The purpose of this essay is to introduce a short introduction on what herbal medicine is, and to explore the benefits of a popular Ayruvedic herb, ashwagandha. Discussions will include the active components in ashwagandha that give it its healing properties. Also, the essay explains which parts of the world ashwagandha is native to and what systems of the body it supports. The paper goes into further detail about how ashwagandha supports the cardiovascular, nervous, and the immune system. It is widely known for its tonic, antioxidant, adaptogenic and energizing properties. The research findings of Narendra Singh from the International Institute of Herbal Medicine (IIHM), Anisha Bano from the Department of Biotechnology and M. Umadevi from the Pharma Innovation are located throughout the essay. Other contributing authors and websites that influenced this article are Ehrlich, S.D (from University of Maryland Medical Center) and the Smart Publications website. Ashwagandha has been used for thousands of years, and currently is being used in many research studies.
Herbal medicine has been studied and used for thousands of years, the oldest records that have been found date from 4,000 to 500 B.C. The Egyptians, Greeks and Chinese especially have been found to use herbs for their medicinal properties in the distant past. In modern times, many people are resorting to herbal medicine instead of the use of pharmaceutical drugs, which can have unwanted side-effects. The stem, root, leaf, fruit or flower of a plant can be used in an herbal preparation through tea, tincture or a capsule. Herbal medicine can heal and strengthen the body and can have minimal to no side-effects when used properly. (Ehrlich, 2015). One powerful and versatile herb that will be discussed is Ashwagandha, commonly used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine.
Ashwagandha (withania somnifera) also goes by the names of Indian Ginseng and Winter Cherry. The plant has oval shaped leaves, yellow flowers and bears red fruit. Ashwaghanda is native to North Africa, India and the Middle East. For 4,000 years, the Ashwaghanda plant has been used in many cultures for its adaptogenic, tonic, aphrodisiac, anti-aging, immune, nervous system, brain, and cardiovascular support. The berries, roots and leaves of the herb are used most often in medicinal preparations (Umadevi, Rajeswari, Rahale, Selvavenkadesh, Pushpa, Kumar, Bhowmik, 2012). Ashwagandha’s active ingredients include withanolides, alkaloids, polyphenols, tocopherols, sterols, saponins, polyols and antioxidant-like properties (Singh, Bhalla, Jager, Gilca, 2011). According to M. Umadevi (2012), he summarizes ashwagandha as, “the best rejuvenative that helps maintain proper nourishment of the tissues, particularly muscle and bones, while supporting the proper function of the adrenals and reproductive system”.
Ashwagandha is commonly used to support brain health, especially with memory and cognition. It is highly recommended for those dealing with neurodegenerative disorders. Disorders include Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, dementia, Huntington’s and amnesia that come with old age. Even children who’ve had a head injury, compromised brain function or ADHD can also benefit from the use of ashwagandha (Umadevi et al, 2012). How do the properties of this herb contribute to restoring and maintaining brain health? Ashwagandha helps restore and rebuild axon and dendrite growth, and to reestablish the synapses throughout our brain. Stress, often found in our daily life, can shrink our hippocampus (which is involved with memory). Through this repair process, ashwagandha helps to rebuild these memory centers of our brain. (Singh, et al, 2011).
Accompanied with stress, people often feel symptoms of anxiety and depression. Ashwagandha has been shown to calm the mind and the body, and help those with nervous exhaustion and insomnia. Ashwagandha can also lower the body’s stress hormone cortisol (Umadevi et al, 2012). It also mimics the actions of GABA (Gamma Amino-butyric acid), an inhibitory brain neurotransmitter. This helps calm overactive neuron activity leading to a relaxed state of mind and body, while promoting a sense of tranquility (Smart Publications, n.d). Research shows that ashwagandha also increases acetyl-choline activity, a neurotransmitter that promotes functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system. Ashwagandha can also be just as effective as the benzodiazepine drug, Lorazepam; which is commonly prescribed for those with anxiety disorder (Bano, N. Sharma, V. Sharma, Dhaliwal, 2015).
Ashwagandha also has benefits to the cardiovascular system, by helping regulate blood sugar and lower cholesterol levels (Bano et al, 2015). Amounts of LDL cholesterol, blood glucose levels and triglycerides can be decreased with the use of this herb. Since ashwagandha can help stabilize blood sugar, it would be suitable for those who have type II diabetes. It works by increasing the amount of insulin needing to be released. The herb is also rich in iron, perfect for those who have anemia or just overall low-iron levels in their blood. Ashwagandha increases red blood cell count and improves the protein in hemoglobin (Umadevi et al, 2012).
When it comes to a compromised immune system, fatigue from illness and cancer, Ashwagandha can be beneficial. According to a study in 2003 (Umadevi et al, 2012), the herb was tested on human cells which slowed the growth of cancer development, particularly of the lung, breast, prostate and colon. This shows that ashwagandha has anti-carcinogenic qualities. Even for acute colds and (especially upper respiratory problems, such as cough) the herb can help relieve symptoms. Ashwagandha naturally boosts the function of macrophages, phagocytes (the bacteria eaters) and lymphocytes, which are known as our body’s immune cells. (Bano et al, 2015).
Ashwagandha can help those with inflammatory problems, such as arthritis, rheumatism and osteoarthritis (Singh et al, 2011). The herb can help soothe the pain response within the nervous system, acting as a natural analgesic. Ashwagandha contains natural steroids which can reduce inflammation. Other ailments ashwagandha benefits are wound pain, backaches and one-sided paralysis (Bano et al, 2015).
The benefits of ashwagandha are almost endless; research has made many discoveries of its properties and how it functions in the body. The herb is great for supporting the cardiovascular system, nervous system, immune and the brain (cognition and focus). It is an aphrodisiac, anti-inflammatory, stress reliever and has anti-aging properties. Ashwagandha comes with virtually no side effects when used safely and with the correct dosage. Remember one word: “Rasayana” a Sanskrit word meaning health and long life, and that’s exactly what ashwagandha can do for the body. Its tonic, antioxidant and energizing properties make it a well-rounded, highly versatile herb that can be used for many conditions (Bano et al, 2015).
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