Are you tired of relying on synthetic medications with potential side effects? It’s time to embrace the wonders of Ashwagandha, the ancient herb that has stood the test of time in promoting well-being and vitality.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a small shrub that belongs to the nightshade family. It is native to India, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. The name “Ashwagandha” is derived from Sanskrit and translates to “the smell of a horse.” This is because the root of the plant has a strong odor and is believed to impart the strength and vitality of a horse.
Historically, Ashwagandha has been valued for its rejuvenating and revitalizing properties. It is often referred to as a Rasayana herb in Ayurveda, which means it promotes overall well-being and longevity.
Ashwagandha’s use in Ayurvedic medicine dates back nearly 3000 years. Its root has been utilized as an aphrodisiac, narcotic, tonic, diuretic, anthelmintic, and stimulant. It is not only native to India but also cultivated in other regions such as the Mediterranean countries, the Himalayan areas, Africa, the Canary Islands, the Cape of Good Hope, and Australia.
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the potential health benefits of Ashwagandha, particularly in the areas of stress management, cognitive function, and physical performance. Several studies have suggested that Ashwagandha supplementation may exhibit neuroprotective activity, be helpful in obsessive-compulsive disorder, and exhibit anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and antibacterial properties.
Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that Ashwagandha supplementation may be helpful in infertility, anticancer, and antidiabetic treatment. Studies have also suggested its cardioprotective properties and its potential in improving sleep quality.
In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the world of Ashwagandha, exploring its uses, and tested health benefits. Below find out how Ashwagandha can contribute to your overall well-being and vitality with this insightful information.
Ashwagandha has a complex chemical makeup depending on where it grows. The key substances that give it medicinal properties are called witanolides and alkaloids. Witanolides have a specific structure and include various compounds like witanopherin A, witanolides A-Y, witanone, witadomniferin A, and witasomniferols A-C. The image in Figure 2 shows the main active compounds. Alkaloids, on the other hand, include compounds like witanin, somniferin, somnin, tropin, somniferinin, pseudowitanin, pseudotropin, choline, kuskohigrin, isopeletierin, and anaferin.
Ashwagandha also contains flavonoids like 3-O-rutinoside, 6,8-dihydroxycemferol, quercetin, and its glycosidic derivative, 3-O-rutinoside-7-O-glucoside. Furthermore, there are witanolid glycosides that have a glucose part and include sitoindoside IX and sitoindoside X. The plant also has steroidal saponins like sitoindoside VII and VIII, as well as other compounds such as saponins, coumarins (scopoletin), sterols, chlorogenic acid, resins, lipids, carbohydrates, and fatty acids.
In layman’s terms: Ashwagandha has many different chemical compounds that contribute to its medicinal properties. These compounds, such as witanolides and alkaloids, have specific structures and play a crucial role in their effects. The plant also contains other substances like flavonoids, glycosides, saponins, and various acids.
Scientific Research on Ashwagandha
Research on Ashwagandha has gained significant attention in recent years as scientists explore its potential health benefits. Numerous studies have been conducted to investigate its effects on stress reduction, cognitive enhancement, immune modulation, and more. These studies have provided valuable insights into how Ashwagandha works and why it is considered a promising subject of scientific research.
1. Stress and Anxiety Relief
One area of focus has been Ashwagandha’s ability to alleviate stress and anxiety. Researchers have found that Ashwagandha helps regulate cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, and promotes feelings of calmness and relaxation. By regularly consuming Ashwagandha, individuals may experience reduced stress levels and improved mental well-being.
Several human trials have been conducted to examine the effects of Ashwagandha on anxiety and stress. These studies compared different dosage levels of Ashwagandha extract with placebos using anxiety assessment scales. The results showed significant benefits of Ashwagandha over placebos in most cases. Additionally, a comparison between Ashwagandha and psychotherapy demonstrated a greater reduction in anxiety scores with Ashwagandha treatment. Another study measured changes in perceived stress levels and found a significant reduction in the group taking Ashwagandha compared to the placebo group.
It’s important to note that while these studies provide promising findings, caution should be exercised due to variations in study methods and potential bias. Nonetheless, the research suggests that Ashwagandha has the potential to be an effective intervention for anxiety and stress relief.
2. Improved Cognitive Function
Research suggests that Ashwagandha has the potential to enhance cognitive function and memory. It has been found to support neuroprotection and stimulate the growth of nerve cells, which can lead to improved learning, concentration, and mental clarity.
A specific study was conducted to evaluate the effects of acute ingestion of Ashwagandha extract on executive function. Thirteen healthy participants took part in the study and performed various cognitive function tests before and after ingesting either a placebo or Ashwagandha extract. The tests were repeated every hour for six hours. The results showed that acute supplementation of Ashwagandha improved working memory, sustained attention, and short-term/working memory. It also helped prevent mental fatigue and improved response times in certain cognitive tasks.
In another context, Ashwagandha has shown potential use in Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative condition that affects memory, thinking abilities, and other cognitive functions. The disease is characterized by the accumulation of β-amyloid protein in the brain, leading to cell damage and death. Ashwagandha has been explored for its ability to counteract these processes and provide neuroprotection.
As the aging population continues to grow, the prevalence of dementia syndromes, including Alzheimer’s disease, is increasing. Ashwagandha holds promise as a natural intervention for managing the symptoms and potentially slowing down the progression of the disease.
Overall, the research indicates that Ashwagandha has cognitive-enhancing properties and may be beneficial for individuals seeking improved mental function and those with neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
3. Boosted Immunity
Ashwagandha has immune-boosting properties that can strengthen the body’s natural defense mechanisms, helping to protect against infections and diseases. It enhances the activity of immune cells like natural killer cells and macrophages, which play a crucial role in fighting off harmful pathogens.
A study was conducted to test the immunomodulatory effect of Ashwagandha extract on healthy adults. The participants were randomly assigned either 60 mg of Ashwagandha extract or a placebo in a double-blinded manner. The study consisted of a 30-day blinded period and an additional 30-day open-label extension study with a crossover from placebo to Ashwagandha.
During the blinded study period, the group taking Ashwagandha extract reported a significant increase in various immune parameters such as immunoglobulins (IgA, IgM, IgG, IgG2, IgG3, and IgG4), cytokines (IFN-γ, IL4), and TBNK cells (CD45+, CD3+, CD4+, CD8+, CD19+, NK cells). In contrast, the placebo group showed a significant decrease in TBNK cells and no change in immunoglobulins and cytokines.
During the extension period on day 60, the subjects who were initially on placebo and crossed over to the Ashwagandha group showed a significant increase in immunoglobulins, cytokines, and TBNK cells. Meanwhile, the subjects who continued taking Ashwagandha extract showed further significant improvements in these immune parameters. No adverse events were reported during the study.
These findings indicate that Ashwagandha extract can significantly improve the immune profile of healthy individuals by modulating both the innate and adaptive immune systems. Ashwagandha could be used to boost the immune system in individuals at risk of infection or during widespread infections.
4. Reduced Inflammation
Chronic inflammation is a common factor in many health conditions, and it can contribute to the symptoms of various inflammatory disorders like arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. Ashwagandha has been found to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects that can help alleviate these symptoms.
A study was conducted to evaluate the anti-inflammatory properties of an extract from Ashwagandha. In this study, the extract was tested against the denaturation of protein in controlled laboratory conditions. The extract was incubated with egg albumin at different concentrations, and the absorbance and viscosity were measured to assess its anti-inflammatory effects. Diclofenac sodium, a commonly used anti-inflammatory drug, was used as a reference for comparison.
The results of the study showed that the Ashwagandha extract inhibited the denaturation of protein (albumin) in a concentration-dependent manner. The anti-inflammatory effect of the extract was found to be stronger than that of diclofenac sodium, indicating its potency. These findings suggest that the alkaloids and withanolides present in Ashwagandha contribute to its notable anti-inflammatory effect.
In short, the study demonstrated that Ashwagandha possesses significant anti-inflammatory properties against protein denaturation in laboratory conditions. This effect can be attributed to the alkaloids and withanolides present in the plant. These findings support the potential of Ashwagandha as a natural remedy for reducing inflammation and managing inflammatory conditions.
5. Enhanced Physical Performance
Athletes and fitness enthusiasts often rely on Ashwagandha to enhance their physical performance. Research has shown that Ashwagandha can boost strength, endurance, and stamina, making it beneficial for individuals aiming to improve their athletic abilities.
A clinical study was conducted to investigate the effects of Ashwagandha root extract on muscle mass, strength, and cardiorespiratory endurance in individuals undergoing resistance training. The study involved 80 healthy male and female participants between the ages of 18 and 45, who were randomly assigned to receive either Ashwagandha capsules or a placebo. After eight weeks of resistance training and supplementation, various measurements were taken, including muscle strength (bench press and leg extension), muscle size (arm, chest, and thigh circumference), and cardiorespiratory endurance (VO2max).
The results showed that the group receiving Ashwagandha experienced greater improvements compared to the placebo group. Specifically, participants who took Ashwagandha showed enhanced chest and leg press strength, as well as improved endurance, regardless of gender. Both male and female participants also exhibited increased muscle size in their arms, chest, and thighs when supplemented with Ashwagandha. Importantly, no adverse events were reported during the study.
To conclude, the study demonstrated that eight weeks of Ashwagandha root extract supplementation alongside resistance training can effectively enhance muscle strength, growth, endurance, and recovery in both male and female participants. This suggests that Ashwagandha can serve as a safe, effective, and cost-efficient alternative for athletes seeking to improve their muscle endurance and overall athletic performance.
6. Balancing Blood Sugar Levels
Ashwagandha has demonstrated potential in regulating blood sugar levels and improving insulin sensitivity, making it beneficial for individuals with diabetes or at risk of developing the condition. Studies have provided evidence supporting its traditional use in managing diabetes and associated metabolic disorders.
Ashwagandha extracts modulate homeostatic processes involved in glucose regulation, potentially through their antioxidative properties and interactions with biological targets. Glycosylated Withanolides and other constituents contribute to its effects. Recent findings highlight its positive impact on sleep quality and antihyperglycemic activities in stressed rodents.
By understanding its bioactive compounds and their interactions, Ashwagandha could offer novel therapeutic leads for diabetes and metabolic disorders. Incorporating Ashwagandha into capsules or food may provide reliable and reproducible benefits. Overall, Ashwagandha shows promise in improving stress resistance and metabolic health, making it a valuable resource for diabetes prevention and management.
7. Support for Thyroid Health
Ashwagandha, a popular herbal supplement, has been associated with potential benefits for thyroid health. However, there have been rare cases of thyrotoxicosis, a condition characterized by excess thyroid hormone, linked to Ashwagandha use.
A case study describes a 73-year-old woman who experienced symptoms of hyperthyroidism, such as rapid heart rate and low levels of TSH, after taking Ashwagandha extract for hypothyroidism. The symptoms and abnormal thyroid function resolved when she stopped using the supplement. Although the exact mechanisms are not well understood, it is important to be aware of this uncommon side effect of Ashwagandha and its potential impact on thyroid function.
8. Anti-Cancer Properties
Extensive research has been conducted on Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) to explore its potential as an anticancer agent, and the findings have been highly promising. Ashwagandha has demonstrated the ability to inhibit the growth of cancer cells and improve overall survival time.
It has also shown synergistic effects when used in combination with radiation therapy, enhancing its effectiveness. Additionally, Ashwagandha has been found to reduce the side effects of certain chemotherapy drugs while preserving their anticancer properties. These impressive cytotoxic and anticancer properties make Ashwagandha a promising candidate for cancer treatment. However, further comprehensive research is necessary to isolate and develop potent anticancer drugs from this medicinal plant.
9. Heart Health
While the studies on the cardioprotective effects of Ashwagandha are preliminary, they show promising evidence of its benefits. Research has indicated that Ashwagandha exhibits various activities that contribute to a healthy heart, including antioxidant, anti-apoptotic, hypolipidemic, and anti-inflammatory effects. It has been found to lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels, and prevent blood clot formation, all of which are important for cardiovascular health.
Additionally, Ashwagandha has shown the ability to scavenge free radicals, inhibit lipid peroxidation, and improve the release of the lipoprotein lipase enzyme. It has also demonstrated antiplatelet activity and favorable effects on atherogenic index and body weight.
Clinical studies have shown positive outcomes when Ashwagandha is used as an adjunct to conventional anti-ischemic drugs, leading to reduced cholesterol and triglyceride levels. While more clinical research is needed to establish concrete evidence and develop Ashwagandha as a drug according to stricter standards, its long-standing safe use in traditional medicine systems makes it a potential natural alternative or adjunct to conventional treatments with fewer side effects.
10. Sexual Wellness
Ashwagandha has a long history of traditional use as an aphrodisiac to enhance sexual health and libido. A recent study aimed to evaluate the effect of ashwagandha root extract on sexual health in adult males. The study was conducted over 8 weeks and included 50 participants with lower sexual desire. They were randomly assigned to take either 300 mg of ashwagandha root extract or placebo capsules twice daily.
The study measured outcomes using various assessments, including the Derogatis Interview for Sexual Functioning-Male (DISF-M) questionnaire, serum testosterone levels, serum prolactin levels, and the Short-Form Survey-36 Quality of Life questionnaire. The results showed that compared to the placebo group, supplementation with ashwagandha root extract led to a significant increase in total DISF-M scores, indicating an improvement in sexual function (mean difference -9.8). Ashwagandha also significantly increased serum testosterone levels. However, there was no change in prolactin levels between the ashwagandha and placebo groups.
These findings suggest that ashwagandha can have a positive impact on sexual well-being, as reported by the participants. It also demonstrated the ability to increase serum testosterone levels. The study provides evidence supporting the traditional use of ashwagandha as an aphrodisiac and its potential benefits for sexual health in adult males.
11. Weight Management
Maintaining a healthy weight is essential for overall well-being. Ashwagandha can support weight management by reducing stress-related eating, improving metabolism, and promoting the breakdown of fat cells.
Chronic stress has been associated with a number of illnesses, including obesity. Ashwagandha is a well-known adaptogen known for reducing stress and anxiety in humans. The objective of this study was to evaluate the safety and efficacy of a standardized root extract of Ashwagandha through a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial.
A total of 52 subjects under chronic stress received either Ashwagandha (300 mg) or placebo twice daily. Primary efficacy measures were the Perceived Stress Scale and Food Cravings Questionnaire. Secondary efficacy measures were Oxford Happiness Questionnaire, Three-Factor Eating Questionnaire, serum cortisol, body weight, and body mass index. Each subject was assessed at the start and at 4 and 8 weeks. The treatment with Ashwagandha resulted in significant improvements in primary and secondary measures. Also, the extract was found to be safe and tolerable. The outcome of this study suggests that Ashwagandha root extract can be used for body weight management in adults under chronic stress.
Side Effects and Precautions
While Ashwagandha is generally considered safe for most people when taken in appropriate doses, it’s important to be aware of potential side effects and precautions. Some individuals may experience mild side effects such as stomach upset, diarrhea, headache, sedation, or nausea. It is advised not to use Ashwagandha during pregnancy or breastfeeding, as it may have adverse effects on both the mother and the baby.
If you have certain autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis, it’s best to avoid using Ashwagandha, as it may stimulate the immune system and potentially worsen the symptoms of these conditions.
If you are scheduled for surgery, it is recommended to stop taking Ashwagandha at least two weeks before the procedure. This is because Ashwagandha may have a sedative effect on the central nervous system, and combining it with anesthesia or other medications during and after surgery could increase this effect.
It is always important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplements, especially if you have pre-existing medical conditions or are taking medications. They can provide personalized advice and guidance based on your specific health situation.
How to Incorporate Ashwagandha into Your Routine?
Ashwagandha is available in various forms, including powder, capsules, and liquid extracts. It can be consumed as a standalone supplement or added to smoothies, teas, or other beverages. The recommended dosage may vary depending on the specific product and individual needs, so it is advisable to follow the instructions provided or seek guidance from a healthcare professional.
Ashwagandha is a versatile herb that offers a wide range of health benefits. From stress relief to improved cognitive function, enhanced immunity, and heart health, its therapeutic properties make it a valuable addition to any wellness routine. However, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional and consider individual circumstances before incorporating Ashwagandha into your daily regimen.
Ashwagandha, with its rich history, powerful bioactive compounds, and potential health benefits, has emerged as a remarkable herb in the world of natural wellness. Its adaptogenic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immune-modulating properties make it a valuable addition to a holistic approach to health and well-being.
Choudhary, D., Bhattacharyya, S., & Joshi, K. (2017). Body Weight Management in Adults Under Chronic Stress Through Treatment With Ashwagandha Root Extract: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 22(1), 96-106. https://doi.org/10.1177/2156587216641830
Chauhan, S., Srivastava, M. K., & Pathak, A. K. (2022). Effect of standardized root extract of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) on well-being and sexual performance in adult males: A randomized controlled trial. Health Science Reports, 5(4). https://doi.org/10.1002/hsr2.741
Sharma, M., & Pandey, G. (2009). Anticancer activity of Withania somnifera dunal (Ashwagandha). Indian Drugs, 46(8), 603-609.
Kumar, V., Dey, A., & Chatterjee, S. S. (2017). Phytopharmacology of Ashwagandha as an Anti-Diabetic Herb. In Science of Ashwagandha: Preventive and Therapeutic Potentials (pp. 37-68). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-59192-6_2
Tharakan, A., Shukla, H., Benny, I. R., Tharakan, M., George, L., & Koshy, S. (2021). Immunomodulatory Effect of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) Extract—A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo Controlled Trial with an Open Label Extension on Healthy Participants. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 10(16), 3644. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm10163644
Kamal, H. I., Patel, K., Brdak, A., Heffernan, J., & Ahmad, N. (2022). Ashwagandha as a Unique Cause of Thyrotoxicosis Presenting With Supraventricular Tachycardia. Cureus, 14(3), e23494. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.23494
Disclaimer: While this article is geared to equip you with insightful information, it is important to consult medical professionals.
Ignite your personal growth journey with our handpicked collection of inspiring content. Sign up now for a life-changing dose of motivation and wellness.