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Curr Alzheimer Res. 2012 Jan;9(1):67-85.

Ethnobotanical treatment strategies against Alzheimer's disease.

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Royal Botanic Gardens, Jodrell Laboratory, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 3AB, UK.


Ethnobotany encompasses the cultural uses of plants by humans, including their uses as medicines (ethnopharmacology). The reputed medicinal properties of plants have been documented for centuries in different cultures, and there are many plant species that have been traditionally used for memory disorders, which are now being explored to determine any scientific basis for their reputed uses. Plants have been a valuable source of drugs, and phytochemicals have also provided templates to develop synthetic drugs (e.g. rivastigmine, based on the chemical structure of physostigmine from Physostigma venenosum). Although drug development from botanical origin is one aim, the use of plants as herbal medicines is still popular. Scientific evidence for efficacy and safety has been explored for many species, although more research is needed, particularly to identify active phytochemicals to produce standardised herbal products. For Alzheimer's disease (AD) there are relatively few drugs available to treat symptoms, and there is a lack of successful therapies that modulate disease progression. Since two of the currently licensed drugs for AD are based on natural products (galantamine and rivastigmine), it is not surprising that many plants are now being investigated as a potential source of new therapies for AD. This review discusses those plants that have ethnobotanical uses suggestive of alleviation of AD pathology and associated symptoms, for cognitive and for behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD). An emphasis is placed on those plants that have shown some promising effects in clinical studies with dementia patients (e.g. Crocus sativus, Ginkgo biloba, Salvia species), but other plants and their phytochemicals showing relevant mechanistic effects for AD (e.g. Bacopa monnieri, Centella asiatica, Ptychopetalum olacoides) are also discussed.

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