The Origins: Ashwagandha 101

Ashwagandha has quickly become one of the most popular adaptogens in today's world of wellness [and at RDF, it's the ingredient that started it all].

Ashwagandha powder and roots

Ashwagandha grows as a perennial shrub, typically 1 - 2.5 feet tall, with small, green, bell-shaped flowers sprouting from its shoots. It can be found throughout most of India, as well as parts of Nepal, China, and Yemen. With use dating back thousands of years, Ashwagandha has taken on many names, including “Indian Ginseng" and “Indian winter cherry." The name “Indian Ginseng” comes from the many similarities drawn between Ashwagandha's effects and potency with Ginseng, another popular and well-studied adaptogen.

Ashwagandha has been used by humans for almost 6,000 years, but recently, it has become one of the first adaptogens to undergo formal clinical trials as well as scientific research studies.

These recent studies represent a burgeoning field of Information on the physiological benefits of Ashwagandha, its molecular components, and how it interacts with the cells in our bodies to help them stay healthy, resistant to stress, and maintain homeostasis.

Ashwagandha powder pile by Respect des Fonds, or RDF

Ashwagandha's use in traditional medicine can be traced back to the Rasayana tradition, which occupies an important place in Ayurvedic medicine¹. To this day, the adaptogen is commonly used throughout India as a powder, and often turned into a paste with milk that is given to children. While different parts of the plant have different uses and histories, the part of the plant that is of most interest to users today is the root. This is because it is the most potent and bioavailable part of the plant.

The root of the Ashwagandha plant is full of compounds known as polysaccharides. These are large molecules made up of simple sugars that are bound together, often in very unique ways².

Some of the most important polysaccharides that are found in the withania somnifera root are withanolides. Although this plant comes from a completely different region than Ginseng, withanolides are structurally similar to ginsenosides, one of the important polysaccharides found in Ashwagandha's adaptogenic peer.

Withanolides are thought to be the molecular driver of many of the benefits that Ashwagandha can provide. In multiple studies, they have been found to promote anti-inflammatory, antitumor, antibacterial, and immunomodulating effects in cell cultures³.

While many clinical studies are still ongoing, several have already demonstrated withanolides' abilities to have complex interactions with chronic conditions and have shown promise in reducing stress, improving cognition and energy, and reducing general inflammation with no adverse side effects³.

While withanolides are one of the key constituents within the Ashwagandha root, they are not the only one. Other polysaccharides, triterpenes, and compounds are abundant throughout the root. This is why, in order to fully benefit from all that the plant can offer, a full-spectrum root extract is thought to be necessary¹. The potent combination of polysaccharides - including withanolides - as well as triterpenes and other organic compounds is what makes the Ashwagandha root such a powerful adaptogen.

Figure 3: Ashwagandha vs placebo impact on cortisol [the body's stress hormone], DHEA-S [a hormone released by adrenal glands], and Testosterone [the sex hormone found in both men and women] levels over 60 days in a 2019 NIH study.

Researchers saw a significant cortisol and DHEA-S decrease in male and female subjects. Testosterone increase was evident in male subjects, no increase in testosterone for female subjects.

Formal research is still uncovering a large variety of beneficial activities and effects from taking Ashwagandha. The list is long: it includes helping with stress, anxiety, energy, stamina, hepatotoxicity, tumor growth, hypertension, sleep, cognition, memory, arthritis, inflammation and a host of diseases related to neurodegeneration and chronic stress. Like other adaptogens, Ashwagandha will never be able to cure any of these conditions, but by its molecular activity occurring at a cellular level, Ashwagandha can help alleviate some of the more acute effects and keep us that much closer to chemically balanced. 

 
Figure 4: Ashwagandha vs Placebo impact on perceived levels of stress and anxiety using the clinician administered HAM-A (Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale) and self-reported DASS (Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale).

Researchers saw a significant decrease in reported HAM-A and DASS scores for Ashwagandha population.

Interested in adding Ashwagandha to your daily routine? Check our RDF's Ashwagandha, a 100% root extract from the native region of Kota, Rajasthan.



━━━ 

Works Cited

1. “An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda).” African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines, vol 8, no. 5S, 2011, pp 208-213. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3252722/.

 

2. “Polysaccharide.” Biology Dictionary. Oct 4, 2019. https://biologydictionary.net/polysaccharide/.

 

3. “Investigating 11 Withanosides and Withanolides by UHPLC-PDA and Mass Fragmentation Studies from Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera).” ACS Publications, vol 5, no. 43, Oct 2020, pp 27933-27943. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7643146/.

 
Image Source
 

Figure 1. Weil, Aug. 2016, www.drweil.com/vitamins-supplements-herbs/herbs/ashwagandha/

 

Figure 2. Property of Respect des Fonds, LLC

 

Figure 3 & 4. Lopresti, Adrian L et al. “An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.” Medicine vol. 98,37 (2019): e17186. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000017186. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6750292/pdf/medi-98-e17186.pdf

Hell is a half-filled auditorium.

// Robert Frost