Research shows that ashwagandha may reduce anxiety and offer protection from inflammatory disorders and neurodegenerative diseases.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an important herb in the Ayurvedic system of healing of India, where it's classified as a Rasayana (tonic). Also known as Indian Ginseng, ashwagandha is highly valued as an adaptogenic, an agent that enables to body to maintain homeostasis during times of stress. While the herb has been used to treat a variety of conditions, there is increasing evidence that ashwagandha may reduce anxiety, enhance cognitive function and combat pain and inflammation associated with rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.
One of the actions of ashwagandha withanolides is to mimic gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an important central nervous system neurotransmitter that regulates muscle tone and brain activity. In contrast to other neurotransmitters that excite, like dopamine and serotonin, GABA minimizes firing between neurons, promoting a sense of calm. Research also shows that these compounds may reverse the toxic effects of beta-amyloid 42, a peptide found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients that contributes to the formation of amyloid plaque and intracellular neurofibrillary tangles in the brain.
Ashwagandha is also being studied for its potential therapy for Parkinson’s disease. Current research shows that oral treatment with the root extract exerts an antioxidant effect in PD-induced mice, significantly reducing nitrite and lipid peroxidation in the mid-brain and improving behavior.
Current research shows that ashwagandha also appears to help regulate cortisol, a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands that produces the “fight or flight” response. Chronic emotional or environmental stress is typically accompanied by excessive levels of circulating cortisol, which in turn increases levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as tumor necrosis factor and interleukin-1beta. Cytokines are important components of the immune system; they serve as signaling molecules that communicate information to cells in order to direct them to sites of injury or infection. When regulation of cytokines is compromised, the immune system fails to differentiate between “self” and invading “non-self” molecules and mistakenly launches an attack on healthy tissue. Autoimmune inflammatory disorders like rheumatoid arthritis are driven by this response. Because studies demonstrate that ashwagandha inhibits the production of tumor necrosis factor and nitric oxide production without side effects, the herb shows promise as an alternative or complementary therapy for arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
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