Sage May Be Effective for Mild to Moderate Alzheimer’s
People with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) who take an extract of sage (Salvia officinalis) daily may experience improvements in memory and mental capacity, as well as a decrease in agitation, according to a new study in Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics (2003;28:53–9). This is the first study to suggest sage may be an effective treatment for AD.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and affects more than 20 million people worldwide. Symptoms of AD include progressive memory loss, poor concentration, language problems, disorientation, and agitated behavior. The prevalence of AD increases from 0.3% at the age of 65 years to nearly 50% after 85 years. The exact cause of AD is unknown, but some physicians believe it may be caused by an accumulation of aluminum in the brain or a defect in the production of a chemical in the brain called acetylcholine, which is involved with short-term memory. Some scientists believe sage binds to specific receptors in the brain, mimicking the action of acetylcholine. Treatment may slow the progression of AD, but no studies currently show that AD can be reversed. However, the new study suggests sage may lead to symptomatic improvement.
In the new study, 30 adults between the ages of 65 and 85 with mild to moderate AD were randomly assigned to receive 60 drops per day of sage extract or placebo for four months. Two rating scales (Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale and Clinical Dementia Rating) were used to measure the degree of impairment of various aspects of cognition, such as memory, orientation, judgment, problem-solving, speech, and personal care. Higher scores suggest more severe impairment. Participants were assessed every two weeks for the duration of the study.
Those taking the sage extract experienced significant improvements in cognition after 16 weeks of treatment, compared with those who took the placebo. The benefits of sage were observed between 4 and 6 weeks after starting treatment. Scores on the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale increased by 22% in those taking the placebo, but decreased by 26% in the sage group. The frequency of agitation was higher in the placebo group, suggesting sage may have a beneficial effect on mood.
Preliminary evidence suggests lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) may have similar beneficial effects as sage in the treatment of AD. Other supplements that may useful in treating AD include ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), L-acetylcarnitine, vitamin E, and huperzine A. People taking blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin®) should avoid taking ginkgo to avoid thinning the blood too much. Those taking aspirin, another blood thinner, should consult their doctor before taking ginkgo.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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