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Supplements

ashwagandha
   

What Is It?
Health Benefits
Forms
Dosage Information
Guidelines for Use
General Interaction
Possible Side Effects
Cautions
References
Evidence Based Rating Scale


What Is It?

More than 5,000 years of the Indian medical system known as Ayurveda have brought the use of many ancient herbs to light. Ashwagandha, a small evergreen shrub, is widely cultivated in India and the Middle East for its medicinal properties. It has also been found in parts of Africa. An erect, grayish plant with long roots, ashwagandha has small greenish flowers and fruits that turn orange-red when ripe.

Traditionally, ashwagandha has been used in many ways--as a sedative, a diuretic, a rejuvenating tonic, an anti-inflammatory agent, and as an "adaptogen" (endurance enhancer). Many Western herbalists refer to this herb as "Indian ginseng," because it contains related active chemical ingredients and a traditional reputation for increasing energy, strength, and stamina and for buffering the effects of stress.

Ashwagandha is one of group of botanical supplements known as "adaptogens." Adaptogenic plants help living organisms maintain a balanced response to any type of stress - physical, chemical, electromagnetic, or emotional. Rather than working to relieve a specific symptom, adaptogens support the ability of a person's immune, nervous, and hormonal systems to respond to stress in a healthy way. While adaptogenic plants have long histories of traditional use for a wide variety of conditions, research is only recently identifying specific mechanisms of action and some of the best uses of these plants.

Ashwagandha is commonly used in its powdered form, which is made from the whole plant or from the root alone. Consult your health-care provider about appropriate dosages for the different forms of the herb.

Health Benefits

Although humans have used ashwagandha for thousands of years, most of the research done with ashwagandha and published in English has been done in animals. These basic science studies have shown that various chemical constituents of the herb have anti-inflammatory, anti-stress, antitumor, antioxidant, and immune system balancing properties.

Because ashwagandha has traditionally been used to treat various diseases associated with nerve tissue damage related to the destructive molecules known as free radicals, some researchers speculate that the herb may have antioxidant properties. Free-radical damage plays a role in normal aging and in such neurological conditions as epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease.

One reason for ashwagandha's reputation as a general energy-promoting, disease-preventing tonic may be its effect on the immune system. Multiple studies have shown significant increases in white blood cell counts and other measures of strengthened immunity in rodents given ashwagandha or certain chemicals extracted from the herb. Ashwagandha also has a mild sedative effect on the central nervous system and has been shown in animal studies to be a muscle relaxant. No studies have been done to determine appropriate human uses for these effects, however, so caution is advised.

As an anti-anxiety and insomnia treatment, the herb should be used in moderation.

Specifically, taken with the advice of an experienced herbalist, ashwagandha may help to:

  • Ease arthritis pain. Although the mechanism is not fully understood, ashwagandha has been quite effective in relieving the inflammation associated with such rheumatologic conditions as arthritis. One clinical trial in humans supports this use. Forty-two patients with osteoarthritis were randomly placed in two groups--one receiving ashwagandha, one a placebo. After three months, pain and disability were markedly reduced in the ashwagandha group (6).
  • Reduce stress and increase endurance. In one of several classic stress test experiments, a group of rats was given a saline solution and then tested for swimming times. A second group, given an ashwagandha solution, was able to swim twice as long (7). Some of the study authors caution that this result must be interpreted carefully, however. The ashwagandha root powders used to prepare the test solution contained starch, and at the high doses given in the swim studies, it is possible that these results were due to carbohydrate supplementation. Overall, however, animal studies do suggest that ashwagandha may help prevent stress-induced exhaustion.
  • Fight depression and mood swings. A small study conducted on rats with affective disorders found that ashwagandha supplementation may help to relieve depression and fight mood swings just as effectively as conventional prescription medications (8). If you are currently taking any mood-stabilizing or antidepressant medications, do not discontinue using them in favor of ashwagandha supplementation. More research is needed in animal and human studies to determine whether this is a consistent outcome of supplementation.
  • Act as a powerful antioxidant. Scientists are now discovering that many conditions can be caused or exacerbated by free-radical damage. Free radicals are highly reactive chemical molecules that wreak havoc on brain, heart, liver, kidney, skin, and virtually all cells of the body. One of the easiest ways to stave off this destruction is to ensure that your diet/supplement program includes adequate supplies of antioxidants. Rat, rabbit, and frog studies indicate that ashwagandha can protect against these effects (9, 10).
  • Enhance immune function. In a small rat study, experimental inflammation was reduced by ashwagandha. Researchers also found that the herb increased white blood cell and platelet counts (11, 12).
  • Boost thyroid function. Studies conducted on rats have demonstrated that ashwagandha stimulates thyroid activity (13). This might be of benefit for people who suffer from underactive thyroid disease. However, if you have a normally-functioning thyroid or suffer from any thyroid condition, consult your doctor or endocrinologist before you start taking ashwagandha. One case report identified ashwagandha as a contributing factor of a healthy woman developing Grave's disease (14). While this is certainly not the outcome for most patients treated with ashwagandha, you should exercise caution if you or anyone in your family has suffered from thyroid disease when taking this supplement. It is always a good idea to check with your doctor before beginning any new supplement therapy.
  • Boost sexual performance. In one study, 101 normal healthy male volunteers aged 50 to 59 took 3 grams of powdered ashwagandha daily for three months. All showed significantly increased red blood cell counts, and 71% of the volunteers reported improved sexual performance. Although ashwagandha is not considered an aphrodisiac, this rejuvenating effect may be related to the improved endurance shown in animal stress tests.
  • Treat dementia and Alzheimer's Disease. Although these studies have not yet progressed to human trials, researchers are excited about preliminary findings for the treatment of degenerative brain disorders with ashwagandha. Rat studies have shown that ashwagandha may induce neuronal growth, improve memory deficits, and induce brain cells to rebuild lost connections (1). Other early studies support these conclusions (2, 3). Some researchers are even postulating that ashwagandha may be a viable rehabilitative supplement to help stroke victims who suffer from memory loss and physical disabilities (4). This research is in its early stages; more studies are needed to determine if ashwagandha can help preserve and restore brain function in humans.

    Forms

    • capsule
    • loose powder
    • tincture
    • tea

    Dosage Information

    The root and berry are the principal parts used. The root may be taken as ground powder, in capsule, or boiled in tea. Loose or in capsules, the dose is 3-6 grams/day. Prepared as a tea, 3-6 grams are added per cup of water that is then boiled for 15 minutes. The average dose is 3 cups of tea per day. Alternatively, the plant parts can be prepared in tincture; daily dosing averages 2-4 mL three times a day.

    When included as part of an herbal blend, ashwagandha's effects may be diluted or difficult to detect.

    • For arthritis: Take 100-200 mg standardized extract or 2 to 4 mL liquid extract twice a day.
    • For stress: Take 100-200 mg standardized extract or 2 to 4 mL liquid extract twice a day.
    • For antioxidant protection: Take 100-200 mg standardized extract or 2 to 4 mL liquid extract twice a day.
    • For immunity: Take 100-200 mg standardized extract or 2 to 4 mL liquid extract twice a day.
    • For relaxation: Take 100-200 mg standardized extract or 2 to 4 mL liquid extract twice a day.
    • For sexual performance: Take 100-200 mg standardized extract or 2 to 4 mL liquid extract twice a day.

    Guidelines for Use

  • Take ashwagandha with a meal or a full glass of water.

    General Interaction

  • Ashwagandha may increase the effect of other herbs or medications. It is important to review with your health-care provider any other herbs or any drugs you are taking before adding ashwagandha.

    Possible Side Effects

  • Because it may have sedative qualities, be sure you understand how ashwagandha affects you before driving or doing any other activity that requires total alertness.
  • The most common side effects experienced with ashwagandha supplementation include stomach upset, diarrhea, and irritation of the mucous membranes of the mouth. If any of these side effects occur, discontinue use and consult your physician.
  • Since ashwagandha stimulates hormone production in the thyroid gland, inform your doctor that you are taking the supplement when taking thyroid function tests. Supplementation may skew your test results.
  • If you are taking other herbs and or supplements with sedative properties, talk to your physician before beginning treatment with ashwagandha. Ashwagandha may intensify the effects of these other remedies.

    Cautions

  • Although ashwagandha is generally believed to be nontoxic, there is some disagreement on this. There have been only a few toxicity studies, and those have been of poor quality.
  • If you currently suffer from a thyroid condition or have a family history of thyroid disease, consult your physician or an endocrinologist before beginning supplementation with ashwagandha. Ashwagandha has been shown to stimulate the thyroid and may lead to excess levels of certain thyroid hormones.
  • Do not take ashwagandha if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. Ashwagandha has been shown to cause miscarriage.

  • References

     

    1. Kuboyama T, Tohda C, Komatsu K. Withanoside IV and its active metabolite, sominone, attenuate Abeta(25-35)-induced neurodegeneration. Eur J Neurosci. 2006 Mar;23(6):1417-26.
    2. Tohda C, Kuboyama T, Komatsu K. Search for natural products related to regeneration of the neuronal network. Neurosignals. 2005;14(1-2):34-45.
    3. Kuboyama T, Tohda C, Komatsu K. Neuritic regeneration and synaptic reconstruction induced by withanolide A. Br J Pharmacol. 2005 Apr;144(7):961-71.
    4. Adams JD Jr, Yang J, Mishra LC, Singh BB. Effects of ashwagandha in a rat model of stroke. Altern Ther Health Med. 2002 Sep-Oct;8(5):18-9.
    5. Mishra, LK, Singh, BB. Scientific Basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifer (Ashwagandha): A Review. Alt Med Review 2000 vol 5; no 4; 334-346.
    6. Kulkarni RR, Patki PS, Jog VP, et al. Treatment of osteoarthritis with a herbomineral formulation: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study. J Ethnopharmacol 1991;33:91-95.
    7. Bhattacharya SK, Bhattacharya A, Sairam K, Ghosal S. Anxiolytic-antidepressant activity of Withania somnifera glycowithanolides: an experimental study. Phytomedicine. 2000 Dec;7(6):463-9.
    8. Bhattacharya SK, Bhattacharya A, Sairam K, Ghosal S. Anxiolytic-antidepressant activity of Withania somnifera glycowithanolides: an experimental study. Phytomedicine. 2000 Dec;7(6):463-9.
    9. Panda S, Kar A. Evidence for free radical scavenging activity of Ashwagandha root powder in mice. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 1997 Oct;41(4):424-6.
    10. Dhuley JN. Effect of ashwagandha on lipid peroxidation in stress-induced animals. J Ethnopharmacol. 1998 Mar;60(2):173-8.
    11. Agarwal R, Diwanay S, Patki P, Patwardhan B. Studies on immunomodulatory activity of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) extracts in experimental immune inflammation. J Ethnopharmacol. 1999 Oct;67(1):27-35.
    12. Ziauddin M, Phansalkar N, Patki P, Diwanay S, Patwardhan B. Studies on the immunomodulatory effects of Ashwagandha. J Ethnopharmacol. 1996 Feb;50(2):69-76.
    13. Panda S, Kar A. Changes in thyroid hormone concentrations after administration of ashwagandha root extract to adult male mice. J Pharm Pharmacol. 1998 Sep;50(9):1065-8.
    14. van der Hooft CS, Hoekstra A, Winter A, de Smet PA, Stricker BH. Thyrotoxicosis following the use of ashwagandha. Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 2005 Nov 19;149(47):2637-8.
    15. Agarwal R, Diwanay S, Patki P, Patwardhan B. Studies on immunomodulatory activity of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) extracts in experimental immune inflammation. J Ethnopharmacol. 1999 Oct;67(1):27-35.

     

    Evidence Based Rating Scale

    The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies with what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice. This tool is meant to simplify which supplements demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions. This scale does not take into account any possible interactions with any medication/ condition/ or therapy which you may be currently undertaking. It is therefore advisable to ask your doctor before starting any new treatment regimen.

    Condition

    Rating

    Explanation

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Alzheimer’s disease

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Trials show benefit in animal models. Research will need to progress to human trials before conclusions can be drawn about efficacy.

     

     

     

     

     

    Arthritis Pain

     

     

     

     

    Date Published: 01/06/2007

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