Alzheimer's disease is an age-related, irreversible, progressive neurodegenerative disease that is characterized by gradual loss of memory and cognitive function. There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, and all the drugs available at present for treatment of the disease have limited effectiveness. Ayurvedic medicinal plants have been the single most productive source of leads for the development of drugs, and hundreds of new products are in clinical trial at present. Although the exact mechanism of their action is still not clear, phytochemical studies of the different parts of these plants have shown the presence of many valuable compounds, such as lignans, flavonoids, tannins, polyphenols, triterpenes, sterols, and alkaloids, that show a wide spectrum of pharmacological activities, including anti-inflammatory, anti-amyloidogenic, anti-cholinesterase, hypolipidemic, and antioxidant effects.
Ayurveda is a system of traditional medicine native to India, and Ayurvedic practitioners have developed a number of medicinal preparations and surgical procedures for the treatment of various ailments. An entire body of literature in the Ayurvedic texts deals with the nervous system and disorders associated with it. Nervous system disorders, called 'VataVyadhi' in Sanskrit, were thought to be brought on by imbalances of Vata, the biological air humor, the energy that moves through the brain and the nerves controlling both voluntary and involuntary functions. Hence, Vata derangements always involve some weakness, disturbance, or hypersensitivity of the nervous system.
There are direct references to age-associated memory loss, preventive care, and therapeutic interventionsin the Ayurvedic texts. These texts explain the use of several herbs and their qualities and energetics for nervous system disorders, including memory loss typically seen in older adults.Several scientific studies have described the use of various Ayurvedic medicinal plants termed 'nervines' and their constituents to strengthen the functional activity of the nervous system and restoration of memory.
The herbs that can be used or have been used to treat Alzheimer's disease are summarized here -
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Ashwagandha is used extensively in Ayurveda as a nervine tonic, aphrodisiac, and 'adaptogen' and helps the body adapt to stress. It is categorized as a rasayana (rejuvenative) and is believed to possess antioxidant activity, free radical scavenging activity, and an ability to support a healthy immune system . Unlike other adaptogens, which tend to be stimulating, Ashwagandha has a calming effect and thus may be particularly indicated in people with Alzheimer's disease. A total alkaloid extract of Ashwagandha root exhibited a calming effect on the central nervous system (CNS) , suggesting the use of this herb to produce relaxation. A recent double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study of the effects of Ashwagandha on stress found that it reduced symptoms of stress and inability to concentrate and reversed forgetfulness in a dose-dependent manner, and 500 mg/day was more effective. No additional adverse effects were found.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Turmeric is used as a spice and coloring agent in traditional medicine in Asia. The active constituents are thought to be turmerone oil and water-soluble curcuminoids, including curcumin . Turmeric is anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and antibacterial and has long been used in the Indian system of medicine to treat a variety of conditions. This versatile spice helps detoxify the liver, balance cholesterol levels, fight allergies, stimulate digestion, and boost immunity . Epidemiologic studies show a 4.4-fold lower incidence of Alzheimer's in Southeast Asian countries where turmeric is commonly used as a dietary spice. Other studies indicate that the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory property of turmeric is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer's.
Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri)
Brahmi is a bitter-tasting creeper plant found in damp and marshy areas and is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine as a nerve tonic, diuretic, and cardiotonic and as a therapeutic agent against epilepsy, insomnia, asthma, and rheumatism. Traditionally, Brahmi was used to improve memory and cognitive function.The principal constituents of Bacopa monnieri (BM) are saponins and triterpenoid bacosaponins that include bacopasides III to V, bacosides A and B, and bacosaponins A, B, and C.
An enriched phytochemical composition of Brahmi was evaluated for short-term safety and tolerance in healthy adult volunteers. A detailed examination of clinical, hematological, biochemical, and electrocardiographic parameters did not reveal any untoward effects in any of the volunteers who received oral administration of a single capsule containing the enriched herb for 30 days (300 mg for the first 15 days and 450 mg for the next 15 days). On the basis of the above-mentioned study and other clinical studies carried out to establish the efficacy of Brahmi in memory and attention disorders, BM has now been introduced in the Indian market for treatment of memory and attention deficit disorders.
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