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Polygala tenuifolia: A herb of great consequence for humans

Polygala Tenuifolia (Yuan Zhi) is an herb used for millennia in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Polygala Tenuifolia as a nootropic (Nootropics, also known as “smart drugs” are a diverse group of medicinal substances whose action improves human thinking, learning, and memory, especially in cases where these functions are impaired.).is anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, and anxiolytic.

It was traditionally used to improve memory, and for colds and mild respiratory problems.

Polygala Tenuifolia is one of the 50 top herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Polygala tenuifolia as a nootropic is:

1. Neuroprotective: Polygala Tenuifolia is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Helping to protect from Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other age-related cognitive disorders.

2. Neuroplasticity: Polygala Tenuifolia promotes the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the hippocampus. Increased BDNF results it improved learning and memory.

3. Antidepressant: Polygala Tenuifolia extract acts as an MAOI(Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) were the first type of antidepressant developed) which promotes the release of dopamine and norepinephrine. And it inhibits the release of cortisol providing anti-anxiety benefits.

4. The active components found in Polygala Tenuifolia include saponins, ginsenosides, oligosaccharides, ketones, alkaloids, polysaccharides, and flavonoids.

5. In Chinese, it is called “Yuan Zhi” and has traditionally been used for memory and to prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia. In Korean traditional medicine, it is used as an anti-psychotic because it is a serotonin and dopamine receptor antagonist.

6. The rhizome of Polygala Tenuifolia is used in making cough medicine and for respiratory disorders because it helps clear air passages.

7. In 2014, a study conducted at the Peking Union Medical College in Beijing found Polygala Tenuifolia extract worked as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor (AChE) which increases acetylcholine (Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in memory, learning, attention, arousal and involuntary muscle movement. Medical conditions associated with low acetylcholine levels include Alzheimer's disease and myasthenia gravis. )activity in the brain.

8. The researchers also found Polygala Tenuifolia extract acted as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) which increases dopamine and norepinephrine use in the brain. Inhibiting both of these enzymes resulted in improved learning and memory.

How does Polygala Tenuifolia work in the brain?

Polygala Tenuifolia boosts brain health and function in several ways. But two in particular stand out.

1. Polygala Tenuifolia for learning and memory. Studies show Polygala Tenuifolia supports dopamine and norepinephrine signalling, upregulates acetylcholine and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and boosts synaptic transmission in the hippocampus for better learning and memory.

A study conducted at Seoul National University wanted to find out if Polygala Tenuifolia extract (BT-11) could enhance memory in healthy humans.

Participants received capsules of BT-11 or a placebo 3-times per day for 4 weeks. The study found those supplementing with BT-11 showed significant increases in working memory but not the placebo group.

2. Polygala Tenuifolia for depression. In animal studies, the compound 3,6′-disinapoyl sucrose (DISS) found in Polygala Tenuifolia has been shown to inhibit both MAO-A and MAO-B, reduces cortisol release, and superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity (which causes oxidative stress).

Polygala Tenuifolia benefits

Polygala Tenuifolia is one of the most frequently mentioned herbs in the Zhong Hua Yi Dian (“Encyclopedia of Traditional Chinese Medicine“) for memory disorders and improvement.

Polygala Tenuifolia acts as an MOA inhibitor which increases dopamine and norepinephrine in your brain.

This ancient Chinese herb helps reduce cortisol, inhibits inflammation, and regulates glutamate AMPA (The AMPA receptor (AMPA-R) is a subtype of the ionotropic glutamate receptor coupled to ion channels that modulate cell excitability by gating the flow of calcium and sodium ions into the cell )receptors----major cause for Parkinson/AZ and all.

Polygala Tenuifolia extract has been shown to reduce the proinflammatory cytokines tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), interleukin-1β (IL-1β), IL-6, and IL-8 levels in the hippocampus. Which has been shown in animal studies to have a significant effect on learning and memory.

Polygala Tenuifolia boosts the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), increase synaptic plasticity, and decrease the accumulation of amyloid β-protein implicated in Alzheimer’s Disease.

It has also been found to increase dopamine neurons and improve motor impairment in Parkinson’s Disease.

The reduction of cortisol, oxidative stress, and increased dopamine and norepinephrine release has consistently been shown to act as an anti-depressant.

“It has been found that polygala tenuifolia extract could inhibit the consolidation, reconstruction and renewal of contextual fear memory in C57BL/6 mice, prevent the recurrence of fear memory, and is beneficial to the treatment of PTSD(Post-traumatic stress disorder disease [95]”—Yang 2023

“Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that originates from central nervous system lesions or recessions. Current estimates suggest that this disease affects over 35 million people worldwide. However, lacking effective drugs is the biggest handicap in treating AD. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), Polygala tenuifolia Willd. (Polygalaceae) is generally used to treat insomnia, memory dysfunction and neurasthenia.”


Polygala tenuifolia and its active components have multiplex neuroprotective potential associated with AD, such as anti-Aβ aggregation, anti-Tau protein, anti-inflammation, antioxidant, anti-neuronal apoptosis, enhancing central cholinergic system and promote neuronal proliferation.


Polygala tenuifolia and its active components exhibit multiple neuroprotective effects. Hence, P. tenuifolia is a potential drug against Alzheimer’s disease, especially in terms of prevention.”

Deng et.el 2020.

In fact, it has even been seen as great help in deaddiction by controlling dopamine -- Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter involved in feelings of pleasure and reinforcement. In individuals struggling with addiction, irregular dopamine levels can contribute to cravings and relapse. Fortunately, studies have demonstrated that Polygala tenuifolia has a regulatory effect on dopamine levels.

It acts as a natural modulator by increasing or decreasing dopamine release depending on the individual’s needs. By restoring balance to this vital neurotransmitter, Polygala tenuifolia helps regulate addiction-related behaviors such as craving, impulsivity, and withdrawal symptoms.

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