The Ashwagandha plant is a small evergreen shrub that bears bright red fruits and small greenish flowers. It belongs to the Solanaceae family and can grow to a height of two feet. It grows in Africa, the Middle East and India.
It is also known as "winter cherry" and "Ayurvedic ginseng" in English.
What does it do and what scientific studies give evidence to support this?
As an adaptogenic herb, ashwagandha has many effects and benefits.
For example, ashwagandha may increase energy levels after one week of use, and may possible lead to increased strength levels, enhanced stamina, and a general improvement of overall exercise performance.
Ashwagandha may also strengthen immune system function, and scientific studies on animals have shown that white blood cell counts are elevated over baseline levels after ashwagandha administration. It is hypothesized that the sitoindosides in ashwagandha enhance phagocyte action, resulting in strong immune system function and the destruction and elimination of pathogens from the body.
In addition to eliminating pathogens from the body, ashwagandha also exerts strong antioxidant effects. Oxidants are harmful ions - free-radicals - that can damage organs, muscle tissue, and DNA, leading to increased cortisol levels, depressed immune system function, and muscular inflammation.
By scavenging the body for free radicals and eliminating them, ashwagandha can protect your body from damage, and relieve joint and muscle pain, thereby speeding recovery from exercise.
As an energy booster that also exerts a mild sedative effect, ashwagandha calms the body and soothes the mind, leading to a general reduction in stress and anxiety. This reduction in stress may result in reduced cortisol levels.
Finally, ashwagandha may boost the libido in both males and females by normalizing hormone function and improving testosterone profile.
More human research on this compound is needed.
Who needs it and what are some symptoms of deficiency?
Healthy adults can benefit from supplementing with ashwagandha.
Ashwagandha may be of particular benefit to athletes because of its ability to reduce cortisol levels, increase energy, optimize hormone profile, enhance endurance, reduce recovery time between exercise sessions, boost overall exercise performance, exert antioxidant effects, and boost immune system function.
If you are being treated for medical conditions, consult your doctor to determine if ashwagandha would be an effective treatment option.
Ashwagandha is not an essential nutrient and no symptoms of deficiency exist.
How much should be taken? Are there any side effects?
Strictly adhere to label directions.
Ashwagandha is not a central nervous system stimulant, and it has an excellent safety profile. It is believed to be safe for most people, but talk to your doctor before taking any over-the-counter dietary supplement.
Side effects may include a slight rise in body temperature after one week of use, and large doses may result in nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Ashwagandha is contraindicated with barbiturates (sedative medications used to treat anxiety) and pharmaceutical diuretics.
Do not take ashwagandha is you have digestive disorders, ulcers, or if you are pregnant or nursing.