Dementia Illustration

Chinese Medicine in Dementia, Memory and Learning


Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and dementia is a condition that affects mainly people over the age of 60. Although there are a number of treatments that can have modest improvements, especially early in the disease, there is are no treatment that is likely to produce remission, especially later stage in the disease.

There have been numerous approaches and theories for treatment for dementia in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In general, two main approaches are adopted. One being the treatment of kidney deficiency resulting in brain dystrophy, and the other being clearing the body of pent up phlegm, and improving stagnant blood circulation causing toxicity. TCM treatment also aims at maintaining at not only achieving optimum function of each of the organs but an optimum balance between the organs as well. According to the fundamental ideas of TCM, the brain is an outgrowth of and is nourished by the kidney. Therefore, brain defects and deterioration of the brain may be prevented, limited, or halted by the ingestion of kidney tonics.

Currently, there is no effective treatment for AD, although many treatment strategies exist. Clinically, cholinesterase inhibitors (ChEIs) and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonists are first-line pharmacotherapy for mild-to-moderate AD, with high nonresponse rate 50–75% .

The 2nd most common form of dementia is vascular dementia (VD) or multi-infarct dementia, which accounts for about 15% of dementia cases . VD may follow after a succession of acute cerebrovascular events or, less commonly, a single major stroke. The compromised cerebrovascular circulation causes ischaemia that leads to damage of the brain structure, for example, formation of white matter lesions or silent brain infarctions. VD is often related to the loss of fine motor control besides memory impairment.

TCM has been treating dementia for centuries and now there is increasing research that confirms the benefits of including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to existing treatment of dementia. TCM is both safe and effective.

In Europe, one of the main therapies for Alzheimer’s disease is Ginkgo biloba leaf extract, which is a widely-used and well known plant sold in pharmacies. This flavonoid-rich extract promotes blood circulation to the brain as well as to other parts of the body. What many people don’t realise is that there are a multitude of other herbs and prescriptions that also have started to come under the microscope. Some other up and coming herbs include Huperzine and Rhodila.

Huperzine, an anticholinesterase alkaloid, is divided into two chemical species, huperzine A and huperzine B. The central cholinergic pathways play a prominent role in the learning and memory processes. Huperzine A has substantially stronger anticholinesterase activity than some drugs including physostigmine or neostigmine and is more effective and more specific than tacrine, another anticholinesterase drug.

Rhodiola rosea is a herb traditionally used for altitude sickness, though these days it has shown to be useful for memory and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzeimer’s disease and also inflammation in the brain.

What to expect from Traditional Chinese Medicine

Learning and Memory

Chinese Herbs can elicit memory-improving effects in vivo and in vitro via multiple mechanisms of action, covering oestrogen-like, cholinergic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiapoptotic, neurogenetic, and anti-Aβ activities.

There is strong support that certain Chinese herbs can elicit memory improving functions safely and with little side effects.

A number of investigations also reported that Chinese herbal extracts functioned to promote neuronal proliferation and neurite outgrowth in normal brain and improve memory. Mice given a licorice extract showed significantly improved learning and memory. Chinese herbs appear to be beneficial not only for the older population experiencing dementia, they could possibly help everyone gain a brain boost.

Neural Protection

Roasted licorice extracts elicited neuro-protection against brain damage after transient forebrain ischemia. It also showed through antioxidant actions this herb showed a protective effect against the cognitive impairments often observed in AD. Other herbs also reversed drug induced brain damage and memory deficits. Rheumania has shown both nootropic and neuroprotective effects through multiple pathways.

There are dozens of herbs that are utilised in TCM in the treatment neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. The key to obtaining optimal results lies in using the right herbs, in the right amount, and at the right time. This is where traditional knowledge and usage becomes helpful. As a TCM practitioner, we are not only looking at the diagnosis in western medicine or the most recent research in herbs and acupuncture, we are following a complete ancient medical theory. We aim to find the most suitable treatment that is most appropriate for the presenting case.

To enquire about treatment for dementia symptoms please call the clinic on 1300 432 639 or book a consultation with one of our experienced practitioners.

About the Author Sustain Health

Sustain Health is a multidisciplinary, wellness clinic located in South Melbourne, Australia. We believe good medicine is about looking at the whole being, treating the person and keeping them well. We view each patient as an individual affected by their unique lifestyle, diet, environment, emotions and attitude. Every individual's health needs a tailored approach to achieve better and sustainable medical solutions. Sustain Health currently offers its clients: * Fertility * IVF Support * Acupuncture * Chinese Medicine * Chiropractic

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