The Aswagandha (Withania somnifera) is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine. Called the ‘Indian ginseng’, its effectiveness is thought to be similar to the herb ginseng, used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat a large number of diseases. It’s a small woody shrub with bright red fruit. The root possesses the most valued tonic properties. The bitter leaves and fruits are also used for medicinal purposes. The berries are sometimes used to coagulate milk to make cheese.
Botanical Name – Withania Somnifera
Sanskrit – Ashwagandha
Tamil – Ammukira
Common name – Winter cherry
Hindi – Asgandh
Health benefits of Ashwagandha
Research shows that the herb possesses enormous health benefits. It has anti-inflammatory, antitumor, antistress, antioxidant, immunomodulatory, and rejuvenating properties. It also benefits the endocrine, cardiopulmonary, and central nervous systems. It is considered antihelmintic (clearing worms) and antitussive (alleviating cough) in traditional medicine. Over thousands of years of empirical experiences and various studies on animals have attested to the outstanding medicinal properties of this herb.
Anti-inflammatory health benefits of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is very effective in certain rheumatological conditions. This may be due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Animal studies have shown that the powdered root of Aswagandha, considerably reduced the severity of pain in rats. In a clinical trial, it was found that the herb not only reduced the severity of pain but also the disability of arthritis. It is said to protect against cartilage damage associated with osteoarthritis.
Antitumor health benefits of Ashwagandha
In trials with urethane-induced animals, it was found that, in addition to providing protection from carcinogenic effects, Ashwagandha reversed the adverse effects of urethane on total leukocyte count, lymphocyte count, body weight, and mortality. The herb is also thought to inhibit the growth of tumors and has the ability to reduce cancer cells.
Anti-stress health benefits
Ashwagandha is said to have an anti-anxiety effect and also helps to ease depression. It has the ability to stabilize moods and has sleep-inducing properties. In fact, the name ‘somnifera’ in Latin means sleep inducer. It is an adaptogen herb. Adaptogens allow one to adapt to a variety of stressful conditions. It leads to heightened stamina and endurance.
Immunomodulatory health benefits
It stimulates the immune system and strengthens it. Ashwagandha can enhance immune function by increasing immunoglobulin production and regulating antibody production. When tested on mice, the root extract of Ashwagandha showed significant immunostimulatory activity.
Anti-oxidant health benefits
Researchers have discovered that some of the chemicals in Ashwagandha are powerful antioxidants and hence have great health benefits. Traditional medicine has used the herb for many diseases associated with radical oxidative damage. The active principles of Aswagandha – sistoindosides VII – X and withaferin A have been tested for antioxidant activity on animals. It was found that the herb has an antioxidant effect on the brain which may be responsible for its various medicinal properties. It is hence believed that the ashwagandha can help people suffering from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s’, and other neurodegenerative disorders.
Ashwagandha Health Benefits for the Brain
The blood flow to the hippocampus is said to reduce as people grow old and this makes the brain prone to damage. This is because of declining levels of glutathione within the brain cells, which is an important anti-aging compound. Ashwagandha helps raise the level of this compound in the brain, it helps to improve brain function and memory. Ashwagandha also helps to protect against degenerative brain disorders.
Also read: How to keep the brain healthy in old age
Scientific studies show that Ashwagandha extracts help in dealing with stress, and improving mood. Ashwagandha’s effect on brain function is due to the compound known as withanolides which helps improve not only the overall health of brain cells but also how well the brain cells communicate.
Health tonic for men
Ashwagandha is the Ayurvedic answer to ginseng. It is valued specifically for its rejuvenating effects on glandular function, stamina, and energy, and is the main lifelong health tonic for men. It also forms part of the treatment for impotence. It relieves stress and is an aphrodisiac. Ashwagandha helps to raise the levels of testosterone significantly. The production of testosterone decreases in their bodies significantly as men age.
Ashwagandha health benefits for women
First of all, ashwagandha is a stress buster. It acts as a sexual stimulant as it relieves mental stress, improves mood, and increases blood flow. It also relieves menopause-related issues like hormonal imbalances, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. It works on the endocrine system, normalizing the secretion of hormones, thus alleviating the symptoms of menopause. Ashwagandha also delays the memory loss associated with aging. It prevents the onset of brain cell degeneration. By alleviating stress, it helps prevent hair loss and greying of hair. It is also used to prevent dandruff and can be found in many herbal shampoos and conditioners as it promotes hair growth.
Ashwagandha Home Remedies
From Dk’s ‘Home Herbal’
- Take 250mg to 1 gm of powdered root three times daily as a restorative tonic for exhaustion, sleep problems, debility caused by chronic diseases
- Taking powdered roots regularly can help in degenerative disorders such as arthritis
- Take 2 – 4 ml of fluid extracts of ashwagandha 3 times daily as an energy tonic, remedy for insomnia, to nourish the blood in anemia, and for stress or debility.
- Take 1/2 – 1 cup of decoction made from 1 tsp of dried root and 120 ml of milk or water simmered for 15 mins, for stress or exhaustion.
Mix equal quantities of turmeric, ginger, and ashwagandha powders. Consume 5 grams of this powder two times a day with milk, preferably before food, to relieve allergic rhinitis.
For insomnia, mix 5 grams of ashwagandha root powder in a cup of milk. Add sugar as required and consume regularly at bedtime.
Side Effects of Ashwagandha
It may be unsafe to use ashwagandha when pregnant. Some evidence suggests that ashwagandha might cause miscarriages. Since there is no reliable information about ashwagandha during breastfeeding, it is better to avoid the herb to be safe.
As ashwagandha may lower blood sugar levels, it could interfere with the medications used for diabetes causing blood sugar levels to drop. Therefore, if you have diabetes, it is better to monitor your blood sugar closely.
Ashwagandha should be used cautiously if you have low blood pressure or take medications for your blood pressure.
Those with auto-immune diseases should avoid taking ashwagandha as the herb may cause the immune system to be more active.
It is not advised to use ashwagandha if you have a stomach ulcer as it may irritate the gastrointestinal tract.
Those with thyroid disorders should use ashwagandha cautiously or avoid it altogether as the herb might increase thyroid hormone levels.