Ashwagandha Withania somnifera is an amazing adaptogenic herb that grows in India, Northern Africa and the Middle East. It is a shrub that grows to approximately 3 feet tall and is said to have an odor similar to a sweaty horse. It is also called Indian Ginseng or Ayurvedic Ginseng due to its many beneficial properties and use in Ayurvedic medicine. Other common names include Winter Cherry; Ganda; Ghanda and Withania.
I think what surprised me most about this herb is that it is part of the Solanaceae or Nightshade family. This means for those of us with autoimmune disorders, we may want to closely watch how our body responds to this herb as Nightshades are known reactive foods for many of us.
Ashwagandha can be grown indoors or out and prefers full sun, fairly dry conditions, and has low to moderate water needs. It cannot grow in the shade and is frost tender, good for US Hardiness Zones 8-11. (You can find what zone you are in here: http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/)
The root and leaf both are used in herbal preparations with the root being the most commonly used part of the plant.
Ashwagandha, like other adaptogens, benefits many different body systems. It is claimed to retard various aspects of the aging process and even slow or prevent the graying of hair. It is beneficial for the cardiovascular system where they have even done research on its ability to prevent heart attacks and reduce the severity of strokes.
In the immune system ashwagandha is believed to counteract some types of detrimental fungi, especially Aspergillus fumigatus, and they have been doing research on its effects for cancer patients. It may reduce inflammation and fatigue. It may activate T-Helper cells (our TH-1 and TH-2 are both T-Helper cells, so this is an important note for those of us with autoimmune disorders), stimulate the production of killer cells, and activate macrophages and NK Lymphocytes (again, more reasons to pay attention to how you respond if you have an autoimmune disorder, you will probably either love this herb, or want to stay as far away from it as possible).
Ashwagandha contains various antioxidants, may increase energy and stamina. It may inhibit Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella typhimurium. It has even been shown to protect the liver from the detrimental effects of some toxins, like carbon tetrachloride for example.
This herb is beneficial for those with Diabetes Type II (provided you respond well to it) as it helps lower elevated blood sugar levels and may improve insulin sensitivity. It’s also been shown to facilitate muscle growth and alleviate the pain associated with osteoarthritis.
In the nervous system, ashwagandha has shown it may alleviate the anxiety associated with alcohol withdrawal. It may alleviate anxiety in general and counteract stress, along with alleviating depression. Ashwagandha’s active constituents may bind to and activate GABA Receptors, prevent stress-induced damage to the hippocampus, and may be useful for the treatment of neuritis. It may improve memory and learning, facilitate the regeneration of damaged axons and dendrites, and may even help prevent Parkinson’s Disease.
Ashwagandha is also beneficial to the reproductive system, alleviating male infertility and impotence, along with increasing desire and performance as well as the production of sperm.
Ashwagandha may stimulate the production and activity of several enzymes and even a couple hormones. Among these we have Catalase, Glucose-6-Phosphatase, Superoxide Dismutase (SOD) (for those of you reading Dr. Datis Kharazzian’s books you will find he suggests SOD cream for people with autoimmune disorders, so I found this particularly interesting), Glutathione Peroxidase, Thyroxine (T4) and Triiodothyronine (T3) (these are thyroid hormones, so I also found this bit about the herb interesting being I have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis).
The typical dosage of Ashwagandha root is 6-12 grams per day. If it is 8:1 capsules or tablets, then 1,000 – 1,500mg per day.
Another great adaptogen, though I would definitely suggest testing it after leaky gut has been healed to make sure it doesn’t boost the wrong side of your immune system, or cause a flare up in symptoms due to being in the nightshade family.
Have any of you with autoimmune issues found you can’t use this herb? Does anyone have a favorite way of using this herb?