What is Ashwagandha or Withania Somnifera?
Withania Somnifera(WS), also called Ashwagandha in Sanskrit is a herbal plant widely mentioned and used in ayurvedic medicine. In Ayurveda, Ashwagandha is used to enhance mental health and memory and research have proved that it, in fact, enhances memory. Recent studies have also shown that the ashwagandha root have other wide range of therapeutic properties like antistress, immunomodulatory and antioxidant.
Ashwagandha its use in neurodegenerative diseases:
The roots of Ashwagandha extracts have shown to reduce the number of hippocampal degenerating cells significantly in the brains of stressed rodents and were neuroprotective in animal models of Parkinson’s disease.
Studies done in rats at Defense Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, India have shown that withania somnifera roots can improve the hypobaric hypoxic induced memory impairment and neuronal degeneration. Likewise, study done in Human neuronal cells at Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, USA showed that Ashwagandha(Withania Somnifera) benefits in Alzheimer’s disease(AD). It shows neuroprotective effects in AD.
Animal studies have shown that withania somnifera reverses the behavioral deficits, plaque pathology and accumulation of β-amyloid peptides (Aβ) in the brain. The roots of WS reverse the effect of beta amyloid induced toxicity in AD. Accumulation of β-amyloid is known to be one of the major pathogenesis associated with AD. Thus withania somnifera (WS) extracts can be used as an agent for the prevention of AD. β-amyloid and ashwagandha treated cells showed no reduction in spine density, spine area, spine length and number of spines as compared to untreated control thus showing the protective effect of ashwagandha on spine density. It is the reduction of spine area, spine length and number of spines which are related to neurodegenerative diseases causing decrease in synaptic plasticity and thus compromising learning and memory. Study done at Chonbuk National University, South Korea has shown that WS stimulates the NMDA receptor in hippocampal cells which is the brain area important for learning and memory.
So, Ashwagandha is an important herb and recent studies have shown promising results regarding its medical benefits, nevertheless in neurodegenerative diseases.
Janardhan Prasad Bhattarai, Soo Joung Park, and Seong Kyu Han, Potentiation of NMDA receptors by Withania somnifera on hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons
Am. J. Chin. Med. 41, 503 (2013). DOI: 10.1142/S0192415X13500365
Baitharu I, Jain V, Deep SN, Hota KB, Hota SK, Prasad D, IIavazhagan G, Withania somnifera root extract ameliorates hypobaric hypoxia induced memory impairment in rats.
J Ethnopharmacol. 2013 Jan 30;145(2):431-41. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2012.10.063. Epub 2012 Dec 2
Kurapati KR, Atluri VS, Samikkannu T, Nair MP, Ashwangha (Withania somnifera) Reverses β-amyloid 1-42 Induced Toxicity in Human Neuronal Cells: Implications in HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Disorders (HAND) PLoS One. 2013 Oct 16;8(10):e77624. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0077624