Ashwagandha (Withania Somniferia)

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The nightshade plant Withania Somniferia comes to us from antiquity, and is better known as “Ashwagandha.” As its name might suggest, Ashwagandha appears in Hindu traditional medicine (known as “Ayurveda”). It was historically used to treat skin lesions and infections, tumors, and stomach ulcers, and other external ailments. In recent times, it has been studied as a possible natural anxiolytic.

Scientific Studies

Ashwagandha has been studied by numerous research scientists and institutions. In this article, we will present a few of these studies and summarize their results.

The International Institute of Herbal Medicine in India conducted a study to examine a number of different claims made about Ashwagandha, including its proposed anxiolytic effect. This study found a number of psychological and neuro-physiological benefits provided by the consumption of Ashwagandha powder. The study concluded that:

  • Ashwagandha induced a calming anxiolytic effect in mice as measured by three types of experiments, including plus-maze, social interaction and the feeding latency in an unfamiliar environment
  • Ashwagandha induced an anti-depressant effect in mice as measured by the “‘behavioral despair’ and ‘learned helplessness’ tests”
  • Ashwagandha has analgesic properties
  • Ashwagandha may protect the nervous system from neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s, dementia, memory loss, and more
  • However, more large-scale clinical studies are necessary for validating its efficacy

Another study conducted by Cooley et al set out to examine the theoretical anxiolytic effects of Ashwagandha in more specific detail. The study divided its participants into two different groups: One group received basic meditation practice, dietary counseling, and ashwagandha prepared from roots, while the other received a “psychotherapy” intervention, of which the nature is not stated. The study specifies that cognitive-behavioral therapy was utilized in this “intervention.” The study made the following conclusions:

  • The ashwagandha group had a more clinically significant anxiolytic benefit
  • No adverse reactions were reported by any members of either group

Clearly, more clinical studies are needed, but studies so far strongly point toward the efficacy of ashwagandha.

Theoretical Mechanisms of Action

The exact mechanisms of action of ashwagandha is as of yet undetermined in the scientific literature. However, it has been speculated that it has a GABA-like effect on the central nervous system. More research is needed to precisely determine its mechanisms of action.

Side Effects

A side effect profile is mostly unavailable in the scientific literature. However, here are some general guidelines to follow when taking ashwagandha:

  • Individuals with thyroid conditions should consult with their doctor before taking it or any other herbal supplement
  • Pregnant and breast-feeding women should NOT take it
  • If the condition worsens, discontinue taking it

As always, consult your medical provider before consuming ashwagandha.

Where to Purchase Ashwagandha

Products containing ashwagandha can include tablets, capsules, powders, and liquid extracts. Below, we have compiled a list of effective and highly-rated ashwagandha products.

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