Could rosemary scent boost brain performance?

Hailed since ancient times for its medicinal properties, we still have a lot to learn about the effects of rosemary. Now researchers writing in Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, published by SAGE, have shown for the first time that blood levels of a rosemary oil component correlate with improved cognitive performance.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is one of many traditional medicinal plants that yield . But exactly how such plants affect is still unclear. Mark Moss and Lorraine Oliver, working at the Brain, Performance and Nutrition Research Centre at Northumbria University, UK designed an experiment to investigate the of 1,8-cineole (1,3,3-trimethyl-2-oxabicyclo[2,2,2]octane), one of rosemary's main .

The investigators tested and mood in a cohort of 20 subjects, who were exposed to varying levels of the rosemary aroma. Using to detect the amount of 1,8-cineole participants had absorbed, the researchers applied speed and accuracy tests, and mood assessments, to judge the rosemary oil's affects.

Results indicate for the first time in human subjects that concentration of 1,8-cineole in the blood is related to an individual's cognitive performance – with higher concentrations resulting in improved performance. Both speed and accuracy were improved, suggesting that the relationship is not describing a speed–accuracy trade off.

Meanwhile, although less pronounced, the chemical also had an effect on mood. However, this was a negative correlation between changes in contentment levels and blood levels of 1,8-cineole, which is particularly interesting because it suggests that compounds given off by the rosemary essential oil affect subjective state and cognitive performance through different neurochemical pathways. The oil did not appear to improve attention or alertness, however.

Terpenes like 1,8-cineole can enter the blood stream via the nasal or lung mucosa. As small, fat-soluble organic molecules, terpenes can easily cross the blood–brain barrier. Volatile 1,8-cineole is found in many aromatic plants, including eucalyptus, bay, wormwood and sage in addition to rosemary, and has already been the subject of a number of studies, including research that suggests it inhibits acetylcholinesterase (AChE) and butyrylcholinesterase enzymes, important in brain and central nervous system neurochemistry: rosemary components may prevent the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

"Only contentedness possessed a significant relationship with 1,8-cineole levels, and interestingly to some of the cognitive performance outcomes, leading to the intriguing proposal that positive mood can improve performance whereas aroused mood cannot," said Moss.

Typically comprising 35-45% by volume of rosemary essential oil, 1,8-cineole may possess direct pharmacological properties. However, it is also possible that detected simply serve as a marker for relative levels of other active compounds present in rosemary oil, such as rosmarinic acid and ursolic acid, which are present at much lower concentrations.

More information: Plasma 1,8-cineole correlates with cognitive performance following exposure to rosemary essential oil aroma by Mark Moss and Lorraine Oliver is published today, 24th February in Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Rosemary chicken protects your brain from free radicals

Oct 30, 2007

Rosemary not only tastes good in culinary dishes such as Rosemary chicken and lamb, but scientists have now found it is also good for your brain. A collaborative group from the Burnham Institute for Medical Research (Burnham ...

Using wastewater to enhance mint production

Mar 03, 2011

When essential oils are extracted from plants through the process of steam distillation, wastewater is produced and subsequently released into rivers and streams. Finding new uses for these unused by-products ...

Fish oil supplements boost mental performance: study

Oct 25, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- A particular fish oil supplement has been shown to improve blood flow to the brain during mental activity and helped to reduce mental fatigue in young adults, according to research from Northumbria University. 

Physical activity, school performance may be linked: study

Jan 02, 2012

A systematic review of previous studies suggests that there may be a positive relationship between physical activity and the academic performance of children, according to a report in the January issue of Archives of Pediatrics & ...

Recommended for you

Suicide risk falls substantially after talk therapy

8 hours ago

Repeat suicide attempts and deaths by suicide were roughly 25 percent lower among a group of Danish people who underwent voluntary short-term psychosocial counseling after a suicide attempt, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School ...

Brains transform remote threats into anxiety

Nov 21, 2014

Modern life can feel defined by low-level anxiety swirling through society. Continual reports about terrorism and war. A struggle to stay on top of family finances and hold onto jobs. An onslaught of news ...

Mental disorders due to permanent stress

Nov 21, 2014

Activated through permanent stress, immune cells will have a damaging effect on and cause changes to the brain. This may result in mental disorders. The effects of permanent stress on the immune system are studied by the ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Birthmark
Feb 24, 2012
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Isaacsname
not rated yet Feb 26, 2012
I love Rosemary, I love it so much, I wish I could smoke it too.

...o,O wait....this would mean aromatherapy has some merit ?

whowouldathunkit ?

JVK
not rated yet Feb 26, 2012
Reproduction: a new venue for studying function of adult neurogenesis? Lau BW, Yau SY, So KF. Cell Transplant. 2011;20(1):21-35. Epub 2010 Sep 30. Review.
--------------------
The authors of the article cited above posit that it is the effect of pheromones on luteinizing hormone that leads to increased hippocampal neurogenesis which is linked to learning, memory, and behavior.

Members of another group have applied for a patent to use pheromones (social odors) for treatment of Alzheimer's disease rather than the more invasive neural stem cell transplants.

Perhaps plant odors will turn out to be as effective as pheromones in treatment of age-related neurodegenerative diseases because they act on the same neurophysiological pathways, as detailed in my forthcoming article to appear in Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.