- The forsythia plant contains a chemical called Forsythiaside A that exhibits anti-inflammatory activity.
- Inflammation is considered to underlie the development of Alzheimer’s disease and many other age-related neurodegenerative diseases.
- A study confirmed that the daily consumption of extracts from Forsythiae fructus could alleviate the memory deficits in a model of dementia.
Forsythias are low-maintenance and fast-growing plants that are known for their brilliant yellow blooms in early spring. If you’re someone whose relatives have developed Alzheimer’s disease, particularly if those affected were women (Alzheimer’s disease tends to follow the female line of inheritance), then you might want to add the fruits and leaves of this plant to your next salad.
The plant contains a chemical called Forsythiaside A which exhibits anti-inflammatory activity. It reduces fever via its actions at the membrane channel called TRPV1. Interestingly, the capsaicin found in turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, rosemary, and cayenne pepper also produces health benefits by stimulating this receptor. Extracts from the cannabis plant also produce their anti-inflammatory effects via this same channel.
The medical and popular press are fascinated by the negative effects of inflammation on the human body. Inflammation is considered to underlie the development of multiple sclerosis, AIDS dementia, Alzheimer’s disease as well as many other age-related neurodegenerative diseases. The more days that you have been alive, the more inflammation now exists inside your body. Why? What do you do every day that leads inexorably to this increase in inflammation? The answer is simple: You have been eating and breathing.
Eating provides your body with the energy stored within the carbon bonds that are contained within the fats, carbohydrates, and proteins that make up your diet. Breathing brings oxygen to your mitochondria to carry away the carbon debris that forms when these bonds are broken apart. This single critical activity, called oxidative metabolism or respiration, that is essential for your daily survival, is the most important factor that very slowly, minute-by-minute and day-by-day, produces the oxidative stress that leads to accumulating levels of inflammation. (View my TED Talk for a visual explanation of these processes.) Oxidative stress directly damages cellular proteins throughout the body. Protein damage is a significant pathophysiological event leading to inflammation, disease, and aging.
Why are those chemicals found in plants?
In truth, your houseplants have no interest in humans at all. Plants do not produce antioxidants and anti-inflammatory chemicals for our benefit. They produce these chemicals for their own survival. Plants stand immobile collecting solar radiation and producing lots of oxygen. Consequently, plants are exposed to very high levels of oxidative stress and free radicals that can easily harm their proteins. In addition, similar to what happens in animal cells, the mitochondria and chloroplasts leak lots of free radicals during photosynthesis. Plants use oxygen, water, and the hydrocarbons they create during photosynthesis to produce chemicals that can protect them from oxidative stress and these free radicals. One of the most famous antioxidants discovered in plants is Vitamin C.
Research on forsythia extracts
A recent study investigated whether the daily consumption of water extracts from Forsythiae fructus could alleviate the memory deficits in a rodent model of Alzheimer’s disease. The rats had infusions of amyloid, a protein that is thought to contribute to the cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s patients, into their hippocampus. The forsythia extracts significantly prevented the expected memory impairment by inhibiting the deposition of amyloid into the brain. In addition, eating forsythia extracts normalized the gut microbiota. The authors speculated that the potential neuroprotective benefits of forsythia extracts may be applicable to humans.
It is important to realize that the health benefits of forsythiaside A as well as the capsaicin found in common kitchen spices and cannabis are quite subtle and require that they be consumed almost daily.
Kim DS et al (2022) Protective effects of Forsythiae fructus and Cassiae semen water extract against memory deficits through the gut-microbiome-brain axis in an Alzheimer’s disease model. Pharmaceutical Biology, 60:212–224
Wenk GL, Your Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings, 3rd Ed. Oxford University Press.