Withania somnifera which may be referred to as ashwagandha, Indian ginseng, winter cherry, or poison gooseberry, is a plant in the Solanaceae or nightshade family. There are many known health benefits of ashwagandha that have been proven for thousands of years.
The name, ashwagandha is gotten from the Sanskrit language which is a combination of “ashva” meaning horse, and “gandha” meaning smell. This means that the root has a strong horse-like odor.
In Ayurvedic, Indian and Unani medicine, Ashwagandha is referred to as “Indian ginseng”. Ashwagandha is used in African ethnomedicine for treatment of a variety of ailments. The root and the berry of Ashwagandha are used by humans and contain saponins, steroidal lactones (withanolides, withaferins), and alkaloids (isopelletierine, anaferine).
They are used as an “adaptogen” to increase resistance to environmental stress and for treatment of ailments such as Anxiety, Arthritis, Stress, depression, Asthma, Bronchitis, Bipolar disorder, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Insomnia (sleeplessness), Tumors, Chronic liver disease, cognitive dysfunction, inflammation, Tuberculosis, Menstrual disorders, Prevention of aging’s effect, Reduction of complications associated with chemotherapy, Leukoderma, and Reduction of side effects associated with antipsychotic medications.
Phytoconstituents of Ashwagandha plant
Leaves: They are reported to contain 12 withanolides, chlorogenic acid, many free amino acids, glucose, condensed tannins, and 5 unidentified alkaloids, glycosides, and flavonoids. Withaferin A, a steroidal lactone has shown to be the most significant withanolide, isolated from the extract of the leaves.
Fruit: green berries have a proteolytic enzyme, condensed tannins, amino acids and flavonoids, free amino acids which are in high fraction; these include, valine, glutamic acid, cysteine, alanine, aspartic acid, proline, glycine, hydroxyproline, tyrosine, and cysteine. The presence of a proteolytic enzyme, chamase in the berries could be the reason for the high content of the amino acid.
Root: amino acids, alkaloids, hentriacontane, dulcitol volatile oil, steroids, starch, glycosides, withaniol, an acid, and a neutral compound. Basic alkaloids contents are the cuscohygrine, anahygrine tropine, pseudotropine , isopelletierine, pseudo-withanine, withananine, anaferine, reducing sugars withananinine, somniferinine, somnine, and somniferine, 3- tropyltigloate (Neutral alkaloids). Other alkaloids include withanine, withasomnine, and visamine. Alanine, proline, tryptophan aspartic acid, glycine, tyrosine, glutamic acid, and cysteine are free amino acids identified in the root.
Stem:They have condensed tannins and flavonoids.
Bark: it contains a number of free amino acids.
Shoot The tender shoots have a high content of calcium, crude protein, and phosphorous, they are not fibrous and are reported to contain scopoletin.
Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
1. Ashwagandha is used for treatment of anxiety, trouble with sleeping (insomnia), tuberculosis, tumors, fibromyalgia, bronchitis, menstrual problems, hiccups, asthma, leukoderma, backache, and chronic liver disease
2. It is an adaptogen which is a nontoxic herb which functions to normalize physiological function, targeting the HPA axis and the neuroendocrine system.
3. Ashwagandha prevents the effects of aging, boosts thinking ability, decreases pains and inflammation.
4. Ashwagandha is used for the treatment of surface wounds, backache, and partial paralysis (hemiplegia).
5. It is useful in the treatment of arthritis; this involves joints that are painful, dry, swollen and inflamed.
6. It can be used to improve fertility and even sperm count treatment. Though, the roots has shown to actually decrease fertility for women, It has also been traditionally used as an aphrodisiac.
7. The leaves of the plant have therapeutic poultice for wound care. More so, the roots have antifungal and antibacterial properties.
8. It can be used as Diuretic, Anti-epileptic and to fights cognitive decline due to brain cell degeneration.
9. Ashwagandha functions in the overall body system maintaince, both in balancing body’s substances and processes.
10. Ashwagandha ensures proper nourishment of tissues, muscle and bones.
Anti-inflammatory and Anti-arthritic activity
Ashwagandha has very efficientanti-inflammatory activity. A study by Dhuley in 2007 demonstrated its anti-inflammatory activity was comparable to that of a 5 mg/kg dose of hydrocortisone which is a very good anti-inflammatory drug.
The anti-inflammatory activity of Ashwagandha perhaps could be an explanation of its efficacy in arthritis. A-month comparative study of Ashwagandha, Tumeric, Boswellia serrata and zinc were conducted, 42 patients with osteoarthritis were given these substances for one month, at the end of the study, a considerable drop in severity of pain and disability was observed by Ichikawa in 2006.
Anti-stress and Anabolic activity
A comparative study was done on Ginseng (Panax ginseng), Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) which have relative similarities and a control experiment. Each herb was tested on mice: for anti-stress activity (by the swimming endurance test); and anabolic activity (by measurement of body weight and levator ani muscle).
In the swimming endurance test, Ashwagandha and Ginseng each showed antistress activity as compared to the control group. In the anabolic study, the mice treated with Ashwagandha showed a greater gain in body weight than those treated with Ginseng, significant anabolic activity was observed for both herbs.
Dosage and Dosage timing
Antipsychotic-induced metabolic side effects
It is recommended that an individual takes 400 milligrams of a specific Ashwagandha extract three times each day for a month for treatment of antipsychotic-induced metabolic side effects.
For anxiety; 300 milligrams extract dosage of Ashwagandha root is recommended twice daily for twelve weeks in addition with dietary counseling, multivitamins and exercise. Anxiety in children of sixteen years and above, 4 grams of Ashwagandha root powder granules should be taken three times daily for sixty days.
Bipolar disorder: 250 milligrams daily dosage of Ashwagandha extract will be taken in the first week and then 250 milligrams dosage given twice daily for the remaining seven weeks.
Cerebellar ataxia: The recommended dosage for cerebellarataxia is 500 milligrams of Ashwagandha which will be taken three times daily in combination with Ayurvedic therapy for one month.
Chemotherapy-related fatigue: 2grams of Ashwagandha powdered root extract taken three times daily through six cycles of chemotherapy is recommended for chemotherapy-related fatigue.
For diabetic patients; the recommended dosage is 3 grams of Ashwagandha daily for thirty days.
In hypercholesterolemia conditions; the recommended dosage is 3 grams of Ashwagandha daily is recommended for thirty days.
In infertility, 5 grams of Ashwagandha root powder daily is given with milk for three months.
Palliative therapy is recommended in individuals with parkinson’s disease, this involves using 200 milliliters lukewarm milk with 14.5 grams of Ashwagandha, 2/3 gram of Hyoscyamus reticulates, 4.5 grams of cowhage with 14.5 grams of Sida cordifolia which is taken twice a day before meals administered for 84 days, or for 56 days following 28 days of cleansing or eliminative therapy using Ayurveda medication.
For stress, 300 milligrams dosage of Ashwagandha root extract twice daily is recommended for 60 days this is taken after meal.
For attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, 3 milliliters of extract formula containing Ashwagandha, gotu kola, white peony root, bacopa, blue-green algae, and sage is recommended, this should be taken three times daily for four months.
Herbal medicines have been popular since ages and recently have drawn attention worldwide due to their potential neutraceutical values, however, a comprehensive and organized study is needed for cataloging, documentation, and recognition of plants; which will solve the question of dosage administration and its benefits, this will significantly enhance the traditional knowledge of the herbal medicinal plants hence maximizing its use for the improvement of life.
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