Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera. Dunal) is an adaptogen known primarily for its stress-reducing properties. It’s also known as Indian ginseng, poison gooseberry and winter cherry, a member of the Solanaceae family and is a common herbal in Ayurvedic medicine. The herb is commonly available as a churna, a fine sieved powder that can be mixed with water, ghee (clarified butter) or honey.
A recent upsurge in new product development opportunities has led to interest into an ingredient that induces relaxation (Mishra et al., 2000). The species name hints at its ability to help with restful sleep. There is a growing awareness that ashwagandha demonstrates some promise for health benefits in sports nutrition, aging, cognition and maintaining memory and immune support (Bone, 1996). It is also prescribed in the Ayurvedic medicine system for arthritis and rheumatism, as an aphrodisiac, to treat male sexual dysfunction and infertility.
The genus Withania includes more than 23 species of herbs with distinct cultivars. Based on chemical composition, Withania somnifera has been classified into different varieties. Steroidal alkaloids and lactones comprise a class of chemicals known as withanolides which predominate in the plant’s roots. These were identified in the mid-50s (Majumdar, 1951) which stimulated interest into the different types available.
Ashwagandha found in Israel contains the components withaferin A, withanolide D and E. The same plant found in South Africa contains mostly withaferin A and a form called D whilst the Indian variety boasts strong levels of withanone and withaferin A. Hybridization has also occurred among these varieties which allows for considerable genetic variation and contents of these various alkaloids.
The aerial parts of Withania somnifera yielded 5-dehydroxy withanolide-R and withasomniferin-A (Atta-ur-Rahman et al., 1991).
One recent study found that it might be useful in reducing chronic stress which is linked to higher than normal levels of obesity amongst a number of other problematic stress related conditions. Cortisol is a naturally produced steroid generated during types of stress if effective control is feasible, it is possible to manage weight in part by controlling its production in the body.
One clinical study from India ascribed regular use of Ashwaganda to improved scores in a series of rating assessments -the Perceived Stress Scale and Food Cravings Questionnaire, Oxford Happiness Questionnaire, and Three-Factor Eating Questionnaire. The herb also positively affected serum cortisol, body weight and body mass index (BMI) (Choudhary et al., 2017).
Human trials also indicated the herb might help sportsmen and women by benefitting those undergoing resistance training when increasing muscle mass and strength (Wankhede et al., 2015)..
Sales & Marketing
The plant has been included in the list of the top thirty-two medicinal plants of prime concern by the National Medicinal Plant Board of India (http://www.nmpb.nic.in) owing to its huge demand in both domestic and international markets (Prajapati, 2003).Regardless of the variety on sale, growth is observed in the marketplace for the herb. Between January 2015 and January 2016, overall U.S. sales of products containing ashwagandha rose by 63 percent, reaching more than US$13 million in sales by the end of 2016, according to SPINSscan data.
As a powerful contributor of healing and wellness, ashwagandha’s adaptogenic and whole-body approach promotes an overall feeling of well-being regardless of the health concern it’s being used to support. In light of its myriad uses, and comparability to other pharmaceuticals on the market that offer similar benefits, an increasing number of studies and clinical trials are showing ashwagandha adds to any holistic or nutraceutical supplement or regimen. It may be a very interesting component for any herbal drink marketed at inducing sleep or improving overall fitness.
Sadly, over collecting may have put the plant on the verge of extinction. There is a great deal of interest in cell culturing the plant.
Atta-ur-Rahman, Samina-Abbas, Dur-e-Shahwar, Jamal, S.A., Choudhary, M.I. and Abbas. S. (1991). New withanolides from Withania spp.. J. Natural Products 56 pp. 1000–1006.
Bone, K. (1996) Clinical Applications of Ayurvedic and Chinese Herbs. Monographs for the Western Herbal Practitioner. Australia: Phytotherapy Press. Pp. 137-141
Choudhary, D., Bhattacharyya, S. & Joshi, K. (2016) Body Weight Management in Adults Under Chronic Stress Through Treatment With Ashwagandha Root Extract. A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial. J. Evid. Based Complementary Altern. Med. 22(1) pp. 96-106
Majumdar, D.N. (1955) Withania somnifera Dunal. Part II: alkaloidal constituents and their chemical characterization. Ind. J. Pharm. 17 pp. 158-161
Mishra, L.C., Singh, B.B., Dagenais, S. (2000) Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha): a review. Alternative Medicine Review. 5 pp. 334–46.
Prajapati, N.D., Purohit, S.S., Arun, K.S., and Kumar ,A, T. (2003) Hand Book of Medicinal Plants, A Complete Source Book. Jodhpur, Agrobios, India.
Verma, S. K., & Kumar, A. (2011). Therapeutic uses of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) with a note on withanolides and its pharmacological actions. Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical and Clinical Research, 4(1), pp. 1-4
Wankhese, S., Langade, D., Joshi, K., Sinha, S.R., Bhattacharyya, S. (2015) Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial. J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr. Nov 25 pp. 12:43