Published: April 15, 2024

A study published by the National Library of Medicine reported that the prevalence of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) was at 22.7% in 2020 and that it’s projected to rise substantially by 2060.  Memory is one of many cognitive functions vital for leading a rich and active life. 

Cognitive function encompasses the mental processes for gaining knowledge, understanding information, and thinking logically. These include perception, memory, learning, concentration, decision-making, and language skills. 

Numerous factors can affect cognitive function, such as stress, insufficient sleep, and aging. However, there are several strategies to support brain functions, regardless of the cause. Recently, there has been an increasing interest in diverse healthcare methods, especially Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and the potential benefits for cognitive wellness. 

Cognitive Function

A combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle elements plays a role in determining cognitive health. These factors might lead to a deterioration in cognitive abilities and the capacity to carry out daily activities. Aging, in particular, often results in mild cognitive impairment over time.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) represents a middle ground between the expected cognitive decline associated with aging and the more profound reduction observed in dementia. Individuals with MCI might experience difficulties with memory, language, or decision-making.

Individuals experiencing MCI might notice decreased memory or cognitive abilities, a sentiment often echoed by their family and close acquaintances. However, these changes are typically not severe enough to disrupt daily routines.

While MCI can elevate the risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological conditions, it’s not a guaranteed outcome. Some individuals with mild cognitive impairment may not see their condition worsen and might even see improvements with treatment.

There are many approaches to enhance cognitive performance, particularly when addressing problems such as inadequate sleep or nutrition. TCM offers valuable methods for boosting cognitive function, regardless of the underlying reasons.

Yuan Zhi

Yuan Zhi (Polygala root) is primarily used to treat insomnia related to disharmony between the heart and kidney and enhance memory. It offers measurable benefits for those dealing with cognitive dysfunction, specifically in cases of dementia or Alzheimer’s. 

One study focused on chronic cerebral hypoperfusion, which has a significant connection to the development of Alzheimer’s disease in older adults. It can lead to excessive autophagy activation, resulting in amyloid-β plaques accumulating in the brain and deteriorating cognitive abilities. The study utilized rats to test the impact of Yuan Zhi decoction (YZD) on brain activity. The routine neurological assessments demonstrated that YZD notably improved compromised cognitive abilities and the survival rate of essential neurons at risk from chronic cerebral hypoperfusion.

Various research efforts using Yuan Zhi show positive effects on individuals experiencing mild cognitive deficits. Yuan Zhi has been employed to aid memory and learning for decades in TCM, and its popularity has spread into other areas. BT-11, an extract from the dried root of Polygala, has been formulated as a functional food known for its cognitive-boosting properties.

Supplemental TCM Strategies

Additional uses of herbal formulas and strategies, including acupuncture, may aid cognitive function.

Acupuncture involves the precise placement of needles at strategic points on the body. This practice is known to bolster cognitive abilities, supported by empirical data. By fostering relaxation, acupuncture soothes the mind and improves focus.

Furthermore, acupuncture helps regulate the interactions between brain cells and improve their function. Research, primarily on animal models, has demonstrated that acupuncture can enhance memory and cognitive performance. As a result, the use of acupuncture alongside herbal formulas is becoming a more frequent supplementary approach for managing ADHD in individuals of all ages.

Promising Outlooks on Cognitive Aids

With increasing studies focused on discovering active compounds in Chinese herbs for dementia and cognitive decline treatment, clinical trials are also exploring the use of herbal medicine and acupuncture in addressing Alzheimer’s. 

These approaches could lower the costs of developing new drugs and minimize patients’ exposure to adverse side effects. Moreover, integrating herbal medicines with acupuncture might offer extra advantages, laying the groundwork for a combined treatment strategy to improve cognitive function.

Before seeking preventative treatment and exploring TCM strategies, it’s important to consult with a professional practitioner. Herbal formulas and acupuncture are most effective when a proper diagnosis and treatment plan has been established. This reduces the risk of side effects and contraindications. Learn more about finding a reputable TCM practitioner and using safe and studied formulas here


*Please note: These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This article is not intended to suggest specific treatments for patients or that any supplements mentioned prevent or cure diseases or problems. Before taking any herbs, all patients should discuss their options with a licensed practitioner, including any other medications the patient is currently taking, as there may be contraindications between pharmaceuticals and herbs.


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