Herbs are the smart choice

February 8, 2002

Traditional herbal remedies may prove to be the perfect pill for students preparing for exams, according to scientists in Australia.

Pharmacologist Pradeep Nathan and cognitive psychologist Con Stough, at the Swinburne Centre for Neuropsychopharmacology at Swinburne University, carried out the first rigorous scientific studies on healthy patients of two long-established herbal remedies and found that they can improve intelligence and reduce anxiety.

Extract of Ginkgo biloba (EGb) comes from the world's oldest living tree, also known as maidenhair, and is widely believed to slow dementia in old age and improve mem-ory.

Bacopa monniera , also known as brahmi , is an ancient Indian Ayurvedic medicine, and is used to cure insomnia and relieve tension. Previous scientific studies shows that it has memory-enhancing effects in animals.

The researchers carried out double-blind trials with groups of healthy people to investigate the effects of the remedies in the long and short term.

They found that both drugs had chronic effects. After 30 days, subjects taking EGb showed significantly improved speeds of information processing, working memory and memory consolidation. The effects were so marked that the participants noticed the difference. Those who took Bacopa monniera for 12 weeks showed increased learning powers and a significant drop in anxiety.

Neither herb appeared to have acute effects when subjects were tested within hours of taking them.

Although the exact mechanisms are not known, Dr Nathan said the herbs have antioxidant effects and alter the brain chemicals involved in learning and memory.

"We are working with herbal pharmaceutical companies to produce compounds that have Ginkgo biloba and Bacopa monniera and also other combinations of herbal extracts," Dr Nathan said.

The team is now studying the effects of some of the herbs on the Australian army to look for improvements in areas such as shooting accuracy and memory.

The research was published in several psychopharmacology journals.

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