Early last year, a group of Indian and Canadian researchers published a breakthrough study in the highly respected journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, on a widely used Ayurvedic herb that reversed the symptoms of the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease!
Using an established mice model of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the herb ashwaganda greatly improved various test scores in cognition and dramatically reduced the levels of beta amyloid peptide which is strongly linked to AD.
Currently there are no effective treatments for AD, only some treatments that can reduce certain symptoms but that do not alter the course of the disease. Plaque deposits of the beta amyloid peptide and fibril tangles are thought to be the cause of AD, whereby the nerve cells are literally starved of oxygen and “choked” to death. Patients with AD lose nerve cells more rapidly than they would in a normal ageing process, leaving large gaps of dead tissue.
The study is unique in that a natural product was shown to reduce levels of the beta amyloid peptide in the brain within just 30 days after oral administration. The researchers showed that ashwaganda helps generate a small chaperone protein molecule in the liver which helps transport the toxic amyloid peptide out of the brain and into the general circulation, where it is then taken to the liver for further breakdown.
In effect, ashwaganda aids the clearance of the amyloid peptide from the brain, thus preventing its build up and formation of any plaques. Compared to control (untreated) mice, the ashwaganda treated mice had higher levels of amyloid peptide in the general circulation; they had lower levels in the brain area particularly in the key areas like the cortex and the hippocampus which is the center of the brain for memory and learning.
Furthermore, the brain shrinks with time, as evidenced with recent research using brain imaging techniques such as MRI scans. In fact, this very method was used in a phase III clinical trial in 2009 with VIVIMIND, which demonstrated positive results for preventing atrophy of the hippocampus in mild to moderate Alzheimer’s patients.
The results of the ashwaganda study were so stunning that an independent laboratory in Canada was asked to validate them. The McGill researchers confirmed the same dramatic reduction of the peptide and compared the effects of ashwaganda to “Like vacuum cleaning the brain to get rid of unwanted amyloid plaque”.
In Ayurvedic medicine, in which ashwaganda has been used for over five thousand years, it is highly regarded as an adaptogen. It modulates levels of stress, acts as an immune enhancer and is also known for its anti-cancer effects. Curiously, ashwaganda is also used by Ayurvedic physicians for cognition and mental health.
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Sehgal, N et-al “Withania somnifera reverses Alzheimer’s disease pathology by enhancing low density lipoprotein receptor- related protein in the liver” PNAS, 2012, 109: 3510-3515
D. Saumier et al. 2009. Lessons learned in the use of volumetric MRI in theraprutic trials in Alzheimer’s disease: The Alzhemed™ (Tramiprosate) experience. Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging. 13; 4: 370-372.