Withania / Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

Traditional Indications

Withania is an adaptogen, antibiotic, aphrodisiac, astringent, deobstruent, diuretic, narcotic, sedative and tonic. Ashwagandha is one of the most widespread tranquillisers used in India, where it holds a position of importance similar to ginseng in China, also referred to as Indian ginseng due to its rejuvenating properties. In Sanskrit ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse,” indicating that the herb imparts the vigour and strength of a stallion. It is traditionally prescribed to strengthen the immune system after illness. Ashwagandha is also used to enhance sexual potency in both men and women. It acts mainly on the reproductive and nervous systems, having a rejuvenative effect on the body, and is used to improve vitality and aid recovery after chronic illness. Internally, it is used to tone the uterus after a miscarriage and also in treating postpartum difficulties. It is also used to treat nervous exhaustion, debility, insomnia, wasting diseases, failure to thrive in children, impotence, infertility, multiple sclerosis etc.

Historically, the plant has been used as an aphrodisiac, liver tonic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, and more recently to treat bronchitis, asthma, ulcers, emaciation, insomnia, and senile dementia. Ashwagandha is also used therapeutically as an adaptogen for patients with nervous exhaustion, insomnia, and debility due to stress, and as an immune stimulant in patients with low white blood cell counts. (1)

In Traditional Chinese Medicine Withania is called Shui Qie 睡茄. Shui Qie is used to treat weakness in bones and muscles, spermatorrhea, constipation, senility, loose teeth, lack of libido in men and women, premature aging. (2)

Pharmacognosy

Withania somnifera extract intervention resulted in greater score improvements (significantly in most cases) than placebo in outcomes on anxiety or stress scales. (3)

A prospective, randomised double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of of Ashwagandha Root extract in reducing stress and anxiety in adults concluded that high-concentration full-spectrum Ashwagandha root extract safely and effectively improves an individual's resistance towards stress and thereby improves self-assessed quality of life. (4)

Withania is an adaptogen and enhances endurance and strength. A study aimed to determine the effect of Ashwagandha on the cardiorespiratory endurance capacity, that is, aerobic capacity in elite Indian cyclists found there was significant improvement in the experimental group in all parameters in terms of maximal aerobic capacity (VO2 max), metabolic equivalent, respiratory exchange ratio (RER), and total time for the athlete to reach his exhaustion stage. (5)

Withania somnifera is chemoprotective. The mechanism of chemopreventive activity of Withania somnifera extract may be due to its antioxidant and detoxifying properties. (6)

A pre-clinical study on Withania somnifera extract for neuroregenerative therapy for stroke concluded that Withania somnifera extract works as a neuroprotectant and also shows effect on the regenerative and recovery pathways. The combined neuroprotective and neuroregenerative potential exhibited by Withania somnifera extract is one such strategy that might aid recovery after stroke by preventing cell death as well as stimulating repair. (7)

Withania somnifera root extract prevents DMBA-induced squamous cell carcinoma of skin in Swiss albino mice and the chemopreventive activity may be linked to the antioxidant/free radical-scavenging constituents of the extract. The anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties of WSRE are also likely to contribute to its chemopreventive action. (8) Another study indicates that Withania somnifera root extract significantly reduced the rate of cell division in the mammary tumours. (9)

1. PFAF. Withania somnifera 2019.
2. University CaAH. shui qie 睡茄 2019.
3. Pratte MA, Nanavati KB, Young V, Morley CP. An alternative treatment for anxiety: a systematic review of human trial results reported for the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, NY). 2014;20(12):901-8.
4. 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. Indian journal of psychological medicine. 2012;34(3):255-62.
5. Shenoy S, Chaskar U, Sandhu JS, Paadhi MM. Effects of eight-week supplementation of Ashwagandha on cardiorespiratory endurance in elite Indian cyclists. Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine. 2012;3(4):209-14.
6. Prakash J, Gupta SK, Kochupillai V, Singh N, Gupta YK, Joshi S. Chemopreventive activity of Withania somnifera in experimentally induced fibrosarcoma tumours in Swiss albino mice. Phytotherapy research : PTR. 2001;15(3):240-4.
7. Raghavan A, Shah ZA. Withania somnifera: a pre-clinical study on neuroregenerative therapy for stroke. Neural regeneration research. 2015;10(2):183-5.
8. Prakash J, Gupta SK, Dinda AK. Withania somnifera root extract prevents DMBA-induced squamous cell carcinoma of skin in Swiss albino mice. Nutrition and cancer. 2002;42(1):91-7.
9. KHAZAL KF, SAMUEL T, HILL DL, GRUBBS CJ. Effect of an Extract of Withania somnifera Root on Estrogen Receptor-positive Mammary Carcinomas. 2013;33(4):1519-23.