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Monday, 17 February, 2003, 00:00 GMT
Ginseng 'could improve memory'
Ginseng could improve memory problems
The herbal remedy ginseng can help improve memory in stroke patients suffering from dementia, researchers have found.

Stroke patients can experience a form of memory loss called moderate vascular dementia, which is caused by damage to the blood vessels leading to the brain.

Chinese researchers found taking a ginseng compound meant people who had experienced a stroke scored more highly on memory tests than those who did not take the herb.

But UK experts said the findings had to be treated with caution.

Forty patients, with an average age of 67, who had mild or moderate vascular dementia took part in the study.

At this time, a recommendation to use this herb for memory enhancement would be premature

Dr Robert Adams, American Stroke Association
Twenty-five were given a tablet of ginseng extracted from Chinese ginseng roots, leaves and an herb known as panax notoginseng three times daily.

The rest were given a Duxil, (almitrine + raubasine), a drug which increases oxygen use in brain tissue. It has previously been shown to improve the memory of elderly patients with dementia.

All 40 were given memory tests which focused on how well they could recall stories, words and other verbal and visual memory tests before and after the 12-week study.

Those given the ginseng significantly improved their average memory function after 12 weeks.

It was found ginseng increased the activities of the brain chemicals acetylcholine and choline acetyltransferase in elderly mice.

'Used for centuries'

Professor Jinzhou Tian, from the Department of Care of the Elderly at Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, Dongzhimen Hospital in China, led the research.

This is dangerous science

Dr Richard Harvey, Alzheimer's Society
Professor Tian said the Chinese ginseng extract was a cheap natural treatment.

"Chinese ginseng has been used for centuries in China to treat disease and aging."

"However, the effects of Chinese ginseng compound on mild or moderate dementia after stroke in humans have not been reported until now."

The researchers say larger studies are needed to confirm their findings.

Further research

Dr Robert Adams, a spokesperson for the American Stroke Association, said: "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.

"As the authors point out, this work showing that ginseng may improve memory after stroke needs to be further studied, with larger sample sizes.

"At this time, a recommendation to use this herb for memory enhancement would be premature."


Dr Richard Harvey, head of research for the UK's Alzheimer's Society warned the design of the study meant its findings could not be relied on.

"It's not at all valid to say ginseng improves memory because they compared people given that to people given a completely different drug."

He said it would have been possible to say ginseng conferred benefits if they had compared people taking to ginseng to a group taking nothing, or given both groups Duxil with one also receiving ginseng.

Dr Harvey added: "This study has to be treated with enormous caution.

"This is dangerous science that's not easily interpreted."

Eoin Redahan, of the Stroke Association, said: "We would suggest that anyone thinking of taking ginseng should first discuss this with their doctor as it may inter-react with medicines already being taken."

The research was presented to the American Stroke Association's conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

See also:

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