Ayur-Ashwagandha (also known as Indian Ginseng) is an herb that is extensively in the traditional health care system in India, as a general tonic and "adaptogen", helping the body adapt to stress.
Researchers from Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi, India, have discovered that some of the chemicals within ashwagandha are powerful antioxidants. They tested these compounds for their effects on rat brain and found an increase in the levels of three natural antioxidants — superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase. They say, "These findings are consistent with the therapeutic use of ashwagandha as an Ayurvedic rasayana (health promoter). The antioxidant effect of active principles of ashwagandha root may explain, at least in part, the reported anti-stress, cognition-facilitating, anti-inflammatory and anti-aging effects produced by them in experimental animals, and in clinical situations."
A Mood Enhancing and Anti-anxiety Herb
In Ayurveda, the classical Indian system of medicine, and ashwagandha is categorized as a rasayana, which are used to promote physical and mental health, to provide defense against disease and adverse environmental factors and to slow the aging process. In rodent studies ashwagandha has been shown to reduce anxiety and have positive effect on mood.
Historically ashwagandha root has also been noted to have sex-enhancing "Aphrodisiac" properties. Laboratory studies show ashwagandha can produce nitric oxide which is known to dilate blood vessels.
Ashwagandha and the Brain
Ashwagandha is used in India to treat mental deficits in geriatric patients, including amnesia. Researchers from the University of Leipzig in Germany, wanted to find out which neurotransmitters were influenced by ashwagandha. After injecting some of the chemicals in ashwagandha into rats, they later examined slices of their brain and found an increase in acetylcholine receptor activity.The researchers say, "The drug-induced increase in acetylcholine receptor capacity might partly explain the cognition-enhancing and memory-improving effects of extracts from ashwagandha observed in animals and humans."
A study done in 1991 at the Department of Pharmacology, University of Texas Health Science Center indicated that extracts of ashwagandha had GABA-like activity. This may account for this herb’s anti-anxiety effects.
A 2002 laboratory study indicates ashwagandha stimulates the growth of axons and dendrites. A 2001 study in rodents showed ashwagandha had memory boosting ability. A 2000 study with rodents showed ashwagandha to have anti-anxiety and anti-depression effects.