Extracting Science from Spearmint
William Shakespeare penned the phrase, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.” If he had known about today’s scientific discoveries, his prose might have included spearmint for memory. Today, there is more and more science emerging on the untapped power of some well-known plants, as with spearmint for cognitive performance and working memory. Through traditional plant breeding practices, Kemin scientists have nurtured specialty plants rich in bioactive compounds aimed at providing botanical solutions for health, which lead to the discovery of spearmint for cognition.
And, as Americans strive to lead active, healthy and productive lives, maintaining healthy cognitive function will remain an important priority. It’s an important revelation when nine out of 10 people believe it is possible to improve their own mental performance.1
Botanical bioactive compounds as powerful antioxidants
The plant family called the Lamiaceae including familiar herbs – known for their fragrance, beauty and medicinal properties – such as mint, rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme and lavender, has been the subject of interest for cognitive health benefits for some time now. This article specifically focuses on one member of the Lamiaceae family, spearmint, for healthy cognitive support and some mechanisms by which the bioactive compounds in spearmint could bring about their effects.
This herb, traditionally known mainly for culinary uses, is rich in bioactive compounds that act as antioxidants. In a normal diet, consuming as little as one gram of certain dried herbs can make a significant contribution to antioxidant intake.2 In spearmint and particularly Kemin’s spearmint, the antioxidant potential can largely be credited to a class of compounds called polyphenols.
To better understand why this is important, let’s first understand what antioxidants are and what they do, as a starting point.
Antioxidants are compounds that inhibit oxidation. In living cells, antioxidants can neutralize oxidizing agents such as free radicals, thus protecting cells from damage.
Free radicals or reactive oxygen species (ROS) are oxygen-based or nitrogen-based unstable molecules generated during metabolic processes. In a healthy body, antioxidant defenses neutralize these unstable molecules thereby preserving both cell structure and function.3 However, an excess of ROS beyond the body’s antioxidant defense capacity leads what's referred to as a state of oxidative stress characterized by cell damage. This occurs more often with age and as a result of numerous other factors such as stress, poor diet, and a lack of exercise and sleep.
Polyphenols are a broad class of compounds with antioxidant properties commonly found in grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables and other plant-based foods. Over the past several decades, there has been considerable research on this class of bioactive compounds for their powerful antioxidant capabilities and numerous suggested health benefits.
Watch this short video to get a quick understanding for what Kemin's spearmint-based supplement ingredient, Neumentix?, can actually do for your brain.
Botanical compounds for healthy cognitive performance
One important polyphenol naturally present in spearmint is rosmarinic acid (RA). In cells studies, this spearmint polyphenol displays a remarkable ability to reduce oxidative stress indicating neuroprotective capabilities.4,5,6
A closer look at RA shows particularly interesting potential health benefits related to cognitive function. RA appears to be able to keep brain cells and specifically the mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell) in top functioning order.7,8 This is important because brain cells use as much as 20% of the body’s oxygen. With this much oxygen present, the brain is susceptible to damage from ROS or free radicals, which a young and healthy brain can efficiently handle. However, as a result of aging, poor diet, and numerous other extrinsic factors, the brain may not be able to manage the oxidative stress which is when cell damage can occur. One vulnerable site within brain cells for such damage is the mitochondria. In vitro studies show RA can protect mitochondria by neutralizing excess ROS and supporting cell viability.9
Additionally, spearmint polyphenols including rosmarinic acid made from Kemin’s spearmint were evaluated in an animal study and the results showed promise for translatable human applications.5,6 Mice were given one of three doses of this specialized extract for 90 days –spearmint 5% RA. The study showed the following results:
More spearmint polyphenols in action
Other polyphenols found in the Lamiaceae family of botanicals that appear to have similar neuroprotective activities like Rosmarinic acid are Salvianolic acid A and Salvianolic acid B (collectively referred to Salvianolic acids). Studies show that RA and Salvianolic acids support healthy neurotransmission by increasing levels of acetylcholine.11,12 In the brain, acetylcholine acts as a neurotransmitter and neuromodulator, which plays a vital role in learning and memory.
As one ages, acetylcholine can naturally decline which may impair memory and concentration. However, polyphenols like RA and Salvianolic acids may reduce the activity of an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase (AChE), which can break down acetylcholine in brain. This is suggested to be another way in polyphenols can work besides being antioxidants.
Spearmint in nutritional supplements
Botanical supplements are growing in demand as consumers seek naturally-derived and sustainably grown solutions for staying healthy. When plants are sustainably grown, clinically studied and carefully monitored for antioxidant and polyphenolic levels, these supplement ingredients can provide valuable solutions for health, wellness and brain support.
Look for supplements containing Neumentix?, Kemin's naturally-derived spearmint extract.
In our next article, we'll explore Kemin's sustainable practices and how our spearmint extract supplement ingredient, Neumentix, can help supplement manufacturers market their products to eco-concious consumers.
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