Herbal Medicines, Herbs, Stress

Ashwagandha: History, Benefits, Side Effects and How to Use

Ashwagandha is one of the most popular herbs used in Ayurvedic medicine and has a history dating back to several centuries. Commonly known as clustered winter cherry, Ashwagandha is a Sanskrit term meaning “the smell of a horse.” “Ashwa” is a horse, and “gandha” means smell. The plant gets its name because of the smelly root. This root is used in various traditional medicinal preparations.

Ashwagandha is used to reduce stress and anxiety. Also known as Indian ginseng, the precious herb can help to boost energy. Rather, it is said that Ashwagandha helps to gain the strength and virility of a horse. It can also help to maintain blood pressure and cholesterol. More research is required to confirm its effectiveness in benefiting patients with cancer and Alzheimer’s.

In this blog, we’ll read about how to s use Ashwagandha and learn more about the benefits and side effects of this well-known Ayurvedic herb.

Parts of Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is a shrub found in India, North Africa and the Middle East. India has been the main producer of Ashwagandha for years. Different parts of the flowering plant are used to help provide relief from various medical conditions.

Ashwagandha root is the most vital part of the plant. The root is dried, powdered and used in supplements. Dried roots can also be purchased to brew tea.

The herbal plant bears small fruits in bright orange colour. These fruits resemble tomatoes and are consumed directly, despite the bitter taste. While the fruits don’t have the same benefits as the roots, they are still used in certain Ayurvedic reparations. Ashwagandha is sold as a tincture, essential oil and capsule with powder.

Benefits of Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha has many benefits and can help in different ways.

Anxiety and Stress

Ashwagandha is considered one of the best herbal remedies for stress relief and anxiety. Various studies have been conducted to ascertain that taking around 240mg to 600mg of Ashwagandha can help to regulate the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

Ashwagandha helps to control anxiety levels and can give a night of good sleep if suffer from insomnia. The herb is said to have a calming effect on the body compared to sedatives and other calming medications. People prefer Ashwagandha, as it is natural plant-based medicine.

High Cholesterol

A study conducted in 2015 suggested that Ashwagandha can increase the cardio-respiratory endurance of a person and strengthen their heart. Moreover, the herb has been found to reduce bad cholesterol levels in the body and boost heart health.

Though there is no concrete evidence that Ashwagandha can prevent heart disease, it can positively impact the heart by reducing inflammation, cholesterol and blood pressure. It is also said to ease chest pain.

Arthritis

Ashwagandha has anti-inflammatory properties and can help to reduce swelling. The herb also claims to be a pain reliever. The pain signals can be prevented from travelling along with the central nervous system, thereby reducing the pain caused by arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that results in swelling, pain and lack of movement in the joints. It might affect other body organs as well. Ashwagandha might provide relief from rheumatoid arthritis by reducing the swelling and pain in the hands, feet and stiff joints.

Parkinson’s Disease

While there is no conclusive evidence that Ashwagandha can help in Parkinson’s disease, it is said to be effective when used with other medications. Ashwagandha might reduce the severity of Parkinson’s disease, along with medication prescribed for the condition. However, do not consume the supplements without consulting the doctor.

Alzheimer’s

Ashwagandha is said to slow down the loss of brain functions that lead to conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases. The herb can delay neurodegenerative conditions that lead to loss of memory.
A study suggests that using Ashwagandha during the early stages of these diseases can protect from rapid loss of memory and functioning of the brain.

Fatigue Caused by Cancer

Research suggests that Ashwagandha can help to reduce the fatigue caused by chemotherapy. It is also said to stall the growth of cancerous cells and slow down their spread. A study has been conducted in 2011 where Ashwagandha has played a role in reducing lung tumours in animals.

ADHD

ADHD is Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder, a condition associated with various autoimmune diseases. Clinical research suggests that Ashwagandha might help to improve the attention span and controlling impulses in children suffering from ADHD.

There is no clear evidence about whether Ashwagandha should be used alone or with other medicines to turn it to be more effective in helping people with ADHD.

High Blood Pressure

Taking Ashwagandha herbal supplements for stress can help to reduce high blood pressure. This, in turn, creates a positive effect on heart health. That said, make sure not to use Ashwagandha with medicines that lower blood pressure. Too much reduction in blood pressure is not good for health.

Diabetes

Ashwagandha can help to reduce blood sugar levels and control type-2 diabetes to an extent. It helps to improve the secretion of insulin and increases the sensitivity in muscle cells towards insulin. This aids in managing diabetes better, though make sure not to combine medicines without consulting the doctor.

Male Infertility

There is no clear evidence that Ashwagandha can improve male fertility, though it is said that the herb can increase the quality of the sperm (not the count). This is based on preliminary clinical research. More studies are necessary to ascertain the suggestion.

Cerebellar Ataxia

Cerebellar ataxia is a brain condition that leads to sudden and uncoordinated movement of the muscles. This loss of coordination is mostly seen in the hands and legs. The condition is caused when the cerebellum part of the brain suffers from an injury. Early studies can help people to attain a better balance in muscle movements when Ashwagandha is used with Ayurvedic therapy and other medication.

Side Effects of Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is comparatively a safe herb to use in small to medium doses in the short term. We don’t have reliable data to determine the long-term side effects of using this herb. However, consuming more than the prescribed quantities of Ashwagandha might lead to:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Stomach disturbance, etc.

The best way to avoid the side effects of Ashwagandha is to follow the prescribed dosage recommended by a qualified and experienced medical practitioner. Use the Ashwagandha capsules as directed by the physician, and do not overdose yourself.

Pregnant women are recommended against consuming Ashwagandha supplements in any form. It is said to induce early labour. Make sure to buy the herbal supplements from registered and authorised sellers to avoid buying adulterated medicines.

Pro Tip: Since we don’t know how Ashwagandha works when applied to the skin, it’s better to avoid such practices.

How to Use Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is traditional plant-based medicine and has no standard dosage. The quantity and frequency of dosage are decided based on the reason for using the herb and other medical conditions of the patient.

Each capsule of Ashwagandha supplement can be between 250mg and 1500mg. The herb is available as capsules for easy consumption, liquid extract and powder. The nature of usage determines the type prescribed as a supplement.

According to a clinical study published in Dec 2019, a person needs 250mg to 600mg of Ashwagandha supplements per day helps to reduce stress and anxiety. However, different studies suggest different dosages, and it is always recommended to consult a qualified practitioner before adding Ashwagandha to the daily supplements.

Factors to Consider

Do remember that Ashwagandha might lower blood sugar levels. Since diabetic patients are prescribed medication that does the same, combining Ashwagandha with diabetic medicines can lead to a sharp decrease in blood sugar levels. Talk to the doctor when including Ashwagandha supplements in your daily diet. Patients might have to change the medicines for diabetics.

The same rule applies to people with high blood pressure. Do not use Ashwagandha with medicines prescribed to control high blood pressure.

Ashwagandha also impacts the immune system and actives it. If somebody is on medication to decrease the activity of the immune system (immunosuppressant), Ashwagandha might reduce the effectiveness of the medicines.
Consuming Ashwagandha with sedatives can lead to too much sleepiness and affects health. Both do the same job of reducing stress and inducing sleep.

Ashwagandha is said to work on thyroid hormones as well. If somebody has a thyroid problem and are taking medication to control the situation, Ashwagandha might affect the process by increasing the production of thyroid hormones.

To Wrap Up

Ashwagandha can help to reduce stress, anxiety, insomnia, inflammation, etc. The herb is a relatively safe herb used in Ayurvedic medicine and can be consumed by most people based on the doctor’s prescription and overall health condition. Ashwagandha can help us to lead better lives and stay healthy if we take care of other lifestyle habits.

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Nitin

About Nitin

I befittingly represents alternate medicine and has contributed significantly towards the development and research of immunotherapy.

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