Uses of Ashwagandha or Withania in treatment of cancer, breast cancer, thyroid, cholesterol are being researched in India and western world. Link to few successful clinical studies on effectiveness of Withania on the above said diseases are given here.
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What is Ashwagandha in Ayurveda ?
Read this article in kannada ಅಶ್ವಗಂಧದ ಉಪಯೋಗಗಳು Benefits of Ashwagandha in Kannada
Ashwagandha is a wonder herb, whose health benefits are very well explained in Ayurveda. This herb is also known as Indian Winter Cherry and has the Botanical name Withania Somnifera . It is a shrub belonging to Solanace family and is grown in the western India, Gujarat, MP, Punjab and in Himalayas. Roots of withania are used for medicinal purpose in ayurvedic preparations.
Ashwagandha is called by different names in India
In hindi – Asgandha, Asgandh
In Telugu – Penneru Gadda/ Dommadolu Gadda
In Tamil – Amukura, Askulang
In Malayalam – Amukkura
In Marathi – Asandh, Doragunj
In Gujarathi – Aasandha, Ghoda Aakun
In Bengali – Asvagandha
In Kannada – Ashvagandhi
Ashwagandha gets its name because its roots have the odor of horse. (Ashwa = horse , gandha = odor). It is called by another name Varaha karni because its leaves resemble pigs ear. This herb is light (laghu) to digest and increases moistness of tissues (snigdha) . It tastes bitter ( tikta rasa ) and sweet (madhura rasa) . On digestion the sweet taste dominates. The main part used is root of this herb.
Acharya Charaka classifies this herb as balya and Brimhaniya. Balya herbs or body strengthening herbs improve strength and immunity. Brimhaniya herbs improve body mass or healthy body weight. Hence this herb is usually used in weight gain therapy.
Ayurveda Health Benefits and Uses of Ashwagandha
The various medicinal properties of root of this plant is attributed to compounds known as withanolides which are present in it. Withania is used as an adaptogen (as it enhances endurance), rejuvenating tonic and sedative. Hence many herbalists refer this herb as Indian ginseng.
Here we have listed health benefits of Withania as praised by Ayurveda acharyas and also findings from researches
Texts of ayurveda explain Health benefits of this plant as follows
Ashwagandha Clinical studies on Cancer and breast cancer
Maintenance of telomere length is the most consistent attribute of cancer cells. Tightly connected to their capacity to overcome replicative mortality, it is achieved either by activation of telomerase or an Alternative mechanism of Lengthening of Telomeres (ALT). Disruption of either of these mechanisms has been shown to induce DNA damage signalling leading to senescence or apoptosis. Telomerase inhibitors are considered as potential anticancer drugs but are ineffective for ALT cancers (~15% of all cancers). Withaferin-A (Wi-A), a major constituent of the medicinal plant, Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha), has been shown to exert anti-tumour activity. However, its effect on either telomerase or ALT mechanisms has not been investigated. Here, by using isogenic cancer cells with/without telomerase, we found that Wi-A caused stronger cytotoxicity to ALT cells. It was associated with inhibition of ALT-associated promyelocytic leukemia nuclear bodies, an established marker of ALT. Comparative analyses of telomerase positive and ALT cells revealed that Wi-A caused stronger telomere dysfunction and upregulation of DNA damage response in ALT cells. Molecular computational and experimental analyses revealed that Wi-A led to Myc-Mad mediated transcriptional suppression of NBS-1, an MRN complex protein that is an essential component of the ALT mechanism. The results suggest that Wi-A could be a new candidate drug for ALT cancers. Cell Death and Disease (2017) 8, e2755; doi:10.1038/cddis.2017.33; published online 20 April 2017
Design of chemoprevention trials should incorporate insights from the traditional uses of WS as well. Its common use as an adaptogen that promotes homeostasis and as an energy enhancer may suggest potentially useful modes of action of the drug. Research work cited here are dedicated to understand these biological pathways modulated by WS and its withanolides. Pre-clinical studies, performed either in cell culture or in animal models that mimic appropriately relevant conditions of populations, need to be utilized for this purpose. Evaluating the chemopreventive efficacy of not only WA but also extracts of WS in a broader range of animal carcinogenesis models would bolster the potential role of WS to prevent cancer. Data gathered from such studies would be beneficial in 1) understanding the pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics of Ashwagandha 2) modifying structural moieties of withanolides to assess the role of chemical structures in the mechanism of action 3) identifying molecular events involved in WS-mediated effects to specifically target signaling pathways that are validated for cancer chemoprevention 4) determining whether co-administration with other agents (compounds used in traditional medicine to complement Ashwagandha or agents that are currently used in Western cancer chemoprevention trials) could potentially render higher benefits for cancer prevention.
Ashwagandha and Thyroid Function
Ayurveda vaidyas and practitioners opine that ashwagandha effectively address the symptoms of hypothyroidism like stress, depression, weight gain, joint and muscle pain. In their clinical practice they have seen decrease in TSH and improving T3 and T4 when this herb is used as supportive therapy along with other treatments. Its anti-oxidant and stress relieving property helps in a great way to stimulate thyroid activity. Usually ayurvedic doctors advise to take root powder of withania in dose of half a teaspoon or 3 gms at night, with a cup of milk or water, 15 minutes after food, for thyroid problems. But you have to strictly consult a qualified ayurvedic doctor before consuming this herb.
Ashwagandha and Blood Cholesterol
Ashwagandha for anxiety and depression:
As it balances vata and kapha, it improves memory, counteracts the effects of stress and calms mind. It has an ability to relieve stress. It acts as sedative. Stressed patients with insomnia are benefited by this herb. This herb can be used in Alzheimers disease, memory loss and insomnia.
Ashwagandha for Men’s health
This herb has been eulogised as vajikarana herb (aphrodisiac). Its aphrodisiac properties are praised as vajikari, vrushya and ati shukrala. This is regularly used in ayurveda vajikarna therpay. According to principles of Ayurveda it increases and strengthens shukra dhatu. Strong shukra dhatu rectifies erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. It improves libido, sperm count and motility. Texts of Ayurveda recommend a recipe “ashwagandha ksheerapaaka” or ashwagandha milk for men to boost their reproductive health. Ashwagandha is praised as a best ayurvedic herb for erectile dysfunction.
Ashwagandha in PCOS and Female libido
This herb enhances mood and acts as best uterine tonic. It strengthens the body and improves female libido and fertility
Ashwagandha for general health :
It acts as balya and strengthens the body. Generally, withania stimulates the immune system and strengthens it. It increases body energy level. Convalescent patients gain more energy and can spring back to normal routine quicker when this herb’s preparations are used after illness. The immediate relapse of disease is prevented on use of this herb. This supports HIV patients by strengthening their immune system. Since it balances vata it is useful in neurological and neuro-muscular disorders like paralysis. It also acts a best detox herb and can be used in ayurveda detox in erectile dysfunction. It eliminates body toxins and helps in rejuvenation.
Ashwagandha for Joint Pain:
It has anti-inflammatory properties and has been successfully used in adjuvant therapy for arthritis or amavata. It reduces inflammation of joints and eases movements. It also strengthen joints and surrounding muscles.
Withania for good digestive system
Withania increases appetite . It normalizes digestion and bowel movements. It relieves constipation and immensely beneficial in men who suffer from erectile dysfunction due to constipation.
Ashwagandha in diabetes:
Root of this herb acts as diuretic and also improves blood sugar level. It can be used as a supportive therapy in diabetes.
Withania for respiratory problems:
This herb strengthens lungs and boost their immunity. It prevents common cough and cold
Antiaging properties of withania
This wonder herb slows down ageing process when used as rasayana (rejuvenating preparation). It balances doshas and retards the rate of aging of body tissues. Ashwagandha rasayan is very beneficial preparation to upkeep the health and youth.
Useful preparations of Ashwagandha:
- A paste of ashwagandha leaves when applied on a local inflammation acts as anti inflammatory.
- The herbal massage oil which includes this herb is useful in many conditions like paralysis, epilepsy, sleeplessness etc.
- The preparation of Ashwagandha which is processed with ghee, sugar and honey is a very good aphrodisiac and increases semen quantity, sperm count and motility. It is effectively used in Erectile dysfunction, low libido and premature ejaculation.
- Roots of this plant when used regularly helps to improve the conditions like emaciation of children, senile debility, rheumatism, in all cases of general debility, nervous exhaustion, brain-fag, low of memory, loss of muscular energy and spermatorrhoea. It increases body energy and vigor . It helps to rebuild the body system which is worn out due to chronic diseases like syphilis, rheumatism etc. It also replenishes the lowered energy of body due to over-work, mental exertion thus preventing early ageing.
- Regular use of this herb is found very useful in emaciated children. It increases body weight and body energy.
- Regular use of ashwagandha helps to reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
- Fine root powder of this herb well mixed with oil is very use full in many skin conditions.
- This medicinal plant also acts as galactogogue and thickens the milk when given to nursing mothers.
Is ashwagandha safe to use:
It is safe when used according to the prescription of qualified ayurvedic doctor. Few ayurvedic practitioners do not consider this herb as safe to use in pregnancy. Self-medications with this herb is not advisable. Always consult a qualified ayurvedic doctor before consuming.
This herb always have to be consumed with milk or ghee instead of water as its hot potency may increase pitta and cause gastric irritation, heart burn, giddiness and body heat. It may induce sleep in some. Hence it is always recommended to use this herb at night.
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Author : Dr. Savitha Suri Consultant Ayurvedic Physician
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