Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a brain disorder associated with the progressively worsening of cognitive functions and behavioral disturbances. It results in associated with a mental and physical disability. It causes memory disturbances, spatial and temporal disorientation, and getting lost in familiar surroundings. As the disease progresses, aphasia, apraxia, acalculia, and sleepwalking may develop. The Alzheimer’s patient may forget his own family members with the passage of time.
The actual reason for Alzheimer’s disease is not known. It is a neurodegenerative disease in which the nerve cells in the memory region of the brain are greatly reduced. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. It ultimately results in irreversible debilitating cognitive impairment in patients. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia among older adults.
Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning—thinking, remembering, and reasoning—and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities. Memory problems are typically one of the first signs of cognitive impairment related to Alzheimer’s disease.
Although in modern medicine some medications appear to produce transient improvement, there is no medication available that can halt the progression of the disease.
Though there is no precise equivalent for Alzheimer’s in Ayurveda it can be related to cognitive dysfunction with the aging process. The condition can be helped with nootropic and antioxidant medicinal herbs. It is considered a Vata Dosha. So, the Vata reducing diet is especially beneficial. Intake of adaptogenic, immunomodulatory, and antioxidant Ayurvedic medicine is helpful. Brain Tonics (Medhya Rasayana), a special class of Rasayana agents that rejuvenate mental faculties, intellect, and memory, can be given to improve brain function.
Ayurvedic Medicinal Herbs and Useful Medicines
In Ayurveda, for Alzheimer’s and dementia, the medicinal herbs with Vatahara, Rasayana, and Medhya action are used. Along with the herbs, Panchakrama (Shirobasti, Basti, Nasya) is also used. For Nasya, Brahmi Ghrita is used. In Shirobasti, Brahmi and Himsagar Taila are used. Daily intake of turmeric powder in a dose of 2-3 grams is recommended. Food which is easy to digest and nutritious and without excess spice, salt and oil are recommended.
Turmeric – Curcuma longa
Haridra (also known as Rajni, Nisha, Nishi, Haldi, Haladhi, Turmeric) consists of the dried and cured rhizomes of Curcuma longa Linn. It mainly contains essential oil and curcumin. It is bitter, and pungent in taste (Rasa), pungent after digestion (Vipaka), and is hot in effect (Virya). It is Ruksha (drying) in quality (Guna). Turmeric balances vitiated Kapha and Pitta. It is anthelmintic (Krimighna) and poison-destroying (Vishaghna). It is used in all type of the skin diseases both internally and externally. As it is drying in nature, it reduces excessive phlegm in the body. It detoxifies the blood.
The pharmacological activities of Curcuma longa extract are reported to have significant effects on the human body. It is anti-oxidant, anti-Alzheimer’s, anti-cancerous, antiviral, abortifacient, anticonvulsant, antihepatotoxic, antihypercholesterolemic, anti hyperlipemia, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, CNS depressant, plasma bilirubin decreaser, platelet aggregation inhibitor, and weight gain inhibitor. It is beneficial for the heart. Anything which is good for the heart is also beneficial for the brain. It has significant antioxidant action and protects against neurodegenerative diseases. Curcumin has potent anti-amyloidogenic effects for Alzheimer‘s beta-amyloid fibrils.
Curcumin is the principal curcuminoid and is responsible for the yellow color of the turmeric root. Curcumin reduced the amount of plaque deposition. It reduced oxidative damage and reversed the amyloid pathology. 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. Alzheimer’s symptoms characterized by inflammation and oxidation were also eased by curcumin’s powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Ashwagandha – Withania somnifera Dunal
Ashwagandha / Indian ginseng / Indian winter cherry refers to the roots of a medicinal plant Withania somnifera. It has an antidepressant effect on the central nervous system and stimulant effect on the brain and reduces anxiety and stress.
The dried root powder has adaptogen, Tonic, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulator, anti-tumor, nervine, mild sedative, analgesic, reproductive Tonic, aphrodisiac, and anti-anemic properties. It is a Rasayana that gives longevity and vitality. It is prescribed for promoting health, longevity, arresting the aging process, revitalizing the body in debilitated conditions, increasing immunity, treating musculoskeletal conditions and as a general tonic to increase energy.
Withanamides, present in Ashwagandha has shown to scavenge free radicals generated during the initiation and progression of Alzheimer’s. Neuronal cell death triggered by amyloid plaques is also blocked by withanamides. Withanamides A and C uniquely bind to the active motif of beta-amyloid and prevent fibril formation. Intake of Ashwagandha in a dose of 500 mg/day, helps in forgetfulness.
Shankhpushpi – Convolvulus pluricaulis
Shankhpushpi / Convolvulus pluricaulis bears conch shell-like flowers and hence it is named as Shankhpushpi (Shankha = Conch; Pushp = Flowers). It is boon for the brain. It is a powerful brain stimulant. Shankhpushpi is hypotensive, antithyroid and sedative. It improves mental functions and reduces stress due to traumatic, chemical or psychological reasons. Shankhpushpi is used in the treatment of epilepsy, insanity, weakness of nerves and mental retardation.
Shankhpushpi is Katu (Pungent), Tikta (Bitter) and Kashaya (Astringent) in taste (Ras) and Laghu (light), Slimy and Oily in action (Guna). Its post-digestive effect (Vipak) is Madhura (Sweet). It is a Sheet Virya herbs. Sheet Virya or Cool potency herb subdues Pitta (Bile) Vata (Wind) and increases Kapha (Mucus). Sheet Virya herb gives nourishment to the body and steadiness. It supports the building of body fluids.
- Rasa (taste on the tongue): Kashaya (Astringent), Katu (Pungent), Tikta (Bitter)
- Guna (Pharmacological Action): Snigdha (Unctuous), Laghu (Light), Picchal (Slimy)
- Virya (Action): Sita (Cooling)
- Vipaka (transformed state after digestion): Madhura (Sweet)
Shankhpushpi is tridoshhar and balances Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Shankhpushpi reduces different types of stress, including psychological, chemical and traumatic. It has an anti-anxiety, hypotensive and mental function improving the property. It is a brain tonic and used to treat mental weakness, mental disorders, insanity, to improve memory.
Shankhpushpi is beneficial for neurodegenerative diseases. It has antioxidantaction and improves memory. It is employed in the medical treatment of brain-related ailments like dementia, OCD, phobias, and insomnia. Its consumption retards memory loss and has been tried successfully in Parkinson Syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease.
The constituent convolving is responsible for blocking M2 and M4 cholinergic muscarinic receptors. It potentiates the effects of arecoline, a muscarinic memory enhancer that ameliorates cognitive defects in Alzheimer’s. The paste made from small leaves of shankhpushpi mixed with its roots and flowers can be taken regularly.
Brahmi – Bacopa monniera Linn
Brahmi / Bacopa monnieri (often confused with its close relative Gotu Kola Centella asiatica) which is also called Brahmi in Northern India), is bitter (Tikta), astringent (Kashaya) in taste (Ras), light (Laghu), unctuous (Snigdha) in qualities (Guna). It is pungent (Katu) after digestion (Vipak) and Cold in potency. Brahmi balances Vata, Pitta, and Kapha Dosha. It works on seven Dhatu of the body. Brahmi is especially beneficial for the mind. It is a nervine Tonic, sedative, rejuvenative, anticonvulsant and anti-inflammatory. In Ayurveda, it is indicated in mental weakness, anxiety, skin disorders, and fever. It is a memory vitalizer and nervine tonic.
- Rasa (Taste on Tongue): Bitter/Titka, Astringent/Kashaya
- Guna (Pharmacological Action): Light/Laghu, Unctuous/Snigdha
- Virya (Action): Cooling/Sheeta
- Vipaka (Transformed State After Digestion): Pungent/Katu
- Dosha: Vata-Pitta and Kapha Balancing
- Tissue/Dhatu: All Seven, Especially Plasma, Blood, Nerve
Brahmi is adaptogenic, astringent, diuretic, sedative, potent nervine Tonic, an anti-anxiety agent, and improves mental functions. It is used in insanity, epilepsy, bronchitis, asthma, and diarrhea. Brahmi is chiefly used in mental disorders as a brain tonic.
Brahmi increases GABA (Gamma Aminobutyric Acid) level in the brain. GABA is an amino acid/brain chemical or neurotransmitter that sends signals from nerve cell to a specific target cell. Low level of this chemical or GABA deficiency causes stress, mood disorders, depression, insomnia, hypertension, and anxiety.
Brahmi and Shankhpushpi possess properties similar to nootropic agents. They are cooling in nature and reduces excessive heat inside the body, stress, and anger.
Boil ½ teaspoon Brahmi in a cup of milk and drink at bedtime. It will improve memory remarkably. Add a pinch of saffron for increased benefit. This can be taken every day for a month, or take as long as you want.
You may also take Brahmi Ghrita in a dose of 1 teaspoon, twice a day. This should be taken 5 to 10 minutes before breakfast and before dinner.
Jatamansi – Nardostachys jatamansi
Jatamansi, Balchhar, Balchir, Baluchar, Jatalasi, Jatamansi, Kanuchara, Spikenard are few names of Nardostachys jatamansi. The roots of the plant are aromatic and bitter and possess stimulant and anti-spasmodic properties. Jatamansi is used in the treatment of epilepsy, hysteria, convulsive ailments, palpitation of the heart and diseases of the head. It is a nervous relaxant and antispasmodic. It cools and nourishes a ‘hot’ and ‘exhausted’ nervous system; clears pitta, calms vata, reduces kapha.
Jatamansi is a nervine Tonic, hypotensive, antiseptic, stomachic, carminative, tranquilizer, sedative, antibacterial, antispasmodic, and stimulant. It is useful in the treatment of hysteria, convulsions, vertigo, nervousness, nervous headache, excitement, epilepsy, anxiety, and insomnia. No health hazards are known in conjunction with the proper administration of designated therapeutic dosages. Combination of Gotu Kola, jatamansi and Tagara is used as a sedative.
Gotu kola, Mandookparni, Brahmi – Centella asiatica
Mandukparni / Centella asiatica is a Medya (nootropic) Rasayan. The leaf looks like the cerebellum and as per the doctrine of signaturesgotu kola is traditionally renowned for its intellect promoting,nervous-system, soothing and general mind enhancing properties. It has various effects on the central nervous system.
It is nervine and brain tonic. It has intelligence-boosting properties. It enhances learning, mental performance, and memory. Mandookparni is effective in reducing brain regional lipid peroxidation and protein carbonyl levels and in increasing the antioxidant status. It enhances learning and memory. It is Tikta-Madhur (Ras), Snigdha-Laghu (Guna) and Sheet/cool in potency (Virya).
Gotu kola relaxes the central nervous system. It is useful in behavioral and developmental imbalances such as autism, Asperger’s syndrome or ADHD. Gotu kola protects against the aging process and Alzheimer’s. It gives relief in stress, insomnia, epilepsy, emotional turbulence, and pitta/vata aggravation. Gotu kola should not be used with other sedative drugs as it can lead to synergism.
Guduchi – Tinospora cordifolia
Guduchi s also known as Gurach, Galo, Gulancha, Guduchi, Amrita, Shindilkodi, Guruch, Guduchi, Guduchi, GULANCHA, Heart-leaved MOONSEED, and Tinospora. It belongs to plant family Menispermaceae. It is a herbaceous vine that propagates through stem cutting.
The stem contains several active adaptogenic constituents such as tinosporone, tinosporic acid, cordifolisides A to E, syringen, the yellow alkaloid, berberine, giloin, and a glucosidal bitter principle as well as polysaccharides, including arabinogalactan polysaccharide. These active constituents are found to possess anticomplementary and immunomodulatory activities.
Guduchi contains berberine, an isoquinolone alkaloid with AChE (acetylcholinesterase inhibitory) action. Berberine helps prevent oxidation damage to biomolecules of the brain, reduces peptides that interfere with memory function and lowers lipids that hamper cerebral blood flow.
Guduchi arrests neuro degenerationwhich is commonly present in Alzheimer’s disease. Berberine reduces A beta levels by modulating APP (amyloid precursors) processing in human neuroglioma cells without toxicity. It is medhya Rasayana used in degenerative disorders.
Ginkgo prevents degeneration of sensory organs and promotes memory. It slows dementia resulting from hardening of cerebral arteries.
Ginkgo biloba extract is made from the leaves of the tree. Ginkgo leaf extracts are used in brain disorders such as dementia, disturbance in concentration, depressive emotional conditions, dizziness, tinnitus, and headache. The extract has beneficial effects on the circulatory system, especially in geriatric patients.
Ginkgo is available as capsules, which contains extracts of Ginkgo Biloba. The capsules can be taken in a dose of 1-2 capsules daily or as directed by a health care professional.
Daily intake of Ginkgo extract in a dose of 240 mg helps to prevent dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Guggul is gum resin (Niryas) of the Commiphora Mukul tree. The principle action of Guggulu as mentioned in Ayurveda are Tridosha Shamaka, Vedanasthapana, Lekhana, Shulahara And Shothahara. It is anti-inflammatory, hypolipedemic, antiseptic, antibacterial, astringent, antispasmodic and antifertility.
Guggulu is highly effective in the treatment of Vata-Vikar and inflammatory conditions. The gum resin contains guggul sterons Z and E, guggul sterols I-V, two diterpenoids- a terpene hydrocarbon named cembreneA and diterpene alcohol- mukulol, a-camphrone and cembrene, long chain aliphatic tetrols- octadecan-1,2,3,4-tetrol, eicosan-1,2,3,4-tetrol and nonadecan-1,2,3,4-tetrol. Major components from the essential oil of gum resin are myrcene and dimyrcene.
It is effective in reducing the synthesis of cholesterol in the liver. It reduces serum triglycerides, LDL (bad) cholesterol and increases HDL. It can reduce 14-27 percent blood cholesterol and triglycerides by 22-30 percent. Guggulu increases metabolism of LDL.
Guggul removes toxins from the body. It also works as a carrier for other drugs. It is used in Ayurveda for the treatment of arthritis, rheumatism, gout, lumbago, disorders of the nervous, respiratory, digestive and circulatory systems. It has anti-inflammatory with strong purifying and rejuvenating properties.
A study demonstrated that gugulipid has a significant protective effect against the streptozotocin-induced memory deficit model of dementia, the effect can be attributed to its cholesterol-lowering, antioxidant, and anti-acetylcholine esterase activity. These observations suggest gugulipid as a potential anti-dementia drug.
Classical Ayurvedic texts recommend not to take guggul as a single drug but along with other herbs in combination.
Trans-zeatin is the first naturally-occurring cytokinin identified from a plant source by Letham. Trans-Zeatin belongs to the family of the plant-growth hormones called cytokinins and was discovered in immature corn kernels from the genus Zea. It promotes the growth of lateral buds and when sprayed on meristems stimulates cell division to produce bushier plants.
Recent studies showed that trans-zeatin can be a potential drug to treat neural diseases. Some researchers found that trans-zeatin actually possesses an inhibitory effect on acetylcholinesterase and it can be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease or related neural dysfunctions, such as dementia.
Acetylcholinesterase degrades the neural compounds that mediate neural transmission, and thus by blocking its action, synaptic transmission can be improved. Another recent study also found that transzeatin can prevent amyloid β-protein formation. Another recent study also found that transzeatin can prevent amyloid β-protein formation, which has a causal role in the development and progress of Alzheimer’s disease.
Ayurvedic Medicines for Improving brain function
- Brahmi Ghrita
- Dimagh Pushtak Rasayan
- Manasamitra Vatakam
- Panchagavya Ghrita
- Saraswat Churna
- Shankhpushpi Ghrita
- Shankhpushpi Syrup
- Vachadi Churna
Alzheimer’s Dietary Tips
It is recommended to avoid the intake of aluminum. Diet rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, legumes, cereals, and fish provide a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Turmeric and Coconut water can be included in the diet for better health.
Omega-3 fatty acid supplements slow cognitive decline in some patients with very mild Alzheimer’s disease.
Red grapes may help neuro-degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive impairment, and memory loss.
Fruit and vegetable juices reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. But the juice should be fresh and free from artificial sweeteners, color, and preservatives. They should not contain added sugar.
Avoid diet containing excessive intake of sugar, refined carbohydrates (with high glycemic index), and animal products (with a high content of saturated fats).
Increase intake unrefined seeds (cereals, legumes, and oleaginous seeds), vegetables (with high fibrous content, vitamins, polyphenols, and other antioxidant substances [e.g., phytoestrogens]), and food rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Improve general or total well-being. By including mental exercises (memory games, reading, card games) and meditation.