Ashwagandha, also known as “Withania Somnifera” or Indian Ginseng, is a revered herb in Ayurveda, the traditional Indian system of medicine. It has been used for over 3,000 years to enhance vitality, reduce stress, and improve overall health.
Here is a comprehensive overview of Ashwagandha, including its benefits, uses, and side effects.
Ashwagandha is a small, evergreen shrub native to India, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. It is a key herb in Ayurveda and is classified as a Rasayana or rejuvenator, which promotes overall health and longevity.
Withania Somnifera is the scientific name for Ashwagandha, and it belongs to the Solanaceae or nightshade family of plants.
Ashwagandha is also known as Indian ginseng, winter cherry, and poison gooseberry. Its name is derived from the Sanskrit words ‘Ashwa’ meaning ‘horse’ and ‘Gandha’ meaning ‘smell’, referring to the strong, horse-like aroma of its roots.
Ashwagandha contains several bioactive compounds, including withanolides, alkaloids, sitoindosides, and flavonoids, which contribute to its therapeutic effects. 1
Ashwagandha is reputed for its wide range of health benefits, such as:
- Reducing stress and anxiety 2
- Enhancing memory and cognitive function 3
- Improving physical strength and endurance 4
- Boosting immunity 5
- Balancing hormone levels 6
- Supporting reproductive health 7
In Ayurveda, Ashwagandha is used as an adaptogen, helping the body to adapt to stress and maintain homeostasis. It is also used to treat various conditions, including arthritis, insomnia, skin conditions, and gastrointestinal disorders.
- Adaptogenic properties and stress management 8
- Treatment of arthritis 9
- Treatment of insomnia 10
- Treatment of skin conditions 11
- Treatment of gastrointestinal disorders 12
The recommended dosage of Ashwagandha varies depending on factors such as age, health, and individual needs. It is essential to consult a healthcare professional before starting any supplementation. Generally, a daily dose of 300-500 mg of a standardised extract is suggested for adults. 13
Ashwagandha is available in various forms, such as powders, capsules, tablets, and liquid extracts. It is also an ingredient in many Ayurvedic formulations and herbal supplements.
Safety and precautions
Ashwagandha is considered safe for most people when used appropriately. However, some individuals may experience side effects such as gastrointestinal upset, drowsiness, or allergic reactions. It is advised to consult a healthcare professional before using Ashwagandha, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, or taking any medications. 14
Ashwagandha may interact with certain medications, including sedatives, immunosuppressants, and medications for diabetes or high blood pressure. It is crucial to consult a healthcare professional if you are taking any medications to avoid potential interactions. 15
Ashwagandha is not recommended for individuals with hyperthyroidism or those allergic to plants from the Solanaceae family. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also avoid using Ashwagandha without consulting a healthcare professional. 16
Store Ashwagandha supplements in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight and moisture. Ensure the container is tightly sealed to maintain potency and freshness.
When sourcing Ashwagandha, it is essential to choose sustainably grown and ethically harvested products. Look for certified organic Ashwagandha, as this guarantees that the herb is grown without harmful pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic fertilisers.
To ensure the quality and safety of Ashwagandha products, purchase supplements from reputable manufacturers who follow good manufacturing practices (GMP) and provide certificates of analysis (COA) to verify the potency and purity of their products.
Research and studies
Numerous scientific studies have been conducted to investigate the therapeutic properties of Ashwagandha. While much of the research supports its traditional uses, more extensive and rigorous studies are required to validate its efficacy and safety fully. 17
In Ayurveda, Ashwagandha is classified as a Rasayana, a rejuvenating herb that promotes overall health, well-being, and longevity. It has a warming energy (virya) and balances the Vata and Kapha doshas while increasing the Pitta dosha when used in excess.
Apart from its medicinal uses, Ashwagandha is also used in various traditional Indian recipes. Its roots and leaves are often dried, powdered, and used as a spice or added to beverages like milk and tea for added flavour and health benefits.
Ashwagandha can be grown in well-draining soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5. It prefers a sunny location with partial shade and is drought-tolerant once established. The plant can be grown from seeds or propagated from cuttings. It typically takes six to eight months for the roots to reach maturity and be harvested,
- Soil: Ashwagandha prefers well-draining soil with a pH level between 6.0 and 7.5. It can tolerate a wide range of soil types but thrives in sandy loam or loamy soil.
- Sunlight: Ashwagandha requires a sunny location with partial shade. It can tolerate some shade, especially during the hottest part of the day.
- Watering: Initially, during the establishment phase, regular watering is necessary to help the plant develop a strong root system. Once established, Ashwagandha is drought-tolerant and requires less frequent watering.
- Propagation: Ashwagandha can be grown from seeds or propagated from cuttings. Seeds should be sown in well-prepared soil and lightly covered. Cuttings can be taken from mature plants and rooted in a suitable growing medium.
- Growth and Harvest: It typically takes six to eight months for Ashwagandha roots to reach maturity and be ready for harvest. The plant grows as a perennial shrub and can reach a height of around 2-4 feet (60-120 cm).
History and folklore
Ashwagandha has a long history in Indian culture, dating back to ancient times. It is mentioned in various ancient texts, including the Charaka Samhita and the Sushruta Samhita, as a powerful herb for promoting strength, vitality, and overall well-being.
Ashwagandha is considered a dietary supplement in most countries and is widely available without a prescription. However, regulations governing the sale and use of Ashwagandha may vary between countries, so it is essential to familiarise yourself with local laws before purchasing or using Ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha is a potent and versatile herb with a rich history in traditional medicine. Its numerous health benefits, backed by modern research, make it a popular choice for those seeking natural ways to enhance their well-being.
As with any supplement, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional before using Ashwagandha and to source high-quality products for the best results.
Frequently Asked Questions
What forms is Ashwagandha available in?
Ashwagandha is available in three forms: powder (churna), capsules, and tablets.
How should I take Ashwagandha extract?
Ashwagandha extract is commonly available in capsule or tablet form. The recommended dosage is 600-1200 mg per day, usually taken as 1-2 capsules or tablets once a day.
How do I use Ashwagandha oil?
Ashwagandha oil is safe to use locally and for full body massages. Take some oil in your palm and apply it generously over the affected area. Massage the oil into the skin and cover your body immediately after use. Avoid exposing the body to cold weather immediately after massaging with Ashwagandha oil.
How should I take Ashwagandha powder?
You can take Ashwagandha powder with either milk or honey. Take 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of Ashwagandha powder along with 1 cup of lukewarm milk or 1 teaspoon of honey. It is preferably taken 2 hours after meals.
Can Ashwagandha help with weight loss?
Yes, Ashwagandha can help manage weight by lowering cortisol levels, the “stress hormone.” Elevated cortisol levels can increase hunger and cravings, leading to weight gain. Ashwagandha reduces cortisol levels, decreases stress-induced cravings, and aids in better weight management.
Is Ashwagandha beneficial for hair loss?
Yes, Ashwagandha can help manage stress-induced hair loss. It normalises the body’s functions and reduces stress, which is known to increase cortisol levels and contribute to hair loss. Ashwagandha also balances Vata dosha and provides oiliness to the scalp, preventing hair breakage.
Can Ashwagandha increase height?
While there is no scientific evidence to suggest that Ashwagandha increases height, it helps maintain good bone health and prevent bone damage. It improves body composition, increases muscle mass and strength, which indirectly contributes to overall physical development.
Can Ashwagandha increase testosterone hormone levels?
Yes, Ashwagandha might improve testosterone hormone levels. It reduces stress by decreasing cortisol levels, which can inhibit testosterone synthesis. Ashwagandha also acts as a potent aphrodisiac and supports the development of testes, thereby promoting testosterone production.
What are the benefits of Ashwagandha for men?
Some benefits of Ashwagandha for men include stress management, anxiety relief, increased strength, stamina, and improved male infertility. It enhances sperm count, movement, semen quality, and hormonal balance. Ashwagandha is also used to treat male sexual disorders like erectile dysfunction.
Can Ashwagandha cure depression?
Ashwagandha can help manage depression by reducing stress. It normalises cortisol levels, the stress hormone, and alleviates stress-related symptoms, including depression.
Is Ashwagandha helpful for sleep-related issues?
Yes, Ashwagandha is considered beneficial for sleep and sleep-related disorders like insomnia. It calms the nerves, improves the body’s ability to sleep, and reduces stress-induced insomnia by reducing cortisol levels.
Can Ashwagandha cure cancer?
While some studies suggest that Ashwagandha might have anticancer properties and can inhibit the growth of cancer cells, further research is needed to establish its efficacy as a cancer treatment.
Can Ashwagandha reduce hot flashes?
Yes, Ashwagandha can help reduce hot flashes, which are commonly experienced by women during menopause. Hot flashes are often associated with stress, which increases cortisol levels in the body. Ashwagandha helps to alleviate stress-induced hot flashes by reducing cortisol levels.
Can Ashwagandha cause nausea?
In some cases, high doses of Ashwagandha powder can cause nausea, diarrhoea, and vomiting. It is generally well-tolerated in small to medium doses. If you experience nausea, it is recommended to start with Ashwagandha capsules or tablets instead of the powder form.
Should Ashwagandha be avoided by individuals with autoimmune diseases?
Individuals with autoimmune disorders should exercise caution when taking Ashwagandha. Ashwagandha is known to boost the immune system, which can potentially exacerbate symptoms in autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Is Ashwagandha beneficial for thyroid health?
Yes, Ashwagandha is beneficial for thyroid health. It contains compounds such as alkaloids, steroidal, and saponins that help balance thyroid hormones. Ashwagandha also possesses strong antioxidant properties, reducing oxidative stress in the thyroid gland and improving overall thyroid activity.
Is Ashwagandha effective for bodybuilding?
Yes, Ashwagandha can be beneficial for bodybuilding. It helps increase muscle mass and strength by reducing cortisol levels, which is known as a stress hormone. Ashwagandha also acts as an anti-anxiety agent, promoting focus and concentration, leading to better muscle coordination and recruitment.
Can Ashwagandha be taken before surgery?
It is advisable to stop taking Ashwagandha or its supplements at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery. Ashwagandha may slow down the central nervous system, and the effects can be increased when combined with anaesthesia or other medications during and after surgery.
Does Ashwagandha increase testosterone levels in females?
Ashwagandha can help alleviate sexual dysfunctions in females caused by chronic stress. By reducing cortisol levels, Ashwagandha helps reduce stress-related sexual problems, such as lack of sexual arousal, orgasmic disorders, or hypoactive sexual desire disorder.
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