ASHWAGANDHA –Withania Somnifera, Withania Obtusifolia, Withania Coagulans, etc.
Also known as: Indian Ginseng, Winter Cherry, Poison Gooseberry, etc.
Parts used: roots, berries, leaves, flowers, seeds, bark
Systems/organs affected: brain, muscular, eyes, blood, skin, nervous, cardiac, reproductive, structural, glandular, liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal, immune, lungs
Properties: adaptogen, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, heart tonic, anti-stress, sedative, cognitive, antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-parasitic, anti-carcinogenic, anti-tumor, neuroprotective, antidiabetic, analgesic, emmenogogue, immune enhancing, vulnerary, detoxifying, antispasmodic, antivenomous, aphrodisiac, narcotic, diuretic, astringent, stimulant, etc.
Ashwagandha is a member of the Solanaceae family more commonly known as the Nightshades. There are around 3000 species in this family found throughout the globe, some of which are: potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, belladonna, mandrake, petunia, henbane and tobacco. People who suffer from arthritis are commonly advised to avoid this family as it is believed they aggravate the condition. Ashwagandha is a bush-like plant with five petaled yellow flowers and alternating leaves. The flowers are followed by small, cherry-like fruit that are encased in a paper lantern type cocoon. It is native to India, the Middle East and North Africa. It prefers well drained soil but seems to be tolerant of other soil conditions as well.
In India this plant is referred to as the ‘Queen of Ayurveda’ and aptly so. It is also commonly called Indian Ginseng and is similarly to how the Chinese use ginseng for any number of conditions. In Sanskrit Ashwagandha means the ‘smell of the horse’ because the root does have a sweaty horse aroma. In Ayurvedic terms it is called Rasayana (to lengthen or rejuvenate) and is believed to increase longevity and health. Ashwagandha is also an adaptogen which means that it can help to normalize functions in the body that may be brought on by stress.
This plant has a history dating back thousands of years-beginning in India and Asia although it is used throughout Africa and the Mediterranean as well. There have been close to 400 studies done on this plant and it still has yet to become popular in the western world. The root has been used here in the usa but in other countries they use the entire plant more often than not. These studies have covered everything from neurological issues to immune problems to adrenal fatigue and cancer. The outcome of these studies are nothing short of amazing and makes me realize how much of a threat this plant could be to big pharma. (Perhaps that is why it isn’t actually used more in this country..)
To touch on some of the things it has been used for I have included a few of the studies below as an overview of its potential.
1) In 2000, a study was published on its effects for anxiety and depression. Patients were given an oral supplement for 5 days of ashwagandha. The results found that this herb worked just as well as Lorazepam (anti-anxiety) and Imipramine (antidepressant). (Phytomedicine, 2000 Dec; 7(6):463-9)
2) In the case of chronic stress, brains of sacrificed animals were found to show significant signs of degeneration due to stress (up to 85% of brain cells were damaged). When chronically stressed animals had been given ashwagandha before being sacrificed, their brain degeneration was reduced by eighty percent! (Phytotherapy Research, 2001 Sept; 15(6):544-8)
3) The Institute of Natural Medicine at the Toyama Medical and Pharmaceutical University in Japan has been studying its effects on nerve pathways for years. Scientists found that ashwagandha assisted in the regeneration of axons and dendrites as well as the reconstruction of synapses. This study concluded that ashwagandha helps the body to reconstruct nervous system networks making it a potential for neurodegenerative diseases. (British Journal of Pharmacology, 2005 Apr; 144(7):961-71)
4) Scientists in India found that ashwagandha can inhibit cancers reproduction. It was found to be effective against colon, breast, stomach, skin, brain, ovarian and lung cancer cells. A recent analysis found it worked as well as doxorubicin (a drug commonly used for chemotherapy). In fact, it was MORE effective at inhibiting breast and colon cancer than doxorubicin. (Alternative Medicine Review, 2004 June; 9(2):211-14) (Life Science, 2003 Nov. 21; 74(1):125-32)
5) Some studies found ashwagandha to be a powerful antibacterial agent working against such things as Salmonella, Stapholococcus Aureus (MRSA), E. Coli, Pseudomonas Aeruginosa and Bacillus Subtilis. (Phytomedicine, 2005 Mar; 12(3):229-35)
6) A study done on menopausal women found that those who supplemented with ashwagandha had significantly less symptoms associated with the change of life than those not using the herb. (Ayu Journal, 2012 Oct; 33(4):511-6)
7) The Kama Sutra, an ancient text regarding human sexuality, speaks of ashwagandha being a powerful aphrodisiac. Research has found it works for both sexes. In a study conducted on 75 infertile men, those taking ashwagandha had an increase in sperm count, testosterone and motility. (Fertility and Sterility, 2010 Aug; 94(3):989-96) Researchers also found that men with high stress experienced less fertility. When supplemented with ashwagandha for 3 months, 14% of their partners became pregnant. (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19789214) Ashwagandha was one of a combination of herbs used in a study for women with PCOS that was found to give substantial relief from the disorder. Long term treatment was also found to help control the growth of uterine fibroids. It was also found to be effective for amenorrhea (the lack of menstruation). In some women it can increase the hirsutism however, so that is something to consider when supplementing.
8) In many studies this amazing plant was found to lower blood sugar levels. Human studies have found it can lower blood sugar in both healthy AND diabetic individuals. (Indian Journal of Experimental Biology 2000 June; 38(6):607-9) (Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine 2012 July; 3(3):111-4) A test tube study found it to increase the secretion of insulin as well as improve insulin sensitivity in muscle cells. (Phytochemistry 2015 Aug; 116:283-9)
9) Ashwagandha was also found to increase muscle mass and decrease body fat. (Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition 2015 Nov; 12:43)
10) Studies conducted on rats found it to be effective at lowering cholesterol and triglycerides by as much as fifty percent. (Phytomedicine 2007 Feb; 14(2-3):136-42)
So many things that it has been proven beneficial for-it’s a wonder it isn’t used as a first response in any malady. Some other items it has been beneficial for are inflammation, infections (viral, fungal and bacterial), parasites, schizophrenia, ADHD, fevers, pain, autoimmune disorders, bone health, thyroid issues, liver problems, gastrointestinal complaints, bronchitis, kidney damage, adrenal fatigue, seizures, debilitating illnesses, cataracts, heavy metal poisoning, venomous snake and/or scorpion stings and bites and the list goes on.
Ashwagandha contains several beneficial components, some of which are called withanolides. There are a few (35) different kinds of withanolides, two of which are found to be especially effective within ashwagandha. These are withanolide A and withanolide D. A lot of this plants efficacy is believed to be attributed to these two components. Each part of the plant has specific value although it is the root that is used the most. The root is used as a tonic, diuretic, stimulant, narcotic, astringent, aphrodisiac, antiparasitic and more. The leaves are used for pain, inflammation and fevers. The seeds are antiparasitic and the flowers are aphrodisiac, astringent, diuretic and depurative. The berries are used topically for ulcers, tumors, glandular growths and carbuncles. However, the whole plant seems to be utilized for every malady known to man.
Ashwagandha is also used to balance kapha and vata doshas. It is contraindicative to a pitta. There are others who should avoid ashwagandha as well. According to WebMD, it should not be used by pregnant or nursing women, diabetics, those with stomach ulcers, blood pressure issues, thyroid problems or auto-immune disorders. It should also not be used by those scheduled for surgical procedures. Consult a qualified physician before starting any herbal regimen.
As is common with my posts I am including some links herein for your benefit. Stay strong and healthy!