The Unknown Potential of Ashwagandha a.k.a. “Horse Sweat”
Guest post by Jessie Alwerdt
The unknown mechanisms and lack of evidence of traditional medicine leaves a lot of room for criticism. With further research, there is the potential to uncover what the exact mechanism is in some of the plants used in traditional medicine. These plants may, therefore, be potential new targets for therapeutic drugs. One particular plant that has gained a lot of interest of the last few years is Withania somnifera, also named Ashwagandha. Ashwagandha is a plant that contains phytochemicals. Phytochemicals (plant compounds) are non-essential for human survival, but many have been found to be beneficial to one’s health. The majority of research involving Ashwagandha revolves around the plant’s ability to reduce oxidative stress and its ability to suppress tumors but has been limited to animal studies1,2 The most compelling research involves its use in treating or preventing Alzheimer’s disease (AD)3.
One of the hallmarks of AD includes the build-up of amyloid plaques. Amyloid circulates through the peripheral nervous system then passes through the blood-brain barrier (BBB), which regulates what enters the brain. After passing through the brain, it circulates back out through the BBB back into the peripheral nervous system as a continuous cycle. When this amyloid becomes larger and begins to misfold, the amyloid can no longer circulate through its normal cycle. This can cause amyloid build-up in the brain3. With the oral ingestion of Ashwagandha in mice with Alzheimer’s disease, there was indication of decreased amyloid plaques in the cortex and hippocampal region. Additionally, there was proper clearance of amyloid through the BBB. The results of the study suggested that Ashwagandha had the potential to break up amyloid that circulates through the BBB by targeting β oligomers, which are smaller forms of soluble amyloid that is a precursor to the larger, more harmful amyloid fibrils4. Drugs that target the BBB are great candidates for AD interventions.
As researchers begin to uncover more pieces to the puzzle to what causes AD, there is a greater understanding that there is much more going on in the body as a whole than just build-up of plaques in the brain. With more research and additional clinical trials, plants commonly used in traditional medicine, such as Ashwagandha, may hold the key to the prevention or treatment of AD.