Ashwagandha - hormone, stress, inflammation and cancer management

Ashwagandha - hormone, stress, inflammation and cancer management
Ashwagandha has been shown in research to be an adaptogen with powerful hormone-balancing abilities such as boosting testosterone, balancing estrogen, and reducing cortisol and inflammation in the body; it has at least 5 pathways to weakening and killing cancer cells, and may even reverse early stages of Alzheimer’s. 
Ashwagandha - traditional Indian Medicine
Ashwagandha, or Withania somnifera, may be called Indian ginseng, winter cherry or poison gooseberry. It is an important part of Ayurvedic medicine and is frequently used, for example after an operation, to boost the immune system. 
Ashwagandha is a relative of the tomato, from the Nightshade family, and is similarly coloured red; although the fruit is much smaller, about the size of a small grape. The shrub has yellow flowers and oval leaves and was traditionally grown in India, Africa and the Middle East. The root is the most common part used in general medicine. It contains an extensive range of compounds with known medicinal and health benefits – like polysaccharides, amino acids, fatty acids, choline and withanolides.
Ashwagandha brings the body into balance
It is an ADAPTOGEN - an adaptogenic herb, which means that it promotes balance, correction and stabilisation of hormones in the body, bringing the host into a ‘normal’ state of homeostasis and health.
For example, it one small scale placebo controlled study (50 women) 300 mg, twice a day of Ashwagandha did seem to increase female libido and increase 'sexual function' (11). And its abilities to help in female hormone balancing can provide a significant relief during the menopause (5).
For example, it is known to promote testosterone production. In one study it increased semen quality by up to 40% in stress-related infertile men (9) and in another it could increase testosterone production (10).
For example, Ashwagandha seems to help in muscle strength and recovery, in part by increasing serum testosterone levels (14).
For example, in one study where 64 men and women were given 300 mg of Ashwagandha twice a day, their Perceived Stress Scale improved by 44% and their Depression scores fell by 77% (1).
The healing powers of Ashwagandha

1. Reducing Stress: One of the primary benefits is the ability of Ashwagandha to balance or neutralize cortisol, the stress hormone. In the same placebo-controlled study above (1) there was a large and significant reduction in levels of cortisol.  Cortisol is also known to stimulate the enzyme Cox-2 which is present in cells throughout the body. Cox-2 causes inflammation and thus Ashwagandha reduces inflammation in the host.

Put simply, Ashwaganda reduces inflammation by reducing cortisol levels. This would be appropriate, for example, in people who could not participate in exercise or yoga and so produce cortisol-neutralising endorphins. If you have cancer and you cannot take exercise on any day to reduce your cortisol levels, Ashwagandha is the herb for you!

2.Boosts Immune System:  It is particularly useful after an operation as it is also known to stimulate the immune system in studies unfortunately mostly on rats (12). In one human study it both increased and activated lymphocytes (13).

3. Increases energy, helps thyroid function: The stress reducing properties seem to aid revitalization. Research shows a renewed energy in people taking ashwagandha (2). This may be linked to the effect the herb has on the thyroid (3) where it may rebalance thyroid hormone production.
4. The fourth big area of benefit seems to be with the mind and the brain. It seems capable of acting as an antidepressant(4). 
5. Researchers at Newcastle University Medical School showed in two studies (6,7) that ashwaganda reduced the formation of beta-amyloid plaque in the test tube, while Researchers at the National Brain Research Centre (India) showed that the herb reversed the early onset of Alzheimer’s, with a concomitant lowering of plaque in the brain. This appears to be the result of stimulating a protein produced by the liver (8).
Standard dose of Ashwagandha
Most of the above research seems to have used 300 mg of Ashwagandha, twice per day, although one study on testosterone recovery in infertile men used 5 gm.
Ashwagandha and cancer
6. While most of the above research has been conducted using root extract, leaf extract also seems important. Leaf extract has been found to have at least seven components that can inhibit and attack cancer cells (15). Leaf extract was shown to be non-toxic in animal experiments. 
Ashwagandha leaf extract was shown to have at least 5 anti-cancer pathways: p53 signalling. GM-CFS signalling, death receptor signalling, apoptosis signalling and G2-M DNA damage regulation pathway. The effects with p53 were the most pronounced.
Ashwagandha and health
Objectively, Ashwagandha rightly deserves its plaudits. Western Medical research with its randomised, placebo-controlled clinical trials is only just cathching up on what Ayurvedic Medicine has understood for years. I have tried, in fact, to limit the above research comments to the best research studies. There are many, many more but not necessarily good enough for this review.
But, let me be subjective for a moment. I took a mix of ashwagandha, curcumin and boswelia (frankinsence) after a rotator cuff operation. The operation is known to immediately leave patients in significant pain - it did! After half a day of drugs which made me violently sick, I turned to the three herbs - ashwagandha, boswelia (frankincense and curcumin). Not only was my shoulder back to normal after 6 days with little inflammation, the pain was negligible and my UK Doctor expressed genuine surprise. I am a total convert.
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1.Chandrasekhar K1, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul;34(3):255-62. doi: 10.4103/0253-7176.106022
2.Narendra Singh, Mohit Bhalla, [..., and Marilena Gilca. An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda. African Journal of Traditional, Complementary, and Alternative Medicines. 2011; 8(5 Suppl): 208-213.
3.Panda S, Kar A. Changes in thyroid hormone concentrations after administration of ashwagandha root extract to adult male mice. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. 1998 September;50(9):1065-8
4.Bhattacharya SK, Bhattacharya A, Sairam K, Ghosal S. Anxiolytic-antidepressant activity of Withania somnifera glycowithanolides: an experimental study.Phytomedicine. 2000 December;7(6):463-9
5.Modi MB1, Donga SB, Dei L. Clinical evaluation of Ashokarishta, Ashwagandha Churna and Praval Pishti in the management of menopausal syndrome. Ayu. 2012 Oct;33(4):511-6. doi: 10.4103/0974-8520.1105296. Chem Biol Drug Des. 2006 Jan; 67(1): 27-37.
7.Phytother Res. 2010 Oct; 24(10): 1567-74.
12. Agarwal, Ramesh, Sham Diwanay, Pralhad Patki, and Bhushan Patwardhan. “Studies on immunomodulatory activity of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) extracts in experimental immune inflammation.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 67, no. 1 (1999): 27­35.


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