Thujone – The Terpene in Wormwood

Thujone Free Sage & Alzheimer’s Disease


The herb sage (Salvia Lavendulaefolia) possesses properties that may be beneficial in the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease, according to research presented at the British Pharmaceutical Society Conference.

Researchers from Kings College, London, reported exciting results showing that one compound extracted from essential oil of sage blocked the activity of an enzyme which has been implicated in Alzheimer’s Disease – acetylcholinesterase. Blocking the enzyme stops the breakdown of one of the chemical messengers in the brain – acotyl choline. Low levels of this chemical lead to the gradual loss of short-term memory and the ability to carry out every day tasks characteristic of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The findings suggest that sage really lives up to its name.  Dr Peter  Houghton, senior lecturer in pharmacognosy at Kings College, explained: ”As  long as 400 years ago, English herbals were reporting that sage was good for improving the memory.  Our research may explain why.”

Analysis of the compound isolated from sage shows that it has a very different structure from other agents currently being investigated in Alzheimer’s disease, such as tacrine, which are alkaloids.

Sage Thujone

Thujone bearing Salvia officinalis

Sage may also be useful in other aspects of Alzheimer’s disease as it has previously been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxident properties. It is too early to suggest that eating plenty of sage in food may protect against Alzheimer’s.  ‘But it shouldn’t do any harm.’ suggests Dr Houghton.

However, it is important to eat the right type of sage. The most common type of sage using in cooking – Salvia officinalis – contains a compound called thujone, which is toxic in large quantities. The species of sage used in the latest research (Salvia lavandulaefolia) does not contain thujone.

The researchers now plan to carry out further investigations with sage oil extract and its compounds, in the hope of developing a product to help in the fight against Alzheimer’s, which is set to become a major problem as the population ages.  However, Dr Houghton is wary about overpurifying the active ingredient too much. ”In many herbal products there are other agents present which boost or complement the activity of the active component,’ he pointed out.


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