20 Uses and Health Benefits of Ashwagandha

(Last Updated On: August 3, 2018)

Ashwagandha is an ayurvedic herb, which offers many benefits. The different parts of the plant are used for different medicinal reasons. The leaves are used to treat fever, inflammation, and eye problems, and the root is used to treat ulcers, constipation, and insomnia.

The herb is sometimes called Indian Ginseng, and it is renowned for being able to combat serious illnesses such as diabetes and cancer, as well as relieving arthritis, asthma symptoms, stress, and lowering blood pressure.

The herb is often given to children as a tonic, and adult usual take it in capsule form. Both forms are made from the root and berries of the plant.

Ashwagandha is prevalent in ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, and it has been for many centuries. Native American Indians and African tribes also used it to fight infections.

What is Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha belongs to the Solanaceae family and its scientific name is Withania somnifera. It is also known as Indian ginseng or winter cherry. In Sanskrit, its name, Ashwagandha, means ‘the odour of a horse’.

This is because the roots of the plant apparently smell like horse sweat! The people also believe that the herb has invigorating properties, so it can give you the strength of a stallion. The plant is native to India and it grows best in arid regions. It is a hardy plant that can survive in both very high temperatures and low temperatures, ranging from 40°C to as low as 10°C. Ashwagandha grows anywhere from sea level to 1500 meters above sea level.

The plant belongs to the same family as the tomato plant. It is a shrub with oval leaves and yellow flowers. It bears red fruits which are about the size of a raisin. The herb grows today in dry regions of India, northern Africa, and the Middle East, and also in some parts of the United States.

What does the research say?

The fact that Ashwagandha has been used for so many centuries has led to it being the subject of considerable scientific research, which has looked at the medicinal properties of the plant. Studies have highlighted that there is a possibility that the plant has health-giving properties, and that no toxicity would result from the use of the chemical compounds in the plant.

Studies carried out on the plant have found that it has anti-inflammatory, anti-stress, and sleep-inducing properties. Many preparations made from Ashwagandha also relieve problems such as arthritis and rheumatism. It can also act as a tonic to boost energy, and improves immunity and longevity.

Perhaps more interestingly, research on Ashwagandha carried out in Japan found that the leaves of Ashwagandha can inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

Exciting studies

Researchers in Malaysia found that Ashwagandha could reduce fatigue

Lab research carried out in Hyderbad found that in 64 people who suffered from chronic stress, that Ashwagandha supplementation for two months reduced stress by 44% and decreased depression and anxiety by 72%.

Various studies carried out at Indian Universities have found that Ashwagandha may protect the liver against lead toxicity, that it may reduce oxidative damage to the brain, ( a risk factor for dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other cognitive illnesses), and it can increase endurance in athletes.

Other Indian studies have found that the herb can inhibit bacterial growth, prevent type 2 diabetes, it can promote a healthy nervous system, boost memory, reduce cholesterol, improve sleep, and boost muscle strength.

Research from the United States has found that the herb has anti-inflammatory properties, that it inhibited the growth of cancer cells, and promoted a healthy heart.

Researchers in Tokyo found that Ashwagandha could potentially prevent and inhibit skin cancer.

Researchers in Malaysia found that Ashwagandha could reduce fatigue and increased feelings of general well-being among patients who were undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

Researchers in Korea found that Ashwagandha could kill the bacteria responsible for gum disease and tooth decay.

Researchers in Pakistan found that Ashwagandha inhibited cancer cells from growing.

The health benefits of Ashwagandha

Here are just some of the benefits you can get from regular consumption of Ashwagandha:

It can inhibit the growth of cancer cells

Cancer

A research study found that Ashwagandha might have potential as an alternative cancer treatment because of its ability to inhibit and kill cancer cells. In the study, it appeared to boost the effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. It appears to reduce the unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy too, without affecting the potency of the treatment.

It has anti-inflammatory properties

Ashwagandha has been found to be relieving a lot of health problems associated with inflammation. The herb is known to inhibit the production of inflammatory compounds in the body, and reduces swelling and pain. Research has shown that the anti-inflammatory effects come from the alkaloids, saponins, and steroidal lactones found within the herb.

It has antibacterial properties

In Ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha is used to combat bacterial infections. A study has backed this up, and proved that the herb does indeed have antibacterial properties. The study found that it was effective against urinary, respiratory, and intestinal infections.

It promotes a healthy heart

Because Ashwagandha has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-stress properties, this makes it particularly good for cardiovascular health problems. It strengthens the heart muscle and can also reduce cholesterol. A study at the University of Arizona found that it can also reduce the levels of blood fats, which is another risk factor for cardiovascular disease.  that it possesses hypolipidemic properties bringing down blood cholesterol levels.

It has antidepressant properties

Ashwagandha has been used in Ayurvedic medicine to improve both physical and mental health. The effects of Ashwagandha on mental health, particularly on depression, have been studied extensively. The herb also appears to reduce anxiety.

It fights diabetes

Ashwagandha has long been used as a treatment for diabetes in Ayurvedic medicine. Research on the use of Ashwagandha in the treatment of diabetes has found that it has great potential as a treatment for this illness, which is becoming ever more widespread. Lab studies found that blood sugar levels during fasting and after eating decreased significantly when Ashwagandha was taken for a period of four weeks.

It can boost the action of the thyroid gland

Where hypothyroidism is present, Ashwagandha can be used to stimulate the thyroid gland to get it working more effectively. A study on the herb’s effects on the thyroid gland found that daily consumption of the root extract increased secretion of thyroid hormones.

It relieves stress

Ashwagandha is believed to have anti-stress properties. Traditionally, it had been administered to achieve a soothing and calming effect on moods and emotions. The active ingredient that gives the herb these benefits is not known, but it has been proven to have this effect in human and animal studies nonetheless.

It has antioxidant properties

Ashwagandha is a very good source of antioxidants. These antioxidants can fight free radicals which float around in the body, causing ageing and disease.

It regulates the immune system

Research has shown that consuming Ashwagandha regulated the immune system and prevented it from overreacting to stimulus. The herb also appeared to boost the production of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

It boosts blood cell production

According to research, the herb increases the count of red and white blood cells in the body. One animal study showed that red blood cell and white blood cell counts increased markedly in rats which were given Ashwagandha. This could translate into a positive effect on human red blood cells as well, and it could help to treat and prevent blood disorders such as anaemia.

It is a potent aphrodisiac

The herb has been widely used for centuries for its aphrodisiac properties and people often used it as a treatment to boost vitality and improve fertility. A recent study found that Ashwagandha can improve the quality of semen, as well as boosting libido.

It can prevent seizures

Ashwagandha has long been used as a remedy for seizures and convulsions in Ayurvedic medicine. Research studies have backed up this theory, and they have found anticonvulsant properties in the plant.

It can boost strength

Ashwagandha has been found to be effective at improving muscle strength in the lower limbs. It also appeared to be effective at improving neuromuscular coordination.

It is good for eye health

Ashwagandha made it excellent for keeping the eyes healthy

Research found that the antioxidant properties of Ashwagandha made it excellent for keeping the eyes healthy, and preventing age-related degeneration of the eyesight, and cataracts.

It has an anti-ageing effect

Stress makes the body age faster. Cortisol, the hormone which is produced when the body is under stress, causes muscle loss and weakness, wrinkles, and cognitive impairment. Research has found that the herb improves resistance to stress, and appears to reduce cortisol production. One study found that people who took the herb reported that they were less stressed, and had lower cortisol levels than people who took a placebo.

It reduces menopausal symptoms

Ashwagandha acts on the endocrine system and boosts hormone balance. A study involving 51 menopausal women found that by supplementing them with Ashwagandha, they were able to reduce menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, anxiety, and mood disturbances significantly.

It can boost memory

Recent research has shown that Ashwagandha reduces memory impairment in animals. The herb also appears to protect the brain from oxidative stress, which can lead to degeneration of the brain cells. The herb can also promote relaxation, which in turn improves memory and cognition.

It boosts energy

Another benefit many people report after taking this herb is in regard to increased energy levels. This is supported by research. A recent study found that the herb boosted energy while reducing stress and anxiety.

It promotes reproductive health

Stress, illness, hormone imbalance, and nutrient deficiencies can all cause problems with female reproductive health and can make it difficult for a woman to conceive a child. Research shows that Ashwagandha supports thyroid function, and the thyroid is one of the organs responsible for regulating the body’s hormones. By boosting immunity and reducing stress, Ashwagandha may also ensure that someone is in optimum health to conceive. encourage a situation that is optimal for fertility. More research is needed into whether the herb can help in cases where there are problems with fertility.

Side effects of using Ashwagandha

Pregnant women are advised to avoid taking Ashwagandha, as it can cause miscarriage or spontaneous abortion.

Anyone with an existing medical condition or who takes medication should use the herb with caution as it can interact with medications, especially those prescribed to treat diabetes, hypertension, anxiety, depression, or insomnia.

Consuming the herb in large amounts has been found to cause side effects such as diarrhoea, upset stomach, and nausea.

Ashwagandha dosage

Ashwagandha root is available in health food stores in powdered form, dried form, or fresh root form. 1-2 tsp or 3-6 gram of the powder is recommended if you are consuming it for general wellbeing. When you take the herb for treating any specific condition, you should consult a suitably qualified practitioner for advice.

Ashwagandha Tea

You can make Ashwagandha tea by boiling the powder in water for 10 minutes

You can make Ashwagandha tea by boiling the powder in water for 10 minutes. Don’t use more than a teaspoon of the powder per one cup of water.

Ashwagandha Tea with Milk and Cardamom

Ingredients:

½ cup raw organic milk

1 teaspoon Ashwagandha powder

1 teaspoon honey

½ cup water

How to make it:

Boil the milk, Ashwagandha, and honey over a low heat.

Wait until the mixture is reduced, then add the cardamom and drink it while it’s lukewarm. Consume this drink twice daily.

You could also take Ashwagandha root powder, mixed with a glass of hot milk before going to sleep.

How to use Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha comes in a few different forms. While there is no standard dose of the herb for any given condition, it is usually recommended that you ingest no more 3 to 6 grams of this powder daily. To get the most health benefits from the herb, use a fresh plant.

Ideally, you should buy the organic herb to avoid taking in pesticides and other harmful chemicals.

Ashwagandha root powder can be used topically to treat wounds. Mix the powder with water to make a paste, and apply to the wound. It will help fight off bacteria, alleviate pain and speed up the healing process.

You can also use the paste as a skin toner and as treatment for dry skin. It will keep your skin healthy and glowing.

Why not try the oil too?

Ashwagandha oil is another form of Ashwagandha which also offers a wide variety of medicinal and practical benefits. It’s usually mixed with other essential oils to dilute it, as it is very concentrated, for use in the treatment and prevention of some health conditions.

Here are some of the benefits of the essential oil:

It can fight free radicals

Free radicals are harmful elements that can float around in the body, causing illness and premature ageing. Ashwagandha oil is known to have antitumour and antioxidant properties that can help to prevent cancer cells from growing. Studies have also found that the oil appears to help chemotherapy patients recover more quickly after their treatment.

It can help to relieve arthritis and rheumatism

The oil absorbs well and deeply penetrates the skin, which relaxes all of the tissues, including the muscles and joints to relax. The oil can reduce swelling and pain associated with bone and joint conditions.

It boosts immunity

The oil can boost the immune system and helps the body to fight off infections and viruses more efficiently. The oil itself works like a tonic for overall health and it has been proven to increase white blood cell count.

It combats stress

When the body is stressed, it produces high amounts of a hormone called cortisol that triggers the body’s fight-or-flight reflex. When you take the essential oil, cortisol production is reduced, which then tempers the body’s response to stress.

Tips

If using the oil topically, always dilute it in a carrier oil like coconut or almond oil. You should do a skin patch test on your upper arm to see if any allergic reactions occur. Always speak to your doctor prior to ingesting the oil, especially if you have an existing health condition or you are on medication.

Final thoughts

Herbal medicines do not tend to cause the side effects of conventional medicines

Herbal remedies are being increasingly used by people who are seeking an alternative way to treat their health condition, and get their bodies into balance. Herbal medicines do not tend to cause the side effects of conventional medicines, and they do not cost anywhere near as much.

Many research studies have been done on plant-based medicines, and it appears that what the earth provides us with naturally, is able to treat many different health problems, and restore balance to the body’s systems.

Ashwagandha has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine, and in Chinese medicine for a wide variety of purposes, and these uses have been largely backed up by science. The herb offers the prospect of a treatment for cancer and diabetes, which are 2 of the biggest killers worldwide.

Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.