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A Few of My Favorite Adaptogens, All-Time Favorite: Ashwaganda 
Ashwaganda, Withania somnifera
Commonly called Indian ginseng, winter cherry, Hindi name asgandh

Plant family: Solanaceae (Nightshade family) - An evergreen shrub found in arid regions of India. Its range extends as far west as Israel.

Part Used: Root primarily, though a bit of research has been done on the leaves, too (see pictures and growing information at Horizon Herbs

Taste/Energetics: Bitter, warm, dry

Active Constituents: Steroidal compounds: steroidal lactones (withanolides, withaferins), withanolides and alkaloids (isopelletierine and anaferine), saponins (including sitoindoside VII and VIII), glycosides, and iron.

Biochemical Actions: Adaptogen, mild sedative, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune amphoteric (immunomodulating), antitumor, antistress/nervine, antispasmodic, mild astringent, antianemic (hemapoietic), and rejuvenating properties, positively affecting the endocrine, cardiopulmonary, and central nervous systems.

Medicinal Use: One of the most useful herbs as we age, particularly when there is sexual debility/loss of libido involved or infertility; promotes growth in children. The Latin name of the plant means “sweat of the horse.” From that, you can guess the root is a tad odiferous. Ashwaganda is the one of the best adaptogens for calming nervine or antistress effects, which makes it very effective for anxiety, fatigue, cloudy thinking, stress-induced insomnia, neurasthenia (nervous exhaustion), and some perimenopausal muscle pain. When taken during extreme stress, ashwaganda counteracts changes in blood sugar, adrenal weight, and cortisol levels.

In Ayurvedic medicine, the herb is usually prescribed for arthritis and rheumatism and to prevent disease in the elderly, as well as in pregnancy. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study of 42 patients with osteoarthritis, ashwaganda combined with other herbs significantly reduced pain and disability. In another study, again with other herbs, ashwaganda proved superior to placebo to treat arthritis of the knee. David Winston often uses a blend of ashwaganda with kudzu root, cyperus root, and black cohosh root for the chronic muscle pain of fibromyalgia, neck and back pain, restless legs syndrome (if taken with magnesium), and arthritis.

In healthy children, administration of ashwaganda increase body weight and hemoglobin. It also increased hemoglobin levels and hair melanin in a year-long study of 101 healthy males. For anemia, ashwaganda powder is often mixed with milk and molasses.

In a six-week study on laying hens, ashwaganda extract increased egg productions, improved shell weight despite increased stress on hens, and improved calcium and phosphorus retention in the hens' tibia bones, thus the herb possibly may enhance productive performance and bone mineralization in humans.

One study showed a significant inhibition of parasitemia in mice inoculated with Plasmodium berghei compared to controls with a maximum inhibition at a dose of 600mg/kg of body weight.

Ashwaganda may help compensate for damaged neuronal circuits in those with dementia and may have some protective effect against development of Alzheimer's; stimulate thyroid function and increases physical endurance; has strong hepato- and renal-protective (liver protective similar to that achieved by milk thistle) and antineoplastic (antitumor) effects; is cardioprotective, cardiotropic, and has anticoagulant properties; anti-inflammatory; antioxidant; and immunomodulating.

Ashwaganda is one of the herbs I always include in a protocol for those with cancer, even those who choose chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Animal studies indicate ashwaganda causes an increase in white blood cell, red blood cell, and platelet counts, as well as helps increase body weight following chemotherapy and protects against myelosuppression. Ashwaganda regulates angiogenic processes and appears to selectively inhibit cancerous tumor angiogenesis. Specific research has been conducted showing positive effects of ashwaganda use in cases of prostate, breast, and colon cancer, though other studies indicate protective and therapy-synergistic effects of the herb with other types of cancer as well.

Although ashwaganda appears safe, one study did show it interfered with serum digoxin measurements. Yet another study showed ashwaganda extract was found to be helpful against multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus strains.

Another case report states that ashwaganda may have precipitated thyrotoxicosis in a patient taking the herb for chronic fatigue (report is in Dutch and thus the details cannot be examined by this author). On the other hand, ashwaganda seems able to offset the side effects of some medicines, reversing haloperidol-induced catalepsy in mice and reducing reserpine-induced orofacial dyskinesia and cognitive dysfunction in rats.

Ashwaganda for whom?
*Those who are stressed, particularly if the stress results in low libido;
*Anxious folks because it is not associated with insomnia unlike the ginsengs and eleuthero and affords an anti-anxiety effect within 15-30 minutes after administration of the herb;
*Good choice for arthritic patients;
*Elderly suffering from various degrees of dementia;
*Those with cancer or those trying to prevent cancer development;
*Those with malaria or working to prevent malaria;
*Folks with autoimmune conditions.

Safety Issues: Class 2 b, according to Botanical Safety Handbook, 2nd Edition. Mills and Bone in Essential Guide to Herbal Safety report a review of traditional Ayurvedic literature notes that list ashwaganda as an abortifacient in three of the five sources checked; however, the definition of abortifacient was quite broad, including emmenagogue, uterine contractor, and antimetabolite. Although it is used in Casablanca and West Pakistan for abortion and has also been used to tone the uterus in women who miscarry to remove retained placenta, another traditional source lists it for use as a nutrient and tonic in pregnant women. In India, the herb is often used in milk as a tonic during pregnancy. An animal study of rats administered the whole plant decoction (100mg/kg/day for 8 months) resulted in same litter sizes and frequency of pregnant to controls, though progeny on ashwaganda had higher average body weights. Withania root powder (25mg/day for 10 days) administered orally to male and female mice, later paired for mating, resulted in decreased litter size and produced some infertility. Mills notes the discrepancy in safety information may be due to use of different plant parts: “Withania leaf has a very different phytochemical content compared to the root.” The root may have an antifertility effect (though I would not rely solely on this one study), but this is not clear either, as several texts list it as having been long used to prevent miscarriage and to enhance fertility, particularly in men with low sperm counts. Even should there be some antifertility effects associated with the use of the herb, that does not necessarily imply harm during pregnancy. Bone in Clinical Guide to Blending Liquid Herbs states no adverse effects expected. Winston in Adaptogens says caution may be warranted for use in pregnancy while Yance in Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism states "Ashwaganda is very safe and free of side effects when taken in the prescribed range of dosage. Toxicity studies reveal that ashwaganda is completely safe. Very large doses, however, have been shown to cause gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, and vomiting: such quantities may possess abortifacient properties as well, so caution should be taken in pregnancy." For my own use and that of my clients, I keep the dosage to 3 to 6 grams per day during pregnancy and have observed no ill effects.

General Dosage: 3 to 10 g/day of dried root or by decoction; 5 to 13 ml/day of a 1:2 liquid extract or equivalent in tablet or capsule form; 100 to 1,000 mg/day of a standardized extract (containing 4.5% withanolides).

Shonda's Use of Ashwaganda: I generally take at least 1,000 mg mid-morning, another 1,000 mg mid-afternoon, and then 2,000 mg at bedtime to help me sleep. If I happen to feel particularly anxious over something, I take another 1,000 mg as needed.

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