Huntington’s disease (HD), also known as Huntington’s chorea, is a rare, degenerative neurological disease with a strong hereditary component. Children with one affected parent have a 50 percent chance of inheriting the disease. Symptoms are progressive in nature and include involuntary jerky movements, impaired muscular coordination, falls, slurred speech, difficulty in swallowing, mood changes, and dementia. Symptoms usually become apparent during middle age, and death may occur from between ten to thirty years. Rarely, children too may be affected with a juvenile form of the disease, which progresses much faster than the adult-onset disease.
The basal ganglia and the brain cortex are the parts most affected by HD. The faulty HD gene produces abnormal triple nucleotides, the sequence of which is repeated several times over. Patients with HD have 36 or more repeats (normal people have 26 or less); this causes the formation of an unusually large Huntingtin protein, which is toxic and gradually causes degeneration of the brain.
HD can currently be neither prevented nor cured; however, several medicines in the modern (Allopathic) system of medicine can help alleviate symptoms. Most of the medicines work by modulating neurotransmitters and include tetrabenazine and duetetrabenazine. Useful medicines also include antipsychotics like risperidone, olanzapine and haloperidol; antidepressants like citalopram, sertraline, fluoxetine and nortriptyline; and mood-stabilizers like lithium. In addition to medications, the long term management of people with HD includes graded physical exercise, proper nutrition, and planned care-giving.
In this scenario, Ayurvedic herbal treatment of HD assumes special significance, since the treatment has been observed to be very effective within a short duration of time. Treatment consists of oral medication for regeneration and repair of damaged brain cells and improvement in function. Herbal medicines which work well for HD treatment help with improved metabolism, decrease in faulty protein production, and reduction in aberrant nerve impulses due to deposition of abnormal protein. All these are directed at the nerve and brain (Majja) tissue.
Oral treatment is supplemented with specialized Panchkarma techniques which include Shirobasti (medicated oil kept on the scalp within a cap), Nasya (medicated nasal drops), sarvang snehan and swedan (full body oil massage with fomentation), and Basti (medicated enema). These procedures are prescribed in combination courses; the medications used, as well as the frequency and spacing of procedures, may differ from patient to patient, as per the presentation and severity of symptoms.
Panchkarma procedures help to reduce the number and dosage of oral medications, thereby reducing the chances of long term complications and bringing about increased compliance. Results are also faster and much more apparent; patients with moderate or advanced symptoms may see significant improvement with just 7-14 days of treatment! Once the symptoms are stabilized, further treatment can be planned as needed, while carefully monitoring the patient on a long term basis. This reduces the treatment free interval, thereby considerably reducing financial burden and emotional stress for patients as well as caregivers.
Ayurvedic herbal treatment thus has a significant role to play in the long term treatment and management of HD.