Benefits and contraindications of ashwagandha

The ashwagandha (Withania somnifera L.) It is also known as «oroval» and «somnífera bufera» (in Catalan). It is a very popular herb in Ayurvedic medicine in India, valued for its adaptogenic and revitalizing properties.

According to a study published in the medical journal Cureus, the plant extracts have positive effects in relieving stress and anxiety. In addition, other health benefits are also attributed to it. Here we tell you more about it.

Ashwagandha properties

Ashwagandha belongs to the Solanaceae family, which also includes tomatoes, tobacco and potatoes. It is a plant that grows between 60 and 120 centimeters tall, with semi-woody stems, oblong-oval leaves and greenish-yellow bell-shaped flowers.

It stands out for its content in biologically active chemical compounds, among which are alkaloids, steroidal lactones and soponins. Likewise, it has anti-inflammatory, sedative, antioxidant, anti-diabetic and revitalizing properties.

Other substances contained in the plant are the following:

  • Triethylene glycol: In clinical studies with mice this substance has shown interesting effects against insomnia.
  • Flavonoids: known for their ability to inhibit the effects of oxidative stress.
  • Mineral salts: like iron and potassium.

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Benefits of ashwagandha for health

Ashwagandha crops are commonly found in India and Pakistan, however, both the supplements and the leaves of the plant are distributed today in many other countries. What are its health benefits?

Helps reduce stress and anxiety states

This medicinal plant would reduce the levels of cortisol, a hormone produced in the adrenal gland and linked to stress levels.

Ashwagandha has been classified as an adaptogenic remedy, that is, it has the ability to increase the body's resistance to situations of physical and mental stress. An investigation published in Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine determined that this plant supplements help reduce cortisol levels.

Therefore, the researchers consider that it is a good complement against episodes of stress and anxiety. In particular, it is attributed a relaxing effect, since it regulates the chemical signaling of the nervous system that causes the sensation of tension.

Decreases the symptoms of depression

Depression is a mental health problem that requires the intervention of professionals. Therefore, herbal supplements they should not be considered a first-line treatment to control your symptoms. Still, plants like ashwagandha have shown potential to improve mood for this condition.

In a controlled study that was reported in Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine64 adults received 600 milligrams of a high-strength ashwagandha extract each day. After 60 days, 79% reported a reduction in symptoms of severe depression. Despite this, more evidence is needed.

Helps regulate glucose levels

It is not a remedy to combat diabetes, however, some research has determined that this plant has the ability to regulate blood glucose levels. A test tube study revealed by the magazine Phytochemistry observed that ashwagandha increased insulin secretion and improved sensitivity to this hormone in muscle cells.

On the other hand, a clinical trial shared in Indian Journal of Experimental Biology determined that the extracts of this medicinal herb favor the regulation of sugar levels both in healthy people and in people with diabetes.

Promotes the increase of muscle mass

Sports and life lovers fitness can find in this plant a natural supplement to increase muscle mass. In fact, as a randomized controlled trial in Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, ashwagandha improves body composition and increases muscle strength.

It even seems to help reduce the percentage of body fat. Of course, for this to happen, it must be included in the framework of a healthy diet and good habits, such as physical exercise.

Helps fight inflammation

A large number of diseases are attributed to a lack of control in the markers of inflammation. On this, animal studies suggest that ashwagandha has anti-inflammatory properties that help keep the body healthy.

In human studies, the components of the plant increased activity of immune cells that fight infection and that are also key to regulating inflammatory processes. It has even been observed that it decreases C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

Lowers cholesterol and triglycerides

According to anecdotal data, the Withania somnifera L it can be a complement to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. The reason? Its components favor the control of cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood.

An investigation in rats determined that the herb helped reduce total cholesterol and triglycerides by 53% and almost 45%, respectively. Likewise, a decrease in the levels of bad cholesterol or LDL has been observed. As in the previous cases, more evidence is necessary.

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Helps to improve brain function

The antioxidant activity of ashwagandha helps protect nerve cells against the negative effects of free radicals. In an investigation published in Neurochemical Research, rats with epilepsy that were treated with this plant showed a decrease in spatial memory impairment.

Meanwhile, in a study of Pharmacognosy Research, a group of healthy men took 500 milligrams of standardized ashwagandha extract daily. In the end, they reported major improvements in their performance and reaction time compared to those given placebo.

Other possible benefits of ashwagandha

  • Due to its content of withanolides and triethylene glycol, it is suggested that the plant contributes to reducing sleep disorders. In particular, it reduces the recurrence of insomnia.
  • In Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha is used to reduce states of nervous fatigue, weakness, and iron deficiency anemia. Apparently, its extracts contribute to the increase of hemoglobin and erythrocyte levels.
  • Due to its anti-inflammatory properties It is used as a supplement against rheumatic diseases.
  • In India, its supplements are used to improve sexual response and fertility.

Contraindications of ashwagandha

All herbal remedies derived from ashwagandha must be used with care. As with other plants, there are risks of side effects and possible interactions. In this case, its alkaloid content makes it incompatible with some patients and their medical treatments.

In general, it is contraindicated in the following cases:

  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding.
  • Children under 12 years old.
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Hemochromatosis.
  • Gastric tenderness.
  • Treatments with antidepressants such as zolpiden, clonazepan, sertraline, and others.
  • Use of sleeping pills.
  • Medications for hypertension or for high cholesterol: here the medical consultation before consuming it is essential.

The interactions of the plant with various medications is not clear, so medical consultation is recommended in people who consume prescribed pills.

Ashwagandha dosage and presentations

To date there are no data on an exact dose of ashwagandha. Despite this, root extracts range from 300 to 500 milligrams daily. In tea, between 3 and 5 grams are usually used per day. The plant can be found in any herbal store in the following presentations:

  • Dry root, chopped or powdered, for use in decoction.
  • Dried or powdered leaves for infusion.
  • Dried or dehydrated berries (without the seeds).
  • Liquid extracts.
  • Powdered root extract.

What should be remembered about this plant?

Ashwagandha is popular in Ayurvedic medicine due to its antioxidant and revitalizing action. In folk medicine It is recognized as a supplement to reduce stress, anxiety and other mood disorders. In addition, it is also recommended to take care of cardiovascular health and improve physical condition.

In any case, it should not be consumed excessively and it is necessary to take some precautions. It must be borne in mind that there are certain contraindicated cases, in which it can be harmful.

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