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Ashwagandha: 3 benefits of the medicinal plant everyone’s talking about

Though historically little-known in the West, ashwagandha has now become very popular. This master plant from Ayurvedic medicine offers three exceptional benefits for physical and mental health. Discover them now!

Leaves, roots, powder and capsules of Ayurvedic ashwagandha

Ashwagandha, an age-old medicinal super-plant

Ashwagandha (also known as Withania somnifera) is a shrub from the Solanaceae family, bearing white flowers and red berries. Native to India, it is one of the most important plants in Ayurveda, the traditional Indian system of medicine. This medicinal super-plant has probably been used there for more than 3000 years.

In India, it is categorised as a rasayana herb, ie, a compound that ‘regenerates and rejuvenates’. The term ‘ashwagandha’ actually translates in Sanskrit as ‘has the smell of a horse’, which may come from the plant’s distinctive scent and its ability, according to tradition, to impart strength to horses. Interestingly, in Yemen, ashwagandha is called ‘waraq as-sifa’, which means ‘healing leaf’.

The active ingredients in this Ayurvedic plant

Ashwagandha’s medicinal properties come from its exceptional content of active ingredients. Indeed, the plant contains:

  • steroidal lactones, such aswithanolides;
  • alkaloids, such as withanine;
  • flavonoids, such as kaempferol and catechin;
  • phenolic acids, such as gallic, vanillic and coumaric acids;
  • fatty acids, such as palmitic and linoleic acids;
  • tannins, etc.

More specifically, it is the plant’s roots that contain all these powerful compounds. For use as a phytotherapeutic agent, the root is dried and ground into a powder for formulating into supplements. Let’s look now at ashwagandha’s 3 main potential benefits.

1) Ashwagandha may promote good mental health and relaxation

Ashwagandha appears to be effective at supporting emotional balance and general well-being(1).

Taking ashwagandha looks to be particularly helpful during periods of nervous tension and anxiety(2). Clinical trials have generally found significant reductions in anxiety in subjects given Withania somnifera when compared with controls (3).

Whatever the situation, this unique plant seems to help promote optimal relaxation and physical and mental well-being(4-6). Which of course also helps you to fall asleep more easily! (7)

2) This Ayurvedic plant may also support cardiovascular health

In addition, a number of studies have looked at ashwagandha’s effects on cardiac tissue and capacity for cardiorespiratory endurance (8-9).

It is highly probable that the plant has a beneficial effect on the heart and cardiovascular system(10).

3) ‘Adaptogenic’ effects of ashwagandha root

Ashwagandha is most often mentioned as one of the herbs known as ‘adaptogens’. These plants are recognised as being able to help the body adapt to all forms of stress (biological, physical psychological ...) Traditional Chinese medicine categorises such plants as ‘superior tonics’.

Several studies indicate that ashwagandha has these adaptogen properties (11-13). One, for example, notes that “the classic Ayurvedic texts, as well as animal and human studies, describe ashwagandha as a safe and effective adaptogen”. It adds that ashwagandha extract “improves, with total safety and efficacy, an individual’s resistance to stress, and thus improves self-assessed quality of life” (14).

How should ashwagandha be taken? What is the right dose and are there any risks?

How can you obtain optimal benefit from ashwagandha’s many properties? In general, the recommended daily dose is 600mg of ashwagandha standardised to 5% withanolides (which equates to 30mg of withanolides a day). A few additional tips:

  • make sure you stick to this dose in order to avoid unduly increasing activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA, which could potentially cause a reduction in your reaction time;
  • you can also follow an alternating regimen of supplementing with ashwagandha for one month, and then having a week’s break, and so on.
  • ashwagandha supplementation is not recommended for those with auto-immune conditions, hyperthyroidism or recurring intestinal problems, or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or children under 16.

We’d suggest choosing a supplement in capsule form, for greater convenience and efficacy. The supplement Super Ashwagandha offers an optimal level of active ingredients and has no withaferin A (a substance recognised as cytotoxic). It was also judged ‘Ingredient of the Year’ at The NutraIngredients Asia Awards in 2018.

Ashwagandha is also available in combination with other adaptogenic plants in the supplement Adaptix. You may also be interested in the excellent Adaptogenic Potion, directly inspired by Ayurvedic tradition, which contains ashwagandha, holy basil, astragalus, medicinal mushrooms ...

References

  1. EFSA-Q-2008-2916. 2183 - Withania somnifera (common name: Ashwagandha) - Mental Health and relaxation. 28/07/2008
  2. Singh N, Bhalla M, de Jager P, Gilca M. An overview on ashwagandha: a Rasayana (rejuvenator) of Ayurveda. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2011;8(5 Suppl):208-213. doi:10.4314/ajtcam.v8i5S.9
  3. Pratte MA, Nanavati KB, Young V, Morley CP. An alternative treatment for anxiety: a systematic review of human trial results reported for the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). J Altern Complement Med. 2014;20(12):901-908. doi:10.1089/acm.2014.0177
  4. EFSA-Q-2008-2916. 2183 - Withania somnifera (common name: Ashwagandha) - Mental Health and relaxation. 28/07/2008
  5. Langade D, Kanchi S, Salve J, Debnath K, Ambegaokar D. Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root Extract in Insomnia and Anxiety: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Study. Cureus. 2019;11(9):e5797. Published 2019 Sep 28. doi:10.7759/cureus.5797
  6. Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012;34(3):255-262. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.106022
  7. Langade D, Kanchi S, Salve J, Debnath K, Ambegaokar D. Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root Extract in Insomnia and Anxiety: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Study. Cureus. 2019;11(9):e5797. Published 2019 Sep 28. doi:10.7759/cureus.5797
  8. Mohanty, I., Gupta, S.K., Talwar, K.K. et al. Cardioprotection from ischemia and reperfusion injury by Withania somnifera: A hemodynamic, biochemical and histopathological assessment. Mol Cell Biochem 260, 39–47 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1023/B:MCBI.0000026051.16803.03
  9. Shenoy S, Chaskar U, Sandhu JS, Paadhi MM. Effects of eight-week supplementation of Ashwagandha on cardiorespiratory endurance in elite Indian cyclists. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2012;3(4):209-214. doi:10.4103/0975-9476.104444
  10. EFSA-Q-2008-3236, 2503. Withania somnifera (Withania, horse smell, ginseng Indian, ashwagandha) - Cardiovascular health. 28/07/2008
  11. EFSA-Q-2008-3983 – 3251. Ashwagandha root (Withania somnifera) - Adaptogenic properties. 28/07/2008
  12. Salve J, Pate S, Debnath K, Langade D. Adaptogenic and Anxiolytic Effects of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Healthy Adults: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Clinical Study. Cureus. 2019;11(12):e6466. Published 2019 Dec 25. doi:10.7759/cureus.6466
  13. Singh N, Bhalla M, de Jager P, Gilca M. An overview on ashwagandha: a Rasayana (rejuvenator) of Ayurveda. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2011;8(5 Suppl):208-213. doi:10.4314/ajtcam.v8i5S.9
  14. Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012;34(3):255-262. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.1060

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