Researchers caution that larger clinical trials are needed to establish the efficacy and safety of the compound.
Memory loss, or dementia, may occur after stroke and is a growing problem in China, says lead researcher Jinzhou Tian, M.D., a professor in the Department of Care of the Elderly at Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, Dongzhimen Hospital in Beijing, China.
A ginseng compound increased the activities of the brain chemicals acetylcholine and choline acetyltransferase, (ChAT), in aged mice, he says. "However, the effects of Chinese ginseng compound on mild and moderate dementia after stroke in humans have not been reported until now."
Researchers evaluated Chinese ginseng extract as a cheap natural treatment that's acceptable to the Chinese people, Tian says. "Chinese ginseng has been used for centuries in China to treat disease and aging."
Researchers identified 40 patients (average age 67) with mild to moderate vascular dementia, which results from multiple small strokes. They randomly selected 25 patients to receive a tablet of ginseng extracted from Chinese ginseng roots, leaves and an herb known as panax notoginseng three times daily. The other 15 received the drug Duxil® (almitrine + raubasine), which increases oxygen use in brain tissue and has been used to improve memory in elderly dementia patients.
Participants took memory tests focusing on immediate and delayed story recall, delayed word recall, verbal learning, verbal recognition and visual recognition. These tests were given before the study began and at the end of the 12-week study.
Overall, researchers found that patients who took the ginseng compound significantly improved their average memory function after 12 weeks.
"There is currently great interest in studying herbs used in traditional forms of medicines, and the problem of dementia after stroke is a significant one," says Robert J. Adams, M.D., chairman of the Stroke Council of the American Heart Association and a spokesperson for the American Stroke Association. "As the authors point out, this work showing that ginseng may improve memory after stroke needs to be further studied, with larger sample sizes. A placebo-controlled study would also be the next step. At this time, a recommendation to use this herb for memory enhancement would be premature."
Co-authors of the study include: Junxiang Yin, Ph.D.; Huan Liu, Ph.D.; Chengzhi Yang, Ph.D.; Jing Shi, Ph.D.; and Yongyan Wang, M.D.
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