Chinese Herbs for Cognitive Therapy

The record of cognitive therapy ‘s benefits that come from Chinese Herb Medicine (CHM) can be traced back to the book of Sheng Nong Ben Cao Jing (Han Dynasty, 1st- 2nd centuries), where the earliest pharmacopeia exists on Materia medicine in China.

In this book, some Chinese herbs such as Polygala (Yuan Zhi), Ginseng (Ren Shen), Coptidis Rhizoma (Huang Lian), and Longan (Long Yan) are described to alleviate the decline of memory (Liu, 2014).

Recently, more and more Chinese herbs have been tested in preclinical and clinical studies and they’ve been shown to exhibit compelling levels of efficacy of cognitive impairment.

Among of them, the top 10Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), herb ingredients with the highest potential to serve as an intervention treatment for dementia include

Acorus Gramineus Soland

Rhizoma Chuanxiong

Radix Polygalae

Salvia Miltiorrhiza Bge

Radix Rehmanniae Preparata

Radix Angelica Sinensis

Lycium barbarum L.

Poria Cocos

Radix Astragali

Fructus Corni

With the highest frequency of Acorus Gramineus Zealand in 1232 formulae collected from substantial documentary achievements (Liu, 2014).

How do we know that some Chinese Herbs ingredients have benefits for cognitive impairment?

In ancient time, our ancestors discovered these benefits by trial and error, and then perhaps passed this information on to others by word of mouth.

In addition, some of this knowledge was recorded in an ancient book, such as Sheng Nong Ben Cao Jing, which we mentioned earlier.

However, they didn’t know exactly how these herbs functioned just yet. With the advance of science and technology, we are gradually getting closer to finding the answers for these questions.

  1. Research on cognitive impairment diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), vascular dementia, and mild cognitive impairment has helped us to better understand the pathogenesis of these diseases.
  2. Several hypotheses for the cause of Alzheimer’s Disease have been developed thus far, including cholingergic hypothesis, amyloid hypothesis, tau hypothesis, calcium hypothesis, and isoprenoid change (Jiang, 2017).
  3. TCM can now be better characterized by applying sophisticated analytical methods, ultimately giving us more knowledge about the main chemical compounds in the CHM and their content levels.
  4. Possible mechanisms of action for some CHMs have also been elucidated. One example is Huperzine A, which was found to be a potent, reversible, and selective inhibitor of acetylcholine esterase (Sun, 2013).

In 2017, Jiang Y, et al. published an article titled “Traditional Chinese Medicinal Herbs as potential AChE inhibitors for anti-Alzheimer’s disease: an overview” in Bioorganic Chemistry (Jiang, 2017).

This article reviewed six (6) Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) herbs, which are related to AChEIs. The cholinergic hypothesis are considered as an important mechanism of cognition impairment, and AChEIs are recognized as one of the important treatment of medicines in improving cognitive function.

6 of Chinese herbs are:

A, Herba Epimedii;

B, Coptis Chinensis Franch;

C, Rhizoma Curcumae Longae;

D, Green tea;

E, Ganoderma;

F, Panax Ginseng,

Each one belongs to one class of AChEIs: Flavonoids, Alkaloids, Ketones, Polyphenols, Terpenoids, and Saponins, respectively (Jiang, 2017).

These six (6) Chinese herbs are raising great interests in developing AChEIs.

And last, but not least, more and more CHMs have been tested for their efficacy and safety in clinical trials. The main findings of a recent study concluded that CHM, when used as adjuvant therapy, exerted an additive anti-AD beneficial, and they were generally safe and well tolerated in AD patients (Shi, 2017).

And for patients with mild cognitive impairment and age-associated memory impairment, CHMs were at least equivalent to piracetam on the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) scores (May,2009).

Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM) has been valuable medicine for cognitive impairment diseases such as AD, whose increasingly rampant influence is treated only partially by symptomatic relief for the cognitive and behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (Howes, 2017). Over recent years, research that seeks to reveal the scientific foundation behind the use of CHM has begun to develop rapidly (Howes, 2017).


Howes Melanie-Jayne, et al. “Effect of Chinese Herbal Medicine on Alzheimer’s Disease.” International Review of Neurobiology, vol.135, 2017, pp.29-56.

Jiang, Yingying, et al. “Traditional Chinese medicinal herbs as potential AChE inhibitors for anti-Alzheimer’s disease: A review.” Bioorganic Chemistry, vol. 75, 2017, pp. 50–61.

Liu, Ping, et al. “History and Experience: A Survey of Traditional Chinese Medicine Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease.”Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2014, pp. 1-5.

May, Brian H, et al. “Chinese herbal medicine for Mild Cognitive Impairment and Age Associated Memory Impairment: a review of randomized controlled trials.” Biogerontology, vol. 10, 2009, pp. 109-123.

Shi Jing, et al. “Adding Chinese herbal medicine to conventional therapy brings cognitive benefits to patients with Alzheimer’s disease: a retrospective analysis.” BMC Complementary and alternative medicine, vol.17, 2017, pp. 533.

Sun, Zhi-kun, et al. “Traditional Chinese medicine: a promising candidate for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.” Translational Neurodegeneration, vol. 2, 2013, pp.6.

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