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Ginseng shows memory-boosting potential

17-Feb-2003

A small study found that a ginseng compound improved the memory scores of people suffering from stroke-induced dementia, Chinese researchers reported last week.

A ginseng compound increased the activities of the brain chemicals acetylcholine and choline acetyltransferase, (ChAT), in aged mice, according to lead researcher Dr Jinzhou Tian, a professor at Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, Dongzhimen Hospital in China. However, the researchers warned that larger clinical trials are needed to establish the efficacy and safety of the compound.

Memory loss, or dementia, may occur after stroke and is a growing problem in China, Dr Tian said, reporting on the results at the American Stroke Association's 28th International Stroke Conference last week.

Tian said that Chinese ginseng has been used for centuries in China to treat disease and ageing, but until now, the effects of the ginseng compound on mild and moderate dementia after stroke in humans have not been reported. Ginseng extract could be a cheap natural treatment easily accepted by the Chinese.

Researchers identified 40 patients (average age 67) with mild to moderate vascular dementia, which results from multiple small strokes. They randomly selected 25 patients to receive a tablet of ginseng extracted from Chinese ginseng roots, leaves and a herb known as panax notoginseng three times daily. The other 15 received the drug Duxil (almitrine + raubasine), which increases oxygen use in brain tissue and has been used to improve memory in elderly dementia patients.

Participants took memory tests focusing on immediate and delayed story recall, delayed word recall, verbal learning, verbal recognition and visual recognition. These tests were given before the study began and at the end of the 12-week study.

Overall, researchers found that patients who took the ginseng compound significantly improved their average memory function after 12 weeks.

"There is currently great interest in studying herbs used in traditional forms of medicines, and the problem of dementia after stroke is a significant one," said Dr Robert J. Adams, chairman of the Stroke Council of the American Heart Association and a spokesperson for the American Stroke Association.

"As the authors point out, this work showing that ginseng may improve memory after a stroke needs to be further studied, with larger sample sizes. A placebo-controlled study would also be the next step. At this time, a recommendation to use this herb for memory enhancement would be premature," he added.

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