We have often heard of ayurvedic medicines and herbs that offer a lot of health benefits. Though there are no promising studies conducted to prove the health benefits of several herbs, in India, these herbs have been used since ages, and several people have reaped the benefits. One of the most promising herbs in ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha is known for its immense benefits.
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What is ashwagandha?
Commonly known as ashwagandha in India, it is also called poison gooseberry and winter cherry, and it belongs to the Solanaceae family or the nightshade family. Ashwagandha is a combination of two different Sanskrit words, ‘Ashwa’ meaning horse and ‘Gandha’ which means smell. The combination of the two words reflects that the herb has a strong horse-like odour. Its biological species name is Withania Somnifera, and Somnifera means ‘sleep-inducing’ in Latin. Ashwagandha is known to aid in getting a good night’s sleep.
An evergreen shrub that grows in India, the Middle East and some parts of Africa, Ashwagandha is considered the most important herb in the Ayurvedic medicine system. The Ayurvedic medicine system started more than three thousand years ago, and ashwagandha has been a part of the system since then. Widely known as ‘Rasayana,’ it is believed to help you maintain your youth physically and mentally. Historically, the roots of this herb are used to treat several ailments like stress, anxiety, constipation, insomnia, among others. It is not just the roots, even the leaves, seeds and fruits are used for various treatments.
Ashwagandha is cultivated in drier regions of India, Nepal, China, and Yemen. The plant prefers dry stony soil with the sun to partial shade. It can be grown from seed or greenwood cuttings. If you are using the seed, then you will need to sow it in early spring. Greenwood cuttings can be planted later in the spring. It is important to know that the plant is prone to several pests and diseases and needs a lot of attention.
Like the tomato, Ashwagandha belongs to the nightshade family. It is a plump shrub with oval leaves and yellow flowers which bears red fruit about the size of a raisin. It is an adaptogenic herb as well as an aphrodisiac. The plant is also called the Indian ginseng for its rejuvenating properties, though botanically ashwagandha and ginseng are unrelated.
Due to the poor quality of clinical research, ashwagandha benefits have not been proven yet. The root powder has been used for centuries in India, in ayurvedic medicine, but there is no high-quality evidence of its benefits. The traditional medicine offers several benefits that include the following.
1. Helps to combat the effects of stress
Ashwagandha is one of the Indian herbs with adaptogenic benefits meaning, it helps the body to adapt to various emotional and physical stress. As Ashwagandha helps to reduce cortisol, the ‘stress hormone’ in the body, it is considered an effective treatment to reduce stress.
2. Reduces anxiety and depression
Ashwagandha benefits aid in reducing symptoms of anxiety and anxious mood. Regular consumption of ashwagandha in its right dosage reduces severe depression in adults. Though research is limited, ashwagandha is believed to reduce depression. In addition to that, it also helps calm the central nervous system.
3. Helps to regulate blood sugar levels
The herb has the ability to lower blood sugar levels and help keep blood sugar levels in control. It also helps reduce fasting blood sugar levels.
4. Anti-cancer properties
Ashwagandha is believed to have anti-cancer properties as the herb helps to induce apoptosis- programmed death of cancer cells. Ashwagandha also delays the growth of new cancer cells.
There are no confirmed tests and clinical studies to confirm the results on human beings. But several centuries of Ashwagandha being used as medicine is encouraging.
5. Offers anti-inflammatory and analgesic benefits
Ashwagandha aids in reducing inflammation by improving the immune cells that fight infection. It is also linked to decreasing markers of inflammation, which increases the risk of heart disease.
6. Helps to lower cholesterol and triglyceride
Ashwagandha is shown to improve heart health by reducing the levels of bad LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
7. Improves learning, memory, and reaction time
Ashwagandha promotes antioxidant activity to protect the nerve cells from harmful free radicals. It reduces oxidative stress and improves memory and brain function. Ashwagandha taken in small to medium quantities aids in improving general memory, task performance and attention.
Though there is limited research in this area, ashwagandha has traditionally been used to boost memory in ayurvedic medicines.
Ashwagandha has shown improvement when it comes to Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder in children, and it also aids in improving attention and impulse control.
9. Stabilizes hypothyroidism
When people have high blood levels of a hormone called TSH or thyroid-stimulating hormone, it means that they have an underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism. In people who have a mild form of underactive thyroid, ashwagandha helps to lower TSH and increase thyroid hormone levels. However, it is recommended that you consult with a physician before consuming ashwagandha in order to avoid its interaction with your regular drugs.
10. Helps to keep control of OCD
Some researches show that ashwagandha aids in reducing the symptoms of Obsessive compulsive disorder when it is taken with prescribed medications.
11. Cerebellar Ataxia
Ashwagandha, in combination with ayurvedic therapy, an alternative form of medicine is known to improve balance in people with cerebellar ataxia.
12. Helps to reduce the signs of ageing
Ashwagandha has properties that aid in reducing the symptoms and progression of some health problems that are associated with ageing, due to its antioxidant properties. It helps to reduce hair greying as it increases the production of melanin in the hair cells.
Preliminary research shows that ashwagandha improves the symptoms of the following ailments. But there is no hard evidence on the effect of ashwagandha alone in treating them.
The diseases include Parkinson’s disease, Rheumatoid arthritis, Osteoarthritis, Tuberculosis, Ulcerations, and other conditions.
How to take ashwagandha powder?
Ashwagandha is available in the market in the form of roots, tablets and powder. While ashwagandha tablets are consumed easily like any other tablet, ashwagandha powder and roots need to be added into your daily diet. Classically, Ashwagandha is taken in its powdered form, mixed in honey or ghee. But here are some other ways you can consume ashwagandha powder.
Roast an ounce of Ashwagandha powder in ghee and mix it with a tablespoon of date sugar. Eat this at least 20 minutes before breakfast, or later during the day with a cup of milk.
Ashwagandha powder with ghee, sugar and honey is a delicious form of aphrodisiac effectively used in erectile dysfunction.
Kishirpaka method of Ashwagandha tea is the method of extracting the active principle of the herb in milk. Ashwagandha tea can be prepared by boiling the powder in milk and reducing it to half. You can add sugar to improve the taste or an equal quantity of liquorice while boiling.
1. Ashwagandha sweet and salty cookies
- 1/2 cup refined wheat flour
- pinch of salt
- 2 tsp Ashwagandha powder
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/8 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup milk
- Sift the flour salt and ashwagandha powder and set aside
- Take a pan and melt the butter, add sugar and mix well.
- Add the milk and mix together.
- Add the dry ingredients, mix, and knead into a dough
- Roll and shape the dough and place on a baking sheet
- Bake at 375 F for 2-3 minutes.
2. Ashwagandha Balls
- 1 1/2 tsp jaggery
- 2 tsp Ashwagandha powder
- pinch black salt
- pinch black pepper
- Powder the jaggery and add ashwagandha powder to it. Mix well.
- Add black salt and black pepper
- Mix well and shape them into balls.
- Ashwagandha Banana Smoothie: You can simply add a tablespoon of ashwagandha powder in your regular banana smoothie. It is a tasty alternative to take ashwagandha.
3. Ashwagandha Shrikhand/dessert
- 4 1/4 cups curd
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 5 Tablespoon Ashwagandha powder
- Mixed nuts
- almond leaves to garnish
- Tie the curd in a muslin cloth and place it hanging for eight hours. (hung curd)
- Divide the curd into four portions. Add sugar and ashwagandha powder to one portion of the curd. Knead into a smooth paste. You can refrigerate the remaining three portions and use when needed.
- Add mixed nuts, cardamom, nutmeg, saffron and almond to improve the taste.
- Ashwagandha powder can be used in many other ways in making crunchy snacks, tinctures, tea among others. It can also be made into face cleanser, anti-acne cream as well.
Ashwagandha and weight loss
Ashwagandha uses are immense. It not only has several health benefits; it also aids in weight loss.
- Ashwagandha has natural antioxidant, which improves overall health and promotes better fat burning indirectly.
- When the body’s immune function is compromised, weight loss comes to a standstill until the body improves. Better immunity has a positive effect on weight loss. Ashwagandha improves the body’s immune function and promotes healthy weight loss.
- Stress is another reason that causes unhealthy weight gain. As ashwagandha aids in reducing stress and anxiety, it, in turn, helps to maintain your weight.
- Hypothyroidism is believed to be a major cause that leads to one being overweight. Ashwagandha helps to decrease the thyroid-stimulating hormone and increase thyroid hormone levels.
- Elevated cortisol levels result in insulin release that pushes the body to use blood sugar and store it as fat. Ashwagandha improves insulin sensitivity and regulates the blood sugar levels, and contributes to losing unwanted weight.
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Ashwagandha side effects
Ashwagandha is considered safe for consumption if you take the right dosage. Though the effect of long-term consumption of this herb is not known, there have not been any cases of fatal or severe ashwagandha side effects. Large doses of ashwagandha might cause vomiting, diarrhoea, or upset stomach in some people. The side effects of the herb differ from one person to another, and it advised to talk to your healthcare provider before taking them.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised not to take ashwagandha as there is some evidence of the herb causing premature delivery and miscarriage. There is no study on the effect of ashwagandha on lactating women, and to be on the safer side, they are advised not to take the herb.
Ashwagandha is known to:
- Lower the blood sugar level
- Decrease blood pressure
- Alter thyroid hormone level
These benefits might also pose a threat as ashwagandha can lower the blood sugar level of a person whose blood sugar levels are normal, possibly leading to hypoglycemia in those that are on medication. It can also affect blood pressure and thyroid hormone level.
As ashwagandha causes the immune system to become more active, it could increase the symptoms of auto-immune diseases. In some people, ashwagandha can irritate the gastrointestinal tract. It is also advised to stop taking ashwagandha for at least two weeks before and after surgery as it may slow down the central nervous system.
Ashwagandha is an Indian herbal plant that has been a part of Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. The root of the plant is used in medicine in the form of powder, and it is marketed in the form of capsules/tablets as well. Ashwagandha offers several health benefits to both men and women, though there is no extensive clinical study conducted to provide evidence.
Ayurvedic medicine has been successfully using ashwagandha for several diseases without any major complications. As there are no hard evidence on its benefits or even the side effects, it is recommended that ashwagandha be consumed in small to medium doses after consulting with your healthcare provider.
Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs)
Q. How long does it take ashwagandha to work?
A: It depends on the individual and for what reason they are consuming ashwagandha. It will also vary based on the current health condition of the person.
Q. What does ashwagandha do for the body?
A: The biologically active chemical constituents include alkaloids (isopelletierine, anaferine, cuscohygrine, anahygrine, etc.), steroidal lactones (withanolides, withaferins) and saponins. Sitoindosides and acylsterylglucosides in Ashwagandha are anti-stress agents. Active principles of Ashwagandha, for instance the sitoindosides VII-X and Withaferin-A, have been shown to have significant anti-stress activity against acute models of experimental stress. The available scientific data support the conclusion that Ashwagandha is a real potent regenerative tonic, due to its multiple pharmacological actions like anti-stress, neuroprotective, antitumor, anti-arthritic, analgesic and anti-inflammatory etc. It is useful for different types of diseases like Parkinson, dementia, memory loss, stress induced diseases, malignoma and others.
Q. Can Ashwagandha cause weight gain?
A: Ashwagandha helps in reducing muscle wasting related to stress. It does not lead to weight gain.
Q. Is Ashwagandha safe to take in the long term?
A: There is no long term studies to prove its side effects on long term usage. However, if taken in the recommended dosage, there is no major concern.
Q. When should I take ashwagandha for anxiety?
A: The best time to consume ashwagandha for anxiety is at bedtime before you sleep.