Ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng or Withania somnifera, is considered the foremost adaptogen in Ayurvedic medicine. Studies have shown that it helps the body to recover from the energy loss and mood-altering effects of stress.47-50
Scientists have found that Ashwagandha modulates stress-induced changes to homeostasis in the areas of:
- Neurotransmitters (affecting depression and anxiety)51
- HPA axis activity14
- Lipid peroxidation52
- Blood sugar14
- Antioxidant activity52
- Gastric ulceration20
Scientists analyzed the stress-attenuating effects of Withania somnifera in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study of 98 chronically stressed, adult men and women. Subjects were randomly assigned to the placebo group, or to one of three Ashwagandha dosage groups: 125 mg once a day,125 mg twice a day, or 250 mg twice a day. Stress levels were assessed at the beginning of the study, and again at 60 days of treatment, using a modified Hamilton anxiety (mHAM-A) scale. Also, certain biochemical and clinical values were measured, such as cortisol or blood pressure levels.
(A reduced score on the mHAM-A scale indicates fewer symptoms of: fatigue, flushing, perspiration, loss of appetite, headache, muscle pain, feelings of impending doom, palpitations, dry mouth, sleeplessness, forgetfulness, irritability, or inability to concentrate.)
After 60 days, the group taking the least Ashwagandha—125 mg daily—had significantly reduced mHAM-A anxiety scores. This arm of the study also showed significantly decreased serum C-reactive protein (a measure of inflammation), pulse rate, and blood pressure, as well as balanced levels of serum cortisol.14
After the same 60-day period, the higher-dose Ashwagandha groups also showed greater, dose-dependent responses in these same anxiety and biochemical parameters. But the researchers found that, additionally, the higher-dose subjects showed significantly reduced mean fasting glucose, serum lipid profiles, and cardiac risk ratios.14
It is particularly significant that all of the participants in this study had previously been diagnosed as chronically stressed.
No adverse effects were found for any of the four botanicals used in the studies. The various study findings confirm that these four adaptogenic extracts offer—at a basic biochemical level—substantial homeostatic protection against the multiple pathways of stress.
In 2007, further support for the use of ashwagandha extracts in Alzheimer’s disease was provided by the discovery that the extracts are among the most potent inhibitors of acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that breaks down the vital memory-related neurotransmitter acetylcholine.78Drugs that block acetylcholine breakdown (such as Aricept®) are utilized in the management of Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers correctly observed that “these results partly substantiate the traditional use of these herbs for improvement of cognition.” Western research into the benefits of ashwagandha is very recent, so stay tuned for additional exciting news on this extract’s memory- and cognition-enhancing properties.
One amazing animal study showed how powerful ashwagandha is at reducing tension and stress on the nervous system. Animals exposed to chronic stress had 85% of their cells showing signs of chronic degeneration. When ashwagandha was administered to another group of chronically stressed animals, the number of damaged cells dropped by 80%.
In the largest human trial using ashwagandha the herb was shown to reduce cortisol levels up to 26%. Lowering our cortisol levels can be one of the most effective things we can to dramatically increase our energy levels. We now know of a few powerful herbs that have a significant cortisol-lowering effect: holy basil, ashwagandha, and bacopa. A combination of these three can be a life-saver to many people, since once the cortisol levels are lowered, the body is more free to normally perform many of its functions and this include a higher sex drive, an ability to think better and more clearly, and having more physical and mental energy overall.
Ashwagandha has been shown to disrupt cancer cells’ ability to effectively reproduce. This is due to the anti-angiogenic activity that ashwagandha contains in which it prevents cancer cells from forming new blood vessels that support its growth. One study showed that ashwagandha produced a marked increase in life span and a decrease in overall tumor weight in animals with cancer of the lymphatic system.
Other studies of chronic stress support these findings. For example, in a remarkable animal study, examination of the brains of sacrificed animals showed that 85% of the brain cells observed in the animals exposed to chronic stress showed signs of degeneration. It is this type of cellular degeneration that can lead to long-term cognitive difficulties. Amazingly, when ashwagandha was administered to chronically stressed animals, the number of degenerating brain cells was reduced by 80%!3
In one of the most complete human clinical trials to date, researchers studied the effects of a standardized extract of ashwagandha on the negative effects of stress, including elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Many of the adverse effects of stress are thought to be related to elevated levels of cortisol. The results were impressive. The participants subjectively reported increased energy, reduced fatigue, better sleep, and an enhanced sense of well-being. The participants showed several measurable improvements, including a reduction of cortisol levels up to 26%, a decline in fasting blood sugar levels, and improved lipid profiles. It would appear from this study that ashwagandha can address many of the health and psychological issues that plague today’s society.4
Over the past five years, the Institute of Natural Medicine at the Toyama Medical and Pharmaceutical University in Japan has conducted extensive research into the brain benefits of ashwagandha. The Institute’s scientists were looking for ways to encourage the regeneration of nerve cell components called axons and dendrites in validated models of the human brain. This important research may one day benefit those who have incurred brain injuries due to physical trauma, as well as those who suffer cognitive decline due to destruction of the nerve cell networks from diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Using a validated model of damaged nerve cells and impaired nerve-signaling pathways, re-searchers noted that ashwagandha supported significant regeneration of the axons and dendrites of nerve cells. Furthermore, ashwagandha extract supported the reconstruction of synapses, the junctions where nerve cells communicate with other cells. The investigators concluded that ashwagandha extract helps to reconstruct networks of the nervous system,
Finally, in a third published study, the researchers noted that ashwagandha helped promote the growth of both normal and damaged nerve cells, suggesting that the herb may boost healthy brain cell function as well as benefit diseased nerve cells.7
Clearly, this is just the beginning of research into ashwagandha’s ability to encourage physical re-growth of the brain.
Remarkably, an earlier study showed that ashwagandha extract inhibits acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme responsible for breaking down one of the brain’s key chemical messengers. Acetylcholinesterase and aromatase are two enzymes we want to try to inhibit as much as possible.
In addition to ashwagandha’s documented neuroprotective effects, exciting recent evidence suggests that it also has the potential to stop cancer cells in their tracks. For example, a recent analysis showed that ashwagandha extract inhibited the growth of human breast, lung, and colon cancer cell lines in the laboratory. This inhibition was comparable to that achieved with the common cancer chemotherapy drug doxorubicin (Caelyx®, Myocet®). In fact, researchers reported that withaferin A, a specific compound extracted from ashwagandha, was more effective than doxorubicin in inhibiting breast and colon cancer cell growth.11,14
A recent experiment demonstrated that ashwagandha extract produced a marked increase in life span and a decrease in tumor weight in animals with experimentally induced cancer of the lymphatic system.18 This is an exciting finding, suggesting that ashwagandha could enhance survival in individuals with cancer.
Naturopathic care for anxiety: a randomized controlled trial ISRCTN78958974.
Cooley K, Szczurko O, Perri D, Mills EJ, Bernhardt B, Zhou Q, Seely D.
Department of Research and Clinical Epidemiology, The Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, Toronto, Canada. email@example.com
BACKGROUND: Anxiety is a serious personal health condition and represents a substantial burden to overall quality of life. Additionally anxiety disorders represent a significant cost to the health care system as well as employers through benefits coverage and days missed due to incapacity. This study sought to explore the effectiveness of naturopathic care on anxiety symptoms using a randomized trial. METHODS: Employees withmoderate to severe anxiety of longer than 6 weeks duration were randomized based on age and gender to receive naturopathic care (NC) (n = 41) or standardized psychotherapy intervention (PT) (n = 40) over a period of 12 weeks. Blinding of investigators and participants during randomization and allocation was maintained. Participants in the NC group received dietary counseling, deep breathing relaxation techniques, a standard multi-vitamin, and the herbal medicine, ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) (300 mg b.i.d. standardized to 1.5% with anolides, prepared from root). The PT intervention received psychotherapy, and matched deep breathing relaxation techniques, and placebo. The primary outcome measure was the Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) and secondary outcome measures included the Short Form 36 (SF-36), Fatigue Symptom Inventory (FSI), and Measure Yourself Medical Outcomes Profile (MY-MOP) to measure anxiety, mental health, and quality of life respectively. Participants were blinded to the placebo-controlled intervention. RESULTS: Seventy-five participants (93%) were followed for 8 or more weeks on the trial. Final BAI scores decreased by 56.5% (p<0.0001) in the NC group and 30.5% (p<0.0001) in the PT group. BAI group scores were significantly decreased in the NC group compared to PT group (p = 0.003). Significant differences between groups were also observed in mental health, concentration, fatigue, social functioning, vitality, and overall quality of life with the NC group exhibiting greater clinical benefit. No serious adverse reactions were observed in either group. RELEVANCE: Many patients seek alternatives and/or complementary care to conventional anxiety treatments. To date, no study has evaluated the potential of a naturopathic treatment protocol to effectively treat anxiety. Knowledge of the efficacy, safety or risk of natural health products, and naturopathic treatments is important for physicians and the public in order to make informed decisions. INTERPRETATION: Both NC and PT led to significant improvements in patients’ anxiety. Group comparison demonstrated a significant decrease in anxiety levels in the NC group over the PT group. Significant improvements in secondary quality of life measures were also observed in the NC group as compared to PT. The whole system of naturopathic care for anxiety needs to be investigated further including a closer examination of the individual components within the context of their additive effect.
In summary, this study took a group of people who suffered from anxiety, randomly divided the group, administered dietary counseling, deep breathing relaxation techniques, a multi vitamin, and withania somnifera (300mg) (WS) to half the group and gave the other half the same minus the WS. After 8 weeks the test groups Beck Anxiety Inventory scores had decreased by 56.5% and the control groups had decrease by 30.5%. With these results two things become obvious, proper diet and stress therapy are capable of reducing anxiety by a significant amount on their own; and WS is capable of controlling anxiety in individuals by a significant amount.
WS has a high metal absorption which would make one want to make sure the quality of their WS supplements were high. I would imagine one would want to verify where their WS was being grown especially if consuming the plant itself.