> Ashwagandha is a powerful adaptogenic herb, meaning it helps your body manage and adapt to stress by balancing your immune system, metabolism and hormonal systems
> Withanolides — naturally occurring steroids — in ashwagandha suppress pathways responsible for several inflammation-based illnesses, including arthritis, asthma, hypertension, osteoporosis and cancer
Withanolides also have immunomodulating properties, while somniferin, an alkaloid in ashwagandha, promotes relaxation and sound sleep
> Ashwagandha supports sexual and reproductive health in both men and women. In men, it helps boost testosterone levels, and has been shown to improve semen quality in infertile men
> In women, ashwagandha’s ability to rebalance hormones (including thyroid hormone, estrogen and progesterone) has been shown to improve polycystic ovary syndrome and relieve menopausal symptoms
Known as a multipurpose herb and "rejuvenator" used in ancient Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for thousands of years, ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a plant native to India with a host of bioactive functions.
Ashwagandha is a member of the Solanaceae family along with eggplant and tomato. It bears light green flowers that evolve to bright red fruit and is able to survive extreme temperatures and widely varying altitudes.
In Sanskrit, the word ashwagandha means "odor of a horse." The likeness refers not only to the odor of the plant's root but the essence of strength it's said to deliver. It's a powerful adaptogenic herb, meaning it helps your body manage and adapt to stress by balancing your immune system, metabolism and hormonal systems.
Ashwagandha also has natural pain reliever (analgesic) properties, can help increase physical strength, and its rejuvenating effects can promote general health when used regularly. While some adaptogens are stimulants in disguise, this is not the case with ashwagandha. It can give your morning exercise routine a boost, and when taken prior to bed it can help you get a good night's sleep as well.
The Main Bioactive Components in Ashwagandha
Flavonoids and other compounds are the active ingredients that give ashwagandha its many powerful properties. In one study, bioactive withanolides — naturally occurring steroids — in ashwagandha were identified as agents that suppress pathways responsible for several inflammation-based illnesses, including arthritis, asthma, hypertension, osteoporosis and cancer.
Withanolides in ashwagandha also have immunomodulating properties, described as substances that can either stimulate or suppress your immune system to help fight infections, cancer and other diseases.
One of the alkaloids in ashwagandha, called somniferin, helps promote relaxation and sound sleep. In fact, the botanical name "somnifera" means the herb induces sleep. A study at the University of Tsukuba in Japan also found it relieves related problems such as insomnia and restless leg syndrome.
Ashwagandha Eases Stress and Anxiety
As an adaptogen, ashwagandha is frequently used to support healthy adrenal function, which can be adversely affected by persistent stress, be it physical or psychological. Research shows the root reduces cortisol levels, restores insulin sensitivity and helps to stabilize mood.
In one placebo-controlled clinical trial, volunteers with a history of chronic stress who took 300 milligrams (mg) of ashwagandha twice a day reported significant reductions in stress, and testing revealed their cortisol levels decreased by an average of nearly 28 percent after 60 days of supplementation.
In another study, patients diagnosed with moderate to severe anxiety who were treated with ashwagandha reported "significantly decreased" symptoms compared to those undergoing more conventional interventions.
A third study found "empirical evidence to support the traditional use of [ashwagandha] to aid in mental process engaging GABAergic signaling." According to the authors:
"Our results provide evidence indicating that key constituents in [ashwagandha] may have an important role in the development of pharmacological treatments for neurological disorders associated with GABAergic signaling dysfunction such as general anxiety disorders, sleep disturbances, muscle spasms and seizures."
Ashwagandha for Sexual Health and Fertility
Ashwagandha also supports sexual and reproductive health in both men and women, and may be used as an aid to boost your libido. In men struggling with infertility, ashwagandha has been shown to balance their luteinizing hormone, which controls reproductive organ function in both men and women. Ashwagandha can also help boost testosterone levels in men, which can have a beneficial effect on libido and sexual performance.
In one placebo-controlled trial, men between the ages of 18 and 50 were given either a placebo or 300 mg of ashwagandha root extract twice a day in addition to participating in a strength training program. After eight weeks, those taking ashwagandha had greater increases in testosterone, muscle size and strength, compared to those taking a placebo.
It's also been shown to improve the quality of semen in infertile men, in part by inhibiting reactive oxygen species and improving essential metal concentrations, including zinc, iron and copper levels. Other research suggests ashwagandha improves semen quality by regulating important reproductive hormones.
In otherwise healthy women, ashwagandha has been shown to improve arousal, lubrication, orgasm and overall sexual satisfaction. In addition, ashwagandha's ability to rebalance hormones (including thyroid hormone, estrogen and progesterone) has been shown to improve polycystic ovary syndrome and relieve symptoms associated with menopause.
The Many Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
In Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha is classified as "Rasayana," a type of essence that helps in the healing of the body and the lengthening of life, and when you consider the many varied health benefits of this herb, it's easy to see how it might influence longevity.
Importantly, a number of studies have shown this exotic herb can treat several diseases and disorders better than medications — without all the side effects. For example, studies show ashwagandha has antitumor and blood production (hemopoietic) capabilities, and benefits the cardiopulmonary, endocrine and central nervous systems, all "with little or no associated toxicity." Ashwagandha has also been shown to: https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2019/02/18/ashwagandha-benefits
In 2009, Dr. Mercola was named the top Ultimate Wellness Game Changer by the Huffington Post, an honor that celebrates “100 innovators, visionaries and leaders in 10 categories who are harnessing the power of new media to reshape their fields and change the world.” HuffPost readers voted me to the top to receive this special award. His passion is to transform the traditional medical paradigm in the United States, and that consumes most of my free time. For 40 years since 1968, he has been an active runner; he completed the Chicago Marathon in just over three hours, among other accomplishments. Dr. Mercola also has been a computer hobbyist since 1985, with an interest in the internet that dates back to the early ‘90s.
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