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Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

Ashwagandha, more formally recognised as Withania somnifera, has a long history in traditional Ayurvedic medicine, which originated in India over 3,000 years ago.

The small shrub with yellow flowers, which is native to the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, and parts of Africa, is packed full of alkaloids, steroidal lactones (withanolides), and various phytochemicals.

These are what contribute to its adaptogenic and anti-stress properties propertes that have made Ashwagandha one of the most popular supplements of the modern era.

The roots and leaves of the Ashwagandha plant are primarily consumed as powder, tablets and teas to  enhance brain function, promote reproductive health, and boosts the body's resilience to stress.

More recently, Ashwagandha has gained widespread popularity as a supplement to promote sleep.(1) Ashwagandha is an active ingredient of sleep supplements, like Super Sleep.

Scroll down to learn everything you need to know about Ashwagandha, or click on the headings just below to jump straight to a particular section.

What is Ashawagandha (Withania somnifera)?

 or thousands of years, Ashwagandha has played a key role in the ancient Indian healing system known as Ayurveda (2).

Ayurvedic practitioners have used the evergreen herb as a herbal tonic (known as Rasayana) to provide a multi-purpose treatment that increases energy and promotes youthfulness.(3)

 It has been used as a household remedy by Indians, who consider it as the best tonic for old people and children, and as an aphrodisiac by young people.

 In more recent times, the herb hailed as "Indian Winter cherry" or "Indian Ginseng” has become popular as a topical treatment or dietary supplement in Western countries because of its potential health benefits as an adaptogenic with anti-stress properties.

 Scientific experiments have demonstrated its effectiveness in increasing rat stamina during swimming tests and preventing adrenal gland changes induced by stress.

The herb has also exhibited anti-tumour effects on CHO cell carcinoma and proved effective against urethane-induced lung adenoma in mice.

Buț the boost in popularity over the past decades is primarily due to its positive outcomes in stress-related disorders.

Uses & Benefits of Ashwagandha

While individual responses to the consumption of Ashwagandha may vary, here are some potential health benefits associated with the traditional medicinal herb:

Adaptogenic Properties

Ashwagandha is classified as an adaptogen, helping the body manage stress by regulating the physiological response to stressors. It can potentially lower cortisol levels, a hormone released during stress. (4)

Enhanced Mental Health

The herb is known to support cognitive function, improve memory, and alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. It may have a neuroprotective effect, contributing to overall mental well-being. (5)

Improved Energy and Stamina

Ashwagandha has been linked to increased energy levels and improved stamina. It may enhance physical performance, making it beneficial for athletes and those engaged in regular exercise. (6)

Anti-Inflammatory Effects

Ashwagandha possesses anti-inflammatory properties that may help alleviate inflammation and reduce symptoms associated with inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis. (7)

Antioxidant Protection

The herb is rich in antioxidants, which can help neutralise free radicals in the body, protecting cells from oxidative damage and contributing to overall health. (8)

Immune System Support

Ashwagandha has been shown to boost the immune system, potentially increasing the body's defence mechanisms against infections and diseases. (9)

Reproductive Health

Ashwagandha is traditionally used to support reproductive health in both men and women. It may enhance fertility, improve libido, and regulate hormonal balance. (10)

Blood Sugar Regulation

Some studies suggest that Ashwagandha may help regulate blood sugar levels, making it beneficial for individuals with diabetes or those at risk of developing the condition. (11)

Cardiovascular Health

The herb may have a positive impact on heart health by reducing cholesterol and triglyceride levels, potentially lowering the risk of heart-related issues. (12)

Improved Sleep Quality

Evidence is beginning to suggest that taking Ashwagandha may help people fall asleep faster, spent more time asleep while in bed, and have better sleep quality in general. (13)

Ashwagandha for sleep

 Ashwagandha’s potential to improve sleep quality is largely due to its main active ingredients being withanolides, which are believed to be a powerful tool in reducing stress.

 It’s not a surprise to hear that it has been linked to poorer sleep quality and excessive daytime sleepiness.

 A number of different research studies have found Ashwagandha supplements to help adults with (and without!) insomnia to sleep, helping people to fall asleep faster, spend more time asleep, and spend less time awake in bed. (14)

The studies noted that Ashwagandha supplements, in particular, are being increasingly used as a sleep aid for humans.

They found that the medicinal herb affects receptors of a neurotransmitter called GABA in the brain, promoting sleep.(15)

How to take Ashwagandha

Traditionally, Ayurvedic practitioners would use the entire Ashwagandha plant to treat conditions.

These days, most commercial products contain either the root or a root-and-leaf combination, which contain the plant's main active compound, withanolides.

Ashwagandha can be consumed in many forms, including:

  • Powder
  • Tea
  • Capsules
  • Topical moisturising creams
  • Inside supplements, like Super Sleep

Dosage

While there are no official dosage guidelines on taking Ashwagandha, participants in the studies mentioned above were given between 300mg and 1,000mg daily for up to three months.

Researchers have noted that you can expect to generally see effects anywhere from four to 12 weeks of ingestion. (16)

If you’re purchasing an over-the-counter product, make sure to follow the instructions on the label. If you require more support, contact your healthcare provider for personalised dosage suggestions.

Side effects

Excessive consumption of Ashwagandha can lead to digestive issues like:

  • stomach aches;
  • vomiting; and

People who shouldn’t take Ashwagandha

While research shows that most people can safely take oral Ashwagandha supplements for up to three months, there are four groups of people who are warned to avoid taking the supplement without expert medical advice. (17) They are:

People who are pregnant

Ashwagandha may cause a miscarriage.

People who are breastfeeding

There's not enough information to know how the herb affects breastfeeding people or their babies.

People who are having surgery

Because ashwagandha may slow the nervous system, anesthesia may increase this effect.

People with thyroid concerns

The herb could increase thyroid levels.

People who are already on medication and considering taking Ashwagandha supplements are also encouraged to check if the herb could interfere with their current drug prescription.

Ashwagandha may interfere with several types of drugs, including antidiabetes medications, high blood pressure medications, immunosuppressants, sedatives and thyroid hormones. (18)

How to find reputable sleep supplements

In Australia, the safety and efficacy of supplements is regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), which aims to regulate medicines, supplements and medical devices for safety, quality and effectiveness.

Try to find TGA-registed supplements, like Super Sleep.

Conclusion

The latest available scientific data suggests that Ashwagandha is a potent and regenerative tonic due to its anti-stress, neuroprotective, antitumor, anti-arthritic, analgesic and anti-inflammatory pharmacological actions. (20)

These far-encompassing properties mean that it is a valuable resource for reversing, to varying extents, the effects of conditions such as Parkinson's, dementia, memory loss, stress-induced diseases, and malignomas.

While it has been used for thousands of years, comprehensive clinical studies are imperative to substantiate its clinical efficacy, particularly in stress-related ailments, neuronal disorders, and cancer, providing a logical and scientific foundation for its traditional use.

References

  1. Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS). (2023, October 24). Ashwagandha: Is it helpful for stress, anxiety, or sleep? U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives, Office of Dietary Supplements.
    https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Ashwagandha-HealthProfessional/
  2. Gupta S, Bansal RN, Sodhi SPS, Brar GK, Malhotra M. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) – a herb with versatile medicinal properties empowering human physical and mental health. J Pre Clin Clin Res. 2021;15(3):129-133. doi:10.26444/jpccr/141582
  3. Singh N, Bhalla M, De Jager P, Gilca M. An overview on ashwagandha: a rasayana (Rejuvenator) of ayurveda. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2011;8(5 Suppl):208-213. doi:10.4314/ajtcam.v8i5S.9
  4. Pratte MA, Nanavati KB, Young V, Morley CP. An alternative treatment for anxiety: a systematic review of human trial results reported for the ayurvedic herb ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2014;20(12):901-908. doi:10.1089/acm.2014.0177
  5. Choudhary D, Bhattacharyya S, Bose S. Efficacy and safety of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera (l. ) dunal) root extract in improving memory and cognitive functions. Journal of Dietary Supplements. 2017;14(6):599-612. doi:10.1080/19390211.2017.1284970
  6. Bonilla DA, Moreno Y, Gho C, et al. Effects of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) on physical performance: systematic review and bayesian meta-analysis. J Funct Morphol Kinesiol. 2021;6(1):20. doi:10.3390/jfmk6010020
  7. Budhiraja RD, Sudhir S. Review of biological activity of withanolides. JSIR. 1987;46:488–491. [Google Scholar]
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  9. Singh N. Proc Vth WCCN. China: 1995b. Anti-stress (Ayurvedic Plants) Ocimum sanctum (Tulsi) and Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) in prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disorders; p. 10. [Google Scholar]
  10. Durg S, Shivaram SB, Bavage S. Withania somnifera (Indian ginseng) in male infertility: An evidence-based systematic review and meta-analysis. Phytomedicine. 2018;50:247-256. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2017.11.011
  11. Durg S, Bavage S, Shivaram SB. Withania somnifera (Indian ginseng) in diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta‐analysis of scientific evidence from experimental research to clinical application. Phytotherapy Research. 2020;34(5):1041-1059. doi:10.1002/ptr.6589
  12. Singh N. Proc Vth WCCN. China: 1995b. Anti-stress (Ayurvedic Plants) Ocimum sanctum (Tulsi) and Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) in prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disorders; p. 10. [Google Scholar]
  13. Langade D, Kanchi S, Salve J, Debnath K, Ambegaokar D. Efficacy and safety of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) root extract in insomnia and anxiety: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Cureus. 2019;11(9). doi:10.7759/cureus.5797
  14. Cheah, K. L., Norhayati, M. N., Husniati Yaacob, L., & Abdul Rahman, R. (2021). Effect of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on sleep: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PloS One, 16(9), e0257843.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34559859/
  15. Murthy, S. V., Fathima, S. N., & Mote, R. (2022). Hydroalcoholic extract of ashwagandha improves sleep by modulating GABA/histamine receptors and EEG slow-wave pattern in in vitro – in vivo experimental models. Preventive Nutrition and Food Science, 27(1), 108–120.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35465115/
  16. Bonilla DA, Moreno Y, Gho C, et al. Effects of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) on physical performance: systematic review and bayesian meta-analysis. J Funct Morphol Kinesiol. 2021;6(1):20. doi:10.3390/jfmk6010020
  17. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/953.html
  18. Gupta RC, Chang D, Nammi S, Bensoussan A, Bilinski K, Roufogalis BD. Interactions between antidiabetic drugs and herbs: an overview of mechanisms of action and clinical implications. Diabetol Metab Syndr. 2017;9:59. doi:10.1186/s13098-017-0254-9
  19. Singh N, Bhalla M, de Jager P, Gilca M. An overview on ashwagandha: a Rasayana (rejuvenator) of Ayurveda. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2011;8(5 Suppl):208-13. doi: 10.4314/ajtcam.v8i5S.9. Epub 2011 Jul 3. PMID: 22754076; PMCID: PMC3252722.

 

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