Known by its other names Indian ginseng and winter cherry, Ashwagandha is a part of the nightshade family. Its leaves and roots are commonly cultivated for their medicinal properties.
It’s popular in Ayurvedic medicine since it has many healing properties that boost not just our immune system, but also our endocrine, neurological, and reproductive systems. Research has shown that ayurvedic medicinal plants are the most commonly cultivated ingredients in the development of drugs.
It’s also called “Rasayana” for its ability to defend the body against illness and disease, harm caused by environmental factors, as well as slow down aging. It’s also rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, so it’s no surprise it’s becoming increasingly popular when it comes to medicinal plants.
Ashwagandha leaves and fruit is commonly used externally to treat wounds and back pain. The root is often ground and taken orally, and it can boost brain function, act as a stress reliever, reduce anxiety, promote alertness, and reduce pain.
It’s an adaptogen, and much like other plants classified as such as ginseng, basil, and licorice, it has the ability to enhance and support the body’s response to external factors like stress. It also rebalances the body’s functions.
In animal studies, ashwagandha has been found to reduce inflammation and keep the nervous system under control.
On the other hand, a clinical trial involving people with moderate to severe anxiety were given 300 mg of a standardized mixture with 1.5% withanolides. These were derived from the roots and taken in capsule form.
The two-month trial showed that the patients who received the ashwagandha mixture were able to report reduced feelings of stress and anxiety, compared to patients who only did psychotherapy.
However, data from the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database shows that there isn’t enough evidence present to support claims that taking ashwagandha alone can eliminate tumors, infertility, fibromyalgia, tuberculosis, or liver problems. At best, it’s important to remember that ashwagandha alone cannot cure any disease, but rather taking it orally should also be supplemented with a healthy diet and regular exercise.
So, what are the benefits of Ashwagandha?
On blood sugar levels
Ashwagandha is being looked into for its possible effects in combating diabetes. This is because the plant has flavonoids and other phenolic compounds. In animal studies, it’s been found to normalize blood sugar levels in rats. These rights were given fructose and later on given a combination of the plant’s roots and leaf extracts to combat its effects. Results showed that ashwagandha prevented glucose increase, inflammation, and insulin resistance.
Lab studies have also found that ashwagandha increased the production of insulin and improved cases of insulin resistance in muscle cells. Human trials and studies have also confirmed its effects on both healthy people and those suffering from diabetes.
So if you’re looking to take something that can help with improving your body’s sensitivity to insulin, ashwagandha might be worth a shot.
On mental wellbeing
The stress that comes from our daily activities – whether emotional, physical, psychological, or chemical, can have serious effects on our nervous system and overall brain function. Studies and research have found that ashwagandha can offer so much to our mental health.
It works as a stress reliever, protects the brain cells from degenerating too quickly, and therefore reducing the risk of developing neurodegenerative illnesses like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Ashwagandha also consists of two withanolides: withaferin A and withanolide D. These are the two key factors that make the plant so effective in improving our cognitive function.
Withanolides are steroids that occur naturally in nightshade plants. Lab tests found that injecting this steroid on test rodents resulting in improved cognitive abilities, cell growth, a reversal in deficits and abnormalities in behavior, and most importantly, a reduction in amyloid beta burden, the crucial component that leads to Alzheimer’s disease.
Like many other Ayurvedic medicinal plants, what makes ashwagandha so effective is its high content of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. This means it can actively fight the free radicals that enter into our body and reduce their impact on our nervous system.
In 2017, the Journal of Dietary Supplements did a study involving 50 adults that took 300 mg of ashwagandha root extract or a placebo pill over an eight-week period. In effect, ashwagandha was able to improve their attention spans, improved cognitive skills by lengthening their attention spans and memory recall.
Although not widely studied, there are some trials that took the lead from what has been known so far about ashwagandha and its ability to relieve stress and anxiety. Some studies have suggested that it might be a helpful supplement to help combat depression.
A 60-day study with a control group given a 600 mg dosage daily reported nearly an 80% decrease in severe depression.
The reason it might be effective in combating depression is that stress is one of the main factors involved that puts us at risk for depression. Ashwagandha improves our body’s resistance against stress, which means people are less likely to succumb to negative thoughts. It acts as a mood booster as well, which helps us work with a more positive outlook on life.
On women’s health
Did you know that ashwagandha can stimulate the hormonal gland and help regulate the production of hormones even during menopause? It’s also been reported to have positive effects in alleviating the negative symptoms of menopause, like hot flashes, mood swings, and anxiety. Its ability to lift our moods can also be a great help to those going through menopause.
Ashwagandha is also among the ingredients used in preparing Testo, a polyherbal Ayurvedic mixture that showed significant improvement in patients with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
On the other hand, if you’ve been experiencing irregular menstrual cycles or none at all recently, then you can take ashwagandha. This is one of the most popular uses for the herb among women, and many have reported changes in their bodies and a more regular menstrual cycle after taking ashwagandha regularly.