Ashwagandha – A magic plant or a FAD?

There is, and will always be a tussle between our beliefs and the actual facts that exist in our country. Trust me when I say this, whenever there is a discussion on anything related to Indian science (Indian medicines or Astrology or something even faintly related to science), we have always looked at it with some bit of skepticism.

Not our fault completely, as we have never had our ancestors taking the responsibility of passing on the knowledge in a relatable, easy-to-understand form to the subsequent generations. Even if they did, thanks to our societal classifications (casteism), it never reached the masses. So, people who were interested to learn never got to learn and those who were not really interested were forced to learn as part of their family profession, thereby not learning it with passion.

The result? Foreigners who ruled us for years got hold of these valuable facts, understood their significance better, and made great strides forward. Now we are looking up to them for scientific advice on practices invented by our own forefathers. While the Chinese take pride in following certain indigenous traditions, we, on the other hand, have been looking towards the West for medical advancements.

Alright, I guess I have sounded like a patriotic yet whining grandparent who is worried about the future of our ancient medicine practices. But have you ever heard of Ashwagandha? (Definitely not a distant cousin of Rajnigandha if that is what you are quickly relating to!). Chances are you have heard of it because a lot of bodybuilders in the West have started advocating it.

 

Ashwagandha

 

Ashwagandha is one of the prominent Ayurvedic herbs that have been used for more than thousands of years. The name ‘Ashwagandha’ means ‘Smell of a Horse’ as the herb offers a unique smell (Gandha – Smell) as well as the virility of a horse (Ashwa means horse). In colloquial terms, it is called the Indian ginseng or the Indian winter cherry and goes by the scientific name of “Withania Somnifera” in the health industry. It is widely known among the practitioners of Ayurveda because of its healing properties. The root and the berry of this plant are used for preparing medicines that are widely used in several applications including lowering stress and anxiety in humans.

Ashwagandha has been used in Ayurveda as a ‘Rasayana’ (the equivalent Sanskrit word for ‘rejuvenative’) herb which helps the body resist physiological as well as psychological stress. Ashwagandha, as a herb, is known for its unique odour and the health benefits it offers to the male and female reproductive system.

 

Benefits

It provides a plethora of benefits including:

  • Support for a healthy immune system.
  • Calming effect on the mind leading to healthy sleep cycles.
  • Positive impact on the human reproductive system.
  • Sustained energy, improved strength for physical activity.

Usage

The use of Ashwagandha is not restricted to a specific age group. People of all ages can consume it to reap the benefits of the herb. Even children are fed Ashwagandha in the form of tonic (coupled with milk) for the treatment of malnutrition. Other forms of usage include the treatment of vitiligo, rheumatism, constipation, nervous breakdown, insomnia etc. Some of the prominent uses are as follows:

 

 

As Adaptogen/Anti-stress agent:

Ashwagandha (Indian ginseng) is known for its adaptogenic properties. Deep dive studies on the biological models of animals have proven Ashwagandha to be effective in increasing stamina, reducing stress induced gastric ulcers, etc. Rats, which have a similar physiology and organ system like humans, have shown positive adaptations to the herb when administered.

 

Impact on Humans:

Ashwagandha’s impact on the stress levels has been studied through human trials as well. Stress, being a state of mind, leads to underperformance and behavioral modifications in humans. Detailed studies have been performed to evaluate the safety and efficacy in the usage of Ashwagandha’s root extracts in reducing the stress and anxiety levels in humans and thereby improving overall well-being.

 

As a Neuro-regenerative agent:

 

Diseases of the neurodegenerative category may cause serious impairment of the central nervous system often making them irreversible in nature. Although extensive research is being carried out to discover effective medications for permanent remedies, Ashwagandha has been an effective deterrent in terms of slowing down or stopping or even reversing the neuritic atrophy (a condition characterized by loss of reflexes and atrophy of the muscles caused due to inflammation of nerve or nerve groups) caused due to diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington etc. What makes the herb further special is that it can be used in any stage of the disease (diagnosis stage or treatment phase).

Since Ashwagandha has been described as a tonic for positively impacting the nervous system of our body, it is one of the main ingredients used for rejuvenation and re-vitalizing the body by inducing immunity and longevity in humans. Pre-treatment with the extract has been found beneficial in preventing any changes (including antioxidant enzyme activities, catecholamine content etc.) in rats through a dose-dependent manner. These results prove that Ashwagandha prevents neural injury as a result of neuro degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s or Huntington etc.

 

 

As an Anti-dysfunctional agent:

 

Sexual dysfunction in both men and women leads to several disorders including difficulty in achieving orgasm during an intercourse. It is caused due to an inability to sustain the erection (men), dryness of the genital area due to poor arousal (women), or decreased libido (men and women). These dysfunctions can be caused due to chronic stress in humans which adversely affect their sexual appetite. Women, especially, are less motivated and desirous towards sexual activities while undergoing chronic stress. Also, due to stress, women experience sexual arousal difficulties and vaginal pain. Female Sexual Disorder (FSD) includes Female Sexual Arousal Disorder (FSAD), Female Orgasmic Disorder (FOD), and Hypo-active Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD). Being known for its soothing effect on the central nervous system, Ashwagandha has been shown to be effective in combating several sexual issues in humans.

 

Key takeaway

It is true that Ashwagandha, when used for the above, has excellent impact on human health. But for those who’re getting tablet happy thinking this is THE MIRACLE DRUG for weight loss as well, I’ll have to sadly burst your bubble. Ashwagandha is not a magic pill for FAT LOSS. So if weight woes are the reason you’re turning to Ayurveda, the best thing to do would be to get your calories in right and work your back off to see the desired results in that department.

As for others who suffer from anxiety, need good recovery from a hard day’s work, or good sleep, I have one word for you. ‘YOUR SEARCH ENDS HERE!” (Ok, so that was a little more than one word, but you get the drift…) Ashwagandha is great in all these aspects with adequate science backed research about the benefits it has to offer. So, go the traditional way and prepare to be rejuvenated!

 

 

 

Author credits – Sairamnath Ananthakrishnan