This herb from India also known as Indian Ginseng is now a popular supplement. These supplements come from roots of shrub Withania somnifera or more commonly known as ashwagandha. Ashvagandha is common in Ayurvedic, Unani and traditional African medicinal forms for wide range of ailments. History of Ashwagandha dates back to nearly 4000 years ago, where references of this herb are found in ancient Ayurvedic manuscripts.
This shrub grows around 1-3 feet tall and bears orange red fruits. The plant is native to Indian subcontinent and grows in dry regions. It is also found in Australia, Africa and East Asia. It gets its name from Sanskrit words – Ashwa (horse) and Gandh (smell) – which means horse like smell. Similarly the species name somnifera comes from latin word meaning sleep inducing.
Other common names of the herb include poison gooseberry, winter cherry, Samm Al Ferakh ويتانيا منومة (Arabic), Lakhanu (Assamese), Bufera (Catala) 睡茄 (Chinese), Schlafbeere (Deutsch), Angarberu, Hiremaddina-gida, Aswagandha (Kannada), Askandh, Asagandha (Marathi), Amukkuram (Malayalam), Hayagandh, Vajigandha, Ashwagandhi (Sanskrit), Amukkaramkizangu, amukkira (Tamil), Pennerugadda (Telegu) Asgand (Urdu), Sâm_Ấn_Độ (Vietnamese) or Cerise d’Hiver (French)
Chemical constituents of Ashwagandha
Alkaloid and steroidal lactones are key chemical constituents in Ashawagandha. Glycowithanolides or Withaferin A, a withanolide has been isolated from the leaves and root extract and is believed to be responsible for major medicinal properties of Withania somnifera. Somniferine is another such alkaloid isolated from the plant extract.
Health Benefits of Indian Ginseng – Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha has been used as medicinal herb for centuries. It finds special place in ancient medicinal science of Ayurveda. Root, leaves and berries of this plant are generally used for medicinal purpose. Ashwagandha offers various medicinal properties as antimicrobial, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-stress, cardioprotective and various others. Some health benefits of Indian ginseng are discussed below:
Adaptogenic properties of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha belongs to class of substances called adoptogens or vitalizers. Adaptogen helps body adopt to adverse biological condition in body like disease. Ashwagandha causes adaptive reactions to diseases and modulate body immunity to resist them. Thus they help cope with stress and works to normalize body functions. It offers immuno-modulatory properties and is a body tonic.
Anti-inflammatory properties of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha offers anti-inflammatory properties which are helpful in reduction of pain and inflammation. Articulin-F supplement used in arthritis includes ashwagandha as ingredient. Ashwagandha supplements are promoted for treatment of osteoarthritis and rheumatic pain. Research is trying to identify constituents responsible for anti-inflammatory properties of ashwagandha. It is believed that alkaloids, saponins and steroidal lactones are responsible for this property. Along with ability to reduce inflammation, it also offers pain reliving ability similar to aspirin. Consuming a tablespoon of ashwagandha root powder along with milk in morning is considered home remedy over arthritis. Paste made from Ashwagandha leaves is applied to swelling, skin diseases, ulcers and sores as home remedy.
Ashwagandha as Antioxidant
Various investigations have determined antioxidant properties of Ashwagandha. It protects body cells from harmful effect of free radicals. As an antioxidant it is helpful in prevention of Alzheimer’s’ disease and other diseases due to damage of brain cells due to oxidative free radicals. It protects and regulates body hormonal system. It protects other body organs from free radicals. A research suggests its protective role in reducing ocular diseases including cataract.
Rejuvenating Effect of Indian Ginseng
Just like Ginseng, Ashwagandha offers stress relieving and rejuvenating effect. It naturally fosters energy levels by regulating body hormone system and nervous system. It reduces stress and anxiety levels in body. With aphrodisiac property it boosts libido and sexual performance.
Ashwagandha for athletic performance
It is believed that Ashwagandha increase endurance levels. It is theorized that it regulates central nervous system to handle stress during physical exercise and enhances performance. It offers qualities to reduce mental and physical blocks to better endurance. It encourages oxygen flow to muscles and regulates production of lactic acid in muscles. This increases stamina and provides additional strength. Initial animal studies shows that animals fed with Ashwagandha supplements showed better muscle mass and endurance. More studies are needed to establish such claims.
Reduce anxiety with Indian Ginseng
Stress and anxiety are often related. Ayurvedic practitioners have been using Ashwagandha to relieve anxiety. Initial studies have also found benefits in treating Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Various studies are trying to support benefits of Ashwagandha over anxiety and depression. As an anti-depressant it has soothing and calming effect on body. Ashwagandha was found effective in animal studies with temperature induced stress. More studies can bring further this property of Indian Ginseng.
Withania somnifera induces sleep
As the species name suggests, Ashwagandha induces sleep and is effective in treating insomnia. It reduces stress and anxiety, calms central nervous system and thus induces sleep. Read more – Natural food for insomnia
Ashwagandha good for heart
With its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-stress property it has positive effect on heart. It reduces risk of heart disorders, improves blood circulation to heart and regulates blood pressure. Study has also shown its ability to reduce blood sugar and cholesterol. One of the animal studies evaluated cardioprotective potential of alcoholic extract of Withania somnifera on rats.
Treatment of Diabetes
There is evidence available that Ashwagandha reduces blood sugar levels in diabetic patients. A study involving course of powder of roots of Ashwagandha taken for a month was found to significantly reduce cholesterol and blood sugar in diabetic patients with no adverse effects. Ashwagandha finds its place in Ayurveda as remedy for diabetes. Read – natural food for diabetes
Ashwagandha for weight loss
We already read how Ashwagandha acts as anti-stress agent. Our body produces stress hormone called Cortisol which makes us fat and may lead to obesity and obesity led diseases. Ashwagandha helps in reduction of cortisol in body and thus assists in weight reduction. Ashwagandha stimulates release of thyroid hormones which increases metabolic activity and may lead to weight loss.
Ashwagandha and cancer cure
Ashwagandha berries and leaves are used in Ayurveda as remedy over tumors and ulcers. Studies suggests extract of Ashwagandha roots, leaves and berries have cancer suppressing, antitumor and radiosensitizing properties. Ashwagandha extract was found to interfere with cancer cells and inhibit their growth. Studies also suggest Ashwagandha as alternative for killing cancer along with radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Withaferin A isolated from Ashwagandha is believed to have anti tumor and radiosensitizing property. It is also known to reduce side effects of chemotherapy. Neutropenia or death of defensive white blood cells is common side effects of chemotherapy. Ashwagandha is found to protect these white blood cells during chemotherapy. Animal studies also highlight normalizing of immune system during chemotherapy by Ashwagandha extracts. A study also shows its ability to stimulate stem cell proliferation which can pave way to new ways in treatment of cancer.
Protection of Central nervous system
Ashwagandha acts as protector of our central nervous system. Ashwagandholine and other alkaloids extracted from Ashwagandha roots have mild tranquilizing property and can affect central nervous system. In Ayurveda, it is used as remedy for seizures, convulsions and cerbellar ataxia. As an antioxidant it helps protect brain cells from oxidative stress which may lead to degenerative diseases like epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, tardive dyskinesia, cerebral ischemia. It also protects brain from harmful effects of narcotic drugs and used in he management of drug addiction. Ashwagandha reduces mental stress and boosts memory.
Ashwagandha and male infertility
Ashwagandha or Withania somnifera is considered for treating male sexual dysfunction and infertility in traditional Ayurveda. There are various ways in which it exerts benefits on male reproductive system. Some clinical studies suggests its ability to improve sperm quality, while other study indicate its antioxidant property combating stress induced infertility. A study with aqueous extract of Ashwagandha suggests its testosterone like spermatogenic effect in development of testicular tubes. Another study provides evidence of spermatogenic activity of Ashwagandha in treatment of oligospermia (sperm count < 20 million/mL semen, leading to infertility)
Ashwagandha for regulating thyroid hormone
Ashwagandha stimulates thyroid gland and thus regulates secretion of thyroid hormone. Animal study points out that Withania somnifera root extract stimulated thyroid function in female mice and increased serum T4 concentration. It appears that these plant extracts are capable of stimulating thyroid function in female mice. Studies have also showed that Ashwagandha root extract also reduces oxidative stress on endocrine system and liver. This makes Ashwagandha effective in case of hypothyroidism and can help increase secretion of thyroid hormones.
Antimicrobial properties of Ashwagandha
Various traditional Ayurvedic texts point out to its ability to control infections in body. Various clinical studies have showed antibacterial property of crude Withania somnifera extract. It has been traditionally used in treatment of infections of stomach, intestine, respiratory system and urinary system. Anti-viral properties of this herb are also being explored. This patent tries to put its anti-viral and immuno supporting property in multi herbal preparation. Ashwagandha root powder along with pepper and honey is traditionally used to cure tuberculosis.
Use of Ashwagandha over urinary disorder
Ashwagandha is found effective over urinary system disorder. It offers diuretic properties and antimicrobial properties which are useful in treating urinary system disorders.
Ashwagandha increase blood production
Process of formation of blood in body is called Haematopoiesis. Research suggests that Ashwagandha aids in blood production. Animal study showed that count of blood cells increased in rats administered with Ashwagandha extracts. This is helpful in treating diseases like anemia. Glycowithanolides or Withaferin A in Ashwagandha also believed to support blood characteristics with its antiplatelet and anticoagulant properties.
Aphrodisiac properties of Indian Ginseng
Indian Ginseng is long believed to have aphrodisiac properties and can improve vitality and fertility. As an antioxidant it improves semen and sperm quality in men. In south Asia it is believed to elevate sexual mood and performance. Consuming a teaspoon of Ashwagandha root powder along with milk is considered herbal supplement for sexual performance. The preparation of Ashwagandha along with clarified butter, sugar and honey is other common method of use of Ashwagandha as aphrodisiac.
Skin benefits of ashwagandha
Ashwagandha offer various benefits to our skin. As an anti-inflammatory agent, paste of Ashwagandha leaves is used to treat skin disorders, swellings, sores or ulcers. In Ayurveda it is used for treating inflammatory skin disorders like acne. As an antioxidant, it helps protect skin from oxidative stress of pollutants and other harmful radicals. It prevents your skin from aging and reduces wrinkles, dark spots or fine lines. Stress is major cause of various skin problems. This is often linked to development of cortisol due to stress. Ashwagandha offers reducing cortisol and thus protect skin. It stimulates endocrine system in body which regulates body hormones and ensures necessary hormones for stimulating skin collagen and skin oil production. Consuming Ashwagandha churna is considered effective remedy over dry skin. Topical application of Ashwagandha helps tone your skin and serves as skin tonic. Ashwagandha infusion made by boiling dried Ashwagandha root along with ginger and lemon peel can be used as skin tonic. Various patents are emerging with Ashwagandha and its benefits for skin.
Ashwagandha Hair Benefits
We talked about natural ways of preventing hair fall. Stress is prime cause of hair loss. Ashwagandha reduces stress hormone in body and works in reducing physical and mental stress, thereby reducing hair loss. With it antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action it protects your scalp from damage and conditions like dandruff, psoriasis and eczema. It also protects hair from premature graying. Ashwagandha stimulates endocrine system and immune system in body and promote health of hair and scalp. Ashwagandha is found useful in androgenic alopecia or premature blading.
Increased milk secretion in women
Ashwagandha is used in traditional medicinal form to stimulate milk secretion. Along with licorice, Asparagus (shatvari) and Vidari it is used to increase milk in nursing mother. These traditional uses suggest phytoestrogenic properties of Ashwagandha. Research do suggests its influence on endocrine system which may be the reason for exhibiting such properties.
Analgesic properties of Indian Ginseng
In India, local application of crushed Ashwagandha leaves is used to reduce painful swellings and ulcers. Similarly roots and leaves of this herb are used both internally and externally for its pain killing properties. Poultice made from leaves of this plants is used to heal wounds and reduce pain.
Side effects of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha has been traditionally used in India, Asia and Africa in various forms as alternative medicine without side effects. However consumption should be avoided by pregnant women due to its phtyoestrogenic properties that can cause abortion. People with medications are advised caution due to potential interaction with various drugs.
This herb may aggravate stomach ulcers. It has ability to modulate immune system and its overdose may result to auto-immune disease symptoms. Overconsumption may lead to upset stomach or diarrhea. With its ability to induce sleep, it may interact with other sedative.
Popular way of taking Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is popularly consumed in form of root powder or capsule. Ashwagandha root churna or powder is available in market these days. Taking Ashwagandha along with milk before sleep is common practice. Ashwagandha root powder is also taken along with ghee/clarified butter and honey. Herbal honey with Ashwagandha or Ashwagandha honey is also available as supplements in market. Try Ashwagandha tea by boiling a teaspoon of Ashwagandha in water for 10 minutes. Add some honey for taste. Herbal massage oil containing Ashwagandha is useful in several skin conditions and treating insomnia. Use this oil along with rose water.
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