Withania Somnifera (Ashwagandha) and its neuroprotective effects

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.

Berry of the Withania somnifera plant

Berry of the Withania somnifera plant

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


Cannabis and its controversial use in neuronal disorders


Cannabis Sativa

Cannabis is a flowering plant, the flower, seeds and leaves of which are used chiefly as recreational drugs. They contain a high amount of a compound called tetrahydrocannabinol(THC) which is used as psychoactive drugs. Cannabis has been mentioned in ancient literatures such as Vedic literature and the use of it has been mentioned in Sikhism and Buddhism as well. At present, the use of Cannabis is illegal in most of the world. But it has not lost its relevance in regard to treating several medical conditions. Although Cannabis was used as a pharmacological agent for the treatment of pain in the past, its use has become wider in modern medicine. It is used in the treatment of Glaucoma, AIDS wasting, neuropathic pain, treatment of spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, and chemotherapy-induced nausea.

Recently, there has been a focus on the controversial use of Cannabis and its products in treating neuronal disorders. Cannabis contains THC. There are cannabinoid receptors present in different parts of Brain. Hippocampus, basal ganglia and cerebellum contain the highest concentration of cannabinoid receptor in the brain. So, the intake of Cannabis has effect on memory, muscle movement, balance and coordination executed by these brain parts.

There are very few clinical trials done in regard to the effect of cannabis on neurological disorders. A lot of debate is ongoing about the legalization of cannabis and marijuana for neurological disorders and other medical conditions. In the US, some states have legalized the use of medical marijuana, whereas others have not. But marijuana is shown to be helpful in several neurological disorders like epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. Marijuana reduces the convulsions and the muscle spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis. The use  of marijuana in neurological disorder is also worth considering in other degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s  as there are a lot of cannabinoid receptor present in the brain areas affected by these diseases.

Many MS patients report that cannabis has a very good response on muscle spasms, balance, bladder control , speech and eyesight. Many wheelchair bound MS patients admitted walking freely after smoking cannabis. The use of cannabis by MS patient in Britain is in rise despite the legal prohibition and obstacles. As many as 4% of the MS patients in Britain use cannabis as reported by the British Multiple Sclerosis Society.






Sleep important for myelin formation in brain

What is Myelin?

Myelin is a fatty sheath that insulates the neurons. It is needed for the fast propagation of signals(saltatory conduction) through neurons. Oligodendrocytes and Schwann cells are responsible for its production in central nervous system and peripheral nervous system respectively. Myelin producing cells in brain are different from neuronal cells as they lack the electrical properties of neurons. They are also called interstitial cells of brain.

The newly discovered relationship between sleep and myelin forming cells:

A recent research published in journal of neuroscience have shown that sleep is vital in the proliferation of oligodendrocytes precursor cells(OPC). Its the OPCs that differentiate into oligodendrocytes during sleep. This means sleep induces the formation of oligodendrocytes in neurons. This research does not tell anything about schwann cells which are responsible for myelin formaion in peripheral neuron.

Why is this finding important?

This finding might be important for neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis where there is loss of myelin.

This further highlights the molecular impact of sleep on brain cells. Not only the sleep beneficial for neuronal cells, but also for interstitial cells like oligodendrocytes.

More oligodendrocytes after sleep means more myelin in your neurons and thus more effective signal propagation.

References and for further reading:



Sleep for better memory

Figure: fromWikipedia

A good sleep is needed for good life. And this is true for the brain as well. Sleep has a lot of things to do with brain especially memory.

Sleep has two phases: NREM (Non rapid eye movement) phase and REM (Rapid eye movement or deep sleep). Its during REP phase short term memory(memory lasting second to hours) is consolidated and converted into long term memory( Last for a very long time with unlimited capacity). For the formation of long term memory, there should be change in the structure of neurons as well as dissipation of information from hippocampus to other parts of brain mainly cerebral cortex.

It has been proved scientifically that sleep is important for memory as it’s the period during which our memory is consolidated.Generally, an average of 8 hours of sleep is good for the brain. Taking nap in between your studies helps in memorizing the contents. For example, taking nap every half an hour or 15 minutes after a study period of 2 or 3 hours helps you memorize better than studying continuously for an entire day.

So, managing your sleep along with your study might make you smart.

Exercise as a treatment for depression

Depression is hugely prevalent in current society irrespective of country, religion,class and society. There are around 121 million people affected by depression worldwide. Several antidepressants drugs and behavioral therapy are available for its treatment. But the recent focus has been more on alternative therapies like exercise, which is shown to be beneficial in people with depression.

Exercise Vs Depression(Source: http://www.hivehealthmedia.com)

Exercise does not provide the best therapy to the person fulfilling the criteria of depression. But it can be recommended, given that it provides moderate effect in improving the depressive symptoms.A study in humans since 1981 has showed that regular exercise helps in improving the mood of people with mild to moderate depression. Improvement of mood is also quite useful in person with severe depression.

Comparing exercise with cognitive therapy or antidepressants, researches have not shown any significant difference between each mode of therapy in the depressive illness. But the effect of exercise is shown to last longer than the effect with antidepressants. In light of these findings, it seems exercise is of help. But the optimum type, frequency and duration of exercise, whether it should be performed supervised or unsupervised, indoors or outdoors, or in a group or alone is yet to be determined.

However some studies are published which have experimented several exercise regimen and are found useful. One of them is : For an average 68 kg person, some research has shown running 60 minutes a day for 3 days in a week or walking fast 35 minutes a day for 5 days in a week can improve the mild to moderate depressive symptoms.




Turmeric for Brain

Turmeric is an essential ingredient of south Asian food .It’s powder is widely used as a spice in curry by people residing in South Asia. The medical benefits of turmeric have been studied extensively in the past decade. Although useful for its anti-inflammatory effect in several systemic diseases, its usefulness in Alzheimer’s disease, a neurodegenerative disease which severs the cognitive function of  human, has drawn the attention in the last decade .

Fig: Turmeric Powder (Source: Wikipedia)

Turmeric is a sterile plant, the root of which is dried and crushed to make a bright yellow spice. It has been used widely in India for last 2500 years for its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and carminative properties. Turmeric contain a natural phenol called curcumin in it. It’s the curcumin that is found to be responsible for all these properties of turmeric. The bright yellow color of turmeric is also due to the presence of this natural phenol curcumin.

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease with progressive impairment in cognitive function. Memory is the most compromised aspect of cognition in Alzheimer’s disease. Loss of memory is called dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in the elderly people. The frequency of this disease increases with age.

Various researches have been conducted, both in animal and humans throughout the world regarding the role of turmeric in preventing  Alzheimer’s. Study done at Singapore showed that people eating curry showed better cognition than those who did not eat curry. The prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease in adults aged 70-79 years in US is 4.4 times higher than that in India. These are some of the epidemiological data supporting the role of turmeric in Alzheimer’s disease.

As mentioned before, the chemical identified in turmeric, which plays a crucial role in preventing Alzheimer’s disease is called curcumin. It prevents the formation of amyloid plaques which is a hallmark of  Alzheimer’s disease. Amyloid plaques are neurotoxic and are responsible for the loss of neurons eventually leading to loss of memory present in AD. Experiments done in lab animals have shown that curcumin prevents the formation of amyloid plaques by its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Similarly, it also prevents the formation of amyloid plaques indirectly by lowering the blood cholesterol level.

So, adding a small quantity of turmeric powder daily in your food might be of great help to your brain in long term. It is also a cost effective way of preventing alzheimer’s disease given the large budget that is currently being spent in tackling this disease in Europe and the US. As the consumption of turmeric has already been a difference behind the high incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in west as compared to Asia, its time to promote its use worldwide.

To conclude, start using turmeric powder folks, the experimental results are not that bad!!!


Mishra S, Palanivelu K, The effect of curcumin(turmeric) in Alzheimer’s disease: an overview, Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology 2008 Jan-Mar;11(1):13-19

Slowing down memory loss

What is memory loss?

Memory requires encoding information, storing it in different parts of brain and retrieving the information as and when needed. If brain is unable to do any of these steps, it is called memory loss or amnesia.

What are the types of memory loss?headache

Mainly two types:

Anterograde amnesia( Unable to form new memories)

Retrograde amnesia(Unable to remember things prior to any incident f.eks trauma)

Anterograde amnesia is the type of memory loss occurring during old age. The loss in ability to form memories as a person ages is also called age associated memory impairment (AAMI). It generally starts at middle age ( approx.40 years) and goes on increasing with age.

Age related memory decline is taken as normal, but there are conditions in which memory loss can be worse than normal as occurs in MILD COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT and ALZHEIMER´S DISEASE.

What are the ways to slower memory loss?

Irrespective of the cause, there are certain ways which can slower memory decline. These might not be equally effective in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, but are of great help in age related memory decline and mild cognitive impairment. These include:

Exercise: regular aerobic exercise like running, It causes hippocampal neurogenesis and increases the plasticity of brain. Hippocampus is important primarily for learning and memory.

Diet: Include brain food in your diet on daily basis. Avoid diets with excessive fat. Also eat food that are rich source of vitamin A, B,C, and E. These include green vegetables(Spinach), yellow fruits(Papaya, mango) for Vit A. Sea foods , cheese,and fish oil for Vit B. Citrus fruits like lime, orange for Vit C and spinach, mustard green, kiwi and papaya for Vit E.

Micronutrient supplements : You can take micronutrient supplement if necessary. Besides vitamins, omega-3-fatty acid is an important micronutrient that keeps the neurons in your brain happy. Eating fish oil and salmon provides you omega-3-fatty acid.  The supplements of omega-3-fatty acid can be found in the market with various names.

Daily brain stimulation: Solve puzzles, play mind stimulating games like chess, sodoku etc. Also you recall your daily activities while going to bed to stimulate your brain . Several online brain games available in internet for this purpose.

Related articles:


Exercise for brain

Its a common problem in old age that we tend to forget different things. Amnesia, as its commonly called for forgetting things can be physiological(normal) or pathological(abnormal). Human cells are mortal, so are neurons. As we age, several unwanted chemicals tend to accumulate in our brain causing loss of neurons, or loss of connectivity between neurons. This is responsible for the memory loss and other cognitive problems that arises with old age

Many research have been done to halt the loss of neurons in old age.Several cognitive enhancers are available in the markets which boast their effectiveness. While the research for the drugs to cure this cognitive decline is being carried, several conventional methods are also being tried. Exercise being one of them.

Stretching Out

Stretching Out (Photo credit: Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums)

There are many different results of exercise and brain research coming recently. The common result of all these research is that exercise definitely helps in maintaining your brain health. Exercise releases various growth factors from our body that are necessary for neuronal growth and development. Also it increases the blood flow to the brain, causing more transport of these growth factors to the brain for the neuronal development.

There are many studies studying different type of exercise and their effect in different aspect of brain functions. I want to suggest that don´t run after the discussions. As for me,every type of exercise is beneficial for brain, be it aerobic, anaerobic or strength training. So don´t shy away from exercise. But most studies have shown aerobic exercise in the form of walking and swimming to be more beneficial for brain. For those who exercise for the brain, walking is a better exercise than swimming. The contact between your leg and the ground while walking helps in release of a specific growth factor called VEGF that is one of the main player in maintaining the brain health.

And doing exercise in a natural environment rather than inside the sports hall is important for your brain. So jogging for some 30 minutes around your home daily might be helpful in maintaining your brain health and preventing the cognitive decline.

Go for it guys and all the best.

Brain food

Two Juglans regia walnuts.

Two Juglans regia walnuts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What are brain foods?

Brain foods are those foods that help in nourishing your brain, one of the most vital organ of your body. They can be fruits, vegetables, cereals or fish.

Why are brain foods important?

They consist of several micro nutrients like anti-oxidants and macro-nutrients like fatty acids and proteins that are necessary for the smooth metabolism of brain.

Name some brain food.

Blueberries, nuts and seeds, pomegranate, broccoli, green pumpkin, beans, kiwi fruit, Avocado, wild salmon, whole grains like oat, brown rice, freshly brewed tea, dark chocolates , salmon are some of the brain foods.

Do brain food protect us from disease?

According to the researchers  of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute and Brain Injury Research Center , Omega-3 fatty acids(a unsaturated fatty acid) which is  found in brain food like salmon, kiwi, nuts  is found to improve learning and memory . These foods also  in fighting against  mental disorders like depression and mood disorders, schizophrenia, and dementia.

According to Dr Neal D Bernard, an American physician, vitamin E present in nuts and seeds, the anthocyanins that give grapes and berries their color, and the omega-3 traces in green vegetables have protective role in the brain. These are responsible for lowering the risks of cognitive disease.

Referred articles: