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High Potency Ashwagandha Withanolides for Improving Sleep, Stress, Mood, Testosterone and Vitality

Ashwagandha Ashwagandha
EuroMedica
 
Longevity By Nature

In Africa, the Mediterranean and India, the indigenous, small, woody shrub known as ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) has been used in ayurvedic medicine1 for more than 3,000 years. In 78 AD book Kitab-ul-Hashaish, Dioscorides described ashwagandha as a “Rasayana”—meaning a rejuvenator “that promotes a youthful state of physical and mental health and expands happiness.”2 Likewise, ashwagandha has also been referred to as a “royal herb” due to its rejuvenating effects on neurological, immune, energy production, endocrine and reproductive systems of the body.3 It is ashwagandha’s adaptogenic properties, which help the body to adapt by normalizing physiological processes in times of increased stress, that result in these broad-ranging effects.4

Various Ashwagandha Extracts

In scientific journals, withanolide glycosides or just withanolides (a type of steroidal lactone) have been identified as important active compounds in ashwagandha.5 Not surprisingly, there are various commercial ashwagandha extracts providing varying amounts of these withanolides. Some of these extracts have interesting research to support their use for stress and anxiety, sleep, testosterone production and a variety of other functions. One particularly interesting ashwagandha extract (root and leaf) is known as Shoden (by Arjuna, distributed by NutriScience Innovations). This well-researched extract provides a minimum of 35 percent withanolides, allowing for a smaller dose compared to other ashwagandha extracts with much lower levels of withanolides. More about the withanolide content of this extract later, but now let’s examine some of the clinical research associated with stress, anxiety, sleep, hormones and immunity.

Ashwagandha, Stress and Anxiety

Ashwagandha is certainly an herb traditionally used to reduce stress and enhance wellbeing—and current scientific studies provide further validation to this use. One such 60-day, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study6 was conducted to investigate its anxiety-reducing effects on healthy adults with self-reported high stress, and to examine potential mechanisms associated with its therapeutic effects. Sixty adults were randomly allocated to take either a placebo or 240 mg of standardized ashwagandha extract (Shoden) once daily. The potential effects of ashwagandha and the placebo were measured using the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HAM-A), Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale -21 (DASS-21), and hormonal changes in cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone-sulphate (DHEA-S), and testosterone. All participants completed the trial with no adverse events reported. Results showed that, in comparison with the placebo, ashwagandha supplementation was associated with a statistically significant reduction in the HAM-A (P = 0.040) and a near-significant reduction in the DASS-21 (P = 0.096). Ashwagandha intake was also associated with greater reductions in morning cortisol (P < .001), and DHEA-S (P = 0.004) compared with the placebo. Testosterone levels increased in males (P = 0.038) but not females (P = 0.989) over time, although this change was not statistically significant compared with the placebo. In conclusion, these findings suggest that ashwagandha’s stress-relieving effects may occur via its moderating effect on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis.

Ashwagandha and Sleep

Non-restorative sleep (NRS) affects 10 percent of people worldwide, leading to poor sleep quality, as well as physical and cognitive fatigue. In this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial,7 150 healthy subjects scoring high on non-restorative sleep measures were given 120 mg of standardized ashwagandha extract (Shoden) once daily for six weeks to evaluate potential effects in improving overall sleep quality. Subjects were evaluated using the Restorative Sleep Questionnaire-weekly version and World Health Organization Quality of Life-Bref (WHOQOL) scale. Sleep actigraphy was used to measure the onset of sleep latency, sleep efficiency, total sleep time and wake after sleep onset. Safety of the treatment was determined by testing of vitals, hematology, biochemistry and urinalysis. A total of 144 subjects completed the study, with no dropouts due to adverse events. Results were that a 72 percent increase in self-reported sleep quality was found for the treatment group, compared with 29 percent in the placebo group (p < 0.001). Based on activity monitoring data, the treatment group showed significant 2 percent improvement in sleep efficiency (SE) (p < 0.01), 18 minutes longer total sleep time (p < 0.001), and sleep latency (p < 0.01), and 10.5 minutes less waking after sleep onset (WASO) (p < 0.05) versus placebo after six weeks. In the ashwagandha group quality of life (QOL) scores showed significant improvement in physical (13.1 percent, p < 0.001), psychological (11.8 percent, p < 0.001), and environment domains (4.3 percent, p < 0.01). In conclusion, supplementation with the standardized ashwagandha extract for six weeks improved the overall quality of sleep by significantly improving the NRS condition in healthy subjects.

Ashwagandha and Hormones

In this 16-week, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study,8 the effects of placebo or ashwagandha extract (Shoden, delivering 21 mg of withanolide glycosides a day) on steroid hormones in overweight men aged 40-70 years, with mild fatigue, were investigated. Outcome measures included the Profile of Mood States, Short Form (POMS-SF), Aging Males’ Symptoms (AMS) questionnaire and salivary levels of DHEA-S (a measure of the hormone DHEA) and testosterone. Fifty-seven participants were enrolled, with 50 people completing the first eight-week period of the trial and 43 completing all 16 weeks. Improvements in fatigue, vigor, and sexual and psychological well-being were reported for both groups. Ashwagandha intake was associated with an 18 percent greater increase in DHEA-S (p = 0.0005) and 14.7 percent greater increase in testosterone (p = 0.010) compared to the placebo. In conclusion, the intake of standardized ashwagandha extract (Shoden) for eight weeks was associated with increased levels of DHEA-S and testosterone.

Ashwagandha and Immunity

The immunomodulatory effect of 60 mg/day ashwagandha extract (Shoden) or placebo was tested in 24 healthy adults, in this randomized placebo-controlled double-blinded trial.9 The trial consisted of a blinded 30-day period and an open-label extension study of another 30 days with crossover of only placebo to test. After the 30-day blinded study period, the ashwagandha extract test group reported significant increase (p < 0.05) in immunoglobulin antibodies (IgA, IgM, IgG, IgG2, IgG3 and IgG4), immunomodulating cytokines (IFN-γ, IL4) and TBNK lymphocytes (CD45+, CD3+, CD4+, CD8+, CD19+, NK cells) whereas in the placebo group TBNK cells showed significant decrease (p < 0.05) and Ig’s and cytokines showed no change (p > 0.05). In the extension period on day 60, the subjects on placebo who were crossed over to the ashwagandha extract test group showed significant increase (p < 0.05) in Ig’s, cytokines and TBNK cells and the subjects who continued on the ashwagandha extract group showed a further significant improvement (p < 0.05) in immunoglobulin antibodies, cytokines and TBNK cells. There were no adverse events reported in the study. In conclusion, ashwagandha extract significantly improved the immune profile of healthy subjects by modulating the innate and adaptive immune systems. Boosting the immune system of people at risk of infection and during widespread infections can be targeted with ashwagandha extract.

Ashwagandha Root and Leaf

In traditional ayurvedic medicine, it is the root of the ashwagandha plant (not an extract) that has been mostly used for medicinal purposes. In and of itself, however, this does not mean that the leaf of ashwagandha is not a valid herbal medicine as well just because it is not part of Ayurveda’s traditional system. As an analogy, consider the herb Ginkgo biloba which has been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for thousands of years. Initially, only ginkgo seeds were reported to be used as medicine. It wasn’t until much later, that the leaves of ginkgo were cited for the treatment of heart and lung diseases in TCM. Furthermore, it wasn’t until the 20th century that ginkgo extract was used for cognitive function—the primary purpose for which it is used today even though this use was not part of TCM.10

In the case of Shoden extract, a combination of root and leaves are used, yielding 35 percent withanolide glycosides. The use of the leaves in this extract is a sustainable farming practice that supports the small farms and local economy in the southwestern part of India where it is grown. The combination of root and leaf has been demonstrated to benefit stress, sleep, testosterone and immunity, among other benefits. Furthermore, in the clinical studies previously cited, there were no safety issue or adverse events associated with the use of Shoden ashwagandha root and leaf extract.

Conclusion

There are several good, well-researched ashwagandha extracts available on the market today. Shoden is certainly one of those, with research demonstrating efficacy for stress, anxiety, sleep, hormones and immunity. In addition, Shoden’s high withanolide potency has resulted in an effective daily dose ranging between 60-240 mg.

References:

1 Anonymous. Monograph. Withania somnifera. Altern Med Rev 2004;9:211-4.

2 Uddin, Q., Samiulla, L., Singh, V.K. and Jamil, S.S. Phytochemical and Pharmacological Profile of Withania somnifera Dunal: A Review. JAPS 2012;2:170-5.

3 Singh, N., Bhalla, M., de Jager, P. and Gilca, M. An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med 2011;8:208-13.

4 Provino R. The role of adaptogens in stress management. Aust J Med Herbal. 2010;22:41-9

5 Uddin, Q., Samiulla, L., Singh, V.K. and Jamil, S.S. Phytochemical and Pharmacological Profile of Withania somnifera Dunal: A Review. JAPS 2012;2:170-5.

6 Lopresti AL, Smith SJ, Malvi H, Kodgule R. An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine (Baltimore). 2019 Sep;98(37):e17186.

7 Deshpande A, Irani N, Balkrishnan R, Benny IR. A randomized, double blind, placebo controlled study to evaluate the effects of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on sleep quality in healthy adults. Sleep Med. 2020 Aug;72:28-36.

8 Lopresti AL, Drummond PD, Smith SJ. A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Study Examining the Hormonal and Vitality Effects of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in Aging, Overweight Males. Am J Mens Health. Mar-Apr 2019;13(2):1557988319835985.

9 Tharakan a, Shukla H, Benny IR, et al. Immunomodulatory Effect of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) Extract—A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo Controlled Trial with an Open Label Extension on Healthy Participants. J Clin Med. 2021; 10(16): 3644.

10 Chassagne F, Huang X, Lyles JT, Quave CL. Validation of a 16th Century Traditional Chinese Medicine Use of Ginkgo biloba as a Topical Antimicrobial. Front Microbiol. 2019; 10: 775.

Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, the dean of academics for Huntington College of Health Sciences, is a nutritionist, herbalist, writer and educator. For more than 30 years he has educated and trained natural product retailers and health care professionals, has researched and formulated natural products for dozens of dietary supplement companies, and has written articles on nutrition, herbal medicine, nutraceuticals and integrative health issues for trade, consumer magazines and peer-reviewed publications. He can be reached at gbruno@hchs.edu.