In Summary

A Swinburne study investigating the effects of nutritional treatments – including herb and plant extracts - on the health of older Australians has shown preliminary positive findings on their mood and memory. 

An ageing population has been identified as a major issue facing Australian society. The Federal Government’s plans to lift the retirement age mean there will be a focus on finding ways of improving the brain health of older people.

In the largest study of its kind worldwide, Swinburne’s Centre of Human Psychopharmacology (CHP) has been measuring the health of participants aged 60-75, analysing the effects of several nutritional and micronutrient extracts on their cognitive, brain, cellular and cardiovascular health.

The study measures diet, cardiovascular function, immune response, antioxidant function, and brain processes using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), as well as cognitive performance such as memory, spatial perception, problem solving and reaction time.

Led by Professor Con Stough and Professor Andrew Scholey, the four-year study is part of the Australian Research Council Longevity Intervention (ARCLI) project, with preliminary results indicating a positive outlook.

The treatments used in the study include the herb Bacopa monnieri, French Maritime Pine Bark, and a range of vitamins and micronutrients. The treatments have already shown a positive effect on memory and reaction time and improvements in some of the molecular processes related to age.

“Although this is a large ongoing study, and there is a lot more data to be collected, the preliminary results are suggestive that some nutrients can reduce cognitive and brain ageing,” Professor Stough said.

 “With dementia set to become the third greatest source of health and residential aged care spending within two decades, research addressing cognitive decline in older people is critical.”

“Research investigating new pharmaceutical drugs to tackle dementia has been disappointing and any new drug – even if shown to be effective – could take another ten years before it could be released onto the market, so it is worth assessing the role of natural nutrients on cognition.”

Professor Stough said up to 60 per cent of current pharmaceutical medicines are derived from plants and the treatments used in the trial have all shown promise in earlier studies.

“Identifying treatments that improve brain, cardiovascular and cognitive function will allow older people to have a higher quality of life and be more engaged in the workplace as they grow older.”

The study is funded by a combination of government funding (the Australian Research Council), industry funding (Soho Flordis International, Horphag and Blackmores) and philanthropy. It is in its third year and is expected to finish in 2015. People aged 60-75 who are interested in taking part in the study can contact Professor Stough: