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Ashwagandha: The History and Benefits of this Herbal Adaptogen

© Steven Foster

Ashwagandha is one of the central herbs in Ayurveda, the traditional medicine system native to India. It's been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine to target everything from the negative effects stress can have on the body, to strengthening the immune system throughout the seasons. Ashwagandha is also known as "winter cherry," and is thought of by herbalists as the Ayurvedic answer to ginseng and its rejuvenating properties. Often referred to as Indian Ginseng by Western herbalists, Ashwagandha is used in Ayurvedic medicine in a way similar to how Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) is used in traditional Chinese medicine.

In fact, in Sanskrit Ashwagandha means "the smell of a horse," which is taken to mean that this herb may impart the vigor and strength of a stallion. Some even use the herb for sexual function support in both men and women.

Where Does Ashwagandha Grow?

Ashwagandha is native to the dry regions of India, northern Africa, and the Middle East, but today is also grown in more mild climates, including in the United States.

Ashwagandha - The Adaptogen 

But behind its clumsy, hard-to-pronounce name, Ashwagandha holds a few secrets that science is slowly uncovering. It’s known as an “adaptogen,” a class of medicinal herbs that work to normalize physiological function in various, sometimes unknown ways. It’s those unknowns that researchers are trying to figure out.

Ashwagandha Health Benefits

In Ayurveda, Ashwagandha has been used in everything from aphrodisiacs (herbs for sexual health) to diuretics to memory loss. Other traditional uses included stress relief help, fatigue and as a general health tonic for overall wellness. Recent studies are compiling data on Ashwagandha’s possible health benefits. According to the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center:


 “The active constituents are thought to include alkaloids, steroidal lactones, saponins, and withanolides. In vitro studies suggest that Ashwagandha has anti-inflammatory properties which may protect against cartilage damage in osteoarthritis. In addition, improvements in hyperglycemia, hyperinsulinemia, and insulin sensitivity have been detected in animal model[s] of type 2 diabetes. Externally, it can be applied as a local analgesic.”
 

Further data from small-scale human studies suggest that Ashwagandha may also support healthy growth and development thanks to its iron content. Data also point to possible uses in treating anxiety, supporting immune health and promoting healthy joints. Women who are pregnant, however, are cautioned against using Ashwagandha.

Ashwagandha to Soothe the Nerves

Ashwagandha acts as a remedy to soothe the nervous system and reduce anxiety. According to Dr. Bruce Abedon, Director of Scientific Affairs at Nutragenesis in Vermont, clinical studies have demonstrated that this exotic Indian herb has powerful stress-relieving properties which act as a natural sedative. Ashwagandha has other health benefits as well. It can ease fatigue and tension. It acts as a potent antioxidant to boost the immune system. It increases mental alertness, improves memory and concentration, balancing out energy levels as it promotes better endurance. This herb can be taken by itself or in a synergistic blend with other herbs known to soothe the nervous system and help with stress relief. 

Of the multitude of natural health herbs available at your local herbal health store (and SHP, of course), Ashwagandha may not be on the top of your list. But with the growing body of evidence supporting its potential health benefits... I thought it was worth taking another look. What’s your favorite herb?

Ashwagandha Root Extract - Benefits from Withanolides

The main benefits of stress, energy, and immune system support among others come from the Withanolides that help to normalize quite a broad range of biochemical processes within the body, which are in higher quantities in the standardized Ashwagandha extract. Some may prefer the whole herb for a more mild effect and some prefer to get more “bang for your buck” from the Ashwagandha root extract, as it’s a higher potency. But whichever form you choose, you just might love the benefits of keeping on an even keel if there’s more stress in your life than you would care to have.

Ashwagandha Supplements for Women

 

Ashwagandha is a great natural option to fight stress, but while it is helpful for both men and women, it seems that it may be more important for women. After all, with all the stress put on women in our society to practically be “Super-Moms” that work 40 hours a week, take care of kids, and do any other chores that don’t get done in the house, it can get more than overwhelming for anyone. Even for those women without children, stress can wreak havoc on the body with impacts on hormones, diet, sleep, and even general nourishment.

While stress can throw off the hormones in both genders, women seem to feel their delicate balance of hormones fluctuate much more than men do so the stress can be a much bigger concern for women. Excess stress hormones have also been shown to have a negative impact on the diet because it can influence appetite and even adjust how the body stores and metabolizes fat, which can often make it harder to lose weight. I’m sure most every adult knows that stress can negatively impact sleep as many of them have had trouble sleeping because of stress, but not enough sleep can also be hard on the body because the body uses sleep to regenerate cells among many other things… that’s one big reason that a lack of sleep can really show on the face and skin among other areas. There are so many reasons that stress is hard on the body and it can certainly affect women more… that’s just another way that Ashwagandha is so great for women especially to help fight off those negative effects of stress.

Where to Buy Ashwagandha?

  • At your local health food store.
  • Save by shopping online at Swanson Health Products


Sources:
http://www.swansonvitamins.com/health-library
http://www.mskcc.org
http://wikipedia.org

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