The use of Ayurveda can be traced back to 6000 BC. For most of these 6000 years, ashwagandha has been a critical component. Even today, it is used as a general tonic to relieve stress, fatigue, pain, and inflammation (1).
Ashwagandha has a unique phytochemical composition that is responsible for these benefits. Having it in optimal quantity may also combat cancer. Know more about this Indian revitalizing aphrodisiac in this informative read.
Table Of Contents
What Is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an Ayurvedic herb. It is endemic to India, Pakistan, Spain, Africa, parts of the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. The leaves, fruits, seeds, shoots, and roots of this plant have all been used in traditional medicine (1), (2).
It is often referred to as ‘Indian ginseng’ because of its anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties. As many as 35 different phytochemicals have been identified in ashwagandha extracts (2).
The plant parts have alkaloids, saponins, steroidal lactones (withanolides), polyphenols, phytosterols, fatty acids, etc. in varying proportions (2).
Hence, ashwagandha is used as a general tonic to boost energy and reduce fatigue. It is also known to possess anti-aging effects. There is enough evidence to prove these benefits and safety of the herb.
Check out the following sections for a detailed account on ashwagandha.
What Does Ashwagandha Do To Your Body?
This ancient herb is a broad-spectrum medicine. From arthritis to Alzheimer’s disease, ashwagandha extracts may relieve almost every chronic disorder. It can promote immunity and also revitalize your body (3).
1. May Control Thyroid Imbalance
Ashwagandha may subtly increase thyroxine levels. Hence, this herb may be used to control clinical hypothyroidism (low levels of thyroid hormones). A dose of 600 mg (per day) of ashwagandha root extract was given to 50 subjects with a thyroid imbalance. Almost all the subjects showed significant improvement in thyroid profiles (4), (5).
It contains phytochemicals like alkaloids, saponins, and steroids that assist in hormone synthesis. They boost the T4 hormone levels. T4 to T3 hormone transformation is also triggered (6).
2. Manages Mental Health
Aging is accompanied by memory loss, low-stress tolerance, and mental health issues. These might lead to underperformance, low self-esteem, and weakened immunity. Using alternative medicine in individuals battling these conditions showed positive results (7).
Ashwagandha roots reduced stress and improved the quality of life in the elderly. They decrease the levels of cortisol, a neurotransmitter that elevates stress. Also, traditional medicine used this herb to manage psychiatric conditions (8).
Small-scale clinical trials demonstrate the effect of this Ayurvedic remedy on schizophrenia and depression. While its mechanism needs further investigation, ashwagandha is a promising solution for stress, schizophrenia, and other age-related brain diseases (9).
3. Effective Against Inflammatory Disorders
Ayurveda uses this herb to treat several inflammatory disorders. Ashwagandha proved to be effective against gastric ulcers, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s (neurodegenerative) disorders (10).
Several studies prove that this herb slows, stops, reverses, or even removes neuritic atrophy (nerve-borne pain) and loss of synapses in your brain. Ashwagandha can, therefore, relieve chronic pain (analgesic property) (10).
Also, it suppresses the production of pro-inflammatory chemical messengers in your body. This is one reason its extracts have been used to treat arthritis, skin diseases, swelling, constipation, goiter, boils, pimples, colic, and piles (10), (11).
4. Combats Anxiety And Depression
Recent research and traditional use of ashwagandha confirm its anxiolytic properties. It brings down the levels of anxiety and depression by acting directly on your nervous system (12).
Panic attacks cause the brain to release fair amounts of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. This could lead to headaches, dizziness, fatigue, insomnia, and ultimately, nerve damage/death (13).
Herbs like ashwagandha protect the neurons from this damage. It is, hence, used as a mild tranquilizer/antidepressant (13).
5. Helps Treat Diabetes
According to animal studies, the leaf and root extracts of ashwagandha possess antidiabetic effects. The flavonoids in these tissues improve insulin sensitivity in individuals with diabetes (14), (15).
These extracts brought down the levels of several markers of diabetes. Urine sugar, blood glucose, glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c), and liver enzyme levels were all restored in treated subjects (14).
Ashwagandha also controls lipid metabolism in those with diabetes. It may prevent inflammation induced by hyperlipidemia (high lipid levels) and the resultant organ damage (14).
6. May Enhance Sex Hormone Levels
Traditional medicine describes ashwagandha as an aphrodisiac. It is employed to treat male sexual dysfunction and infertility. Accordingly, clinical trials report a rise in serum testosterone and progesterone levels in subjects treated with ashwagandha (16).
The hormone-boosting effects of this herb are more pronounced in males. Several experiments and papers show increased libido because of enhanced testosterone levels in males. Ashwagandha lowers the levels of FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone) while boosting testosterone (17), (18).
Using optimal amounts of ashwagandha may increase sperm concentration, semen volume, and sperm motility in oligospermic males. It also exerts anxiolytic, anti-inflammatory, and stress-reducing effects, which may contribute to better sexual behavior (17), (18).
7. Increases Muscle Mass And Strength
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen. Adaptogens are herbs that shield/condition your body to adapt to extreme conditions, including high physical, mental, or chemical stress. Such herbs, especially ashwagandha, work well as an ergogenic aid (22).
Exercise is also a form of stress, and this herb extract helps your body endure it. The root extract boosts testosterone and exerts anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects. This improves focus/concentration and endurance and ultimately increases muscle mass (22).
Studies show faster recovery from a muscle injury in subjects that took ashwagandha. This could be because of its anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. This traditional herbal supplement can, therefore, aid bodybuilding and core-building activities (22).
However, more research is warranted to understand the implications of the long-term usage of ashwagandha.
8. May Prevent Cancer
Ashwagandha, like several Ayurvedic supplements, exhibits anti-cancer/anti-tumor properties. Traditional preparations with this herb are employed to prevent and manage carcinogenesis (23).
Its leaf and root extracts have phytochemicals, like withanolides. They induce cell death and block the blood supply to growing tumors (angiogenesis). Studies on prostate, breast, lung, cervical, colon, skin, and liver cancers showed retarded tumor growth and progression following treatment with ashwagandha (23).
Ashwagandha also improves the quality of life in those undergoing chemotherapy (23).
All the above benefits (and other unexplored ones) are brought about by the active constituents of this herb. Read the following section to get to know them in detail.
Active Ingredients Of Ashwagandha
Alkaloids, steroidal lactones, tannins, and saponins are the primary molecules in ashwagandha that help battle cancer, stress, aging effects, fertility, and inflammation. The identified alkaloids in ashwagandha roots include nicotine, somniferine, somniferinine, choline, hygrine, tropine, somnine, withamine, visamine, withanmine, and withanaminine (10), (24).
Most of the therapeutic properties are ascribed to the bioactive steroidal lactones (called withanolides) in ashwagandha. They are majorly present in the roots, aerial parts, and berries of ashwagandha. Withaferin A, D, E, withanone, trienolide, withanolide, etc. have been identified so far (24).
How To Take Ashwagandha? What About The Dosage?
Ashwagandha is an herb that can be taken in multiple ways. Brewed root tea, milk-based tea, dried root, and leaf extracts, leaf paste, etc. are the preferred ways to ingest ashwagandha.
About 1000 mg/kg of oral doses have shown promising pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects as per lab trials (10).
However, there is insufficient information to establish a safe dosage limit for this adaptogenic herb. The dosage might be dependent on age, sex, and medical history. It is, hence, best to consult your healthcare provider.
Also, because ashwagandha is an herbal remedy, there are fair chances of herb-drug interactions. Read more about this below.
What Are The Drug Interactions With Ashwagandha?
Reports have shown pharmaceutical drug interactions with this herb. Such cases commonly arise when you take ashwagandha with (25):
- Benzodiazepines (sedative/sleeping pills)
- Blood pressure/blood-thinning medication, etc.
Ashwagandha may interact with these drugs and increase sedation, resulting in coma. It may also cause sudden fluctuations in levels of blood pressure and blood sugar.
Does Ashwagandha Have Any Side Effects?
It may be safe to have ashwagandha orally for a short-term. Almost no reports of toxicity with ashwagandha have been reported (3).
But long-term use or large doses of ashwagandha may cause diarrhea, upset stomach, and nausea. Also, there isn’t enough data to prove its safety in extended usage.
It is not clear if this herb should be used during pregnancy and lactation. The components of ashwagandha may not be transferred via breast milk to the fetus.
You might want to avoid using such herbal remedies on newborns and infants too.
In any case, follow the instructions given by your doctor or the manufacturer if you wish to use ashwagandha (26).
Ashwagandha is one of the prime ingredients in Ayurvedic preparations. It improves mental and reproductive health and boosts resilience and longevity if taken in the right amounts. Ashwagandha is an effective adaptogen and can enhance your immunity.
But because it might interact with specific drugs, we urge you to discuss taking ashwagandha with your physician. Taking it in prescribed doses will ensure an active and healthy life ahead!
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- ASHWAGANDHA, LiverTox, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, US Department of Health & Human Services.
- The Modulatory Role of Ashwagandha Root Extract on Gamma-Radiation-Induced Nephrotoxicity and Cardiotoxicity in Male Albino Rats, American Journal of Phytomedicine and Clinical Therapeutics, CiteSeerX, The Pennsylvania State University.
- Effect of Ashwagandha 3(Withania Somnifera) Root Extract Against Gentamicin Induced Changes of Serum Urea and Creatinine Levels in Rats, The Journal of Bangladesh Society of Physiologists, CiteSeerX, The Pennsylvania State University.
- Subtle changes in thyroid indices during a placebo-controlled study of an extract of Withania somnifera in persons with bipolar disorder, Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Subclinical Hypothyroid Patients: A Double-Blind, Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Review on Miracle of Herbals in Treatment and Regulation of Thyroid, International Journal of Trend in Scientific Research and Development (IJTSRD), Academia.
- Impact Of Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) On Mental Health Profile Of Elderly Women, European Scientific Journal, CiteSeerX, The Pennsylvania State University.
- A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults, Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Effects of a standardized extract of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on depression and anxiety symptoms in persons with schizophrenia participating in a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda, African Journal of Traditional, Complementary, and Alternative Medicines, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Ashwagandha root extract exerts anti inflammatory effects in HaCaT cells by inhibiting the MAPK/NF κB pathways and by regulating cytokines. International Journal for Molecular Medicine, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- An Alternative Treatment for Anxiety: A Systematic Review of Human Trial Results Reported for the Ayurvedic Herb Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Ashwagandha for Anxiety, Health And Wellness, Wayne State University.
- Hypoglycaemic and Hypolipidaemic Effects of Withania somnifera Root and Leaf Extracts on Alloxan-Induced Diabetic Rats, International Journal of Molecular Sciences, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Effect of Withania somnifera on insulin sensitivity in non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus rats. Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Study Examining the Hormonal and Vitality Effects of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in Aging, Overweight Males, American Journal of Men’s Health, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Effect of Withania somnifera on levels of sex hormones in the diabetic male rats, Iranian Journal of Reproductive Medicine, CiteSeerX, The Pennsylvania State University.
- Treatment of Nonclassic 11-Hydroxylase Deficiency with Ashwagandha Root, Case Reports in Endocrinology, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Withania somnifera prevents morphine withdrawal-induced decrease in spine density in nucleus accumbens shell of rats: a confocal laser scanning microscopy study. Neurotoxicity Research, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Traditional Chinese and Indian medicine in the treatment of opioid-dependence: a review, Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Withania somnifera: from prevention to treatment of cancer, Author manuscript, HHS Public Access, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Botanical, chemical and pharmacological review of Withania somnifera (Indian ginseng): an ayurvedic medicinal plant, Indian Journal of Drugs and Diseases, CiteSeerX, The Pennsylvania State University.
- Herbal Remedies: Drug-Herb Interactions, Critical-Care Nurses, American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, CiteSeerX, The Pennsylvania State University.
- Withania, Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed), Bookshelf, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Patanjali Divya Ashwagandharishta
- Himalaya Ashwagandha General Wellness Review
- Patanjali Ashwagandha Capsule Benefits
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