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Ashwagandha is the root of the Withania somnifera (WS) plant.  This plant is native to South Asia, particularly the Indian subcontinent. The word ashwagandha is associated with the word ‘horse’ in Indian languages; and this itself speaks for the benefits of the plant. Its name symbolizes all that the plant is typically used for: horse-like stamina, muscle strength and aphrodisiac power. Thu, this medicine is often referred to as the ‘Indian ginseng’.

A lot of research has been conducted over last few decades on this plant. Safety, effectiveness and tolerability of this medicine have been established in healthy volunteer research model. (1)

WS for muscle strength: WS is useful to increase muscle strength. A study conducted in healthy young adults showed that this medicine improves speed and lower limb muscular strength. It also enhances neuro-muscular co-ordination. (2)

WS for weight/ muscle gain: WS is described as ‘mansavardhak’ in Ayurveda, which means that it increases muscle mass.  This is supported by a healthy volunteer study which reported increased muscle mass and corresponding fat loss in the study group. (1) Another similar study reported weight gain, specifically muscle mass gain, in children given milk fortified with ashwagandha. (3)

WS for osteoarthritis: Degeneration of the protective cartilage is seen in osteoarthritis (OA) of knee joint or other joints. WS is seen to inhibit the inflammation and protect the cartilage. (4) Along with this, its action of increasing the muscle strength of the leg and thigh muscles makes it a great remedy for OA of knee joint. (2)

WS for CNS activity/ sleep: It has been documented in traditional Ayurveda texts as sleep inducing. The very name says – somnifera, where ‘somni’ stands for ‘sleep’. Ashwagandha can be beneficial in treating minor sleep disorders naturally as against sedatives that are habit forming.(5)

WS for anxiety: A high evidence level study confirms the anxiolytic (anxiety alleviating action of WS) in patients with generalized anxiety disorder. A lot of studies have reported that this medicine has action on the brain and the limbic system. (6,7)

WS for increase in enhancing libido: This medicine is most popular over the Indian sub-continent for its aphrodisiac properties. It is documented in Ayurveda too as an aphrodisiac. Studies and review of medicinal plants vouch for its action of enhancing libido. (1,8)

WS for increased sperm count: WS is believed to increase sperm count. A study on 46 oligospermic males showed increased sperm count on using ashwagandha. (9)

References:

  1. Raut AA, Rege NN, Tadvi FM, et al. Exploratory study to evaluate tolerability, safety, and activity ofAshwagandha (Withania somnifera) in healthy volunteers. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine. 2012;3(3):111-114.
  2. Sandhu J, Shah B, Shenoy S, Chauhan S, Lavekar G, Padhi M. Effects of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) and Terminalia arjuna (Arjuna) on physical performance and cardiorespiratory endurance in healthy young adults. International journal of Ayurveda research. 2010 Jul 1;1(3):144.
  3. Venkataraghavan S, Seshadri C, Sundaresan TP, Revathi R, Rajagopalan V, Janaki K. The comparative effect of milk fortified with Ashwagandha and punarnava in children – a double-blind study. J Res Ayur Sid. 1980;1:370–85.
  4. Sumantran V N, Kulkarni A, Boddul S, Chinchwade T, Koppikar S J, Harsulkar A, Patwardhan B, Chopra A and Wagh U V 2007 Chondroprotective potential of root extracts of Withania somnifera in osteoarthritis; J. Biosci. 32 299–307.
  5. Vaidya AD. The status and scope of Indian medicinal plants acting on central nervous system.Indian J Pharmacol. 1997;29:340–3.
  6. Andrade C, Aswath A, Chaturvedi SK, Srinivasa M, Raguram R. A double-blind, placebo-controlled evaluation of the anxiolytic efficacy of an ethanolic extract of Withania somnifera.Indian Journal of Psychiatry. 2000; 42(3):295-301.
  7. Mishra LC1, Singh BB, Dagenais S. Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha): a review. Altern Med Rev. 2000 Aug;5(4):334-46.
  8. Malviya NE, Jain SA, Gupta VB, Vyas S. Recent studies on aphrodisiac herbs for the management of male sexual dysfunction–a review. Acta Pol. Pharm. 2011 Jan 1;68(1):3-8.
  9. Ambiye VR, Langade D, Dongre S, Aptikar P, Kulkarni M, Dongre A. Clinical Evaluation of the Spermatogenic Activity of the Root Extract of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in Oligospermic Males: A Pilot Study.Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM. 2013;2013:571420.