Everything You Need To Know About Ashwagandha
Scientific Name: Withania somnifera (Solanaceae)
Any Other Names: Indian ginseng, Winter cherry
Primary Constituents: Alkaloids, Iron, Steroidal lactones (withanolides)
Country or Region of Origin: India, Mediterranean, Middle East, China
Known Uses: Adaptogen, Tonic, Mild Sedative, Anxiety Relief, Stress Relief, Male Fertility, Erectile Dysfunction, Muscle Strength, Immune Function, Mental and Cognitive Function, Memory
General History & Introduction
Ashwagandha is well-known throughout traditional Ayurvedic medicine and has thousands of years of medicinal and cultural use (Chevallier, 2016). The herb earned the nickname “Indian ginseng” after being utilized the same way as Panax ginseng had been used in Chinese medicine. While the plant grows very dominantly throughout India, it is also cultivated successfully in all similar regions of the world. It is a stout shrub which reaches about 4-5 feet in height bearing red berries and yellow-green flowers. Various parts of the plant would be used for different purposes. The leaves of the Ashwagandha plant are harvested in the Spring and the fruits and roots are harvested in the Fall.
Ashwagandha has not only been used for more than eight thousand years, it has also been known throughout this time for its ability to produce longevity. It was described in the first Ayurvedic texts as “the Chakra” (Singh et al., 2011). One of the first Ayurvedic physician “superstars” to mention the herb was the highly esteemed Hindu sages Punarvasu Atreya (2011). It is his research, teachings, and studies under the king which became the foundation for further research in the Charaka texts (2011). Ashwagandha is one of the biggest botanical contributions to Atreya’s writings. And thus throughout the years, the herb has been applied to tumors, used to treat battle wounds, and even works as a natural sunscreen. The bottom line is best said within the Charaka texts, describing ashwagandha as Balya (strength increasing), Brusya (sexual performance enhancing), Vajikari (spermatogenic), Kamarupini (libido boosting), and Pustida (nourishment) (Mukherjee et al., 2021).
Nootropic Benefits of Ashwagandha
Chronic Stress Relief
Chronic stress can become a debilitating condition for many people. Ashwagandha helps reduce overactivity of the mind and body, inducing relaxation, rest, and recuperation (Chevallier, 2016). The herb also improves the quality of sleep and convalescence (2016). There are many proprietary extracts which have been shown in clinical studies to offer significant antistress and adaptogenic benefits (Murray & Pizzorno, 1998). There have been double-blind studies testing the effects of Ashwagandha on chronically stressed subjects. The results indicated significant reduction in stress and serum cortisol (1998).
Ashwagandha greatly reduces anxiety as a tonic or in capsule form (Balch, 2010). It can bolster and enhance physical and cognitive performance, allowing the body the opportunity to maximize efficiency (2010). By providing the mind a clear and calm mental state, the herb helps generate clarity, peaceful nerves, and anxiety-free rest. The herb reduces stress-related depletion of Vitamin C and cortisol (Balch, 2010). In fact, Ashwagandha has been proven to reduce anxiety and overall mental tension in many clinical trials (Chevallier, 2016). A recent, double-blind, placebo-controlled study has revealed notable efficacy for the use of full-spectrum Ashwagandha root extract in reducing stress and anxiety (Chandrasekhar et al., 2012).
Male Fertility and Erectile Dysfunction
There are several clinical trials which have proven Ashwagandha’s ability to improve semen content and quality (Chevallier, 2016). It has also been shown to aid with erectile dysfunction (Weil, 2004). In one clinical trial of 75 normal, healthy fertile men compared with 75 men undergoing infertility screening, Ashwagandha was proven to significantly increase serum testosterone and luteinizing hormones (Murray & Pizzorno, 1998). The herb also recorded a massive increase to sperm count and motility in the same study (1998). One of the primary ways Ashwagandha influences fertility is by improving blood circulation throughout the body (Ambiye et al., 2013). It also improves libido, making it a natural aphrodisiac (2013).
Ashwagandha is prized for its ability to improve muscle strength (Chevallier, 2016). This is especially true for the elderly, or those suffering from arthritis (2016). Other sources suggest Ashwagandha is an excellent source for energy, especially during work outs (Orr, 2014). The herb can be used to rejuvenate and energize the nervous system, also improving physical endurance (Balch, 2010). One recent, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study examining the impact of Ashwagandha on muscle mass and strength in resistance training revealed significant increases in both [muscle mass and strength] from the use of a daily Ashwagandha supplement (Wankhede et al., 2015). It is even suggested to have the ability to improve athletic performance (Singh et al., 2011).
It makes sense that Ashwagandha is associated with rejuvenation, strength, and overall vitality. After all, it has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for its ability to favorably influence recovery and energy within the body. It has more recently, however, been explored for its ability to improve the immune system (Chandrasekhar et al., 2021). In fact, several studies prove Ashwagandha offers amazing boosts to immune function, offering both improved modulation and stimulation (Balch, 2010). The herb has also been associated with antiaging benefits (2010). And while Ashwagandha may not have been used in Ayurvedic medicine for its immune system or antiaging properties, many studies prove the herb is more than capable of contributing in these areas as well (Ziauddin et al., 1995).
Ashwagandha is known for its ability as a nootropic to improve brain function and maximize learning potential (Orr, 2014). The herb is one of many nootropics able to improve memory (2014). While it is well-known that the herb can improve one’s general vigor and energy (making it easier to study and learn), there are many studies which support its direct use for enhancing memory and improving cognitive function. For example, one double-blind, placebo-controlled study on 50 healthy adults suggested it was significantly effective for immediately improving memory, executive function, attention, and information processing (Choudhary et al., 2017). To date, there are many studies which support the herb’s ability to even improve cognitive dysfunction (Ng et al., 2020). It is very commonly prescribed and used by elderly individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia (2020).
Ashwagandha withanolides purportedly combat cancer. Specifically, these steroidal lactones are thought to have anticancer activity and inhibit cancer cell growth (Chevallier, 2016). The herb is also used to alleviate long-term stress, to aide in convalescence, and as a treatment for chronic inflammatory diseases (2016). Some of the inflammatory diseases which can be treated with Ashwagandha include rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis (2016). Ashwagandha is additionally useful for anyone suffering from anemia, as it has a high iron content (2016).
In traditional Ayurvedic medicine, the root could be used to treat snake venom and scorpion stings (Singh et al., 2011). The herb can help with leucorrhoea. It is also used to treat boils, blemishes and pimples, flatulence, and even worms. Some traditional texts indicate the herb has been used to treat fever and swellings, decreasing inflammation. Ashwagandha flowers are considered astringent and diuretic, while the seeds are anthelmintic (2011). Basically, the plant’s uses are impressively diverse!
Dosing and Usage Information
Ashwagandha dosages may vary depending upon the quality and strength of the herb, as well as based upon preparation and parts used. For example, the leaves contain a higher content of withanolides. The leaves are usually dried and either brewed into a tea or extracted and served in capsule form. The root can be made into a decoction. Ashwagandha root is typically used as a calming, anti-anxiety, or strength-invoking formula. The fruit of the plant is a small, red-colored berry. These berries were traditionally chewed in India during convalescence. They were thought to help with general recuperation. Ashwagandha capsules typically contain about 1-2 grams of extract or powder, which are taken once a day.
Most adverse effects, when there are any, are mild in nature with no serious effects typically reported (Chandrasekhar et al., 2012). In fact, the herb is well-tolerated by most adults with no serious adverse effects (2012). As an herbal solution, Ashwagandha is an excellent choice for many ailments.
Other Important Information
Ashwagandha is a member of the Solanaceae family. Although it has a few common names, its traditional name (Ashwagandha) literally translates to “smell of horse.” This is largely due to the horrible smell emitted from the plant’s fresh roots. It is also due to the belief that a person ingesting the herb will gain the strength and vitality of a horse (Shastry, 2001). It is also interesting to note the species name, somnifera, translates to “sleep-inducing” in latin (Ambiye et al., 2013).
Although Ashwagandha is most certainly a multipurpose herb, it is most widely known and used for its adaptogenic properties. In other words, most people know [and use] Ashwagandha for its ability to reduce anxiety and improve an individual’s resistance for stress (Chandrasekhar et al., 2012). The plant is considered strongest, offering the most effective benefits, when it is freshly powdered (Singh et al., 2011). It is considered safe to administer high-concentration, full-spectrum Ashwagandha root extract to adults suffering stress (Chandrasekhar et al., 2012). And so many studies have proven Ashwagandha as effective for treating and preventing such a wide variety of diseases (Mukherjee et al., 2021). With Ashwagandha’s ability to contribute to an individual’s overall health so heavily, it is no wonder it has become one of the internet’s most recent “botanical sensations.”
A Note from NooFiles
This article is intended to be used for information only. We want to remind you that consulting your physician is recommended before adding any dietary supplement of any kind to your daily regimen.
Ambiye, V., Langade, D., Dongre, S., Aptikar, P., Kulkarni, M., and Dongre, A. (2013). Clinical Evaluation of the Spermatogenic Activity of the Root Extract of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in Oligospermic Males: A Pilot Study. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine. PMID: 571420. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/571420
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Wankhede, S., Langade, D., Joshi, K., Sinha, S. R., & Bhattacharyya, S. (2015). Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Vol.12(43). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-015-0104-9
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