Which herbs and compounds are best indicated in boosting cognitive health?
Malnutrition contributes to impaired structure and functioning of the brain and the resulting neuropsychiatric disorders. Some herbal extracts have a remarkable impact on lifestyle-related disorders and mental health. Tannin-containing compounds, such as lavender, help in releasing stress and lowering blood pressure. Modern-day probiotics are said to have positive effects in neurological conditions, such as depression and Alzheimer’s disease. The saponin derivatives, Bacoside A and Bacoside B, and Brahmine, an alkaloid derivative, obtained from brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) are well known in Ayurveda for their neurocognitive-enhancing properties.
Withanolides and Withanone, obtained from Ashwagandha, are proven to have memory-boosting and neurocognitive-enhancing properties. Ashwagandha extract inhibits the enzyme acetylcholinesterase involved in neurodegeneration and indirectly facilitates the transmission of cholinergic neurons and is highly recommended in the treatment and management of Alzheimer’s disease.
Cyanidin (anthocyanidins), mainly seen in cranberries, strawberries, etc. is known to exert anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects in our body by suppressing the activation of proinflammatory cytokines and ultimately protect the brain from cell damage. Curcumin, a well-known phenolic compound from turmeric, has neuroprotective properties.
Fish oil, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids, is popular for its neuroprotective effects by multiple pathways.
What are the predominant challenges faced by the industry in this space?
The nutraceutical industry is the rapidly establishing segment of today’s food market. Several classes for foods and beverages can be applied for neurological benefits. Nutrients like vitamins and minerals are basically required for healthy neurological function. Herbal extracts, probiotics, nutraceutical enzymes, fortified nutraceuticals are the range of products the food industry can explore. The major challenge in tackling neurological disorders is the lack of awareness amongst the Indian population, further leading to delayed detection. In addition, the limited access to quality healthcare and rehabilitation centres add to the challenges faced in providing treatment. Awareness of dietary and lifestyle variables that increase the risk of stroke and dementia in India will help improve the quality of life. Changes in lifestyle, food habits, stress and pollution, have contributed to the increase of these conditions in India. Simple lifestyle changes such as consuming a healthy diet, avoiding unhealthy refined foods, staying physically active, and paying attention to one's mental health regularly will go a long way to aid neurological health.
What are the ground realities that need urgent attention?
Mental illness is the pandemic of the 21st century and will be the next major global health challenge. In spite of the increased availability of newer drugs, limited efficacy, safety issues, and high treatment costs have resulted in an enormous unmet need for the treatment of neurological diseases. Collaboration between industry-academia will foster discussion and knowledge exchange to facilitate scientific translation better.
Better reproducibility, replicability and robustness of neuroscience research will enable the discovery of new therapeutic modalities. Several natural products have traditionally been used for these diseases, but systematic scientific evidence to support the use of herbal remedies is still lacking. Industry-academia partnership can fasten the clinical evaluation, better formulations, and mechanistic aspects of herb action, which will lead to the acceptability of the natural products by the medical community.
Dr Manbeena Chawla