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Ashwagandha – The winter cherry from Ayurveda
Superfoods

Ashwagandha – The winter cherry from Ayurveda

18/11/2021
Ashwagandha – The winter cherry from Ayurveda

 

Origin and history of the nightshade plant

Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) belongs to the nightshade family and has been one of the most important medicinal plants in Ayurveda for over 3000 years [1]. The plant substance is also called Indian ginseng, because like ginseng in China, ashwagandha is used in India to treat a wide range of ailments, such as stress-related sleep disorders.

The name Ashwagandha comes from originally Sanskrit (ancient Indian). In Europe, the nutrient is also called winter cherry or sleeping berry. Ashwagandha is widely distributed in Asia as well as in Southern Europe and almost all of Africa. The small bushy plant bears red berries that strongly resemble physalis in appearance. However, the berries of the medicinal plant are not used in medicine and should not be eaten. Not without reason, the plant is therefore also called poison gooseberry. Traditionally, it is mainly the roots that are used in Ayurveda, as they contain the highest concentration of the main active ingredient, withanolides, and, unlike the leaves, do not contain any undesirable substances [2,3].

Adaptogens for body-wide balance

An adaptogen is the name for a secondary plant substance that helps to adapt to increased physical and emotional stress situations. Such adaptogens were first specifically studied by Soviet pharmacologist Nikolai Vasilyevich Lasarev in 1947 [4,5]. Adaptogens can increase stress resistance to various factors. These include extreme environmental factors, such as severe cold or heat, and biological and chemical pollutants. Psychological influences, such as stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as physical stress from exercise, are regulated. Not only that, adaptogens even help counteract long-term damage from chronic stress [6,7,8,9].

The effect of ashwagandha

The effect of the plant substance is not based on directly stimulating or sedating the body, but rather on restoring the lost balance.

Ashwagandha is the most popular adaptogen used for stress and sleep problems and has already been tested in numerous studies. Especially with serious and long-lasting sleep problems, the active ingredient can bring about improvement as well as provide positive support for depression. In acute stress, the plant substance has been shown to lower the level of the stress hormone cortisol.

Athletes can also benefit from taking it. Ashwagandha increases on the one hand the strength but also the male sex hormone testosterone. This in turn promotes muscle building. Due to increased stress, the testosterone level usually decreases in the body.

In addition, ashwagandha takes positive influence in thyroid disorders, as the plant substance restores the balance of thyroid hormones [10].

But what actually is stress?

Nervous, unhappy, overworked, sleep deprived - we are talking about stress! Nowadays, many people suffer from the consequences of chronic stress! But let's first clarify what stress means:

"Stress in the health psychological sense refers to a physical and psychological reaction of a person to a situation that is perceived as unmanageable. This stress reaction can be triggered by a variety of factors, such as time pressure or lack of time, social conflicts, a disturbed working atmosphere, inadequate leadership behavior by superiors, but also personal or family problems." [11]

In evolutionary terms, stress represents an important survival mechanism, namely the so-called fight-or-flight response. Stress floods the body with stress hormones, such as adrenaline, in dangerous situations to prepare it for flight. In the past, it was a matter of life and death when our ancestors had to escape from saber-toothed tigers and the like. However, this former advantage, which ensured our survival, is mostly a disadvantage in the modern world.

Today, stress arises from time pressure, busy schedules, deadlines, traffic chaos and many causes from which we can not escape in everyday life. Often a permanent stress arises, which brings our hormonal system out of balance. The level of the stress hormone cortisol increases, which decreases the function of our immune system, meaning we are more susceptible to illness.

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A long-lasting increase in cortisol, i.e. stress levels, can lower the sex hormone testosterone in the male sex and cause a decrease in estrogen in the female sex. It also promotes obesity, and even sleep problems can occur as a result. Too little sleep, in turn, weakens the immune system and promotes depression. No wonder that stress is the main cause of most sick leave in companies [12,13,14,15].

Studies show: Ashwagandha as a remedy for stress and depression

In a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study, ashwagandha extract was evaluated for its efficacy in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. For this purpose, a test group consisting of 64 healthy adults received a dose of 300 mg of the plant substance twice a day. The comparison group was given a placebo. Both groups were studied over a period of eight weeks. The results are astonishing!

The ashwagandha group possessed a significant reduction on the stress assessment scales.

For example, the level of the stress hormone cortisol fell by over 27% on average. The PSS score (Perceived Stress Scale), i.e. the scale for perceived stress, was reduced by 44%.

In addition, study participants were asked to complete a self-report questionnaire that was used as a screening tool for psychological well-being. Aspects such as physical symptoms, severe depression, social dysfunction as well as anxiety and insomnia were measured. Conclusion: all influencing factors could be reduced by 73%. The major depression item showed the greatest reduction at 79.3%. DASS (depression-anxiety-stress) scores also showed a decrease of over 70%.

The results of this study make it clear that ashwagandha extract increases stress resistance, thereby improving self-rated quality of life [16].

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The sleeping berry for restful nights

As mentioned above, the calming plant substance has a great influence on the nightly rest. Clinical research also confirms this!

In an 8-week study, sleep parameters improved significantly in subjects taking ashwagandha. Improved rest was measured in both healthy subjects and those with pre-existing sleep problems. In study participants who had pre-existing insomnia, both sleep quality and related mental alertness were significantly increased [17].

Mental performance enhancement through Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha has long been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine to improve memory and cognitive abilities. Since a decline in cognitive abilities is often associated with the aging process, a pilot study investigated the influence of Ashwagandha. Here, the improvement of memory in adults with mild cognitive impairment was investigated. 50 adults received either the ashwagandha root extract (2x daily à 300 mg) or a placebo for 8 weeks.

At the end of the study, the ashwagandha test group showed significant improvement in both immediate and general memory. In addition, improvement in mental functions, sustained attention, and information processing speed were also measured [18].

The natural doping for muscle building

Another study investigated the influence of the plant substance on muscle mass, muscle strength, recovery from muscle injuries, and testosterone levels. For this purpose, 57 male subjects (18 to 50 years old) who had little to no previous experience in resistance training were divided into treatment and placebo groups. Subjects in the treatment group consumed 300 mg of the root extract twice daily.

After baseline measurements (status quo), both test groups completed resistance training for 8 weeks.

Muscle strength was assessed using the maximum load for one repetition in bench press and leg extension exercises. The test group taking ashwagandha showed a significantly greater increase in muscle strength for all exercises. In the bench press exercise, the strength increase in the placebo group averaged 26.4 kg. In the ashwagandha group, it was 46.0 kg! The difference was also evident in the leg extension exercise: the placebo group was able to exert 9.8 kg more strength than in the initial measurement. The subjects taking the plant substance were able to lift about 14.5 kg more.

The increase in muscle size was also significantly higher in the ashwagandha group. On the arms, the placebo group had an increase of 5.3 cm², while the ashwagandha group had a plus of 8.6 cm².

Muscle recovery was assessed using serum creatine kinase levels as a marker of muscle injury from the effects of exercise. Compared to placebo participants, those receiving ashwagandha showed a significant reduction in exercise-induced muscle damage.

The increase in testosterone levels was also fivefold higher in the ashwagandha group.

So was the decrease in body fat percentage. The ashwagandha group lost 3.5% body fat, whereas the placebo group decreased only 1.5% [19].

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Medicinal plant promotes the balance of the thyroid gland

In hypothyroidism, the levels of the thyroid hormones T3 and T4 in the body are decreased, while the level of the hormone TSH is increased. As a result, metabolism in all cells of the body is reduced. Currently, about 1% of the population is affected! However, thyroid disease without obvious symptoms of hypothyroidism (subclinical hypothyroidism) already occurs in about 3 to 8% of the world's population. In both cases the hormones are not in balance!

A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study was conducted to test the effects of ashwagandha root extract on the thyroid gland. Fifty subjects with subclinical hypothyroidism between the ages of 18 and 50 were studied for 8 weeks. One test group took 600 mg of the root extract daily, the other group only a placebo!

Conclusion: The TSH values in the blood serum of the ashwagandha group decreased significantly after 4 as well as after 8 weeks. In addition, the levels of the hormones T3 and T4 increased by 18.6% and 9.3% after 4 weeks. After 8 weeks, the increase was already 41.5% and 19.6% [20].

Liposomal Ashwagandha in liquid form

As with all ActiNovo products, the production process of this botanical is completely vegan, which is not always the case with conventional products, as many manufacturers work with milk.

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In addition, the ActiNovo product uses only the high-quality root extracts to ensure the high quality of the product. Thus, it can be excluded that the spectrum of action is distorted, because not the leaves with undesirable substances are used.

The withanolide content, i.e. the active ingredient of the plant, is around 5% in most conventional ashwagandha products. However, the extract used by ActiNovo contains around 10% of withanolides and can achieve a significantly higher effect compared to liposomal encapsulation.

Intake

Experts recommend not to exceed the recommended daily dosage of Ashwagandha products. We recommend every first-time user to take the Ashwagandha only in the afternoon or evening, because the relaxing effect can be very strong. Please keep in mind that each person reacts individually!

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Sources

1)Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung: Risikobewertung von Pflanzen und pflanzlichen Zubereitungen S.83 ISBN 3-938163-76-3

2)Singh N et al, An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda, African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines, 2011; 8(5 Suppl): 208–213.

3) Ajay Kumar.Therapeutic Uses of Withania Somnifera (ashwagandha) with a Note on Withanolides and Its Pharmacological Actions.Semantic Scholar, Published 2011.

4)I.I. Brekhman, I.V. Dardymov: New substances of plant origin which increase nonspecific resistance. In: Annual Review of Pharmacology. Band 9, 1. Januar 1969, ISSN 0066-4251, S. 419–430, doi:10.1146/annurev.pa.09.040169.002223, PMID 4892434.

5)A. Panossian, G. Wikman, H. Wagner: Plant adaptogens. III. Earlier and more recent aspects and concepts on their mode of action. In: Phytomedicine: International Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology. Band 6, Nr. 4, 1. Oktober 1999, ISSN 0944-7113, S. 287–300, doi:10.1016/S0944-7113(99)80023-3, PMID 10589450

6)Hovhannisyan et al.: Efficacy of Adaptogenic Supplements on Adapting to Stress: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Hrsg.: J Athl Enhancement. Nr. 4:4, 2015.

7)A.A. Spasov, G.K. Wikman, V.B. Mandrikov, I.A. Mironova, V.V. Neumoin: A double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of the stimulating and adaptogenic effect of Rhodiola rosea SHR-5 extract on the fatigue of students caused by stress during an examination period with a repeatedlow-does regimen. In: Phytomedicine. Band 7, Nr. 2, 2000, S. 85–89.

8)Orna Levin: [Phyto-adaptogens--protection against stress?] In: Harefuah. Band 154, Nr. 3, 1. März 2015, ISSN 0017-7768, S. 183–186, 211, PMID 25962249

9)Alexander Panossian, Georg Wikman: Evidence-Based Efficacy of Adaptogens in Fatigue, and Molecular Mechanisms Related to their Stress-Protective Activity. In: Current Clinical Pharmacology. Band 4, Nr. 3, S. 198–219, doi:10.2174/157488409789375311 (eurekaselect.com [abgerufen am 1. März 2017]).

10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4117092/

11)https://www.gesundheitsmanagement24.de/stress-definition-i-stressmanagement-i-stressbelastungen/

12)https://www.spektrum.de/lexikon/biologie/kampf-oder-flucht-reaktion/35305

13)https://neurolab.eu/neurostress/chronischer-stress/

14)https://www.endokrinologie.net/pressemitteilung/dauerstress-hormongleichgewicht.php

15)https://www.dekra-solutions.com/2017/03/volkskrankheit-burnout-stress-am-arbeitsplatz/

16)Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial Wankhede, S., Langade, D., Joshi, K., Sinha, S. R., & Bhattacharyya, S. (2015). Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12(1), 43.

17)Clinical evaluation of the pharmacological impact of ashwagandha root extract on sleep in healthy volunteers and insomnia patients: A double-blind, randomized, parallel group, placebo-controlled study. Langade, D., Thakare, V., Kanchi, S., & Kelgane, S. (2020). Journal of Ethnopharmacology: 264:113276.

18)Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal) Root Extract in Improving Memory and Cognitive Functions Choudhary, D., Bhattacharyya, S., & Bose, S. (2017). Journal of Dietary Supplements, 1-14. Chicago

19)Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial Wankhede, S., Langade, D., Joshi, K., Sinha, S. R., & Bhattacharyya, S. (2015). Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12(1), 43.

20)Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Subclinical Hypothyroid Patients: A Double-Blind, Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. Sharma, A. K., Basu, I., & Singh, S. (2017).The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

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