Neurodegenerative disorders are a group of diseases in which there is a progressive loss of the structure or function of neurons or nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, resulting in progressive degeneration and death of nerve cells causing problems movement (ataxia) or mental disorders. functioning (dementia). These disorders are characterized by a standard pathological process involving inflammation; oxidative stress; abnormal depletion or insufficient synthesis of neurotransmitters; and genetic mutations, damaging protein synthesis and premature cell death. This results in an aggregation or deposition of abnormal protein clumps in various parts of the brain and spinal cord, and characteristic symptoms that help identify specific diseases. More than 200 of these diseases are listed in this group; commonly known diseases include Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Parkinson’s disease (PD), Huntington’s disease (HD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and ataxias [including Spino-Cerebellar Ataxia (SCA)].
AD is characterized by cognitive impairment leading to memory loss; disruption of reasoning, planning, language and perception; and changes in behavior. This disease causes deposits of clumps of abnormal amyloid β protein fibrils known as senile plaques. This causes macroscopic atrophy and degeneration of different parts of the brain, including the temporal lobe, parietal lobe, parts of the frontal cortex, and the lingular gyrus.
PD is a chronic, progressive movement disorder characterized by slow movement (bradykinesia), stiffness, tremor at rest, and postural instability. There is an abnormal buildup of proteins called Lewy bodies, leading to the death of dopamine-generating cells in the substantia nigra, a region of the midbrain. AD and PD are usually associated with old age.
HD is an autosomal dominant inherited disorder in adults characterized by involuntary movements, dementia and changes in behavior. There is a loss of neurons in the basal ganglia and the frontal and temporal cortex. The subthalamic nuclei send control signals to the globus pallidus which initiates and modulates movement. Weaker signals result in reduced initiation and modulation of movement, resulting in the characteristic choreographic movements (repetitive, rapid and jerky) of HD.
ALS is a disease in which motor neurons are selectively targeted for degeneration. Motor neurons are nerve cells located in the brain, brainstem and spinal cord that serve as units of control and communication links between the nervous system and the voluntary muscles of the body. Motor neurons in the brain are called higher motor neurons, while those in the spinal cord are called lower motor neurons. ALS is a rapidly progressive neurological disease affecting both the upper and lower motor neurons. There is a voluntary loss of control of the arms, legs and respiratory muscles. Muscle wasting, atrophy and muscle contractions (fasciculation) lead to problems with movement, dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), dysarthria (difficulty speaking), and spasticity. Sensory function and cognition are generally well maintained. The pathology of ALS includes protein aggregates, a mutation in the gene encoding the antioxidant Superoxide Dismutase 1 (SOD 1) and a mutation in chromosome 9. The mutation acts first on local astrocytes, causing later a toxic effect on the whole motor neuron.
Ataxias are a group of neurological disorders in which degeneration and atrophy of the cerebellum occurs, causing abnormal and uncoordinated movements, gait abnormalities, fine motor coordination disorders, difficulty speaking and swallowing , visual abnormalities, increased fatigue, and cognitive and mood problems. Types of ataxia include episodic ataxia, idiopathic ataxia, telangiectasia ataxia, oculomotor apraxia, vitamin E deficiency ataxia, and COQ10 deficiency ataxia. Freidrich’s ataxia is an autosomal recessive variety. SCA is an autosomal dominant cerebellar ataxia. It has subtypes 1, 2 and 3; SCA 7 is a slightly different type where abnormalities in vision precede ataxia.
There is currently no cure for neurodegenerative disorders; conservative treatment is mainly symptomatic and supportive in nature. Vitamins and supplements are given to help reduce symptoms or slow the progression of the disease. Occupational therapy and physiotherapy are given to maintain muscle strength and tone. Drugs are given to reduce anxiety, induce sleep, reduce pain and contractions, increase blood supply to the brain, and help balance neurotransmitters.
In this scenario, Ayurvedic treatment has a special role to play in the comprehensive management and control of neurodegenerative diseases. Preclinical and clinical studies have shown conclusively that herbal medicines cause autoimmune modulation and neuroprotection; reduce inflammation of nerve cells; reduce mitochondrial damage; and have antioxidant properties.
Ayurvedic treatment is therefore very useful in improving the general immunity of the body as well as the specific immunity of the nervous system. Ayurvedic drugs strengthen the nervous system and cause immunomodulation where there are clear signs of immune-mediated damage. Herbal remedies reduce abnormal protein synthesis and aggregation, and help remove abnormal protein deposits. These drugs also help reduce nerve inflammation and help repair and reduce demyelination. Ayurvedic treatment helps improve muscle strength, tone and neuromuscular coordination; helps rebuild damaged nerves and damaged and dysfunctional parts of the brain; modulates and stops programmed cell death of nerve cells; reduces and reverses mitochondrial dysfunction and genetic mutation; and also helps to reduce damage due to the hereditary component of nerve degeneration.
Currently, the scientific treatment of neurodegenerative disorders with Ayurvedic drugs is still in its infancy, with drug regimens being planned more on a clinical basis to treat functional disorders. This approach pays good dividends; those affected – who had not responded to all medications – began to improve at a significant rate. Hopefully – in the near future – specifically targeted treatments will emerge that will treat and reverse damage in specific parts of the nervous system. This will help speed up treatment results and identify consistent treatment approaches, which in turn will help reduce the devastating effects of these diseases on those affected and, hopefully, lead to complete remission.