One herb that has been increasingly garnering a lot of attention all over the world is ashwagandha, also called as Indian Ginseng. The synonym actually gives a clue to this herb’s biological actions that have made it popular although botanically, it is not related to ginseng. Derived from Sanskrit to mean ‘smell of a horse,’ ashwagandha is credited with the ability to impart vigour equivalent to that of a stallion and traditionally, it has been used to help boost immunity following an illness.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen
Adaptogens are herbs that act on the body to prevent the ill-effects of stress, fatigue and anxiety. These substances do not act on any particular organ, but work on the entire body system to help it stay in a balanced state called homeostasis. Ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen and plays a role in:
- Improving resistance against stress
- Boosting stamina and energy, including sexual energy
- Refreshing the body and mind
- Soothing the nervous system
- Improving quality of sleep
What makes ashwagandha special among adaptogens is that it acts as a stimulant to improve your energy levels but it can also help to calm and soothe the nervous system, resulting in lower anxiety and better sleep.
Researchers have been studying ashwagandha for years now and have found it to contain several ingredients that play a role in its activity. The most important ones are steroidal lactones called withanolides, alkaloids, amino acids, fatty acids, some sugars and choline. Thanks to this unique combination of chemicals, ashwagandha has many health benefits as discussed below.
The most remarkable action of ashwagandha is its ability to combat the ill-effects of stress. This is believed to be a result of the antioxidant properties of the herb. Stress leads to an increase in free radical reactions that lead to greater oxidation of several cellular components and this causes cellular and tissue damage typically associated with stress. Ashwagandha has potent antioxidant action and therefore, it prevents such cellular oxidation and the resulting damage.
Better functioning of the nervous system
Several studies have found that ashwagandha plays a major role in improving the function of the nervous system. Research shows that this herb reduces degeneration of brain cells, improves memory and learning and also helps to reduce depression and anxiety; the best part about this last action is that unlike chemical tranquilisers and anti-depressants, ashwagandha does not induce any drowsiness. Considering these benefits for the nervous system, this herb is being investigated as a promising option to treat degenerative diseases of the nervous system such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Ashwagandha has been found to possess significant anti-inflammatory action. Considering that inflammation is one of the reactions implicated in the development of cancer, ashwagandha has been studied for its anti-cancer properties. Laboratory studies on animals have shown this herb to possess the ability to inhibit the growth of cancers of the lung, colon, breast, skin and stomach. These studies also indicate that ashwagandha interferes with the cancer cells reproduction and that is what makes it a potent anti-cancer agent. Considering these promising findings, researchers are now trying to investigate if the same mechanism holds true in human tumours.
The powerful action of ashwagandha against stress helps to improve the functioning of the immune system, ensuring better overall health and less instances of falling sick. Besides, the herb has been found to have antibacterial activity of its own. Also, it tends to improve the ability of the macrophage cells of the immune system to destroy harmful, disease-causing microorganisms.
Several other actions are attributed to ashwagandha – cholesterol-lowering action, blood sugar stabilising action and even anti-malarial properties. However, these effects are still being probed to evaluate the extent of the herb’s actions.
As a rejuvenative, ashwagandha is recommended in a daily dose of between 600 to 1000 milligrams, upto twice a day. Laboratory studies have shown the herb to cause abortions in animals and although no data is available for humans, it is best for pregnant women to avoid this herb. If you feel very stressed, irritable, tired and unenergetic, you could consider taking ashwagandha but please make sure you take it under the supervision of a reliable Ayurveda practitioner.
SOURCE - .the health site