Contributed by Dr. Damian Rodriguez, DHSc, MS
There are a number of convenient alternatives for those wanting to support cognitive function, including an entirely new category of dietary supplements known as nootropics. One of the most researched of these new supplements is Sceletium tortuosum extract, more commonly referred to as Kanna. Sceletium tortuosum extract is one of the primary compounds in Adaptiv® Capsules Calming Blend.
The History of Kanna
A succulent native to South Africa, indigenous cultures have dried and chewed extracts and ground parts of the Sceletium tortuosum plant into tea for centuries. Traditionally, Kanna was used for a wide range of spiritual purposes, but it was also customary for hunters to chew it to combat fatigue, relieve thirst and hunger, and mentally prepare for stressful situations. With reports about its possible mood-modulating benefits, late 19th century European chemists began researching Kanna further and ultimately isolated what is believed to be its primary active constituent, an alkaloid called mesembrine1. Despite its long history of traditional use in Africa and scientific investigation in Europe dating back well over a century, Kanna is still relatively unknown to the rest of the world. But with the intriguing results of some recent research, various extracts of Sceletium tortuosum are gaining popularity as a dietary supplement.
The Science Behind Zembrin
Zembrin®†, a patented extract of the Sceletium tortuosum plant that was developed by a multi-national team of physicians and scientists, has been the focus of several published studies in the last several years, including three placebo-controlled human clinical studies. Along with examining the safety of its consumption (it has self-affirmed Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) status in the US), much of this research has revolved around its efficacy in supporting healthy emotional responses to temporary, anxiety-inducing events and supporting overall cognitive well-being in healthy adults2. In one double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study, researchers used fMRI to evaluate how Zembrin ingestion may influence the amygdala (the part of the brain that processes memories, and regulates critical thinking and emotional responses) and connected neurocircuitry during temporary, anxiety-inducing activities3.* While in the trial phase, which included a single daily dose of 25 mg of Zembrin, participants experienced reduced amygdala reactivity and amygdala–hypothalamus coupling compared to when in the control (placebo) phase.* In another trial, after six weeks of use, participants showed positive increases in brain activity (as measured by EEG), improvement on various functional psychometry tests, decreases in anxious feelings, and reported enhanced overall moods4.* The third cross-over clinical trial provided further evidence that regular supplementation of Zembrin may support improved cognitive function and long-term health6.*
What Are Alkaloids?
The powerful benefits of Zembrin® are believed to be due to the composition of alkaloids present in extracts of Sceletium tortuosum5. Alkaloids are plant-derived chemicals that contain carbon and nitrogen. One defining characteristic of alkaloids is their pronounced effects on humans; alkaloids like nicotine and caffeine are well known for their actions on the body.
What Do Zembrin’s Alkaloids Do to the Human Body?
Alkaloids range from helpful to downright dangerous. Lucky for us, Zembrin’s alkaloids fall into the former category. Research suggests these alkaloids prevent an enzyme called PDE4 from working. PDE4 inhibition is a common strategy in promoting the proper function of several different body systems.*
Current research has focused on Zembrin’s ability to positively influence emotional regulation and promote overall cognitive health, but there may be even more potential for this botanical when used by those who experience occasional bouts of emotional and even physical stress, especially when combined with essential oils such as in the Adaptiv® Capsules5,6.
†Zembrin® is a registered trademark of HG&H Pharmaceuticals (Pty) Ltd.
doTERRA Science blog articles are based on a variety of scientific sources. Many of the referenced studies are preliminary, experimental studies and further research is needed to gain a greater understanding of the findings. Essential oils may have drug interactions, patient contraindications, or adverse effects that cannot be evaluated using experimental research results alone. If you are interested in using essential oils for any health concern, consult with your healthcare provider first.