This protection is often through the antioxidant effects of the plant. Plants can give neuroprotective active phytochemical substances like fatty acids, phenols, alkaloids, flavonoids, saponins, terpenes, etc.[vii]
One of the blessings of botanicals versus other natural ingredients is they often possess multiple phytochemicals and nutritional compounds. This allows botanicals to support the body in various areas. This is very true for the botanicals mentioned in this article. A closer look at a few compelling botanicals shows that the scientific community has identified the possible mechanism(s) of action for our topic of cognitive health.
Neurotransmitter and Neuroprotective Botanicals
American Ginseng (Ceraboost®)- Enhances acetylcholine levels while providing neuroprotective benefits. [viii]
Bacopa (Synapsa®/BacoMind®)- Like ashwagandha, it has multiple mechanisms of action that support neurotransmitters involved in cognition. Of these, dopamine, acetylcholine, GABA, and serotonin are on the list.[xi] Bacopa is often looked at for its neuroprotective benefits.[xii]
Blueberry- Studies show that blueberry positively affects both dopamine and norepinephrine levels impacted by stress.[xiii] It also provides benefits in neuronal signaling.[xiv] Research also shows blueberry to be neuroprotective.[xv]
Green oat (Cognitaven®)- Research shows that green oat positively impacts PDE-4 and monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B). [xvi] PDE-4 supports both norepinephrine and serotonin, while MAO-B supports dopamine, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, and serotonin[xvii] [xviii]
Red Grape (Cognigrape)- Red grape is high in anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins, nature’s more powerful antioxidants, providing great neuroprotection.
Sage (Cogniva®)- Studies with sage show its impact on acetylcholine by inhibiting the enzyme that breaks this neurotransmitter down.[xix] Studies also point to sage for its high content of polyphenols and their neuroprotective benefits.[xx]
Saffron (affron®)- Studies show effects on serotonin, dopamine, and GABA as well as being neuroprotective.[xxi]
Spearmint- Like many other botanicals, spearmint positively impacts acetylcholine and provides neuroprotective benefits.[xxii]
We can see from the above botanicals that there are many options. The best way to approach your cognitive health would be to combine some incredible plants that address neurotransmitters and neuroprotection. A perfect example would be combining red grape (Cognigrape) with Cogniva®. Cognigrape is a powerful antioxidant, with new research showing it helps with memory, cognitive function, and attention, and Cogniva® has been shown to benefit working memory and cognitive function.
[i] Falkingham M., Abdelhamid A., Curtis P., Fairweather-Tait S., Dye L., Hooper L. The effects of oral iron supplementation on cognition in older children and adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutr J. 2010;9:4.
[ii] Myhre T, Neurotransmitter systems involved in learning and memory in the rat: a meta-analysis based on studies of four behavioral tasks, Brain Research Reviews, Volume 41, Issues 2–3, 2003, Pages 268-287
[iii] Motley SE. Relationship Between Neuromodulation and Working Memory in the Prefrontal Cortex: It’s Complicated. Front Neural Circuits. 2018;12:31. Published 2018 Apr 24. doi:10.3389/fncir.2018.00031
[iv] Hasselmo ME. The role of acetylcholine in learning and memory. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2006;16(6):710-715. doi:10.1016/j.conb.2006.09.002
[v] Cao G, Edden RAE, Gao F, et al. Reduced GABA levels correlate with cognitive impairment in patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. Eur Radiol. 2018;28(3):1140-1148. doi:10.1007/s00330-017-5064-9
[vi] Buhot MC, Martin S, Segu L. Role of serotonin in memory impairment. Ann Med. 2000 Apr;32(3):210-21. Doi: 10.3109/07853890008998828. PMID: 10821328.
[vii] Kumar GP, Khanum F. Neuroprotective potential of phytochemicals. Pharmacogn Rev. 2012;6(12):81-90. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.99898
[viii] Shin K, Guo H, Cha Y, Ban YH, Seo da W, Choi Y, Kim TS, Lee SP, Kim JC, Choi EK, Yon JM, Kim YB. Cereboost™, an American ginseng extract, improves cognitive function via up-regulation of choline acetyltransferase expression and neuroprotection. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2016 Jul;78:53-8. doi: 10.1016/j.yrtph.2016.04.006. Epub 2016 Apr 22. PMID: 27112419.
[ix] ahanbakhsh SP, Manteghi AA, Emami SA, Mahyari S, Gholampour B, Mohammadpour AH, Sahebkar A. Evaluation of the efficacy of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) root extract in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder: A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Complement Ther Med. 2016 Aug;27:25-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2016.03.018. Epub 2016 Apr 9. PMID: 27515872.
[x] Singh N, Bhalla M, de Jager P, Gilca M. An overview on ashwagandha: a Rasayana (rejuvenator) of Ayurveda. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2011;8(5 Suppl):208-213. doi:10.4314/ajtcam.v8i5S.9
[xi] Rajan KE, Preethi J, Singh HK. Molecular and Functional Characterization of Bacopa monniera: A Retrospective Review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:945217. doi:10.1155/2015/94521
[xii] Kumar GP, Khanum F. Neuroprotective potential of phytochemicals. Pharmacogn Rev. 2012;6(12):81-90. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.99898
[xiii] Guo Q, Kim YN, Lee BH. Protective effects of blueberry drink on cognitive impairment induced by chronic mild stress in adult rats. Nutr Res Pract. 2017;11(1):25-32. doi:10.4162/nrp.2017.11.1.25
[xiv] Joseph JA, Denisova NA, Arendash G, Gordon M, Diamond D, Shukitt-Hale B, Morgan D. Blueberry supplementation enhances signaling and prevents behavioral deficits in an Alzheimer disease model. Nutr Neurosci. 2003 Jun;6(3):153-62. doi: 10.1080/1028415031000111282. PMID: 12793519.
[xv] Subash S, Essa MM, Al-Adawi S, Memon MA, Manivasagam T, Akbar M. Neuroprotective effects of berry fruits on neurodegenerative diseases. Neural Regen Res. 2014;9(16):1557-1566. doi:10.4103/1673-5374.139483
[xvi] Kennedy DO, Bonnländer B, Lang SC, et al. Acute and Chronic Effects of Green Oat (Avena sativa) Extract on Cognitive Function and Mood during a Laboratory Stressor in Healthy Adults: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study in Healthy Humans. Nutrients. 2020;12(6):1598. Published 2020 May 29. doi:10.3390/nu12061598
[xvii] Lourenco CM, Kenk M, Beanlands RS, DaSilva JN. Increasing synaptic noradrenaline, serotonin, and histamine enhances in vivo binding of phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitor (R)-[11C]rolipram in rat brain, lung, and heart. Life Sci. 2006 Jun 20;79(4):356-64. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2006.01.010. Epub 2006 Feb 24. PMID: 16499932.
[xviii] Shih JC, Chen K, Ridd MJ. Role of MAO A and B in neurotransmitter metabolism and behavior. Pol J Pharmacol. 1999 Jan-Feb;51(1):25-9. PMID: 10389141.
[xix] Lopresti AL. Salvia (Sage): A Review of its Potential Cognitive-Enhancing and Protective Effects. Drugs R D. 2017;17(1):53-64. doi:10.1007/s40268-016-0157-5
[xx] Lopresti AL. Salvia (Sage): A Review of its Potential Cognitive-Enhancing and Protective Effects. Drugs R D. 2017;17(1):53-64. doi:10.1007/s40268-016-0157-5
[xxi] Hausenblas HA, Saha D, Dubyak PJ, Anton SD. Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and major depressive disorder: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. J Integr Med. 2013;11(6):377-383. doi:10.3736/jintegrmed2013056
[xxii] Herrlinger KA, Nieman KM, Sanoshy KD, et al. Spearmint Extract Improves Working Memory in Men and Women with Age-Associated Memory Impairment. J Altern Complement Med. 2018;24(1):37-47. doi:10.1089/acm.2016.0379