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Ashwagandha, commonly known as Indian Ginseng, winter cherry, or Withania somnifera

is an evergreen herb from the Solanaceae family and is widely used in Ayurvedic
medicine. �Ashwagandha� is named after a Sanskrit word meaning �horse smell� or
�smell of a horse� (Ashwa-horse, gandha-smell), primarily due to the roots of the
herb smelling like a horse. The species name somnifera is derived from its Latin
root meaning �sleep inducing�, probably due to its relaxing effect.

In Yemen, a paste from the leaves of the Ashwagandha herb has been used to treat
mild burns and wounds. In Ayurvedic medicine, the roots of the Ashwagandha plant
are typically used as an ingredient for a plurality of tonics used for general
wellness, treating arthritis, rheumatism, etc. The main components of Ashwagandha
or Withania somnifera include alkaloids and steroidal lactones. The steroidal
lactones have proven antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective
properties. For instance, withanolides have been shown to reverse memory deficits
and contribute to the regeneration of nerve cells in experimental studies conducted
on mice. As such, they are prescribed as a remedy for a plethora of neurological
ailments and musculoskeletal conditions (e.g. Arthritis).

Health Benefits of Ashwagandha:
1. Ashwagandha Prevents Inflammation and Relieves Pain:

In Ayurveda, the roots of the Ashwagandha herb are prescribed as an ingredient of a

herbal formula containing Boswellia, turmeric, and zinc complex for the treatment
of arthritis or rheumatism. This is probably due to its anti-inflammatory
properties. Research conducted on rats has established this by indicating a
significant reduction of inflammation in affected areas on oral administration of
Ashwagandha extracts. Another study analyzing the effects of Ashwagandha extracts
on arthritis-affected patients showed a significant reduction in pain and
disability in the test subjects.
2. Ashwagandha Improves Memory:

Ashwagandha has been found to improve memory and overall cognitive capacity of
humans. Studies on individuals having bipolar disorder link multiple cognitive
impairments as an effect of the disorder. For instance, individuals suffering from
bipolar disorder report memory loss, sluggish problem-solving skills, ambiguous
perceptions, etc. Studies on test subjects with bipolar disorder suggest a
significant improvement in the cognitive capacity of the individuals when treated
with extracts of Ashwagandha.

Further, the results of the study suggest improved memory and functioning outcomes
for the test subjects treated with Ashwagandha. The individuals showed no side
effects during the time of treatment. As a result, Ashwagandha is recommended for
medical disorders that affect memory and other neurological functions of the human
3. Antioxidant Effects of Ashwagandha:

Free radical damage of nervous tissue is related to neurodegenerative diseases such

as Alzheimer�s disease, Parkinson�s disease, etc. As such, the tissues of the brain
are highly prone to free radical damage due to the presence of lipids and iron
combined with the fact that the brain is a major consumer of oxygen supply.

In Ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha has been prescribed in the treatment of diseases

associated with free radical damage. Consequently, its effects and role in the
treatment of such ailments have been extensively researched. Studies suggest that
glycowithanolide, a bioactive component of Ashwagandha, is linked to an increased
antioxidant effect comparable to known antioxidants like deprenyl, etc., thereby
creating a protective effect on neuronal tissue. Studies have also shown
Ashwagandha having a regenerative effect on damaged nerves.
4. Ashwagandha Stimulates the Endocrine System:

Studies on the effects of Ashwagandha extracts conducted on the liver of mice

suggests that Ashwagandha stimulates thyroidal and hepatic antioxidant activity.
Ashwagandha, in combination with other herbs, has also been shown to have a
positive effect on hyperglycemia.
5. Ashwagandha Helps Regulate Blood Pressure:

Ashwagandha contains alkaloids, which affect the cardiopulmonary system positively.

Research studying these effects has been carried out on the cardiovascular and
respiratory system of dogs, frogs, etc., and the results establish several
beneficial effects of Ashwagandha on the cardiopulmonary system. The bioactive
components of Ashwagandha such as alkaloids produced a prolonged hypotensive and
respiratory-stimulant action in the test subjects.

Furthermore, the alkaloids acted as a stimulant on the respiratory centers of the

brain stem of dogs. The alkaloids in Ashwagandha have a cardio-depressant action
translating to lower blood pressure, lower heart rates, etc. The depressant action
of the alkaloids, present in Ashwagandha root extracts, suggest its probable use as
a relaxant, sedative, or tranquilizing agent. The results of the study are
consistent with its prescribed use (in Ayurvedic medicine) as a remedy for stress
and general wellness.
6. Ashwagandha Promotes General Wellness:

Ashwagandha has been linked to promoting general health and having a positive
effect on the health of young and aged individuals alike. Studies have been
conducted on children in the age group of 8-12 years by including powdered
Ashwagandha as a part of their regular diet. Children having a regular intake of
Ashwagandha reported a significant increase in hemoglobin, proteins, serum iron,
body weight, and better hand grip. Equivalent results were achieved when the
research was carried out on adult test subjects. The older subjects reported a
significant increase in hemoglobin, red blood cell (RBC) count, improved melanin in
hair, and improved sexual performance. As such, Ashwagandha is useful in the
younger as well as the older population as a general health tonic.
7. Ashwagandha Regenerates Damaged Nerves:

Ashwagandha consists of active components called withanolides. At least 18 such

types of withanolides have been identified by researchers. Withanolides are
directly linked to protection of the nervous system. Withanolide�A, for example,
preserves the axons, whereas, withanolides IV and VI preserve dendrites of the
nervous system.

In experiments conducted on mice, damage to the hippocampus and cortex of the brain
were reversed after the introduction of Ashwagandha into the system of the mice.
The withanolides are linked to improving memory and regenerating damaged axons and

Further, Ashwagandha reduces the effects of stress such as lack of focus,

forgetfulness, etc. The alkaloids contained in extracts from the Ashwagandha root
have been proven to have a relaxing effect on the nervous system when tested in
animals such as monkeys, mice, dogs, etc. This finding is consistent with its use
in Ayurvedic medicine as a remedy for insomnia. Additionally, due to its relaxing
effect, Ashwagandha is a possible remedy for individuals suffering from anxiety.
Precautions and Side Effects:

Although Ashwagandha has been in use in Ayurvedic medicine, its effects and
potential uses as a drug have not been entirely understood by contemporary
researchers. As such, the results of these studies suggest that Ashwagandha has
little or no known side-effect when ingested in moderation. However, alkaloids such
as Ashwagandholine have induced hypnosis in mice and increased toxicity levels when
the pure isolated alkaloid extract is ingested in excess quantities.

Within prescribed levels and when taken in moderation, even the isolated extracts
have not been known to induce undesirable effects. Simply put, ingesting the whole
herb or the isolated extracts in prescribed quantities is safe.

The intake of Ashwagandha should be avoided by pregnant women. This is solely

because Ashwagandha may cause premature delivery in pregnant women.

Another concern for consumers in the United States is the availability of the herb.
Currently, domestic requirements for Ashwagandha are met by importing it from
countries where they are grown, namely, India, Nepal, China, Yemen, etc. Sometimes,
they are imported in powder or some other form based on the manufacturing process
used by the manufacturer. The manufacturer is not regulated or does not come under
the purview of the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA). As such,
quality checks or best practices prescribed by the USFDA might not have been
religiously followed by the manufacturer. This leads to the imported product
sometimes containing toxic metals such as arsenic, lead, etc., in quantities that
are above acceptable levels for safe consumption. This problem has also been noted
in products made in the United States.

Ashwagandha, as mentioned earlier, contains alkaloids that act as a sedative or

relaxant. Individuals taking medication for sleep related conditions, anxiety,
insomnia, or preparing for undergoing surgery must avoid using Ashwagandha. This
may cause negative side effects if the prescribed medication contains potent
chemicals that interact undesirably with the bio-active components of Ashwagandha.
Additionally, Ashwagandha has a depressant action on the cardio pulmonary system.
As such, individuals who are taking medications to treat conditions related to
blood pressure must avoid the use of Ashwagandha or its isolated alkaloids in any
form. Furthermore, patients suffering from hyperthyroidism are advised to notify a
doctor before using Ashwagandha and its related products.

In conclusion, the side effects of the Ashwagandha herb are little or currently
entirely unknown. However, for pregnant women, children, and adults undergoing
treatment for diverse medical conditions, it is highly advisable to consult a
doctor before consuming Ashwagandha as medication.