Health Benefits of Ashwagandha

ashwagandha (withania somnifera)
Ashwagandha. Vaithinathan Muthuramann/StockFood Creative/Getty Images

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a herb often called "Indian ginseng" due to its supposed rejuvenating effects and is commonly used in Ayurveda (a form of alternative medicine that originated in India). It is not botanically related to Panax ginseng.

Uses for Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is regarded as an adaptogen (a type of herb said to strengthen your resistance to stress while enhancing your energy).

Often used to boost the immune system after an illness, ashwagandha is also included in formulations that aim to treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, pain, fatigue, gastrointestinal disorders, skin infections, cerebellar ataxia, diabetes, high cholesterol, and Parkinson's disease.

Health Benefits of Ashwagandha

Research on ashwagandha is limited, but several studies have shown that the herb may be useful in addressing the following health problems:

1) Osteoarthritis

For a 2008 study, scientists tested ashwagandha's effects on human cartilage and found that the herb may help protect against inflammation and cartilage damage associated with osteoarthritis. In another preliminary study, people with joint deformity, pain, swelling, and stiffness were given a supplement containing ashwagandha, guggul, turmeric, and a zinc complex. Although pain was reduced, there were no changes shown on radiological examination.

Related: Natural Remedies for Osteoarthritis

2) Anxiety

In an animal-based study published in 2000, researchers found that ashwagandha had an anti-anxiety effect similar to that of lorazepam (a medication used to treat anxiety disorders). The herb also appeared to ease depression.

Related: Natural Remedies for Anxiety

3) Type 2 Diabetes

Ashwagandha may help normalize high blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity, according to preliminary, animal-based research published in 2008. Learn about other remedies for diabetes.

4) Cancer

In a 2003 study, tests on human tumor cell lines revealed that ashwagandha may slow the growth of lung, breast, and colon cancer cells.

Published in 2007, another study on human cells shows that ashwagandha may inhibit tumor growth without harming normal cells.

Related: Natural Approaches to Cancer

Forms

Ashwagandha is available in capsules, powders, and tinctures, all of which can be found in many health-food stores and pharmacies specializing in natural remedies. The herb is also commonly featured in adaptogen formulas, which may contain herbs like ginseng and Rhodiola.

Side Effects

Although ashwagandha was generally considered safe when used in clinical trials lasting up to 12 weeks, there may be side effects with large doses or prolonged use.

The herb may induce abortion when taken in very large doses.

Therefore, pregnant women should avoid the use of ashwagandha.

Ashwagandha may also increase the potency of barbiturates (a class of drugs that depresses the central nervous system), sedatives, and anxiety medication.

Supplements haven't been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label. Also keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get tips on using supplements here, but if you're considering the use of ashwagandha, talk with your primary care provider first. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Sources

Anwer T, Sharma M, Pillai KK, Iqbal M. "Effect of Withania somnifera on insulin sensitivity in non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus rats." Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology 2008 102(6):498-503.

Bhattacharya SK, Bhattacharya A, Sairam K, Ghosal S. "Anxiolytic-antidepressant activity of Withania somnifera glycowithanolides: an experimental study." Phytomedicine 2000 7(6):463-9.

Jayaprakasam B, Zhang Y, Seeram NP, Nair MG. "Growth inhibition of human tumor cell lines by withanolides from Withania somnifera leaves." Life Sciences 2003 21;74(1):125-32.

Kulkarni RR1, Patki PS, Jog VP, Gandage SG, Patwardhan B. Treatment of osteoarthritis with a herbomineral formulation: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study. J Ethnopharmacol. 1991 May-Jun;33(1-2):91-5.

Sumantran VN, Chandwaskar R, Joshi AK, Boddul S, Patwardhan B, Chopra A, Wagh UV. "The relationship between chondroprotective and antiinflammatory effects of Withania somnifera root and glucosamine sulphate on human osteoarthritic cartilage in vitro." Phytotherapy Research 2008 22(10):1342-8.

Widodo N, Kaur K, Shrestha BG, Takagi Y, Ishii T, Wadhwa R, Kaul SC. "Selective killing of cancer cells by leaf extract of Ashwagandha: identification of a tumor-inhibitory factor and the first molecular insights to its effect." Clinical Cancer Research 2007 1;13(7):2298-306.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

Continue Reading