One of the most powerful herbs used in Ayurveda, Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), is getting some serious buzz lately. It's so well known for its rejuvenating properties that this herb is often referred to as Indian Ginseng, even though it is not actually part of the ginseng family at all. Considered to be a "building" herb, the lore of Ashwagandha is that it can impart the strength and stamina of a stallion. Although using Ashwagandha may not send you galloping through the fields, it has been shown to deliver some significant health benefits.
This highly popular Ayurvedic herbal remedy belongs to the same family as eggplant and tomatoes. The shrub has yellow flowers and is native to dry areas of the world, including northern Africa, the Middle East, and India, although you also can see it growing in the United States.
Ashwagandha the adaptogen
For starters, ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which means it is a substance that can help restore balance to the body when it is exposed to physical and emotional stressors, including environmental toxins, stress, insomnia, and harsh weather. The herb has an ability to lower cortisol levels and act like GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) a neurotransmitter that is associated with anxiety relief and mood regulation.
Ashwagandha has been valued for its calming features for about five millennia, as well as for insomnia, constipation, inflamed joints, parasites, rheumatism, skin irritations, and more. It is a key remedy in Ayurvedic medicine and a common natural treatment option among many areas of the world.
Does your immune system need a boost after you've been ill or recovering from surgery? Experiencing inflammation and pain from arthritis? Need a natural way to help you cope with the stressors of your job, relationship, financial situation, or family pressures? Ashwagandha could be the answer.
What is special about ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha contains a wide spectrum of potent compounds, including alkaloids, choline, amino acids, fatty acids, sugars, and withanolides. The healing powers of the herb can be found in the leaves as well as the roots, although it is the latter that is usually used in Western supplements.
Here's a rundown of the healing benefits of ashwagandha that have been studied and reported:
- Helps protect against harm to the immune system
- Protects against the negative impact of stress on the body and mind
- Enhances memory, reaction time, concentration, and learning
- Stabilizes blood sugar, which is especially important for those who have diabetes
- Helps reduce the degeneration of brain cells
- Can aid in pain relief
- Assists in lowering cholesterol, which benefits heart health
- Reduces depression and anxiety without causing drowsiness
- Has anti-inflammatory properties
- Promotes the growth of new nerve cells
- Has demonstrated an ability to fight tumors
- Boosts sexual potency in both women and men
In a 2016 report appearing in Current Pharmaceutical Design, the authors noted the "unique medicinal properties of Withania somnifera." They pointed out that certain biological constituents such as withanolide A, withanolide D, withaferin A, and withaniamides provide important pharmacological properties, including an ability to address cancer, infections, neurodegenerative disorders, and anxiety.
How do I take ashwagandha?
Common dosages of ashwagandha range from 125 mg to 1,250 mg daily. Generally, the higher the dose, the more significant the impact. If you are taking any medication for thyroid disease, diabetes, or any autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, you should discuss the use of ashwagandha with a healthcare professional before you begin dosing.
When shopping for ashwagandha, look for root powder or extract in capsules (450 to 500 mg). Typical dosing directions are to take the supplement once or twice daily.