Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) – Importance and Health Benefits

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an adaptogenic herb that can lower cortisol levels and balance your thyroid hormones. It has also been proven effective in supporting your adrenal function, helping you to overcome adrenal fatigue that occurs when your adrenals are overtaxed by stress.

Some other Ashwagandha benefits include its ability to support your brain health, improve your mood, increase your stamina and inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells.

Ashawagandha (Withania somnifera) is very revered herb of the Indian Ayurvedic system of medicine as a Rasayana (tonic). It is used for various kinds of disease processes and specially as a nervine tonic. Considering these facts many scientific studies were carried out and its adaptogenic / anti-stress activities were studied in detail.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera, fam. Solanaceae) is commonly known as “Indian Winter cherry” or “Indian Ginseng”. It is one of the most important herb of Ayurveda (the traditional system of medicine in India) used for millennia as a Rasayana for its wide ranging health benefits. Rasayana is described as an herbal or metallic preparation that promotes a youthful state of physical and mental health and expands happiness.

These types of remedies are given to small children as tonics, and are also taken by the middle-aged and elderly to increase longevity. Among the ayurvedic Rasayana herbs, Ashwagandha holds the most prominent place. It is known as “Sattvic Kapha Rasayana” Herb (Changhadi, 1938). Most of the Rasayana herbs are adaptogen / anti-stress agents.

Ashwagandha is commonly available as a churna, a fine sieved powder that can be mixed with water, ghee (clarified butter) or honey. It enhances the function of the brain and nervous system and improves the memory. It improves the function of the reproductive system promoting a healthy sexual and reproductive balance.

Being a powerful adaptogen, it enhances the body’s resilience to stress. Ashwagandha improves the body’s defense against disease by improving the cell-mediated immunity. It also possesses potent antioxidant properties that help protect against cellular damage caused by free radicals.

Scientific Studies on Ashwagandha Adaptogenic / Anti-stress effect

Aswagandha is compared well with Eleutherococcus senticosus (Siberian Ginseng) and Panax Ginseng (Chinese / Korean Ginseng) in its adaptogenic properties, and hence it is popularly known as Indian Ginseng (Singh et al., 2010).

The extensive studies on the biological model of animals for the adaptogenic / anti-stress properties of Ashwagandha (Abbas and Singh, 2006; Kalsi et al., 1987; Singh et al., 1976, 1977, 1981, 1982, 1993a, 1993b, 2003; (Singh, 1995a, 1995b, 2006, 2008) have shown it to be effective in increasing the stamina (physical endurance) and preventing stress induced gastric ulcer, carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) induced hepatotoxicity and mortality.

Ashawagandha have similar anti-stress activity in rats (Archana & Namasivayam, 1999). An aqueous suspension of Ashwagandha root was used at 100 mg/kg/oral dosage. The results indicate a significant increase in the plasma corticosterone level, phagocytic index and avidity index in rats subjected to cold swimming stress.

In the rats pretreated with the drug, these parameters were near control values and an increase in the swimming time was observed.

These results indicate that Withania somnifera used in the crude form is a potent anti-stress agent. The results of above studies lend support to the hypothesis of tonics, vitalizers and rejuvenators of Ayurveda which indicate clinical use of Withania somnifera in the prevention and treatment of many stress induced diseases like arteriosclerosis, premature ageing, arthritis, diabetes, hypertension and malignancy (Singh, 1986, 2005; Singh and Misra, 1993).

  1. Effect on swimming performance

Ashwagandha was shown to increase swimming performance in rats as judged by increase in swimming time during physical endurance test. Ashwagandha’s antistress properties have been investigated in all these studies using adult rats were carried out by swimming endurance stress test.

Ashwagandha treated animals showed a significant increase in the duration of swimming time as compared to control. The control group of mice swam for a mean time of 385 minutes, whereas the drug-treated animals continued to swim for a mean duration of 740 minutes. Thus, the swimming time was approximately doubled after Withania somnifera (WS) treatment.

2. Effect on cortisol and ascorbic acid contents of adrenals

The cortisol content of adrenals was reduced significantly in animals subjected to 5 h constant swimming as compared to non-swimmer group. Pretreatment with WS prevented reduction of the cortisol content of adrenals.

The ascorbic acid content was also reduced significantly after 5 h of swimming as compared to the animal of non-swimmer group. Pretreatment with WS prevent reduction in ascorbic acid content which occurs after swimming stress.

Thus, Withania somnifera treatment prevents, decrease of adrenal cortisol and ascorbic acid which occurs due to swimming stress.

iii. Anti-ulcerogenic effect

Ashwagandha was found to be useful in the prevention of stress-induced ulcers of the gastrointestinal tract (Singh et al. 1982). It showed significant protection against 18 h immobilization, cold + immobilization (4h) and aspirin induced gastric ulcers and lowered the mean ulcer index in rats.

3. Effect on leucocytosis

Ashwagandha given to a group of mice with milk injection produced reduction in leucocytosis.

4. Anabolic effects:

There was a significant increase in the body weights of the Ashwagandha treated group as compared to control for a period of 3 months in rats.

 

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