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The 8 Best Herbs for Preventing and Treating Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

Alzheimer's disease brain comparison
Alzheimer’s disease brain comparison

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia, it’s a neurodegenerative disease associated with a build-up of certain proteins and chemicals in the brain, which causes the brain atrophy and brain cells to die. This leads to dementia symptoms that worsen over time. Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning (thinking, remembering, and reasoning) behavioral abilities and social skills that affects a person’s ability to function independently and carry out simple day-to-day tasks.

What Are the Causes of Neuronal Degeneration in Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s Disease causes degeneration of brain neural tissue (Image source:

Some of the processes by which neurons (nerve cells) die and lead to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Parkinson’s disease (PD) are often similar.

It is currently understood that some of the processes that lead to neuronal degeneration include:

Inflammation – which is an essential part of the body’s immune response, can occur anywhere in the body when the immune system reacts to a foreign organism or infection, or after cell damage or injury as the body tries to repair itself. Inflammation of the brain or central nervous system (CNS) can result in the death of neurons and contribute to cell death in neurodegenerative diseases.

Oxidative stress – is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. When the amounts of free radicals exceed those of the antioxidants that keep them in balance, the free radicals can cause damage to fatty tissue, DNA, and proteins in the body.

Mitochondrial dysfunction – Mitochondria are organelles (specialized structures) within cells that generate most of the chemical energy needed to power the cell’s biochemical reactions. Problems with mitochondria in neurons have been linked to depression, MS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and others.

Apoptosis – also known as programmed cell death, which refers to the natural death of cells as the body ages and grows, which happens due to biochemical instructions in the cell’s DNA.

Genetic factors – the two types of Alzheimer’s, early-onset and late-onset, both have a genetic component. Most people with Alzheimer’s have the late-onset form where symptoms appear in their mid-60s and later.

Protecting Nerve Cells from Damage

The structure of a neuron (nerve cell) allows it to rapidly transmit nerve impulses to other cells (Image source: LibreTexts Biology)

In traditional herbal medicine, the leaves, stems, roots, flowers, fruits and seeds of various plants have been used therapeutically through the ages.

Some compound derived from herbs such as resveratrol, curcumin, ginsenoside, polyphenols, and triptolide have been shown to have neuroprotective effects, countering the effects of neurodegeneration (nerve breakdown), and serving to protect neurons from injury or degeneration.

The neuroprotective substances we currently know about cannot reverse existing damage, but they may protect against further nerve damage and slow down any degeneration of the central nervous system (CNS).

An interesting research journal titled “Neuroprotective potency of some spice herbs, a literature review” was published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine in 2019 and can be found in the National Library of Medicine’s online PubMed site.

The researchers analysed all the studies on specific neuroprotective herbs published up until the end of August 2016 and collated the results.

To quote the abstract of this study, which summarises the findings:

In traditional medicine a large number of plants have been used to cure neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other memory related disorders.

Crocus sativus, Nigella sativa, Coriandrum sativum, Ferula assafoetida, Thymus vulgaris, Zataria multiflora and Curcuma longa were used traditionally for dietary, food additive, spice and various medicinal purposes. The Major components of these herbs are carotenoids, monoterpenes and poly phenol compounds which enhanced the neural functions.

These medicinal plants increased antioxidant, decreased oxidant levels and inhibited acetylcholinesterase activity in the neural system. Furthermore, neuroprotective of plants occur via reduced pro-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-6, IL-1b, TNF-a and total nitrite generation. Therefore, the effects of the above mentioned medicinal and their active constituents improved neurodegenerative diseases which indicate their therapeutic potential in disorders associated with neuro-inflammation and neurotransmitter deficiency such as AD and depression.

The original research paper can be downloaded here – Neuroprotective potency of some spice herbs, a literature review.

There are many research papers on the use of Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri), and Ayurvedic (traditional Indian medicine) herb. An example is “A Comprehensive Review on Preclinical Evidence-based Neuroprotective Potential of Bacopa monnieri against Parkinson’s Disease” published in 2022 which collates all the preclinical studies on the subject.

To quote the abstract of this study, which summarises the findings:

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and gradually progressive neurodegenerative disorder triggered due to the loss of dopamine-releasing neurons in the region of substantia nigra pars compacta characterized by the motor symptoms, such as tremor, bradykinesia, akinesia, and postural instability.

Proteinopathies, mitochondrial dysfunction induced dopaminergic neuronal deterioration, and gene mutations are the hallmarks of Parkinson’s disease.

The bioactive components of Brahmi, such as Bacoside A, Bacoside B, and Bacosaponins, belong to various chemical families. Brahmi’s neuroprotective role includes reducing neuronal oxidative stress, dopaminergic neuronal degeneration, mitochondrial dysfunction, inflammation, inhibition of α-synuclein aggregation, and improvement of cognitive and learning behaviour.

Researchers found that Bacopa monnieri significantly increased brain levels of glutathione, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin A in rats exposed to cigarette smoke.

Brahmi has a potent antioxidant property and neuroprotective effects against PD that help reduce oxidative stress and neuroinflammation and enhance dopamine levels. The review collates all the preclinical studies that prove the beneficial neuroprotective effect of Brahmi for treating PD.

The 8 Best Neuroprotective Herbs

Different medicinal plants showed the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects which may have potential therapeutic effects in various nervous system disorders. The results of studies also imply that beneficial effects of the plants on neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer and Parkinson disease are mainly due to the interactions with the cholinergic, dopaminergic and glutamatergic systems. Regarding the anticonvulsant, analgesic effects of the plants interaction with the GABA and opioid system might be suggested.

The way to derive the benefits of these herbs is by incorporating them into the diet, using them in cooking and recipes, as all of them are culinary herbs, other than Brahmi which is a non-aromatic herb that can be used as a vegetable.

1. Saffron (Crocus sativus)

Saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) in flower, showing the beautiful long red stigma that are harvested for the spice (Image credits: Hocus Crocus Saffron)

The saffron crocus plant is a member of the Iridaceae (Iris) family and is cultivated in many countries, primarily in Iran, but also in Spain, France, Italy and parts of India.

The saffron spice is made from the flowers, namely the dark-red stigma with a small portion of the yellowish style attached. Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, and despite its popularity as a culinary herb, it is used mainly as herbal medicine in various parts of the world.

Saffron contains 150 different compounds including carbohydrates, polypeptides, lipids, minerals and vitamins. The main active ingredients in saffron are crocins, a family of red-coloured, water-soluble carotenoids, which are all glycosides of crocetin. Also, saffron has four main bioactive components such as, crocin, crocetin, picrocrocin and safranal. Another constituent of saffron was Picrocrocin which has a bitter taste.

Summary of therapeutic research findings:

2. Black Cumin (Nigella sativa)

Black Cumin flower (Image source:

The black cumin plant is an annual herbaceous plant from the Ranunculaceae (buttercup) family, which widely grown in the Mediterranean countries, Western Asia, Middle East and Eastern Europe.

Black cumin seeds are used as a spice to range of Persian foods such as bread, pickles, sauces and salads.

The seeds contain oils, proteins, carbohydrates, and fibre. The oil of black cumin seeds contains linoleic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid, arachidic acid, eicosadienoic acid, stearic acid, and myristic acid. The major phenolic compounds of N. sativa seeds are p-cymene (37.3%), Thymoquinone (TQ) (13.7%), carvacrol (11.77%), and thymol (0.33%).

Summary of therapeutic research findings:

3. Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)

Coriander plant (Image source:

The coriander plant is an annual herb from the Apiaceae (parsley, carrot, dill) family native to the Mediterranean region and grown worldwide.

The fresh herb oil predominant contains aliphatic aldehydes (mainly C10-C16 aldehydes) with fetid-like aroma, whereas the major components in the oil isolated from coriander fruit include linalool and some other oxygenated monoterpenes and monoterpene hydrocarbons. Coriander seed oil contains linalool (60-70%) and 20% hydrocarbons.

Coriander is also a potential source of lipids such as petroselinic acid and a high amount of essential oils that are very important for growth and brain functions. The main coriander essential oils are linalool, linoleic and linolenic acids.

Summary of therapeutic research findings:

4. Asafoetida (Ferula assafoetida)

Asafoetida plant (Image source:

The Asafoetida plant is a tall perennial herb that belongs to the Apiaceae (parsley, carrot, dill) family and is native to Iran and Afghanistan. It is also grown in India. The spice is made from the dried and powdered resin which is extracted from the fleshy rhizome or tap roots of the plant.

It has been used in traditional medicine and as a spice in different
foods in India and Nepal.

This extremely pungent spice loses its strong bitter taste and foul smell during cooking, blending into other ingredients and imparting an umami flavour to the food.

The compounds E-1-propyl sec-butyl disulfide and germacrene B (7.8%) are the major components of Ferula assa-foetida. Additionally, 25 other compounds were identified in the hydrodistilled oil.

Summary of therapeutic research findings:

5. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

Thyme herb flowering (Image source:

The thyme plant is a strongly aromatic perennial herb that is a member of the Lamiaceae (mint) family native to the western Mediterranean region and is widely used as spice to add a distinctive flavour to food. In traditional medicine, thyme is used in herbal teas and infusions.

The main components are the phenols, thymol (40%) and carvacrol (15%). It contains lesser amounts of phenols during the winter. Thymol methyl ether (2%), cineol, cymen, pinene, borneol and esters are also components of the essential oil of thyme.

Summary of therapeutic research findings:

6. Shirazi Thyme (Zataria multiflora)

The Shirazi thyme plant is a perennial herb that is a member of the Lamiaceae (mint) family native to Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. It is known as Avishan-e-Shirazi in Iran, and the dried aerial parts of are routinely used as a popular spice, and also in traditional medicine.

It consists of p-cymene derivatives: multi-flotriol (1), multiflrol (2), a new aromatic ester of p-hydroxy benzoic acid (3) and three known constituents: dihydroxyaromadendrane, luteolin and a-tocopherolquinone. The main components of the plant oil were thymol (37.59%), carvacrol (33.65%); PARA-cymene (7.72%), g-terpinene (3.88%) and b-caryophyllene (2.06%).

Summary of therapeutic research findings:

7. Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

Turmeric root, dried root slices and turmeric powder

The turmeric plant is a member of the Zingiberaceae (ginger)
family and is cultivated in the countries of Southeast Asia.

The active constituents of turmeric are the flavonoid curcumin
(diferuloylmethane) and various volatile oils, including tumerone,
atlantone, and zingiberone. Other constituents include sugars,
proteins, and resins. The best-researched active constituent is
curcumin, which comprises 0.3-5.4% of raw turmeric.

Summary of therapeutic research findings:

8. Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri)

Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) plant has small succulent leaves and grows in moist areas and along waterways (Image source: Wikimedia Commons, Attribution: Forest & Kim Starr)

The brahmi plant, also known as water hyssop, is perennial creeping herb from the Plantaginaceae (plantain) family that is native to India and Australia. It grows in moist wet places such as the edges of streams, rivers and lakes, and other wetlands.

This herb doesn’t have a fragrance like the other culinary herbs discussed earlier and is used as a vegetable. The small succulent leaves can be eaten raw, added to sandwiches or mixed into salads, added to soups, cooked as a vegetable or even pickled, and the flowers are also edible.

Brahmi is an Ayurvedic herb known to be effective in neurological disorders from ancient times. The bioactive components of Brahmi, such as Bacoside A, Bacoside B, and Bacosaponins, belong to various chemical families, and.  are known to have a significant role in neuroprotection.

Summary of therapeutic research findings:


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