Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), also known as Indian ginseng or Winter cherry, is one of the most important herbs in Ayurvedic medicine. It has been used for millennia as a rejuvenating tonic, i.e. to increase physical and mental health by promoting longevity. Classically, different parts of the plant (including roots, leaves and flowers) have been used to treat different conditions such as rheumatism, constipation, insomnia, chronic stress and hormonal imbalances.

Recently, the benefits of this herb have aroused the interest of conventional western medicine and in the last 10 years many studies have been published bringing scientific evidence for what the ancients used to practice many years ago.

Although studies in humans are still limited, both in vitro and animal model research shows evidence of Ashwagandha’s effect on the treatment of diabetes, cancer, stress, anxiety, schizophrenia, male infertility, neurodegenerative diseases, as well as on muscle mass gain and athlete performance.

Most of Ashwagandha’s effects are attributed to its ability to regulate hormone secretion and to adapt the body to stress. It is, therefore, considered a strong adaptogen. Its main action is to balance cortisol, a hormone secreted by the adrenal gland in situations of prolonged stress. However, other effects have already been reported, including anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

Ashwagandha also reduces the level of amyloid beta (Aβ) deposits in brain cells and promotes regeneration of the axon (part of the nerve cell involved in nerve impulse transmission). Such effects show a possible role for this herb in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. In animal models we indeed can observe reversal of neuronal atrophy and recovery of synaptic function after treatment. Prevention of memory loss and improvement of dementia symptoms have also been reported.

Human studies are still rare, but there are reports of improved executive function, attention and information processing speed in patients with mild cognitive impairment – ICM (1) and bipolar disorder (2), in randomized clinical trials.

Ashwaganda’s mechanism of action in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease was recently elucidated in an animal model study (3): rats with scopolamine-induced memory loss (a model widely used in studies for Alzheimer’s disease) showed recovery of symptoms after being fed with concentrated extract of W. somnifera leaf. In this study, the effects of Ashwagandha both in neuroprotection (nerve cell protection against lesion) and neurotrophism  (neuronal growth and regeneration) were well documented.

It was also demonstrated (4) that Ashwagandha’s effect on brain cortex functions occurs due to stimulation of acetylcholine receptors (M1 muscarinic receptors). Acetylcholine is an important neurotransmitter, acting as a promoter of the communication between neurons (synapse).  Stimulation of M1 receptors can mimic the effect of acetylcholine, improving nerve impulse transmission and reducing the symptoms of the disease.

The importance of acetylcholine in the physiopathology of Azheimer’s disease is so well established that one of the most common drugs for AD acts precisely by increasing the availability of this neurotransmitter in the brain. This group of drugs are called “cholinesterase inhibitors” (learn more at our section about  treatment).

Future clinical trials will bring more clarity about the effects of Ashwagandha on Alzheimer’s disease. Meanwhile, we count with the millenial use of Ashwagandha by tradicional systems of medicine being gradually confirmed by scientific studies of modern medicine.

Conclusion:

Ashwagandha is a potent adaptogen, traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine. Its effects on memory, cognition and longevity are well known. Current scientific studies have elucidated its mechanism of action proving its effectiveness and turning this ancient herb into a promising weapon for the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

References

  1. Choudhary D, Bhattacharyya S, Bose S. Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal) Root Extract in Improving Memory and Cognitive Functions. J Diet Suppl. 2017 Nov 2;14(6):599-612.
  2. Singh N, Bhalla M, de Jager P, Gilca M. An overview on ashwagandha: a Rasayana (rejuvenator) of Ayurveda. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2011;8(5 Suppl):208-213. doi:10.4314/ajtcam.v8i5S.9
  3. Konar A, Shah N, Singh R, Saxena N, Kaul SC, Wadhwa R, Thakur MK. Protective role of Ashwagandha leaf extract and its component withanone on scopolamine-induced changes in the brain and brain-derived cells. PLoS One. 2011;6(11):e27265.
  4. Konar A, Gupta R, Shukla RK, Maloney B, Khanna VK, Wadhwa R, Lahiri DK, Thakur MK. M1 muscarinic receptor is a key target of neuroprotection, neuroregeneration and memory recovery by i-Extract from Withania somnifera. Sci Rep. 2019 Sep 30;9(1):13990.
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Red wine drinkers are generally good-natured people and known for mastering life with pleasure and relaxation. These alone are two protective factors against dementia, because stress is poison for the brain (but more about this later on). In addition, a secondary plant substance present particularly in red wine is increasingly attracting the interest of research and prevention in Alzheimer’s disease: resveratrol.

Resveratrol has numerous biological and pharmacological protective effects and became well-known back in the mid-1990s in connection with the ‘French Paradox’. It stands for the observation that French people live longer than Germans and Americans despite their supposedly unhealthier lifestyle, especially because of their higher alcohol consumption, and that the frequency of heart attacks in France is three times lower than in the USA. In the following years, resveratrol became the focus of research and showed anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, cancer-inhibiting, heart protecting and life-prolonging properties in numerous test models both in vitro and in vivo and was considered a new miracle cure.

Resveratrol and Alzheimer

The first indications that resveratrol could also be responsible for the protective effect of red wine in Alzheimer patients were shown by epidemiological studies conducted by a French research group in 1997, which showed an inverse correlation between moderate wine consumption and the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease: in the group of moderate wine drinkers (250 – 500 ml per day) the risk of dementia was reduced by a factor of 5.

It showed that resveratrol not only unfolds its positive effects in a single way, but also has a multi-mechanistic effect. It has a beneficial effect on various processes, all of which play a decisive role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease:

  1. reduction of amyloid plaques 
  2. reduction of neurofibrillary tangles 
  3. regulatory role in autophagy processes 
  4. anti-inflammatory effect 
  5. antioxidant effects

Detailed explanations on these topics can be found on the page: Resveratrol

Clinical studies

Based on these convincing results, the therapeutic potential of resveratrol in Alzheimer’s patients is currently being tested in clinical trials. Two recent pilot studies have shown that resveratrol can easily cross the blood-brain barrier in humans and penetrate brain tissue – as it has been detected in cerebrospinal fluid. Resveratrol was well tolerated by all volunteers and had no side effects up to a dose of 5 grams per day. Both double-blind studies show evidence of positive effects of resveratrol in humans. 

In addition, resveratrol is already part of the multifactorial approach of the American neurologist Dale Bredesen, who, with his therapy known as ‘ReCode’ (Reversal of Cognitive Decline), has managed to clinically reverse Alzheimer’s courses in early stages (see also the interview with Dr. Bredesen in the media library).

Conclusion:
Whether fed with a glass of red wine in the evening or by other non-alcoholic means – but preferably from natural sources – the secondary plant substance resveratrol appears to be responsible for protective effects in the development of dementia due to its diverse mechanisms of action. It could therefore be a promising preventive and possibly therapeutic approach in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

In this sense: treat yourself to a glass of red wine or grape juice in the evening and enjoy life. Your grey cells will be grateful!

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Curcumin is a yellow pigment contained in turmeric (Curcuma longa). The benefits of curcumin in different organ systems have been extensively documented in the past in several neurological diseases and cancer. Curcumin has received worldwide recognition for its potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and antimicrobial activities. Curcumin has been successfully used to treat diabetes and arthritis, as well as liver, kidney and cardiovascular diseases. Recently, attention has focused on the use of curcumin to prevent or delay the onset of neurodegenerative diseases. A recently published review study (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31185140) summarized the use of curcumin in different neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease. Recent advances in curcumin formulations and strategies to overcome low bioavailability are discussed as well as toxicity and ongoing clinical trials.

Conclusion:

There is good evidence that turmeric consumption has various potential health benefits not only for older people. In addition to its role in treatment and prevention, curcumin acts in AD therapies as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, inhibitor of Aβ aggregation and chelator of metal ions. These effects are, regardless of the results of clinical studies, a good reason to include curcuminoids in our regular diet – e.g. in the form of strong curries.

Further information about the effect of curcumin on Alzheimer’s can be found at Curcumin and Alzheimer’s Dementia…

 

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