Besides healthy brain foods, spices and herbs can protect our brain cells as well. In addition to adding color and flavoring to our foods, they add potential health benefits from their antioxidant and other effects. For example, consuming garlic lowers cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Ginger may lessen pain in patients with arthritis, and several herbs and spices are believed to have cancer-fighting properties. Because of their strong antioxidant properties, herbs and spices may help protect our brain cells from the wear and tear of the aging process. Examples of some of the more potent spices include oregano, vanilla, cinnamon, parsley, basil, and pepper.
Scientists recently studied piperine, the main active antioxidant ingredient in black pepper. After just two weeks, the piperine not only improved memory performance in experimental mice that carried an Alzheimer’s gene, but also delayed neurodegeneration in the hippocampus memory center of their brains.
Many people like Indian food, which contains the potent antioxidants turmeric, cumin seed and curry. For thousands of years, curcumin has been produced from turmeric, and used to make spices (curry, mustard), food coloring, and medicine to treat a variety of ailments. In part because of relatively lower rates of dementia in India compared with other countries, scientists are considering if eating curried foods might protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease. UCLA researchers have demonstrated curcumin’s potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-amyloid properties (beta-amyloid protein is the sticky "goo” that accumulates on the brain and prevents neurons from “talking” to each other; too much beta-amyloid is believed to cause Alzheimer's symptoms) – effects that are believed to protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease. In one study of more than 1000 volunteers between ages 60 and 93, those who ate curried foods more frequently had higher scores on standard memory tests.