Ashwagandha is a shrub cultivated in India and North America whose roots have been used for thousands of years by Ayurvedic practitioners. In Ayurveda, the classical Indian system of medicine, ashwagandha is used to promote physical and mental health, to provide defense against disease, and as a sexual tonic. Ashwagandha is sometimes described as Indian ginseng.
What the Research Says
Studies over the past few years indicate that ashwagandha has several interesting benefits including antioxidant, mind-boosting, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, anti-stress, and immune-enhancing properties.
Researchers from Benaras Hindu University in Varanasi, India, have discovered that some of the chemicals in ashwagandha are good antioxidants. They tested these compounds for their effects on rat brain and found an increase in the levels of three natural antioxidants-superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase. A human trial conducted at the same university found ashwagandha was an effective mood stabilizer in those with anxiety and depression
Additional studies indicate ashwagandha stimulates the growth of axons and dendrites, the parts of nerve cells that reach out from the nerve body to touch, connect, and communicate with other nerve cells.
Mechanisms of Action
Ashwagandha contains flavonoids and many active ingredients of the withanolide class, in addition to coumarins, triterpenes, and phytosterols.
Little is known as to the possible mode of action of ashwagandha as a sex booster. One study shows that ashwagandha stimulates an enzyme known as nitric oxide synthase. This enzyme helps form nitric oxide, one of the important chemicals involved in dilating blood vessels to the genital organs. There are probably additional ways that ashwagandha works as a sex stimulant.
Ashwagandha is used in India to treat mental deficits in geriatric patients, including amnesia. Researchers from the University of Leipzig in Germany, wanted to find out which neurotransmitters were influenced by ashwagandha. After injecting some of the chemicals found in ashwagandha into rats, they later examined slices of their brain and found an increase in acetylcholine receptor activity.
As to its other properties, a study done at the University of Texas Health Science Center indicates that extracts of ashwagandha have GABA-like activity. GABA is a brain chemical involved in relaxation. This may account for this herb's anti-anxiety effects. Ashwagandha's botanical name, Withania somniferum, speaks of it's sedative activity: somniferum means "sleep creator", in Latin.
I have taken several different ashwagandha products and noticed slight differences between them. Some more sedating while others caused alertness. This may be due to the extraction process, whether alcoholic and water extraction.
As a trial, I took a 500 mg ashwagandha pill at breakfast and lunch for a week. I felt calm and relaxed, and also noticed a mild increase in sexual interest.
Availability and Dosage
A variety of dosages and forms of ashwagandha are available. Most commonly, extracts of the root are sold in capsules ranging from 200 to 500 mg while the dried root is sold in capsules ranging from 500 to 1000 mg. Sometimes the bottle will list that the product is standardized to a certain percentage of withanolides, most commonly 1.5 %, although I have come across an extract of 5%. Withanolides are considered some of the active chemicals within ashwagandha. In addition to capsules, this herb is available as liquid extract.
An average daily dose is usually 1 to 3 g of the dried root, or 0.5 to 1.5 g of the extract. To prepare a tea, 3 to 6 g of the roots are boiled for 15 minutes and one to three cups may be drunk daily. Tinctures or fluid extracts can be used in the amount of 1 or 2 ml, either once in the evening, or three times a day for those with daytime anxiety.
No significant side effects have been reported in the Western medical literature, but this does not mean that this herb is free of side effects. We just don't know enough about its long-term influence on the human body. Since some products have mild sedating properties, caution is advised if operating heavy machinery or driving long distances, particularly at night. Most users may not notice sedation, but just a relaxed feeling.
Ashwagandha is a good herb for a relaxed sense of wellbeing, mind booster, and as an overall health-improving herb. If you are the type of person who is generally sluggish during the day, take ashwagandha towards the evening. If you happen to be over-energetic and hyper, you could take this herb anytime during the day. You could cycle the use of this herb. For instance you could take it two weeks on and then one week off.
Ray Sahelian, M.D. is the best selling author of several books including Natural Sex Boosters, Mind Boosters, and The Stevia Cookbook.
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