Ashwagandha: Evidence Based Benefits and Side Effects

What is ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an Ayurvedic herb with remarkable medicinal properties beneficial for protecting the nervous system. It is filled with essential nutrients and antioxidants that enable appropriate functioning of the vital organs in the body. It has several other uses for an array of health problems.

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha

Possible health benefits of ashwagandha: What is it good for

Neurodegenerative disorders

Parkinson’s disease (PD) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) are common neurodegenerative disorders, characterized by gradual loss of nerve cells in the central nervous system, affecting the movement and mental ability of a person.

In a clinical study carried out on aged mice with AD, the withanolides and withanosides in ashwagandha exhibited nootropic activity that significantly reversed the primary symptoms of the condition.

In another study conducted on PD-affected mice, the root extract corrected the symptoms by increasing the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in the regulation of movement and cognition.

According to another study, the herb helps in nerve regeneration in patients with neurodegenerative ailments.

Seizures

A sudden disturbance in the electrical activity of the brain can cause epileptic seizures.

Anti-seizure drugs regulate the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain to reduce convulsions. The same properties are believed to exist in ashwagandha root extract but in a natural way.

Animal studies have shown a significant reduction in the frequency of seizures after its administration.

Arthritis

The liquid extract of ashwagandha exhibits anti-inflammatory activity that makes it suitable for treatment of arthritis. Its regular consumption can decrease swelling in the joints, a common symptom experienced by affected patients.

Studies in humans affected with osteoarthritis have revealed the chondroprotective properties of the herb that prevent degeneration of cartilages.

In another clinical study on rats suffering from gout, administration of its root powder minimized inflammation.

High blood pressure

According to a clinical study, it is an effective remedy for lowering blood pressure.

Peptic ulcers

It is a potent alternative remedy for peptic ulcers as most anti-ulcer medications can cause unwanted side effects.

In an animal study, the usefulness of the plant was found to be higher than ranitidine, a prescribed anti-ulcer drug.

Ashwagandha Pictures

Ashwagandha Pictures

Ashwagandha Images

Ashwagandha Images

Cancer

Withaferin A in ashwagandha can prevent the growth of new blood vessels in tumor cells. The risk of cancer can be minimized if the leaves are consumed on a regular basis.

A study on human pancreatic cancer cells revealed its role in preventing the malignant cells from growing.

High levels of estrogen, a female steroid hormone, could promote the growth of cancer cells that are estrogen-receptor-positive. In some new animal studies, anti-estrogen activity has been discovered in the root extract  that inhibits the growth of breast tumor cells with estrogen receptors.

Ashwagandha Root

Ashwagandha Root

Ashwagandha Root Pictures

Ashwagandha Root Pictures

Anxiety, depression and sleep disorders

Tincture prepared from ashwagandha root is believed to have anxiety-relieving effects. Although anxiety cannot be linked to depression, some scientific studies have shown its effectiveness in treating both the conditions in mice.

According to some animal studies, it can also be used for treating insomnia, a common symptom in patients with depression or anxiety disorders.

Ashwagandha Plant

Ashwagandha Plant

Ashwagandha Photos

Ashwagandha Photos

Liver disorders

Some studies have shown protective effects of the herb on damaged liver.

Effects on cortisol

Elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, released by the adrenal glands, can have various health consequences such as high blood pressure, adrenal fatigue, lack of sleep, and weight gain.

Some human clinical trials have supported the use of ashwagandha root extract in combating stress by reducing the cortisol levels.

Autoimmune conditions

The immune system protects the body against infections and disorders. However, in an autoimmune disease, it begins to produce antibodies against the tissues of the body, causing severe damage.

The herb has immunomodulatory properties that enable it to suppress an overactive immune system. Numerous animal studies have shown its ability to regulate the function of the immune system.

In a study involving mice affected with systemic lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune condition marked by inflammation of skin and joints, the root powder showed its work.

Osteoporosis

Ashwagandha provides potential benefits for elderly women suffering from osteoporosis, a severe condition in which the bones become weak and fragile. Some animal studies have shown its positive effects on brittle bones.

Abdominal infections

Food poisoning has often been the common cause of intestinal infections. Some of the active constituents of ashwagandha are believed to exhibit antibacterial activity for eliminating  infections.

A controlled study on guinea pigs infected with E. coli showed promising results after being treated with it.

Another study on mice with salmonellosis, an abdominal infection caused by salmonella bacteria, led to a similar outcome after its use.

Ashwagandha Flowers

Ashwagandha Flowers

Ashwagandha Flower

Ashwagandha Flower

High cholesterol

It is rich in antioxidants that lower the levels of blood cholesterol to prevent the risk of various cardiovascular ailments.

In a clinical study, ashwagandha root powder was found to decrease the cholesterol levels in mice.

Diabetes

Inability to produce insulin for regulating the levels of blood glucose can result in type 2 diabetes.

Juice prepared from the fruit is good for boosting the production of insulin by releasing antioxidants in the body. According to a recent study on type 2 diabetic rats, it helps to maintain proper blood glucose levels.

Thyroid disorders

Insufficient release of thyroid hormone leads to several health abnormalities. Research studies have shown that administration of ashwagandha root extract can be effective in preventing hypothyroidism by stimulating the thyroid gland for increased hormone production.

In few instances, it is combined with rhodiola or golden root to improve the activity of the gland.

Hair loss

The oil prepared from the seeds of the herb can be used to improve the growth of hair. Some studies have provided evidences about its beneficial effects on hair loss and maintaining a healthy scalp.

Ashwagandha Root Powder

Ashwagandha Root Powder

Testosterone booster

Ashwagandha tea prepared from the root provides a host of benefits for men with sexual disorders such as loss of libido, premature ejaculation, and erectile dysfunction caused by low levels of testosterone. It is also believed that combination of the herb with shatavari and shilajit can help in treating these conditions.

Behavioral studies on mice showed a marked increase in the testosterone levels after its administration.

Low production of sperms in the testes is the most common cause of male infertility. In a pilot study, the root extract given to a group of infertile men significantly improved the sperm count.

Other benefits and safety information

Is ashwagandha good for weight loss? 

It is often used as an alternative weight loss remedy by obese patients. However, there are no strong clinical evidences to support its use.

Can ashwagandha be used for increasing height?

It has not been proven in any research study about the positive effects of the herb on pituitary gland which releases the human growth hormone.

Are there any side effects of ashwagandha?

It usually does not have any adverse effects. However, in some cases overuse of the root can cause gastritis, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Is ashwagandha safe during pregnancy?

It is not considered safe for pregnant women and nursing mothers.

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Withania_somnifera

http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-953-ashwagandha.aspx?activeingredientid=953&activeingredientname=ashwagandha

http://www.drugs.com/npp/ashwagandha.html

http://www.lef.org/magazine/2006/6/report_ashwa/Page-01

http://examine.com/supplements/Ashwagandha/

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