Herbs and spices have been used since ancient times to not only improve the flavor of edible food but also to
prevent and treat chronic health maladies. While the scientific evidence for the use of such common herbs and medicinal
plants then had been scarce or lacking, the beneficial effects observed from such use were generally encouraging. It is,
therefore, not surprising that the tradition of using such herbs, perhaps even after the advent of modern medicine, has
continued. More recently, due to an increased interest in understanding the nutritional effects of herbs/spices more
comprehensively, several studies have examined the cellular and molecular modes of action of the active chemical
components in herbs and their biological properties. Beneficial actions of herbs/spices include anti-inflammatory, antioxidant,
anti-hypertensive, gluco-regulatory, and anti-thrombotic effects. One major component of herbs and spices is the
polyphenols. Some of the aforementioned properties are attributed to the polyphenols and they are associated with
attenuating the metabolic syndrome. Detrimental changes associated with the metabolic syndrome over time affect brain
and cognitive function. Metabolic syndrome and type-2 diabetes are also risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and stroke.
In addition, the neuroprotective effects of herbs and spices have been demonstrated and, whether directly or indirectly,
such beneficial effects may also contribute to an improvement in cognitive function. This review evaluates the current
evidence available for herbs/spices in potentially improving the metabolic syndrome, as well as their neuroprotective
effects on the brain, and cognitive function in animal and human studies.
Alzheimer’s diabetes, insulin, ischemia, memory, polyphenol
Diet, Genomics, & Immunology Laboratory, Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, 10300 Baltimore Ave, Bldg 307C, ARS/USDA, Beltsville, MD 20705, USA.