Withania (Withania somnifera), also commonly known as Indian ginseng or winter cherry, is part of the nightshade family. In Ayurvedic medicine it is known as ashwagandha, and traditionally used as a nerve soother and rejuvenator.
Its use in India can be traced back nearly 6000 years. The root of the plant has been used to treat a range of health issues, from rheumatism to digestive ailments, insomnia and anxiety, to memory loss, and as an aphrodisiac for both men and women. The name ‘ashwagandha’ means ‘smell of a horse’, because the plant itself smells like a horse, and it was considered something that would give you the strength of a horse.
Withania root extract is an adaptogen, which means it stabilises various physiological processes, including regulating hormone levels, and decreasing cellular sensitivity to stress. It is similar in this respect to Siberian ginseng and Chinese ginseng, which is why it is popularly known as ‘Indian ginseng’, although it belongs to a separate species.
Numerous clinical studies conducted over the last 30 years have shown withania root to be particularly effective in reducing anxiety and stress and promoting a feeling of wellbeing. Other research has found it to promote brain health, enhancing memory and cognition, and may be an effective anti-inflammatory for the treatment of arthritis.
You’ll find Withania root in our Multiva, a multi-vitamin developed for kiwi men & women.
Physical stamina and exercise tolerance
Withania root was shown to increase exercise stamina and decrease production of stress hormones relating to physical exertion, in a study involving rats.
A human study published in 2012 concluded withania root extract to be a safe and effective treatment for improving exercise endurance and muscle strength. Subjects took gradually increasing doses over 30 days. Other noted effects were lowered cholesterol levels, an improvement in breathing capacity during physical exertion, and even improved sleep quality in some cases. Further studies are planned to assess its viability in treating sarcopenia – the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass associated with aging.
Reducing mental stress and anxiety
A placebo-controlled human study published in 2012 deemed withania root extract to be safe and effective in improving resistance to stress and anxiety. Various stress-assessment scales were used, including questionnaires, and measuring serum cortisol (stress hormone) levels. There has also been some success in using withania root to treat serious anxiety disorders, such as agoraphobia (anxiety associated with being in public or open spaces).
A 2014 review of five separate human trials investigated the effect of withania root in treating stress and anxiety. Four of the five trials demonstrated significant “score improvements…on anxiety or stress scales”.
Memory and cognition
Cortisol is the hormone that is produced naturally by the body when we are under stress. Overproduction of cortisol in the long term can lead to chronic fatigue, memory loss and impaired cognitive ability. Withania root is associated with improved memory and cognition and has been used to treat memory deficit in children and elderly people. There are also indications that it is effective in the treatment and prevention of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
Withania root improves energy levels and mitochondrial health. It is an anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic agent that has been used successfully in the treatment of rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.
Sexual function in women
Another traditional use of withania root has been put to the test in modern trials. A placebo-controlled study found withania root extract to be effective for treating sexual dysfunction in women, with no adverse effects. The success of the study was attributed primarily to the ability of withania root to reduce stress hormones and increase testosterone.
NOTE: Pregnant women should not take withania root extract, because it can lead to premature birth or termination of the pregnancy.