Rosemary's Impact On Memory And Cognitive Function

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Overview

Popularly known as the herb of remembrance, rosemary has a prominent place in folk medicine due to the various health benefits it has on the human body. Often consumed as a tea, the sweet fragrance of rosemary makes it a preferred choice for many individuals in search of good health and vitality. Rosemary has long been used in the past as an antispasmodic, analgesic, antidepressant and for the treatment of many neurological disorders. Numerous studies have demonstrated the health benefits rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) has on the brain and how it can improve memory loss, learning, mood, and sleep. The link between rosemary and cognitive function has been well-researched in both humans and animals and the conclusion in most of these research has been unanimous - rosemary improves memory and cognitive well-being and is an important herbal supplement for wellness and good health.1

Cognitive function refers to the mental processes of problem-solving, paying attention, learning, and memory and is therefore crucial for a wholesome and healthy life. Several natural supplements have been linked to an improvement in cognitive function including grape seed extract, berries, almonds and even oranges. 

The rising prevalence of cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease has drawn more attention to herbal remedies that have the ability to improve brain function. Rosemary’s popular reputation for possessing many neuroprotective effects makes it an outstanding choice for many health and wellness enthusiasts.

Key Nutrients in Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis)

Studies on phytochemical components have demonstrated that rosemary contains terpenoids, essential oils, alkaloids, and flavonoids. The chemical analysis of diverse rosemary extracts has identified triterpenes, phenolic diterpenes, and phenolic acids as the most potent active elements, including rosmarinic acid, carnosic acid, rosmanol, carnosol, ursolic acid, and betulinic acid.1 Among these phenolic compounds, rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid are highlighted for their significant medicinal effects, particularly in terms of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, as supported by various sources.

Benefits of Rosemary on Cognitive Function and Memory Loss

Learning

An animal study found that the consumption of rosemary had an anti-inflammatory effect on the part of the brain involved in learning(the hippocampus) and caused an increase in spatial awareness and memory consolidation.2

Memory 

A study conducted among 68  university students revealed that consuming 500mg of dried rosemary packaged in capsules twice daily for a month improved both prospective and retrospective memory and had other profound effects on sleep and anxiety compared with a placebo.3

Mood 

Another human study conducted in 20 adults revealed that inhaling rosemary oil for about 4-10 minutes had a significant effect on mood, concentration and performance.4

Neurodegeneration and Ageing 

Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease are the leading neurodegenerative diseases in the world and are simply caused by the death of brain cells in specific regions of the brain. Animal studies have demonstrated that the chemical compounds present in rosemary possess protective effects against Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.5,6 It is therefore important to include rosemary as a potential therapeutic option in addition to the existing therapies due to the multifactorial nature of these diseases. 

Depression 

Another animal study concluded that rosemary possesses antidepressant-like properties that ameliorate depression and anxiety.7 This discovery is consistent with a long-held belief that rosemary can help treat depression.

Mechanism of Action

The main way rosemary improves cognitive function and memory loss is through its active compounds like rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid, which are thought to enhance cognition and combat memory loss through various mechanisms. The potent antioxidant properties present in rosemary help neutralise free radicals linked to oxidative stress and cognitive decline. Additionally, rosemary exhibits anti-inflammatory effects, potentially alleviating inflammation associated with neurodegenerative conditions. Studies suggest that rosemary extracts may inhibit acetylcholinesterase, preserving the neurotransmitter acetylcholine crucial for memory. The herb's neuroprotective effects, potential vasodilation promoting increased blood flow, and modulation of neurotransmitter activity contribute to its proposed cognitive benefits.

How to Incorporate Rosemary Into Your Diet?

Rosemary can be consumed in many different ways and it sure is the right herb for every season due to its sweet and savoury fragrance.

  • Rosemary Tea: To prepare rosemary tea, boil water. Add a handful of fresh rosemary leaves or a teaspoon of dried rosemary to a teapot, pour the hot water over the leaves, and let it steep for about 5-10 minutes. Strain the tea into a cup, and you can optionally add honey or lemon for extra flavour.
  • Rosemary oil: Oils can also be made from rosemary and used for household cooking. To make rosemary oil, start by thoroughly washing and drying fresh rosemary sprigs. Place the rosemary in a clean, dry glass jar and cover it with a carrier oil such as olive oil. Let the mixture sit in a cool, dark place for a few weeks, shaking it occasionally, and then strain the oil to extract the infused rosemary oil.
  • Rosemary in Salads: Rosemary can be added to your favourite salad recipes. Just sprinkle a few fresh rosemary leaves onto the salads to add a hint of flavour and fragrance.
  • Rosemary in meat marinades: Rosemary leaves can be included in meat marinades especially chicken, lambs and porks. It provides a flavour that is both sweet and delicious.

Navigating Dosage and Safety

Despite the many health benefits rosemary possesses, it is important that you take certain precautions in consuming higher doses. Rosemary is generally considered safe when taken in low and recommended doses. There are however a few side effects associated with the over-consumption of rosemary. These side effects may include vomiting, muscle spasms and pulmonary oedema (fluid accumulation in the lungs). It is therefore advisable to consume rosemary in low to moderate forms in order to avoid any of these side effects. For these reasons, you should consult your healthcare provider for more clarification. Higher doses of rosemary may cause miscarriage and as such pregnant and nursing women should not take rosemary as a supplement. Patients with hypertension, ulcers, Crohn's disease, or ulcerative colitis are advised against the consumption of rosemary. Consuming rosemary oil directly can be harmful and may cause toxicity. It is therefore important to talk to your doctor about incorporating rosemary into your diet if you have any medical condition.

Drug Interactions of Rosemary

Rosemary has the ability to affect the following drugs.

  • ACE inhibitors: Medications used for the treatment of hypertension. They include captopril (Capoten) , lisinopril (Zestril), fosinopril (Monopril), and enalapril (Vasotec).
  • Diuretics: These increase the passing of urine and include hydrochlorothiazide and furosemide (Lasix).
  • Lithium: Lithium is used to treat depression associated with mania. Rosemary can act as a diuretic and cause lithium to reach toxic levels in the body.
  • Anticoagulant drugs: These drugs include blood-thinning medications, such as Aspirin, Clopidogrel Dipyridamole (Persantine), Warfarin, and Eptifibatide (Integrilin).

Other Health Benefits of Rosemary

Consuming rosemary does not just improve brain health, it also provides other health benefits to other systems of your body.

  • It may lower blood sugar levels
  • Improves vision and eye health
  • Promotes digestion
  • Promotes hair growth
  • Decreases the risk of heart attack
  • Fights against cancer

Summary

Rosemary is not just a sweetly flavoured herb used for cooking, it has many health benefits and possesses protective abilities against cognitive decline and memory loss. Many studies have demonstrated the remarkable ability of rosemary to improve cognitive well-being and brain function. Although more studies have to be done to further existing knowledge, rosemary’s potential for the treatment of cognitive impairments is both welcoming and exciting.

References

  1. Ghasemzadeh Rahbardar M, Hosseinzadeh H. Therapeutic effects of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.) and its active constituents on nervous system disorders. Iran J Basic Med Sci [Internet]. 2020 Sep [cited 2024 Feb 8];23(9):1100–12. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7491497/
  2. Rasoolijazi H, Mehdizadeh M, Soleimani M, Nikbakhte F, Eslami Farsani M, Ababzadeh S. The effect of rosemary extract on spatial memory, learning and antioxidant enzymes activities in the hippocampus of middle-aged rats. Med J Islam Repub Iran [Internet]. 2015 Mar 9 [cited 2024 Feb 8];29:187. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4431423/
  3. Habtemariam S. The therapeutic potential of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) diterpenes for alzheimer’s disease. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2024 Feb 8];2016:2680409. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4749867/
  4. Nematolahi P, Mehrabani M, Karami-Mohajeri S, Dabaghzadeh F. Effects of Rosmarinus officinalis L. on memory performance, anxiety, depression, and sleep quality in university students: A randomized clinical trial. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2018 Feb;30:24–8.
  5. Sayorwan W, Ruangrungsi N, Piriyapunyporn T, Hongratanaworakit T, Kotchabhakdi N, Siripornpanich V. Effects of inhaled rosemary oil on subjective feelings and activities of the nervous system. Sci Pharm [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2024 Feb 8];81(2):531–42. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3700080/
  6. Wu CR, Tsai CW, Chang SW, Lin CY, Huang LC, Tsai CW. Carnosic acid protects against 6-hydroxydopamine-induced neurotoxicity in in vivo and in vitro model of Parkinson’s disease: involvement of antioxidative enzymes induction. Chem Biol Interact. 2015 Jan 5;225:40–6.
  7. Guo Y, Xie J, Li X, Yuan Y, Zhang L, Hu W, et al. Antidepressant effects of rosemary extracts associate with anti-inflammatory effect and rebalance of gut microbiota. Front Pharmacol [Internet]. 2018 Oct 2 [cited 2024 Feb 8];9:1126. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6192164/

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Lord Boateng Amponsah

Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences, University of Cape Coast, Ghana

Lord is a biomedical sciences student with a solid understanding of biological and medical concepts stemming from years of study of the biomedical sciences including pharmacology, immunology, neuroscience and medical microbiology. He is a budding researcher with years of experience in academic writing, creative writing and science communications.

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