What is ashwagandha, the ‘miracle’ against stress and anxiety of Indian medicine

The use of medicinal infusions in any type of culture is secular, but we always end up discovering new varieties that, at the cost of almost miraculous properties, sneak into our homes. This is the case of the almost unpronounceable ashwagandha, a perennial shrub of the species Withania somnifera of which the root and berries are used, very frequent in India, the Middle East and also in certain parts of Africa and which in our society is usually used with the taking of supplements from its extract.

The question is to verify if there really is a scientific foundation that supports the vaunted virtues of a product (usually taken in capsules or infusions, as well as extracts) that seems to solve almost any medical problem. Used since time immemorial in Ayurvedic medicinetraditional Indian medicine, with its roots and berries, the evolution of ashwagandha is what has allowed the synthesis of part of its compounds (such as standardized extracts of withanolides), in addition to the traditional use of the root and root powder.

The point is that during 2020 and 2021 there was a certain boom in searches and demand for this product in our country, but also worldwide, since it was attribute anti-stress properties and also a use as a sleeping or hypnoticfavoring the conciliation of sleep, although its supporters do not stop there, as they explain in MSD Manuals when citing the supposed properties of ashwagandha or Withania somnifera.

  • Reduction of stress symptoms.
  • Increased muscle mass.
  • Reduced inflammation.
  • Improvement of male fertility.
  • Drop in blood pressure.
  • Weight reduction.
  • Decrease in cholesterol and triglycerides.

Seen in this way, it seems that we are talking about an almost universal panacea that, in addition, its supporters defend as an adaptogen, a term that is used in phytotherapy to talk about substances that help to respond to mental stress, in addition to also helping to recover organic functionality. . The question is: is ashwagandha proven to be that useful? The reality is that certain benefits have been proven, even with clinical trials, but with population samples that are too small to be able to standardize the use of ashwagandha, since it is should guide the format and, above all, carry out more mainstream studies.

Ashwagandha powder and root
Traditionally it has been consumed in the form of chewed root or infusions with root powder and its berries. ©Freepik,

Still, it is true that certain studies with more or less small samples they do bless that the use of ashwagandha extract in certain supplements could be associated with quite a few benefits for our body and mind. In this sense, it is pointed out that it may have a scientific basis for reducing stress, anxiety and fatigue, in addition to improving the quality of sleep and even relieving anxiety in people with bipolar disorder.

In a similar sense, it should be emphasized that ashwagandha, due to its therapeutic potential, should also be discussed with the primary care physician or with the specialists who treat us. A common tendency regarding natural medicine is to think that it is not may have side effects or interfere with conventional medicationssomething that is completely incorrect, since there are medicinal herbs that should not be taken with antidepressants, migraines or contraceptives, as we already explained in THE OBJECTIVE.

What is ashwagandha and what possible benefits does it have?

white pills
The most common is to take the extract of Withania somnifera in the form of tablets. ©Freepik,

It is a safe supplement for most of the population (extracted from the Withania somnifera), but whose long-term effects are unknown. In addition, it should not be consumed on our own, but with the consent of a professional in the event that it can interact with medications. Among the examples cited by MSD Manuals, if you attend to the hypothetical virtues of ashwagandhaspecial care should be taken with:

  • Glucose-lowering drugs.
  • Medications to control arterial hypertension.
  • Sleeping, hypnotic and sedative.
  • Medications that control thyroid function.
  • Immune system inhibitors.

In the same way, it must be pointed out that the effects are not immediate and that they will depend on the dose, placing the advantages in ranges that go from 250 mg to 1.250 mg of extract of withanolides, which are the active chemicals, and where it should be clear that They can have long-term side effects.

The truth is that the Withania somniferawhich is also called Indian ginseng, has shown in certain clinical reviews with anti-stress functionality and as an anti-anxiety remedy mentioned above. In fact, there is also a link that studies in small samples have shown when it comes to improving insomnia in older people. In any case, it is indicated that the effects, taking into account certain reviews, are not overwhelming, but they are positive.

In both cases, they refer to treatments that have a minimum duration of eight weeks, demonstrating that the short-term effects of ashwagandha extract or Withania somnifera they do not existalthough they are real. In a similar sense, its virtues as a virility-stimulating tonic and even an improvement in male fertility have also been valued according to this study. This is due to an increase in testosterone levels, which had an impact on higher levels of sperm concentration, motility and seminal volume, although studies continue to be carried out on small samples that barely exceeded fifty individuals.

A stressed man at work
Ashwagandha consumption is linked to reduced stress and anxiety. ©Freepik.

In fact, although they are not correlated, this increase in testosterone can also be linked to better physical performance and better sports performance, which is another of the virtues associated with Ashwagandha when it comes to strengthening the muscles and their development. Not in vain, there are studies that support that its consumption implies an improvement in strength and in oxygen saturation and consumption, which can be related to both better performance and increased resistance.

However, it is surely the benefits related to mental health, including bipolar disorders, anxiety or depression that have put ashwagandha in the naturopathic medicine field at the expense of the aforementioned Withania somnifera. Taken with tweezers, due to the few samples and the small size of the studies carried out, improvements can be seen in people who suffer from stress, anxiety, depression or insomnia, but always emphasizing that a clinical standardization of both dose, preparation, interactions and active ingredients found in both ashwagandha and its chemical compounds.

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