Herbs Can Help You Think Better: health article by By Yanfang Wang, M.D., Ph.D.

In recent years, scientists have been learning that herbs can improve our thinking ability. Researchers are dispelling a few myths about memory loss and aging including the myth that you cannot regain memory or other thinking skills once they are lost. Clinical studies have shown that the herbs ginkgo, ginseng, Ci We Jia (Siberian ginseng) and Dangshen (Codonopsis) enhance mental abilities, including concentration, aptitude, behavior, alertness, memory and even, intelligence. This seems to be especially true if you have experienced a decline in any of these abilities.

Health is determined by a person's ability to maintain a balanced and harmonious internal environment, expressed through the principles of Yin-Yang and the Five Phases in Chinese medicine. Harmony and balance also depend on the smooth and uninterrupted flow of Qi, or vital energy. Qi is responsible for the proper functioning of all spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical processes. Weak mental function and decrease of memory are usually caused by the deficiency of this vital energy, or Qi. Therefore, the herbs mentioned above all have the function of invigorating vital energy. For this reason they can help to achieve the goal of balance and harmony in the body's internal environment that will help the human body to enhance learning, memory and concentration.

Ginseng (Panax ginseng) Ginseng has been valued as a medicine in China for over 2,000 years; it was once held in such high esteem that only the emperor was allowed to collect it. Traditionally, ginseng has been mainly used by elderly people to boost physical and mental vitality. The effective compounds of ginseng called ginsenosides and panaxanes are known to reinforce the vital energy, to benefit the spleen and lung, to promote production of body fluid and to calm the nervous system. Modern researchers have found that ginseng has improved learning ability and memory in studies with both animals and humans. Experimental studies have also shown that ginseng prolongs or slows down the aging process in animals. In tests to lower blood cholesterol, ginseng has shown positive results. Other studies report that ginseng prevents heart disease, inhibits blood coagulation, and protects cells from radiation damage. As the herb attracts more and more clinical attention worldwide, ginseng may well be discovered to have additional medicinal benefits in future years.

Ginkgo (Gingko Biloba) Ginkgo is the oldest species of tree in the world, dating back some 200 million years; the Ginkgo tree is native to the East Asian countries. Chinese people have made the best use of the tree's healing properties. The gingko's fan-shaped leaves to treat bronchial problems have been used for treating asthmatic and pulmonary conditions for thousands of years. Scientists in Germany and France found that ginkgo helped elderly people feel more alert, attentive and sociable and less moody after one or two months of taking it. It also improved their reaction time. Studies indicated that the active compounds in ginkgo extract, which are called EGb, have the function of improving blood circulation, discouraging clot formation, reinforcing the walls of the capillaries, and protecting nerve cells from harm when they are deprived of oxygen. It also increases blood flow to brain and boosts the brain's ability to use oxygen. For this reason, gingko may have potential for treating senility, short-term memory loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and a range of vascular diseases.

Ci Wu Jia (Acanthopanacis Senticosi Radix) Ci Wu Jia is also called Siberian ginseng. Although this herb is a relatively new addition to Western natural medicine, it has been used in TCM for more than 2000 years, and has been well studied by Chinese scientists. The main function of this herb is described as benefiting vital energy and invigorating the spleen, in terms of TCM. Ci Wu Jia has a beneficial effect on the central nervous system according to the Chinese researchers. It has been found that Ci Wu Jia can increase energy and concentration level, relieve fatigue, and fight off infections. A study conducted by Western scientists concluded that taking Ci Wu Jia increased the reaction time in people with stressful jobs and those who are working under pressure. It helped these study participants to increase their reading speed and concentration.

Dangshen (Codonopsis) Dangshen is a twining and climbing herbaceous perennial, native to Szechuan and Shensi provinces of China. It is also called Poor Man's Ginseng, as it is inexpensive compared with Ginseng. Using Dangshen can help the body to build up its vital force and restore the normal tone of the blood. The nature of Dangshen is sweet, and warm, and contains high levels of immune-enhancing polysaccharides. In TCM terms, Dangshen has beneficial effect to central nerve system by benefiting vital energy and invigorating the spleen and lung. Dangshen has also been well studied by modern Chinese scientists who have identified its ability to enhance learning and increase memory in animal models, similar with Ginseng.

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