New Alzheimer’s Treatment Uses Ancient Natural Remedy
Ayurveda is the ancient system of folk medicine practiced in India for thousands of years. It uses a variety of botanicals to promote wellness and improve health. One of the most important herbs used in Ayurveda is ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). It is reputed to extend lifespan. Modern researchers have devoted much energy to investigating the potential benefits of this shrub, and have shown that it possesses a potent mixture of promising compounds. Chief among these are chemicals called withanolides.
In Ayurveda, Ashwagandha is referred to as an “adaptogen,” it’s supposed to be useful for supporting the body in combatting stress and disease. Many researchers have noted the potent antioxidant activity of certain compounds from Ashwagandha extract. It’s under investigation for possible anti-cancer activity, among other benefits. Now, researchers at Michigan State University say they’ve developed a spin-off compound that just might help prevent—or even cure—Alzheimer’s disease.
If eventual human clinical trials prove the safety and efficacy of the new “drug,” it could be hailed as the first effective treatment for the dreaded mind-robbing disease. Although certain prescription medications are available to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, they essentially provide symptomatic relief, rather than addressing the underlying processes involved in the disease.
Until now, promising herbal remedies such as this have presented a significant stumbling block to further development: Natural herbs are not patentable. Thus there is little incentive for anyone to invest the huge sums of money needed to win FDA approval. Approval depends on successfully completing expensive human clinical trials to prove appropriate dosing, safety and effectiveness, compared to an inactive substance (placebo).
Investigators circumvented this impediment by patenting particular compounds present in the plant. Muraleedharan Nair is a Michigan State University natural products chemist. He patented compounds called “withanamides.”
“This particular research has focused on Ashwagandha, an herbal remedy that's been used in Eastern medicines for centuries," he said. "Our compound withanamides may work to prevent Alzheimer's disease at the onset, and it also could prevent its progression."
Shaiju K. Vareed, Alison K. Bauer, Kavitha M. Nair, Yunbao Liu, Bolleddula Jayaprakasam, Muraleedharan G. Nair. Blood-Brain Barrier Permeability of Bioactive Withanamides Present inWithania somniferaFruit Extract. Phytotherapy Research, 2014; 28 (8): 1260 DOI: 10.1002/ptr.5118