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The ancient herb that aids older brains

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an Ayurvedic herb with a centuries-long tradition of use in India. It’s known for its restorative benefits to the immune system, thyroid and adrenal glands. This ancient herb is likewise beneficial for many modern-day problems, including stress, fatigue, and poor concentration. It’s a calming agent which also improves thinking and memory. Over 200 studies have confirmed its benefits, including counteracting the damaging effects of stress on the brain and cognitive function.

Ashwagandha is categorized as an adaptogenic herb because it gently supports many body functions and offers balance, rather than having one specific action. Adaptogenic herbs typically have the qualities of being gentle, safe at high doses, and rarely causing side-effects. An adaptogen improves the response to stress, and helps the body accommodate. Because it is so safe and helps with balance, ashwagandha is an excellent addition to a variety of herbal formulas, especially those relieving stress.

When the body is under chronic stress, the adrenals secrete excess levels of cortisol, a hormone meant to help the body adapt to stress. Cortisol is beneficial is small regulated doses, but when its secreted chronically in excess, cortisol causes blood sugar imbalances, sleep disruption, low immune function and impaired thinking and memory. Ashwagandha can help balance cortisol levels and minimize the damage it causes.

A recent study measured the effects of ashwagandha on brain function – memory and thinking skills specifically. In this study, 50 patients with mild cognitive impairment took either placebo or ashwagandha root extract, 300 mg twice daily. The study lasted 8 weeks and patients were tested at the beginning of the study to establish baseline measurements, and then at the end of the study to measure any changes. By the end of the 8 weeks, the group taking the herb showed significant improvement in various memory tests, improved attention, and better information processing, as compared to the group taking placebo.

Memory decline is a common and prevalent problem for aging Americans, and to date, very few options are available to slow loss of memory. Based on the results of this study, ashwagandha may be an effective herb to add to a supplement regime to improve brain function. Scientists don’t know the exactly how the herb works on the brain, but some theorize that it inhibits acetylcholine-esterase, an enzyme which breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a chemical which helps brain cells communicate, and supports the brain in creating memory. An acetylcholine esterase inhibitor decreases levels of this important neurotransmitter. There is a class of prescription medications which are acetylcholine esterase inhibitors which have been used for conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease. Unfortunately, they have not proven to be a cure for the disease and may have significant side effects.

Journal Of Dietary Supplements Vol. 14 , Iss. 6,2017

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