All the benefits of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), one of the main ingredients of Ayurveda, due to its adaptogenic, anti-inflammatory, anti-stress, anxiolytic and aphrodisiac properties that this plant is used for the treatment of rheumatism, insomnia, anxiety, sexual dysfunctions and many even more. Let’s find out together.
Ashwagandha, the “Indian Ginseng”
With the scientific name of Withania somnifera , ashwagandha is a plant belonging to the Solanaceae family , the same as tomatoes and peppers. It has its origins in India, where it goes by many other names, including “Indian ginseng” or “winter cherry”. The plant is described as a relatively small shrub. It has oval leaves of about ten centimeters.
Ashwagandha is one of the most important plants in Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine) and for centuries in its country of origin, it has been one of the main remedies for the treatment of an impressive number of pathologies.
In the last decade, this plant has aroused the interest of various scientists and numerous researches have been carried out on it , many of which have led to important results, which we will discuss shortly.
To tell the truth, it must be added that ashwagandha also has several contraindications, so I invite you to read the entire article, including the final paragraph on side effects and contraindications.
The benefits of Ashwagandha
The roots and more rarely the leaves are used of Ashwagandha .
What makes it so interesting is its unusual composition . In addition to being rich in flavonoids, substances known for their antioxidant action, the plant also contains phenolic acids (gallic, palmitic, oleic, vanillic, coumaric, linoleic, benzoic and syringic) and fatty acids. It also contains alkaloids, catechins, steroidal lactones (including withaferine A) and kaempferol.
This blend of active ingredients gives ashwagandha numerous beneficial properties and makes it an extremely interesting plant for the prevention and treatment of a large number of diseases.
Let’s see specifically which ones.
1. Reduction of anxiety, insomnia and stress
Ashwagandha is well known in India for its adaptogenic properties , just like rhodiola rosea or Asian panax ginseng and the effect has also been confirmed by scientific studies ( 1 ). If you are a person who suffers particularly from stress you will be able to find benefit from the use of this plant.
Not only that, ashwagandha also seems to be effective in reducing the feeling of anxiety that oppresses us ( 2 ). Researchers have compared the effects of ashwagandha to those of drugs commonly used to treat stress and anxiety problems, with similar results, except that ashwagandha does not have the severe side effects of drugs.
Finally this plant is also known to improve the quality of sleep . For example , this study evaluated the effect of Ashwagandha root extract on sleep in both healthy and insomniac subjects. A randomized parallel-group study with a stratified placebo-controlled design was performed. Eighty participants, 40 in arm A (healthy) and 40 in arm B (insomnia), were assigned to the two groups, Ashwagandha or placebo, and observed for 8 weeks. Both in healthy subjects and in those with insomnia, a significant improvement in sleep parameters was found in the group that took the Ashwagandha root extract, greater in people with insomnia than in healthy subjects.
This trial confirms that Ashwagandha root can improve sleep quality and contribute to better management of insomnia problem.
2. Improves memory, has neuroprotective properties
A recent study published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements ( 3 ) conducted on 50 participants tested the effectiveness of Ashwagandha in counteracting memory loss and improving cognitive functions . Participants, 35 years of age and older, were screened for having symptoms of memory loss, a diagnosis of early dementia, or high scores on mental status tests. During the 8-week study, a daily dose of 300 mg of ashwagandha extract was administered. After eight weeks, the group that received ashwagandha showed a significant improvement in parameters, both compared to baseline values and compared to the placebo group, which concerned short- and long-term memory and all points of the Wechsler Memory Scale III.
The researchers, despite deeming further studies with larger study groups necessary, underline the effects of ashwagandha and hypothesize that its mechanism of action is linked to the sedative properties that could be indirectly involved in cognitive functions.
A further study ( 4 ) evaluated the beneficial action of ashwagandha in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. From the test results it is evident that W. somnifera root extract acts as a neuroprotector, thus introducing a potential agent for the treatment or prevention of neurodegenerative diseases.
3. Stimulating effect on the thyroid gland
According to a recent Indian study, Ashwagandha root extracts can help normalize thyroid hormone levels. Research in particular has shown the role of Ashwagandha in normalizing the values of thyroid hormones in subjects with hypothyroidism ( 5 ).
A further study ( 6 ) seems to confirm the stimulating activity of ashwagandha on the thyroid. The test in question was conducted on laboratory mice, which were chemically induced to hypothyroidism via propylthiouracil. After 1 month of treatment with ashgrandha extract, the researchers noted a marked improvement in thyroid function , an increase in T3 and T4 thyroid hormones and a reduction in oxidative stress.
4. Prevention and treatment of joint diseases
One of the reasons for using this plant in Ayurvedic medicine is its anti- inflammatory effect . In fact, the plant appears to be useful in the treatment and prevention of joint diseases , such as rheumatism or arthritis ( 7 ). In a way, consuming this plant helps reduce inflammatory pain. These anti-inflammatory properties are equally interesting in the context of cardiovascular problems.
5. The effects of the plant on fertility and libido
In Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha is also known as a natural aphrodisiac , a property that probably relates to its adaptogenic action which we have already discussed. In fact, stress is often the main cause of low libido and erectile dysfunction. Clinical studies carried out so far have demonstrated not only the anti-stress effect of the plant, but also its contribution to improving sexual activity ( 8 ).
Of course, Indian ginseng shouldn’t be consumed in too large doses. In fact, in case of excess, its consumption can have the opposite effect to that sought, and therefore negatively affect the libido ( 9 ).
Another study published in Reprod Biomed Online 2017 ( 10 ) found that oral intake of ashwagandha root helps to inhibit lipid peroxidation, improve sperm count and motility and regulate reproductive hormone levels .
6. Ashwagandha in the fight and prevention of Cancer?
Scientists have always been interested in the potential anti-cancer effects of plants, so ashwagandha has also been the subject of numerous clinical studies in this area. In 1965, researchers discovered and isolated a steroid lactone called withaferin A , a substance found only in this plant.
Scientists later discovered that this substance is able to block a protein involved in the development of cancer cells ( 11 ). The study reveals that the consumption of ashwagandha therefore limits the effects of this protein on the cells of our body and can prevent the development of tumors and other types of diseases in a natural way.
7. Blood regenerative and anti-anemic properties
According to a study ( 12 ) conducted on ashwagandha, its root has hematopoietic properties , ie it is able to regenerate blood . In fact, the number of red blood cells and white blood cells increased significantly in rats given ashwagandha. For this reason, ashwagandha can also be useful in the prevention and treatment of anemia.
8. Ashwagandha against tiredness and for those who practice sports
In India and in most of Asia, ashwagandha is known for its tonic and energizing action , useful both for those who feel very tired (both physically and mentally), and for those who need to improve their sporting performance. .
In particular, the plant seems to bring benefits both in terms of explosive strength and in terms of resistance .
The effects of ashwagandha on short efforts
Most of the scientific studies focus on the benefits of the plant in anaerobic type activity , i.e. intense and short-term efforts . Scientific studies have shown that regular ashwagandha intake can improve physical strength and can help increase muscle mass in people who participate in sports such as lifting weights ( 13 ). The results are significant and confirm that the use of the plant is useful and beneficial in sports.
Ashwagandha may also improve balance, power, peak speed and maximal oxygen uptake in athletes ( 14 ).
Ashwagandha and long-term efforts
The effects of ashwagandha on sports performance mainly concern short and intense efforts. However, the elements available to us also allow us to underline its effectiveness in sports performance during long-lasting efforts (of the aerobic type ). In fact, taking ashwagandha brings about a slight improvement in the maximum oxygen consumption capacity: VO2MAX. Additionally, taking ashwagandha appears to improve cardiovascular endurance as well ( 15 ).
Other Benefits of Ashwagandha
The virtues and benefits of ashwagandha on health are numerous and many of them have yet to be studied thoroughly. It is no coincidence that it is one of the most important plants in Ayurvedic Medicine, used for more than a millennium for the treatment and prevention of numerous pathologies.
For example, this plant is also known for:
- reduce blood glucose levels, especially in the context of diabetes;
- protective effects on the heart and for the prevention of heart disease;
- regulate metabolic functions and cognitive abilities;
- useful in the fight against respiratory diseases, such as asthma and bronchitis.
Contraindications and side effects
Ashwagandha is considered a safe plant, however there are cases in which it is highly discouraged, let’s see which ones:
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding : ashwagandha is absolutely not recommended during pregnancy as it contains alkaloids which can have an abortifacient effect. Also due to the presence of alkaloids, it should also be avoided during breastfeeding;
- Hyperthyroidism : being a strong stimulator of the thyroid, ashwagandha is contraindicated and should therefore not be taken in case of hyperthyroidism, or in conjunction with the intake of thyroid medicines;
- With antidepressant medications : Ashwagandha is also contraindicated if you are taking antidepressant medications such as barbiturates, tricyclic antidepressants, benzodiazepines, anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, or zolpidem.
Ashwagandha side effects
The consumption of ashwagandha can, in some cases, lead to the appearance of side effects, especially if the dosages are exceeded. In high doses, this plant ashwagandha extract, or pure ashwagandha powder can cause intestinal discomfort, especially diarrhea, but also constipation in some people. Always in high doses, ashwagandha can have sedative effects.
How to consume ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha can be consumed as a pure dried powder , or as an extract in capsule form .
The most natural form is the powder, which can be dissolved in simple water or other beverages at room temperature. It can also be mixed in yoghurt, smoothies, centrifuged juices, extracts and cold or warm teas/herbal teas (not hot, because the heat would destroy part of the active ingredients).
In case of powder , the recommended ashwagandha dose for effective action is about 2-3 grams of root powder per day . Ashwagandha should be taken during main meals and distributed throughout the day. If you take it to counteract insomnia problems, it should be taken in the evening.
In the case of capsules (dry extract) the recommended dosage is generally 300-400 mg per day , but it should always be indicated inside the product.
Where to buy Ashwagandha
You can buy pure and organic ashwagandha root powder directly on the online store of the Erbe di Mauro farm.
Organic Ashwagandha powder, 100g
- Ingredients: pure Ashwagandha root powder (Withania somnifera), from organic farming;
- Packs of 100g;
- Company: Mauro’s herbs.
NB : All information published on this site is informative and should not be considered as advice, or medical prescriptions, or other.