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Medicinal Properties of Ashwagandha

Updated on February 2, 2015


Ashwagandha is the common name for the herbal remedy from the plant known as Withania somnifera. The plant grows in shrub form and is typically close to two feet tall at full height. They form small, green flowers that contain the red fruit in the center, resembling a small berry.

Multiple components of this plant are used in herbal medicine. Especially Ayurvedic medicine in India. The fruit, leaves, and root are used for different applications, however the root is the component that is used for the most conditions.

Ashwagandha is has been termed an adaptogen by herbalists. An adaptogen is a plant that is said to be able to decrease your cells' sensitivity to stress. One commonly known and used plant family in the Western world that is said to have adaptogenic properties is ginseng.

A budding Withania somnifera plant and its isolated root.
A budding Withania somnifera plant and its isolated root.

Nootropic Effects

Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitting chemical produced by the body to aid in enabling memory formation and production. People who are suffering from dementia produce an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase or AChE, which hydrolizes acetylcholine and renders it useless. The inhibition of acetylcholinesterase has long been a strategy in battling dementia. Many synthetic drugs have been formulated as AChE inhibitors. A study done by the Al-Ameen College of Pharmacy in India found that Ashwagandha also has inhibiting properties against AChE.

Cancer Killer?

Ashwagandha is one of the plants researched by both herbalists and researchers in Western medicine for its potential anticancer properties. The active chemical that is isolated from the herb is known as Withaferin A. Its chemical name is (4β,5β,6β,22R)-4,27-Dihydroxy-5,6:22,26-diepoxyergosta-2,24-diene-1,26-dione. Withaferin A has shown the ability to be a blocker of angiogenesis, or the formation of new blood vessels from existing ones. Angiogenesis is critical in a tumor's ability to grow, it needs an increasing amount of blood supply. It has been researched in breast and pancreatic cancer. Early clinical studies also have shown that it may be able to have a synergistic effect on radiation treatment. The fruit of the plant has also been applied to skin tumors.

Testosterone Booster

If you are a powerlifter or bodybuilder, or just an aging person whose testosterone production is not what it used to be, Ashwagandha is a healthy alternative to testosterone therapy or the taking of steroids. Researchers who gave 75 men with low testosterone levels a daily dose of Ashwagandha for three months saw their levels rise by an average of 40 percent.

The Ashwagandha berry (center) and leaves containing the fruit in the unbloomed state (corners).
The Ashwagandha berry (center) and leaves containing the fruit in the unbloomed state (corners). | Source

Libido and Sperm Count

Due to the fact that it raises testosterone levels, it also makes sense that it can also raise libido levels in men. In addition to giving their testosterone levels a boost, it also reduces the production of prolactin. In the same study given to men to investigate testostrone boosting effects of the plant, it was also found that Ashwagandha increased both their sperm count and semen quality.

Sleeping Aid and Anxiety Relief

Ashwagandha contains chemicals that activate the receptors of gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) in mammals. GABA is a protein that plays the principal role in regulating the excitability of the central nervous system. Therefore, drugs that increase the availablity to receive GABA have a calming effect on the central nervous system. This calming effect aids both in anxiety and quality sleep.

The other mechanism that it has been shown to improve a disturbed mood is that it aids in thyroid regulation. A disrupted or malfunctioning thyroid has been linked to negative effects on the mood.

Other Topical Applications

The root can be ground and added to water to form a paste. Both the root and the fruit can be used to dress wounds, and the root is also used to treat boils and skin ulcers.

Avoid Ashwagandha If...

You are currently taking any barbiturate. Ashwagandha can increase the potency of all barbiturates.

You are pregnant. This herb can be an abortifacent in substantial doses. It is better to avoid it altogether if you are pregnant, especially in the early stages.

Because of its suspected chemopreventive properties, if you are a cancer patient currently taking other chemotherapy, consult your physician before taking Ashwagandha. It may interact negatively with the chemotherapy drugs.

Significant overdosing can cause various intestinal problems such as diarrhea. The recommended dose on the packaging should be followed.


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    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 4 years ago

      Ashwagandha is an adaptogen which helps with stress by modulating your adrenal function. So it might also good for those with adrenal fatigue.