Ashwagandha, also known as Winter Cherry or Withania somnifera is one of the most widely recognized and used Ayurvedic herbs. Here we take a look at ashwagandha’s use in Ayurveda, ashwagandha’s qualities and actions, and whether ashwagandha affects energy levels and fatigue.
It’s names offer insights into its uses. Firstly, the Latin word, somni means sleep, which relates to the employment of ashwagandha for its sedative effects. Ashwa in Sanskrit means horse, and gandha means smell.
This translation can be taken literally, as the smell of a horse, or can be interpreted to suggest that ashwagandha imparts the virility, energy, strength, and stamina of a horse.
The ashwagandha root is sweet, bitter, and astringent in taste. It has a heating virya (energetic effect), and a sweet post-digestive effect.
It is considered to be Vata and Kapha pacifying but can aggravate Pitta when used in excess due to its heating properties.
It is said to act primarily on the five deeper dhatus(tissues) in the body, including mamsa (muscle), meda (adipose), asthi (bone), majja (nervous), and shukra/artava (male and female reproductive systems).
Ashwagandha is recognized for its adaptogenic, tonic, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, anti-tumor, nervine, mild sedative, analgesic, aphrodisiac and anti-anemic actions.
This herb is also described as sattvic in quality and is thus said to have a nurturing and clarifying effect on the mind.
Perhaps most notably, ashwagandha is considered a rasayana, a classification of herbs in the Ayurvedic pharmacopeia which is said to promote youthfulness, robust health and longevity.
Ashwagandha is often called upon as a rasayana in Ayurvedic treatment protocols to offer growth, stability and nourishment in cases of low energy, overwork, adrenal fatigue, insomnia, difficulty falling or staying asleep, anxiety, emaciation, sexual debility, nervous system fatigue, or emaciation.
It is particularly helpful when Vata dosha is involved in pathogenesis.
See Also: 21 Ways To Take Ashwagandha
With an average of one in four Americans expected to develop insomnia each year, the demand for alternative therapies to improve sleep duration and quality is rapidly increasing.
The following studies examine the potential benefits of working with ashwagandha to support healthy sleep/wake cycles.
In a study of sleep-disturbed rats, an extract of ashwagandha root “induced sleep-promoting effect by involving GABAergic modulation.”
GABA, gamma-Aminobutyric acid, is a neurotransmitter which blocks signals between nerve cells in the brain.
GABA is important to discuss with regards to sleep because it enables the mind and body to relax in order to both fall and stay asleep.
Insomnia has been associated with GABA levels up to 30% lower than individuals without sleeping disorders.
Studies are also suggesting that ashwagandha can help pacify the body’s stress response.
According to the study, “pretreatment with Withania somnifera shortened sleep latency, decreased waking, increased NREM and total sleep time in sleep-disturbed rats.”
Another study focused on triethylene glycol, “an active sleep-inducing component of ashwagandha leaves” which is said to be “potentially useful for insomnia therapy.”
When stress levels are lower, so too are incidences of insomnia.
In one study, “the stress-induced expression of inflammatory and immune response markers GFAP, TNFα, IL-6, OX-18, and OX-42 in VSD animals was found to be modulated by Ashwagandha.”
The study validated the anti-inflammatory and anti-apoptotic properties of ashwagandha.
The study suggested that it “may serve as an effective dietary supplement for management of sleep deprivation-induced stress and associated functional impairments.”
See Also: How Ashwagandha Helps Hypothyroidism
Further illustrating ashwagandha’s effectiveness in chronic fatigue, adrenal fatigue, and hormonal balance, an 8-week study documenting supplementation with ashwagandha extract.
The supplementation showed “significant improvements in salivary DHEA-S and testosterone, but not cortisol and estradiol in healthy males aged between 40 and 70 years.”
DHEA is a hormone found in the kidneys and adrenal glands which supports the production of testosterone in males and estrogen in females. DHEA-S is classified as a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal cortex.
Low DHEA-S is associated with conditions such as hypopituitarism, adrenal dysfunction, and Addison disease.
Supporting sex hormones and the adrenal glands can be supportive of energy levels as well as sleep.
Palliatively, ashwagandha has been reported as a “useful supplement in many conditions such as post-chemotherapy fatigue in double-blind, randomized studies.”
The available scientific studies and research data suggest that ashwagandha is potent rasayana, or rejuvenating tonic, due to its broad actions on the mind, nervous system, and hormones.
Even with the strides being taken to illuminate the many benefits of ashwagandha, it is always recommended to check in with your Ayurvedic Practitioner and Primary Care Practitioner before integrating a new herb or supplement into your daily routine.
Please consult a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner before using ashwagandha for energy, sleeplessness, or general fatigue.
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