Since 2012, 31-year-old Frankie Muniz, star of the syndicated sitcom Malcolm In the Middle, has been suffering from transient ischemic attacks, or mini-strokes. Ischemia refers to a constricting or narrowing of blood vessels that starves the brain (or heart) of blood and oxygen, as opposed to a blockage of the vessel.
During these episodes, blood supply to the brain gets cut off, causing Mr. Muniz to lose peripheral vision, go numb and be unable to recognize words or faces. Doctors have yet to identify a reason for his condition.
Unlike a full stroke, there appears to be no lasting damage from these mini-strokes. But anytime there’s an ischemic incident there’s a possibility of neuron-cell and tissue damage.
The body may be able to repair itself quickly. Other times, in the cases of major strokes, it cannot.
However, research shows an herb that grows across the world can minimize damage caused by ischemic attacks. Getting this herb into your daily regimen could help prevent strokes as well as accelerate healing from smaller strokes.
This brain-friendly herb goes by the common name skullcap. It’s so named because it looks like miniature medieval helmets. Other common names include Quaker bonnet, blue pimpernel and mad dog weed.
Whatever you call it, one thing’s for sure. The plants in the Scutellariagenus have been used extensively in traditional medicine systems in China, India, Korea, Japan, Europe and North America for centuries. There are about 300 different species of skullcap, each with varying amounts of flavonoids and other beneficial phytochemicals.1
How Skullcap Protects the Brain
One species of skullcap, Scutellaria baicalensis Georgi, sometimes called Chinese skullcap, has four major flavonoids: baicalein, baicalin, wogonin and wogonoside.
According to a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, flavonoids extracted from Scutellaria baicalensis Georgi can decrease malondialdehyde (MDA), a marker of oxidative stress, in damaged brain tissue after “carotid artery occlusion” or the narrowing of blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the brain.2
The researchers also found that these flavonoids can increase superoxide dismutase (SOD) in brain tissue after an ischemic incident. SOD is one of the body’s most powerful antioxidants. It’s essential to reducing inflammation and its associated damage.
Another benefit of the flavonoids is that they protect brain tissue that isn’t getting enough blood and oxygen, as well as protecting the blood vessels from reperfusion damage (which can happen when the blood suddenly flows back after a period of restriction).
There’s more. Skullcap flavonoids thin blood even more than aspirin, allowing blood to flow more smoothly through constricted blood vessels. This can reduce stroke damage.
In an animal study, researchers found baicalin in particular could reduce inflammation and apoptosis in the hippocampus after an ischemic incident. The rats given baicalin had better spatial memory, more neurons in the hippocampus and less inflammation than did those in the control group.3
How to Take Scullcap for Brain Health
Liquid extracts and powdered root extracts of Scutellaria baicalensis Georgi can be found online and in health food stores. As always, be sure you buy from a reputable company. Our sister company Green Valley Natural Solutions offers Advanced Brain Power, a formula that contains an extract of Scutellaria, along with other brain-healthy ingredients.
Chinese skullcap should be safe, as no toxicity has been reported. According to some sources, a 500 mg oral dose of scutellaria baicalensis is enough to be effective without causing any side effects.4 If you experience giddiness, stupor, confusion and twitching, you’re taking too much.5 Dial back your dosage.
Do not take skullcap if you’re pregnant, as it could cause complications. In view of the blood-thinning effect, skullcap should not be mixed with blood-thinning medications except under a doctor’s care. Many supplements are blood thinners including fish oil and digestive enzymes, so this is not unusual or scary. My thought would be to talk to the doctor about reducing the medication and using the natural blood thinners.
In any case, it’s always a good idea to check with a naturopath or integrative physician before adding herbal medicine to your daily regimen. That said, skullcap looks like a good, safe way to keep inflammation down and protect your brain from ischemic incidents.
- Skullcap: Potential medicinal crop.
- Protective effect of flavonoids from Scutellaria baicalensis Georgi on cerebral ischemia injury.
- Baicalin improved the spatial learning ability of global ischemia/reperfusion rats by reducing hippocampal apoptosis.
- Scutellaria baicalensis.
- Skullcap: Potential Medicinal Crop.