WHAT IT IS Also known as “Indian ginseng,” ashwagandha is the aromatic root of Withania somnifera, a tall branching shrub with pale yellow-green flowers, cultivated in India and North America.
REPORTED EFFECTS Ashwagandha is believed to nurture and clear the mind, calm and strengthen the nervous system, promote sound sleep, and rejuvenate tissues throughout the body. Like ginseng, the powers of this root as a rasayana, an all-around promoter of health and balance, are legendary. Ashwagandha is said to fortify all systems in the body, including the mind.
HOW IT WORKS This root contains alkaloids and steroidal lactones, which relax the central nervous system, while combating stress and promoting overall balance. And it contains several key amino acids that can bolster the brain’s own natural supplies: glycine, valine, tyrosine, proline, and alanine.
THE EVIDENCE Used for thousands of years as a folk remedy in India, ashwagandha has only recently been subjected to scientific testing. In one double-blind randomized clinical study in New Delhi, researchers studied the aging process of 101 healthy male adults, ages 50 to 59, for one year. Results showed that in the men who were taking ashwagandha, the aging process was slowed–their hair was less grey, their red blood cell counts higher, serum cholesterol levels lower; and three-quarters of the men taking the herb reported improvement in sexual performance: And a 1997 study at the University of Leipzig in Germany using male rats showed that an extract of ashwagandha affects acetylcholine metabolism in the brain, which could explain its cognitive enhancement abilities.
CAVEATS No dangerous side effects have been associated with ashwagandha, but large doses may cause irritation to mucous membranes or gastrointestinal upset. Also, because this herb may exaggerate the effects of barbiturates, it should not be used in conjunction with sedatives. Pregnant women should not take ashwagandha, except under the supervision of a doctor.
WHERE TO FIND IT You can find ashwagandha in various forms, including the dried root, powder, capsules, tablets, or liquid extract. The supplement is available in most health foods stores. About 2 to 6 grams of the powdered root is considered to be a reasonable daily dose, and it may be taken daily.
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