The BrainBalms' story is about the amazing plants we have on this planet. Plants humans have known about for thousands of years, but many have forgotten about today. It’s also a story about the amazing science that now brings to light exactly how these plant work to improve our brain.
Brainbalms began with the scientific research of its founder. Dr Nicolette Perry is a pharmacognosist and specialises in the scientific study of plant medicine. She received a BSc (Honours) degree in Biology of Health and Disease from Manchester Metropolitan University and her PhD at King’s College London considered the beneficial effects of European sage for Alzheimer’s disease, triggering a move for global research in this field.
Here Dr Nicolette Perry tells us more about a plant medicine, a key plant to improve memory and how discovering plant medicine can help you tap into your brain’s full potential.
Q&A with the founder of BrainBalms, Dr Nicolette Perry
BrainBalms founder Nicolette Perry has spent over 20 years researching the bioactive properties of brain enhancing plants used in traditional plant medicines. Some of the remarkable findings have included the effects of European sage in helping reduce memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease. Here Nicolette talks about her work in pharmacognosy, the scientific study of medicinal drugs derived from plants, that led her to develop the BrainBalms range.
Q When did your interest in plant medicine start?
I became fascinated by what plant medicine can do for us during my first degree at Manchester Metropolitan University studying the biology of health and disease.
My family were hugely influential too. My mother Elaine Perry is the founder of the Dilston Physic Garden in Northumberland and an emeritus professor of neuroscience at Newcastle University, and alongside my father, who is a professor of neuropathology, researched Alzheimer’s and other brain conditions.
Plant medicines are amazing, with benefits for both body and mind. They can enhance our life on many levels, containing key protective agents, antioxidants, antibacterials, antivirals and anti-inflammatories. When used correctly, at the right dose, they can also make safe and effective medicine to treat a range of conditions from lowering anxiety to improving sleep and memory and even to expand our consciousness experience and improve our creativity.
Q Where did your career take you?
After my first degree I did a summer project at the Medical Research Centre (MRC) in Newcastle, where we began research into historically used plant medicines for memory.
I then did a PhD at King’s College London, researching the plant sage in the pharmacy department. Sage was once known as ‘the saviour’ and was used to improve and ‘restore’ memory and we wanted to discover why.
We analysed the chemistry of sage and found that its volatile aromatic ingredients were key to its effect, and not just for memory and in human brain cells, but in a range of different tests related to treating Alzheimer’s. Sage works by not only boosting our brain’s memory signal, but also by having effects similar to oestrogen and by lowering inflammation and oxidation - three actions now thought key in helping protect our brain cells in Alzheimer’s.
Our lab research led to a clinical trial testing the effects in people, and the positive results were picked up by other research labs who have carried out other clinical trials across the world. The plant medicine sage is now shown in a number of gold standard controlled clinical trials to improve not only memory but also mood - in the young, the old, and in people living with Alzheimer’s.
These results kick-started a global trend into scientific research looking at different plant medicines for memory. European sage is now one of a number of key plant medicines shown by science to improve focus, attention and memory.
I then undertook further post-doctoral research at Otago University in New Zealand, looking into plant medicine to relieve anxiety.
Q Tell us a little about the history of plant medicine
Through historical records and archaeology we know that people around the world used to be very familiar with the plants that grow around them, and more importantly familiar with how to use them.
Plant medicines, which may have more than one active chemical entity, were used effectively by cavemen, wise women and doctors, long before single chemical drugs came along.
My favourites are the wise women who helped a Scottish doctor discover digoxin from foxglove to treat heart disease and the Greek physician Galen, who was not only surgeon to the Roman army and the gladiators but also their doctor who researched and outlined effective plant medicine to treat many illnesses. The first western medical school was also founded in a herbal garden and dispensary in Salerno Italy, this school was particularly renowned for its medical knowledge at the time.
Q And what’s happening in plant medicine now
Today, there are hundreds of thousands of scientific research papers on plant medicine, all helping show its efficacy to treat everything from irritable bowel syndrome to insomnia. This scientific study should now reignite our use of plant medicine and help us tap into its many benefits.
Though we now know how many of the chemicals derived from plants work in the brain, it’s the clinical trials on plant medicine that are going some way to persuade general medicine that plant medicine is safe and effective medicine.
In some cases these clinical trials are discovering that, in head-to-head trials compared to conventional drugs, plant medicine is as effective but carries fewer side-effects such as drowsiness and addiction.
There is still much to be done in the research of plant medicine, especially in the UK where we lag behind other countries. And there is also much to be done to ensure the proper regulation of plant medicine to prevent unscrupulous companies selling adulterated or ineffective products.
Q Where can you find more information on using modern plant medicine?
The National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH) should be your first call.
Always consult a NIMH registered medical herbalist first and inform your healthcare provider before taking any plant medicine at a medicinal level if you are giving to a child, pregnant, have any medical condition, or are taking any medication.
Plant medicine is all about using the correct plant medicine or combination of medicines for your individual needs and about reaching an effective medicinal dose, which can only be done safely by a trained and registered practitioner.
Q Where did the idea for BrainBalms come from?
It was personal need. On returning from New Zealand, I experienced some stress myself. I didn’t want to turn to conventional drugs, mainly because of the risk of side-effects and dependency. Knowing the science behind plant medicine I decided to make my own naturally effective plant-based products.
After several years testing formulations on myself and willing friends, who also found they helped, the idea for BrainBalms started to take shape.
We could see a need for safe and easy-to-use products, applied topically to the skin, to help calm the mind and lower anxiety, help increase focus and memory, help treat insomnia and restlessness and help improve mood and lower depression.
We spent some time discussing marketing and packaging with our business and brand advisers, and a brand identity reflecting the scientific thinking behind the products was created. Independent product safety assessments were carried out to verify compliance with the requirements of current EU and US cosmetic regulations. We launched at the end of 2019.
Q What does the future hold for BrainBalms?
My main motivation has always been sharing knowledge on the power of plants to contribute to our all-round wellness.
The BrainBalms ranges, made with scientifically chosen ingredients that are naturally effective, are an introduction to modern plant medicine. I look forward to creating exiting additions to BrainBalms, using plants historically used to expand our consciousness and improve creativity.I hope that people enjoy using BrainBalms and find them helpful as part of a move to a healthier lifestyle including reviewing their diet and exercise, and that through this experience they will be encouraged to find out more about the amazing world of plant medicine.