Chemistry of Ashwagandha and usability in different diseases

Chemistry of Ashwagandha and usability in different diseases

The Ayurveda Experience May 05, 2021

Various chemical and pharmacological research done on Withania somnifera extracts prove beyond doubt, its efficacy in treating a wide variety of chronic physical and mental ailments. Ashwagandha can be used both for preventive and curative purposes.  

Ashwagandha- The Ayurveda Experience

Major Chemical constituents of Ashwagandha:

The major chemical constituents of W. somnifera are withanolides, a group of naturally occurring C28 steroidal lactones with ergostane-based skeleton. Withanolides are highly oxygenated phytoconstituents.  

Ashwagandha contains withaferin A; withanonewithanolide WS-1, withanolide A to Y; somnirolsomnitolwithasomniferin A, nicotine, preudotropine, tropine, solasodinewithasomnineSitoindosides VII-X, sominoneSominolide etc. (Reference: Illustrated Dravyaguna Vijnana, Vol. II, by Dr JLN Shastry) 

The somniferin chemical constituent of the herb is well known for its sedative and anxiolytic effect. Due to sedative benefit the roots are used in anxiety, nervousness, fatigue, giddiness, fainting, loss of sleep etc. In case of Premature ejaculation resulted due to anxiety it has shown very significant benefit. 


benefits of ashwagandha

How long does Ashwagandha stay in the body? In what ways it is eliminated out? 

The effect of one dose of 500 mg of Ashwagandha capsule or tablet or 1 dose of 5 grams of Ashwagandha churna is seen for a period of 2 – 3 days. Though much pharmacokinetic data is not available, in an experimental study on rats, it was noted that extracts of Ashwagandha remained for 45–60 minutes. (half-life) – 0.046% Withaferin A and 0.048% Withanolide A. 

It is eliminated largely through liver, bowels and urine. 

Pharmacological activities of Ashwagandha: 

  • Anticancer activity 
  • Neuroprotective activity 
  • Anti-epileptic activity 
  • Anti-depression and anti-anxiety activity 
  • Spermatogenic activity 
  • Hepatoprotective activity 
  • Anti-inflammatory and antiarthritic activity 
  • Anti-microbial activity 
  • Hypoglycaemic and hypolipidemic activity 

Miscellaneous pharmacological activities  

Research with withaferin-A shows that having antiplatelet, anticoagulant, and profibrinolytic properties (Ku and Bae, 2014), cardioprotective activity, nephroprotective activity, immunomodulatory activity and antileishmanial activities.  

Read More: Ashwagandha for Sexual Strength, Ashwagandha And Weight Management, How Ashwagandha Helps Hypothyroidism

Use of Ashwagandha in different pathological conditions: 

Use in auto-immune disorders 

Can Ashwagandha be used in Hashimoto thyroidits? I have heard that it should not be used? 

A false concept is there, that immune boosting herbs like Ashwagandha cannot be taken in auto-immune disorders. I do not approve of this concept. 

Ashwagandha in Hashimoto thyroidits / hypothyroidism would effectively address to the symptoms of stress, weight gain, muscle pain, joint pains, depression etc. 

The regular dose (needs approval by consulting Ayurvedic doctor) for this is – half a teaspoon (3 g) at night, with a cup of milk or water, 10 minutes after food. 

For hypothyroidism 

Ashwagandha – stress reliever, anti-oxidant, stimulates thyroid – Decreases TSH and improves T3 and T4. – placebo-controlled study 

For hyperthyroidism 

It is not directly indicated in the treatment of hyperthyroidism. But it is useful in treating below symptoms which are associated with hyperthyroidism. 

  • Nervousness, irritability 
  • Fatigue, muscle weakness 
  • Frequent bowel movements 
  • Difficulty sleeping. 

For boosting immunity 

Stimulate immunological activity in mice. 

Enhances the total WBC count (17125 cells/mm(3)) on 10th day. 

Bone marrow cellularity (27×10(6) cells/femur) as 

Administration of Withania extract also showed an enhancement in phagocytic activity of peritoneal macrophages (76.5 pigmented cells/200) when compared to control (31.5/200 cells) in mice.

As immuno-modulator 

Active paw anaphylaxis and delayed type hypersensitivity (DTH). Immunomodulatory effect was assessed. 

A significant increase in white blood cell counts and platelet counts was observed in animals treated with Ashwagandha extract. 

A protective effect in cyclophosphamide-induced myelo suppression was observed in animals treated with WST and WS2, revealing a significant increase in white blood cell counts and platelet counts. 

Significant increase in hemagglutinating antibody responses and hemolytic antibody responses towards sheep red blood cells.

For anxiety 

Preliminary evidence suggests potent anxiolytic effects in the context of chronic stress, with lesser potency in standard forms of anxiety not related to stress. There may be more benefit to social anxiety as well with Ashwagandha relative to other anxiolytics 

For high C reactive protein 

The reduction seen in C-reactive protein over the course of 60 days has been noted to reach 31.6% with standard oral doses of ashwagandha supplementation. 

High CRP levels can indicate that there is inflammation in the arteries of the heart, which can mean a higher risk for heart attack. 

For muscle power output 

Improvements in power output have been noted in trained persons subject to a sprint test and in sedentary persons who simply took the supplement as well as untrained people who began strength training. 

Ashwagandha in children 

Ashwagandha can be useful in children to improve growth etc. But it should only be taken if your doctor prescribes it. Without doctor’s consultation if Ashwagandha is given in children, it may lead to constipation, loose stools, abdominal cramps, drowsiness, excess sleepiness or even anxiety episodes. 

If taken for immunity and health improvement, how long can it be continued? 

Ashwagandha can be continued for a period of 4 – 8 weeks time. 


In the ancient system of Indian medicine, Withania somnifera is used as Rasayana – anti-aging herb for more than 2500 years. In many Ayurvedic formulations, W. somnifera participate as an active ingredient and are prescribed for treating various ailments that affects human health. Different parts of the plant have also been widely studied for their various pharmacological activities like anticancer, neuroprotective, antioxidant, anxiolytic, antidepressant, adaptogen, memory enhancing, antiparkinsonian, anti-inflammatory, and antitumor properties. Various other effects like immunomodulation, hypoglycemic, hypolipidemic, antibacterial, cardiovascular protection, or sexual behaviour have also been studied. Withanolides are among the most active constituents of W. somnifera with tremendous potential to treat various health disorders. The purification, structure characterization, and pharmacological studies on other classes of bioactive withanolides need further validation to support the traditional uses of withanolide-producing different parts of the plant to treat various ailments. Presence of diverse bioactive constituents and their low toxicity profiles, and novel mechanism of action makes ashwagandha a suitable drug candidate for the treatment of various diseases. However, there is a need of extensive research at the interface of chemistry and pharmacology to explore W. somnifera towards drug development with enhanced activity and lower toxicity, as compared to its available commercial formulations. 


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