Neurological disorders

A lot of research is being done on the efficacy of Ayurvedic herbal medicines for geriatric complaints, especially neurological disorders.Dr G S Lavekar, Director-General of the Central Council for Research in Ayurveda and Siddha, New Delhi, writes about some of the findings.

The twenty-first century is witnessing a gradual decline in fertility, and with increase in life expectancy, society will need to grapple with issues of longevity. The cause of morbidity and mortality world over is shifting from communicable diseases a few decades ago to non-communicable diseases. Among the significant causes of morbidity among the aged people are neurological disorders. Insomnia has troubled people for ages; recent studies have thrown more light on diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Insomnia

It is estimated that half of all people over the age of 65 suffer from chronic sleep disturbance. Even those who are healthy, the frequency of sleep disorders is associated with an impairment of melatonin production. Melatonin, produced by the pineal gland at night, plays a role in regulation of sleep-wake cycle. A recent study investigated the effect of melatonin on sleep quality in 12 elderly subjects who complained of insomnia. In all 12 subjects, the amount of melatonin excreted during the night was lower than in non-insomniac elderly people. After the subjects were treated with 2mg of controlled – release melatonin each night for three weeks, it was determined that melatonin replacement therapy effectively improved sleep quality in the study population.

Ayurvedic treatment:
Body massage with medicated oils (abhyanga), foot massage with medicated oils (padabhyanga), head massage (shiro abhyanga) and pouring of medicated oil/liquid on head (shirodhara) are found to be effective for insomnia.

ALZHEIMER’ S DISEASE

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neuro-degenerative disorder seen in older adults; it is the most common cause of dementia in the elderly and the underlying disorder in over 50 per cent of individual with significant memory loss.
It is not known exactly what causes Alzheimer’s. Obviously, a major risk factor is age. Women are afflicted more with the disease partly due to their longer life expectancy. An inherited mutation in some genes (APP, presenilin 1 and presenilin 2) may lead to early onset dementia. Head trauma may be another risk factor. An elevated plasma homocysteine level has recently been described as an independent risk factor.

Free radicals have been linked in a lengthy list of agerelated disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease. It is believed that free radicals can be neutralised by antioxidants. Vitamins E and C have been shown to decrease the levels of free radicals in the blood.

Antioxidant activity of active principles of Withania somnifera, consisting of equimolax concentrations of sitoindosides VII-X and withaferin A, was investigated for their effects on rat brain frontal cortical and striatal concentrations of superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT) and glutathione peroxidase (GPX). Results were compared with effects induced by deprenyl, an agent with welldocumented antioxidant activity and was found to be comparable. These findings are consistent with the therapeutic use of W somnifera as an Ayurvedic Rasayana and Medhyarasayana. The anti-oxidant effect of active principles of W. somnifera may explain, at least in part, the reported anti-stress, immunemodulatory, cognition-facilitating, anti-inflammatory and antiaging effects produced by them in experimental animals, and in clinical situations.

Studies have found that individual pretreatments with chlorophyll and aqueous extracts of B. Monniera and Tagara (Valeriana wallichii) markedly attenuated ischaemica-reperfusion induced cerebral injury in terms of decreased infarct size, increase in short-term memory, motor in coordination and lateral push response. The results suggest that chlorophyll and aqueous extracts of both the plants prevent ischaemia-reperfusion induced cerebral injury with comparable potency.

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