Written by Slawomir (“Swavak”) Gromadzki, MPH
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), known also as winter cherry, is often referred to as Indian ginseng‚ because of its ability to boost energy, promote stamina and work as a natural stress reliever. It is actually the most extensively researched and most commonly used adaptogen herb. In Sanskrit, the meaning of the word “ashwagandha” implies that the herb holds the strength of a horse. Also Ayurveda recommends Ashwagandha as an aphrodisiac and tonic.
Ashwagandha contains many phytochemicals, antioxidants and nutrients. The most studied are especially withanolides, (steroidal lactones) which are believed to be responsible for the most of Ashwagandha’s health benefits.
The root of Ashwagandha has been known for its ability to support especially brain function and nervous system, adrenal and sexual function, helping relief stress and promoting feeling of calmness and relaxation. It’s also valued for its neuroprotective, thyroid-modulating, anti-inflammatory properties.
There are hundreds of studies that provide strong evidence about Ashwagandha’s ability to support healthy levels of testosterone and luteinizing hormone (triggers development of the corpus luteum out of which progesterone is made), reduce prolactin (excess prolactin increases risk of breast cancer) and follicle-stimulating hormone (increases the risk of postmenopausal osteoporosis), increase sperm quality and count, and help improve the biochemical composition of semen.
For instance, researchers from the Asha Hospital in Hyderabad who conducted a study involving 64 people suffering from chronic stress found that supplementing Ashwagandha for two months decreased stress by 44% and significantly improved mood. In another experiment, Ashwagandha was able to decrease the frequency and severity of instances where stress inhibits male sexual behaviour.
Human and animal studies suggest that Ashwagandha may help protect the heart and brain from oxidative damage; reduce adrenal insufficiency; promote healthy cortisol levels; support memory and promote nerve cell regeneration; help improve insulin sensitivity, maintain normal blood sugar and cholesterol levels; improve sleep (Ashwagandha’s Latin name “somnifera” can be translated as “sleep-inducing”), increase muscle strength; protect the liver against lead toxicity, and support immune system function.
– Singh AB, Singh N, Akanksha, Jayendra, Maurya R, Srivastava AK. Coagulanolide modulates hepatic glucose metabolism in C57BL/KsJ-db/db mice. Hum Exp Toxicol. 2012 Oct;31(10):1056-65. : 10.1177/0960327112438289. PubMed PMID: 23060434.
– Debnath PK, Chattopadhyay J, Mitra A, Adhikari A, Alam MS, Bandopadhyay SK, Hazra J. Adjunct therapy of Ayurvedic medicine with anti tubercular drugs on the therapeutic management of pulmonary tuberculosis. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2012 Jul;3(3):141-9.
– Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. 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. Ind Jnl Psych Med. 2012 34(3): 255-262.
– Baitharu I, Jain V, Deep SN, Hota KB, Hota SK, Prasad D, Ilavazhagan G. Withania somnifera root extract ameliorates hypobaric hypoxia induced memory impairment in rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2013 Jan 30;145(2):431-41.
– Li W, Zhao Y. Withaferin A suppresses tumor promoter 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol 13-acetate-induced decreases in isocitrate dehydrogenase 1 activity and mitochondrial function in skin epidermal JB6 cells. Cancer Sci. 2012 Oct 27.
– Jessica M. Gannon, Paige E. Forrest, and K. N. Roy Chengappa (2014) Subtle changes in thyroid indices during a placebo-controlled study of an extract of Withania somnifera in persons with bipolar disorder. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2014 Oct-Dec; 5(4): 241–245.
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