Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Wisdom Wednesday: Ashwaganda

This is the most commonly prescribed herb in my office. I’m surprised that I have waited so long to write about its virtues. Ashwaganda is an Arevedic herb from India. Its use dates back 6,000 years. The name means “to have the strength of a thousand horses”.

In China, the same herb is called Withania. In TCM (traditional Chinese medicine), the herb is prepared as a tea. In India (western herbalogy) the active ingredients are extracted in alcohol over the course of several days. This is very important as alcohol is an organic solvent. Many of the organic compounds in Ashwaganda do not dissolve in hot water but will dissolve in alcohol. So although the names are interchanged frequently, they are not really the same herbal preparation.

Ashwaganda is an herbal adaptogen. Please review my blogs on The Endocrine System and Hidden Adrenal Issues. Adaptogens must be able to restore the adrenal cortex and medulla in addition to facilitating DNA repair. Only a few substances have been found on the planet that are capable of this level of healing and all of them are herbs.

The major components of the Ashwaganda are steroidal compounds and alkaloids. The plant stores these chemicals in the root which is the only part of the plant used in herbal preparations. It has no known interactions but is contraindicated the first trimester of pregnancy as studies with female mice have shown some antifertility effects.

There is an initial lift in energy from taking Ashwaganda. This is a tonic effect, much like that of licorice. However, that initial lift is following by sustained improvement in adrenal function that continues over the course of several weeks and months.

Clinically, Ashwaganda can be effective in treating low energy, insomnia, poor concentration, low libido, anemia, low exercise stamina, and even depression. It can also be taken for long periods of time without any unwanted side effects.

Chaste Tree is usually my first choice for herbal supplementation of any widespread endocrine dysfunction. However, if the response to Chaste Tree is limited, I often switch to Ashwaganda after three weeks. If the adrenals test as the major endocrine involvement, then Ashwaganda becomes my first choice.

Liquid Ashwaganda can combined with other liquid herbs to create a “custom blend”. I frequently use Korean Ginseng, Licorice, Gingko, and/or St. John’s Wort in combination with Ashwaganda to support its function.
My favorite tableted formula contains Ashwaganda, Skullcap, Licorice Root, and Korean Ginseng. Strangely enough, it is mislabeled as “Withania Complex”.

Herbal quality is a huge problem in the United States. In Europe, herbal companies have voluntary guidelines that are quite strict. I obtain virtually all of my herbs from Australia as they must be pharmaceutical quality by law. Ashwaganda is no exception – it is grown in India, shipped to Australia and must pass testing for quality and purity before it is accepted. Then it is monitored through every step of the extraction process to a liquid or tableted form.

Ashwaganda is one of the most effective herbal supplements available today. I can be taken safely for long periods of time to counteract the stress of modern life.

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