Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a very poweful ayruvedic herb which has been used for more that 3000 years. It has also been referred as „Indian Ginseng”, „Winter Cherry” or in Ayruvedic medicine as „the smell of the horse”, because of it’s adaptogenic and restorative remedy giving the strength and vitality of the horse .
Botanically speaking it belongs to the same family as a tomato (Solanaceae) and is a plump shrub with oval leaves and yellow flowers.
The herb is cultivated in dry regions of India, northern Africa and the Middle East.
In Ayurvedic medicine, the berries and leaves of the plant are applied externally to tumors, tubercular glands, carbuncles and ulcers.
The roots are used to prepare a herbal remedy – ashwagandha .
Thanks to more than 200 medical studies, we can confirm the health benefits of using ashwagandha. In this article we present 7 scienctifically proven health benfits of this powerful herb.
Stress and Anxiety
Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension. When it occurs temporarily, it can be motivating and mobilizes to action, but prolonged stress can lead to underperformance and adverse clinical conditions.
One of the benefits of using ashwagandha is significant reduction of perceived stress and anxiety sympthoms.
Six weeks supplementaion (250mg twice daily of the root extract) have improved anxiety symptoms in patients with diagnozed generalized anxiety disorder .
Similar study on people with anxiety disorders has confirmed that 300mg (1.5% withanolides) twice daily over the 8 weeks reduced anxiety symptoms by 56.5% vs 30.5% in the placebo group .
Systematic review of 5 studies concluded that ashwagandha administration can significantly (4 out of 5 cases) reduces stress in comparison to placebo .
Cortisol and inflammation
Cortisol is a powerful steroid hormone, produced in the human body by an adrenal glands. It is released in response to stress and low blood sugar level.
It is crucial for gluconeogenesis, suppressing the immune system (when needed), sustaining electrolytes balance and playing essential role in metabolism of fat, protein and carbohydrates.
However, when chronically elevated (prolonged stress) it can lower immunity and increases risk of chronic disease.
Chandrasekhar et al have been shown that 300mg of an ashwagandha extract for the period of 60 days administered to patients with chronic mental stress can reduce serum cortisol by 27.9% .
Another study also confirmed the efficiency of ashwagandha use. Administration of 5g of the root extract daily for 3 months by infertile men reduced cortisol by in the 11-32% with the greatest normozoospermic psychological stressed men .
Ashwagandha has been show to be effective in decreasing inflammation marker – C-reactive protein (CRP) which is linked with increased risk of heart disease.
Supplementaion of 250 mg of ashwagandha daily decreased the CRP on average by 36% in comparison to 6% in placebo group .
Diabetes and glucose level
Several studies have been shown that Withania somnifera can be used to effectively reduce blood sugar level in healthy people and those with type 2 diabetes.
One of the studies performed on 25 patients with schizophrenia has shown that 400mg intake of ashwagandha for 4 weeks has been show to reduce 13% in blood sugar levels .
Another small study of 6 people with diabetes, who have been taking aswagandha for 30 days demonstrated hypoglycaemic effect on the body .
Further studies on larger populations are needed to support hypoglycaemic effect on the body.
Testosterone and fertility
Ahswagandha has an influence on stress and hormonal balance (cortisol, testosterone, LH), so it is not suprising that it can influence mens fertility.
Mahdi et al study has shown that 5g of ashwagandha root powder daily for 3 months in infertile men was able to increase sperm count and motility and elevated testosterone levels (by 10-22%) and reduce cortisol (by 11-32%) with the best efficacy in men who were higly stressed .
Another study confirmed Ashwagandha effectiveness in treating male sexual dysfunction and infertility.
Supplementation of 675mg of full-spectrum root extract of Ashwagandha three times daily for 90 days in infertile men group increased sperm count by 167%, semen volume by 53% and sperm motility by 57% in comparison to placebo group where the improvement was minimal.
Serum testosterone increased significantly by 17% and LH by 34% in comparison to placebo group .
Those results supports the previous evidence that Ashwagandha can be useful in the treatment of oligospermia leading to infertility, especially when stress is the contributing factor.
Withania somnifera may be effective in normalising the blood lipids (total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, triglicerydes).
Auddy et al has undertaken a study on chronically stressed people taking ashwagandha for 2 months.
The LDL-C (which increase the risk of cardiovascular disease) dropped by 17.4% for 500mg/daily dose, VLDL-C by 23.9% for the same dose and HDL-C (which decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease) increased by 17.3 % for 500mg/daily dose .
A Similar study has also confirmed that ashwagandha can be effective in normalizing the lipids including LDL, VLDL, total cholesterol and triglicerydes .
Muscle mass, strengh, physical performance
Whether you are a sportsman, or you just exercise occasionaly, you might be interested in the of Ashwagandha to boost physical performance.
According to the Sandhu et al study Withania somnifera (500mg/daily)it may be useful for genaralized weakness,improve speed, lower limb muscular strength and neuro-muscular co-ordination .
Other study has proven that supplementation of 750mg for 10days followed by 1000mg and 1250mg for 10 days each may increase strength in quadriceps and back extensor muscles (but not grip) after 30 days despite no exercise .
Study from 2015 has reported that ashwagandha supplementation (300mg/twice/daily for 8 weeks) significantly increased muscle mass and strength.
This findings suggested that it can be useful in conjunction with resistance program .
Fatigue and cognitive function
The evidence suggest, that influence on the hormones might affect perceived fatigue and improving wealthbeing.
A Study performed on 100 patients with breast cancer in all stages suggested that Withania somnifera might be effective in reducing cancer-related fatigue in addition to improving the quality of life .
Another study has shown an efficacy of ashwagandha extract in improving a cognitive function and psychomotor performance and might be valuable support in the treatment of diseases with cognitive impairment .
Ashwagandha is considered safe when taken by mouth for shorm period of time.
There is no long-term safety profile for it.
Large doses of Withania somnifera can upset the stomach, cause diarrhoea or vomitting.
It is NOT safe to take ashwagandha when pregnant or breast feeding.
There is a some evidence that it might cause miscarriages. The safest option is to avoid it if possible.
Using the herb once have a diabetes requires extra care, because it can drop down the blood sugar level and requires adjustments in the treatment.
The same applied to the people with high blood pressure, because aswagandha have can lower it down and interferes with some hypertension medications.
Pharmcist consultation in the above cases is strongly recommended.
Ashwagandha can irritate the gastrointestinal tract so do NOT use it when you have stomach ulcers or any other serious gastrointesitnal condition.
It can also activate the immune system, so in case of any autoimmune disease such a multiple sclerosis, rheumatoidal arthritis, hashimoto thyroiditis etc. it should be avoided.
Ashwagandha can increase thyroid hormone levels and should be avoided if you have a thyroid condition or take thyroid treatment.
In general if you take any medications for long-term conditions you should consult your pharmacist prior to taking ashwagandha .
Ashwagandha has been known in Ayruvedic medicine for ages, but now thanks to medical studies we can confirm and discover new properties of this powerful herb.
The strongest evidence of ashwaghandha adaptogenic efficacy we have is in the field of stress and anxiety, where we observe great reduction of perceived stress, anxiety and serum cortisol.
There is a good reason for taking Withania somnifera for male infertility and low testosterone caused by stress. Also blood lipids seems to get normalized after using the herb.
Sportsmans who are under an extra pressure and want a boost in performance might also find it quite useful.
Findings in regards to using ashwaganda todrop blood glucose levels for type 2 diabetes are promising, however further studies on larger sample size are needed to confirm its use.
- Andrade C., Ashwath A., Chaturvedi S.K., Srinivasa M., Raguram R., A Double-blind, placebo controlled evaluation of the anxiolytic efficacy of an ethanolic extract of withania somnifera. Indian J Psychiatry, 2000 July; 42(3): 295-301
- Cooley K., Szczurko O., Perri D., Mills E.J., Bernhardt., Zhou Q., Seely D., Naturopatic care for anxiety: a randomized controlled trial ISRCTN78958974. PloS One. 2009 Aug 31; 4(8)
- Pratte M.A., Nanavati K.B., Young V., Morley C.P., An alternative treatment for anxiety: a systematic review of human trial results reported for Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), J Altern Complement Med. 2014 Dec; 20(12): 901-8
- Chandrasekhar K., Kapoor J., Anishetty S., 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. Indian J. Psychol Med. 2012 Jul; 34(3): 255-62
- Mahdi A.A., Shukla K.K., Ahmad M.K., Rajender S., Shankwar S.N., Singh V., Dalela D., Withania somnifera Improves Semen Quality in Stress-Related Male Infertility. Evid Based Complement Alernat Med. 2009 Sep 29
- Auddy B., Hazra J., Mitra A., Abendon B.. Ghosal S., A standarized Withania Somnifera Extract Significantly Reduces Stress-Related Parameters in Chronically Stressed Humans: A double blind, randomized, placebo-cfontrolled study. JANA 2008, Vol. 11, No. 1, 50-56
- Agnihotri A.P., Sontakke S.D., Thawani V.R., Saoji A., Goswami V.S., Effects of Withania somnifera in patients of schizophrenia: a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled pilot trial study. Indian J Pharmacol. 2013 Jul-Aug; 45(4): 417-18
- Ambive V.R., Langade D. L., Swati D., Aptikar P., Kulkarni M., Dongre A., Clinical Evaluation of the Spermatiogenic Activity of the Root Extract of Ashwagndha (Withania somnifera) in Oligospermic Males: A Pilot Study, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013
- Andallu B., Radhika B., Hypoglycemic, diuretic and hypocholesterolemic effect of winter cherry (Withania somnifera, Dunal) root. Indian J. Exp Biol 2000 Jun; 38(6): 607-9
- Sandhu J.S., Shah B., Shenoy S., Chauhan S., Lavekar G.S., Padhi M.M, Effects of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) and Terminalia arjuna (Arjuna) on physical performance and cardiorespiratory endurance in healthy young adults, Int J Ayurveda Res. 2010 Jul; 1(3): 144-9
- Raut A.A., Rege N.N., Tadvi F.M., Solanki P.V., Kene K.R, Shirolkar S.G., Pandey S.N., Vaidya R.A., Vaidya A.B., Explanatory study to evaluate tolerability, safety, and activity of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in healthy volunteers. J. Ayurveda Integr. Med. 2012 Jul., 3(3) 111-4
- Wankhede S., Langade D., Joshi K., Sinha S.R., Bhattacharyya S., Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementaion on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial, J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015 Nov 25; 12:43
- Biswal B.M., Sulaiman S.A., Ismail H.C., Zakaria H., Musa K.L., Effects of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on development of chemotherapy-induced fatigue and quality of life in breast cancer patients. Integr Cancer Ther. 2013 Jul; 12(4): 312-22
- Pingali U., Pilli R., Fatima N., Effect of standarized aqueout extract of Withania somnifera on tests of cognitive and psychomotor performance in healthy human participants, Pharmacognosy Res. 2014 Jan; 6(1) 12-8
- http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-953-ashwagandha.aspx?activeingredientid=953& visited on 05.06.2016
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Withania_somnifera visited on 05.06.2016