10 Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
At a time when advances in technology are being used to address issues in every aspect of society, there are still some cases in which time-tested, traditional methodologies are best. This can be especially true in medicine, where many natural substances that have been used for years can provide effective, safe alternatives to synthetic medications that may promote a range of deleterious side effects. One such substance is ashwagandha. This plant, also known as winter cherry, Indian ginseng or its scientific name, Withania somnifera, has been used for hundreds of years for conditions ranging from gastrointestinal disorders to age-related cognitive decline.
Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
Protection Against Cellular Degeneration – Although you may not physically feel the effects of your environment, pollution and other atmospheric elements can promote significant damage to your body at a cellular level. Aging, smoking and disease promote cellular degeneration, or the breakdown and death of cells, and this can be particularly dangerous when the cells in question are those in your brain. However, you can defend yourself — a study from the September 2001 issue of “Phytotherapy Research” found that ashwagandha supplementation significantly reduced the rate of cellular degeneration in the brain.
Improved Athletic Performance – The testosterone-boosting effects of ashwagandha have made this herbal remedy a favorite among athletes. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of ashwagandha’s benefits. A study from the July 2010 edition of the “International Journal of Ayurveda Research” found that ashwagandha supplementation promoted increased muscle strength and coordination and promoted increased running speed.
Antioxidant Activity – Ashwagandha isn’t just for athletes, however. Ashwagandha also exhibits antioxidant activity, which means that it can protect your body from oxidative damage. Oxidative damage is caused by free radicals, a special type of molecule released as a result of environmental stress. Oxidative damage can be quite harmful, as it affects cells and tissues throughout your body, including the brain. The damage can cause chronic diseases and cognitive decline such as Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center notes that some studies have found ashwagandha effective at stalling the progress of cancer cells, but that research was performed in laboratory cell lines rather than in live human patients.
Enhanced Immune System – In addition to potentially staving off diseases caused by free radicals, ashwagandha may help reduce the likelihood of contracting the common cold and other minor sicknesses. This is because ashwagandha promotes increased activity of your immune system’s killer cells, which neutralize illness-causing bacteria. Ashwaganda is also high in the mineral iron, so it can help your body maintain healthy levels of hemoglobin, a protein that transports oxygenated blood throughout your body. For this reason, ashwagandha is sometimes used to combat weakness and fatigue associated with anemia.
Anti-Inflammatory – Additionally, ashwagandha is prized for its anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation in your body is responsible for a broad array of harmful medical conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, muscle aches and gastrointestinal conditions such as colitis. By neutralizing inflammation, ashwagandha can also alleviate pain.
Cancer Treatment – While there is no cure for cancer, numerous medications may be able to help slow the progress of this deadly disease. Unfortunately, many cancer treatments can be dangerous in and of themselves. Further research is required to understand the scope of ashwagandha’s effects in this field, but studies so far have found ashwagandha to be capable of slowing the progress of lung, colon and breast cancer cells.
Anxiety Reduction – The hectic pace of modern life can be overwhelming, particularly in tough economic times. While prescription anxiety medication can be expensive, ashwagandha appears to be a viable alternative, as this natural supplement has been shown to influence the activity of neurotransmitters involved in determining your mood. Ashwagandha’s effects on these neurotransmitters promoted calming effects and a reduction of stress.
Defense Against Dementia – Although the causes of dementia and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease are not fully understood, the effects of the conditions are a result of toxic substances called beta-amyloid plaques forming in your brain. According to a May 2011 study from the journal “Phytotherapy Research,” ashwagandha can prevent these beta-amyloid plaques from forming, which may make it an effective weapon for combating Alzheimer’s and similar conditions.
Reduction of Depression – Another way in which ashwagandha can be beneficial is by battling depression. The herbal supplement can influence brain chemistry in a manner similar to that of prescription anti-depressants, resulting in a more cheerful mood, less fatigue and a superior sense of well-being.
Reduction of Diabetes Risk – Although diet and heredity play a factor in diabetes, some substances may help you control the condition. Research suggests that ashwagandha may be one such substance; the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center explains that ashwagandha helped reduce blood sugar levels and improved insulin sensitivity associated with type-2 diabetes.
Ashwagandha is generally safe for use, although it can multiply the effects of some sedatives and may induce abortion in pregnant women. Consult your doctor prior to use.