Withania somnifera, called ashwagandha, is a member of the pepper family and grows naturally in India and Africa. Ashwagandha has extensive uses in Ayurveda, the traditional medical system of India. The herb contains withanolides, chemical compounds that likely are responsible for ashwagandha's beneficial health effects, according to the University of Michigan Health System. No significant side effects are associated with ashwagandha. The herb is available in tea, liquid extract and dried extract in capsules.
Ashwagandha may have antihistamine properties, as explained by the University of Maryland Medical Center. This means ashwagandha capsules might decrease the frequency or severity of any allergic reactions you have. The UMMC cautions that ashwagandha cannot prevent anaphylaxis. A severe allergic reaction calls for immediate medical attention.
Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Arthritis Qualities
Test tube and animal studies indicate that ashwaganda has anti-inflammatory qualities that may relieve the pain of arthritis and other conditions, according to Health Services at Columbia. A study published in the April 2007 issue of Fundamental and Clinical Pharmacology investigated the effects of ashwagandha on arthritic rats. Ashwagandha had positive effects on biochemical markers of arthritis such as antioxidant status, glycoprotein levels and bone collagen.
Blood Sugar and Blood Fat Reduction
Ashwagandha may decrease levels of blood sugar and blood fat, according to Integrative Practitioner. Ashwagandha use is associated with a reduction in serum levels of triglycerides, total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein and very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. LDL and VLDL cholesterol are the so-called bad cholesterol types, of which high levels can lead to cardiovascular disease. Integrative Practitioner notes that further research is needed to confirm health benefits of ashwagandha in these areas.
Ashwagandha leaf extract kills tumor cells in mice without harming normal cells, according to a study published in the April 1, 2007, issue of Clinical Cancer Research. The study authors note this indicates the potential of ashwagandha as a safe anti-cancer medicine. Ashwagandha capsules typically contain both leaf and root extract.
The University of Michigan Health System explains that the combined effects of ashwagandha have led to its traditional use as a general health tonic and adaptogen, an herb with several different actions that support wellness and relieve the effects of stress. Ashwagandha in its different forms, including dried extract in capsules, stimulates the immune system and may help prevent recurrent infections. The herb has antioxidant properties, so it can neutralize free radicals, waste products in the body that can cause cell damage and disease.