The Best Herbs & Spices For A Younger Brain, From A Science Journalist
When it comes to eating for brain health, star players like avocado, salmon, and eggs may immediately come to mind, as these are brimming with brain-healthy nutrients and healthy fats. What might be less obvious, however, is the power of certain herbs and spices to positively affect the brain.
When health and science journalist and New York Times bestselling author Max Lugavere joined us on the mindbodygreen podcast, he explained why he's particularly enthusiastic about herbs and spices, especially when it comes to supporting cognition. Below, find his top three herbs and spices for a younger brain:
First up on Lugavere's quick list is parsley: "Herbs tend to be very concentrated sources of polyphenols, plant compounds that are generated as a defense mechanism. That's why herbs tend to have very strong, bitter flavors, owing to these organic volatile compounds that seem to be beneficial to health."
One example of the powerful compounds in herbs like parsley is apigenin, "which supports sleep and has been shown to strengthen synaptic connections1 [or when your neurons communicate with one another]." According to Lugavere, "You find it in its most concentrated source in herbs." In addition to apigenin, parsley contains a flavonoid called myricetin, which has been associated with balanced blood sugar, a healthy insulin response2, and enhanced cognitive support3.
Like parsley, rosemary is full of polyphenols—which support mitochondrial health and brain longevity over time—and apigenin. It's also been shown to support memory4, while its essential oil form has demonstrated an ability to boost cognitive function5. Rosemary's therapeutic benefits are even being considered for those with brain health concerns6, due to its protective and stimulating effects on acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter.
Turmeric rounds out Lugavere's list for its curcumin content, "which has an anti-inflammatory effect7." It also contains aromatic turmerone, a compound that has been shown to boost neural stem cells. "So [it's] good for supporting neuroplasticity, which is important for anybody concerned with brain health," says Lugavere.
Like parsley and rosemary, turmeric supports the body's ability to fight free radicals by increasing antioxidant capacity8. It may also support brain health due to its positive effect on brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)9, a hormone involved in long-term brain function10.
One final bonus of turmeric is its potential to support mood through its effect on BDNF, as well as its potential ability to increase levels of both serotonin and dopamine11.