Can Rosemary Improve Your Memory?

Experiment to see what Rosemary can do for your Brain

Rosemary is a fragrant herb and is usually used for cooking and body perfumes. It is also known for its health benefits and one of those is to enhance memory and concentration. Rosemary has been associated with memory for a long time but there hasn't been too much study into it.

The article below talks about an experiment that was done in the UK with rosemary oil to see if it can improve memory.

Read on to see the results of the test

Here's how the experiment worked. The team at Northumbria recruited 60 older volunteers to test the effects of not only rosemary oil but also lavender oil. They then tested these volunteers in a room infused with either rosemary essential oil, lavender essential oil or no aroma. Participants were told they were there to test a vitamin water drink. Any comments about the aromas were passed off as irrelevant and "left over from the previous group to use the room".

Lavender oil had a sedative effect on volunteers

The volunteers (and I) then took a test that was designed to test their prospective memory. It's a clever test with many layers so you never quite know what's being tested.

My marks were squarely average.

The volunteers in the room with the rosemary infusion did statistically significantly better than those in the control room but lavender caused a significant decrease in performance. Lavender is traditionally associated with sleep and sedation.

Was the lavender sending our volunteers to sleep and decreasing their performance? How could vaporize essential oils possibly have this effect?

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.

As further confirmation Mark and his team analyzed blood samples and found traces of the chemicals in rosemary oil in the blood.

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.

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.