A scientific study involving healthy, young adults, sage oil capsules and a word recall test has backed up centuries-old theories about sage’s ability to improve memory.

British scientists carrying out the first clinical trials of the herb sage have found that those who took sage oil capsules performed significantly better in a word recall test.

The researchers, from the Medicinal Plant Research Centre at the Universities of Newcastle and Northumbria, studied texts by well-known herbalists from as far back as 1597.

“It is singularly good for the head and brain and quickeneth the nerves and memory,” wrote Nicholas Culpeper in 1652.

“It also heals the memory, warming and quickening the senses,” wrote John Gerard.

The researchers went about proving those observations, as while people have long taken sage for memory loss — drinking teas and tinctures containing extracts of the herb — research is only now providing scientific evidence for its benefits.

Oil capsules and placebos

To obtain their results, the British researchers tested 44 healthy young adults aged between 18 and 37. Some were given capsules containing sage oil and others were given placebos.

The volunteers then took part in a word recall test, and were tested at intervals to see how many words they could remember.

Those who had taken the sage oil consistently performed better than those who had taken placebos.

Alzheimer’s treatment?

Sage is now being investigated as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease after earlier research by MPRC found that it inhibits an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase, which breaks down the chemical messenger acetylcholine.

Many current drugs for treating Alzheimer’s, such as donepezil, have unpleasant side effects and doctors are keen to find alternatives.

No side effects were noted in the sage trial.

Drug development

The researchers think that sage’s beneficial effects come from a combination of chemicals that have an effect on acetylcholinesterase, as well as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which are also considered of value in Alzheimer’s therapy.

Further investigation will help determine exactly how sage works.

“This research does have serious implications for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease,” says the study’s lead researcher, Nicola Tildesley. “It will inform drug research and development.”
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