Ashwagandha , also called “Indian ginseng” , is a key plant in traditional Indian medicine . It has been used for millennia for its many health benefits, contributing to emotional balance as well as improving physical and intellectual abilities.
Discover in this article why we have every interest in adopting ashwagandha and making it a health asset!
What is ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha , having the scientific name Withania somnifera and nicknamed “Indian ginseng” , is a shrub with long oval leaves of about ten cm belonging to the Solanaceae family originating from India . Its roots , very rich in active ingredients, have been used for thousands of years in traditional Indian or Ayurvedic medicine.
The term “ashwagandha” comes from Sanskrit (Indo-European language): “asha” meaning “horse” , and “gandha” meaning “smell” . It would have been so named because of the characteristic smell that emanates from the roots of this plant reminiscent of that of horses, or is it a reference to its power and its power to give the strength of a stallion when we consume it!
Like ginseng , rhodiola or even eleutherococcus , ashwagandha is an "adaptogenic" plant, that is to say that its consumption increases our body's ability to adapt and better defend itself against stress. , whatever its origin: physical, psychic or emotional stress.
What are the active ingredients of ashwagandha?
This adaptogenic plant has many active ingredients , discover them:
- Withaferin A : steroidal lactone from the withanolide family with anti-inflammatory, antitumor and antimetastatic (anticancer) properties.
- Glycowhithanolides and sitoindosides : steroidal lactones with anti-stress properties.
- Solasodine: an alkaloid used in the treatment of arthritis and certain cancers, particularly those of the colon and liver.
- Flavonoids: in particular catechin and kaempferol with antioxidant power.
- Fatty acids: in particular alpha-linolenic acid ( an omega 3 ), oleic acid (an omega 9) and linoleic acid (an omega 6).
- Amino acids : in particular tryptophan , an amino acid precursor of serotonin (a neurotransmitter nicknamed “hormone of happiness”).
- Other nutrients: iron, potassium, glucose, flavonoids, tannins...
What are the benefits of ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha has many virtues and many health benefits:
Adaptogenic properties: anti-stress and anxiety
Ashwagandha is a so-called "adaptogenic" plant, because it acts on almost all of our body's systems in order to help maintain its homeostasis (balance).
Its active substances increase our body's resistance to stressful situations and improve its defense mechanisms against stress, whether physical, psychological or emotional.
Indeed, according to numerous scientific studies, the regular consumption of this adaptogenic plant promotes relaxation , emotional balance , physical and mental well-being .
This general state of balance is provided by ashwagandha, in particular thanks to its regulatory action on blood cortisol levels .
Cortisol , nicknamed the “stress hormone” , is naturally secreted by the adrenal glands and essential for the functioning of the body.
But, when this hormone is produced in too large quantities , it has deleterious effects on our body and this is clinically reflected - among other things - by fatigue , repeated infections (lowered immunity), weight gain and impaired sleep .
Certain bioactive compounds in ashwagandha root are said to be able to lower cortisol levels in the body (themselves increased by stress). It would therefore prevent and limit the physical and psychological consequences of chronic stress on the body .
In addition, ashwagandha contributes to calming the central nervous system by regulating the production of certain neurotransmitters associated with calm , relaxation and serenity : GABA and serotonin .
In short, taking a food supplement based on ashwagandha strengthens the body, helps it fight against stress and anxiety, promotes calm and zenitude.
Powerful antioxidant power
The richness of ashwagandha extracts in tannins and flavonoids makes this plant a powerful natural antioxidant! Its consumption contributes, in fact, to the protection of all the cells of the body against the harmful effects of free radicals or “oxidative stress”.
These antioxidant properties make it possible, among other things, to protect neurons , strengthen cognitive abilities , improve concentration and memory , slow down premature skin aging and maintain beautiful skin!
Anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects
The wide use of Indian ginseng in Ayurvedic medicine is largely due to its powerful natural anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties .
This ancestral plant is used in particular as an anti-inflammatory and painkiller treatment in certain chronic diseases such as arthritis , allowing an effectiveness comparable to conventional anti-inflammatory drugs, with less gastric side effects!
Improved cognitive abilities
Regular consumption of ashwagandha allows a notable increase in cognitive abilities such as concentration, attention, information processing speed and memory.
These positive effects of ashwagandha on brain performance are due, among other things, to its high content of withanolides , sitoindosides , tannins and flavonoids which protect brain nerve cells from oxidation and inflammation.
As a regular cure, this plant could also prevent the development or slow down the progression of certain neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's disease (neuroprotective properties).
Improved sleep quality
The scientific name for ashwagandha is Withania somnifera : “somnifera” meaning “promotes sleep” .
Indeed, this Indian plant has an action similar to that of melatonin or "sleep hormone" . It promotes a state of relaxation and appeasement conducive to falling asleep and restful sleep .
According to research, consuming ashwagandha before sleep decreases the time it takes to fall asleep (hypnotic effect), increases the duration and quality of sleep .
This plant is therefore recommended for people with certain sleep disorders such as difficulty falling asleep , nocturnal awakenings and insomnia .
Anticancer (antitumor) action
According to certain studies, in particular a study published in 2007 in the journal “clinical cancer research” , ashwagandha extract has anticancer properties thanks to one of its bioactive compounds: withaferin A. The latter would, in fact, be able to inhibit the development of cancer cells and reduce the risk of metastasis by blocking certain tumor proteins.
Thus, the consumption of ashwagandha leaves would make it possible to fight against certain cancers thanks to natural antitumor properties, in particular breast cancers according to the results of this Indian study published in 2021 .
Increased performance in athletes
Ashwagandha-based food supplements are widely used by top athletes . According to research, this plant would have positive effects on sports performance such as increased muscle strength , explosiveness , cardio-respiratory endurance and concentration .
Consuming ashwagandha also increases the production of testosterone , a sex hormone that promotes muscle mass gain and strength. Ideal for amateurs and bodybuilding professionals!
In addition, ashwagandha can be consumed after physical training, at the end of the day or before bedtime to promote recovery , improve the quality of sleep (which is essential for good recovery in athletes) and recharge batteries!
Increase in fertility in men
Performing ashwagandha cures stimulates libido and increases the production of sex hormones . This plant is therefore particularly recommended for men with reduced sexual desire , erectile dysfunction (impotence) or premature ejaculation .
It thus improves the sexual life of many men, in particular by increasing the libido (aphrodisiac virtues), improving erection and increasing the duration of sexual intercourse .
Ashwagandha also provides some benefits in some cases of male infertility by increasing sperm production and improving sperm quality .
In addition, the adaptogenic benefits of ashwagandha also have a beneficial effect on sexuality . By reducing stress, anxiety and nervousness, it promotes a state of calm and letting go conducive to sexual intercourse.
Benefits on the digestive system
Ashwagandha is renowned for its hepatoprotective effect , it protects the liver , repairs liver damage and helps with withdrawal from certain hepatotoxic substances such as alcohol and drugs.
It is also indicated in the treatment of certain cases of gastric or gastro-duodenal ulcer thanks to its anti-inflammatory power devoid of harmful effect on the stomach (unlike conventional anti-inflammatories which cause gastric lesions).
In addition, this plant is able to regulate intestinal transit and improve digestive comfort. However, in case of overdose , it's just the opposite! Indeed, high doses of ashwagandha can cause moderate digestive disorders such as diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, nausea or vomiting.
Other interesting effects
Here are some other lesser-known virtues and benefits of ashwagandha:
- Antibacterial, antiseptic and antifungal action;
- Improved symptoms of depression;
- Fight against the formation of urate crystals during gout;
- Antirheumatic properties;
- Stimulation of thyroid activity in hypothyroidism;
- Increased production of blood and hemoglobin;
- Interesting antiviral activity against COVID-19;
- Liver protection (hepatoprotection);
- Protection of the heart (cardioprotection);
- Reduction of hyperglycemia (hypoglycemic effect).
Ashwagandha: what are its side effects?
The consumption of ashwagandha at the recommended doses almost never causes side effects , apart from a few reported cases of mild intestinal disorders (mild diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, etc.) in some people.
In the event of an overdose , certain active ingredients can cause dysfunction of the nervous system by increasing the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA .
This can lead to a decrease in vigilance , a lengthening of reflex time (slow reflex) and a transient reduction in motor skills , which can be dangerous in certain situations (driving a vehicle, handling dangerous machines, etc.).
It is therefore recommended to consume this plant at the recommended dosage , preferably in the evening starting with low doses.
Indian ginseng: contraindication
The consumption of ashwagandha is contraindicated in:
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women;
- Children under 12;
- People with an autoimmune disease;
- People allergic to one of the compounds of the plant;
- People with hyperthyroidism (ashwagandha stimulates thyroid activity).
If in doubt, it is advisable to seek advice from a healthcare professional before taking ashwagandha.
Here are the key points to remember about ashwagandha:
- This is a plant native to India called "adaptogen";
- It promotes relaxation, appeasement and general well-being;
- It helps reduce the effects of stress on the body and mind;
- It fights against inflammation and oxidative stress;
- It improves sleep and fights against insomnia;
- It strengthens, increases energy and fights against chronic fatigue;
- It improves fertility and stimulates libido;
- It increases physical and cognitive performance;
- It would help to fight against certain cancers;
- Its consumption almost never causes side effects.