Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

ashwagandha root in a bowl.jpeg

Ashwagandha Summary

Ashwagandha is perhaps the best adrenal tonic herb we have available. It’s most useful as a tonic herb for its non-specific, adaptogenic, and non-stimulating nature.

In India and surrounding regions, ashwagandha has a very long history of use and is one of the most popular herbs in the region for its long list of beneficial actions, and high level of safety. Many herbalists will use it on children going through convalescence due to its gentle nature.

Modern uses of ashwagandha mainly involve stress-related conditions involving overstimulation and stress.

It's useful for turning down hyperactivity of the sympathetic nervous system.

To use it effectively, ashwagandha is best used in high doses for long periods of time.

+ Indications

  • Anaemia children
  • Anxiety
  • Arthritis
  • Athletic support
  • Chronic inflammatory diseases
  • Debility/convalescence
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder GAS
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Immune dysfunctions
  • Improving learning and concentration
  • Insomnia
  • Pregnancy support
  • Recovery after illness children
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Senile dementia
  • Stress
  • Substance Abuse
  • Support during natural progression of aging
  • To promote healthy growth in children

+ Contraindications

None noted.

Herbal Actions:

  • Adaptogen
  • Mild sedative
  • Tonic
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Immunomodulator
  • Anti-anaemic
  • Antitumor
  • Nervine
  • Thyroid modulator
 

What Is Ashwagandha Used For?

Ashwagandha is mainly used with fatigue-related conditions involving the endocrine system. It is also a populr adjunctive treatment in cancer, immune defficiencies, and anxiety.

 

Traditional Use of Ashwagandha

Ashwaganda is an improtant Ayurvedic herb for conditions involving debility, emanciation, impotence, bronchitis, wasting (children), insomnia, leukoderma, lumbago arthritis, rheumatism, lumbar pains, to promote conception, and premature aging. It was also used as a nutrient for pregnant women, and to improve energy for any constitutional diseases. [1, 2].

 

Herb Details: Ashwagandha

Weekly Dose

Part Used

Root

Family Name

Solanaceae

Distribution

Southeast Asia

Constituents of Interest

  • Withaferins
  • Tropane alkaloids
  • Withanolides

Common Names

  • Withania
  • Ashwaghanda
  • Indian ginseng
  • Winter cherry

CYP450

  • Unknown

Quality

  • Warm

Pregnancy

  • Safe during pregnancy

Taste

  • Sweet, Bitter, Pungent

Duration of Use

  • Long term use is acceptable and recommended for best results.

Products Containing Ashwagandha

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Ashwagandha Extract

Herb Pharm

Made From Organic Withania somnifera

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Ashwagandha Powder

Bulk Supplements

made from Withania somnifera

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Ashwaghandha Capsules

Swanson

Made from Withania somnifera

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Botanical Information

Ashwagandha is a member of the Solanaceae family of plants, also known as the nightshade family. This family includes a variety of both poisonous, and medicinal plants, including belladonna, tomatoes, datura, and eggplant.

 

Pharmacology & Medical Research

+ Adaptogen

Adaptogens increase the bodies ability to recover from and resist stress. Ashwagandha is often comparede to similar adaptogenic herbs like Panax ginseng or Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus). As such, ashwagandha is often referred to as Indian ginseng — though it has no direct relationship to either of the other ginsengs.

There have been a number of studies investigating the adaptogenic activities of ashwagandha. Many of these studies have found evidence of this action in various forms of stress-induced damage [1].

Studies on ashwagandha have found the following adaptogenic benefits of the herb:

  • Increased swimming performance in mice [13]
  • Reduced cortisol levels in mice [13]
  • Increased corticosteroid levels [13]
  • Prevented stress-induced ulcers in mice [13]
  • Increased the body weight of rats [13]

+ Anxiety

In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial consisting of 39 patients diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, patients treated with Ashwagandha extract (1000mg/day representing about 6-8g of root for six weeks) noted a significant benefit in comparison to the placebo group. Both groups in this study showed improvement. [11].

+ Blood Glucose Regulation

An open-label trial involving a Withania somnifera extract and 6 type two diabetics demonstrated a 12% reduction in blood glucose levels. [12].

+ Cancer

Ashwagandha has been demonstrated to produce an antitumoral activity using a few different mechanisms: [1, 2, 4-7]

  1. Regulation of cell cycle proliferation [1, 7-9]
  2. Increased tumor apoptosis [1, 4, 6, 7]
  3. Inhibition of angiogenesis [1]
  4. Suppression of NF-kB [1, 2]
  5. Increased immune activity [1]

Much of the scientific research in this area has been on withaferin A, which is regarded as the most significant component in this area [1, 2, 7].

+ Inflammation

Withaferin A was shown to inhibit IL-1beta production in the dendritic cells through regulation of Nf-kB and NLRP3 inflammasome activation induced by H. pylori. This has significance in the prevention of H. pylori-induced gastric cancer development. [2].

 

Phytochemistry

Ashwaganda contains lactones (withaferin A, sitoindoside IX, X), and acylsteryl glucosides, as well as alkaloids (tropane) including tropine, pseudotropine, and other alkaloids such as isopelletierine and anaferine. [1, 2].

Alkaloids, steroid lactones (withanolides and withaferins), iron.

 

Clinical Applications Of Ashwagandha:

Ashwagandha is excellent for those with sympathetic nervous system dominance, chronic inflammation, and insomnia. It makes a great addition to long term formulas for insomnia and high stress individuals. It's gentle enough to use with chronic fatigue conditions as well as children.

 

Cautions:

Due to recent worries involving lead contamination in parts of India, caution is advised for herbs such as withania that have been grown in India. 

 

Author:

Justin Cooke, BHSc

The Sunlight Experiment

(Updated May 2019)

 

Recent Blog Posts:

References:

  1. Bone K, Mills S. (2013). Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. Elsevier health. China. (Pg. 949-959).

  2. Bone, K. (2003). A clinical guide to blending liquid herbs: Herbal formulations for the individual patient. Edinburgh [u.a., MO: Churchill Livingstone.

  3. Kim, J., Lee, J., Kang, M., Jeong, Y., Choi, J., Oh, S., … Park, J. (2015). Withaferin A Inhibits Helicobacter pylori-induced Production of IL-1β in Dendritic Cells by Regulating NF-κB and NLRP3 Inflammasome Activation. Immune Network, 15(6), 269. doi:10.4110/in.2015.15.6.269

  4. Vyas, A.R.; Singh, S.V. Molecular targets and mechanisms of cancer prevention and treatment by withaferin a, a naturally occurring steroidal lactone. AAPS. J. 2014, 16, 1–10.

  5. Choudharymy, M.I.; Yousuf, S.; Atta-Ur-Rahman. Withanolides: Chemistry and antitumor activity. In Natural Products; Ramawat, K.G., Merillon, J.M., Eds.; Springer-Verlag: Berlin, Germany; Heidelberg, Germany, 2013; pp. 3465–3495.

  6. Ichikawa, H.; Takada, Y.; Shishodia, S.; Jayaprakasam, B.; Nair, M.G.; Aggarwal, B.B. Withanolides potentiate apoptosis, inhibit invasion, and abolish osteoclastogenesis through suppression of nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB) activation and NF-kappaB-regulated gene expression. Mol. Cancer Ther. 2006, 5, 1434–1445.

  7. Turrini, E., Calcabrini, C., Sestili, P., Catanzaro, E., De Gianni, E., Diaz, A., … Fimognari, C. (2016). Withania somnifera Induces Cytotoxic and Cytostatic Effects on Human T Leukemia Cells. Toxins, 8(5), 147. doi:10.3390/toxins8050147

  8. McKenna, M.K.; Gachuki, B.W.; Alhakeem, S.S.; Oben, K.N.; Rangnekar, V.M.; Gupta, R.C.; Bondada, S. Anti-cancer activity of withaferin A in B-cell lymphoma. Cancer Biol. Ther. 2015, 16, 1088–1098.

  9. Yu, Y.; Hamza, A.; Zhang, T.; Gu, M.; Zou, P.; Newman, B.; Li, Y.; Gunatilaka, A.A.; Zhan, C.G.; Sun, D. Withaferin A targets heat shock protein 90 in pancreatic cancer cells. Biochem. Pharmacol. 2010, 79, 542–551.

  10. Gupta GL, Rana AC (2007) Protective effect of Withania somnifera dunal root extract against protracted social isolation induced behavior in rats. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol 51: 345–353.

  11. Andrade, C., Aswath, A., Chaturvedi, S. K., Srinivasa, M., & Raguram, R. (2000). A double-blind, placebo-controlled evaluation of the anxiolytic efficacy ff an ethanolic extract of withania somnifera. Indian journal of psychiatry, 42(3), 295. [RCT].

  12. Andallu, B., & Radhika, B. (2000). Hypoglycemic, diuretic and hypocholesterolemic effect of winter cherry (Withania somnifera, Dunal) root. [open label trial].

  13. Singh, N., Nath, R., Lata, A., Singh, S. P., Kohli, R. P., & Bhargava, K. P. (1982). Withania somnifera (ashwagandha), a rejuvenating herbal drug which enhances survival during stress (an adaptogen). International journal of Crude drug research20(1), 29-35.