Withania somnifera, known commonly as ashwagandha, Indian ginseng, poison gooseberry, or winter cherry, is a plant in the Solanaceae or nightshade family. Several other species in the genus Withania are morphologically similar
Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) has become one of the most popular Ayurvedic herbs in use in the Western world. And it is no wonder, with all the benefits that Ashwagandha has to offer Ashwagandha has been used by Ayurveda for thousands of years as a (rejuvenative) and an adaptogenic herb, meaning that it is used to help the body resist physiological and psychological stress.The name Ashwagandha translates into “smell of a horse”; this is a reference to both the unique smell of the herb, as well as the virility of a horse, an inference to the traditional use of Ashwagandha to support a healthy male reproductive system.
Benefits of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is used to tone, support, and revitalize bodily functions. It has been revered over time for its ironic dual capacity to energize and calm at the same time. Stress can cause fatigue, often manifesting as “hyper” signs like agitation and difficulty sleeping. By providing a nourishing, energizing effect, you can support a healthy nervous system. When the stress doesn’t impact the nervous system as strongly, the “hyper” signs will naturally resolve over time, allowing for a calming effect. This quality of Ashwagandha makes it a prime supplement to use in the toning and rejuvenation process.In addition to its dual energizing/calming effect, Ashwagandha offers a number of benefits:
- Supports a healthy immune system
- Calms mental processes
- Fosters healthy sleep patterns
- Benefits a healthy reproductive system in both males and females
- Sustains energy levels, strength, and vitality, including with physical activity
- Supports healthy back and joints
Ashwagandha and Ayurveda: Traditional Uses
Ashwagandha is used in Ayurveda to balance Vata and Kapha; in excess, because of its heating, unctuous, building nature, it can imbalance Pitta, and also worsen (toxic build-up).Ayurveda recognizes Ashwagandha particularly for its building, strengthening, and nourishing nature. It is used for the same reasons as listed in the Benefits section above, particularly to support healthy muscles and reproductive systems, and to balance Vata.
How to Use Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is available in both powder and tablet forms. The traditional use is as a powder, mixed with warm milk and honey, and taken before bed,calming vata and fostering healthy sleep patterns, reproductive system, and strength. A general dose can be 1-6 grams daily. It can also be used with ghee and sugar to support the female reproductive system and joints.For a more convenient method of taking Ashwagandha, you can also find the herb in tablet form. This can be an easier method, especially for those that travel a lot, have a shortage of time, or do not like the taste of Ashwagandha tea. Banyan Botanicals prefers tablets over capsules as there is still some mild tasting of the herb that occurs. Taste starts the digestive process, and sends signals to the body as to what to expect, already initiating your body’s own inner pharmacy.
Ashwagandha has become of interest to a number of researchers, particularly as it grows in popularity.
- It has been the subject of studies to see benefit on the immune system, including possible support of the immune system which must undergo radiation and chemotherapy.
- Used in combination with Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus), Safed musli (Chlorophytum borivillanum), and Sesame seeds (seeds of Sesamum indicum), Ashwagandha has shown support of healthy cholesterol levels and antioxidant properties.
- Other studies done on Ashwagandha can be reviewed on pubmed.
Large doses of Ashwagandha can cause abdominal discomfort and diarrhea. Ashwagandha has otherwise been tolerated well in the few reported studies that exist.
The health benefits of Ashwagandha include its well-known ability to enhance stamina and its truly extraordinary stress-relieving properties.
In Sanskrit ashwagandha means “smell of a horse.” That’s because this herb is said to impart the vigor and strength of a stallion, and has traditionally been prescribed to help people strengthen their immune system after an illness.
Although ashwagandha is frequently referred to as “Indian ginseng” because of its restorative properties, traditional Chinese and Korean ginseng and ashwagandha are not related botanically.
Ashwagandha extracts have been shown to contain many beneficial compounds, including withanolides, alkaloids, choline, fatty acids, amino acids, and sugars. While its leaves and fruit do contribute to ashwagandha’s health benefits, extracts of its tuberous roots are most commonly used in herbal remedies.
As many as 200 studies have been carried out on ashwagandha. Let’s take a closer look at some of the scientific evidence for this superstar medicinal herb.
#1 – Ashwagandha Is an Adaptogen
Ashwagandha is primarily acts as an “adaptogen.” Adaptogens are substances that stabilize and balance various physiological processes within the body, especially in response to stress and a changing environment. For example, ashwagandha is known to reduce overall cellular sensitivity to stress.
Chronic stress is an ever-present facet of our modern lives and has been linked to a higher risk for a number of illnesses. In a 2016 study, a double-blind, randomized clinical trial was carried out on 52 people who were subjected to chronic stress and who received either 300 milligrams (mg) of ashwagandha or a placebo control twice daily.
Treatment with ashwagandha significantly reduced stress levels felt by the study subjects, as assessed by various questionnaires. At the same time, blood cortisol levels (a reliable indicator of stress levels), body weight, and body mass index (BMI) were noticeably better in the ashwagandha treatment group when compared to controls.
Similarly, 60 days of treatment with ashwagandha significantly reduced both stress and cortisol levels in 64 subjects in another double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial.
These studies and others indicate that ashwagandha can help to effectively and safely managing chronic stress and its consequences. Along with alleviating stress symptoms, it is also known to combat fatigue, infuse energy, and enhance powers of concentration.
Overall, ashwagandha confers a sense of rejuvenation and wellbeing.
#2 – Ashwagandha Helps Boosts Thyroid Function
Ashwagandha may be able to benefit people with low thyroid function, since animal studies show that it has a thyroid hormone balancing effect.
For instance, when ashwagandha root extract was given daily to adult mice for 20 days, researchers found that their blood levels of both thyroxine and tri-iodothyronine (T3) were increased.
Thyroxine is the hormone secreted by the thyroid gland into the blood, from where it travels to organs like the liver and kidneys and gets converted to its active form, tri-iodothyronine or T3. T3 affects almost every physiological process in the body, from growth and development to metabolism, body temperature, and heart rate.
Similarly, in a randomized clinical trial, 8 weeks of treatment with ashwagandha was seen to increase levels of thyroxine in patients with bipolar disorder.
In other words, ashwagandha appears to help correct hypothyroidism by balancing the level of thyroid hormones.
#3 – Ashwagandha Helps to Manage Blood Sugar and Insulin Levels
In a 2015 laboratory study, rats given fructose for 8 weeks showed significant increases in their blood sugar and insulin levels, along with higher insulin resistance.
However, rats treated with ashwagandha root extract along with fructose did not show these changes. In other words, the onset of diabetes-like symptoms was stopped in its tracks by ashwagandha treatment.
Separately, ashwagandha has been shown to raise the levels of the liver enzyme glucose 6-phosphatase, which is known to play a key role in controlling blood sugar levels.
#4 – Ashwagandha Neutralizes Harmful Free Radicals
In the thyroid study described earlier in which ashwagandha root extract was given daily to adult mice for 20 days, lipid peroxidation in the livers of these mice was found to be reduced as well.
Lipid peroxidation is the process by which harmful free radicals steal electrons from lipids that make up protective membranes in our body’s cells, damaging them and the cells they are meant to protect. In other words, treatment with ashwagandha root extract significantly reduced the extent of free radical-induced damage in the liver.
At the same time, it also enhanced the activity of other antioxidant enzymes that are found naturally in the liver, including superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase, thereby boosting overall antioxidant activity. Similarly, treatment with an extract of ashwagandha was seen to reduce levels of malondialdehyde – an indicator of oxidative stress – while also boosting total antioxidant capacity in mice.
#5 – Ashwagandha Helps Boost the Immune System
Laboratory evidence in mice suggests that ashwagandha can dramatically increase numbers of white blood cells, thereby boosting immune system activity. Indeed, studies have shown that ashwagandha can help prevent the immune system from becoming suppressed during chemotherapy.
Normally lower white blood cell counts occurring as a result of chemotherapy places patients at a higher risk of infections, but this risk may be reduced by ashwagandha therapy.
#6 – Ashwagandha Aids With Joint Pain
A 1991 study examined the efficacy of a herb-mineral formulation containing ashwagandha root, the stem of another medicinal herb Boswellia serrata (known as Indian frankincense or Shallaki in Sanskrit), rhizomes of Curcuma longa (turmeric) and a zinc complex in a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled, cross-over study in patients with joint pain.
In this study, 42 patients with joint pain were randomly allocated to receive either this formulation or a placebo control for three months.
At the end of the study period, severity of pain, morning stiffness, joint score, disability score, and grip strength were all observed to be significantly lower in the group treated with the herb-mineral formulation. Side effects were minor.
In conclusion, ashwagandha is a powerful adaptogenic herb whose many researched benefits include increased stamina, relief from the effects of stress, rejuvenation, balanced thyroid hormone levels, lowered blood sugar and insulin, joint pain relief, neutralization of harmful free radicals, and a powerful boost to the immune system.