Age-Associated Deterioration of Learning and Memory


I see a lot of patients at our herbal medicine clinic in Delaware who are very concerned with memory issues as they age.

First of all, the basics of keeping yourself healthy –  healthy diet, exercise, good relationships, stress control etc — are essentials for good mental function. For example, we now know that a weakened immune system can alter the function of the central nervous system through the neuroendocrine immunomodulation network. Animal studies show that decreases in immune function can lead to decreases in learning ability.

In one study, researchers concluded that the improvement of immune function is closely related to the amelioration of age-associated deterioration of learning and memory. Through the simple use of aged garlic extract, the scientists were able to restore learning ability, perhaps because garlic increases blood perfusion to the organs (Zhang et. al, 1998). Ayurvedic medicine has maintained for centuries that over-stimulation of the brain (i.e. too much noise, bright light, etc.) is bad for the nervous system, while under-stimulation leads to dullness and lethargy.

Modern scientists have agreed with this theory ever since early studies showed the dependence of animal intelligence on stimulation. Recent studies confirm our early suspicions that the brain requires stimulation for proper function, while isolation leads to a loss of cognitive ability (Gould et. al, 1999).

Consequently, it is imperative that we strive to remain mentally active, engaging regularly in activities that promote intellectual stimulation, such as reading. As well, our brains need down time, such as periods of meditations and prayer, and adequate bed rest. And of course, regular exercise in clean air flushes out the cobwebs.Herbal treatments for learning and memory should be individually prescribed to be most effective. Ginkgo leaf, bacopa root, gotu kola leaf and vincamine from the lesser periwinkle are all beneficial. TCM doctors use the important tonics for the Yin and the blood, such as rehmannia root, shou wu root and dang gui.

Yin tonics are expecially helpful or memory problems in post-menopausal
women. The B-vitamin folate has recently been shown to be an effective hedge against Alzheimers disease. TAM doctors use the well-known rasayana tonics, such as yogarajaguggul and chyavanaprash.

A Case of Age Reversal

In 1977 I met my first T’ai Chi teacher, Master Dee Chao. Master Chao proved to be an amazing example of age reversal. At age 61 he was overweight, and suffered from stomach ulcers, chronic fatigue, an irregular heartbeat, and arthritis so bad he could not even dress himself. His doctors in Taiwan told him he had only a year or so to live. He began to study T’ai Chi even though his teacher told him it was hopeless, that it was too late. He persisted, practicing daily, until his body gradually improved.  He ultimately achieved Qi control, and it took him only seven years to totally rejuvenate his body. When I met him he was in his early seventies, strong as an ox, and moving with the fluidity of a professional dancer. His diet consisted of typical Chinese home-cooked food, and I noticed he ingested quite a few herbal tablets along with his wines.  That was it–daily T’ai Chi practice, good food, and TCM tonic herbs.