Saturday, May 3, 2008


I never think about nutmeg except briefly at Thanksgiving to once again note that I have none on my shelf when it's time to make pumpkin pie. Thanks to recent research out of India, I need to rethink my nutmeg indifference so that I may continue to think at all.

First, a word or two about making memories, in a biochemical sense. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter which allows neurons in charge of memory functions to communicate with one another in order to both make 'em and keep 'em--memories that is. Acetylcholinesterase is the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, and the inhibitor of same allows acetylcholine to work longer in the gap between memory-preserving neurons(1).

That is how some current medications for Alzheimer's disease, including Aricept and Exelon, work. London pharmacologists screened a number of Indian herbs for this activity(2) and found that even weensy bits of nutmeg extract diminished the activity of acetylcholinesterase inhibitor by 50%(3).

I don't even know if I really like nutmeg between never having it in the cupboard and not having a very discerning palate. I think I could learn to like it, however, if it supports my aging brain!

But watch out, if a little is good, a lot is not better. This spice can be toxic; persons actually abuse it for its psychoactive properties including hallucinations and euphoria. But then really, how euphoric can you get after downing a tablespoon-plus of nutmeg?
(1)This is why anticholinergic medications like benadryl and other antihistamines (used for allergies and sleep), oxybutynin (used for bladder control), and amitryptilline (used for sleep and chronic pain control) can befuddle susceptible older persons and should not be used.

(2)Mukherjee, PK, et al. Screening of Indian medicinal plants for acetylcholinesterase inhibitory activity. Phytother Res. 2007 Dec;21(12):1142-5.

(3)Other winning herbs in a acetylcholinesterase inhibiting sort of way included Centella asiatica, Nardostachys jatamansi (more on this one in a later post), and Evalvulus alsinoides. They also inhibited the enzyme's activity by 50%. I googled them all; you can buy them as supplements.


kenju said...

I love nutmeg! I sprinkle it on fruit (esepcially canned fruit) and sometimes on icecream. It goes into my apple pies, too. You should really keep it on hand!

Anonymous said...

Wonder if it would taste good on cereal?

JeanMac said...

I'm noticing recipes call for it - and it does boost the taste - and the brain!