Objective: Cognitive impairments contribute significantly to inadequate functional recovery following illness episodes in bipolar disorder, yet data on treatment interventions are sparse. We assessed the cognitive effects of a standardized extract of the medicinal herb Withania somnifera (WSE) in bipolar disorder.
Method: Sixty euthymic subjects with DSM-IV bipolar disorder were enrolled in an 8-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study of WSE (500 mg/d) as a procognitive agent added adjunctively to the medications being used as maintenance treatment for bipolar disorder. Study enrollment and data analyses were completed between December 2008 and September 2012. Cognitive testing at baseline and 8 weeks assessed primary efficacy outcomes. Psychopathology and adverse events were monitored at scheduled visits.
Results: Fifty-three patients completed the study (WSE, n = 24; placebo, n = 29), and the 2 groups were matched in terms of demographic, illness, and treatment characteristics. Compared to placebo, WSE provided significant benefits for 3 cognitive tasks: digit span backward (P = .035), Flanker neutral response time (P = .033), and the social cognition response rating of the Penn Emotional Acuity Test (P = .045). The size of the WSE treatment effect for digit span backward was in the medium range (Cohen d = 0.51; 95% CI, 0.25-0.77). None of the other cognitive tasks showed significant between-group differences. Mood and anxiety scale scores remained stable, and adverse events were minor.
Conclusions: Although results are preliminary, WSE appears to improve auditory-verbal working memory (digit span backward), a measure of reaction time, and a measure of social cognition in bipolar disorder. Given the paucity of data for improving cognitive capacity in bipolar disorder, WSE offers promise, appears to have a benign side-effects profile, and merits further study.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT00761761.
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