Ashwagandha is an ancient herb that has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine to reestablish health balance as well as to treat a range of conditions and aliments from hypertension to problems with retaining focus. The use is so widespread in the Eastern part of the world that Western medicine has started to pay attention to the pharmacological potential of the herb.
Ashwaganha, whose scientific name is Withania somnifera, is a small evergreen shrub that grows in drier, warmer pats of India, northern Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. It is used almost in its entirety (berries, leaves and roots) for medicinal and functional cooking purposes, like making cheese.
Ayurveda is one of the world’s most ancient healing system that focuses on the whole person, including mind, body, and spirit. Ayurvedic medicine is composed of different types of herbal preparations. In the ayurvedic medicine system, ashwagandha is a medicine used to promote neuroendocrine and immune system health, when the body is out of balance and expresses signs of illness.
Here are some of the Aswagandha properties that have been tested and confirmed from a western medicine perspective.
Ashwagandha has been demonstrated to be potent adaptogenic herb, which means that it helps the body cope with and adapt to stress. One study demonstrated that ashwagandha is comparable to ginseng in its adaptogenic and anti-stress properties. While large-scale clinical studies have yet to be carried out, smaller studies demonstrate that ashwagandha can help increase physical and mental endurance, thus boosting energy, as well as protect against the negative effects of stress on the body, including gastric ulcers.
Ashwagandha has the potential to improve feelings of anxiety significantly. Five high-quality studies demonstrated that supplementation with Ashwagandha results in Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) score improvements. Some models even demonstrate that ashwagandha is as effective as some tranquilizers and antidepressant drugs.
A series of studies examine the powerful anti-inflammatory properties of ashwagandha implemented for rheumatological issues and osteoarthritis. In many cases, these effects were as powerful as chemical drugs, with a much lower risk of toxicity and side effects. In addition to inflammation, ashwagandha helps to reduce associated pain.
There is increasing interest in the effects of ashwagandha to prevent free radical damage associated with neurogenerative diseases like epilepsy, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and others. Traditional use of ashwagandha was for diseases associated with oxidative damage, so an increasing interest in the antioxidant effect of the herb spurred a series of studies. In fact, studies that examined enzyme production associated with brain health showed that ashwagandha did, indeed, have antioxidant effects on the brain that could help to prevent or stave off neurological disorders.
Ashwagandha has traditionally been used to improve concentration and memory, but there are few studies that test the effects. One smaller-scale placebo-controlled study had men take an Ashwagandha supplement for 14 days, and they completed a series of computerized tests before and after the study. Researchers found that it can, indeed, improve cognitive and psychomotor performance, meaning it has a positive impact on brain health and associated functions, including memory and focus.
Ashwaghanda has been used for centuries to boost health. It has been effective and widely used without the need for scientific studies to back it; Ayurveda has a belief system separate from that of western medicine that is rooted in Hinduism, and is part of a holistic health philosophy. Knowledge on herbs, concoctions, and treatments has been passed down for thousands of years, and it has survived, in part, due to the effectiveness of the treatments in the larger context. However, remember to talk to your physician before taking on any new supplement regimen.