Japanese Condiment, Wasabi, Boosts Memory

Wasabi, a hot green paste that is typically eaten with raw fish, has now been shown by researchers to enhance both short- and long-term memory.

Originating from a rhizome, wasabi is a fleshy stem located between the leaves and the thin roots of the wasabi plant, although we frequently see it in a paste form.

When we think of "brain foods," we often imagine nuts, like almonds and walnuts, or foods packed with protein, such as salmon. The researchers at Tohoku University say that Japanese wasabi also acts as a brain food, as its primary active ingredient is a biochemical known as 6-MSITC, an established anti-inflammatory and antioxidant found in tiny concentrations in other parts of the plant kingdom.

The findings, published in Nutrients, included 72 healthy participants, ages 60 to 80, who participated in the double-masked, randomized study.

Before going to bed, half of the elderly participants took 100 milligrams of wasabi extract, while the rest ate a placebo.

Fast forward three months, the group consuming wasabi exhibited noticeable improvements in cognition, working (short-term) memory, and longer-lasting episodic memory using established tests for language proficiency, focus, and essential task performance.

So, why exactly does wasabi increase memory? The study found that episodic scores increased by 18%, and participants had a 14% overall performance rating compared to the placebo group.

The researchers' theory says 6-MSITC increases neuronal plasticity and lowers oxidant and inflammatory levels in the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in memory.

The people eating wasabi also had better memory when it came to recognizing names and faces, which is a problem commonly seen in older people with memory issues.

This isn't the first time wasabi has been shown to be effective for our health. Centuries ago, the condiment was highly valued in Japan due to its antibacterial capabilities, allowing it to destroy foodborne infections like staphylococcus and E. coli while complementing seafood with its flavor and perfume.

A 2016 study found that wasabi was both bacteriostatic and bactericidal at low and high concentrations against S. aureus and E. coli, respectively. Bacteriostatic means to inhibit the development of germs, whereas those that are bactericidal destroy the bacteria.

However, most wasabi eaten outside of Japan is actually a mixture of horseradish, mustard, and green food coloring. Fresh wasabi is, in fact, rare to find in the United States and is a darker green in color.

The team concludes that a daily dosage — if you can get your hands on it — would benefit more than other antioxidant and anti-inflammatory spices like ginger and turmeric, especially for older people.

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