Withania somnifera, generally known as ashwagandha, is an adaptogenic herb popular in Ayurvedic medicine. Sometimes called poison gooseberry, Indian ginseng or winter cherry, this herb offers powerful nutritional support to rejuvenate both body and mind, minimizing the negative effects of stress.
The names literally translates as „smell of horse”, which refers to the fresh root’s distinct horsey smell and the traditional belief that ingesting the plant will confer the virility and strength of a horse.
The plant is native to the dry regions of India, Middle East and northern Africa, and today is also grown in more mild climates, including the U.S. It had also been used by native Americans in effort to keep away a few types of infections.
Chemical Composition of Withania somnifera
The biologically active compounds constituents of this herb include: alkaloids (anaferine, isopelletierine, anahygrine, cuseohygrine), steroidal lactones (withaferins, withanolides) and saponins. Acylsterylglucosides and sitoindosides in Withania somnifera are anti-stress agents. This plant also contains large amounts of iron.
Health benefits of ashwagandha
It has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-stress and adaptogenic properties which give it many potential therapeutic applications.
Male fertility – the herb is used to restore male libido, increase male fertility and cure impotence. It is commonly used in southern Asia as a male sexuality tonic. A 2001 study on poison gooseberry has concluded that extracts of the plant has a direct spermatogenic influence on the seminiferous tubules of immature rats presumably by exerting a testosterone-like effect.
Cures insomnia – it is proven particularly effective for increasing our ability to deal with anxiety and stress. According to Ayurveda, insomnia can be compared to „Anidra”, which means a lack of sleep. It occurs due to an imbalance of the three body energies namely, pitta, vata and kapha (fire, air and phlegm).
Promotes healthy aging – stress, both emotional and metabolic, greatly affects aging. Cortisol, the body’s stress hormone, contributes to muscle weakness and loss, wrinkles, and cognitive impairment. Studies has found that Indian ginseng improves resistance to stress, possibly decreasing the production of cortisol. A 2012 study by the Department of Neuropsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry, Asha Hospital, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India, observed a reduction in stress and a considerable decrease in cortisol levels in individuals taking this herb compared with placebo.
Endurance and stamina – according to several researches, Withania somnifera can effectively boost endurance while doing physical exercises. The herb also improves brain function and decreases muscular fatigue and body pain. Whether you are a professional athlete looking for some marginal gains or you simply feel fatigued and in need of an energy boost, then takings this adaptive plant might be just the thing that you need. Another study conducted by the Faculty of Sports Medicine and Physiotherapy, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, Punjab, India on 40 elite Indian cyclists concluded that those given this herb supplements for 8 weeks notably improved their respiratory and cardiovascular endurance levels when compared to the group given a placebo.
Anti-carcinogenic effects – a 2006 study has termed this herb as an emerging and novel alternative in the field of oncology because of its cancer killing effects, in association with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It is also of interest because it is known to reduce the negative effects of chemotherapy without interfering with the tumor cell-killing activity.
A natural remedy for menopausal symptoms – this herb helps regulate the secretion of hormones and stimulates the endocrine glands (glands that secrete hormones directly into the bloodstream). A 2012 study conducted on 51 menopausal women demonstrated that when this herb was given to them, there was a significant reduction in symptoms such as mood fluctuations, hot flashes and anxiety.
Adaptogenic properties – adaptogens are a small group of botanical and mushroom species that help increase resistance to chemical, physical and psychological stressors while improving balance and homeostasis in the body. Adaptogens, which are not stimulants, are notable for providing superior wellness benefits without negative effects. This is in marked contrast to stimulants (for example caffeine), which are known to cause side effects such as nervousness, heart palpitations, sleeplessness, as well as other physiological problems.
Huntington’s, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases – this herb can be used to treat Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and other neurodegenerative diseases at any stage of the disease, even before a person has been diagnosed and is still in the state of mild forgetfulness.
Antibacterial properties – it is very effective in controlling bacterial infections in humans. A 2001 study conducted at the Centre for Biotechnology at the University of Allahabad in India concluded that this plant possesses antibacterial properties. It also demonstrated that it was effective in urinogenital, gastrointestinal and respiratory tract infections when consumed orally.
Protects the heart – the herb boosts the cardiac health and reduces the chance of malfunctioning of the heart caused by several factors. Additionally, it improves the blood circulation in the heart, hence, preventing blood clotting. The plant stabilizes the blood sugar levels and controls the cholesterol. Moreover, it helps maintain the blood pressure levels in the body.
Regulates blood sugar – In Ayurvedic medicine, it has been used alone or in combination with other plants to stabilize blood sugar levels. Results of a clinical study published in 2009 established that oral intake of a combination of shilajit and Withania somnifera considerably reduced fasting blood sugar in diabetic patients.
Improves thyroid function – it has the potential to help the millions of people that are suffering with thyroid problems. Adaptogenic herbs such as this one are known to be effective in balancing the body’s hormones and can treat a number of thyroid issues, whether you are suffering from an overactive thyroid like Grave’s disease or a sluggish thyroid. The herb is frequent prescribed to stimulate the thyroid in those with hypothyroid complaints and there has been some study which suggests that it works. Another study conducted in 1998, demonstrated that this herb stimulates thyroid activity and also considerably decreases lipid peroxidation.
How to use it?
It is most usually taken in capsule form and the recommended daily dose according to experts is 500mg once or twice a day.
Side effects of Withania somnifera
Large doses of Withania somnifera can cause diarrhea and abdominal discomfort. Pregnant women are advised to avoid consumption of this medicinal herb, as it possesses abortifacient properties. In addition, it belongs to nightshade family (potato, tomato, pepper), so if you are intolerant or allergic to these foods then this herb may not suit you. Consult your doctor before taking it.
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