Withania Somnifera herb Information and health benefit by Ray Sahelian, M.D.
Feb 15 2014

Withania somnifera, known as ashwagandha, is a shrub cultivated in India and North America whose roots have been used for thousands of years by Ayurvedic practitioners. Withania somnifera root contains flavonoids and many active ingredients of the withanolide class. Several studies over the past few years have looked into the role of withania somnifera in having anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, anti-stress, antioxidant, mind-boosting, immune-enhancing, and rejuvenating properties. Historically withania root has also been noted to have sex-enhancing properties.

Withania Somnifera root extract

This herb that is extensively used in Ayurveda, the traditional health care system in India. It is used as a general tonic and "adaptogen", helping the body adapt to stress.  In addition, this herb has been shown to possess antioxidant activity as well as an ability to support a healthy immune system.

Suggested Use: As an herbal dietary supplement, take half or 1 capsule a few times a week. In some individuals a slight drowsiness could occur. Others who are restless or anxious may feel a relaxation but no drowsiness.

For more information on ashwagandha or to purchase this product.


 

Semen and sperm health, role in infertility
Seventy-five men were given a preparation of W. somnifera. Treatment effectively reduced oxidative stress, as assessed by decreased levels of various oxidants and improved level of diverse antioxidants. The levels of T, LH, FSH and PRL, good indicators of semen quality, were also reversed in infertile subjects after treatment with the herbal preparation. Fertil Steril. 2010. Withania somnifera improves semen quality by regulating reproductive hormone levels and oxidative stress in seminal plasma of infertile males.

J Ethnopharmacol. 2013. Efficacy of Withania somnifera on seminal plasma metabolites of infertile males. Centre of Biomedical Magnetic Resonance, SGPGIMS Campus, Lucknow, India. Traditional Indian systems of medicine use roots of Withania somnifera for impotence, infertility treatment, stress, and the aging process. Our study uses high-resolution Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to explore the scientific basis to reveal the pre- and post-treatment efficacy of WS on seminal plasma of infertile men-which remains unexplored to date. Withania somnifera therapy repairs the disturbed concentrations of lactate, alanine, citrate, GPC, histidine, and phenylalanine in seminal plasma and recovers the quality of semen of post-treated compared to pre-treated infertile men. Serum biochemistry was also improved over post-therapy in infertile men. Our findings reveal that it not only reboots enzymatic activity of metabolic pathways and energy metabolism but also invigorates the harmonic balance of seminal plasma metabolites and reproductive hormones in infertile men. The results suggest that WS may be used as an empirical therapy for clinical management and treatment of infertility.

Cancer patients
Integr Cancer Ther. 2013 .Effect of Withania somnifera on the development of chemotherapy-induced fatigue and quality of life in breast cancer patients. Withania somnifera is an herb with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antistress, and adaptogenic properties. Previous studies have shown its antistress effects in animals. Traditional Indian medicine has used it for centuries to alleviate fatigue and improve general well-being. This is an open-label prospective nonrandomized comparative trial on 100 patients with breast cancer in all stages undergoing either a combination of chemotherapy with oral Withania somnifera or chemotherapy alone.  WS has potential against cancer-related fatigue, in addition to improving the quality of life.

Tardive dyskiesia, a neurological complication of certain medications
Tardive dyskinesia is one of the major side effects of long-term neuroleptic treatment. The term neuroleptic refers to the effects on cognition and behavior of antipsychotic drugs that reduce confusion, delusions, hallucinations, and psychomotor agitation in patients with psychoses. Oxidative stress and products of lipid peroxidation are implicated in the pathophysiology of tardive dyskinesia.

Effect of Withania somnifera root extract on reserpine -induced orofacial dyskinesia and cognitive dysfunction.
Phytother Res. 2006. Pharmacology Division, University Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Panjab University, Chandigarh, India.
Vacuous chewing movements in rats are widely accepted as an animal model of tardive dyskinesia. Repeated treatment with reserpine on alternate days for a period of 5 days significantly induced vacuous chewing movements and tongue protrusions in rats. Chronic treatment with withania somnifera root extract for a period of 4 weeks to reserpine treated animals significantly and dose dependently reduced the reserpine-induced vacuous chewing movements and tongue protrusions. Reserpine treated animals also showed poor retention of memory in the elevated plus maze task paradigm. Chronic withania somnifera administration significantly reversed reserpine -induced retention deficits. Biochemical analysis revealed that chronic reserpine treatment significantly induced lipid peroxidation and decreased the glutathione (GSH) levels in the brains of rats. Chronic reserpine treated rats showed decreased levels of antioxidant defense enzymes, superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase. Chronic administration of withania somnifera root extract dose dependently and significantly reduced the lipid peroxidation and restored the decreased glutathione levels by chronic reserpine treatment. It also significantly reversed the reserpine-induced decrease in brain SOD and catalase levels in rats. The major findings of the present study indicate that oxidative stress might play an important role in the pathophysiology of reserpine-induced abnormal oral movements. In conclusion, Withania somnifera root extract could be a useful drug for the treatment of drug-induced dyskinesia.

Antioxidant properties of withania somnifera root
Researchers from Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi, India, have discovered that some of the chemicals within withania somnifera are powerful antioxidants. They tested these compounds for their effects on rat brain and found an increase in the levels of three natural antioxidants ó superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase. They say, "These findings are consistent with the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera as an Ayurvedic rasayana (health promoter). The antioxidant effect of active principles of Withania somnifera root may explain, at least in part, the reported anti-stress, cognition-facilitating, anti-inflammatory and anti-aging effects produced by them in experimental animals, and in clinical situations."

Ashwagandhanolide, a Bioactive Dimeric Thiowithanolide Isolated from the Roots of withania somnifera.
J Nat Prod. 2006. Laila Research Center, Jawahar Autonagar, Vijayawada, India, and Bioactive Natural Products and Phytoceuticals, Department of Horticulture and National Food Safety and Toxicology Center, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824.
A new dimeric withanolide, ashwagandhanolide, was isolated from the roots of an Ayurvedic medicinal herb, withania somnifera. Ashwagandhanolide displayed growth inhibition against human gastric, breast (MCF-7), central nervous system (SF-268), colon (HCT-116), and lung (NCI H460) cancer cell lines. In addition, ashwagandhanolide inhibited lipid peroxidation and the activity of the enzyme cyclooxygenase-2 in vitro.

Aphrodisiac properties of withania somnifera
This plant is historically used as an aphrodisiac. Withania somnifera is mentioned in the ancient Kama Sutra as an herb to be used for heightening sexual experience, Laboratory studies show withania somnifera can produce nitric oxide which is known to dilate blood vessels. Withania somnifera has the ability to restore sexual health and improve overall vitality while promoting a calm state of mind. I have included a withania somnifera extract in a libido product called Passion Rx.

A mood enhancing and anti-anxiety herb
The roots of Withania somnifera are used extensively in Ayurveda, the classical Indian system of medicine, and Withania somnifera is categorized as a rasayana, which are used to promote physical and mental health, to provide defense against disease and adverse environmental factors and to slow the aging process. In rodent studies Withania somnifera has been shown to reduce anxiety and have positive effect on mood. See here for a list of Ayurvedic herbs.

Mental effects, influence on brain
Withania somnifera is used in India to treat mental deficits in geriatric patients, including amnesia. Researchers from the University of Leipzig in Germany, wanted to find out which neurotransmitters were influenced by Withania somnifera. After injecting some of the chemicals in withania somnifera into rats, they later examined slices of their brain and found an increase in acetylcholine receptor activity. The researchers say, "The drug-induced increase in acetylcholine receptor capacity might partly explain the cognition-enhancing and memory-improving effects of extracts from Withania somnifera observed in animals and humans."
   A study done in 1991 at the Department of Pharmacology, University of Texas Health Science Center indicated that extracts of Withania somnifera had GABA-like activity. This may account for this herbís anti-anxiety effects.
   A 2002 laboratory study indicates Withania somnifera stimulates the growth of axons and dendrites. A 2001 study in rodents showed it had memory boosting ability. A 2000 study with rodents showed Withania somnifera to have anti-anxiety and anti-depression effects.

Pharmacognosy Res. Jan 2014. Effect of standardized aqueous extract of Withania somnifera on tests of cognitive and psychomotor performance in healthy human participants. These results suggest that Withania somnifera extract can improve cognitive and psychomotor performance and may, therefore, be a valuable adjunct in the treatment of diseases associated with cognitive impairment.

Additional benefits
One small study found withania somnifera was able to reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and had a diuretic effect.

Withania somnifera side effects, safety, danger, risk
Withania somnifera does not have any significant side effects reported in the medical literature, but long term studies are not yet available. Nevertheless, it is best to take breaks from use, for instance, one can take a week off each month or take it 3 or 4 times a week as opposed to daily. Sedation may be a side effect with some preparations depending on dosage and extract potency.

Withania somnifera monograph.
Altern Med Rev. 2004.
Withania somnifera, also known as Indian ginseng, or winter cherry, has been an important herb in the Ayurvedic and indigenous medical systems for over 3000 years. Historically, the plant has been used as an aphrodisiac, liver tonic, anti-inflammatory agent, and more recently to treat asthma, ulcers, insomnia, and senile dementia. Clinical trials and animal research support the use of Withania somnifera for anxiety, cognitive and neurological disorders, inflammation, and Parkinson's disease. Withania somnifera's chemopreventive properties make it a potentially useful adjunct for patients undergoing radiation and chemotherapy. Ashwaganda is also used therapeutically as an adaptogen for patients with nervous exhaustion, and debility due to stress, and as an immune stimulant in patients with low white blood cell counts.

Questions
I read with interest your article. I noted it could lower blood glucose levels, does that mean someone with low blood sugar levels, should not take withania? I really enjoy all your articles, and find them very informative.
   I have not seen any research that would indicate that those with low blood sugar would have a problem with withania, but as with any herb or supplement it is a good idea to use low dosages initially even if it means taking a portion of a capsule or tablet.