Could an Orchid Have Saved My Grandmother’s Brain?
I used to love listening to my grandmother talk. Raised in Ohio but a Southerner for the bulk of her adult life, she had a quirky accent. When she came to visit us in New York, my younger brother and I would jump onto her bed every morning and demand that she read to us. This gave us more time to listen to her voice as it rose and fell over the text in a unique cadence.
Sadly, by the end of my grandmother’s life we didn’t have the fun of listening to her speak. Between 1987 and 1999, we watched her slowly deteriorate from a lovingly connected and chatty family member to an almost mute woman who spoke in single words or strings of numbers. She had been a bookkeeper, so my grandmother’s substitution of numbers for letters made sense to my mother, who acted as interpreter as Alzheimer’s disease eroded my grandmother’s speech and other brain centers.
Witnessing the demolition of a mind and personality due to Alzheimer’s is heartbreaking, especially now when, 14 years after my grandmother’s death, we know so much about neurogenesis, neuroplasticity, and how brain deterioration can be subverted, slowed, or even eliminated. When you have a history of Alzheimer’s in your family, you constantly scan for information about how to make sure it won’t happen to you—which is how I stumbled upon new research that left me wondering whether a substance found in a beautiful flower could have maintained my grandmother’s brain function.
Extracted from the root of the orchid, gastrodin has been used by Chinese doctors for centuries to treat many cognitive problems, including paralysis, seizures, vertigo, and headaches. The reason? Gastrodin acts as a defense against a multitude of entities that cause age-related destruction of mental processes, including unbalanced neurotransmitters, memory loss, and decreased blood flow, plus Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Researchers are now discovering that gastrodin also contains regenerative properties that can unlock the brain’s own self-healing processes. In fact, scientists have proven that gastrodin has a beneficial influence on up to 20% of the genes responsible for controlling the brain’s growth and plasticity; it can actually mobilize and activate specific elements of the brain’s regenerative activity.
Many of the research findings specifically relate to Alzheimer’s:
- A reduction in flow of blood to the brain can speed the aging of the brain and create problems with cognition and memory. Without proper flow, the brain becomes starved for oxygen and other fuel sources. In lab tests with human subjects, a gastrodin-based formula increased blood flow in 96% of patients who’d had a stroke or other brain injury.
- When blood flow is reduced by elevated blood sugar, the brain can experience memory impairment and increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Gastrodin has been shown to reduce excess blood sugar.
- When the brain is resting or calm, it uses the neurotransmitter GABA. People with Alzheimer’s and other disorders have an imbalance in neurotransmitters, which puts stress on the brain and can lead to cell burnout. Gastrodin has been shown to increase levels of GABA by as much as 34%, thereby calming the brain and interrupting overactive brain function.
- Gastrodin protects cells in the brain centers most relevant for learning and memory, the areas that degenerate most significantly in the presence of Alzheimer’s. Toxic Abeta proteins that kill cells and memories are themselves killed when gastrodin turns on enzymes that destroy them.
These examples only touch the tip of the gastrodin research iceberg, but they significantly and poignantly demonstrate how far we’ve come in identifying preventive interventions and antidotes to brain degradation.
Might gastrodin have saved my grandmother’s brain? Research findings point to this as a real possibility and suggest that we all begin working this simple plant extract into our regimen for healthy brains and slow aging.