What Is Ashwagandha?

By: Theresa Greenwell

Ashwagandha, also known as Indian Ginseng, is one of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic healing.  In Sanskrit, it means “the smell of a horse” which refers to the belief that the herb bestows the vigor and strength of a stallion. This herb has been used since ancient times for a wide variety of conditions, and has been so widely-used that there are scriptures describing the Ashwagandha plant and its medicinal properties in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda.

What is Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha is a short perennial shrub cultivated found throughout India. Also known as Withania somnifera, it has a history of use in Ayurvedic medicine dating back roughly 4000 years.  The plant’s long, brown, tuberous roots and leaves are used to prepare herbal remedies which have been traditionally used for various health needs. The leaves and fruit have also been linked to health benefits, but it’s the root of the Ashwagandha plant that is most commonly used in herbal remedies.

 

What does it do?

Ashwagandha has antioxidant, anti-anxiety, immunomodulatory, and sedative properties.  It has been shown to act as an adaptogen by helping to inhibit fatigue, boost energy, promote emotional well-being and counteract the negative effects of stress. In addition, Ashwagandha appears to support healthy thyroid hormone levels.  Other benefits include:

  • Cholesterol control
  • Reduces stress
  • Relieves anxiety
  • Support healthy blood sugar levels
  • Supports a healthy immune system
  • Strengthen heart muscles
  • Aids in inflammation relief

 

Recent studies:

A recent study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (August 2017) looked at the effect of ashwagandha supplementation in individuals with subclinical hypothyroidism. This study was double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled. Participants included 50 men and women, 18-50 years of age with no obvious signs of thyroid disease except for elevated thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).  Participants were randomly assigned to receive either placebo or ashwagandha root extract (600 mg) for 8 weeks.  Serum results showed that ashwagandha supplementation significantly improved TSH, T4 and T3 levels, thereby effectively normalizing these indicators of subclinical hypothyroidism.

Several other studies, both animal and human, have also shown Ashwagandha to be beneficial for thyroid health. Though this study does not necessarily provide any further insight into how ashwagandha affects thyroid health, it does provide further support for the use of ashwagandha by those who may have thyroid concerns.  Ashwagandha appears to be an effective treatment for those with subclinical hypothyroidism without the unpleasant side effects that other treatments may have.

 

 

 

Resources:

Kumar, S., et al. Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root Extract in Subclinical Hypothyroidism Patients: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Study.  Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. August 2017.