A supplement deeply rooted in traditional medicine
Ashwagandha supplements have gained significant popularity in recent years and are frequently promoted as an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. Here is what scientific research has to say about this herbal supplement.
A herb with a rich history in traditional medicine
Ashwagandha, also known as winter cherry, is a herb that is native to the Indian subcontinent. It has been a cornerstone in the vast array of natural remedies and has been used for centuries.
Often referred to as the "Indian ginseng," Ashwagandha holds a prominent place in Ayurveda and is steeped in cultural and historical significance. With a 3,000-year history, it has been utilized in traditional medicine to address various ailments, including stress and inflammation .
The Sanskrit word "Ashwagandha" translates to "smell of the horse" and was believed to impart the strength and vitality of a stallion . Ancient Ayurvedic texts praised its virtues as a potent "rasayana," which means a rejuvenating herb . Practitioners of Ayurveda believe it promotes longevity and overall well-being. Ashwagandha has also found its way into traditional medicine practices in the Middle East and Africa [4, 5].
Ashwagandha is available in the market as standardized capsules, raw powder, and tea infusions. While capsules offer convenience, traditionalists often prefer the powdered root, which is commonly blended into warm milk for better absorption.
Ashwagandha is a small shrub with velvety, branched stems and simple, oval-shaped leaves. Its distinct red berries, enclosed in a lantern-like calyx, often catch attention. However, it is the roots that hold the most scientific interest.
Thriving primarily in arid regions of India, the Middle East, and Northern Africa, Ashwagandha exhibits remarkable resistance to drought and adaptability, allowing it to flourish in challenging environments.
Ashwagandha contains several potent bioactive compounds, with withanolides taking center stage . Withaferin A and withanolide D have been identified as the primary drivers behind the various health benefits associated with Ashwagandha .
While the herb contains many alkaloids, saponins, and amino acids , it is the withanolides that have captured the attention of modern researchers. These compounds modulate pathways in the human body, potentially influencing health outcomes.
Understanding the interaction between withanolides and physiological systems sheds light on why Ashwagandha has remained a prominent presence in traditional medicine. Reported health benefits of Ashwagandha primarily include reduced stress and anxiety, improved cognitive and neurological function, and enhanced immune function. The herb achieves these effects by regulating cortisol , the body's primary stress hormone. Elevated cortisol levels, which often accompany chronic stress, can disrupt bodily systems . Ashwagandha's role in normalizing cortisol levels provides a biological basis for its anti-stress claims.
Ashwagandha may also have potential benefits for cognitive and neurological health. Several studies have revealed its potential to not only halt cognitive decline , but in some cases, even reverse it . By modulating neural pathways, promoting the growth of neurons, and protecting the brain [13, 14], Ashwagandha may prove useful in conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's .
Furthermore, Ashwagandha has been shown to potentially boost the immune system. By manipulating the immune system, the herb enhances the production of lymphocytes and white blood cells, which are vital for immune response . This effect appears to be long-lasting, as Ashwagandha seems to bolster the body's inherent defense mechanisms . It has also been reported anecdotally and clinically to improve strength, stamina, and overall health [19, 20].
Ashwagandha is currently being explored in the fields of neuropsychiatry and immunology . Recent studies are also investigating its potential anti-cancer properties .
Possible side effects
While Ashwagandha can be beneficial, it is not without potential side effects. Excessive consumption can lead to symptoms such as constipation, bloating, reflux, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and cramps. It may also cause drowsiness.
Regarding reproductive health, pregnant and breastfeeding women are often advised to exercise caution, with some professionals recommending complete avoidance.A safe dosage of Ashwagandha appears to be half a gram to a gram. However, individuals with medical conditions or those taking medications should consult with healthcare providers before incorporating it into their routine .
This article provides only a brief summary and is not intended to be an exhaustive guide. It is based on the interpretation of research data, which is inherently speculative. It is important to consult with your physician before considering any supplements. We do not endorse the use of supplements or any specific product or vendor. All information presented here is for scientific interest.
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