As you may know, there is currently no known cure for Alzheimer’s. That’s why we talk so much about prevention. But while we can’t cure Alzheimer’s, we can reverse other types of damage to the brain. And that can help keep the brain running well enough to defend itself from dementia.
Fortunately, the Chinese found a solution to damaged brain tissue nearly two thousand years ago. It works so well, in fact, that the Chinese have used it for treating everything from convulsions to vertigo. And it’s a great pain reliever as well.
The fact that it’s a pain reliever provides the first clue that this practically miraculous herb could be good for the brain as well. After all, inflammation is often at the root of both pain and cognitive issues. So modern medicine decided to put the herb to the test.
This remedy comes from the root of an exotic orchid. Its scientific name is Gastrodia elata. And the name of the key chemical compound in this root is gastrodin.
Helps to Restore Damaged Neurons
Gastrodin is proving to have some remarkable effects in the brain. It works all the way at the genetic level to promote healing and restoration of damaged neurons.
Scientists used to believe that once neurons died, they were gone for good. Now we know that isn’t the case. And gastrodin can help the brain rebuild them.
In fact, in one study, researchers found that in both human and animal cells, gastrodin extracts promote the work of nearly a fifth of the genes involved in recreating neural connections. This rebuilding occurs even when the brain sustains damage from toxins.
In a rat study, researchers exposed the animals to lead. As you probably know, lead is poisonous. It’s so dangerous in part because it harms synapses in the hippocampus, where we store memories.
The researchers measured the rats’ synaptic plasticity in three different ways. They confirmed that lead exposure did indeed harm the synapses. But they also found that gastrodin helped the rats’ brains recover from the toxin exposure. Other studies have found that gastrodin helps rats exposed to aluminum or toxic drugs.
In another study, researchers found that gastrodin could promote cell survival in models of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. This may occur in part because of those anti-inflammatory effects I mentioned earlier.
Protecting the Brain Against Stress
Gastrodin also has important effects on proteins in the brain. It not only helps clear out dangerous amyloid beta proteins, but also helps keep the brain from making these proteins in the first place. And it helps increase levels of GABA – by 34%.
GABA is a chemical messenger. It tells the nerves to calm down. This is vital for helping the brain to avoid overstimulation and stress. Researchers have linked such nerve stress to Alzheimer’s.
When it comes to dementia, Alzheimer’s is typically the first issue we think of. But vascular dementia is a significant problem as well. Vascular dementia occurs when a stroke or series of strokes cuts off blood flow to a part of the brain.
For years, it was difficult for doctors and researchers to tell the difference between vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s. But advancements in this area are making it easier to identify treatment options. And gastrodin may be one such option.
Increasing Circulation and Reducing Inflammation
Gastrodin both promotes blood flow and reduces inflammation. So it can help open up some of those compromised blood vessels. In a study of 202 gerbils, the researchers gave the critters a traditional Chinese medicine herbal blend that included gastrodin. A whopping 96% of them fared better following an ischemic stroke when they received the herbs. These improvements included better blood flow to the brain, which is key to avoiding eventual dementia.
Of course, this is all well and good for the gerbils. But what about people? Researchers decided to test it out in 120 patients who were suffering from mild or moderate vascular dementia. Fifty of them received a drug called Duxil. The other 70 received gastrodin.
All of the patients took their designated treatment three times a day for 12 weeks. The researchers evaluated their mental performance and behavior. Sure enough, the gastrodin group did better than those on the drug – even though doctors regularly recommend Duxil to their vascular dementia patients.
In another human study, the researchers tried combining gastrodin with a drug rather than pitting them against each other. The participants in this study had poor circulation to the rear portions of their brains. This can affect balance, vision, and coordination.
All of the patients received a drug called betahistine. But some of them got gastrodin too. The betahistine did pretty well. About 70% of the participants who received only the drug saw blood flow improvements. But of those who received gastrodin too, almost everyone – 95% – experienced better blood flow. Keeping blood flowing to all regions of the brain is vital to keeping it functioning properly.
Preventing and Treating Strokes
Of course, you may not want to wait until dementia sets in to begin taking gastrodin. It may be helpful at the first sign of a stroke. Researchers tried giving rodents a combination of gastrodin and other Chinese medicinal herbs 30 minutes after they had ischemic strokes. Sure enough, the rodents’ blood flow returned to normal.
Obviously, the best-case scenario is avoiding the stroke altogether. And you guessed it, gastrodin can help with this too. High blood sugar is a major contributor to reduced blood flow in the brain. This can contribute not only to stroke but also to other types of memory impairment, including Alzheimer’s. Gastrodin can improve your insulin sensitivity. This helps your blood sugar stay under control and could even help you lose weight in the process.
Keeping your blood sugar under control is also a good way to lower your risk of heart disease. And that’s a good thing for your brain too.
Protecting Your Brain During Heart Surgery
Many people don’t realize that cognitive decline is a very common side effect of coronary bypass surgery. During the surgery, the brain gets less blood flow and oxygen than normal. And the surgery can increase debris levels in the brain. This side effect is yet another reason to try to avoid this dangerous operation.
But, of course, having a coronary bypass can be a life-or-death situation. Some cognitive decline is a risk worth taking in that case. But yet again, gastrodin can reduce this risk thanks to its blood-flow-boosting effects.
Researchers decided to test it out in a randomized double-blind trial with 200 patients. Each patient received either gastrodin in an IV or saline (a placebo). Nearly half (42%) of the patients who received the placebo experienced some cognitive decline. Some even had significant memory loss. However, only 9% of the gastrodin patients experienced cognitive issues.
Some of these cognitive effects disappear as patients recover from surgery. But three months later, 31% of the control group was still having trouble. Only 6% of the gastrodin group were experiencing similar issues. So if you’re going to have any sort of major surgery that will affect blood flow to your brain, you might want to talk to your doctor about including gastrodin as part of your recovery.
Clearly, gastrodin has a variety of great effects for the brain. It can offer protection against a number of chronic and acute issues. And I didn’t even talk about the many other uses the Chinese found for it!
If you’re interested in giving gastrodin a try, don’t worry. You don’t have to keep an orchid alive to harvest it. You can find it in supplement form. If you’re interested in adding to your anti-Alzheimer’s arsenal, you know your vascular function isn’t ideal, or you have an upcoming surgery, I think it’s worth considering. You can find gastrodin supplements online and in many health food stores.