Dementia is described as a progressive illness that reduces cognitive function. The word dementia is a blanket term used to describe symptoms of the gradual decline of the patients memory, rationality, social skills, and any emotional reactions that the patient may have. Confusion is also a tell-tale sign of the disease, but it can be caused by a variety of other things, such as dehydration and nutritional deficiencies. The most common causes of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease (50-70%), and vascular dementia (20-30%). DAT or Dementia of the Alzheimer’s Type is the most common type, one theory of causation is a deficiency in acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter in the brain. There are many other theories, such as environmental factors, metabolic disturbances, immune processes, heredity, the build up of beta amyloid proteins, and neural degeneration due to glutamate build up. Vascular dementia or VaD, is caused by insufficient blood supply to the brain and could be characterized by chronic cerebral ischemia.
There have been a wide variety of alternative methods for treatment of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Ayruvedic medicine seems to have the most remedies for treatment, they have developed Rasayana chikitsa which is a dietary and therapeutic system to delay the aging process by revitalizing and and rejuvenating the body. There are several plants used in this system in order for the right formula to be created for each individual which are called Medhya, or intellect promoting. Zingiber Officinale (ginger) has been used as a Rasayana drug for centuries. 100 mg of Z. Officinale showed significant improvement in learning and memory in young mice, as well as reversed scopolamine and diazepam induced amnesia. Ginger also has shown to have antioxidant properties and acetylcholinesterase inhibiting properties which may be the cause of the improvement in learning and memory. Another herb used in Ayurveda is bacopa monniera which is a drug used for anxiety, intellect, and poor memory. The action of this herb is on the Central Nervous System and it improves understanding, memory, intellect and speech. Rats who were treated with an extract of this herb exhibited enhanced memory retention, and improvements in spatial learning performance. This herb acts on neuronal synthesis and restoration of synaptic activity with an effect on nerve impulse transmissions as well as repairing damaged neurons. Ocimum sanctum (also called sacred tulsi or holy basil) was made into an aqueous extract and given to rats with scopolamine and diazepam induced aged rats. The extract greatly ameliorated this drug induced effect on the rats. Holy basil has neuroprotective properties such as anti inflammatory, antioxidant and anti stress actions. Other Ayruvedic herbs that promote healthy cognition include Equisetum arvense, which was shown to improve long and short term memory with ongoing administration. Vaccinium angustifolium or wild blueberry extract which showed a rise in glutathione levels and significant improvement in learning and memory. Green tea extract showed signs of significant improvement in learning and memory, while vitis vinifera, grape seed, showed improvements in cognition, retention and recovery. The grape seed extract improvements were, however, dosage dependent. Tinospora cordifolia is shown to have immunostimulant properties and is an ingredient in Rasayana, the Ayruvedic rejuvenation recipe. Ziziphus mauritiana is a fruit tree that is an excellent source of flavonoids, glycosides, saponins, and volatile oils and it is known for it’s sedative properties and it’s anxiolytic abilities. Withania somnifera, other wise known as ashwaganda or Indian ginseng, has recently began to gain popularity in the U.S. as an anti stress supplement. As an added benefit, it also contains neuroprotective properties such as anti inflammatory, anti oxidant, and inhibition of beta amyloid and calcium, AChE, and reduction of cell death. It also regenerates damaged axons, dendrites, and synapses which therefore enables the brain to communicate with the body.
The Chinese are another culture to have herbal remedy combinations to help promote healthy cognition and these remedies are used in conjunction with acupuncture and massage techniques. The herbal remedies in Chinese medicine are also personalized and tailored for each patient, and therefore each remedy is different. One herbal remedy combination that was found in the Bei Ji Qian jin yao fang (Essential Prescriptions Worth Thousand Gold Coins) has thirteen different herbs in it with the amounts of each herb ranging from 15g – 3g. In Chinese medicine the cause of dementia symptoms are believed to be “turbid phlegm blocking upper orifices”. This is a qi imbalance, and the goal of treatment is to bring balance back to the qi. Some specific herbs that may used in an herbal medicine recipe are ginkgo, radix ginseng, and danshen root. Chinese massage methods Tui Na and Shiatsu are also used in treatment plans for dementia patients. These techniques are used in conjunction with acupuncture, as they, too, use the Chinese meridians and the acupuncture points. This multidimensional treatment plan is standard practice in Chinese medicine in order to cure the illness as opposed to simply treating the symptoms.
Nutrition plays an important role in treatment and possible prevention of dementia. Soy (a phyto estrogen) has been studied for cognitive enhancement and showed significant improvement in figural memory and also in verbal memory in men and women. Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid that increases the amount of actetylcholine in the brain, it also is important for mitochondrial function and cell metabolism. Alpha lipoic acid or ALA is a fatty acid found in all cells of the body and in some food, it is also a very powerful anti oxidant. ALA has many functions in the brain such as chelating metals and reducing inflammation. It also crosses the blood brain barrier to increase ACh. ALA works with acetyl L-Carnitine (ALCAR) to shuttle acetyl groups and fatty acids to the mitochondria for energy production. ALA, while at the same time clearing out toxic fatty acids, to the mitchondria for energy production. It also promotes the biosynthesis of ACh, while at the same time clearing out toxic fatty acid metabolites therefore helping to prevent the build up of beta-amyloid proteins. Coenzyme Q10 or CoQ10 is essential for mitochondrial energy production. Mitochondrial dysfunctions such as disruption of energy production, apoptosis deregulation, and altered calcium homeostasis are found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Lack of vitamins B12, A, E, folate have all been linked to cognitive decline and are therefore essential for prevention against loss of cognition.
In conclusion, there are several herbal and alternative remedies for dementia. It seems that a healthy and active lifestyle would be the best prevention. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a cure, only herbs that may sustain the level of cognition at the beginning of treatment. Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine systems seem to have the broadest and most personal treatments available, as their remedies are tailored to the patient and their specific needs. Dementia is an incredibly debilitating illness that effects millions of people in various developed countries. Maybe our solution is to go back to doing some things the old fashioned way.
Botanical Medicine in Clinical Practice (2008) Edited by Ronald Watson and Victor Preedy
International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research (3, March, 2011) Phytomedicines and Cognition A.V. Pattewar, R.G. Katedeshmukh, N.S. Vyawahare, V.G. Kagathara
The Role of Ginkgo Biloba Extract in the Integrative Management of Dementia Janelle M Wheat, Geoffery M Currie, Hosen Kiat
Modified Wenden Decoction can Attenuate Neurotoxic Action associated with AD Ping Liu, Lei Zhao, Shu-Ling Zhang, and Ji-Zhou Xiang
Alzheimer’s Disease: Pro’s and Cons of Pharmaceutical, Nutritional, Botanical, and Stimulatory Therapies with a discussion of Treatment Strategies from the Perspective of Patients and Practitioners Keith A Wollen, PhD.