If you’ve ever misjudged the potency of a dollop of wasabi on your sushi, you’ll be well versed in its ability to clear sinuses and, for a moment, have you feeling like you can see through space and time.
But this Japanese condiment that packs a punch like few others has in recent times been the focus of studies into its positive impact on memory and cognitive function. Now, for the first time, it has been shown to improve short- and long-term memory, and bolster associative memory, in the brains of people aged 60-80 years.
In this study, the researchers performed a double-blinded randomized control trial on a cohort of 72 older adults for 12 weeks. Half took a daily supplement made up of 100 mg of wasabi extract, while the control group received an inactive 100-mg cyclodextrin tablet.
The wasabi supplement contained 0.8 mg of 6-methylsulfinyl hexyl isothiocyanate (6-MSITC), the active ingredient that appears to hold the key to better memory function.
With previously studied anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities, 6-MSITC is present in cruciferous vegetables but is most concentrated in the underground rhizome of the wasabi plant (Eutrema japonicum). This part of the plant, of course, is used to make the earthy hot mustard-like paste that is an essential condiment for any sashimi and sushi spread.
Before and after the trial, the participants completed cognitive tests that included a focus on processing speed, attention, short-term memory, working memory, executive functions and visual-spatial abilities.
The results showed that those who took their nightly wasabi tablets had improved long- and short-term memory and did better on association tests, such as linking names to faces. The placebo cohort showed no differences in cognitive function.
The researchers believe 6-MSITC affects the brain’s hippocampus region, which is a key component of memory function. They now hope to look at how this bioactive compound is affecting this area on a molecular level.
“These findings suggest that the 12 weeks’ 6-MSITC intake selectively enhances working and episodic memory functions in healthy older adults,” the researchers noted. “This study is the first to demonstrate that 6-MSITC has a benefit on memory functioning in healthy older adults.”
The good news for those who don’t enjoy the wasabi burn? When packaged up in a supplement, all the pain is happily bypassed.
The research was published in the journal Nutrients.