Ashwagandha, one of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic healing, has been used since ancient times for a wide variety of conditions and is most well-known for its restorative benefits. In Sanskrit Ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse,” indicating that the herb imparts the vigor and strength of a stallion, and has traditionally been prescribed to help people strengthen their immune system after an illness.
Ashwagandha is frequently referred to as “Indian ginseng” because of its rejuvenating properties, even though botanically, ginseng and Ashwagandha are unrelated.
Belonging to the same family as the tomato, Ashwagandha is a plump shrub with oval leaves and yellow flowers. It bears a red fruit about the size of a raisin. The herb is native to the dry regions of India, northern Africa, and the Middle East, and today is also grown in more mild climates, including the United States.
Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
- Improve thyroid function
- Treat adrenal fatigue
- Reduce anxiety and depression
- Combat effects of stress
- Increase stamina and endurance
- Prevent and treat cancer
- Reduce brain cell degeneration
- Stabilize blood sugar
- Lower cholesterol
- Boost immunity
Modern studies have shown that ashwagandha might be beneficial for a number of uses. But a lot is still unknown about how the herb reacts within the human body. A majority of the studies so far – while very promising – have been done on animals.
It’s possible that Ashwagandha has a calming effect on anxiety symptoms when compared to the drug lorazepam (a sedative and anxiety medication).
A study published in the journal Phytomedicine showed that the herb had the ability to reduce anxiety levels. In fact, the two treatments were found to offer a similar level of relief from anxiety as the above medication, suggesting ashwagandha might be as effective for reducing anxiety.
Ashwagandha is considered a pain reliever that acts on the nervous system to prevent pain signals from being sent. It’s also thought to have some anti-inflammatory properties. For this reason, some research has shown it to be effective in treating forms of arthritis.
One study in the found the herb to have Indian Journal of Medical Research strong potential as a treatment option for rheumatoid arthritis.
Ashwagandha may have a variety of benefits to heart health, including treating:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- chest pain
- heart disease
One human study published in the International Journal of Ayurveda Research found that using the herb for heart health (in combination with another Ayurvedic herb) was helpful in improving muscle strength and endurance.
According to the African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine, several studies have examined Ashwagandha’s ability to slow or prevent loss of brain function in people with diseases like Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s.
As these diseases progress, parts of the brain and its connective paths become damaged, which leads to loss of memory and function. Research suggests that ashwagandha, when given to mice and rats during the early disease stages, may be able to offer protection.
A few very promising studies found that ashwagandha might be able to stop cell growth in certain cancers. Animal research showed the ability to decrease a lung tumor. There are encouraging findings that suggest the herb has the potential to slow human cancers including breast, lung, kidney, and prostate.