Researchers evaluate dietary supplement's effect on memory in the aging

November 20, 2002

PORTLAND, Ore. - Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University and the National College of Naturopathic Medicine (NCNM) are launching a clinical trial to determine whether a dietary supplement has any impact on memory in seniors. The study is being sponsored by the Oregon Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Neurological Disorders (ORCCAMIND) at OHSU. The alternative medicine research center receives its funding from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a component of the National Institutes of Health.

The substance, called Bacopa monniera or Brahmi, is a plant that grows in marshy areas throughout India. It is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine, a holistic system of healing that evolved from ancient India some 3,000-5,000 years ago. While the dietary supplement is not commonly used in the United States, the same species of plant is used in aquariums as an ornamental water plant.

"In prior clinical trials, Bacopa has been shown to assist in memory and learning enhancement in younger patient populations," said Carlo Calabrese, N.D., M.P.H., principal investigator of the study, a research professor at NCNM and a clinical assistant professor of neurology in the OHSU School of Medicine. "However, it has not been studied in the elderly."

Specifically, researchers are studying the impacts of Bacopa on people older than 65. The 50 enrollees should be in relatively good health and live in the Portland metropolitan area. The clinical trial is a double-blind, placebo-controlled project. This means half of the participants will take 300 mg of Bacopa daily for a 12-week period. The comparison group will take a similarly appearing placebo or "sugar pill" during the same amount of time. The primary measure of the supplement's effect will be a commonly utilized verbal test to evaluate short-term memory. Other measures will assess attention, the ability to ignore irrelevant information and reaction time.

"A certain amount of cognitive decline is a normal effect of aging," said Barry Oken, M.D., professor of neurology in the OHSU School of Medicine and director of ORCCAMIND. "The goal of this study is to maximize cognitive function as much as possible."

Oregon Health & Science University

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