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Ashwagandha - (Withania Somnifera)

 

 

 

Main Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
  • Reduces anxiety, depression, insomnia and stress
  • Lengthens telomeres in DNA to extend lifespan
  • Reduces exhaustion and builds energy reserves
  • Improves cognitive conditions such as memory loss, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s
  • Reduces inflammation in joints and muscles
  • Increases muscle mass and strength
  • Increases male fertility and testosterone levels
  • Helps fight bacterial infections
  • Supports chronic diseases recovery
  • Reduces blood sugar levels
  • Lowers the risk of heart disease
  • Provides support during cancer treatment
Other common names

Withania Somnifera, Physalis Somnifera, Withania Microphysalis Suess, Indian ginseng and Winter cherry

What is The History of Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha can be found growing in Africa, the Mediterranean and India. It is a revered medicinal plant that has been used in Ayurvedic and indigenous medicine for millennia and its use can be traced back to 6000 BC.

The species name Somnifera means sleep-inducing in Latin which probably refers to its extensive use as a remedy against stress from a variety of daily chores. The name Ashwagandhais a combination of the Sanskrit word ashva, meaning horse and gandha meaning smell. The root has been described as having a strong horse like aroma, although some experts suggest that the origin of the name implies that one who consumes it can attain the power of a horse.

In Ayurveda withania is referred to as a ‘rasayana’, a group of plant derived drugs reputed to promote physical and mental health, augment resistance of the body against disease and adverse environmental factors, revitalise the body in debilitated conditions and increase longevity. These types of remedies are given to small children as tonics and are also taken by the middle-aged and elderly to increase longevity.

In view of its varied therapeutic potentials and the amount of observed health benefits, it has also been the subject of considerable modern scientific attention.

Targets and Mechanisms of Actions

The chemistry of Ashwagandha has been extensively studied and more than 80 chemical constituents have been identified, extracted and isolated. The biologically active chemical constituents are alkaloids, saponins, steroidal lactones, iron and phytosterols. However, much of Withania’s pharmacological activity has been attributed to two main withanolides – withaferin A and withanolide D.

Adaptogenic/Anti-Stress
  • Substantially reduces chronically elevated serum cortisol levels
  • Neuroprotective activity via enhanced endogenous antioxidants
  • Has a direct effect on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis
  • Increases dopamine receptors in the brain reducing the effects of noradrenaline
Sedative Actions
  • Inhibits the specific binding of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) ligands
  • Enhances the binding of benzodiazepines used as a hypnotic, sedative, anticonvulsant, anxiolytic and skeletal muscle relaxant drugs
  • Displays GABA-mimetic activity
  • Modulates the cholinergic and oxidative systems
Cognition
  • Significant improvements observed in reaction times - simple reaction, choice discrimination, digit symbol substitution, digit vigilance and card sorting tests
  • Works as a procognitive agent added adjunctively to the medications being used as maintenance treatment for bipolar disorder
  • Improves auditory-verbal working memory (digit span backward), a measure of reaction time, and a measure of social cognition in bipolar disorder
  • Shows potent acetylcholinesterase inhibitory activity
  • Improves cognition and memory by affecting events in the cortical and basal forebrain cholinergic signal transduction cascade
Neuroprotection
  • Provides protection against MB-PQ induced nigrostriatal (one of the major dopamine pathways in the brain involved particularly in the production of movement)
  • Protects against dopaminergic neurodegeneration and shows marked improvement in behavioural, anatomical and biochemical deformities.
  • Improves hypobaric hypoxia (HH) induced memory impairment and neurodegeneration in the rat hippocampus through nitric oxide mediated modulation of corticosterone levels
  • Decreases nitric oxide, corticosterone, oxidative stress and acetylcholinesterase activity in the hippocampal region of the brain
  • Treatment reduced the number of degenerating cells in the brain by 80%
  • Promotes the formation of dendrites and axons which may compensate for and repair damaged neuronal circuits
  • High levels of phytochemicals present mitigate the effects of excitotoxicity (pathological process by which nerve cells are damaged and killed by excessive stimulation by neurotransmitters) in the hippocampus
Anti-Inflammatory
  • Acts as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent in decreasing the arthritic effects in collagen-induced arthritis
  • Shows direct and statistically significant anti-inflammatory effects on human osteoarthritis cartilage
  • Significantly decreased nitric oxide release in damaged tissue
  • Inhibit the activation of NF-kappaB and NF-kappaB-regulated gene expression
  • Reduces lipid peroxidation and improves antioxidant status
  • Counteracts the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS)
  • Exerts selective cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) inhibition
Bone Density
  • Found to contain oestrogen-like withanolides that upregulate anti-osteoporotic activity
Anti-Tumour Activity
  • Increases the population of stromal and tumour-infiltrating Natural Killer (NK) cells
  • Exhibits selective cytotoxicity against a panel of human cancer cell lines in vitro and effectively inhibited tumour growth in mouse tumour models
  • Stimulates the cell mediated Th1 (a type of T helper cell) immune response
  • Enhances the effectiveness of radiation therapy while potentially mitigating undesirable side effects of the chemotherapeutic agents cyclophosphamide and paclitaxel without interfering with the tumour-reducing actions of those drugs
  • Can reduce the production of interleukin-1 (IL-1) and tumour necrosis factor (TNF)
  • Treatment significantly inhibits OTA-induced suppression of chemotactic activity and production of IL-1 and TNF-alpha by macrophages
  • Has significant anti-tumour and radio-sensitising effects in experimental tumours in vivo, without any noticeable systemic toxicity
  • Offers protection from reactive oxygen species damage and suppresses cell proliferation
Immune Activity
  • Creates major change in immune cell activation with significant increases in white blood cell counts and platelet counts
  • Causes a significant increase in the stress-induced depleted T-cell population and increases the expression of Th1 cytokines
  • Delivers significant increases in haemoglobin concentration and red blood cell count
  • Gives significant increases in haemolytic antibody responses towards human red blood cells
  • Shows high antimicrobial potential against fungal and bacterial microorganisms
  • Candida albicans is the most susceptible organism followed by Staphylococcus aureus, Proteus mirabilis, Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhimurium and Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Boosts the production of CD56+ Natural Killer (NK) cells
  • Increases the number and activation of CD3+ and CD4+ T cells, CD8+ cytotoxic lymphocytes, and CD19+ B cells
Male Infertility
  • Significantly improves semen parameters by directly affecting the seminiferous tubules, improved prosexual behaviour of sexually sluggish test subjects and increased testicular daily sperm production
  • Counteracts the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in infertile men
  • Human studies showed a 167% increase in sperm count, 53% increase in semen volume and 57% increase in sperm motility on day 90 of clinical trials
  • Regulates the sexual hormone (testosterone and luteinizing hormone) levels in males with low sperm count
Cardiovascular
  • Restores the myocardial oxidant-antioxidant balance, exerts marked anti-apoptotic (preventing cell death) effects and reduces all myocardial damage
  • Significantly decreases serum cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL (low density lipoproteins) and VLDL (very low-density lipoproteins) cholesterol
  • Significantly increases plasma HDL-cholesterol levels, HMG-Coenzyme A reductase activity and bile acid content of the liver
Blood Sugar Control
  • Shows decrease in blood glucose comparable to that of an oral hypoglycaemic drugs
  • Displays activity comparable to metformin, a known anti-glycating agent
  • Markedly improves the insulin sensitivity index
  • Prevents the modification of collagen such as non-enzymatic glycation and cross-linking damage
  • Plays a therapeutic role in the prevention of glycation (AGEs) induced pathogenesis in diabetes mellitus and ageing
Drug Withdrawal/Pain Management
  • Prolongs morphine induced pain relief and suppresses the development of morphine-induced rebound hyperalgesia through involvement of GABAA, GABAB, NMDA and opioid receptors
  • Prevents the development of tolerance to the analgesic effects of morphine
  • Protects from the structural changes in the spine and brain induced by morphine withdrawal