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Powerful Herbal Help for Alzheimer's Disease

Ashwagandha may be able to delay, prevent, and treat degenerative neurological disorders that cause loss of cognitive functioning like that found in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.1,57 This is good news, since human beings generally enjoy longer and longer lifespans worldwide and age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s are becoming more prevalent, and despite extensive research, treatment of this progressive disease is challenging.58 Conventional pharmaceutical drugs can cause unpleasant side effects (e.g., cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea).58

Evidence suggests that increasing age, damage from free radicals, inflammation, genetic factors, and hormonal irregularities (e.g., insulin sensitivity and estrogen deficiency) may all play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.58 The part of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease is also the area responsible for higher intellectual functions.25 Loss of memory, one of the main symptoms in Alzheimer’s, is also linked to deficient amounts of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh), and this deficit is in turn associated with the severity of the disease.57

How Does It Work?

Research indicates that ashwagandha has nerve-regenerating capabilities attributable to its steroidal components (particularly the withanolides and withanosides).57,59 Ashwagandha’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties also help protect brain cells from the degenerative effects of free radicals and inflammatory proteins, and people with Alzheimer’s disease have decreased blood levels of antioxidants and increased numbers of free radicals.57,60 Components from both the roots and leaves of this powerful herb have been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties both in lab and animal experiments.57

Ashwagandha also increases estrogen levels.55 Research suggests higher estrogen levels are associated with decreased incidence of Alzheimer’s and increased cognitive functioning.57

Studies have shown that symptoms of memory loss and inability to learn are associated with decreased levels of the ACh and its associated functions in the brain.58 ACh plays a crucial role in cognition and memory.18 Conventional drugs for the treatment of Alzheimer’s seek to inhibit the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine (acetylcholinesterase, or AChE).58

AChE is also a protein that produces amyloid fibrils, which are found in plaque deposits in Alzheimer patients’ brains. Free radicals help in the formation of these plaques.60 Ashwagandha root contains choline, a substance necessary for the formation of acetylcholine.18 And research on children with attention deficit disorder indicates ashwagandha also inhibits AChE.59 Both of these factors may help maintain higher levels of ACh while decreasing amyloid plaque formations in the brain.

Evidence of Effectiveness

Study results have shown that individuals taking daily doses of ashwagandha had higher scores on tests for logical thinking and problem solving.1 One lab experiment on rats found that when ashwagandha was administered to chronically-stressed animals, the number of degenerated brain cells was 80% less than in the animals not receiving the treatment.61 Animal studies have demonstrated ashwagandha’s ability to reverse these cognitive deficits due to reduced acetylcholine levels in only two weeks of treatment.58 Other in vitro and in vivo animal studies found that ashwagandha could aid in the regeneration of damaged nerve cells in the brain, reconstructing the damaged portions of nerve cells responsible for inter-cellular communication.62

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