Withania somnifera (also known as Ashwagandha, Indian ginseng, and winter cherry) is a plant of the Solanaceae family. This Ayurvedic herb has gained serious scientific understanding. 

This plant recently found its place as a sports adaptogen by increasing the relative human strength with up to 10%. This herb is classified in Ayurveda as rejuvenating and it is expected to improve physical and mental health, to renovate the body in terms of disease, and to extend life duration.

What Is Ashwagandha

Besides its rejuvenating effect, Ashwagandha has strong scientific support, regarding its properties as an adaptogen. 

This Ayurvedic herb has gained serious scientific understanding. This plant recently found its place as a sports adaptogen by increasing the relative human strength with up to 10%.

Its application in neurodegenerative diseases and cancer treatment is in its early stages. Ashwagandha shows great potential in tests on animals and human cells. 

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What Do We Know About Ashwagandha

Withania somnifera (also known as Ashwagandha, Indian ginseng, and winter cherry) is a plant of the Solanaceae family.

There are several types within this family that are morphologically similar to Withania. Parts of the plant are used as a medicinal herb in Ayurvedic medicine.

What Does the Ashwagandha Extract Contain

The main components within the Withania somnifera extract are alkaloids and steroidal lactones (including tropine and cuscohygrine).

The leaves contain steroidal lactones, withanolides and above all-withaferin A, which is the first isolated withanolide from W. somnifera. It is also one of the best-studied substances with a proven anti-cancer effect.

What Should You Know About Ashwagandha and Its Beneficial Ingredients

Withania somnifera is popularly known as Ashwagandha and widely recognizable as Indian ginseng. This herb is classified in Ayurveda as rejuvenating and it is expected to improve physical and mental health, to renovate the body in terms of disease, and to extend life duration.

Featuring a wide range of effects, it is used to treat almost all diseases that affect human health. In Sanskrit, Ashwagandha, the Indian name of Withania somnifera, is translated as "the smell of horses." 

That, most likely, comes from the specific odor of the root of the herb. The Latin name "somnifera," meaning “soothing, causing sleep," it is associated with the fact that Ashwagandha is used for stress combating.

Some herbalists call it deliberately "Indian Ginseng" and compare it with similar applications of Chinese ginseng in the treatment of many different diseases. The Ayurvedic herbal treatment uses all parts of Withania somnifera - leaves, roots, and fruits as part of home medicine (freely, without a medical prescription).

The root is often boiled in milk to reduce their unpleasant smell and some undesirable ingredients. The fruits are used as a thickening agent when making cheese from milk. Scientific researches on Ashwagandha make it best studied in traditional Indian medicine.

Winter cherry grows in arid regions of South Asia, Central Asia, and Africa, and particularly in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Congo, and Jordan. In India, it is cultivated for commercial purposes in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, and Rajasthan.

The majority of the production is for personal use and only a small percentage is for export. However, India is among the largest exporters of herbal drugs from Withania somnifera.

This herb has a particular application on diseases of the central nervous system and namely: epilepsy treatment, stress reduction, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s syndromes, dyskinesia, cerebral ischemia, and drugs and painkillers addiction.

Western (EU, USA) researchers support the multi pharmaceutical use of Ashwagandha as anti-inflammatory, immunomodulating, anti-stress (extracts from whole-plant) agent. Specific applications for extracts from the leaves and roots are also approved.

The substances in the root extracts are known for anti-cancer (killing cancer cells) and anti-metastases effect. Ashwagandha is currently used as experimental material in chemotherapy- as a standalone substance, and also combined with toxins for killing cancerous cells – there has been seen some side effects improvement on animals.

Furthermore, when treating animals with Ashwagandha, there has been an improvement in radiation therapy and side effects management. Many experts believe that in the near future the cancer therapy will greatly use Ashwagandha or some of its main active substances.

Tests on humans are to be made for this purpose. Quite recently people started talked about using Ashwagandha in sports- there are already studies with untrained people. The results are encouraging - you can find them below.

Ashwagandha, as a type of Rasayana elixir in Ayurveda, is expected to generally improve the human body, to perfect health, and to prolong life. We should not forget its power as an adaptogen in conditions of physiological and psychological stress, including chronic one. Ashwagandha works by regulating the imbalances through the impact on the neuroendocrine and immune systems.

Recommended Doses

Human studies have established doses of 500 mg to 1000 mg/daily of dry standardized extract of Withania somnifera, for periods from 20 days to 8 weeks. 

People are advised to take it as prescribed on the label, and if there are no indications - two doses on an empty stomach (one in the morning and one in the evening).

Proven and Potential Benefits on People

  • Improves overall condition as an antioxidant and adaptogen - a number of animal studies and a human pilot one confirm these properties of Ashwagandha extract. Of course, more studies are needed for a better understanding of both the dose-response effect and the ways of impact on human physiology.
  • Improves neuromuscular control and delays the onset of fatigue - Withania somnifera extract, taken at a dose of 500 mg/day for 8 weeks by untrained healthy people, exposed to various physical tests, shows a delay on the onset of fatigue, thus prolonging the time for reaching the exhaustion point and maintaining power in an exhausting workout.
  • Improves the functional performance in untrained individuals that undergo training tests - maximum and average power, speed, oxygen consumption. In a study for maximum speed, the average absolute and relative strength are increased respectively by 2.9%, 8.8% and 10.1% in comparisons to the placebo group. Ashwagandha Increases the of peak oxygen consumption by 6.8% in high-intensity physical tests, but shoes no significant influence on the balance and blood pressure.

How Does Ashwagandha Extract Work

Studies show that Ashwagandha has the following properties and effects:

  • Inflammatory properties;
  • Anti-cancer properties;
  • Anti-stress effect, adaptogen effect;
  • Antioxidant effects;
  • Immunomodulatory effects;
  • Hematopoietic effects, suppressing effect;
  • Rejuvenating properties;
  • Impact on the endocrine system;
  • Impact on the cardio-respiratory system;
  • Impact on the central nervous system.

The mechanisms of action are not fully revealed. Toxicology tests have shown that Ashwagandha and its extracts are generally safe.

Who Shouldn't Consume Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha extract is considered generally safe for there is only one documented case of intoxication. It's about thyrotoxicosis in a young woman (32 years), consuming Ashwagandha to control the symptoms of chronic fatigue.

During the first weeks of taking the normal doses, the woman felt no symptoms. However, after increasing the dose (overdose), she developed symptoms of intoxication of her thyroid gland. 

The symptoms disappeared after discontinuation. There is no clear link to how the intake of Ashwagandha has caused this, but people with thyroid disease should be careful when taking the herb.

Animal studies show some increase in the production of thyroid hormones. Thyroid gland poisoning can be a potentially dangerous side effect.

Purpose and Health Benefits

More than 20 withanolides, steroidal alkaloids, and lactones can be found in the composition of the Ashwagandha extract (the whole plant). Withaferin A is best studied, but only in cancer cases.

The various effects of the extract are still biochemically, cytologically and histologically unclear. Ashwagandha has an impact mainly on the:

  • Peripheral-central nervous system - adaptogenic effect and rejuvenation;
  • Immune system – suppressing effect, inhibiting effect;
  • Cardiovascular-respiratory - adaptogenic effect;
  • Circulatory system – suppresses capillaries formation, lowers the temperature;
  • Lymph – normalizes the number of immune cells.

Side Effects and Contraindications

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women without a recommendation from a doctor.
  • Infants and young children- without a recommendation from a pediatrician.
  • People with thyroid disease.

Consumers are advised to avoid using Ashwagandha in combination with drugs affecting immunity.

In Which Sports and Health Supplements Can We Find Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha can be found in different adaptogens, herbal antioxidants, special additives for concomitant treatment of neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.

Usually in combination with other Ayurvedic herbs or in complex multi "ginseng" formulas.

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