Ashwagandha, an exotic Indian herb, has remarkable stress-relieving properties comparable to those of powerful drugs used to treat depression and anxiety. In addition to its excellent protective effects on the nervous system, ashwagandha may be a promising alternative treatment for a variety of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Ashwagandha has powerful antioxidant properties that seek and destroy the free radicals that have been implicated in aging and numerous disease states. Even more remarkable, emerging evidence suggests that ashwagandha has anti-cancer benefits as well.
Ashwagandha is also called Indian ginseng, winter cherry, & Withania Somnifera. Although it grows naturally in North America and Africa, it is most commonly associated with the Ayurvedic traditions of the east. Ayurveda is an ancient philosophy and application of natural health common in India and the Far East. This tradition is known to use the roots of the Withania Somnifera plant to prepare Ashwagandha. This herb has been used for a myriad of health conditions throughout the centuries by Ayurvedic medicine men.
Ashwagandha, one of the most vital herbs in Ayurvedic healing, has been used since ancient times for a wide variety of conditions, but is most well known for its restorative benefits. In Sanskrit ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse,” indicating that the herb imparts the vigor and strength of a stallion, and it has traditionally been prescribed to help people strengthen their immune system after an illness. In fact, it’s frequently referred to as “Indian ginseng” because of its rejuvenating properties (although botanically, ginseng and ashwagandha are unrelated). In addition, ashwagandha is also used to enhance sexual potency for both men and women.
Scientists speculate that some of ashwagandha’s benefits stem from its antioxidant properties and ability to scavenge free radicals.
Two main classes of compounds—steroidal alkaloids and steroidal lactones—may account for its broad range of beneficial effects. Steroidal lactones comprise a class of constituents called withanolides. To date, scientists have identified and studied at least 12 alkaloids and 35 withanolides. Much of ashwagandha’s pharmacological activity has been attributed to two primary withanolides, withaferin A and withanolide
Other studies reveal that ashwagandha has antimicrobial properties, with antibacterial activity against potentially dangerous bacteria, including Salmonella, an organism associated with food poisoning. This activity was demonstrated in cell cultures as well as in infected laboratory animals.
Additional studies show that ashwagandha root extract enhances the ability of macrophage immune cells to “eat” pathogens, as compared to macrophages from a control group that did not receive ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha contains many useful medicinal chemicals, including withanolides, (steroidal lactones), alkaloids, choline, fatty acids, amino acids, and a variety of sugars. While the leaves and fruit have valuable therapeutic properties, the root of the ashwagandha plant is the part most commonly used in Western herbal remedies.
Medical researchers have been studying ashwagandha with great interest and as of this date have carried out 216 studies of its healing benefits, summarized below:
confers immune system protection
combats the effects of stress
improves learning, memory, and reaction time
reduces anxiety and depression without causing drowsiness
stabilizes blood sugar
reduces brain-cell degeneration
contains anti-malarial properties
offers anti-inflammatory benefits
Some studies have also found that ashwagandha inhibits the growth of cancer cells in small animals, but further research is needed to determine whether the herb prevents the development of tumors in human beings.
Ashwagandha in particular is known for its ability to calm, and some research indicates this herb can be used to promote sleep. In Texas, researchers noted the similarities in the sleep-inducing properties of ashwagandha and the calming effects of the well-known amino acid GABA. Likewise, ashwagandha has also been shown to ease anxiety or restlessness, as well as to reduce the symptoms of drug withdrawal. Its ability to stabilize moods and encourage adrenal recovery is highly valued by many herbalists.
But the benefits of ashwagandha extend far beyond mood. In India it is also used to help older patients with mental agility, cognitive ability, and memory. It is also known for its ability to fight off cold and cough symptoms. Preliminary studies give researchers reason to feel that ashwagandha also has the potential ability to decrease cancer cells without adversely affecting healthy cells.
Ashwagandha is also considered by many to be an anti-aging supplement, and it traditionally was known for its ability to provide nourishment to bones and muscles. Studies have also shown that the orange berries from the ashwagandha can be used topically to aid carbuncles, skin ulcers, and tumors. Further research looks to determine its effectiveness as a treatment for bone cancer, diabetes, bipolar disorder, constipation, impotency, rheumatism, nerve problems, memory loss, arthritis, and many other physical ailments. Its effectiveness is thought to be similar to the herb ginseng used by the Chinese.
Ashwagandha Uses & Effectiveness
Altering immune system function
Preventing the signs of aging
Ashwagandha Practical and Precautions
The usual recommended dose is 600 to 1000 mg, twice daily. For people who suffer from insomnia and anxiety, having a cup of hot milk that contains a teaspoon of powdered ashwagandha before bedtime is beneficial. In extremely large doses, ashwagandha has been reported to induce abortions in animals. Although no similar studies have been carried out on humans, women should avoid the herb during pregnancy.You should consult your ayurvedic doctor or other health care professional before starting on any ayurveda treatment.
Ashwagandha Side Effects & Safety
Ashwagandha is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken by mouth short-term. The long-term safety of ashwagandha is not known. Large doses of ashwagandha might cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and vomiting.
It’s not known whether it’s safe to apply ashwagandha directly to the skin.
Special Precautions & Warnings:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Do not use ashwagandha if you are pregnant. It is rated LIKELY UNSAFE during pregnancy. There is some evidence that ashwagandha might cause miscarriages. Not enough is known about the use of ashwagandha during breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
Stomach ulcers: Ashwagandha can irritate the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Don’t use ashwagandha if you have a stomach ulcer.
“Auto-immune diseases” such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or other conditions: Ashwagandha might cause the immune system to become more active, and this could increase the symptoms of auto-immune diseases. If you have one of these conditions, it’s best to avoid using ashwagandha.
Surgery: Ashwagandha may slow down the central nervous system. Healthcare providers worry that anesthesia and other medications during and after surgery might increase this effect. Stop taking ashwagandha at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.