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Extracting Science from Spearmint

Posted May 24, 2017

The real results of nature's remedies

William Shakespeare penned the phrase, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.” If he had known about today’s scientific discoveries, his prose might have included spearmint for sustained memory. There's more and more science emerging on the untapped power of several common herbs, and the real impact they can have on our health. Today, plant extracts or botanicals are formulated into nutritional supplements so people can easily absorb the benefits of these powerful herbs. 

The history of botanicals for cognitive health

Since ancient times, the Lamiaceae plant family has been the subject of interest for cognitive health benefits. It's known for its fragrance, beauty and medicinal properties, and includes familiar herbs such as mint, rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme and lavender. Theophrastus, "the father of botany," praised the medicinal effects of mint in his books as early as 250 BC. 13

Modern spearmint discovery

As Americans strive to lead active, healthy and productive lives, maintaining healthy cognitive function remains an important priority.

Kemin scientists focused in on the bioactive compounds found in spearmint plants to discover a select extract that promotes cognition. It's an important revelation today when 9 out of 10 people believe it's possible to improve their own mental performance.1

And while many consumers are aware that botanicals have the potential to positively impact their health, the science behind these mystical remedies isn't common knowledge.

How spearmint works to support mental sharpness:

The fight against free radicals

Spearmint, traditionally known mainly for culinary uses, is rich in bioactive compounds that act as antioxidants. In a normal diet, consuming as little as one gram of certain dried herbs can make a significant contribution to antioxidant intake.2 In Kemin’s spearmint, the antioxidant potential can largely be credited to a class of compounds called polyphenols.

Let's first understand what antioxidants are and why they're important:

  • Antioxidants are compounds that inhibit oxidation. In living cells, antioxidants can neutralize oxidizing agents such as free radicals, thus protecting cells from damage.
  • Free radicals or reactive oxygen species (ROS) are oxygen-based or nitrogen-based unstable molecules generated during metabolic processes. In a healthy body, antioxidant defenses neutralize these unstable molecules thereby preserving both cell structure and function.3 However, an excess of ROS beyond the body’s antioxidant defense capacity leads what's referred to as a state of oxidative stress characterized by cell damage. This occurs more often with age and as a result of numerous other factors such as stress, poor diet, and a lack of exercise and sleep.
  • Polyphenols are a broad class of compounds with antioxidant properties commonly found in grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables and other plant-based foods. Over the past several decades, there has been considerable research on this class of bioactive compounds for their powerful antioxidant capabilities and numerous suggested health benefits.

The science behind spearmint for cognitive performance:

Rosmarinic acid keeps your neurons healthy

One important polyphenol naturally present in spearmint is rosmarinic acid (RA). In cells studies, this spearmint polyphenol displays a remarkable ability to reduce oxidative stress indicating neuroprotective capabilities.4,5,6

A closer look at rosmarinic acid shows interesting potential health benefits related to cognitive function. Rosmarinic acid appears to be able to keep brain cells and specifically mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell) in top functioning order.7,8 Brain cells use as much as 20% of the body’s oxygen, so the brain is especially susceptible to damage from ROS or free radicals. A young and healthy brain can efficiently neutralize free radicals. However, as a result of aging, poor diet, and numerous other extrinsic factors, the brain may not be able to manage oxidative stress, which is when cell damage can occur.

Mitochondria are particularly vulnerable to damage from oxidative stress. In vitro studies show rosmarinic acid in spearmint can protect the mitochondria by neutralizing excess ROS and supporting cell viability.9

Kemin's spearmint polyphenols, including rosmarinic acid, were evaluated in an animal study with promising results for translatable human applications.5,6 Mice were given one of three doses of Kemin's specialized spearmint extract for 90 days.

The study showed the following results after consumption of spearmint 5% RA for 90 days:

  • Improved memory acquisition and retention in a series of learning exercises
  • Decreased protein oxidation in the hippocampus
  • Lowered lipid oxidation in the cortex

Polyphenols promote neuron communication

Other polyphenols found in the Lamiaceae family of botanicals that appear to have similar neuroprotective activities are salvianolic acids. Studies show that rosmarinic acid and salvianolic acids support healthy neurotransmission by increasing levels of acetylcholine.11,12 In the brain, acetylcholine acts as a neurotransmitter, allowing neurons to communicate with one another. Healthy neurotransmission plays a vital role in learning and memory.

As one ages, an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase (AChE) can break down acetylcholine in the brain, which may impair memory and concentration. However, polyphenols like rosmarinic acid and salvianolic acids may reduce the activity this enzyme.

Spearmint in nutritional supplements

Botanical supplements are growing in demand as consumers seek naturally-derived and sustainably grown solutions for staying healthy. When plants are sustainably grown, clinically studied and carefully monitored for antioxidant and polyphenolic levels, these supplement ingredients can provide valuable solutions for health, wellness and brain support.

Look for supplements containing Neumentix™, Kemin's naturally-derived spearmint extract.



  1. ASA-MetLife Foundation. Attitudes and awareness of brain health poll. San Francisco (CA): ASA; 2006.
  2. Dragland S, Senoo H, Wake K, Holte K, Blomhoff R. Several culinary and medicinal herbs are important sources of dietary antioxidants. J Nutr. 2003 May;133(5):1286-90.
  3. Mariani E, P. M., et. al. (2005) Oxidative stress in brain aging, neurodegenerative and vascular diseases: An overview, Journal of Chromatography B 827, 65-75.
  4. Brandt, K., et al. Health promoting compounds in vegetables and fruis: a sysematic approach for identifying plan components with impact on human health. Trends in Food Science & Technology. 2004.
  5. Farr SA, Niehoff ML, Ceddia MA, Herrlinger KA, Lewis BJ, Feng S, Welleford A, Butterfield DA, Morley JE. Effect of botanical extracts containing carnosic acid or rosmarinic acid on learning and memory in SAMP8 mice. Physiol Behav. 2016,10(165);328-38.
  6. Farr S.A., Niehoff, M.L., Ceddia, M.A., Herrlinger, K.A., Lewis, B.J. & Feng S Antioxidant extracts from rosemary and spearmint improve learning, memory and reduce oxidative stress in SAMP8 mice [Abstract#436.14/T12]. Paper presented at: Neuroscience, San Diego, CA 2013.
  7. Ghaffari H, Venkataramana M, Jalali Ghassam B, et al. Rosmarinic acid mediated neuroprotective effects against H2O2-induced neuronal cell damage in N2A cells. Life Sciences. 2014;113(1-2):7–13.
  8. Du T, Li L, Song N, Xie J, Jiang H. Rosmarinic acid Antagonized 1-Methyl-4-Phenylpyridinium (MPP+)-induced Neurotoxicity in MES23.5 Dopaminergic cells. International Journal of Toxicology. 2010;29(6):625–633.
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  12. Tildesley NTJ, Kennedy DO, Perry EK, et al. Salvia lavandulaefolia (Spanish sage) enhances memory in healthy young volunteers. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior. 2003;75(3):669–674.
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