The research team frequently gets asked about the effectiveness of alternative therapies and their use as treatments for MND. Here we report on a recent paper that looked at the effects of ashwagandha, or Indian ginseng, in a SOD1 mouse model of MND.
For around 3000 years Withania somnifera (WS), commonly known as ashwagandha or Indian ginseng, has been used in Ayurvedic and indigenous medicine around the world, and is thought to have powerful rejuvenating and life-prolonging qualities. But there is increasing evidence which suggests that the plant extracts (root, leaf or fruit) also have neuroprotective properties, and this has been demonstrated in several models of neurodegenerative diseases including MND.
The protective properties of WS are wide-ranging and it has been reported that it possesses anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, anti-stress and antioxidant characteristics as well as the ability to modify the immune system and formation of blood cells.
Previous studies in TDP-43 mouse models of MND showed that treatment with Withaferin A, a type of plant steroid found in extracts of WS, resulted in delayed onset and progression of the disease and longer survival compared to untreated TDP-43 mice.
Researchers in Canada further investigated the potential therapeutic effects of WS extracts in a SOD1 mouse model of MND, and their results were published in the journal Experimental Neurology in August.
WS extracts, which include small amounts of Withaferin A together with several other active compounds, were given to the SOD1 mice. This resulted in improved motor coordination, an increased number of motor neurons in the lower spine and increased longevity. WS also stimulated autophagy, a natural process which removes waste products from the cell, which might be beneficial in early stages of the disease in that it helps to maintain the healthy function of the cell.
These results, together with other positive effects that were observed in the study, suggest that this medicinal plant could be a potential therapeutic in SOD1-related MND but further research needs to be carried out to identify how best this might be achieved.