Sleep Disorders, Women's Health | November 11, 2017 | Author: Naturopath
Withania somnifera (ashwaghanda) is a widely used herb today because of its unique properties. It helps to increase energy in people that feel fatigued and depleted— but it does this in a very gentle way. Withania is a tonic herb and helps us respond and adapt to stress—resulting in decreased anxiety. There are also many other benefits for our immune system, thyroid, cognition, nerves and joints.
In Ayurvedic medicine, withania is used for its aphrodisiac properties as well as in the treatment of debility, emaciation, ageing, infertility, arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, psoriasis and insomnia. In the Middle East, withania is used for rheumatic pains, as well as a sedative/hypnotic for insomnia.
One of the main reasons why people take withania is to ease stress. It is classified as an adaptogen herb which increases our ability to cope with and resist stressful situations.Chronic stress can cause conditions such as cognitive deficit, immunosuppression, sexual dysfunction, gastric ulceration, irregularities in glucose homeostasis, and changes in plasma corticosterone levels.
Research conducted at the Department of Pharmacology, University of Texas Health Science Centre indicated that extracts of withania produce GABA-like activity, which may account for the herb's anti-anxiety effects. GABA (Gamma Amino-butyric acid) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. Its function is to reduce neuron activity and inhibit nerve cells from over firing. This action produces a calming effect. Excessive neuronal activity can lead to restlessness and insomnia, but GABA reduces the number of nerve cells that fire in the brain, and helps to induce sleep, uplift mood, and reduce anxiety.
Withania has traditionally been used to stabilize mood in patients with behavioural disturbances.
Research has revealed that the herb produces an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety effect in rodents comparable to the anti-depressant drug imipramine and the anti-anxiety drug lorazepam. In fact, Withania is one of the most widespread tranquillizers used in India to promote a good night’s sleep and aid in relaxation.
Withania acts mainly on the nervous system, having a rejuvenate effect on the body, and is used to improve vitality and aid recovery after chronic illness.
Even though it is called Indian Ginseng it is less stimulating than panax ginseng and has fewer side-effects. It also has an effect on our adrenals and is a popular herb to use in adrenal fatigue and chronic fatigue states.
If fatigue is a result of iron-deficiency anaemia, withania can help in this area too. It can aid in the formation of new blood cells and naturally contains iron. This use has been supported by studies which have shown an increase in haemoglobin levels in children after taking withania.
Thyroid problems are commonly encountered due to a variety of different reasons. Withania has a re-balancing effect on the thyroid and can be useful if there is overactivity and underactivity. This is due to its wide-range of actions including sedative, tonic, adaptogen, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
Yes, you have read right! Withania was used thousands of years ago in India as an aphrodisiac. In fact, the name ashwaganda comes from the snaskrit meaning ‘horse-like smell’, referring to not only the smell of the herb but its aphrodisiac qualities.
Studies in both males and females have found withania to enhance sexual performance.
Withania can aid fertility and a 2013 study found that withania can increase semen volume, sperm counts and sperm motility.
Studies conducted in this area have shown very positive results! Withania extracts possess the ability to disrupt abnormal cell development and growth. In animal studies, withania was found to prevent skin cancer induced by ultraviolet light as well as a decreasing the incidence of tumours and shrinking their size. A beneficial role has been also found as an adjuvant treatment during chemotherapy. However, it is advised that it is only to be used under professional supervision.
Withania is not called the Indian ginseng for nothing! It increases important components of our immune system which help to fight infection and protect us from disease. Research has shown that if withania is ingested regularly the number of white blood cells increase. Animal and in vitro studies have shown withania is effective in combating a range of bacteria and fungus which can cause ill health.
The root cause of many chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and osteoarthritis is inflammation. Withania has anti-inflammatory properties which help to supress the production of a variety of molecules that trigger the inflammatory cascade. Withania has been traditionally used for rheumatic pain and arthritis which has been verified in more recent clinical studies demonstrating chondroprotective effects.
Withania reduces cholesterol and blood glucose levels and provides protection to the heart—sounds too good to be true! Studies of withania in animals have found all these benefits but it is unsure how this information can be transferred to humans. Obviously more studies in this area are needed.
Test results for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia have been very promising!
They have found that withania improves cognition and helps to reconstruct neural networks which have been damaged because of these degenerative diseases.
Benefit has also been found for Parkinson’s disease because of the herbs ability to protect neurons.
It’s ability to produce all these amazing results is thought to be due to its antioxidant capabilities, among many other things.
Withania is generally a safe herb to consume with very little side-effects. However large doses can cause gastrointestinal irritation and caution is recommended in peptic ulcer disease. Even though withania is traditionally used in India to support a healthy pregnancy and lactation, caution is still advised.
Braun L, Cohen M (2015). Herbs and natural supplements: An evidence based guide vol. 2. Churchill Livingstone, Australia
Mills, S., & Bone, K. (2000). Principles and practice of phytotherapy: Modern herbal medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
Dongre Swati, et al. Efficacy and safety of ashwagandha (withania somnifera) root extract in improving sexual function in women: a pilot study. Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015:284154