Its leaves provide a popular flavor for foods and drinks. Its oil flavors toothpaste, chewing gum and candy. The herb is also widely used in healing.
For maladies ranging from bad breath, indigestion and gas to sore throat, the common cold and arthritis, this can bring relief.
Now we know spearmint provides another health benefit. For the first time, scientists have found a dried extract boosts learning and memory. But that was in mice.
Would spearmint work in people whose memories were not as strong as they once were?
15% Improvement in Working Memory
To find out, a research team enrolled 90 men and women aged from 50 to 70 who were in good health, but suffered with age-associated memory impairment (AAMI).
In this randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study, the participants took two capsules, once a day, of either 600 mg or 900 mg of spearmint extract (Neumentix) or placebo for three months. Of course, participants didn’t know if they were getting placebo or the herbal remedy.
They were given a computerized battery of eleven cognitive tests at the start of the study, and then again after 45 days and at the end of the study.
They also filled out questionnaires to assess mood and sleep at the beginning and end of the three-month trial.
Here’s how it turned out: Those consuming the 900 mg dose of the extract had a 15% improvement in working memory compared to placebo. Those taking the 600 mg extract showed a 9% improvement.
Working memory holds information temporarily for short-term tasks involving learning, reasoning, and comprehension. A good working memory enables you to juggle a bunch of tasks at the same time, a talent that allows for greater productivity. Working memory decreases by ten percent each year after the age of 40, even in healthy individuals.
Regained Ten Years of Lost Memory Ability
The research team found the “extract could improve working memory equivalent to that which may have diminished over a decade of life.” They recovered ten lost years of this important cognitive ability thanks to an herb.
In addition to a better working memory, the higher-dose group also reported they were better able to fall asleep compared to the people on placebo. The improvement was similar to the effect of commonly used sleep aids.
Total mood and vigor also improved. This means the high-dose participants scored higher on measures for these mood states: lively, active, energetic, cheerful, alert, full of pep, vigorous and carefree.
I think I’ll have whatever they’re having. . .
The researchers summed it up: “These results suggest that the distinct spearmint extract may be a beneficial nutritional intervention for cognitive health in older subjects with AAMI.”
Why does spearmint work so well?
Rich in Polyphenols
Spearmint is a member of a plant family called Lamiaceae. This contains a wide range of plant compounds, but for brain function the most important are rosmarinic and slavianolic acids. Other members of the family that contain these acids are lemon balm, rosemary and sage.
We’ve written in these pages about all three of these herbs, and in fact our sister company, Green Valley Natural Solutions offers a supplement with a clinical dose of sage, Advanced Brain Power.
In previous lab studies, these two polyphenols were shown to lower inflammation and improve antioxidant activity, protecting neurons from free radical damage – including neurons in the hippocampus, an area particularly important for working memory.
Rosmarinic acid and slavianolic acid also help retain more acetylcholine, a powerful neurotransmitter. They do so by blocking the enzyme (cholinesterase) that breaks it down, thereby strengthening working memory. (Three drugs are commonly prescribed to inhibit cholinesterase in all stages of Alzheimer’s. However, they come with side effects of nausea and vomiting).
As well as these benefits, the two acids have demonstrated neuroprotective properties through additional mechanisms and they also help grow new neurons.
Dried aqueous spearmint extract, as well as supplements of the other members of the Lamiaceae family, are all available in capsules, or as essential oils and teas. Lemon balm features in another Green Valley supplement, Vital Force, which is designed to boost glutathione levels.