In a 1993 clinical study in India, fifty people complaining of lethargy and fatigue for 2 to 6 months were given an adaptogenic tonic made up of eleven herbs, including 760 mg of ashwagandha, once a day. The participants had not responded to a vitamin and mineral supplement each of them had taken for at least 2 months, and they had no recognizable disease. After 1 month of taking the ashwagan*dha mixture, the patients reported an average 45 percent improvement in their moods. Their blood plasma protein levels and hemoglobin, two factors used to measure overall health, also increased significantly, providing a statistical measurement of the tonic’s effect. Another study in 1995 in India found that ashwagandha was beneficial in treating the exceedingly stressful withdrawal from morphine addiction.
A 1994 study in India compared the adaptogenic and anabolic (ability to promote growth of lean body mass) effects of P. ginseng and ashwagandha in mice and rats. Groups of six mice were fed 100 mg/kg water extract of either ginseng, ashwagandha, or saline for seven days. On the eighth day, the animals’ endurance levels were tested by swimming. Their average swimming times in minutes were 62.55, ginseng; 82.14, ashwagandha; and 35.34, saline.
In another experiment, three groups of six castrated rats were given ginseng, ashwagandha, or saline at a rate of 1 g/kg of body weight for seven days. The anabolic steroid Orabolin was given at a rate of 100 micrograms to a fourth group. Those rats taking ashwagandha and ginseng showed significant increases in total body weight and dry thigh muscle weight, with results only slightly below Orabolin. It must be noted, however, that in both these experiments the dosages were quite large compared with the typical human dose and it may be unsafe for humans to take such large doses of these herbs on an extended basis.
Ashwagandha, one of the most vital herbs in Ayurvedic healing, has been used since ancient times for a wide variety of conditions, but is most well known for its restorative benefits. In Sanskrit ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse,” indicating that the herb imparts the vigor and strength of a stallion, and it has traditionally been prescribed to help people strengthen their immune system after an illness. In fact, it’s frequently referred to as “Indian ginseng” because of its rejuvenating properties (although botanically, ginseng and ashwagandha are unrelated). In addition, ashwagandha is also used to enhance sexual potency for both men and women.
Belonging to the same family as the tomato, ashwagandha (or Withania somnifera in Latin) is a plump shrub with oval leaves and yellow flowers. It bears red fruit about the size of a raisin. The herb is native to the dry regions of India, northern Africa, and the Middle East, but today is also grown in more mild climates, including in the United States.
Ashwagandha Scientific Research
Ashwagandha contains many useful medicinal chemicals, including withanolides, (steroidal lactones), alkaloids, choline, fatty acids, amino acids, and a variety of sugars. While the leaves and fruit have valuable therapeutic properties, the root of the ashwagandha plant is the part most commonly used in Western herbal remedies.
Medical researchers have been studying ashwagandha with great interest and as of this date have carried out 216 studies of its healing benefits, summarized below:
- confers immune system protection
- combats the effects of stress
- improves learning, memory, and reaction time
- reduces anxiety and depression without causing drowsiness
- stabilizes blood sugar
- lowers cholesterol
- reduces brain-cell degeneration
- contains anti-malarial properties
- offers anti-inflammatory benefits
Some studies have also found that ashwagandha inhibits the growth of cancer cells in small animals, but further research is needed to determine whether the herb prevents the development of tumors in human beings.
Ashwagandha in particular is known for its ability to calm, and some research indicates this herb can be used to promote sleep. In Texas, researchers noted the similarities in the sleep-inducing properties of ashwagandha and the calming effects of the well-known amino acid GABA. Likewise, ashwagandha has also been shown to ease anxiety or restlessness, as well as to reduce the symptoms of drug withdrawal. Its ability to stabilize moods and encourage adrenal recovery is highly valued by many herbalists.
But the benefits of ashwagandha extend far beyond mood. In India it is also used to help older patients with mental agility, cognitive ability, and memory. It is also known for its ability to fight off cold and cough symptoms. Preliminary studies give researchers reason to feel that ashwagandha also has the potential ability to decrease cancer cells without adversely affecting healthy cells.
- Preventing the signs of aging