KUALA LUMPUR: Dementia is a syndrome caused by a variety of brain illnesses that affect memory, thinking, behaviour and ability to perform everyday activities. The illness gets worse over time and it mainly affects older people.

So far, there is no cure for dementia, but a lot can be done to support both people living with the illness and those who care for them.

The Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM) has earlier forecast that 15.3 per cent of Malaysia’s population will be 60 years old and above by 2030. Hence, the rapid expansion of the elderly population is expected to greatly increase the number of people with dementia.

However, a study by a group of researchers from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) has found that eating ulam raja (literally called king’s salad) or scientifically known as Cosmos caudatus can help prevent dementia at an early stage.

“Our earlier study related to tropical fruits, showed their protective effects on dementia. This ignited our interest to study the benefits of these ‘ulam-ulaman’ or traditional herbs, and it was found that ulam raja is the best as it contains high polyphenol content,” its head of research Prof Dr Suzana Shahar told Bernama.

WORLD’S FIRST

According to Suzana, who is Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, UKM, polyphenol is a very effective preventive agent for mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or pre-dementia condition as it can boost the antioxidant level in the blood and generate new neuron cells.

“Polyphenol is important for brain care as the pigments in ulam raja can penetrate through the circulatory system in the brain and stimulate cells in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (a key brain region which plays a central role in cognitive control), hence enhancing the global cognitive function,”she added.

She said that polyphenol could be found in fruits and other vegetables.

“There are other health products that tap the benefits of polyphenols in ulam raja, but they are mainly used to prevent diabetes and hypertension. We are the first research team (in the world) who have made a major breakthrough in producing such a product,” she said.

According to Suzana, through the study conducted since 2017 using the Ministry of Higher Education grant, her team produced the ulam raja extract in powder form rich in polyphenol - rich in quercetin and quercitrin. Recently, in collaboration with the industry, the team mixed it with berry extract to form an essence suitable as health supplement, that is, MindLumina.

“We succeeded in marketing the product under the MindLumina label in November 2023 through our collaboration with a private company, Aurora Health Sdn Bhd,” she added.

TWO-YEAR LABORATORY AND CLINICAL TESTS

Elaborating, Suzana said MindLumina underwent stringent production processes including laboratory and clinical tests using the powder extract involving volunteers for two years starting from 2018.

“In the early stage, our research team worked together with the Institute of Bioproduct Development, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia to produce ulam raja powder extract which was later filed for patent and licensed to Aurora Health Sdn Bhd.

“Earlier we gathered 48 senior citizens aged 60 years and above in the Klang Valley to undergo our clinical tests. All of them were suffering from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) but were healthy and were not having any serious illnesses such as kidney or liver complications,” she said.

She shared that the volunteers were randomised into two groups - first group would take ulam raja powder extract in capsule form and another to take the placebo (capsule without ulam raja extract).

“They had to undergo several global cognitive tests including answering a set of questions, that is a Profile of Mood States (POMS) in addition to taking two capsules daily for three months as well as the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI), a technique for measuring brain activity,” she explained.

According to Suzana, those who took the ulam raja extract experienced enhanced brain function compared to the group who took the placebo.

“We found that there was an increase of nearly 6.7 per cent in global cognitive function, 36.7 per cent reduction in emotional stress, 20.9 per cent increase in memory and focus, as well as a 7.2 per cent decrease in mood disorder,” she shared.

In short, she said the findings showed that volunteers who made it a practice to eating the ulam raja powder extract experienced positive changes in terms of their memory compared to previously when they were not taking the supplement.

EMBRACE HEALTHY AND ACTIVE LIFESTYLE

Suzana however said that such a study is needed involving larger-size samples with longer period of research to strengthen its findings.

The ulam raja powder extract received the Gold Award for the Medical and Healthcare category at the International Conference and Exposition on Inventions by Institutions of Higher Learning 2022 (PECIPTA’22). The product is available at pharmacies in the Klang Valley and is suitable for those aged 12 and above.

However, he advised those with serious health problems to consult with the doctor prior to taking the supplement.

At the same time, Suzana also urged the public to practise taking the ulam-ulaman for wellness particularly to prevent dementia in addition to embracing healthy lifestyle, as those practised by the older adult citizens in Japan who eat more fruits and green vegetables, reducing their calories intake and regularly engage in physical and brain exercises.

“Undoubtedly, some elderly folks in this country prefer a sedentary lifestyle by merely sitting down and lack doing physical and brain exercises. This is not good, they should break this habit,” she added.

“We need to change our lifestyle based on the National Health Morbidity Survey 2018 which has reported in 2018 that 8.5 per cent of the older adults aged 60 and above could suffer from dementia and it is expected to increase along with an ageing population.

“This situation includes the incidence of non-infectious diseases which is expected to rise yearly, with the problem becoming a double killer,” she said, adding that all parties must undertake proactive measures to encourage senior citizens to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle to keep them productive, lest it will place huge demands on their families and the health care and social welfare systems. - Bernama

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