All You Wanted to Know About the Health Benefits of Ashwagandha!

The health applications for Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in Ayurvedic system of medicine are numerous. The drug is particularly used against tumors, inflammation (including arthritis), and a wide range of infectious diseases. The drug is official as a sedative in the Pharmacopoeia of India.

In Ayurveda, Ashwagandha has been classified as Rasayana (Tonic). W. somnifera is used in the treatment of depression, hypertension, general debility, oligozoospermia, stress, premature ejaculation and leucorrhoea. In asthma, ash of W. somnifera is given with honey and vegetable oil. Root and leaves are used in medicine.

Ashwagandha is useful in the treatment of inflammatory conditions, ulcers and scabies when applied locally. It deserves further trials for its utility in arthropathies such as rheumatoid arthritis. Internally, it is given in marasmus in children. The root is given for dyspepsia and it is prescribed for lumbar pain. It is credited with abortifacient properties.

Withania somnifera is a perennial herb covered with hairs. It has tap root; stem is herbaceous above and woody below. Leaves are in unequal pairs; flowers are greenish or yellowish; fruit s berry becoming red on ripening. Chemically, Ashwagandha contains alkaloids and withanolides.

Ashwagandha is frequently a constituent of Ayurvedic formulas, including a relatively common one known as shilajit. Ashwagandhadi churana and Ashwagandharistha are formulations based on Ashwagandha.

Adaptogens or Anti-stress

The term adaptogen was coined by The Russian scientist Lazarev in 1947. Adaptogen describe a substance that increases the body’s non-specific resistance against stress. As per Lazarev, an adaptogen is an agent that prepares the human beings to counter stress of physical, chemical or biological origin. Adaptogen acts by increasing non-specific resistance towards against stress. This helps the organism to ‘adapt’ against the circumstances full of stress.

20 years later, Brekhman and Dardymov explained the concept of adaptogens in comprehensive manner. Brekhman and Dardymov developed specific criteria for drugs to be labeled as adaptogens. According to them,

*The substance should be able to produce a non-specific response and therefore increased resistance against a stress of varied origin,

* The substance should have a normalizing action on physiological parameters (it is irrespective of the pathology) and

* The substance should be innocuous.

Although, mechanism of action of adaptogens is not well understood, but considerable amounts of evidence has accumulated demonstrating involvement of changes that are mediated by the pituitary gland, the master endocrine gland and above all, the pituitary-adrenal axis. Antioxidant, anticancer, immunomodulator, hypolipidemic and hypoglycemic are some of the activities found in adaptogens. Following medicinal plants are well-established examples of adaptogens.

  • American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius),
  • Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera),
  • Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng) and
  • Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus).

Since Ashwagandha shares properties of ginseng, it is also labeled as Indian-ginseng.

Non-clinical studies: Research has shown several medicinal activities of Ashwagandha. Antibacterial, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, immunomodulator, antioxidant, immunosuppressant, anti-arthritic, anti-stress or adaptogen, hypoglycemic, diuretic, hepatoprotective, hypocholesterolemic, renoprotective, cardioprotective, nervine, nootropic, , analgesic, and hypotensive are few to discuss.

Clinical studies

Preliminary studies have found various constituents of ashwagandha exhibit a variety of therapeutic effects with little or no associated toxicity. These results are very encouraging and indicate this herb should be studied more extensively to confirm these results and reveal other potential therapeutic effects. Clinical trials using ashwagandha for a variety of conditions should also be conducted.

  • Anxiety neurosis: The effect of Ashwagandharishta-medicated wine prepared from the roots of Withania somnifera was studied in 30 patients with anxiety neurosis. Moderate improvement in palpitation, tremors, headache, and anorexia, lack of concentration, dyspepsia, fatigue and irritability was observed, while maximum improvement was seen in nervousness with 49 ml of Ashwagandharishta administered in two divided doses for one month.

A single non comparative blind study was carried on 30 patients of anxiety-neurosis. The statistical analysis showed that Ashwangdha Kshirpak reduced to majority of the clinical symptoms associated anxiety-neurosis. Further, the formulation showed effectiveness in maintaining vital parameters (pulse-rate, respiratory-rate, blood pressure and weight). The clinical study proved that Ashwagandha Kshirpak produced significantly anti-anxiety effect in patients diagnosed with anxiety neurosis.

  • Cognitive function: Withania somnifera is an adaptogenic plant from the Ayurvedic tradition that has been shown in modern research to support stress adaptation, cognitive function and memory. Ina study, Withania somnifera extract improved cognitive and psychomotor performance in healthy human volunteers.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: Root powder was studied in 46 patients of rheumatoid arthritis with a dose of 4, 6 or 9 gm/day for a period of 3 to 4 weeks. Pain and swelling disappeared completely in 14 patients; considerable improvement was observed in 10 patients and 11 patients showed mild improvement. There was no relief in 4 patients and 7 patients discontinued the treatments. Root powder in a dose of 9 gm/day in divided doses used for 3 to 4 weeks in patients with arthritis was well tolerated. No side effects were observed with Ashwagandharishta in a dose of 40 ml/day in two divided doses given for a month to thirty patients with anxiety neurosis.

 Dose:

  • Ashwagandha Powder: As per experts, 3–6 grams of the dried root, taken each day in capsule or with tea.
  • In order to prepare a tea, 3–6 grams of ashwagandha roots are subjected to boiling for 15 minutes and cooled. 3 cups (750 ml) are recommended for internal usage daily.
  • Fluid extracts or tincture is used in the dose of 2–4 ml thrice a day.

References

Bhandare AK. Efficacy of Ashwagandha Kshirpak on Anxiety Neurosis. International Journal of Recent Trends in Science and Technology, Volume 9, Issue 2, 2013 pp 295-298

Bone K. Clinical Applications of Ayurvedic and Chinese Herbs. Queensland, Australia: Phytotherapy Press, 1996, 137–41.

Bone K. Clinical Applications of Ayurvedic and Chinese Herbs. Queensland, Australia: Phytotherapy Press, 1996, 137–41.

Duke JA. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1985, 514–5.

Pingali U, Pilli R, Fatima N. Effect of standardized aqueous extract of Withania somnifera on tests of cognitive and psychomotor performance in healthy human participants. Pharmacognosy Res 2014;6(1):12–18.

Srivastava, S.K., Iyer, S.S., & Ray, G.K. (1960), Estimation of the total alkaloids of Withania somnifera (Dunal). Indian Journal of Pharmacy. 22(4): 94-95.

Wagner H, Nörr H, Winterhoff H. Plant adaptogens. Phytomed 1994; 1:63–76.

Additional Reading:

Everyday Benefits Of Ashwagandha, The Indian Ginseng

An Overview on Ashwagandha

All Natural Ashwagandha Products

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