Adaptogenic combo cuts anxiety among cognitive impairment sufferers

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images/coffeekai
Getty Images/coffeekai

Related tags ashwagandha adaptogenic herbs adaptogens Cognitive health Cognitive decline cognitive support

A proprietary combination of two adaptogenic herbs has been shown to increase brain activity associated with a calming effect among subjects suffering mild cognitive impairment.

Stress and anxiety are side effects of mild cognitive impairment, and are the cause of the prescription of various drugs in this population. One study in Sweden found that almost 50% of patients diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment suffered from anxiety​, and that a far higher percentage of this group went on to develop full blown Alzheimer’s disease.

Measuring anxiety is often done with questionnaires, but the researchers in the present study took a different tack and decided to examine what the botanical product intervention did to the brain activity of the subjects.

The study was conducted by researchers associated with German contract research organization NeuroCode AG and Swedish natural products company Phytomed AB.  The research material, branded as Adaptra Forte, is a combination of Andrographis paniculata​ and Withania somnifera ​(ashwaganda).  Ashwaganda is well known and studied; Andrographis​ less so. One recent review of research into the species ​found that, “Different types of formulations, extracts and pure compounds obtained from this plant have been shown to possess biological activities including anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-diabetic, cytotoxicity, immune modulatory, sex hormone modulatory, liver enzyme modulatory, anti-malaria, anti-angiogenic and hepato-renal protective activity.”

Brain wave activity clearly affected;  performance on tests less so

The study using the Adaptra Forte combination recruited 16 elderly subjects who had been diagnosed with mile cognitive impairment, of which 15 completed the test.  The subjects ingested either a placebo or the test material in this double blinded, crossover study, after which their brain wave activity was measured at 17 locations around their craniums. The subjects completed various cognitive tests including one that included a financial reward (presumably to increase the chance of inducing anxiety).  A secondary outcome was the subjects’ performance on the cognitive tests.  The researchers found the brain wave alterations they had postulated they would, but showed a smaller, more nuanced outcome on the cognitive test performance.

“In conclusion, spectral changes in the quantitative EEG induced by Adaptra Forte seem to indicate calming as well as anxiolytic properties, possibly also inducing better coping with stress. Improvements with respect to mental challenges despite the calming action were only observed when the difference between the first and last experimental day were regarded. Higher significance of the results is expected from a future study with a larger number of participants. The results are in line with the adaptogenic properties previously characterized for ​Withania and ​Andrographis preparations in the literature,”​ they concluded.

Good to see quality research is ongoing

Stefan Gafner, PhD, chief science officer of the American Botanical Council, said the study is a valuable addition to the literature on these adaptogenic herbs.

“I am always pleased to see companies investing in good clinical data to support the safety and efficacy of their botanical products. This is well-designed clinical study in my opinion. While the patient numbers are too small (with only 16 people, 15 who completed the treatment) to come to wide-ranging conclusions, the results have been quite positive, and definitely warrant further confirmation in larger clinical trials,​” he said.

 “The results suggest a reduction in anxiety and stress, and activation of those categories of brainwaves (delta and theta*) that are responsible for relaxation. The patients also showed improved cognitive performance, but it’s difficult to tell if this improvement stems from the ability to sleep better, or if there was a direct effect of the treatment on the cognitive performance,”​ he added.

Cognitive support a new angle for herb

Gafner noted, as did the 2014 review cited above, that Andrographis​ has not been researched very much for its cognitive and mood supporting effects, and has more research behind it for its effects on the common cold. But he did note that Italian company Indena has patented an Andrographispaniculata/Gingko biloba​ combination for cognitive support, and some animal studies do support the use of the herb in this way.

“I find the andrographis/ashwagandha combination interesting. While much of the focus to explain the benefits in the paper was given to ashwagandha roots, I believe that a more thorough discussion of the various animal studies on cognitive benefits of andrographis would have been helpful, since andrographis herb is the main ingredient in the test product,” ​he added.

2020, 13​(3), 45;
Effects of an Adaptogenic Extract on Electrical Activity of the Brain in Elderly Subjects with Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Two-Armed Cross-Over Study
Authors: Dimpfel W, et al.

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