Withania somnifera is a very important plant in Indian Ayurvedic medicine, and has been used for several thousand years.
It is also one of the plants used in Unani medicine and to a lesser extent in traditional Chinese medicine.
It has more recently been integrated into Western pharmacopoeia (including in France).
Ashwagandha (its name in Sanskrit) is a perennial and bushy Solanaceae of the tropical and subtropical zones, its fruit resembles that of Physalis alkekengi, the bladder cherry.
It is annual in colder regions.
It is native to the Indian subcontinent but also occurs in Africa and in countries around the Mediterranean.
All parts of withania somnifera contain compounds that can be used in medicine, but the root contains the most.
Among the twenty or so species of Withania found mainly in India and neighbouring countries (Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan), Withania coagulans (Sanskrit: Rishyagandha) is also used as a less important medicinal plant. Its fruit contains a substance that enables milk to coagulate (to make cheese).
CHEMICAL COMPOSITION AND PROPERTIES
WITHANIA SOMNIFERA ROOT, ASHWAGANDHA
The root contains numerous substances with pharmacological potential: a dozen alkaloids and about 40 withanolides.
There are many of them, but according to pharmacologists they are not the most interesting from a medical point of view
They are credited with most of the benefits of ashwagandha.
The two most important are withaferin A and withanolide D. T
hese are steroidal lactones which appear to act at many levels of metabolism, mainly as anti-inflammatory agents, but also have a delaying effect on the onset and development of cancers.
There are many recent pharmacological studies but mainly in vitro (cell cultures) or on animal models.
Clinical studies are rare and not very precise.
Traditional Ayurvedic medicine uses ashwagandha in its entirety, often mixed with other plants
- to combat the effects of physical and mental stress,
- to improve sleep,
- to boost immunity,
- to boost energy,
- to delay ageing and the appearance of degenerative disorders linked to type 2 diabetes or obesity,
- in case of minor psychiatric disorders,
- as an antirheumatic agent and in cases of chronic inflammatory joint disorders.
There are also dermatological preparations based on withania somnifera, anti-inflammatory, analgesic.
WITHANIA SOMNIFERA ASHWAGANGA LEAVES AND FRUITS
The leaves and fruits are also used in Asia but the interesting Withanolides are present in very small quantities.
The alkaloids and lactones are responsible for the bitterness of the leaves, which are sometimes used in infusion-decoction...
Ashwwagandha preparations are mainly made from the root, which is dried and pulverised.
Pharmacological studies are carried out using root extracts (aqueous, ethanolic, methanolic, etc.) in which the withanolide content is measured.
In the West, withania somnifera is currently mainly considered as an "adaptogen" plant:
- To fight against physical and psychological stress, chronic fatigue, improve performance and attention,
- to accompany the treatment of chronic illnesses: heart problems, cancer chemo and radiotherapy, type 2 diabetes,
- in case of chronic or repeated infections due to a drop in immunity, HIV infection, after-effects of a viral disease, prolonged antibiotic treatment, also to prevent winter infections.
- to improve sleep, especially in the case of minor psychological disorders, anxiety and depressive tendencies,
- to delay ageing, senescence, especially when there is a decrease in cognitive abilities, a slowing down of ideation.
It is a plant which, as a whole, limits inflammatory reactions:
- chronic joint pain,
- complications of diabetes.
Recent research (on animals) shows that ashwagandha extracts slow down the development of several types of cancer, but it should be remembered that ashwagandha does not provide an anti-cancer treatment, but it can be used as a complement to modern anti-cancer treatment, taking into account possible drug interactions.
Examples of dosage:
There are ashwagandha-based phytomedicines available in pharmacies and food supplement shops, often titrated in active substance.
As there is no standardisation of these extracts (capsules, powder, tablets), refer to the manufacturer's instructions.
Use of dry root or powder of withania somnifera root
- 2 to 5 g of powder per day diluted in milk or water, or in capsules, the dose can be doubled if it is well tolerated and to reinforce the tonus. Cure of 2 to 6 weeks with a minimum of 15 days off therapy.
- Alcoholic tincture 1:10, 40 to 50 drops 1 to 2 times a day.
- if fresh roots are available: homeopathic tincture, 50 to 100 drops per day.
Interactions with other drugs are not well known due to the lack of experience with its use in the West.
It is known that ashwagandha is not recommended in cases of hyperthyroidism, perhaps also in people suffering from iron metabolism disorders (haemochromatosis) and in people treated with immunosuppressants (organ transplants).
Alkaloids may interact with digitalis derivatives (drugs for heart failure) and with antihypertensive drugs.
There are probably interactions (potentiation) with drugs for psychiatric disorders, but also with anxiolytics and antidepressants.
Ashawgandha is contraindicated in pregnant and lactating women and children because of the presence of numerous alkaloids.
One can also be allergic to withania somnifera.
Ashwagandha is generally well tolerated, but if you have never used this plant before, you should start with half the recommended dosage for a few days and discontinue the treatment in case of discomfort, digestive problems or skin disorders (hives).
CULTIVATION OF WITHANIA SOMNIFERA ASHWAGANDHA
Ashwagandha grows spontaneously in the Indo-Pakistani region and in many African countries, especially those with a dry and hot climate.
In temperate climates with cold winters it is an annual plant, near the Mediterranean sea if the winter is mild the plant survives very well.
Ashwgandha can be grown in the same way as tomatoe, sweet pepper and eggplant, it is a sunny plant that does not require much water and can be grown in a container.
Some people recommend not burying the seeds, which need sunlight to germinate.
In India growers break any dormancy by immersing the seeds in cold water for 24 hours or in water at 80°C for 2 hours as the natural germination rate can be low.
The roots are harvested at the end of fruiting, in autumn in Europe, and the small seeds from the ripe fruits can be resown the following year.
WITHANIA SOMNIFERA, ASHWAGANDHA, adaptogenic and protective medicinal plant
Ashwgandha is an important plant in traditional Indian medicine.
It is traditionally prescribed to counter the effects of stress, strengthen the tonus, prevent infectious diseases, delay ageing, and control certain psychological and inflammatory joint disorders.
In the West, it is also used to facilitate sleep and as a complement to anti-cancer treatments (chemo and radiotherapy).
Copyright 2022 : Dr Jean-Michel Hurtel