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From the flowers and fruit to the roots and seeds, the ashwagandha plant proves wholly beneficial in many ways. Sanskrit for “smell of the horse,” its name derives from its similarities to the smell and stamina of a horse. Ashwagandha is an herb that grows as a small flowering evergreen bush in its native Asia, Africa, and Middle East countries. Botanically known as Withania somnifera, ashwagandha is also known as Indian ginseng and Indian Winter cherry and belongs to the adaptogen family of herbs and roots that help maintain mental and physical balance, energy, and mood.

Its phytochemicals include steroidal lactones, such as withanolides, alkaloids, flavonoids, fatty acids, choline, and amino acids, the properties of which hold positive healing value, which is why ashwagandha is gaining in popularity as a supplement and ingredient in health, wellness, and fitness products. But what is this new-found herb, and does it have any real benefits?

Actually, ashwagandha is not new at all. It is regarded as the most important herb in Ayurveda, a natural, holistic, alternative medicine founded on Indian principles of natural healing that began over 3,000 years ago in India. In traditional Indian medicine, ashwagandha is known as an Ayurvedic Rasayana, which refers to a plant that supports longevity, vitality, and happiness. As a Rasayana, ashwagandha also belongs to a subset of Rasayanas called Medhyarasayanas, of which its prefix, Medhya, denotes its association with the mind and its mental/intellectual capacity. This indicates its effectiveness for maintaining focus as well as helping to encourage sustained concentration, longevity, and rejuvenation. The following lists the results of clinical studies performed on ashwagandha:

Cortisol

A study to measure the effectiveness and safety of ashwagandha on reducing stress and anxiety levels in a participant group juxtaposed to a placebo group concluded that highly-concentrated, full-spectrum ashwagandha root extract safely reduced the amount of serum cortisol considerably in the participant group and raised their resistance to stress.

Inflammation

In a study examining ashwagandha’s effects on four types of human immune cells, all receptors measured baseline increases over their mean values. These results demonstrated that the immune cells underwent a considerable change in the presence of ashwagandha, indicating ashwagandha raises the performance of immune cells that combat infection. 

Brain function

A controlled test of healthy individuals who were given ashwagandha extract to evaluate brain function pre- and post-dosing showed improvement in cognitive and psychomotor tests, including reaction time, indicating that ashwagandha effectively helps brain function and may be a successful treatment for those with cognitive illnesses.

Muscle mass and strength

Ashwagandha raises energy production in muscles by increasing mitochondrial function, thereby improving muscle mass and muscle strength. A 2015 study found that it also aids in healing damaged muscles and encouraging muscle recovery while exercising, and reduces body fat when combined with resistance training.

Blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels

A 2000 study reported that in humans with mildly elevated blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, a 30-day regimen of ashwagandha successfully reduced blood sugar and significantly lowered LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels without the presence of side effects.

Tumor growth

Steroidal lactones found in the leaves and roots of the ashwagandha plant have demonstrated anticancer reactions in laboratory studies. This may prove effective for treating and preventing cancer, as a 2014 ovarian cancer study showed tumor growth was reduced 70 to 80% without any signs of metastasis.

Depression 

A 2000 study cites ashwagandha’s use in balancing the mood of patients experiencing behavioral disturbances and, as revealed under clinical conditions, its viability as an antidepressant mood stabilizer for treating anxiety and depression.

Nervous system and neurodegenerative diseases

A 2011 article explains that in patients with Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, ashwagandha slows, stops, reverses or removes neuritic atrophy and synaptic loss, which are the two foremost causes of cognitive damage.

Final Thoughts

The benefits of ashwagandha are numerous, which is why ashwagandha supplements are widely available. However, the herb is synergistically more beneficial. Therefore, when healthy ingredients, such as Rhodiola rosea, holy basil, and agmatine sulfate, are added to formulations containing ashwagandha, they work in unison, resulting in stronger potency on the whole than what the individual ingredients can provide separately. 

Having been shadowed for many years by Western medicine, ashwagandha, this 3,000-year-old traditional Indian medicine, shows renewed promise as a contemporary support for health. Understanding ashwagandha’s benefits categorically reveals its therapeutic possibilities and establishes it as an outstanding candidate for numerous product formulations.