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August 19, 2013

By Louise Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of Doctors and
Registered Nurses, Certified fitness professionals and other members
of our Editorial Board]













Ashwagandha arrives on the shelves of our local health
stores following over 4,000 years of use in Ayurvedic
medicine. Does its history mean it’s something we can
effectively use today? Does ashwagandha make a
difference to our fertility, libido, chance of survival from
cancer, mental function, energy levels and even life
expectancy? Like so many supplements drawn from
Ayurvedic practice, ashwagandha has any high-blown
claims associated with it. Will ashwagandha make a
difference to your life?

What is Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha is also known as Indian ginseng and it is
believed to be a general “tonic” of a herb. In fact, modern
herbalists use ashwagandha as an adaptogen – a substance
that can increase the body’s ability to stand up strong
against stress, whether the stress is physical or
psychological, long or short term. An adaptogen provokes
no side effects and helps return bodies back to a state of
balance, according to practitioners.

Ashwagandha has adaptogenic, cardioprotective and
anticoagulant properties according to results from tests
such as a 2000 study from the Hindustan Antibiotics
Limited, Pimpri, Pune, India . A 1999 study from the
Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Madras,
Taramani, India showed the use of ashwagandha helped
rats develop better stress tolerance.

History of Ashwagandha Use

Ashwagandha, also known as winter cherry and
poisonberry, is a plant whose fruit is in the tomato family
and has yellow flowers and oval leaves, bearing red fruit.

This stress-preventing tonic, native to India, northern
Africa and the Middle East, means “the smell of a horse” in
Sanskrit. The herb doesn’t have a particularly horsey scent
but instead is said to give a person the strength and vigor
of a stallion. We could all do with a little bit of that power in
our lives, and the herb has consequently been used for
thousands of years to strengthen the body and restore
immunity after illness, rejuvenate the mind, and enhance
sexual potency.

Is Ashwagandha Safe?
























Simply because a supplement is a herb and has been used
for many years, doesn’t mean it is necessarily safe for
everyone. Ashwagandha is generally reported to be safe to
take although certain people should avoid using the herb,
including pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, and people
with severe liver or kidney disease.

Ashwagandha may raise thyroid hormone levels, and is
believed to have a sedative effect. Therefore ashwagandha
should be avoided by people with hyperthyroidism and
those taking sedative drugs.

Boil 1 to 2g of the ashwagandha root in milk or water for
15 to 20 minutes and take the remedy three times a day for
the best results. And then see if ashwagandha makes good
on the following health claims, taken from research into the
herb by scientists and herbalists.

Top 10 Health Benefits

1.
Ashwagandha for Depression and Anxiety

Ashwagandha has been used to stabilize mood in people
who suffer from anxiety, depression and behavioral
problems.

Results from a 2000 study by the Institute of Medical
Sciences, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India support
the use of Ashwagandha as a mood stabilizer – this study
tested ashwagandha on rats and discovered an anti-anxiety
effect that was similar to the effect from medication used to
treat anxiety disorder.

And a 2007 study from B.N. College of Pharmacy, Udaipur,
India demoted that the supplement had an antidepressant
effect and acted as a mood stabilizer in those experiencing
socially isolated behavior.

2.
Can Ashwagandha Prevent Cancer?

Studies show that ashwagandha may be used as a
supplement for preventing cancer – research from the
Amalanagar Cancer Research Centre, Amalanagar (2001)
and the Scientific Research Council, Baghdad, Iraq (1992)
seems to indicate this is the case.

Ashwagandha may even slow tumor growth and limit
damage, in particular damage to lymph nodes and in certain
lung cancers. However, the findings have only come from
animal and test tube studies.

For example, research showed ashwagandha stopped the
growth of a transplantable mouse tumor a 1992 study from
Kasturba Medical College, Manipal, India.

3.
Ashwagandha to Improve Your Immune System

Based on ashwagandha having an adaptogen effect,
research indicates that it may also be useful for improving
and building immunity to  certain diseases and pathologies.

Evidence for this claim is scant, although studies such as a
2001 report from the All India Institute of Medical
Sciences, New Delhi shows ashwagandha helps improve
immunity and lower the risk of side effects from drugs
taken to treat cancer.

In the case of this study, ashwagandha proved to help
prevent bone marrow depression associated with
anticancer drugs.

4.
The Benefits of Ashwagandha for Enhancing Mental
Function

It seems too good to be true, but certain reports talk about
ashwagandha’s powers to enhance mental function. Taking
ashwagandha improved memory and the successful
completion of tasks in mice who were given the supplement
to navigate mazes, according to a 2001 study from
Research Centre, Hindustan Antibiotics Ltd, Pimpri.

And a 2001 study from M.L. Sukhadia University, Udaipur,
India demonstrated the neuroprotective capabilities of the
supplement.

Trying ashwagandha to improve memory and mental clarity
may be a long shot, but many people believe it is worth a
try.

5.
Ashwagandha and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Ashwagandha could be what experts call "a goldmine for
treating arthritis" according to a 2007 report from the
University of Cincinnati. Ashwagandha may have potent
anti-inflammatory effects, according to the scientists, and
provokes few side effects. This makes ashwagandha an
inexpensive and potentially lucrative treatment for diseases
like
arthritis.

6.
Ashwagandha Protects Against Osteoarthritis

In  a 2008 study from Bhartiya Vidyapeeth Deemed
University Medical College Campus, Dhankawadi, India
researchers looked at the effect ashwagandha had on
human cartilage and discovered that the supplement could
decrease cartilage damage and protect against
inflammation associated with osteoarthritis. (Read more
about
natural remedies for arthritis.)

7.
Taking Ashwagandha for Sexual Function and Fertility

Ashwagandha has traditionally been used to increase
sexual potency in men and women, but what is the
evidence that ashwagandha gets your motor racing?

The proof that ashwagandha makes you better in bed is
not conclusive and there are no studies specifically looking
at ashwagandha and sexual potency.

However, a 2010 study from Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj
Medical University, and Department of Pharmacology,
Lucknow, India did indicate that ashwagandha improved
semen quality in infertile subjects. (Read more about
foods
and herbs that improve erectile dysfunction.)

8.
Ashwagandha as a Sleep Aid

The species name of  ashwagandha is somniferum, and as
this name suggests, the supplement is touted as a remedy
for sending you to dreamland. A 2007 study from the
University Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Panjab
University, Chandigarh, India demonstrated that taking
ashwagandha root extract helped manage sleep loss and
reduce the associated oxidative stress linked to lack of
sleep.

9.
Benefits of Ashwagandha for Huntington’s Disease

Huntingdon's disease is a type of neurodegenerative
condition and taking ashwagandha could help protect
against the effects of the disease.

A 2009 study from the University Institute of
Pharmaceutical Sciences, Panjab University, Chandigarh,
India looked at patients taking the root extract and
discovered that ashwagandha had neuroprotective benefits
in Huntington's disease due to its antioxidant activity.

10.
Take Ashwagandha to Treat Type 2 Diabetes

If ashwagandha could be used to help treat diabetes, one
of the most prevalent health conditions in the US, the
implications would be highly positive.

More research is needed into ashwagandha  and diabetes
but a 2008 study from Jamia Hamdard, (Hamdard
University), New Delhi, India demonstrated that
ashwagandha normalizes hyperglycemia in rats by
improving insulin sensitivity.



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