Benefits that have been proven by research
The practices of Ayurveda, a traditional form of Indian medicine, have been around for centuries, but some of its hallmark treatments are only now gaining recognition in the United States. One of those is ashwagandha or Withania somnifera, also called Indian ginseng or winter cherry. This plant is an adaptogen, a family of medicinal plants such as herbs and roots popular in alternative medicine that help the body adapt to or deal with all kinds of stressors, from physical to mental. (Other popular adaptogens include American and Siberian ginseng, some fungi like Cordyceps, and Rhodiola rosea.) And we really are some of the last people catching on; ashwagandha has long been an essential herb of Ayurvedic, Indian, and African traditional medicine, which use both the roots and berries of the plant for treatments.
So why should your modern routine take a cue from these older wellness traditions? Although modern science still has a bit of catching up to do about these traditional treatments, the research does look promising. Like many other adaptogens, the potential health benefits extend from your brain to your blood sugar levels. Here’s what you need to know about ashwagandha and why it might be worth taking:
- Reduce blood sugar
- Reduce cortisol levels (stress)
- Treat arthritis
- Boost testosterone and improve fertility in men
- May increase muscle mass and strength
- Prevent loss of brain function
- Improve heart health
- May stop cancer growth
Ashwagandha root is considered a drug of “Rasayana”, a Sanskrit word that translates to path of essence and a practice of Ayurvedic medicine that refers to the science of lengthening lifespan. Many of its health benefits live up to this centuries-old reputation, but there is a catch here. In order for you to reap the health benefits of ashwagandha, like reduced cortisol levels and improved heart health, you need to be absorbing it properly. Ashwagandha gets its potent medicinal power from withanolides, naturally occurring steroidal lactones that are found in the root, but they need to be absorbed and pass through the intestinal wall to confer their benefits.
Ashwaghanda is widely available and safe for most people One of the most amazing parts of this adaptogen is the relatively low rate of side effects noted across many different clinical trials. One participant in a study on withania somnifera dropped out after experiencing increased appetite and libido as well as vertigo (Raut, 2012). But there are groups of people who shouldn’t take it, especially not without talking to a healthcare professional first.
Pregnant women and breast-feeding moms should avoid ashwagandha. And people with an autoimmune disease— such as Hashimoto’s, rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus—need to consult with a medical professional before starting a supplement regimen. Also, talk to a healthcare practitioner if you’re on thyroid medication. Ashwagandha may impact lab results that test thyroid function. It’s also part of the nightshade family, so those following a diet that eliminates this group of plants that includes tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants should avoid taking this supplement.
Please refer to the original article for references. Written by Linnea Zielinski