Boost Your Memory and Fight Cognitive Impairment With Sesame

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Looking for a delicious way to bolster your brainpower and protect your cognition? Look no further than sesame -- the star player in tahini that deserves to be on your regular meal rotation

Sesame seeds may offer hope for the 10% to 20% of adults over 65 suffering from mild cognitive impairment (MCI). As a potential precursor to Alzheimer's disease, about 10% of MCI cases become Alzheimer's after one year, while 30% to 50% progress to Alzheimer's after five years.[i]

While there's no known cure for the condition, dietary interventions -- including sesame seeds -- may help. You can browse through the full list of conditions that sesame seeds may benefit -- all 139 of them -- at our sesame seed research database.

Sesame Oil Cake Extract Boosts Memory

Sesame oil cakes (SOCs)are a byproduct left behind after sesame seeds are roasted and pressed for oil. Their active ingredient is sesaminol glucoside, a lignan with antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties.

In addition to protecting against oxidative DNA damage in animal studies, sesaminol glucosides may be protective against learning and memory deficits, leading researchers to suggest they may be a "useful agent for prevention of inflammatory disease like AD [Alzheimer's disease]."[ii] It may also be useful for MCI, according to a study of 70 adults with memory impairment who were aged 60 or over.[iii]

The participants received either sesame oil cake extract (SOCE) -- at a dose of 1.5 grams three times a day -- or placebo for 12 weeks while their cognitive function was analyzed. Scores on verbal learning tests significantly improved in the SOCE group compared to the placebo group. Levels of amyloid-β proteins, which are associated with cognitive decline, in plasma also decreased significantly.

"Collectively, intake of SOCE for 12 weeks appears to have a beneficial effect on the verbal memory abilities and plasma β-amyloid levels of older adults with memory impairment," the team explained. It's thought that the sesaminol glucoside in SOCE may be protective against neuronal apoptosis linked to amyloid-β.[iv]

SOCE supplementation, meanwhile, protected nerve cells by scavenging oxidative radicals and altering MAPK signaling;[v] dysregulated MAPK signaling pathways have been linked to Alzheimer's disease.[vi]

Sesame Is Good for Your Brain

Sesame seeds are a powerful food to add to your diet in support of brain health. They contain tyrosine, a catecholamine precursor, with neurocognitive effects. In addition to improving cognitive performance, particularly when under stress, tyrosine is involved in the production of several neurotransmitters, including epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine.[vii]

Animal studies suggest sesame oil also has neuroprotective effects that may help improve learning and memory impairments. Along with targeting oxidative stress and neuroinflammation, sesame oil may help ward off neurodegeneration.[viii] Sesame lignans also suppress age-related cognitive decline in mice, adding further support for their neuroprotective effects, which likely occur due to antioxidant activity.[ix]

Why Else Is Sesame Good for You?

Sesame seeds exert more than 70 pharmacological actions, ranging from pain-relieving and cardioprotective properties to immunomodulatory and anticarcinogenic effects. For instance, pain severity, pain sensitivity and heaviness of the painful site all decreased in patients with traumatic limb injuries when sesame oil was applied topically -- significantly more so than in the placebo group.[x]

Sesame seeds are also antihypertensive, lipid-lowering and appetite-controlling -- factors that may benefit heart health. Sesamol, a natural phenol found in sesame seeds, is responsible for some of these cardioprotective effects[xi] and also has anticancer properties. You can find sesamol in roasted sesame seeds and sesame seed oil.

According to a review published in the European Journal of Pharmacology, sesamol acts as a "metabolic regulator that possesses antioxidant, anti-mutagenic, anti-hepatotoxic, anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, and chemopreventive properties."[xii] It's also heralded for its neuroprotective effects and may be useful for Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's.[xiii]

Sesamol's beneficial properties are so impressive that it may effectively target a range of oxidative and inflammatory conditions, along with metabolic syndrome and mood disorders. Some of its many pharmacological effects include:[xiv]















Wound healing

Cosmetic, skin whitening


Matrix metalloproteinase inhibition



Simple Ways to Add Sesame to Your Diet

In addition to potentially boosting memory, sesame seeds may help you maintain a healthy cholesterol level, regulated blood lipids and protect your liver and kidneys.[xv] This super-seed is so rich in nutrients that it's sometimes referred to as an "all-purpose nutrient bank" and the "crown of eight grains."[xvi]

You can find sesame seeds in many traditional Chinese foods as well as in oil, milk and paste form. Sesame candies and sesame cakes are also popular, but be careful with consuming highly processed foods that contain sesame.

Instead, focus on adding raw sesame seeds to your diet. You can add sesame seeds to vegetable dishes as well as use them to make your own sesame milk. Sesame seeds can also be toasted and added to baked goods, or sprinkled on salads and meat dishes.

Eating tahini, made from toasted, ground sesame seeds, is another simple way to get more sesame into your diet, supplying a rich source of protein, unsaturated fatty acids, antioxidant lignans, vitamins and minerals. Tahini can be enjoyed as a dip on its own or used to make homemade hummus or Tarator, a sauce of tahini, garlic, lemon juice and parsley that's popular with chicken.[xvii]

For more details on the science-backed reasons to eat more sesame, be sure to check out's sesame seed research database.


[i] Nutrients. 2021 Aug; 13(8): 2606.

[ii] Neuroscience Research October 2006, Volume 56, Issue 2, Pages 204-212

[iii] Nutrients. 2021 Aug; 13(8): 2606.

[iv] Nutrients. 2021 Aug; 13(8): 2606.

[v] Nutrients. 2021 Aug; 13(8): 2606.

[vi] Signal Transduction and Targeted Therapy December 6, 2019

[vii] Mount Sinai, Tyrosine

[viii] J Ethnopharmacol. 2021 Mar 1:267:113468. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2020.113468. Epub 2020 Oct 10.

[ix] Nutrients. 2019 Jul; 11(7): 1582.

[x] Bull Emerg Trauma. 2020 Jul; 8(3): 179-185.

[xi] Food Funct. 2020 Feb 26;11(2):1198-1210. doi: 10.1039/c9fo01873e.

[xii] Eur J Pharmacol. 2019 Jul 15:855:75-89. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2019.05.008. Epub 2019 May 4.

[xiii] Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. November 2023, Volume 167, 115512

[xiv] Mini Rev Med Chem. 2020;20(11):988-1000. doi: 10.2174/1389557520666200313120419.

[xv] Nutrients. 2022 Oct; 14(19): 4079.

[xvi] Nutrients. 2022 Oct; 14(19): 4079.

[xvii] Serious Eats October 30, 2029

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