Withania-Somnifera

Ashwagandha: An ancient herb for modern times

When it comes to caring for the health, it is not always straightforward. There are times when you are standing between the organic aisles, gaping at those extracts thinking, ‘what exactly is this supposed to do to my health?’

We know!

These health care enigmas are mystifying and soon you find your head dizzy, which is mainly due to red herrings that are misleading as hell!

Let us set the record straight and help you out for that not so pretty-smelling herb that made you run for the hills when you first tried to sniff it.

That’s right!
It’s Ashwagandha 

Withania somnifera

Withania somnifera, known to the world as Ashwagandha is an eternal herb that is native to India, Africa, Middle East, Nepal, China and Yemen. Its perks have been immensely celebrated in Ayurvedic system of medicine for around three thousand years. It is also called as Indian ginseng and winter cherry.

It’s time to demystify the name- what exactly does Ashwagandha mean?

This word is of Sanskrit origin. Dividing the word would make it easier for us to grasp the idea: ‘ashva’ means horse while ‘gandha’ means smell. Amalgamation of these two words connotes smell of horses. And due to that strong odor, people took it as something that could infiltrate that same virility and strength in them as that of horses.

Quite a heavy herb!

Let’s not waste any further minutes and jump right into its fringe benefits so you can fall in love with this multi-tasking superhero aka known as Ashwagandha.

It’s more than moodiness

Depression, stress, and anxiety

This trio is oftentimes confused with one another and is misused by many times too.

If a person does not pass a smile on your stupid jokes while everyone does, does not indicate that he is suffering from depression. It could be possible that he is smarter and chooses to save his smile for something worth it.

Anyways!

This triad is a common reaction to any variation in life; it can either emerge due to losing a loved one or experiencing a divorce. Externally they look identical, but they all lie on a different axis.

Anxiety arises due to being anxious because of fear or sudden panic attacks without any clear stimulus. If this condition is left untreated, the well-being of the patient deteriorates that affects his work, relationship status, and even house affairs too.

Let’s head towards depression now to grasp its idea and halt the misuse of this word. It is characterized by low mood and despondency that further accounts for sadness, anger, fatigue, discouragement, and insomnia. If this fashion twists someone’s arm for more than two weeks then it greatly influences the quality of life like usual daily activities.

At the same time, depression and anxiety go hand in hand. They are like two sides of the same kind; one can’t exist without the other one. It is seen that more than half of the cases of depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. [1]

Stress, however, comes into play when burdening pressure and threats combine to make a perfect recipe that triggers a persistent headache, hypertension, palpitations, chest pain, and insomnia. This condition alleviates when stress triggers are removed but chronic stress can transform into depression and anxiety. So, it’s better to treat stress beforehand so it does not escalate further into a nuisance.

To combat this entire situation, nature has provided us with Ashwagandha for dismissal of these miseries.

A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study was conducted on sixty-four patients with a history of chronic stress who were randomized to either the placebo control group or the study drug treatment group. [2] In the study drug group, patients were administered with one capsule of the extract of Ashwagandha root (300mg) twice a day for a period of sixty days. Without any reportage of adverse events, the root extract exhibited a significant reduction in scores on all the stress-assessment scales on Day 60.

Several other studies have also proclaimed Ashwagandha to highly potent in treating the triad whether they present themselves as an isolated disorder, in combination and or as a symptom of any concomitant disease. Brief information regarding the clinical trial is listed below that manifests Ashwagandha as a clinically proven entity in the treatment of mental disorders.

Table 1.1: Depiction of Ashwagandha supplementation on patients with mental disorder 

DiseaseStudy DesignPopulationPart of the herb, dose and duration of treatmentResult
Stress and Anxiety[2]Prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trial64 patientRoot of Ashwagandha plantProphylactic effect of Ashwagandha root on stress and anxiety patient with no adverse reaction
Anxiety[3]Randomized control trial75 patientsA standard multi-vitamin + Ashwagandha (300 mg b.i.d. standardized to 1.5% with anolides, prepared from root) for eight weeksSignificant improvement in mental health, concentration, fatigue, social functioning, vitality, and overall quality of life
Anxiety[4]Double-blind, placebo- controlled trial39 patientsNot mentionedNotable reduction in anxiety
Anxiety and depression[5]Randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trial.66 schizophrenic patients with depression and anxietyAshwagandha extract 100mg for 12 weeksNotable improvement in symptoms of schizophrenia that favored over placebo with mild and transient adverse events.

Ashwagandha exhibited lower cortisol levels

Cortisol is considered as the body’s personalized alarm system that regulates the usage of macromolecules, inhibits inflammation, modulates blood pressure, elevates sugar level, manages the sleep/wake cycle, and so forth. [14]

Just by looking at ‘elevates sugar level’ phrase, you can understand that it is one of those hormones that control the fight, flight and fear response.

But we all know what elevated blood sugar means and where it can lead to…

Ashwagandha has however been part of several clinical trials where it exhibited lower cortisol levels in the blood after the completion of therapy.

Ashwagandha increase fertility

Male infertility has always been a hot topic and a widespread condition among couples who are looking forward to conceiving. It is mainly due to incompetent spermatogenesis. It is mainly characterized by inadequate semen, poor semen quality, and weak sperm motility.

There are multiple causes that account for male infertility that include anti-sperm antibodies, Klinefelter’s syndrome, azoospermia, oligozoospermia,  varicocele, tobacco smoking, impaired DNA, obstruction in vas deferens, prostatitis, impotence, obstruction in the ejaculatory duct, and so forth. 

A variety of these causes can be reversed and ameliorate men’s fitness. Several technological breakthroughs have landed on this planet for the alleviation of this misery. But, then again, not everyone has a heavy bank balance to pay for the job.
A sane person always goes for a better option that is both cost-effective and easy to do. Above all, looking for a child after the surgery that cost you an arm and a leg and made you bankrupt is the worst option. It’s like putting all your eggs in one basket.

  • That’s a reality check by the way.

So, better late than never! Ashwagandha is again here as a blessing in disguise because every cloud has a silver lining. 

A clinical trial elected seventy-five healthy fertile males (control group) and seventy-five infertile males (treated group).[6] As the trial completed, a notable recovery was observed in the seminal plasma level of antioxidant enzymes and vitamins A, C, and E and corrected fructose. Moreover, the treatment also significantly increased serum Testosterone levels and LH, reduced the levels of FSH and PRL also reversed in infertile patients.

In one more clinical trial, 180 infertile male patients received Ashwagandha root powder (5 grams/day) for a period of three months. [7] The results displayed recovery in the quality of semen. It is proclaimed through this trial that Ashwagandha reboots enzymatic activity of metabolic pathways and energy metabolism but also invigorates the harmonic balance of seminal plasma metabolites and reproductive hormones in infertile men. [7]

Stress is another cause that is accredited to male infertility. However, nature has provided us with Ashwagandha that can reverse the influence of stress too to alleviate the nuisance. It is reported to decrease stress, improve the level of anti-oxidants and improve overall semen quality in a significant number of individuals.

Ashwagandha Pop up those muscles

Copious researches present Ashwagandha as an exercise pill i.e. it enhances the composition of the body and elevates the strength. A prospective, open-labeled, clinical trial was conducted on eighteen volunteers who were apparently health. The trial was of 30 days and it was divided into three portions wherein the first 10 days, volunteers received 750mg/day Ashwagandha extract capsules, 1000mg/day for next 10 days and 1250 mg/day for the last ten days. The end results of the trial declared an increase in muscle mass of healthy volunteers. [9]

To boost the talk, one more randomized, prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study of 8 weeks appointed 57 young male subjects (29 subjects for the treatment group and 28 subjects for the control group). [10] The treatment group received 300mg of Ashwagandha extract twice a day. There was the reportage of increased and enhanced muscle mass with intensified strength.

Drop off that bad cholesterol

Wandering around with elevated LDL and triglycerides in your blood has never been a great idea as it is the first step on the path of cardiovascular disease. Hypercholesterolemia, a type of hyperlipidemia, is characterized by inflated LDL levels in the blood that give rise to atherosclerosis, blockade risks, and strokes.

Another type of hyperlipidemia is hypertriglyceridemia which is marked by the increased levels of triglycerides in the blood.

Either hypercholesterolemia or hypertriglyceridemia, in both cases the patient flies towards the gates of cardiovascular diseases and knocks it. If the conditions are left untreated, the door to cardiovascular disease is opened to drown the patient under the debris of a plethora of diseases.  

In addition to several promising properties, Ashwagandha has been found to be in curtailing down the levels of cholesterol and triglyceride. A preclinical study that was conducted on rats, received Ashwagandha root powder in the diet (0.75 to 1.5gm/rat/day). [11] The hypercholesteremic rats manifested a significant decrease in total lipid and triglyceride concentration in plasma. While on the other hand of argument, there was an astounding increase in HDL level i.e. good cholesterol. So, the study proves Ashwagandha as a potent marker in correction of hyperlipidemia. 

Additionally, other clinical trials have also professed Ashwagandha as a potent hypolipidemic agent. [9, 12, 13]

Warding off inflammation

Talking about inflammation simply means talking about the immune system’s response to any external stimulus. Now that stimulus can either be injury or infection. Sometimes this inflammation is good. For instance, if you are attacked by some infectious agents (such as viruses, bacteria or fungi) or whether you get hit by something, the area becomes red and swollen. After a series of reactions, leukocytes infiltrate at the site of injury to fight the invader and get rid of it. 

But there are times when this inflammation gets on your nerve because this response occurs when it is not needed. In such cases, the inflammation persists even after the removal of stress or infectious agent. If acute inflammation is left untreated then it transforms into chronic inflammation that can lead to other adverse disorders to dive in and play their games like heart disease, arthritis, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and even cancer.

A preclinical trial picked forty-eight mice where they were divided into multiple groups to check the efficacy of Ashwagandha in downregulation of inflammatory markers that trigger inflammation. [15] The study concluded with sound results as Ashwagandha was able to inhibit Inter Leukin-6 (IL-6) and Tumor Necrotic Factor alpha (TNF-α) that are the eligible cause of inflammation.

An in vivo study picked five candidates and administered them with 6ml of Ashwagandha root extract twice daily with milk. [16] After 96 hours of trial, blood samples were collected to check for the activation of lymphocytes. Significant increases were observed in the expression of CD4 on CD3+ T cells after 96 hours. CD56+ NK cells were also activated after 96 hours as evidenced by expression of the CD69 receptor. 

Lastly, to wrap up the topic, a fortified tea was prepared that was composed of Withania somnifera, Glycyrrhzia glabra, Zingiber officinale, Ocimum sanctum and Elettaria cardamomum. The purpose of the preparation of this tea was to check its effect on innate immunity. The volunteers selected for this trial were prone to recurrent episodes of cold and cough. The results suggested that regular use of this fortified tea enhanced the activity of Natural Killer cells, which are an important aspect of innate immunity.  

After pondering over all the beneficial aspects of Withania somnifera, it surely deserves to sit proudly in your kitchen cupboard with pride and can definitely slip in your diet to supply your body with the nutrients and correct the dysfucntionalities .

References

  1. https://www.premierhealth.com/your-health/articles/women-wisdom-wellness-/anxiety-depression-stress-why-the-differences-matter
  2. Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J. and Anishetty, S., 2012. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian journal of psychological medicine34(3), p.255.
  3. Cooley, K., Szczurko, O., Perri, D., Mills, E.J., Bernhardt, B., Zhou, Q. and Seely, D., 2009. Naturopathic care for anxiety: a randomized controlled trial ISRCTN78958974. PLoS One4(8).
  4. Andrade, C., Aswath, A., Chaturvedi, S.K., Srinivasa, M. and Raguram, R., 2000. A double-blind, placebo-controlled evaluation of the anxiolytic efficacy ff an ethanolic extract of withania somnifera. Indian journal of psychiatry42(3), p.295.
  5. Gannon, J.M., Brar, J., Rai, A. and Chengappa, K.N.R., 2019. Effects of a standardized extract of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on depression and anxiety symptoms in persons with schizophrenia participating in a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Annals of clinical psychiatry: official journal of the American Academy of Clinical Psychiatrists31(2), pp.123-129.
  6. Ahmad, M.K., Mahdi, A.A., Shukla, K.K., Islam, N., Rajender, S., Madhukar, D., Shankhwar, S.N. and Ahmad, S., 2010. Withania somnifera improves semen quality by regulating reproductive hormone levels and oxidative stress in seminal plasma of infertile males. Fertility and sterility94(3), pp.989-996.
  7. Ahmad, M.K., Mahdi, A.A., Shukla, K.K., Islam, N., Rajender, S., Madhukar, D., Shankhwar, S.N. and Ahmad, S., 2010. Withania somnifera improves semen quality by regulating reproductive hormone levels and oxidative stress in seminal plasma of infertile males. Fertility and sterility94(3), pp.989-996.
  8. Mahdi, A.A., Shukla, K.K., Ahmad, M.K., Rajender, S., Shankhwar, S.N., Singh, V. and Dalela, D., 2011. Withania somnifera improves semen quality in stress-related male fertility. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine2011.
  9. Raut, A.A., Rege, N.N., Tadvi, F.M., Solanki, P.V., Kene, K.R., Shirolkar, S.G., Pandey, S.N., Vaidya, R.A. and Vaidya, A.B., 2012. Exploratory study to evaluate tolerability, safety, and activity of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in healthy volunteers. Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine3(3), p.111.
  10. Wankhede, S., Langade, D., Joshi, K., Sinha, S.R. and Bhattacharyya, S., 2015. Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition12(1), p.43.
  11. Visavadiya, N.P. and Narasimhacharya, A.V.R.L., 2007. Hypocholesteremic and antioxidant effects of Withania somnifera (Dunal) in hypercholesteremic rats. Phytomedicine14(2-3), pp.136-142.
  12. Agnihotri, A.P., Sontakke, S.D., Thawani, V.R., Saoji, A. and Goswami, V.S.S., 2013. Effects of Withania somnifera in patients of schizophrenia: A randomized, double blind, placebo controlled pilot trial study. Indian journal of pharmacology45(4), p.417.
  13. Andallu, B. and Radhika, B., 2000. Hypoglycemic, diuretic and hypocholesterolemic effect of winter cherry (Withania somnifera, Dunal) root.
  14. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-cortisol#1
  15. Noshahr, Z.S., Shahraki, M.R., Ahmadvand, H., Nourabadi, D. and Nakhaei, A., 2015. Protective effects of Withania somnifera root on inflammatory markers and insulin resistance in fructose-fed rats. Reports of biochemistry & molecular biology3(2), p.62.
  16. Mikolai, J., Erlandsen, A., Murison, A., Brown, K.A., Gregory, W.L., Raman-Caplan, P. and Zwickey, H.L., 2009. In vivo effects of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on the activation of lymphocytes. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine15(4), pp.423-430.

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