Ashwagandha: Herbal Rejuvenator
When an herbal substance has a history of (safe) use for more than 3,000 years and is currently one of the most popular and requested herbs in our store, we take notice. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), also known as winter cherry, is one of the most important herbs in the traditional Ayurvedic medicine of India. It is known as an herbal rasayana, meaning a rejuvenative substance of the highest order. Its name translates to "strength of a horse" and refers to not only its pungent aroma but also the legendary virility it may impart. This herb's benefits stretch far, far beyond endurance and libido, however.
According to herbalist Michael Tierra of Planetary Herbals, the man responsible for bringing this herb to the west decades ago, ashwagandha is the primary strengthening tonic used in Ayurveda and may treat a multitude of conditions including arthritis, insomnia, impotence, infertility, poor growth in children, and diseases of aging. Unlike other aphrodisiac herbs, it is safe and not overstimulating. He says that it promotes sound sleep and supports yoga and meditation.
In the many years since Mr. Tierra introduced ashwagandha, hundreds of clinical studies have been done on the constituents and pharmacological activity of this herb. In this country, it is most known as an exalted adaptogen, found in nearly every herbal product for supporting the adrenal glands. The withanolide phytochemicals appear to support the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, a central hormone pathway involving the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin. Ashwagandha's compounds modulate and dampen the stress hormone response, thereby improving the body's resistance to stress and stressors. Energy is increased by virtue of this balance restoration. This is a classic adaptogen at work, the definition of adaptogen being a non-toxic substance which produces a nonspecific resistance to stress (on a cellular level), and has a normalizing effect on body systems. In addition to these effects, it may be considered anxiolytic (anxiety relieving) in that it appears to influence GABA receptor function.
Ashwagandha has been shown to enhance cognition and memory in various studies. One of the constituents of the root is the compound choline, which in the body is converted to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, important for learning and memory. The degradation of this neurotransmitter may lead to a decline in cognitive function. Drugs used for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease inhibit the enzyme in the body which naturally breaks down acetylcholine, thereby maintaining or increasing levels of this critical neurotransmitter. Ashwagandha has been shown to modulate the degrading enzyme's activity, thus improving cognition.
In Ayurvedic traditional medicine, as mentioned, ashwagandha is considered a premier tonic herb in that it balances body systems and increases resistance to stress and lowered immunity. In one double-blind, clinical trial, 101 healthy men aged 50-59 years received a dosage of three grams ashwagandha daily for one year. After a year, significant improvements were observed in hemoglobin, red blood cell counts, hair melanin concentrations, and serum cholesterol concentrations. Many animal studies have shown enhanced total white blood cell counts as well as profound effects on the hematopoietic system (formation of blood cells). In vitro studies using withanolides from ashwagandha inhibited the growth of human breast, lung, and colon cancer lines. Ashwagandha is also thyrotropic (exerts a direct influence on the secretory activity of the thyroid gland).
Evergreen Nutrition carries over 8 different single ashwagandha products plus many more formula products containing this remarkable herb. In fact, we have a locally-sourced ashwagandha from Portland Ashwagandha Farm. Many customers are using it as a sleep aid. In this regard it is quite safe, not habit-forming, and may be combined with other relaxing herbs such as valerian and passionflower.
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