What is Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is a medicinal herb that has been described in Ayurveda for thousands of years. Let’s check out the health benefits of ashwagandha concerning ayurvedic uses and the scientific evidence behind it.
The scientific name of Ashwagandha is Withania Somnifera. Commonly known as Indian Ginseng or winter cherry, the herb is native to India which grows best in dry regions.
In Ayurveda, the word “Ashwagandha” means “smell of horse”, where ‘Ashwa’ means ‘horse’ and ‘Gandha’ means ‘fragrance’. That is, whenever you smell the fresh root of ashwagandha, you will get a scent like a horse from it. And that’s why its name Ashwagandha has gone. Another reason for the name is that there is a belief that a person consuming this exotic herb may develop strength and vitality similar to that of a horse.
Ashwagandha contains steroidal lactones called withanolides as the main bioactive compound. A lot of the pharmacological activities are attributed to the presence of these steroidal lactones. In addition, the roots contain eighteen fatty acids, beta-sitosterol, polyphenols and phytosterols.
Its abundant medicinal qualities are attracting scientists worldwide. Numerous scientific studies found it as a restorative herb that is totally non-toxic with tremendous health benefits to its credit.
Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
This magic herb is a promising alternative treatment for a variety of health issues. In a recent seminar on essential drug concept, it was projected as one of the essential medicinal herbs. (1)
Aswagandha in Ayurveda
In Ayurveda, aswagandha is known as “Rasayana” meaning life promoting. The root of Ashwagandha is regarded as tonic, aphrodisiac, narcotic, diuretic, anthelmintic, astringent, and stimulant.
It is commonly used in weakness in children, debility from old age, rheumatism, leucoderma, constipation, insomnia, nervous breakdown, and goitre. It also helps in joint pain, ulcers, piles, leucorrhoea, boils, pimples, flatulence, and worms.
The leaves are bitter and are prescribed in fever, and painful swellings. The flowers are astringent, diuretic and aphrodisiac. The seeds are anthelmintic that can kill or expel intestinal worms. In addition, combined with astringent and rock salt, it can remove white spots from the cornea.
Ashwagandharishta prepared from the herb is used in hysteria, anxiety, memory loss, syncope, etc. It also acts as a stimulant and increases the sperm count.
Scientific studies have suggested that aswagandha might be beneficial for a number of conditions. There is some evidence to support the use of the herb for the following:
1. Boosts Immunity
Immunity is the ability of our body to defend itself from harmful bacteria and viruses. If your immunity is strong, then only you can fight easily against the harmful effects of viruses and bacteria. Ashwagandha if consumed regularly helps in boosting your immunity. Its consumption promotes the growth of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets count which help in restoring your immunity.
2. Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Aswagandha is a potent anti-stress agent. It can improve your resistance towards stress and thereby improves quality of life. Root extract is effective in increasing your stamina and preventing stress induced gastric ulcer.
Studies demonstrated that you can use aswagandha as a tonics, vitalizers and rejuvenators. Clinical studies of Aswagandha also reported that it helps to prevent and treat many stress induced diseases like arteriosclerosis, premature ageing, arthritis, diabetes, hypertension and malignancy. (2)
3. Prevent Heart Attack
Studies have revealed that regular intake of Ashwagandha reduces the chances of a heart attack. It may be useful as a general tonic, due in part to its beneficial effects on the cardiopulmonary system. Research in the World Journal of Medical Science has also revealed that the consumption of Ashwagandha reduces bad cholesterol and triglyceride in the blood, which reduces the chances of a heart attack. (3)
4. Memory Booster
In the Ayurvedic system of medicine, Ashwagandha is widely used as Ayurvedic Rasayana, which is known as Medhyarasayanas. Medhya in general refers to the mind and psychological and intellectual capacity. Thus, Ashwagandha is used to promote intellect and memory. The cognition-promoting effect of Ashwagandha is best seen in children with memory deficits, or when compromised memory due to head injury, or a prolonged illness and in old age. Besides, Ashwagandha may help you to sleep better by reducing the amount of cortisol in the blood, due to which you feel very relaxed.
5. Its Rejuvenating
Several research studies reported that Aswagandha significantly increases haemoglobin and RBC count, and improves hair melanin and seated stature. In summary, these studies indicate Aswagandha may be useful in younger as well as aged people as a general health tonic. Its use as a general tonic will increase your energy and prevent diseases.
6. Treats Arthritis and Fever
Ashwagandha is an analgesic that soothes the nervous system and may give you relief from pain. It is now widely accepted and documented that Ashwagandha has powerful anti-arthritic properties. So those who have chronic arthritis problem should start taking Ashwagandha from today itself. It is furthermore found to be effective as antipyretic and acts similar to that of Paracetamol, a fever reducer and pain reliever.
7. Treats Cancer
Ashwagandha was found to be very useful for treating cancer in experimental mice. It produces reactive oxygen species in the body which can destroy tumour cells as well as prevent them from spreading in the body. Ashwagandha was found to be effective in the treatment of ovarian cancer, fibroid tumours and lung cancer.
Furthermore, the drug can be used as an adjunct to cancer chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Besides the anti-cancer effect, it will also decrease the side effects of anti-cancer agents, which reduces immunity and quality of life.
Aswagandha acts as an immunomodulator and hence can enhance the life span of cancer patients. It also improves the white blood cell count and function, which are depleted in the chemotherapeutic treatment of cancer. (4)
8. Treats Neurodegenerative Diseases
There are plentiful studies that proved that Ashwagandha slows down, stops, reverses or removes the inflammation of nerves and synaptic loss. Therefore the herb has the potential to cure Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’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.
Studies revealed that the roots of Ashwagandha significantly reversed cognitive defects in Alzheimer’s disease. It may also be helpful in protecting neuronal injury in Parkinson’s disease. In Ayurveda Ashwagandha has been described as a nervine tonic, rejuvenators and vitalizes that appear to alleviate disease and induce immunity. (5)
Side Effects of Aswagandha
Ashwagandha is safe when taken for up to three months. The long-term safety of ashwagandha is not yet established. Large doses of ashwagandha might cause indigestion, diarrhoea, and vomiting. Sometimes, liver problems might occur.
Pregnant and lactating mother should avoid ashwagandha, since little data is available on its effects on them.
Diabetic and Hypertensive people should take aswagandha with caution as it might lower blood sugar levels and blood pressure to go too low. This might also interfere with medications used for diabetes and hypertension.
How to take
Aswagandha is available in the form of powder, capsule, liquid and root extract. You can find it in local ayurvedic medical store or you can buy it online. According to ayurvedic texts you can take 1-2 tablets twice daily. However, consult one ayurvedic practitioner before taking the medication.
The scientific research supports the uses of Ashwagandha as Rasayana in Ayurveda. It’s a real powerful regenerative tonic, due to its multiple pharmacological actions.
In India, Ashwagandha is used as a household remedy and considered as the best tonic for old people and children, and as aphrodisiac by young people. Scientific evidences clearly indicate that the traditional use of Ashwagandha has a logical and scientific basis.