Research states that more than 5 million Americans are affected by Alzheimer's disease. This number is going to increase by 7 million by 2030. Alzheimer's disease is an age-associated, irreversible, progressive neurodegenerative disease that is characterized by severe memory loss, unusual behavior, personality changes, and a decline in cognitive function. No cure for Alzheimer's exists, and the drugs currently available to treat the disease have limited effectiveness. It is believed that therapeutic intervention that could postpone the onset or progression of Alzheimer's disease would dramatically reduce the number of cases in the next 50 years.
The underlying pathogenesis is loss of neurons in the hippocampus, cortex, and subcortical structures. Early disease shows a loss of short-term memory, inability to learn new information, mood swings, difficulty in finding words, forgetting names, and losing items.
There have been many scientific researches going on to build up a new drug that can treat Alzheimer's completely. The current treatment plan is to treat the Alzheimer's symptomatically. Ayurvedic medicine is a system of traditions medicine native to India. There have been may researches going on in ayurvedic field regarding neurodegenerative disorders.
The Ayurvedic System of Medicine stresses the balance of three elemental energies or humors Tridoshas namely: Vāyu vāta (air and space – “wind”), pitta (fire and water – “bile”) and kapha (water and earth – “phlegm”). A disturbance in this balance results in disease with its attendant ailments.
Charak Samhita mentions the disease of Alzheimer's or any neurological disorder as "Vatavyadhi". It is said in Ayurveda, that Alzheimer's or any neurological disorder is caused by Vata Dosha. Imbalance in Vata causes dry skin and hair, rough skin, low level of intelligence, bloating & gas and poor circulation.
Ayurvedic Herbs for Alzheimer's
The ancient text explains the use of several herbs in Ayurveda to prevent the further damage caused by Alzheimer's. These herbs include Ashwagandha, Turmeric, Brahmi, Shankhpushpi, Gotu Kola, Jyotishmati, Goggulu. These plant-derived products are carefully standardized, and their efficacy and safety for a specific application have been demonstrated.
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.
Turmeric is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. 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. studies indicate that the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory property of turmeric is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Brahmi (also known as Bacopa) 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.
Shankhpushpi is a common plant in India, where the whole plant is used in various formulae as a nervine tonic for improvement of memory and cognitive function.
In the Ayurvedic system of medicine, gotu kola is one of the important rejuvenating herbs for nerve and brain cells and is believed to be capable of increasing intelligence, longevity, and memory.
Jyotishmati is a treasured medicinal herb that is revered for its effects on the brain and has been used for centuries in Ayurveda for sharpening the memory and improving concentration and cognitive function.
Administering the Drugs
The biggest challenge with any neurological treatment in Ayurveda is the process of administering drugs. Not all drugs can pass Blood Brain Barrier (BBB). There is no evident research that mentions that these ayurvedic herbs can pass through BBB. So how do we work with these herbs?
One way is to use Nasya technique which is administering the herbs through nasal cavity. Another method that works is applying the herbs mixed with oil directly on the head through Ayurvedic techniques such as Abhyanga and Shirodhara. It is known that massaging reduces the stress related hormone Cortisol.
NASYA', involves intranasal delivery of dry herbal powders or medicated oils and is a practical, non-invasive, rapid, and simple method to deliver the therapeutic agents into the CNS. The use of medicated oils, which require that the herbs be cooked in four parts oil and 16 parts water over a low flame until all of the water evaporates, ensures the transport of lipophilic and lipid-soluble molecules across the BBB membrane, where hydrophilic compounds demonstrate minimal permeation.
Ayurveda also mentions the use of Shirobasti (gentle dripping of the medicated oil on the forehead), Shiro abhyanga (medicated oil is smeared on the head followed by a gentle massage),Shirobasti (a special leather cap is placed over the shaved head of a patient and medicated oil is poured and retained over the head for 30 to 45 minutes), and ShiroSeka (medicated oil is poured over the head in a continuous stream) may also influence hormonal and cerebral blood flow levels to a degree similar to that of Ayurvedic massage to influence cerebral blood flow.
Sesame oil is a big one for Vata’s because of its warming abilities.
Coconut oil is great for brain function, but by itself may be too cooling. Take with cayenne pepper or other warming herbs or mix with heavier oil such as sesame.
Extra virgin olive oil for both skin and internally.
Ghee, though not technically an oil, is used as such and a very important Ayurvedic food for the Vata dosha.
In my humble opinion, Ayurveda has come along way from just a traditional medicine to prevent the illness to conducting randomized, double-blind control trial for research studies and the introduction of standard manufacturing practicing of drugs.
The pharmaceutical industry is facing serious challenges as the drug discovery process for neurodegenerative diseases is becoming extremely expensive, riskier, and critically inefficient. I hope that strong pharmaceutical drugs coupled with the knowledge of Ayurveda can improve the plight of people suffering from Alzheimer's.
NOTE: Please consult your physician or a licensed Ayurvedic practitioner if you have any neurological symptoms. The information provided here is for educational purpose and increasing the awareness of Ayurveda.
Charak Samhita. R.K. Sharma.
Rao, R. V., Descamps, O., John, V., & Bredesen, D. E. (2012). Ayurvedic medicinal plants for Alzheimer's disease: a review. Alzheimer's research & therapy, 4(3), 22. https://doi.org/10.1186/alzrt125
Kennedy DO, Wightman EL. Herbal extracts and phytochemicals: plant secondary metabolites and the enhancement of human brain function. Adv Nutr. 2011;2:32–50. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
Begum AN, Jones MR, Lim GP, Morihara T, Kim P, Heath DD, Rock CL, Pruitt MA, Yang F, Hudspeth B, Hu S, Faull KF, Teter B, Cole GM, Frautschy SA. Curcumin structure-function, bioavailability, and efficacy in models of neuroinflammation and Alzheimer's disease. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2008;326:196–208. doi: 10.1124/jpet.108.137455. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]
Roodenrys S, Booth D, Bulzomi S, Phipps A, Micallef C, Smoker J. Chronic effects of Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) on human memory. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2002;27:279–281. doi: 10.1016/S0893-133X(01)00419-5. [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]
Xu F, Uebaba K, Ogawa H, Tatsuse T, Wang BH, Hisajima T, Venkatraman S. Pharmaco-physio-psychologic effect of Ayurvedic oil-dripping treatment using an essential oil from Lavendula angustifolia. J Altern Complement Med. 2008;14:947–956. doi: 10.1089/acm.2008.0240. [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]