Ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng, goes by the botanical name Withania Somnifera. It is a small shrub with yellow flowers that is native to India and North Africa and is used as an aphrodisiac, stimulant, diuretic, astringent and thermogenic. The root smells like “ashwa”, the Sanskrit name for a horse, hence its name.
It has been used in Ayurveda for around 6000 thousands of years and is known as a Rasayana, which is a tonic that promotes physical and mental health. It is typically found in the form of a churna, a fine powder which is often mixed with ghee, honey or water.
The root is known as an adaptogen, which is a herb, compound or substance that when administered, causes homeostasis, or the stabilisation of the body’s physiological processes. It is also one of the most researched adaptogenic herbs.
Among the benefits of taking this herb is improved memory, improved sexual and reproductive health, improved resilience to stress and improved immunity to disease. It is also a powerful antioxidant that protects against cellular damage by free radicals.
Ashwagandha is often used for its anti-anxiety effect as well as to relieve insomnia and depression. Interestingly, social dysfunction was also dramatically reduced in anxious people given the root extract supplement.
A study entitled An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda stated:
Ashwagandha induced a calming anxiolytic effect that was comparable to the drug Lorazepam in all three standard Anxiety tests: the elevated plus-maze, social interaction and the feeding latency in an unfamiliar environment. Further, both Ashwagandha and Lorazepam, reduced rat brain levels of tribulin, an endocoid marker of clinical anxiety, when the levels were increased following administration of the anxiogenic agent, pentylenetetrazole.
Research studies have reported a decrease in cholesterol in excess of 10% in people supplementing with extracts of the root.
A paper entitled A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults concludes:
The findings of this study suggest that a high-concentration full-spectrum Ashwagandha root extract safely and effectively improves an individual’s resistance towards stress and thereby improves self-assessed quality of life.
The study entitled An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda asserted:
Ashwagandha also exhibited an antidepressant effect, comparable with that induced by imipramine, in two standard tests, the forced swim-induced ‘behavioral despair’ and ‘learned helplessness’ tests. The investigations support the use of Ashwagandha as a mood stabiliser in clinical conditions of anxiety and depression.
The study entitled An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda reported that:
Ashwagandha is an analgesic that soothes nervous system from pain response (Twajj et al., 1989). The powerful anti-arthritic properties (Singh et al. 1984, 1986) of Ashwagandha are now widely accepted and documented; it is furthermore found to be effective as antipyretic as well as analgesic also.
Strength & Endurance
Further studies have noted marked improvements in the power output and increased the time to exhaustion in people who took the supplement for strength and endurance training purposes. Studies have also noted that the root extract supplement significantly reduces the symptoms of stress which include fatigue, cognitive impairment and high cortisol levels.
The study entitled An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda concluded with the following:
The available scientific data support the conclusion that Ashwagandha is a real potent regenerative tonic (Rasayana of Ayurveda), due to its multiple pharmacological actions like anti-stress, neuroprotective, antitumor, anti-arthritic, analgesic and anti-inflammatory etc. It is useful for different types of diseases like Parkinson, dementia, memory loss, stress induced diseases, malignoma and others.
Thus, the above findings clearly indicate that the traditional use of Ashwagandha has a logical and scientific basis. Large scale clinical studies are needed to prove the clinical efficacy of this herb, specially in stress related diseases, neuronal disorders and cancers.