Withania somnifera is a commonly used Ayurvedic herb that has been used for over 3000 years. It is a small, woody shrub from the Solanaceae family that grows about two feet in height. It is mainly found in Africa, the Mediterranean, and India, and it is the roots of the plant that is used therapeutically. The chemical constituents of the plant include steroidal lactones - the withanolides such as withaferin A, alkaloids, 18 fatty acids, β-sitersterol, polyphenols, and phytosteroids (Biswa et al. 2013). There are believed to be 35 withanolides, 12 alkaloids and several sitoindosides that have been isolated and studied. The most active constituents that have been researched are withaferin A and withanolide D (Altern Med Rev, 2004).
Withania is believed to possess properties that:
- Improve endurance against stress
- General resistance against infections
- Retardation of the aging process
- Improvement of male sexual health in disorders such as psychogenic impotence and unexplained infertility.
Withania is a commonly prescribed herb for people suffering from anxiety, stress and problems sleeping, it has been used traditionally for thousands of years, and recently, clinical trials are also starting to uncover it effects and mechanisms of action.
A recent study investigating the use of withania along with other lifestyle stress reduction techniques was conducted on 81 employees with moderate to severe anxiety of longer than 6 weeks durations. Participants were randomised into two groups, one to receive withania and stress management techniques including dietary counselling, deep breathing and relaxation techniques and a standard multi-vitamin, and the other to receive matched deep breathing relaxation techniques, and placebo. Results revealed significant differences between groups in relation to mental health, concentration, fatigue, social functioning, vitality, and overall quality of life with the treatment group exhibiting greater clinical benefit (Cooley et al. 2009)
Chandrasekhar, Kapoor & Anishetty (2012) investigated the use of withania on adult participants experiencing chronic stress. They conducted a single centre, prospective, double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial on 64 subjects with a history of chronic stress. Serum cortisol was measured along with assessing participant’s scores on standard stress-assessment questionnaire. 300mg of withania, twice a day for 60 days was given to the treatment group and the control group received a matched placebo. Results revealed that the group receiving the withania had significantly less serum cortisol levels and improvements on the stress-assessment questionnaire.
Another study on mice, found an aqueous extract of withania, at 50mg/kg body weight, significantly reduce obsessive compulsive behaviour (Kaurav et al. 2012).
The effect therapeutic effect that withania has on anxiety is potentially due to a constituent of withania activating the gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor in the brain. GABA plays an important role in anxiety, as it is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that produces relaxation and reduces anxiety in humans. When this receptor is activated by withania, humans will feel a sense of calm and relaxation.
Withania supplementation, accompanied with lifestyle stress management techniques may be a great way to reduce chronic stress and anxiety in some populations. If you are interested in trying withania to help with your stress and anxiety, speak to a health professional to ensure correct dosing and that it is appropriate for you.
Alternative Medicine Review: A Journal of Clinical Therapeutic, Withania somnifera, Vol. 9, No. 2, p211-4
Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor Jyoti, Anishetty Sridhar, 2012, A Prospective, Randomised Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagndha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults, Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, Vol. 34, Issue. 3, p255-262
Cooley K, Szczurko O, Perri D, Mills EJ, Bernhardt B, Zhou Qi, Seely D, 2009, Naturopathic care for anxiety: a randomised controlled trial, The Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, Vol. 4, Issue. 8, p1-10
Kaurav Bhanu PS, Wanjari Mansih M, Chandekar Amol, Chauhan Nagendra Singh, Upmanyu Neeraj, 2012, Influence of Withania somnifera on obsessive compulsive disorder in mice, Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine, Vol. 5, Issue. 5, p380-384
By Erin Ablett