Ashwagandha and Alzheimer’s Disease

By Steffan Abel

Ashwagandha, also known as Withania somnifera holds a place in Ayurvedic (or Indian medicine) similar to ginseng in Chinese medicine. Although it’s name is derived because its roots smell like a horse – “Ashwa” meaning “horse” and “Gandha” meaning “odour” – don’t let this put you off as it is a very potent herb that can play many roles in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

It is a powerful rejuvenative herb and adaptogen meaning that it can help increase endurance, whilst also helping to increase energy and strengthen the immune system. In addition to all of this, it also has anti-inflammatory, anti-stress and is a potent antioxidant with mind-boosting properties.

Ashwagandha contains flavonoids and many active ingredients of the withanolide class and it is these that are believed to account for Ashwagandha‘s many medicinal roles. Researchers from the Paul Flechsig Institute for Brain Research, University of Leipzig, Germany and also researchers in India have discovered that Ashwagandha increases acetylcholine receptor activity in the brain and it is this that partly explains its cognition and memory enhancing effects in humans.

Other researchers have also discovered that Ashwagandha stimulates the growth of axons and dendrites in human nervecells – which may play an important role in repairing damaged neuronal circuits (brain pathways) in the ageing brain, whilst also preventing the loss of other brain nerves and synapses or nerve connections.

This is vitally important as Ashwagandha can not only prevent brain damage but also repair damage that has already occurred! This led the lead researcher to state that Withanolide-A (the active ingredient in Ashwagandha) is “an important candidate for the therapeutic treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, as it is able to reconstruct neuronal networks”.

Ashwagandha is also a sedative and a mood enhancer and may also play a role in improving sleep and behaviour in those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

The herb is readily available over the internet in both a powdered form and as a tea, tincture or a capsule. However care must be taken as its raw seeds can be toxic and because of this it should be prepared and used only as prescribed by an experienced practitioner.

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