• Promoting mental health, especially to facilitate learning and memory, and to reduce mental tension
• Supporting resilience against disease and environmental stressors
• Boosting libido, nourishing the reproductive system, and supporting women during pregnancy
• Addressing inflammatory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, arthritis and psoriasis
• Anti-aging and promoting longevity
Clinically, Ashwagandha is one of my favorite herbs for people who are run down, burned out or wanting a competitive edge to perform at a higher level. It’s the herb I get more texts about from patients that it’s taken them out of a rut, given them tons of energy, and resolved low-level symptoms they weren’t even aware of until they felt better.
I discovered the power of Ashwagandha after taking my acupuncture board exams. After four years of a rigorous master’s program followed by several months of intensive study to prepare for the boards, I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. During the month following the test while I was anxiously awaiting my results, one of my mentors suggested that I add Ashwagandha to my self-care program. By the time I received my letter, Ashwagandha had worked its magic and I felt like a new person: revived, energized, sharp, and ready to start the next chapter of my life.
In Ayurveda, Ashwagandha is categorized as a rasayana or vitalizing herb. Rasayana herbs have similar properties to adaptogen herbs. A unique property of rasayanas, including Ashwagandha, is that they enhance ojas. Ojas translates as “life force energy and physical strength.” Considered the most purified product of the digestive process, ojas has a number of vital functions that nourish the body, sustain the body’s energy stores and ensure strong immune function. When someone is nourished, refreshed and full of vitality, we often said they have a “healthy glow.” That radiance comes from abundant ojas.
Modern research is helping us understand Ashwagandha’s effects from a Western perspective. Clinical trials have indicated that Ashwagandha can:
• Support a healthy response to stress. Ashwagandha has been shown to counteract a number of emotional and biological aspects of stress, including anxiety, depression, social dysfunction, and elevated cortisol (one of the primary stress hormones).
• Improve reproductive health in both men and women.
• Boost mental function. Ashwagandha benefits many facets of cognition, including memory, attention span, the ability to perform tasks that involve logical thinking, problem solving, executive function, and information processing speed.
• Improve sleep, including the ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up feeling alert.
• Boost physical performance by improving cardiorespiratory fitness, as well as increasing muscle strength and size in people who do resistance training.
• Protect the nervous system, liver, kidneys and heart. (Antioxidants found in Ashwagandha have been found to scavenge free-radicals associated with Alzheimer’s disease and damage to several internal organs).
• Boost thyroid function and support healthy sugar and fat metabolism.
• Enhance immune function by supporting certain types of white blood cells.
Contemporary research has highlighted Ashwagandha’s antitumor and adaptogenic actions, drawing comparisons with Panax ginseng. In fact, Ashwagandha is sometimes referred to as Indian ginseng. Unlike Panax, however, Ashwagandha does not have strong stimulating effects; instead, it offers a mild relaxing action. This effect is indicated in its Latin name, withania somnifera, as “somnifera,” means sleep-inducing. This makes Ashwagandha an excellent ally for people who are tired, but wired, and who would be aggravated by a strongly stimulating herb.
The beauty of adaptogens is that they are safe to use on a daily basis long-term without the risk of side effects. However, it’s in the pepper family, which are nightshades, so if you have nightshade allergies it may not be the best herb for you.
Traditionally, Ashwagandha is taken with milk (cow’s or almond), honey or clarified butter to enhance its tonic effect. So Queen of the South, Queen of the Harvest, Virgo, and Tulum Horchata Chai are excellent options to use as a base for tea lattes.
- Antioxidants serve to scavenge free radicals in the body
- Promote growth in children ages 8-12
- Increase red blood cell count an hemoglobin, and improve posture in male patients aged 50-59
- Medium-term, gently relaxing adaptogenic agent for many clients to be taken during and after both benzodiazepine and opiate withdrawal.
The root of this plant is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine to augment the faculty of learning and memory retention, and to attenuate cerebral function deficits in the elderly. It is regarded as being particularly useful as a nervine restorative in those who have memory impairment and general debility, both common components of the benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. Adaptogenic effects have been shown in several studies, and the increase in numbers of dopamine receptors in the corpus striatum produced due to stress was prevented by pretreatment with Withania.38 Withania is also reported to have anxiolytic39 and slight CNS depressant effects.40-43
Historically, many herbs were much harder to come by than they are now. Often tonic herbs were only given to people who were very depleted or very wealthy.
So the uses of the herbs are described in terms of the conditions they treat in people who are unwell are the same conditions they prevent in people who are well (usually at lower doses)
A small human clinical trial demonstrated the ability of ashwagandha to support healthy glucose and lipid metabolism. In a double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial involving 42 volunteers, a formulation including ashwagandha indicated its potential to help promote joint comfort, which may involve modulation of cyclooxygenase enzyme activity. Traditional uses for ashwagandha included support for healthy male sexual function. Ashwagandha should be avoided by pregnant women and by individuals allergic to plants in the nightshade family.
Sip the Bountiful Benefits of Ashwagandha
Written by Dr. Olivia McMullen-Fields