What is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng, is a plant that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for a very long time. Ayurvedic medicine is a form of traditional medicine that originates in India. Ashwagandha is a shrub and its roots, leaves, and berries have all been used medicinally. It has been used historically to treat anxiety, insomnia, and arthritis1. Additionally, it has been reported that ashwagandha has overall stress-reducing effects2. Ashwagandha has grown in popularity recently for its plethora of uses and has become something of a buzzword. Read on to see how ashwagandha (for women especially) could help you!
Ashwagandha for Women and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Ashwagandha granules were used to manage Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) in a double-blind placebo-controlled study. This means that neither the patients nor the testers knew who had a placebo, a method that helps to remove personal bias from results. The goal was to test the anti-anxiety properties of ashwagandha at a clinical level2. Baselines and retest levels were determined by Hamilton’s Anxiety Rating scale.
Patients treated with ashwagandha showed scientifically relevant improvement in almost all aspects of Hamilton’s Anxiety Rating scale, with the greatest improvement being in muscle tension and anxiety2.
Breast Cancer Epigenetic Silencing
This study exposed breast cancer cells to various levels of ashwagandha. Ashwagandha targeted specific cancer processes related to cell death, cycle, and proliferation3. Ashwagandha changed the intrinsic intracellular and microenvironment in such a way that tumor growth was severely inhibited. Local inflammation in the area was greatly reduced, and cancer cell proliferation showed a significant decline.
Ashwagandha was even shown to silence gene expression to suppress aggressive triple-negative breast cancer characteristics3.
Improving Sexual Function for Women with Ashwagandha
High concentrations of ashwagandha extract used by healthy women were found to promote sexual function in pilot studies4. The women in the study had a consistent number of successful sexual encounters before and during the experiment. Subjects that used the ashwagandha extract reported significant improvement in arousal, lubrication, orgasm and overall satisfaction according to the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI) compared to the subjects who only received the placebo4.
Bone Strengthening and Ashwagandha
Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by a decrease in bone density and is prevalent in elderly individuals. Osteoporosis is common in women who have low levels of estrogen. A study which induced osteoporosis in rats found that those on ashwagandha supplementation did not show bone loss and retained their biomechanical bone strength5. This led researchers to the conclusion that ashwagandha was preventing the normal mechanisms of bone density loss in osteoporosis, likely because it contains estrogen-like molecules.
GABA Receptor Activity of Ashwagandha
GABA receptors bind GABA, a very common neurotransmitter in your brain. If you’re not familiar with GABA, just know that alcohol binds the same receptors and mimics GABA’s effect of relaxation and calm—similar to how alcoholic drinks can produce a calming effect. Ashwagandha was found to increase the sensitivity of these receptors, effectively making it easier for your body to promote its own relaxation. It also mimics GABA neurotransmitters to bind GABA receptors which can help lead to direct relaxation6.
It’s important to note that neither ashwagandha nor alcohol binds your GABA receptors, as well as GABA, does! To promote long-term relaxation and digestive health, make sure that you take proper self-care to keep your neurotransmitters in balance.
To learn more about GABA, sex hormones, and women’s health, check out our recent blog post.
If you are interested in finding a provider to help balance your neurotransmitters and adrenal hormones, get started here.
- Kulkarni, S. K., & Dhir, A. (2008). Withania somnifera: Indian ginseng. Progress in neuro-psychopharmacology and biological psychiatry, 32(5), 1093-1105.
- SudKhyati, S., & Anup, B. T. (2013). A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study of ashwagandha on generalized anxiety disorder. IntAyurvedic Med J, 1, 1-7.
- vel Szic, K. S., Declerck, K., Crans, R. A., Diddens, J., Scherf, D. B., Gerhäuser, C., & Berghe, W. V. (2017). Epigenetic silencing of triple-negative breast cancer hallmarks by Withaferin A. Oncotarget, 8(25), 40434.
- Dongre, S., Langade, D., & Bhattacharyya, S. (2015). Efficacy and safety of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) root extract in improving sexual function in women: a pilot study. BioMed research international, 2015.
- Nagareddy, P. R., & Lakshmana, M. (2006). Withania somnifera improves bone calcification in calcium‐deficient ovariectomized rats. Journal of pharmacy and pharmacology, 58(4), 513-519.
- Candelario, M., Cuellar, E., Reyes-Ruiz, J. M., Darabedian, N., Feimeng, Z., Miledi, R., … & Limon, A. (2015). Direct evidence for GABAergic activity of Withania somnifera on mammalian ionotropic GABAA and GABAρ receptors. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 171, 264-272.
Clinical Support Intern
Torey Todd is a recent graduate of UNC-Asheville with a major in Cellular and Molecular Biology and a minor in Neuroscience. Torey desires to enter the medical field and have a positive impact on it in a meaningful way, with the goal of empowering patients to live to their healthiest lives. Torey spends his free time working with the local Boy Scout troop as an assistant scoutmaster, hiking with his dogs, reading an engaging book or contra dancing the night away.