Tuesday, March 27, 2012

From Melancholia - Herbs: Ashwagandha

Also known as Indian ginseng or winter cherry, ashwagandha is a small woody shrub and a member of the Solanaceae (Nightshade) family. While it is found in an area ranging from the Canary Islands to the Middle East, Africa and China ashwagandha is most commonly associated with India, where it is an important ingredient in many Ayurvedic preparations. In Sanskrit its name means "smell of a horse," as its stout, fleshy root is said to smell like a sweaty horse. This root is considered effective against musculo-skeletal conditions like arthritis and rheumatism, and is taken as a general tonic to improve health, increase longevity, prevent impotence and fight disease.

Ashwagandha is considered by many practitioners of alternative medicine to be an adaptogen – a substance which exerts effects on both healthy and diseased organisms, normalizes dysfunctions, enhances adaptability to a range of environmental and physical stressors and increases resistance against non-specific stressors. Despite many studies in the USSR and Europe on adaptogens, the concept is still met with considerable skepticism in Western medicine, where it is seen as uncomfortably close to the snake oil "cure alls" of patent medicine.

But despite those concerns, ashwagandha appears to have beneficial effects across a wide spectrum. In addition to potent anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects, it also appears to have a pronounced calming and mood elevating effect. A 2000 study found that oral administration of ashwagandha for five days suggested anxiety-relieving effects similar to those achieved by the anti-anxiety drug lorazepam (Ativan™), and antidepressant effects similar to those of the prescription antidepressant drug imipramine (Tofranil™).

Ashwagandha has been shown to be active on the brain's GABA receptors, and can potentiate other GABA agonists prescribed for anti-anxiety like benzodiazepenes, as well as hypnotic/sedatives like barbituates and recreational drugs like alcohol. It also appears to increase thyroid activity and may also interact with many commonly prescribed antidepressants. As with all herbal supplements and alternative therapies, be sure to consult your physician if you are currently on prescribed medications.