The ashwagandha plant has been used since ancient times for a wide variety of conditions and is one of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic healing. Traditionally, ashwagandha has been prescribed as a nerve tonic and adaptogen; an agent which helps the body adapt to various emotional and physical stressors.
It has classically been used in India for nearly 5,000 years for conditions such as debility in old age, rheumatism, constipation, insomnia, nervous conditions, stress, goiter, joint inflammation, parasites, hormone balance, and more. A paste made from the ashwagandha root powder is often used topically to treat ulcers and skin irritations.
Ashwagandha is known to help people strengthen their immune system after illness, chemotherapy, or surgery. It is a highly effective, evidence-based remedy to help reduce stress levels and anxiety—by lowering cortisol levels and mimicking the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA.
Ashwagandha is frequently referred to as “Indian ginseng” because of its rejuvenating properties.
Belonging to the same family as the tomato, organic ashwagandha is a plump shrub with oval leaves and yellow flowers which bears small, red fruit. This adaptogenic herb is native to the dry regions of India, as well as partsof Africa and the Middle East.
Why use ashwagandha?
The use of ashwagandha can help to alleviate the following symptom, therefore creating a more energetic sense of well-being.
- Difficulty concentrating
- Poor memory
- Trouble sleeping
- Low libido
- Frequent illness
- Low endurance (mentally or physically)
- Joint pain
- Neurological condition
Ashwagandha contains many useful medicinal chemicals. While the leaves and fruit have valuable therapeutic properties, the root of the ashwagandha plant is the part most commonly used for treatment in Western herbal medicine remedies.
Medical researchers have been studying ashwagandha for years with great interest and have completed more than 200 studies on the healing benefits of this botanical. Some key examples of Ashwagandha health benefits are:
- Protects the immune system
- Helps combat the effects of stress by reducing levels of cortisol, known as the “stress hormone”
- Improves learning, memory, and reaction time
- Reduces anxiety and depression without causing drowsiness
- Helps reduce brain-cell degeneration and improve cognitive function
- Stabilizes blood sugar
- Helps lower cholesterol
- Offers anti-inflammatory and analgesic benefits
- Contains anti-malarial properties
- Promotes new nerve growth
Animal and test-tube studies have found that ashwagandha helps induce apoptosis, which is the programmed death of cancer cells. It also impedes the growth of new cancer cells in several ways. Click here to read about the studies.
Animal studies suggest that it may help treat several types of cancer, including breast, lung, colon, brain and ovarian cáncer. In one study, mice with ovarian tumors treated with ashwagandha alone or in combination with an anti-cancer drug had a 70–80% reduction in tumor growth. The treatment also prevented the spread of cancer to other organs. Read more here.
Although there are no studies to confirm these results in humans yet, the research to date is encouraging.
There have been some studies which suggest that Ashwagandha may also increase muscle mass and strength over a period of just 30 days of strength training as well as significantly reducing body fat percentage. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26609282 and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23125505)
Ashwagandha as an Adaptogenic Herb
In Ayurveda, there are specific herbs with adaptogenic benefits and ashwagandha is one of them. Adaptogens are substances (a combination of amino acids, vitamins, and herbs) that modulate your stress response or reaction to a changing environment. Adaptogens help the body cope with external stresses such as toxins in the environment and internal stresses such as anxiety and insomnia, or any stress-related disorders.
Ashwagandha is traditionally taken as a fine powder mixed in honey or milk. In western countries, it is sometimes taken in capsule form.
The recommendation is to take a teaspoon of powdered Ashwagandha disolved in a glass of warm milk just before going to bed. This is particularly effective for reducing insomnia and anxiety and encourages restful sleep.