Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an exotic Indian herb that is commonly used in the Ayurveda medicine. It is also known as a nootropic. Its name is translated in the native language to mean the “smell of a horse”. There are numerous suggestions to why the plant took this name. Some do relate it to its unique healing powers and the smell of its roots. Others link it to the power that one gets from ingesting it, which is hypothetically similar to the virility of a horse. Perhaps this is true according to the supposed uses of the herb. For centuries now, the Ashwagandha have been used as a rejuvenating and as an adaptogenic herb. This means that it served to reduce both physiological and psychological stress.
Ashwagandha has also been used to mean the root extract of the plant. Virtually every part of the plant is used as a medication for various ailments. The Ashwagandha root extract is a common supplement that has been linked to healing various conditions including anxiety and stress. The popularity of the extract has significantly risen over the years and is now the preferred treatment over the other drug medications.
How Ashwagandha works
The Ashwagandha has a chemical that is known to be able to cause a calming effect in the brain. The extract can also reduce swellings due to inflammations, lower the blood pressure and improve the immune system. Traditionally, the Ashwagandha was harvested, taken and was believed to heal several conditions which were not clearly understood. It is also said to improve the sexual strength, though with no much evidence.
Benefits of Ashwagandha
There are both proven and presumed capabilities of the Ashwagandha extract regarding its healing powers. Major conditions treated by the extract include arthritis, insomnia, anxiety, tuberculosis, Asthma, tumors, skin conditions like leukoderma, bronchitis, backache, menstrual problems, fibromyalgia, chronic liver disease, and hiccups. There are other benefits related to thinking, anxiety and general relaxation.
Ashwagandha for anxiety
It is unclear how Ashwagandha helps to relieve anxiety in human beings. Little evidence is there to support this purported benefit of using the extract. There are, however, studies that claim to have proven the effectiveness of the Ashwagandha as the healer against anxiety. Some of the studies propound that the supplement with deep breathing is able to fight anxiety. This claim has been widely supported by many researchers who claim to have proven it.
A study done on rats revealed that the supplement blocked the stress pathway thus making the rats stress-free and relaxed. It does this by regulating chemical signaling within the nervous system. A number of controlled human studies have been done and most of them reflect positively on the healing powers of the supplement. It has been observed that people using it have minimum cases of stress, depression, and anxiety.
Another study to compare the effect of Ashwagandha with placebo has been done. 64 people who were suffering from chronic stress were used in the 60 days study. Those who used Ashwagandha reported a 69% decrease in anxiety and insomnia, unlike the placebo group who experienced only 11% decrease. In another study lasting for 6 weeks, 88 percent of individuals who took Ashwagandha supplements reported a positive reduction much more than the 50 % for the placebo individuals.
Dealing with Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Clinical research shows that ADHD could be treated by the use of a combination of herbal products that contain the Ashwagandha. It does this by improving the attention and control impulses for children who are suffering from ADHD. It is, however, unclear whether the supplement can cure the condition by itself.
Ashwagandha as an adaptogen
Among the few adaptogenic herbs used in the Ayurveda medicine is the Ashwagandha extract. Adaptogens are substances which might be combinations of complex amino acids, vitamins or herbs that control the way the body responds to stress or changing environments. They help the body deal with external stresses like environmental toxins and the internal stresses such as insomnia and anxiety.
Protective effect on the nervous system
Apart from the relaxing effect that the supplement has, it also protects the brain cells. The Ashwagandha extract has been proven to be as efficient as any other tranquilizer or antidepressant drug normally administered to patients. The anti-anxiety drug prescriptions are, however, known for their serious sides effects including damages to the brain cells. Stress is also known to trigger degenerative effects on the brain. Many studies have been done to determine the extent to which these degenerative effects will have on the brain.
On a study involving animals, they were exposed to chronic stress and the level of the damage on brain cells was measured. The study found out that 85 % of the cells that were exposed to chronic stress degenerated. Surprisingly, when the Ashwagandha treatment was administered to the stressed animals, the brain cells degeneration was reduced by 80%. Several studies have linked stress to the escalated levels of the stress hormone called cortisol. A controlled human trial was carried out to identify how the Ashwagandha reduced the effects of the stress hormone in the human body. The results were good. The participants experienced increased energy, better sleep, reduced fatigue and an increased sense of well-being. They also experienced a reduction of cortisol levels up to around 26 %.
Fighting cancer with Ashwagandha
Recent studies have revealed an important discovery about fighting cancerous growths. Laboratory analysis showed that the herb inhibited the growth of breast, colon and lung cancer. Some scientists in India conducted studies about cells showing how the use of Ashwagandha disrupts the growth and replication of cancer cells. The laboratory results also showed that the herb possesses an anti-angiogenic activity that prevents formation of blood vessels by the cancer cells to support their growth.A study on laboratory animals who were induced with stomach cancer and given an oral administration of the herb extract showed that the there was a 60 % decrease of tumor incidences and a 92% decrease in tumor multiplicity. Conclusively, the herb has been proven to some level to be able to fight cancerous growths.
There are minimal side effects when the herb is taken orally for a short term. The effects of using it for a long term have not been well established. Excess dosage may lead to diarrhea, vomiting and stomach upsets.
The right dosage of Ashwagandha varies with age, health and other several conditions. There is no single dosage quantity but it can be prescribed correctly considering all the factors necessary.
Precautions to be taken before use:
- The herb should not be used during pregnancy. Cases of miscarriages have been reported when used during the gestation period.
- The herb can lower the blood sugar levels significantly. Individuals with diabetes should, therefore, avoid it as it may pose a danger to the person’s health.
- Ashwagandha might also lower the blood pressure and should, therefore, be taken cautiously in case one has low blood pressure or under medications.
- Ashwagandha do also have an irritating effect especially for individuals with ulcers.
- Before a surgery, do not use the herb as it may slow down the nervous system hence reducing the effect of anesthetics.
- It could also increase thyroid hormone levels hence dangerous for persons with thyroid disorders.