Ashwagandha: Health benefits and side effects

Ashwgandha herb (scientific name: Withania somnifera) has great effectiveness and significance in traditional ayurvedic practice. The roots and berry are used for medicinal purposes. Ashwagandha is commonly known as Indian ginseng and Indian winter cherry. The Sanskrit meaning of ‘Ashva’ is ‘horse-like’ and ‘gandha’ translates as ‘putrid or smell’. Thus, the name itself depicts the fact that Ashwagandha roots have strong stench. Though widely used in traditional ayurvedic practice, Ashwagandha has recently been in to spotlight for its potential health benefits for various health issues. At the same time, there are some limitations or side effects of using this herb.

Ayurveda is traditional healing system in Indian which dates back to 6000 BC. From primeval times, Ashwagandha is widely been used as Rasayana- a type of herbal or metallic preparation which promotes health. In ayurveda, Ashwagandha is regarded as ‘Sattvic Kapha Rasayana’. It holds a prominent position in ayurvedic healing system, Unani medicine and African medicine due to its numerous health benefits both physically and mentally.

Chemical Composition Of Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha or withania somnifera consists of active biological components such as include alkaloids, steroidal lactones as well as saponins. These substances serve as anti-stress agents. Moreover, the herb contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidants. These constituents are the reason for so many health benefits of Ashwagandha.

ashwagandha benefits and side effects

Health benefits of Ashwagandha

A study published in African Journal of Traditional Complementary and Alternative Medicines (AJTCAM) highlights the effectiveness of Ashwagandha roots as powerful tonic, thermogenic and stimulant. Its paste with other herbs is effective for relieving joint inflammation and swelling. The roots in combination with other drugs provide relief against snake venom as well as in scorpion-sting.

People use its bitter leaves as herbal remedy for fever. It is a powerful stimulant and enhances sperm count as well as effective for male infertility. Ashwagandha has adatogenic effects and effective for reliving hysteria, anxiety, memory loss etc.

  1. Ashwagandha As Adaptogenic / Stress Relieving Effects

Various studies affirm the effectiveness of Ashwagandha for reliving emotional stress and anxiety. A study published in International Journal Of Ayurveda Research has supported these beneficial effects of Indian ginseng. The herb is natural tonic to boost physical endurance and effectively prevents stress induced gastric ulcer and hepatotoxicity.

Experiments performed on lab rats indicate that crude Ashwagandha roots are potent anti-stress agent. Furthermore, this adaptogenic and stress-relieving properties can be effective for further stress-induced diseases such as arteriosclerosis, arthritis, hypertension and neurodegenerative disorders.

2. Boosts immune system

Psychological stress and anxiety adversely impacts the normal body functioning. It also impacts the immune   system functioning leaving one vulnerable to diseases and infections. Here, Ashwagandha being effective tonic for relieving stress may also be effective for boosting immune system.

Not only this, ashwagandha directly stimulates the immune system. Study affirms that this herb stimulates white blood cells (lymphocytes), platelets and macrophages. Moreover, it boosts up hemoglobin levels in red blood cells for better oxygenation and blood circulation.

ashwagandha benefits

3. Relieves Joint Inflammation And Arthritis

Ashwagandha is rich source of various antioxidant and anti-inflammatory substances; which makes it an effective herbal remedy for reliving joint pains, inflammation and arthritis.  A number of studies support these anti-inflammatory properties and effectiveness of Ashwagandha. A study demonstrated that Ashwagandha extract inhibits the inflammatory enzyme 5-lipoxygenase (5-LOX) as much as 65%, in vitro trails.  Thereby, it is effective for  relieves joint inflammation and associated health issues.

4. Improves heart health

Ashwagandha, either as herb or powdered extract is helpful for maintaining heart health. a study published in International Journal of Ayurveda Research states that Ashwagandha when used in combination with other herbs is effective for heart health. the benefits includes  controlling high blood pressure, chest pain, high blood cholesterol levels and thus overall maintains heart health.

5. Improves cognitive functions in neurodegenerative diseases

Ashwagandha improves brain functioning and prevent brain cells damage. Neuritic atrophy and synaptic loss are major contributors to brain disorders including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s  and Huntington diseases. Glycowithanolides withaferin, Ashwagandha slows, reverses or prevent neuritic atrophy and synaptic loss. Therefore, Indian ginseng is effective for such neuro-degenerative disorders for relieving symptoms and to improve cognitive functions as well.

Limitations and side effects  of Ashwagandha

Despite numerous benefits of Ashwagandha, there are certain contradictions or limitations as well. Pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding should not use this herb. Moreover, this herb is not suitable for people with autoimmune disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Ashwagandha boosts the production of thyroid hormone, which is why it is not suitable for those who are on thyroid disease medication.

Taking this herb or root extract more than the recommended dosage can decrease blood sugar and blood pressure levels. Ashwgandha is available as fresh roots as well as in supplements. The dose should be as recommended by ayurvedic expert or a physician to avoid any side effects.