By Ginger Hultin, MS RDN CSO
Herbs have been used in traditional and folk medicines for centuries for treating illness. People throughout the ages also had something on their minds that we still do today…longevity. Some herbs do in fact have research indicating they help with healthy aging for a variety of reasons.
Whether an herb is improving sleep, lowering stress, or boosting antioxidant status, they are likely working against biological processes that cause the body to age. DNA damage, free radical damage and dysfunction of the body on a cellular level all may contribute to aging issues including disease of the heart, neurological system, or cancers. Here are the top 10 herbs for longevity and may help slow the progression of aging in a variety of ways:
- Astragalus: This traditional Chinese herb is used mainly as an anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting anti-cancer agent. Often used now as an adjunct to chemotherapy, it may help reduce side-effects. The reason astragalus works so well is likely due to both its polysaccharide content as well as six major isoflavonoid antioxidants. Bonus: it can be used topically to aid in healing!
- Black Cohosh: Used commonly for the support of women’s health including reducing the symptoms of menopause, this herb has an obvious link to healthy aging effects. Aside from calming hot flashes, black cohosh is also used for alleviation of osteoarthritis pain and for supporting those with osteoporosis. Though more studies are needed, this herb is also used to reduce post-menopausal cardiovascular disease.
- Garlic: A cardiovascular powerhouse, garlic has been linked to reduced cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure due to its gallic acid and sulfide content. With heart-related issues being most common cause of death for Americans, a focus on garlic, even just in cooking, is surely an important practice to add to a heart healthy lifestyle.
- Ginger: Originally from China and now used worldwide, common ginger root can be used in cooking or as an herb to help soothe the stomach. Ginger also offers anti-inflammatory properties and is used to treat joint pain including osteoarthritis. One benefit of ginger is that it is generally safe, widely consumed, as well as easy to find and affordable to purchase.
- Ginko biloba: Ginko is an ancient herb used for supporting blood flow and quenching free radicals. It is also known to boost cognitive function. Research shows that ginko extract removes nitric oxide from the blood and support areas of the brain in animal studies. This herb carries much interest in the area of dementia and memory impaired patients.
- Purple passion flower: You may also see this herbaceous vine referred to by its official name, passiflora incarnata. Similar to valerian, this herb is used as a sedative and to treat insomnia. It has also been used to calm nerves and stomach upset caused by anxiety because of one of its flavonoids, chrysin. Often consumed in a tea or a tincture, passion flower has also been used for heart problems like congestive heart failure though much more research is needed on that subject. This flower extract is used for longevity due to it’s potential for cardiovascular support and general calming effect.
- Siberian Ginseng: You’ll often see this famous root referred to as Eleuthero. It has been used to combat pain, fatigue and sleep problems and is one of many herbs that may help to boost the immune system. It also acts as an antioxidant and as an adaptogen helping the body adjust to external stressors. Any number of ginseng’s overarching benefits could help with healthy aging and longevity. No wonder ginseng has been used around the world for ages!
- Turmeric: this herb is used in curry dishes and also taken in capsule form for more therapeutic dosing. Packed with antioxidants including curcuminoids, turmeric also contains anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties. With all of its health promoting benefits, research shows many benefits to this herb . . . and some of them may contribute to a longer life.
- Valerian: known as a sedative, calming herb, valerian can also decrease blood pressure and exert a tranquilizing effect. In some studies, valerian has an effect on EEG readings of brain waves. Calming the autonomic nervous system, valerian has been used for longevity in some cultures.
- White willow bark: this herb is packed with anti-inflammatory salicylic acid which is used to combat pain, headaches, osteoarthritis, back pain and viral infections. It’s pain reducing effects are likely why white willow bark is so commonly used in an aging population. Like so many other plant extracts, the positive effects of white willow bark are likely not limited only to its salicin because this plant is also packed with antioxidant polyphenols and flavonoids.
As always, before starting any herb or supplement, meet with a doctor who can speak to its use for you as a unique individual, taking into account your health history and medications. Some of these herbs are not appropriate for pregnant women as they may cause uterine contractions so use extreme caution and medical advice with any herb if pregnant. Many of these herbs are used in cancer prevention or treatment, but these are never considered alternatives to traditional therapy. Longevity is a complicated matter with many aspects including a lifestyle that promotes healthy aging – physical activity and good nutrition. Do you have any other herbs you use for longevity? Let us know!
Hügel HM.Brain Food for Alzheimer-Free Ageing: Focus on Herbal Medicines. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2015;863:95-116.
Ferrari, C. K. (2004). Functional foods, herbs and nutraceuticals: towards biochemical mechanisms of healthy aging. Biogerontology, 5(5), 275-289.
Natural Medicines Database. Passionflower. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=871. Updated 2/16/2015. Accessed 10/1/16.
Natural Medicines Database.Ginger. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=961. Updated 9/8/2016. Accessed 10/1/16.
Natural Medicines Database. Black Cohosh. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=857. Updated 9/15/2016. Accessed 10/1/16.
Natural Medicines Database. Astragalus. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=963. Updated 6/3/2015. Accessed 10/1/16.
Natural Medicines Database. Willow Bark. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=955. Updated 2/16/2015. Accessed 10/1/16.
Reduce inflammatory process in cells, tissues, and blood vessels, helping to slow aging and reduce risk of long-term disease.
Prevents and repairs oxidative damage to cells caused by free radicals.
Support the body’s resistance to infection and strengthen immune vigilance and response.
Improves mood, memory, and focus.
Reduces risk factors for common degenerative and age-related diseases.