Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

Ray Sahelian

Ashwagandha is a shrub cultivated in India and North America whose roots have been used for thousands of years by Ayurvedic practitioners as a folk remedy.

It contains flavonoids and several active ingredients of the withanolide class (Elsakka 1990). Several studies over the past few years have indicated that ashwagandha has antioxidant properties and influences brain chemistry. Antioxidant-researchers from Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi, India, have discovered that some of the chemicals within this herb are powerful antioxidants (Bhattacharya 1997). They tested these compounds for their effects on rat brain and found an increase in the levels of three natural antioxidants-superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase. They say, “These findings are consistent with the therapeutic use of W. somnifera as an Ayurvedic rasayana (health promoter). The antioxidant effect of active principles of W. somnifera may explain, at least in part, the reported anti-stress, cognition-facilitating, anti-inflammatory and anti-aging effects produced by them in experimental animals, and in clinical situations.” Another study has confirmed that extracts from ashwagandha have antioxidant properties (Dhuley 1998).

Brain Chemistry
Ashwagandha is used in India to treat mental deficits in geriatric patients, including amnesia. Researchers from the University of Leipzig in Germany, wanted to find out which neurotransmitters were influenced by ashwagandha (Schliebs 1997). After injecting some of the chemicals in ashwagandha into rats, they later examined slices of their brain and found an increase in acetylcholine receptor activity.The researchers say, “The drug-induced increase in acetylcholine receptor capacity might partly explain the cognition-enhancing and memory-improving effects of extracts from Withania somnifera observed in animals and humans.”

A study done in 1991 at the Department of Pharmacology, University of Texas Health Science Center indicated that extracts of ashwagandha had GABA-like activity (Mehta 1991). This may account for this herb’s antianxiety effects.


Ashwagandha is sold in capsules of 500 mg, and as a dried root, powder, or
liquid extract. It is often combined with other herbs.

The Experience of Experts
Dr. Shailinder Sodhi, N.D., an expert in Ayurvedic medicine from Bellevue, Washington, says, “Ashwagandha provides a sense of wellbeing with a decrease in anxiety. Users feel mellow. It is also a good aphrodisiac.” Lise Alschuler, N.D., Chair of the Botanical Medicine Department at Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington, adds, “My clinical experience indicates that ashwagandha reduces anxiety and is helpful for insomnia. I recommend it for patients who are tense and need a calming herb. They can think more clearly after being relaxed.”

The Author’s Experience
I tried ashwagandha pills at a dose of 500 mg at breakfast and lunch for a
week. It made me calm and sleepy, and I am quite certain that it also
increased my interest in sex. I find ashwagandha is better suited for me to
take in the evening due to its sedative effects.

Ashwagandha is an excellent herb for individuals who are tense and anxious, particularly if they suffer a loss of interest in sex. Taking this herb is in the evening is a good option since it can induce sleepiness in some people. However, if you have daytime anxiety or you are tense, you can take it at breakfast or lunch.

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Written by Ray Sahelian MD

Explore Wellness in 2021