The word cognition is derived from Latin word cognoscere, the meaning of which is “to know”. Cognition refers to everything related to the information that you have gained through experience or learning or in other words knowledge.1 Cognitive health refers to overall function and health of brain. Cognition combines several critical functions of brain including judgment, memory, intuition, learning ability and language.2
Importance of Cognitive Performance
Maintaining your cognitive performance and health is important at every age starting from when you are a child to when you become an elderly.
For children, maintaining their cognitive performance and health is particularly important as they are under continuous stress and pressure due to studies, extracurricular activities and especially examinations that happen periodically. The stress and pressure due to an exam may become so much that a phenomenon called mind blank may happen during the exam. During this, while sitting for an exam a child may forget all the information that they have learned for the exam.3
The importance of cognitive performance and health cannot be underrated for adults as well as they have to perform in their workplace, which may require different types of functioning skills including ability to memorize, complete tasks, manage time, pay attention to details, concentrate, make judgment etc.
What Causes Decline in Cognitive Health?
Problems with cognitive health may take various forms. A neurological problem that is quite common is dementia or a decline in mental function; for instance, Alzheimer’s disease that usually develops in the elderly. Neurological problems may also occur in younger people; for instance, due to a head injury or depression.
Neurological Problems Related to Age
People who are mainly affected due to neurological decline are the elderly. When they have mild impairment of cognition, they develop problems with their mental functioning and memory; however, their routine activities are not affected. In cases where relationships, routine activities and a person’s capability for daily functioning are affected, then the condition is referred to as dementia. Alzheimer’s dementia is the most common type of dementia in the elderly. It starts with loss of memory, personality changes and loss of judgment which tend to deteriorate over time. Other types of dementia related to age are vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, Huntington’s disease and Lewy body dementia. Another cause of age-related neurological problems that is common in the elderly is stroke.
Other Types of Neurological Problems
There are other types of cognitive problems that may occur in younger people, for instance, anxiety disorders and depression. Cognitive problems may also occur due to brain injuries such as concussion, side effects of medicines or deficiency of vitamin B12.4
What is Ginseng?
Ginseng is a plant that belongs to the genus Panax. The various plants in this genus are P. notoginseng (South China ginseng), P. ginseng (Korean ginseng) and P. quinquefolius (American ginseng). All of these plants contain the ingredients gintonin and ginsenosides. Ginseng has been used since centuries as a medicinal herb in traditional Chinese medicine.5
Ginseng has anti-inflammatory properties and is a potent antioxidant. It benefits brain function. It helps in the improvement of erectile dysfunction in men. It may boost and strengthen the body’s immune system. It helps in increasing the energy levels of the body. It has a blood sugar reducing effect in patients suffering from diabetes type 2. It has potent anticancer benefits.
How does Ginseng help Cognitive Performance and Health?
Ginseng has been found to be beneficial for the functioning of brain. It can help improve various cognitive functions such as mood, behaviour and memory. According to a review of five trials published in the Cochrane database of systematic reviews, it was suggested that ginseng extract produced improvement in some of the aspects of various cognitive functions, quality of life and behaviour in healthy participants.6
Some studies done on animals and in test tube demonstrate that ingredients present in ginseng such as compound K and ginsenosides can protect the neuronal cells against damage by free radicals; thereby, slowing down neurodegenerative diseases.7,8
In a study published in the journal The Annals of pharmacotherapy, 30 healthy subjects were followed for 4 weeks as they took 200 mg of P. ginseng per day. After the study ended, the subjects had improvement in their mental health, mood and social functioning.9
In another study published in the Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), the effects of single doses of 400 or 200 mg of P. ginseng on mental fatigue, levels of blood sugar and mental performance were examined in 30 healthy individuals (adults) after a mental test of 10 minutes. It was suggested by the study that P. ginseng is capable of improving metal fatigue and mental performance during sustained mental activity. The dosage of 200 mg was found to be more effective than 400 mg.10
Ginseng has also been found to improve cognitive deficit in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. In a study published in the Journal of ginseng research, improvement in cognitive deficits has been found by treatment with Korean red ginseng in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. It was concluded in the study that treatment with ginseng is beneficial for long term as the improvement in cognitive deficit sustained even after 96th week of treatment.11
A form of ginseng that is heat-processed and consists of more potent ginsenosides in comparison to raw ginseng is used in a study to treat the cognitive decline in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The results demonstrated that this form of ginseng is efficient in enhancing the cognitive function of patients who have moderately severe Alzheimer’s dementia.12
Another study published in the European journal of neurology demonstrated that Korean red ginseng is efficient at treating cognitive decline in patients having Alzheimer’s dementia as an adjuvant therapy to other conventional anti-dementia drugs.13
What Other Supplements Aid Cognitive Function?
Apart from ginseng, there are several other supplements that can help in improving cognitive performance and health. Some of these are described below:
Fish Oils: They are rich in EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), the two kinds of omega-3 acids. These fatty acids help in improving your brain health. EPA has anti-inflammatory properties and it helps in protecting your brain from damage due to free radicals. According to a study published in the American journal of clinical nutrition, supplementation with DHA improved both reaction time and memory in young healthy adults.14
Resveratrol: It is an antioxidant, which is naturally present in skin of red and purple fruits such as blueberries, raspberries and grapes. It’s also present in peanuts, red wine and chocolate. According to a study published in the journal Science reports, treatment with resveratrol prevents mood and memory dysfunction related to age.15
Ginkgo Biloba: It is a herb that is derived from the tree of Ginkgo biloba. It is a very popular supplement taken by many people to boost brain power. It is believed that it works by increasing the flow of blood to your brain and it is claimed that it improves various functions of the brain such as memory and focus. According to a study published in the journal Pharmacopsychiatry, taking ginkgo biloba extract improved cognitive decline in elderly individuals.16
Selenium: It helps to protect the nerves and brain from damage. Selenium supplementation may make the nerve transmission more efficient. Natural sources of selenium are tuna, oysters and Brazil nuts.
Copper and Zinc: Deficiency of these minerals may prove detrimental to brain performance and DNA production. Zinc is an important mineral for the maintenance of cognitive function.
Iron: According to a claim made by an approved European food standards agency (EFSA) iron helps in messaging inside the brain resulting in more efficient and faster cognitive performance. Natural sources of iron are nuts, green leafy veggies and red meats.
The B Vitamins: Most of the vitamins in the B group are used in your brain as chemical messengers, cofactors in enzymes or for production of DNA.17
Cognitive performance and health is characterized by the overall functioning and health of brain. It is very important for you to maintain your cognitive performance and health at every age. A decline in cognition may occur as you get older such as in diseases including Alzheimer’s dementia or it may also occur irrespective of your age such as due to a head injury or due to depression and anxiety disorders. Ginseng is an important herbal remedy that has been found to be beneficial for improving various cognitive functions such as mood, behaviour and memory in both healthy individuals and in those suffering from cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s dementia. Apart from ginseng there are other supplements such as fish oils, iron, zinc, selenium, Ginkgo biloba etc. that you can take to improve your cognitive performance and health.