For thousands of years, traditional medicine has relied on the potent properties of certain plants. Ashwagandha, a staple in traditional and Ayurvedic medicine, is one such marvel that has worked its wonders across ages. In Indian culture, it is a well-known household remedy and has been used as a tonic, aphrodisiac, diuretic, and stimulant for thousands of years. With a surge in holistic approaches to health, understanding Ashwagandha's potential for women becomes paramount.
Disclaimer: This content is for informational or educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease and does not substitute for professional medical advice or consultations with healthcare professionals. Those seeking personal medical advice should speak with their physical or other health provider.
What is Ashwagandha?
Known scientifically as Withania somnifera, Ashwagandha belongs to the Solanaceae family (also known as the Nightshade family), which includes about 2600 species of flowering plants, herbs, shrubs, trees, and vines. You're probably familiar with some of these other members of the Solanaceae family, such as potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, Belladonna, petunias, and tobacco.
But Ashwagandha is not just any regular plant; it's the withanolides – its bioactive components – that make it the revered adaptogen it is today. Central to Ashwagandha's function is its ability to modulate physiological processes. This regulation isn't about merely increasing or decreasing specific functions but more about promoting balance. The withanolides in Ashwagandha interact with various cell-signaling pathways, aiding in the regulation of inflammatory responses, stress hormones, and even neurotransmitter activity.
Chemical Composition and Pharmacological Activity
Withania somnifera is a medicinal herb rich in active compounds, including steroidal lactones called withanolides, which are thought to be responsible for its therapeutic effects. Research has shown that Ashwagandha exhibits various pharmacological activities in the body. It is known to positively impact testosterone levels in both men and women, making it a potential natural remedy for hormonal imbalances.
Additionally, Withania somnifera has been found to have anxiolytic effects, reducing anxiety levels in those who consume it. It also has the potential to improve cognitive function, making it a promising candidate for addressing cognitive impairment.
Moreover, Ashwagandha's adaptogenic properties make it effective in combating the detrimental effects of chronic stress by reducing cortisol levels and providing a boost in energy. Ashwagandha has also shown promise in supporting immune function and reducing inflammation.
With a growing body of scientific studies and clinical trials, Ashwagandha continues to show its potential in clinical applications.
Major Components of Ashwagandha Extracts
Ashwagandha extract is derived from the root of the Withania somnifera plant. The root is the most commonly used part of the Ashwagandha plant in traditional medicine. Ashwagandha extract contains several key components that contribute to its pharmacological activity and range of health benefits.
One of the major components of Ashwagandha extract is a group of steroidal lactones called withanolides. These withanolides, including withaferin A and withanolide D, have been extensively studied for their various therapeutic effects. They have shown anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immunomodulatory properties, which contribute to the extract's ability to support the immune system and reduce oxidative stress.
Ashwagandha extract also contains alkaloids, such as somniferin and somnine, which are believed to have sedative and anxiolytic effects. These compounds may help to reduce anxiety levels and promote relaxation and sleep quality.
Furthermore, Ashwagandha extract contains flavonoids like kaempferol and quercetin, which are known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These compounds help protect cellular health and overall cell functioning.
The chemical composition of Withania somnifera extract plays a crucial role in providing the range of health benefits associated with its use.
Mechanism of Action for Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha contains several major components, including steroidal lactones (withanolides), alkaloids, saponins, and flavonoids. Among these, withanolides are considered the primary active components responsible for its therapeutic effects.
The effects of Ashwagandha on biochemical pathways have been extensively studied. It has been shown to modulate various pathways, such as reducing cortisol levels and oxidative stress, enhancing thyroid function, and improving cognitive function.
Ashwagandha's adaptogenic properties help regulate the body's stress response by reducing cortisol levels. It also exhibits anxiolytic effects that can help reduce anxiety levels. Additionally, Ashwagandha has been found to improve cognitive function by enhancing memory and reducing cognitive impairment.
Furthermore, Ashwagandha has demonstrated the potential to improve athletic and physical performance. It aids in reducing physical stress and oxidative stress, thus boosting energy levels. It may also help improve testosterone levels, benefiting athletic performance further.
How Ashwagandha Works
Numerous scientific studies have explored the effects and mechanism of action of Withania somnifera, shedding light on its therapeutic potential.
Ashwagandha has been found to impact various biochemical pathways in the body. It:
- Boosts the production of glycosaminoglycans which play a crucial role in tissue repair and regeneration, thereby promoting the healing process.
- Inhibits ribosome incorporation and improves our body's ability to produce proteins effectively.
- Disrupts coupling between electron transport and ATP synthesis in mitochondria (oxidative phosphorylation), resulting in improved cellular metabolism and energy balance.
- Modulates Mg2+-dependent ATPases (enzymes that play a crucial role in cellular energy metabolism), resulting in improved cellular functions.
- Reduces the activity of succinate dehydrogenase, an enzyme that affects mitochondrial health, cellular respiration, and energy production.
By now, you're probably thinking, "That's very scientific and sounds good, but how can Ashwagandha help me?" So let's dive into the health benefits of Ashwagandha supplements for women.
General Health Benefits of Ashwagandha Supplements
The attributes of Ashwagandha span wide – from bolstering our immune systems to acting as a shield against stress and anxiety. Numerous studies vouch for its adaptogenic properties, which equip the body to combat external and internal stressors.
6 Key Ways Withania Somnifera Benefits Women's Health
One of Ashwagandha's pivotal roles is its ability to regulate cortisol, the stress hormone. You've probably seen those weight loss commercials that point out the role cortisol levels play in the development of excess belly fat. But for women, a balanced cortisol level goes beyond just excess belly fat. Women's cortisol balance is synonymous with overall hormonal health, including optimal thyroid function.
Energy and Metabolism
Ashwagandha has gained significant attention for its potential effects on energy and metabolism. One way it impacts these areas is by promoting mitochondrial health. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of our cells, responsible for generating energy. Ashwagandha has been shown to enhance mitochondrial function, which can lead to increased energy levels.
Additionally, Withania somnifera plays a role in blood glucose regulation and insulin sensitivity. Studies have suggested that it may help to lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin resistance.
Furthermore, Ashwagandha has been found to possess anti-inflammatory properties. Chronic inflammation can negatively impact energy levels and metabolism. Withania somnifera may help support a healthier metabolic state by inhibiting inflammation.
Menstrual Health and Fertility
Women with hormone imbalances may find a friend in Ashwagandha. Preliminary research suggests it can aid in regulating menstrual cycles, making it a potential ally. One of the key benefits of Withania somnifera is its ability to balance reproductive hormones in women. It has been found to increase levels of luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), estrogen, and progesterone. These hormones play a crucial role in regulating the menstrual cycle and promoting ovulation.
Additionally, Withania somnifera has been found to enhance sexual function and arousal in women. It works by increasing blood flow to the genital area, which can improve lubrication and sensitivity, leading to a more enjoyable sexual experience.
Human studies have also suggested that Withania somnifera may help reduce menstrual pain and symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS), such as mood swings and bloating. This may be attributed to its ability to reduce inflammation and regulate hormone levels.
While more research is needed to fully understand the effects of Withania somnifera on menstrual health and fertility, the existing evidence indicates its potential benefits in improving reproductive hormone levels and enhancing sexual function in women.
Mood and Mental Health
Emotional well-being is intrinsic to women’s health. With its mood-stabilizing attributes, Ashwagandha could offer solace during difficult times.
The bone density loss, especially during post-menopausal stages, is a grave concern for many women. Ashwagandha may promote stronger bones.
Anti-aging and Skin Health
It's not just the inner workings that Ashwagandha touches. Its rich antioxidant profile suggests a protective role against oxidative stress, a culprit behind premature skin aging.
Research also suggests that Withania somnifera possesses anti-inflammatory properties, making it potentially beneficial for skin conditions. Ashwagandha may help alleviate symptoms and improve overall skin health by reducing inflammation.
In Ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha has been traditionally used to promote a youthful complexion. It is believed to nourish and rejuvenate the skin, giving it a radiant and glowing appearance. Additionally, Withania somnifera may help combat the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, making it a valuable tool for anti-aging skincare.
This means Ashwagandha offers potential skin elasticity, hydration, and overall vitality improvements.
Recommended Dosage and How to Take Ashwagandha
Available in an array of forms, from capsules to powders, Ashwagandha’s dosage should be tailored to individual needs. Typically, doses range from 300-500mg daily, but conferring with a healthcare expert is essential, especially when considering its combination with other medications.
Possible Side Effects
While Ashwagandha is celebrated for its benefits, it's vital to be informed about possible side effects. Some may experience stomach upset, diarrhea, or even allergic reactions. It's important to discontinue usage and consult a healthcare professional if you notice any adverse effects.
Ashwagandha offers a variety of benefits and paints a promising picture for women's health. As we embrace its benefits, an informed approach, accompanied by consultation with a healthcare professional, remains our best ally.
References and Further Reading
Gómez Afonso, A., Fernandez-Lazaro, D., Adams, D.P. et al. Effects of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on Hematological and Biochemical Markers, Hormonal Behavior, and Oxidant Response in Healthy Adults: A Systematic Review. Curr Nutr Rep 12, 465–477 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13668-023-00481-0
Verma, S. K., & Kumar, A. (2011). Therapeutic uses of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) with a note on withanolides and its pharmacological actions. Asian J Pharm Clin Res, 4(1), 1-4.
Sharma, A.K., Basu, I., and Singh, S..Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Subclinical Hypothyroid Patients: A Double-Blind, Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Mar 2018.243-248. http://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2017.0183
Menstrual Health and Fertility
Ajgaonkar, A., Jain, M., & Debnath, K. (2022). Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root Extract for Improvement of Sexual Health in Healthy Women: A Prospective, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study. Cureus, 14(10).
Dongre S., Langade, D., Bhattacharyya, S., "Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root Extract in Improving Sexual Function in Women: A Pilot Study", BioMed Research International, vol. 2015, Article ID 284154, 9 pages, 2015. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/284154
Gopal, S., Ajgaonkar, A., Kanchi, P., Kaundinya, A., Thakare, V., Chauhan, S., & Langade, D. (2021). Effect of an ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) root extract on climacteric symptoms in women during perimenopause: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Research, 47(12), 4414-4425. https://doi.org/10.1111/jog.15030
Mood and Mental Health
Akhgarjand, C., Asoudeh, F., Bagheri, A., Kalantar, Z., Vahabi, Z., Rezvani, H., & Djafarian, K. (2022). Does Ashwagandha supplementation have a beneficial effect on the management of anxiety and stress? A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Phytotherapy Research, 36(11), 4115-4124. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.7598
Ng, Q. X., Loke, W., Foo, N. X., Tan, W. J., Chan, H. W., Lim, D. Y., & Yeo, W. S. (2020). A systematic review of the clinical use of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) to ameliorate cognitive dysfunction. Phytotherapy Research, 34(3), 583-590. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.6552
Salve, J., Pate, S., Debnath, K., Langade, D., & Langade, D. G. (2019). Adaptogenic and anxiolytic effects of ashwagandha root extract in healthy adults: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study. Cureus, 11(12).
Speers, A. B., Cabey, K. A., Soumyanath, A., & Wright, K. M. (2021). Effects of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on Stress and the Stress-Related Neuropsychiatric Disorders Anxiety, Depression, and Insomnia. Current Neuropharmacology, 19(9), 1468-1495. https://doi.org/10.2174/1570159X19666210712151556
Azam, Z., Pandey, V., Gupta, N., Sapra, L., Dar, H.Y., Shokeen, N., Bhardwaj, A., Ahmad, A., Soni, V., Srivastava, R.K.. Phytoconstituents as novel osteo-protective agents: Implications in bone health. Front. Biosci. (Landmark Ed) 2020, 25(7), 1259–1296. https://doi.org/10.2741/4855
Anti-Aging and Skin Health
Deepa S. Mandlik (Ingawale) & Ajay G. Namdeo (2021) Pharmacological evaluation of Ashwagandha highlighting its healthcare claims, safety, and toxicity aspects, Journal of Dietary Supplements, 18:2, 183-226. https://doi.org/10.1080/19390211.2020.1741484
Raguraman, V. and Subramaniam, J. (2016) Withania somnifera Root Extract Enhances Telomerase Activity in the Human HeLa Cell Line. Advances in Bioscience and Biotechnology, 7, 199-204. https://doi.org/10.4236/abb.2016.74018
Devi, A., Jain, S., Singhal, D., Ghosh, A., Kumar, V., Dwibedi, V., & Khan, Z. (2023). Multiple Ligand Simultaneous Docking Analysis of Epigallocatechin-O-Gallate (Green Tea) and Withaferin A (Ashwagandha) Effects on Skin-Aging Related Enzymes. Indian J Pharm Sci, 85(4), 1045-1067.
Mikolai, J., Erlandsen, A., Murison, A., Brown, K.A., Gregory, W.L., Raman-Caplan, P., and Zwickey, H.L. In Vivo Effects of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Extract on the Activation of Lymphocytes.The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.Apr 2009.423-430. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2008.0215
Vetvicka, V., & Vetvickova, J. (2011). Immune enhancing effects of WB365, a novel combination of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and Maitake (Grifola frondosa) extracts. North American Journal of Medical Sciences, 3(7), 320–324. https://doi.org/10.4297/najms.2011.3320