A flurry of new research from around the world on Ashwagandha is proving the medicinal effects of this ancient Ayurvedic herbal remedy are more than just anecdotal.
Ashwagandha studied intensely
The past few years have been banner years for Ashwagandha research. Numerous studies confirmed its healing properties in a variety of conditions, including stress, toxicity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s, skin cancer, tuberculosis, liver toxicity and many others. Following is a summary of some of the findings of the over fifty different human, laboratory and animal studies conducted using Ashwaghanda published during 2012 and early 2013:
- Research from the Asha Hospital in Hyderbad found, in a study of 64 people with chronic stress, that Ashwagandha supplementation for two months decreased stress by 44% and decreased depression and/or anxiety by 72%.
- Tokyo University of Technology researchers found that Ashwagandha slows the process of melanocyte stem cell phosphorylation, giving it the potential of blocking skin cancers.
- Banasthali University researchers found that Ashwagandha may protect the liver against lead toxicity.
- Jamia Hamdard University researchers found that Ashwagandha reduces oxidative damage related to brain cell damage – making it useful for reducing dementia and Alzheimer’s risk.
- Eight weeks of Ashwagandha supplementation increased endurance, respiration capacity and metabolic efficiency among cycling athletes, according to research from Guru Nanak Dev University.
- Research from Texas’ Baylor University found that Ashwagandha reduced inflammation related to type I diabetes.
- Research from the College of Pharmacy at University of Hawaii performed assays that found that Ashwagandha inhibited cancer-related cytokines.
- Researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology found that Ashwagandha compounds inhibited proteins involved in Leishmaniasis.
- Researchers from Jamia Hamdard University’s Pharmacy Faculty found that Ashwagandha reduces oxidative stress related to type 2 diabetes.
- Researchers from the Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences found that Ashwagandha supported memory and helped prevent nerve cell degeneration.
- University of Pittsburgh researchers found in a study of 53 patients that Ashwagandha improves symptoms of bipolar syndrome.
- Colorado State University researchers found that Ashwagandha and other Ayurvedic herbs help protect the heart from oxidative damage.
- Researchers from Malaysia’s University Sains found that Ashwagandha reduced fatigue and increased general well-being among patients who were undergoing chemotherapy.
- Researchers from the Chonbuk National University in the Republic of Korea found that Ashwagandha reduced populations of Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sobrinus – oral bacteria known to be at primary agents of tooth decay and periodontal disease.
- Researchers from Pakistan’s Quaid-i-Azam University found that Ashwagandha inhibited cancer cells from growing.
- Research from India’s National Research Institute of Ayurvedic Drug Development found that Ashwagandha combined with other Ayurvedic herbs reduced symptoms among tuberculosis patients.
- Researchers from the ICMR Advanced Centre for Reverse Pharmacology in Traditional Medicine found in a 30-day clinical trial among 18 healthy volunteers that 750-1250 milligrams of Ashwagandha per day reduced cholesterol, improved sleep and increased muscle strength.
- Researchers from Louisiana State University found that Ashwagandha inhibited cancer tumor growth.
- Researchers from India’s Central Food Technological Research Institute found Ashwagandha was antioxidant and inhibited oxidative brain cell damage and reversing mechanisms related to Parkinson’s disease.
- Researchers from India’s Central Drug Research Institute found that coagulanolide from Ashwagandha increased glucose tolerance and decreased fasting blood glucose among mice.
- Research from the Ayurvedic Hospital in Ahmedabad found that Ashwagandha with an herbal combination called Rasayana significantly reduced coughing, fever and other symptoms among tuberculosis patients.
- Researchers from Malaysia’s Universiti Sains medical school found that Ashwagandha inhibits several pathogenic bacteria, especially Salmonella.
- Research from India’s Bankura Sammilani Medical College found that Ashwagandha may treat depression.
- Research from Germany’s University of Tuebingen discovered that Ashwagandha reduces oxidative stress and alters gene expression to help cells with energy production.
- Researchers from Brooklyn’s Woodhull Medical Center found that Ashwagandha increases circulating cortisol levels and improves insulin sensitivity. This effect was also found for those with adrenal insufficiency issues or even congenital adrenal hyperplasia – a birth defect of the adrenal glands.
- Studies from South Korea’s Keimyung University found that Ashwagandha inhibits tumor growth and stimulates the killing of renal cancer cells.
- Research from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that Ashwagandha inhibits breast cancer cell migration.
- Researchers from Detroit’s Wayne State University found that Ashwagandha suppresses the growth of mesothelioma, a lung disease most prominently associated with asbestos toxicity.
- Research from Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz University found that Ashwagandha helps protect the heart and cardiovascular system from oxidative radicals.
- Research from the University of Delhi College of Medical Sciences found that Ashwagandha may reduce diabetes, and has anti-hyperglycemic properties.
- Tokushima Bunri University researchers found that Ashwagandha kills Leishmania major cells – making it an effective treatment for Leishmania.
- Researchers from India’s Cochin University of Science and Technology found that Ashwagandha increased spatial memory and decreased oxidative brain stress among rats.
- Human clinical studies from India’s Banaras Hindu University found that Ashwagandha significantly reduced type 2 diabetes symptoms.
- Research from Guru Nanak Dev University found that Ashwagandha reduces nerve cell death from oxidative damage.
- Researchers from South Korea’s Kyungpook National University found that Ashwagandha reduces inflammation and cell adhesion molecules among blood vessels.
- R.K.D.F. College of Pharmacy researchers found that Ashwagandha may effectively treat obsessive compulsive disorder.
- Research from Panjab University found that Ashwagandha inhibits pro-inflammatory cytokines and reactive oxygen species within the bloodstream.
- Researchers from Egypt’s National Center for Radiation Research and Technology found that Ashwagandha helps protect against radiation exposure.
- Research from India’s National Brain Research Center found that Ashwagandha reduces beta-amyloid peptides within the brain – making it protective against Alzheimer’s disease.
- Human research has also shown that Ashwagandha speeds up healing of bone injuries.
- Scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology found further evidence of Ashwagandha’s neuroprotective effects, in its ability to withanolide A to inhibit acetylcholinesterase.
- Research from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research Center found that Ashwagandha significantly stimulates the immune system.
A myriad of constituents
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) contains a myriad of constituents, including withanolides named withanolide A, withanolide B, withaferin A, and withanone, along with 12-deoxy withastramonolide, withanoside V, withanoside IV. Other complex molecules include trihydroxy-oxowitha-trienolide compounds.
These compounds have been found to act synergistically to enable changes in gene expression within the cell – producing a variety of medicinal effects in addition to antioxidant effects. While some research is striving to isolate and extract that one constituent to be synthetically produced in a lab to make a patented drug, the research above and others over the past year testify that this Ayurvedic powerhouse herb is best used in its whole or whole extract form.
Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of Ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Ind Jnl Psych Med. 2012 34(3): 255-262.
Nakajima H, Fukazawa K, Wakabayashi Y, Wakamatsu K, Imokawa G. Withania somnifera extract attenuates stem cell factor-stimulated pigmentation in human epidermal equivalents through interruption of ERK phosphorylation within melanocytes. J Nat Med. 2013 Jan 25.
Sharma V, Sharma S, Pracheta. Protective effect of Withania somnifera roots extract on hematoserological profiles against lead nitrate-induced toxicity in mice. Indian J Biochem Biophys. 2012 Dec;49(6):458-62.
Ahmed ME, Javed H, Khan MM, Vaibhav K, Ahmad A, Khan A, Tabassum R, Islam F, Safhi MM, Islam F. Attenuation of cognitive decline by Withania somnifera in rat model of streptozotocin-induced cognitive impairment. Protoplasma. 2013 Jan 23.
Shenoy S, Chaskar U, Sandhu JS, Paadhi MM. Effects of eight-week supplementation of Ashwagandha on cardiorespiratory endurance in elite Indian cyclists. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2012 Oct;3(4):209-14.
Sorelle JA, Itoh T, Peng H, Kanak MA, Sugimoto K, Matsumoto S, Levy MF, Lawrence MC, Naziruddin B. Withaferin A inhibits pro-inflammatory cytokine-induced damage to islets in culture and following transplantation. Diabetologia. 2013 Jan 15.
Ihsan-Ul-Haq, Youn UJ, Chai X, Park EJ, Kondratyuk TP, Simmons CJ, Borris RP, Mirza B, Pezzuto JM, Chang LC. Biologically Active Withanolides from Withania coagulans. J Nat Prod. 2013 Jan 25;76(1):22-8.
Grover A, Katiyar SP, Jeyakanthan J, Dubey VK, Sundar D. Blocking Protein kinase C signaling pathway: mechanistic insights into the anti-leishmanial activity of prospective herbal drugs from Withania somnifera. BMC Genomics. 2012;13 Suppl 7:S20.
Anwer T, Sharma M, Pillai KK, Khan G. Protective effect of Withania somnifera against oxidative stress and pancreatic beta-cell damage in type 2 diabetic rats. Acta Pol Pharm. 2012 Nov-Dec;69(6):1095-101.
Sivanandhan G, Kapil Dev G, Jeyaraj M, Rajesh M, Muthuselvam M, Selvaraj N, Manickavasagam M, Ganapathi A. A promising approach on biomass accumulation and withanolides production in cell suspension culture of Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal. Protoplasma. 2012 Dec 18.
Kapoor S. Withania somnifera and its emerging anti-neoplastic effects. Inflammopharmacology. 2012 Dec 8.
Baitharu I, Jain V, Deep SN, Hota KB, Hota SK, Prasad D, Ilavazhagan G. Withania somnifera root extract ameliorates hypobaric hypoxia induced memory impairment in rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2013 Jan 30;145(2):431-41.
Reuland DJ, Khademi S, Castle CJ, Irwin DC, McCord JM, Miller BF, Hamilton KL. Upregulation of phase II enzymes through phytochemical activation of Nrf2 protects cardiomyocytes against oxidant stress. Free Radic Biol Med. 2012 Nov 30;56C:102-111.
Nakajima H, Wakabayashi Y, Wakamatsu K, Imokawa G. An Extract of Withania somnifera Attenuates Endothelin-1-stimulated Pigmentation in Human Epidermal Equivalents through the Interruption of PKC Activity Within Melanocytes. Phytother Res. 2012 Dec 3.
Sivanandhan G, Rajesh M, Arun M, Jeyaraj M, Dev GK, Manickavasagam M, Selvaraj N, Ganapathi A. Optimization of carbon source for hairy root growth and withaferin A and withanone production in Withania somnifera. Nat Prod Commun. 2012 Oct;7(10):1271-2.
Jadhav SK, Patel KA, Dholakia BB, Khan BM. Structural characterization of a flavonoid glycosyltransferase from Withania somnifera. Bioinformation. 2012;8(19):943-9. : 10.6026/97320630008943. Epub 2012 Oct 1.
Biswal BM, Sulaiman SA, Ismail HC, Zakaria H, Musa KI. Effect of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on the Development of Chemotherapy-Induced Fatigue and Quality of Life in Breast Cancer Patients. Integr Cancer Ther. 2012 Nov 9.
Pandit S, Chang KW, Jeon JG. Effects of Withania somnifera on the growth and virulence properties of Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sobrinus at sub-MIC levels. Anaerobe. 2013 Feb;19:1-8.
Haq IU, Mirza B, Kondratyuk TP, Park EJ, Burns BE, Marler LE, Pezzuto JM. Preliminary evaluation for cancer chemopreventive and cytotoxic potential of naturally growing ethnobotanically selected plants of Pakistan. Pharm Biol. 2012 Nov 8.
Debnath PK, Chattopadhyay J, Mitra A, Adhikari A, Alam MS, Bandopadhyay SK, Hazra J. Adjunct therapy of Ayurvedic medicine with anti tubercular drugs on the therapeutic management of pulmonary tuberculosis. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2012 Jul;3(3):141-9.
Raut AA, Rege NN, Tadvi FM, Solanki PV, Kene KR, Shirolkar SG, Pandey SN, Vaidya RA, Vaidya AB. Exploratory study to evaluate tolerability, safety, and activity of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in healthy volunteers. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2012 Jul;3(3):111-4.
Li W, Zhao Y. Withaferin A suppresses tumor promoter 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol 13-acetate-induced decreases in isocitrate dehydrogenase 1 activity and mitochondrial function in skin epidermal JB6 cells. Cancer Sci. 2012 Oct 27.
Manjunath MJ, Muralidhara. Withania somnifera prophylaxis abrogates Rotenone-induced oxidative impairments and mitochondrial dysfunctions in striatum and cerebellum of mice: relevance to Parkinson’s disease. Cent Nerv Syst Agents Med Chem. 2012 Oct 17.
Razdan S, Bhat WW, Rana S, Dhar N, Lattoo SK, Dhar RS, Vishwakarma RA. Molecular characterization and promoter analysis of squalene epoxidase gene from Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal. Mol Biol Rep. 2013 Feb;40(2):905-16.
Singh AB, Singh N, Akanksha, Jayendra, Maurya R, Srivastava AK. Coagulanolide modulates hepatic glucose metabolism in C57BL/KsJ-db/db mice. Hum Exp Toxicol. 2012 Oct;31(10):1056-65. : 10.1177/0960327112438289. PubMed PMID: 23060434.
Vyas P, Chandola HM, Ghanchi F, Ranthem S. Clinical evaluation of Rasayana compound as an adjuvant in the management of tuberculosis with anti-Koch’s treatment. Ayu. 2012 Jan;33(1):38-43.
Alam N, Hossain M, Mottalib MA, Sulaiman SA, Gan SH, Khalil MI. Methanolic extracts of Withania somnifera leaves, fruits and roots possess antioxidant properties and antibacterial activities. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012 Oct 7;12:175.
Maity T, Adhikari A, Bhattacharya K, Biswas S, Debnath PK, Maharana CS. A study on evalution of antidepressant effect of imipramine adjunct with Aswagandha and Bramhi. Nepal Med Coll J. 2011 Dec;13(4):250-3. PubMed PMID: 23016473.
Prabu PC, Panchapakesan S, Raj CD. Acute and Sub-Acute Oral Toxicity Assessment of the Hydroalcoholic Extract of Withania somnifera Roots in Wistar Rats. Phytother Res. 2012 Sep 21.
Jilani K, Lupescu A, Zbidah M, Shaik N, Lang F. Withaferin A-stimulated Ca2+ entry, ceramide formation and suicidal death of erythrocytes. Toxicol In Vitro. 2013 Feb;27(1):52-8.
Kalani A, Bahtiyar G, Sacerdote A. Ashwagandha root in the treatment of non-classical adrenal hyperplasia. BMJ Case Rep. 2012 Sep 17;2012.
Um HJ, Min KJ, Kim DE, Kwon TK. Withaferin A inhibits JAK/STAT3 signaling and induces apoptosis of human renal carcinoma Caki cells. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2012 Oct 12;427(1):24-9.
Lee J, Sehrawat A, Singh SV. Withaferin A causes activation of Notch2 and Notch4 in human breast cancer cells. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2012 Nov;136(1):45-56.
Hahm ER, Singh SV. Withaferin A-induced apoptosis in human breast cancer cells is associated with suppression of inhibitor of apoptosis family protein expression. Cancer Lett. 2012 Aug 27.
Yang H, Wang Y, Cheryan VT, Wu W, Cui CQ, Polin LA, Pass HI, Dou QP, Rishi AK, Wali A. Withaferin a inhibits the proteasome activity in mesothelioma in vitro and in vivo. PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e41214
Khan MR, Hu J, Ali GM. Reciprocal loss of CArG-boxes and auxin response elements drives expression divergence of MPF2-Like MADS-box genes controlling calyx inflation. PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e42781.
Ashour OM, Abdel-Naim AB, Abdallah HM, Nagy AA, Mohamadin AM, Abdel-Sattar EA. Evaluation of the potential cardioprotective activity of some Saudi plants against doxorubicin toxicity. Z Naturforsch C. 2012 May-Jun;67(5-6):297-307.
Sabir F, Mishra S, Sangwan RS, Jadaun JS, Sangwan NS. Qualitative and quantitative variations in withanolides and expression of some pathway genes during different stages of morphogenesis in Withania somnifera Dunal. Protoplasma. 2012 Aug 10.
Shukla K, Dikshit P, Shukla R, Gambhir JK. The aqueous extract of Withania coagulans fruit partially reverses nicotinamide/streptozotocin-induced diabetes mellitus in rats. J Med Food. 2012 Aug;15(8):718-25.
Sivanandhan G, Arun M, Mayavan S, Rajesh M, Jeyaraj M, Dev GK, Manickavasagam M, Selvaraj N, Ganapathi A. Optimization of elicitation conditions with methyl jasmonate and salicylic acid to improve the productivity of withanolides in the adventitious root culture of Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal. Appl Biochem Biotechnol. 2012 Oct;168(3):681-96.
Shukla K, Dikshit P, Tyagi MK, Shukla R, Gambhir JK. Ameliorative effect of Withania coagulans on dyslipidemia and oxidative stress in nicotinamide-streptozotocin induced diabetes mellitus. Food Chem Toxicol. 2012 Oct;50(10):3595-9.
Kuroyanagi M, Murata M, Nakane T, Shirota O, Sekita S, Fuchino H, Shinwari ZK. Leishmanicidal active withanolides from a pakistani medicinal plant, Withania coagulans. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo). 2012;60(7):892-7.
Soman S, Korah PK, Jayanarayanan S, Mathew J, Paulose CS. Oxidative stress induced NMDA receptor alteration leads to spatial memory deficits in temporal lobe epilepsy: ameliorative effects of Withania somnifera and Withanolide A. Neurochem Res. 2012 Sep;37(9):1915-27.
Upadhyay BN, Gupta V. A clinical study on the effect of Rishyagandha (Withania coagulans) in the management of Prameha (Type II Diabetes Mellitus). Ayu. 2011 Oct;32(4):507-11.
Tahmasbi AM, Mirakzehi MT, Hosseini SJ, Agah MJ, Fard MK. The effects of phytase and root hydroalcoholic extract of Withania somnifera on productive performance and bone mineralisation of laying hens in the late phase of production. Br Poult Sci. 2012;53(2):204-14.
Kataria H, Wadhwa R, Kaul SC, Kaur G. Water extract from the leaves of Withania somnifera protect RA differentiated C6 and IMR-32 cells against glutamate-induced excitotoxicity. PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e37080.
Lee W, Kim TH, Ku SK, Min KJ, Lee HS, Kwon TK, Bae JS. Barrier protective effects of withaferin A in HMGB1-induced inflammatory responses in both cellular and animal models. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2012 Jul 1;262(1):91-8.
Khan MR, Hu J, He C. Plant hormones including ethylene are recruited in calyx inflation in Solanaceous plants. J Plant Physiol. 2012 Jul 1;169(10):940-8.
Kaurav BP, Wanjari MM, Chandekar A, Chauhan NS, Upmanyu N. Influence of Withania somnifera on obsessive compulsive disorder in mice. Asian Pac J Trop Med. 2012 May;5(5):380-4.
Vetvicka V, Vetvickova J. Immune enhancing effects of WB365, a novel combination of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and Maitake (Grifola frondosa) extracts. N Am J Med Sci. 2011 Jul;3(7):320-4.
Mamidi P, Thakar AB. Efficacy of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera Dunal. Linn.) in the management of psychogenic erectile dysfunction. Ayu. 2011 Jul;32(3):322-8.
Gupta P, Agarwal AV, Akhtar N, Sangwan RS, Singh SP, Trivedi PK. Cloning and characterization of 2-C-methyl-D-erythritol-4-phosphate pathway genes for isoprenoid biosynthesis from Indian ginseng, Withania somnifera. Protoplasma. 2013 Feb;250(1):285-95.
Minhas U, Minz R, Bhatnagar A. Prophylactic effect of Withania somnifera on inflammation in a non-autoimmune prone murine model of lupus. Drug Discov Ther. 2011 Aug;5(4):195-201.
Hosny Mansour H, Farouk Hafez H. Protective effect of Withania somnifera against radiation-induced hepatotoxicity in rats. Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2012 Jun;80:14-9.
Sehgal N, Gupta A, Valli RK, Joshi SD, Mills JT, Hamel E, Khanna P, Jain SC, Thakur SS, Ravindranath V. Withania somnifera reverses Alzheimer’s disease pathology by enhancing low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein in liver. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Feb 28;109(9):3510-5.
Nagappan A, Karunanithi N, Sentrayaperumal S, Park KI, Park HS, Lee do H, Kang SR, Kim JA, Senthil K, Natesan S, Muthurajan R, Kim GS. Comparative root protein profiles of Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng) and Indian ginseng (Withania somnifera). Am J Chin Med. 2012;40(1):203-18.
Grover A, Shandilya A, Agrawal V, Bisaria VS, Sundar D. Computational evidence to inhibition of human acetyl cholinesterase by withanolide a for Alzheimer treatment. J Biomol Struct Dyn. 2012;29(4):651-62.
Kushwaha S, Roy S, Maity R, Mallick A, Soni VK, Singh PK, Chaurasiya ND, Sangwan RS, Misra-Bhattacharya S, Mandal C. Chemotypical variations in Withania somnifera lead to differentially modulated immune response in BALB/c mice. Vaccine. 2012 Feb 1;30(6):1083-93.
Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.