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Could Preventing and Treating Alzheimer’s be as Easy as Turning to Your Spice Rack?

Rosemary. For ages, the sweet, pine-like herb has been associated with remembering things. Brides and grooms used to sprinkle wine with rosemary at their weddings to remember their vows. Greek students once wore wreaths of rosemary to enhance their memory while taking exams. Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet said to her brother, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”

But could these practices and quotes actually be based on fact rather than tradition? Science suggests that they could be.

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To investigate the effects of rosemary on memory, a study at Northumbria University in England gathered 144 volunteers and separated them into three rooms. One was fragranced with rosemary oil, another with lavender oil, another with no oil. Researchers then tested the volunteers’ cognition and memory. Those in the rosemary room did better than those in the zero-oil room, and a great deal better than those in the lavender room (lavender has a sedative effect, so that could be why). The rosemary, however, did negatively affect speed of memory.

Nevertheless, the results are pretty encouraging for rosemary’s case as a memory-enhancer, and the results of other studies add to the evidence in favor of it.

The trick behind the herb’s mind-enhancing abilities lies in its chemistry. It contains a compound called 1,8-cineole, which increases acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in memory. Brains with Alzheimer’s produce less of this chemical. Though that isn’t what causes the disorder, it certainly doesn’t help either, and drugs for mild to moderate cases work to curb this. Which is pretty much what rosemary does, too.

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This isn’t to say that rosemary is more potent than, or even equally potent to man-made treatments. Nor is this to say that you should spend the rest of your life with a bottle of rosemary extract positioned under your nose or find a way to incorporate rosemary into every meal — but it certainly is compelling. While we like to laugh about antiquated medical knowledge and treatment (bloodletting, anyone?), maybe our ancestors had a pretty good idea as to what they were talking about.

These findings could also impact the future of Alzheimer’s treatments. If you’d like to contribute to this, consider offering a charitable donation. It doesn’t matter how little you give; even a dollar will help fund research for this devastating disease. Read on to learn more.

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A. Stout is a Whovian, Potterhead, study abroad alumna, and animal lover. A native to West Michigan, she dreams of publishing novels and traveling all over the world.