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Your Guide to Ashwagandha: Understanding the Potential Uses and Benefits [Part 2]

May 26, 2019

Uses and Benefits Of Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha has been used as a powerful natural supplement for years in various forms. In the previous blog, we discussed the benefits of Ashwagandha for sleep health, anxiety, stress, depression, and physical fitness. Ashwagandha also helps with sexual health, diabetes, joint health, inflammation, and brain health. It is also believed to show encouraging results for cancer treatment. Read on to know in detail about all the benefits for ashwagandha for men and women.

Sexual Health

Sexual health is a blanket term that covers an extensive range of elements related to sexual function and fertility. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual health as “a state of physical, mental, and social well-being in relation to sexuality. It requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.”

For a slightly different take on the subject, we can turn to the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), which defines sexual health as, “the ability to embrace and enjoy our sexuality throughout our lives. It is an important part of our physical and emotional health.”

Adults, and even teens sometimes, face a vast range of challenges to their sexual health and their ability to engage in sexual intimacy with their partner of choice. These include:

  • Lack of interest in sex
  • Lack of arousal during foreplay
  • Lack of lubrication (primarily women)
  • Inability to reach orgasm
  • Inability to maintain an erection

Many of these symptoms are tied to sexual dysfunction conditions, such as:

  • Desire disorders
  • Arousal disorders
  • Orgasm disorders
  • Pain disorders

Men suffering from these disorders may experience a wide range of symptoms, including an inability to maintain or even achieve an erection, absent ejaculation, delayed ejaculation, and premature ejaculation. Men can also suffer from pain during intercourse, as well as an inability to become aroused.

Women suffering from sexual dysfunction disorders may experience a dramatic reduction or complete elimination in the act of sex, as well as an inability to achieve orgasm, inadequate vaginal lubrication, and an inability to relax the vaginal muscles enough to allow intercourse to occur. Women can also suffer from pain during intercourse and an inability to become aroused.

While there has been limited scientific research into the use of ashwagandha for sexual health, there has been some interest and some rather startling results, at least within the single pilot study that has been conducted thus far.

This single study included 50 healthy women. One portion of the group was given a 300-milligram ashwagandha supplement daily, while the control group received nothing. Those who received the supplement showed marked increases in several key areas, including arousal, lubrication, and ability to reach orgasm.

A second study was conducted using ashwagandha with a group of 46 men, who received a 675-milligram dose of the herb three times per day for 90 days. At the end of that period, those taking the supplement had a higher sperm count, improved sperm mobility, and a significant (53%) increase in sperm semen volume than those who were given a placebo.

How Taking Ashwagandha for Sexual Health Might Help?

As highlighted above, there is some evidence that taking ashwagandha for sexual health can help alleviate sexual dysfunction symptoms including lack of arousal, lack of lubrication, inability to orgasm, and even improve sperm count and semen volume. More scientific study is necessary before solid conclusions can be drawn, however.

Diabetes

Diabetes has grown from a little-known disease in the 19th and early 20th centuries to a true scourge of epidemic proportions. It affects all industrialized nations to some extent, and its impact on human beings is only increasing.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 30.3 million Americans had diabetes in 2015. That number has only gone up. The organization estimates 7.2 million people with undiagnosed diabetes, and another 1.5 million new cases every single year. Diabetes has become the 7th leading cause of death in the United States, with over 250,000 deaths attributed to it as at least a contributing factor. The disease cost American taxpayers $327 billion in 2017.

There are two common types of diabetes – type 1 and type 2. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases defines them as follows, “If you have type 1 diabetes, your body does not make insulin. Your immune system attacks and destroys the cells in your pancreas that make insulin. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, although it can appear at any age. People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin every day to stay alive. If you have type 2 diabetes, your body does not make insulin or use insulin well. You can develop type 2 diabetes at any age, even during childhood. However, this type of diabetes occurs most often in middle-aged and older adults. Type 2 is the most common type of diabetes.”

Type 2 is the single most common type of diabetes, and it is mostly related to lifestyle. In the past, it was thought that the damage caused was permanent, but new evidence shows that at least some can be reversed through diet, exercise, and healthy living.

Symptoms of uncontrolled/undiagnosed diabetes include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Frequent serious thirst
  • Feeling hungry even when eating.
  • Slow healing
  • Numbness in hands and/or feet
  • Weight loss without a reduction in eating
  • Blurry vision
  • Fatigue

Of course, the effects of diabetes do not stop with the symptoms listed above. Even when controlled through medications, people with diabetes are at significant risk for other health impacts. Called “diabetic complications,” these effects include an increased risk for coronary heart disease, an increased risk of stroke, an increased risk of degenerative vision disease and blindness, increased blood pressure, diabetic neuropathy and damage to the kidneys, nerve damage, digestive health problems, and a significant number of other issues.

How Might Taking Ashwagandha for Diabetes Help?

One of the key potential benefits of taking ashwagandha is the herb’s ability to help reduce blood sugar levels. Both test tube trials and human trials have been conducted, and while further study is necessary before health claims can be substantiated, there is evidence that ashwagandha could help with diabetes and could potentially stave off diabetes complications.

The mechanism of action here seems to be an impact on the body’s insulin secretion levels and sensitivity to insulin. Several human studies have been conducted, all of which have shown a reduction in blood sugar for participants consuming ashwagandha rather than placebo. One study followed 18 healthy participants as they consumed two doses per day for 30 days, while a second study followed patients with schizophrenia for four weeks and found that fasting blood sugar levels were significantly improved (13.5 mg/dL versus 4.5 mg/dL) in comparison to patients taking a placebo. A third study followed just six people, all of whom were diabetics with type 2 diabetes. Participants took ashwagandha for 30 days, and all were able to reduce their fasting blood sugar levels better than by taking oral insulin.

While it might not be clear how ashwagandha can affect blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity, the herb shows promise and may be able to offer relief for diabetics and pre-diabetics.

Joint Health

Our bodies are only able to move because of joints. From the elbow to the knee to the joints in the fingers and toes, the body requires joints for mobility. Many joint health conditions can cause pain and stiffness, limiting mobility and reducing the quality of life.

A wide range of joint disorders can affect the human body. Arthritis is perhaps the most common, and there are over 100 different forms, including rheumatoid arthritis, gout, psoriatic arthritis, and more. All forms of arthritis are marked by inflammation, pain, swelling, and stiffness. Severe joint damage will eventually occur.

Bursitis is another joint health disorder. This is marked by an inflammation of the fluid-filled sac that cushions the joint (the bursa). As the sac inflames, it limits mobility and creates pressure and pain within the joint. As with arthritis, damage can result over time.

Dislocations are also common, particularly in athletes and those who live active lifestyles. Joint dislocations force the ends of the bones out of position, causing pain and inflammation, as well as potentially leading to the development of scar tissue that will limit mobility and cause discomfort even after the initial inflammation subsides.

According to the CDC, within two years from 2013 to 2015, over 54 million American adults each year were informed they had some health condition that would affect joint health, from arthritis to gout to lupus. That number has not decreased over time. The CDC goes on to report:

  • Nearly 15 million people with arthritis experience severe joint pain.
  • 50% of adults with arthritis experience persistent pain.
  • Joint health problems are more common in women than in men.
  • Joint health problems are common in those over 45, but also in those who live active lifestyles.
  • Diabetes, heart disease, and obesity can worsen the effects of joint health problems.
How Might Ashwagandha for Joint Health Help?

While there has been limited research conducted, and some of the studies completed used a blend of herbs and minerals, rather than the only ashwagandha, there is some evidence that taking an ashwagandha supplement might be able to help reduce joint health-related pain and discomfort. For instance, WebMD states, “Early research shows that ashwagandha taken along with a zinc complex, guggul, and turmeric might improve arthritis symptoms. The impact of ashwagandha alone is unclear.”

The University of Michigan offers a similar explanation by stating, “A combination of Boswellia, ashwagandha, turmeric, and zinc effectively treated pain and stiffness in one study, without the stomach irritation that is a common side effect of NSAIDs.”

Finally, a study published in 2015 notes that in a clinical trial involving 125 patients with joint pain, a significant decrease in joint pain and tenderness was observed. The study’s authors explain, “All patients were tested positive for rheumatoid factor and increased ESR level. Ashwagandha and Sidh Makardhwaj treatment decreased RA factor. A significant change in post-treatment scores of tender joint counts, swollen joint counts, physical global assessment score, patient global assessment score, pain assessment score, patient self-assessed disability index score, and ESR level was observed as compared to baseline scores.”

Ultimately, more studies need to be conducted on the effects of ashwagandha on patients with joint health problems, but the results from those studies that have been conducted are promising.

A quick tip: If you are concerned about joint health, then you must check out these natural herbs and supplements:

  1. Turmeric Curcumin BioPerine®
  2. Organic Ashwagandha w Black Pepper Extract

 

Inflammation

Inflammation – it is such as small word, and yet it has incredibly damaging implications for human life. The vast majority off diseases and health conditions not caused by outside vectors and pathogens are related to inflammation within the body. Arthritis, asthma, eczema, headaches…these are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to adverse health impacts created by inflammation.

Healthline explains, “Inflammation is a natural process that helps your body heal and defend itself from harm. However, inflammation is harmful if it becomes chronic. Chronic inflammation may last for weeks, months, or years – and may lead to various health problems.”

Scripps Health expands on that by explaining, “You cannot see it or feel it, but inflammation may slowly be damaging your body. Inflammation (swelling), which is part of the body’s natural healing system, helps fight injury and infection. However, it does not just happen in response to injury and illness. An inflammatory response can also occur when the immune system goes into action without an injury or infection to fight. Since there is nothing to heal, the immune system cells that normally protect the body begin to destroy healthy arteries, organs, and joints.’

For an even better explanation of how what is supposed to be a defense mechanism that protects us can transform into something that harms us, we can turn to WebMD. “In some diseases, like arthritis, the body’s defense system – the immune system – triggers an inflammatory response when there are no foreign invaders to fight off. In these diseases, called autoimmune diseases, the body’s normally protective immune system causes damage to its tissues. The body responds as if normal tissues are infected or somehow abnormal.”

Arthritis, asthma, and eczema are not the only examples of inflammatory diseases. There are others that most of us do not associate with inflammation, such as stroke, heart disorders, diabetes, and the like. Pfizer, the pharmaceutical manufacturer, notes that “Overall, the estimated prevalence of the chronic inflammatory disease in Western society is 5 to 7%”. The report also explains that “chronic inflammatory disease patients are at greater risk for developing another inflammatory-related condition,” meaning that these conditions can feed into one another, and build.

That is backed up by a study published by the World Health Organization and Rand Corporation in 2014 that noted “60% of Americans had at least one chronic condition, 42% had more than one and 12% of adults had five or more chronic conditions. Worldwide, three out of five people die due to chronic inflammatory diseases like stroke, chronic respiratory diseases, heart disorders, cancer, obesity, and diabetes.”

Symptoms of chronic inflammatory disease include:

  • Pain within the body, particularly within the joints
  • Skin rashes and conditions, such as eczema
  • Excessive mucus production
  • Low energy, even when getting plenty of sleep.
  • Digestive health problems, including abdominal pain and bloating

As mentioned, patients with the chronic inflammatory disease have much more to worry about than these symptoms alone. Over time, chronic inflammation can lead to an incredibly wide range of conditions, many of which eventually become fatal, such as heart disease, or are significant contributing factors to early death, such as diabetes.

How Helpful Is Taking Ashwagandha for Inflammation?

Ashwagandha has been studied in both animal trials and human trials for its anti-inflammatory capabilities. One study involving male rats found that those fed a diet high in fructose (fruit sugars) along with ashwagandha had lower rates of inflammation markers than those not consuming ashwagandha. A second study involving mice found that ashwagandha extracts “may possess therapeutic perspectives in the treatment of inflammation and pain.”

A third study found that in animals treated with ashwagandha, “the results showed that [the herb] exhibited antioxidant and anti-arthritic activity and reduced inflammation in CIA rats and suggested the potential use of this plant in the treatment of arthritis.” In human trials, it was discovered that ashwagandha could decrease inflammation markers, such as C-reactive protein, as well as increase the activity of so-called “natural killer cells,” which fight infection.

While additional study is necessary, there is promising evidence that shows an ashwagandha supplement taken regularly may be able to help fight chronic inflammation and even prevent related diseases.

Potential Anti-Cancer Capabilities

As we discussed in the previous section, inflammation is the root of most of the frightening diseases we are subject to today, including heart disease and stroke. However, cancer also falls under that heading – it is an inflammation-related disease. There is some evidence that taking an ashwagandha supplement might help prevent some types of cancers.

Understanding Cancers

Before we discuss how ashwagandha might help prevent the formation of some types of cancers, it is crucial to establish a baseline understanding of these diseases. Cancer is not a single disease, but several different interrelated ones. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), “Cancer is the name given to a collection of related diseases. In all types of cancer, some of the body’s cells begin to divide without stopping and spread into the surrounding tissues.”

While cancer is defined as being a genetic disease – that is, it is caused by genetic mutations – the actual underlying cause is inflammation. Again, we turn to the National Cancer Institute for an explanation. The organization states that inflammation is a normal response in the body to trauma and infection, but chronic inflammation can have devastating consequences. “Over time, chronic inflammation can cause DNA damage and lead to cancer. For example, people with chronic inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, have an increased risk of colon cancer.”

In an explanation of how this develops over, time, the NCI clarifies, “Cancer can start almost anywhere in the human body, which is made up of trillions of cells. Normally, human cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old or become damaged, they die, and new cells take their place. When cancer develops, however, this orderly process breaks down. As cells become more and more abnormal, old, or damaged cells survive when they should die, and new cells form when they are not needed. These extra cells divide without stopping and may form growths called tumors.”

How Can Ashwagandha Help in Cancer?

There have been limited studies involving laboratory testing and animal testing regarding ashwagandha’s effects on cancer. In laboratory (test-tube) testing, the herb was able to induce programmed cell death, called apoptosis. Several animal studies have been conducted, showing that the herb may be instrumental in treating some types of cancer, including lung, brain, ovarian, and breast cancers. One study, in particular, involving female mice with ovarian cancer, showed that ashwagandha had the potential to reduce tumor growth rates by up to 80% when used alone, as well as in conjunction with anti-cancer medications. Researchers also noted that the herb prevented cancer from spreading to other organs within the test animals.

While there have been no trials involving ashwagandha for cancer in humans as yet, the results thus far are encouraging. However, they are not definitive.

Cognition

Over time, our cognitive function (brain power) declines. We see this in things like age-related forgetfulness, as well as in more serious mental health conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease. An ashwagandha supplement may be able to help preserve and even improve cognitive capabilities like memory, as well as other brain functions.

Why Does Cognition Decline?

Cognition declines for multiple reasons. There is no single, overriding cause. Some of the more common causes in older adults include:

  • Side effects of medications and supplements
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Vitamin and nutrient deficiencies
  • Metabolic imbalances, such as glucose levels or kidney dysfunction
  • Brain neuron damage due to injuries or a neurodegenerative condition
  • A build-up of toxins

According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 16 million people in the US now live with some form of cognitive impairment. The organization goes on to explain that cognitive impairment is “when a person has trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions that affect their everyday life. Cognitive impairment ranges from mild to severe.”

Everyone is subject to cognitive decline as they age. It is a natural part of the aging process. As neurons break down, the mental acuity slightly declines. However, that decline is not particularly significant in the course of healthy aging. Those suffering from mild cognitive impairment suffer from a more significant loss of cognition, however.

Mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, is the most common condition in the nation. The Alzheimer’s Association notes that “Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) causes a slight but noticeable and measurable decline in cognitive abilities, including memory and thinking skills. A person with MCI is at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s or another dementia.”

The Mayo Clinic further expands that explanation by stating, “Mild cognitive impairment is the state between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. It can involve problems with memory, language, thinking, and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes.”

How Might Taking Ashwagandha for Brain Health Help?

To date, there have been test-tube trials, animal trials, and even human studies involving the effects of ashwagandha on brain health and cognition. While further study is needed, the results thus far have been quite encouraging.

For instance, several laboratory tests have indicated that ashwagandha may help improve brain function due to damage caused by diseases or injuries. One study showed that supplementing with the herb could reverse beta-amyliod1-42 induced toxicity in human neuronal cells. Animal trials have likewise shown significant promise, although they are not conclusive. One study showed that rats suffering from memory impairment due to hypobaric hypoxia benefited from taking Ashwagandha. Another study showed that sleep-deprived rats gained neuroprotective benefits from taking the herb.

In terms of human studies, there have only been a few despite thousands of years of documented use in Ayurvedic tradition. One study involved 50 adults and followed them for eight weeks. Participants took ashwagandha twice per day, and all participants showed an increase in attention, memory, and performing tasks. A second study showed that even healthy individuals could benefit from taking an ashwagandha supplement. Men who took a daily dose of the herb reported an increase in their ability to perform tasks, as well as their mental reaction times.

Again, further study is needed for conclusive proof, but the results of the studies completed thus far offer hope for those who are suffering from cognitive decline.

What Are the Ashwagandha Benefits for Men and Women?

Ashwagandha is a powerful natural herb that has been used for thousands of years for an extensive range of purposes. Some of the benefits of taking an ashwagandha supplement may yield include:

  • Assistance with weight loss through body fat reduction and body composition balancing
  • Assistance with stress through reduction of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body
  • Improved sleep through hormone balancing and stress reduction, as well as tranquilization effects
  • Increased muscle mass and physical endurance/performance
  • Anti-tumor effects for multiple types of cancer
  • Improved mental cognition
  • Improved central nervous system performance
  • Enhanced immune system performance
  • Reduced inflammation within the body, which in turn reduces the chances of developing multiple inflammation-related diseases, ranging from diabetes to stroke
  • Increased desire for sex and enjoyment of sexual activity for both men and women
  • Anti-arthritis effects, including reduced swelling and better pain management
  • Ashwagandha benefits for women include improved reproductive health and menstrual health.
  • Ashwagandha benefits for men include improved sperm motility, increased semen volume, and better control over erections and ejaculation.

There are significant potential benefits of ashwagandha for men and women. However, note that these benefits have not been conclusively proven. While clinical studies bear them out and the herb has thousands of years of use in Ayurvedic tradition, there is insufficient scientific evidence as yet concerning its effectiveness in treating health and medical conditions.

More on ashwagandha:

    • Does ashwagandha work?: While we are going through all the uses and benefits of ashwagandha, one question that continuously comes to our mind is, "does it work?" We have covered this question's answer extensively in our next blog. It also includes how much ashwagandha should you take and what could be the possible side effects.
    • Frequently asked questions about ashwagandha: This is the fourth blog of our ultimate guide on Ashwagandha, and it answers the common yet essential questions about ashwagandha.
    • Understanding the potential uses and benefits of Ashwagandha [Part 1]: This article covers the benefits of Ashwagandha for sleep health, anxiety, stress, depression and physical fitness along with a piece of detailed information about the history and traditional uses of Ashwagandha.





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