Myristica fragrans is a small evergreen tree native to the Maluku Islands of eastern Indonesia.
This exotic tropical tree is unique in that it produces not just one, but two spices. They were both so important to the Western world that 16th-century Europeans called the islands the Spice Islands, and fought to control the trade routes that accessed them.
In modern times these two spices, which are now cultivated across the tropics, have been shown to protect your brain from neurodegenerative diseases.
And while these spices have exotic origins, they’re so commonplace in today’s kitchens that it’s practically guaranteed you’ve eaten them more than once…
Read on to discover these spices, and how they can protect your brain…
Kudos if you figured out these spices are nutmeg and mace.
The fruit of the Myristica fragrans tree doesn’t actually produce these spices. Nutmeg is the egg-shaped, brown-gray seed of the tree, which is grated into all things pumpkin and apple, as well as eggnog.
Mace is the red, lacy covering that surrounds the seed. It’s dried, ground into a yellow-orange powder and used in both sweet and savory dishes.
Scientists are discovering these two spices can do more than delight your palate…
They can protect your brain from developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease…
Two ways nutmeg and mace protect your brain
Take the brain “janitors” off overtime
One way that AD and Parkinson’s disease start is the over-activation of microglia, which are cells that act as the “custodians” of the brain and central nervous system (CNS). They activate to sweep out old, dead cells and to fight off infection and disease.
But when the brain suffers from chronic inflammation caused by long-term infections, poor diet, stress and other factors, the microglia are constantly active, which in turn causes neuronal damage.
Instead of sweeping away the dead cells, they go haywire and start releasing pro-inflammatory cytokines, small proteins that signal the cells to become even more unstable, and eventually causes the neurons to die.(1)
But researchers have discovered a compound in both nutmeg and mace known as macelignan, a polyphenol (plant-based antioxidant) that’s only found in Myristica fragrans.
It’s been shown to have potent anti-inflammatory properties (and even anti-bacterial and chemopreventive properties as well).(2)
In a study published in the August 2015 issue of the European Journal of Pharmacology, researchers applied macelignan to midbrain slice cultures and found it prevented the loss of dopaminergic neurons — which play a vital role in the regulation of voluntary movement, emotion and reward — by reducing microglia activity.(3)
Research has also shown macelignan’s ability to regulate microglia and protect the hippocampus, the area responsible for memory and one of the regions of the brain most impacted by Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Researchers in South Korea studied the neuroprotective effect of macelignan on neurotoxicity and reactive oxygen species (ROS) in murine hippocampal HT22 cell line. They found that macelignan significantly suppressed the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which in turn protected the hippocampus from microglia-induced damage.(4)
Shut down a neuron-destroying enzyme
Nutmeg also contains a compound called myristicin. Found in the essential oil of the nut, it’s what gives the spice its sweet, spicy aroma. But that’s not all it does…
A study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research showed myristicin inhibits production of the enzyme acetylcholinesterase (AChE) in the brain.(5)
AChE is responsible for the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that connects the brain to muscle movements, as well as to the automatic nervous system.(6) An acetylcholine deficiency has been shown to contribute to cognitive decline and, eventually, dementia.(7)
Myristica fragrans not only provide two spices, but two ways to boost brain health. No wonder it was considered so valuable.
How to get more of these brain-boosting spices
When cooking or baking with nutmeg, it’s best to freshly grate the whole seed with a box grater or micro-planer just before using to get the most potency. Whole nutmeg will keep for up to four years when stored in an airtight container.
Mace and nutmeg also add great flavor to savory sweet potato and winter squash dishes, as well as meats, potatoes, beans, spinach and other vegetables.
You could also add a little grated nutmeg or mace to pure maple syrup, which has also been proven to protect your brain (see Issue #279), or use nutmeg butter in place of regular butter for an aromatic, tasty change.
There are so many delicious, nutritious ways to protect your brain from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s…
Go ahead and experiment with these spices and find your favorite recipes for brain health.
- Microglial activation and its implications in the brain diseases. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17504139
- Multiple biological properties of macelignan and its pharmacological implications. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23435944
- A natural compound macelignan protects midbrain dopaminergic neurons from inflammatory degeneration via microglial arginase-1 expression. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0014299915003544
- Anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of macelignan in murine hippocampal cell line and primary culture of rat microglial cells. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006291X05008144
- Screening of Indian medicinal plants for acetylcholinesterase inhibitory activity. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ptr.2224/abstract
- Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors in Alzheimer’s disease. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2014378/
- Therapy of the cognitive deficit in Alzheimer’s disease: The cholinergic system. http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4899-6738-1_1