The Sanskrit word Ashwagandha is made up of 2 words “Ashwa” meaning horse, and “Gandha” meaning the smell. Ashwagandha is a herb native to the Indian subcontinent. It is one of the wonder herbs of Ayurveda. It is a great tonic for the male reproductive system and is compared to Chinese Ginseng for its ability to improve potency.
Sanskrit names: Ashwagandha
English names: Indian Ginseng, Winter Cherry
Scientific name: Withania somnifera,
Part of Plant used: Roots, in dried or powdered form.
Benefits of Ashwagandha
According to Ayurveda, Ashwagandha is a Rasayana. The term “Rasayana” means a herb that is able to make an overall improvement in the functioning of the body. The newly coined modern term for the word Rasayan is Adaptogen. Adaptogen is a substance which has the potential to normalize the entire physiology of the body. Therefore Ashwagandha is not good for a single purpose, but great for multiple health purposes. Some of the amazing health benefits of Ashwagandha, which are scientifically proven now are –
Ashwagandha is a has a huge store of multiple types of anti-oxidants like superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, catalase. These anti-oxidants prevent early death of the body cells and help to prevent early aging in an individual.
Ashwagandha has an incredible capacity to boost immunity. It helps the body cells to develop resistance towards pathogens and rapidly changing external environment. It has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.
Ashwagandha is one of the best nervine tonics. It helps to protect the nerves from early degeneration. It helps to improve memory by increasing the health and functioning of the neurons.
Ashwagandha is a natural antipyretic. It helps to control the fever and any kind of inflammation in the body.
Ashwagandha is known best for its fertility improvement properties, esp for the male reproductive system. It improves both the quality and the quantity of semen. It is also very beneficial for the female reproductive system. It also helps to balance the reproductive hormones.
Natural Body Building Supplement
Ashwagandha helps to build the muscle mass, esp in men by enhancing the effects of male hormones and regulating the digestion.
Prevents Female Reproductive Problems
Ashwagandha helps to normalize the hormone function in females and is extensively used in Ayurvedic medicines for menstrual disorders, infertility, and uterine problems.
Ashwagandha significantly helps to prevent arthritis because of its anti-inflammatory properties. It helps to prevent the autoimmune response in the joints. Thus it helps to delay the degeneration and debility in the joints due to arthritis. This property of Ashwagandha is esp. relevant in the case of Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Prevents Auto-Immune Disorders
Ashwagandha helps to prevent autoimmune response in the body through its anti-inflammatory action. It can effectively prevent and manage diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis and many more.
Ashwagandha acts on the pancreas and helps to normalize the insulin secretion. It also helps to regulate the blood sugar by enhancing the rate of metabolism.
Ashwagandha exerts cardioprotective action. It helps to prevent injury to heart and blood vessels due to stress or the wrong diet. It helps to reverse the process of atherosclerosis, thereby preventing stroke in the long run.
Ashwagandha has exhibited significant anti-cancer activity in recent scientific experiments. It can help to bring down the rate of growth in breast cancer by reducing the rate of cell division. Ashwagandha is now actively used as a rejuvenation therapy alongside with allopathic cancer therapy.
Ashwagandha is an excellent Ayurvedic decongestant. It is widely used in respiratory disorders like Asthma, bronchitis, chronic cough, and other upper respiratory tract infections.
Prevents Depression and Stress
Ashwagandha has sedative properties and can be used very effectively in the prevention and treatment of Depression, anxiety, stress etc. Apart from curing psychological disorders, Ashwagandha provides the added benefit of reversing the ill effects of negative emotions on the body metabolism.
There are many more medicinal uses of Ashwagandha. Ashwagandha is good for bone health, body strength, depression, stress. It has excellent hepato-protective and neuroprotective properties. It helps to prevent constipation and boost the rate of overall metabolism.
Ashwagandha is one of the few Ayurvedic herbs that offer such wide-ranging benefits to the human body. It is good for almost each and every part of the body. Ashwagandha can be used as a health supplement, a preventive remedy and as well as a proper medicine. Besides, it causes no side effects even after a long-term usage. Therefore using Ashwagandha every day is a better health option than using unnatural chemical-based extracts of vitamins, minerals or proteins.
Keeping in mind that food cannot be cooked separately for all persons in a house, Acharya Charak describes the food quality that should be taken regularly for all seasons and all prakrati, along with food that should be used very rarely by all prakrati individuals. However, it is particularly important to refrain from the bad food even if you have to stay hungry, as it is said that one should not eat poison even if he has nothing left to eat!
Food that should not be eaten regularly (occasionally, once or twice a year or for the medicinal purpose)
Non-vegetarian diet for the weak
Dried Meat and Vegetables
It is very convenient and sometimes cheap to store dried meat or vegetables for easy use later. Many times people store dried vegetables to be used during the offseason. Dried or dehydrated meat/vegetables are now being frequently used in “Ready to cook” food. But such products should not be used every day.
The food should be consumed in its fresh or natural form as much as possible. According to my personal hypothesis, food that is naturally juicy, like most of the meat and vegetables, when consumed in dried form, tends to absorb extra water from the intestines for getting into its original digestible form. It might swell in the intestines. If the adequate amount of moisture is not available, it might not be digested properly. Such food might create toxins due to incomplete digestion.
Most of the vegetables that grow above the ground like cabbage, cauliflower, brinjal, beans, peas, bottle gourds, etc. are dry in nature and they cause Vata imbalance(dryness in the body) when consumed without hot spices/oil etc. Also, most of the green leafy vegetables are heavy, dry and have a tendency to cause bloating (esp during the rains) if not cooked along with proper spices. When these vegetables are used in the dried form, the dryness produced in the body is multifold. Besides, it can seriously derail the digestive system. This is true for almost all the vegetables.
Therefore, if you have the option of using dried red chilies for the fresh green ones, please choose the fresh green chillis. Dried methi leaves, normally used as a flavor enhancing agent in Indian cooking, also should be used once in a while.
Meat, esp pork is supposed to be extremely heavy in nature and can cause severe digestive problems (Vata derangement) if consumed in the dried form. Beef is recommended only in diseased conditions, not otherwise. Most of the meat is heavy to digest. Dehydrated meat is harder to digest and can cause severe Vata vitiation in the body.
It is said that such food takes a long time to get digested and after digestion does not fuel the digestive fire, instead leaves it weakened. Therefore such food is classified as Dhatupradushak or contaminator of the metabolism/tissue systems. In order to understand this concept, let us take the example of throwing sand on the fire. The sand does not get burnt but brings down the intensity of the fire. It might even extinguish a weak fire!
Ideally, we should stop using the packaged ready to cook masalas which contain dried vegetables like onion, garlic, or dried chicken pieces.
Instead, meat or vegetables stored in pickled form are oiled, tender and better option for easy cooking than the dried ones.
However, dried meat and vegetables, even when used rarely, should be cooked in water/moisture/oil in order to make them soft and easily digestible. They should be served hot in order to stimulate the digestion. Digestive herbs like ginger, black pepper, asafoetida, cumin etc. should be used to make them easy to digest and absorb.
That reminds me about dried ginger powder! There are some exceptions to everything. Dried root vegetables like potato chips can be kept for long duration and consumed after frying. The use of water or oil for proper cooking is indispensable. Still, a fresh potato is a 1000 times better than the dried potato. The dried ginger powder is an Ayurvedic medicine, easy to digest and produces heat in the body and therefore is not a bad food choice. Pumpkin in dried form is not damaging to health, therefore Vadi(a dried Indian curry material) made by sun-drying the chunks of pumpkin paste and spices, are not harmful.
Also, this concept is not applicable to the medicinal herbs(aushadhi) like Ashwagandha to coriander seeds. They can be stored in the dried powdered form of at least one year. However, their other preparations like jam (chavanprash), tablets, alcohols are more useful and have a longer shelf life.
Dried meat and vegetables are not great everyday food, but they might be used for medicinal purposes, as according to Ayurveda, everything in the universe can be used as a medicine. For example, dried radish soup is used to relieve severe bronchitis.
Considering all the health dimensions of dried vegetables and meat, it is best to avoid most of the dried vegetables and meat, unless prescribed by a trained physician.
Lotus roots are considered to be very heavy and not digestible in the human system. Therefore they should not be consumed at all.
Non-vegetarian diet for the weak
Normally a person who is weak and thin is advised to consume a non-vegetarian diet, as according to Ayurveda also, flesh is the best diet to increase flesh. However, a weak person with a bad digestion should never consume non-vegetarian diet, as it can seriously hamper his digestion capacity. Ideally, according to the Ayurvedic procedure of weight gain, a very weak person should improve his digestion and health primarily on a vegetarian diet and digestive medicines. After that, he should gradually move to a non-vegetarian diet. A non-vegetarian diet for a weak person with retarded digestion is like a college assignment for a school kid. The chances of successful completion are almost nil. Besides, such a diet will cause further retardation of the already weak digestion.
The central idea of the above guidelines is to preserve the digestion. Digestion is the fuels the life-force in the body and anything that hampers digestion should be avoided at all cost.
According to Ayurveda, the one who eats healthy food will never need any medicine; and the one who eats unhealthy food will never benefit from any medicine. Therefore it is important to know thy food!
According to Ayurveda, every edible substance on earth has 3 properties –
Doshashamak (Pacifier of Dosha)- It balances the dosha (physiological systems of the body). Herbs like turmeric, ginger, black pepper can be classified as Doshashamak. Turmeric balances Kapha and Pitta, ginger and black pepper balances Vata and Kapha.
Dhatupradushak( Contaminator of Dhatu)- It contaminates the vital tissue systems. Ayurveda believes that the diseases can occur only when there is a suitable environment for their incubation inside the body system. A contaminated dhatu is the ignorant king who unsuspectingly allows the trojan horse of diseases inside the body. It is like the traitor of Sparta who gave away the strategic secrets and led to the defeat of his kingdom. Therefore, all diseases have roots inside the body and these roots are formed by the Dhatupradushak food and lifestyle habits we practice.
Onion can be considered as an example of Dhatupradushak, as it is Guru (heavy to digest). Anything that is heavy to digest is taxing for the digestive system to absorb. It has a hot temperament and helps to balance Vata. However, it is heavy, sweet in taste, and unctuous. Therefore, onion has a tendency to vitiate Kapha Dosha. Onion is also sharp in action and has bitter as its secondary taste. Therefore, it can vitiate pitta dosha by disturbing the physiological processes.
Swasthyahitkarak(Beneficial for Health) – It is the substance that is indisputably good for health. It is important to note that all Ayurvedic guidelines should be considered in a context. Sutra is the system that provides a comprehensive context for all rules. Ghee, Honey, rice, moong dal are some of the swasthyahitkarak foods, that cause almost no harm to the body in the widest range of situations.
Now, there is no physical substance that when taken in any quantity, any time and in any manner will be incontestably good for health. For example, rice is considered good for health and according to Ayurveda, one should have it every day. But uncooked rice is disastrous if consumed, an excessive amount of cooked rice is not good, polished rice is unhealthy etc. Therefore, there is a context where a substance is doshashamak, dhatupradoshak or Swasthyahitkarak. This is the broad view.
Now for practical purposes, how can we classify day to day objects in these 3 categories? Well, we can do that in the same way as we classify the solid, liquid and gas. Everything that exists on this earth can acquire any of the 3 states of physical existence, in specific conditions. For example, oxygen is a gas in normal circumstances. However, it can be transformed to liquid when compressed, or even solid. But still, for all practical purposes, it is classified as a gas, because that is its natural form of existence. In the same way, even arsenic can be good for the body. It is actually used in many of the Rasa Shastra medicines. But, for all practical purposes, it is classified as a toxin. Because it has a natural toxic effect on the body. Similarly, haritaki (Terminelia chebula) is extolled to be as benevolent as a mother towards the stomach but it is not supposed to be consumed more than a specific period of time. Still, for all practical purposes, it is a swasthyahitkarak herb.
Besides, it is important to note that each human body is different. What is good for one person might not be good for the other. For example, eating curd might be good for a person with good digestion, but buttermilk is better for a person with weak digestion. But this classification is still applicable for everyone. For example, as swasthyahitkarak substance, Ghee is invariably good for all humans, (pure and natural) milk is nourishing for all children. Similarly, too much acid like vinegar is dhatupradushak for all people. And Amla is pitta doshashamak for everyone.
Therefore, irrespective of the body type, this classification is the basis on which we can choose the food that we should eat or the food that we should avoid, in general.
Swasthyahitkarak food items should be consumed every day.
Doshashamak food items should be consumed according to requirement.
Dhatupradushak food items should be consumed rarely or not at all.
If we follow these plain and simple rules of eating, we will never fall sick.
The most interesting thing about substance(dravya) as described in Ayurveda is Kal (time), Disha(dimension), Mana(mind) and Atma (soul) are classified as substances. Therefore the above 3 classifications are applicable to the lifestyle and the thought process also.
General Usage Guidelines for Ayurvedic Health Supplements
Ayurvedic Health Supplements like Chyavanprash, Ashwagandha, Shatavari, Gokshura etc. are fast catching on public awareness. However, in order to get the fullest benefit from them, it is important to consider some Ayurvedic parameters and factors that affect their performance.
If you are new to the use of Ayurvedic health supplements, you should reflect upon the following questions and make an informed choice –
How is your digestion?
What is your purpose for taking herbal supplements?
What is your Prakriti? You can check it online. If you are not able to find a good site, try ritucharya.com
Efficacy of Ayurvedic medicine is not generalized. It is dependent on the age, digestive capacity and requirements. Therefore it is important to know how strong is your digestion? because if the medicine is not digested, it will not be absorbed by the body. The high undigested doses will produce more toxins than benefits. It is like giving a library of books to an illiterate person. He will be able to get no benefit from the huge number of books.
If your digestion is strong, you don’t get bloating, flatulence, indigestion, acidity etc frequently, then you can start with a good dose of herbal preparations. With a healthy digestion, you will be able to properly digest and absorb the nutrition available in the medicine. In perspective of the above example, in this case, you are literate and will be able to enhance your wisdom by digesting the knowledge from the books.
However, if your digestion is not great and you face the above-mentioned problems with digestion, the first step should be to enhance the digestion process.
There are two kinds of preparations available in the market: Classical Ayurvedic preparations and herbal medicines derived from Ayurvedic text.
Genetically modified herbs
Because of huge popularity and demand of some Ayurvedic herbs like turmeric, ashwagandha, shatavari etc, these herbs are being genetically modified to produce more of their active ingredients, for example high percentage of curcumin in turmeric, or high level of withanolides in ashwagandha. However, these herbs are completely unnatural and cannot be expected to bring the benefits of original ashwagandha.
All the genetically modified products are capable of surviving incompatible environmental conditions. However, according to Ayurveda any herbs that grows in uncompatible season, soil or conditions does not contain the natural properties and can even have a poisonous effect on the body.
Therefore, please do not use turmeric with high curcumin levels in the name of Ayurveda. Ayurveda does not approve of genetically modified products.
Use of digestives
The major benefit of classical Ayurvedic health supplements like Chavanprash, paka preparations is that they contain a good amount of digestives(clove, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaf, clove, salt, and multiple other spices) in the preparations themselves. These ingredients help in easy digestion and assimilation of the nutrition. Apart from the stated benefit, these ingredients add multiple other qualities to the health supplement. For example, the ideal Chavanprash preparation contains 64 ingredients. And therefore Chavanprash helps in multiple physiological dimensions. It is anti-aging, improves stamina and immunity, is great for eyes, skin, liver; helps in blood purification, improves appetite, sleep quality, digestion and overall metabolism. Therefore if you are using some classical preparation like this in a dosage appropriate to your digestion, it will be properly digested and absorbed.
However, if you are using herbs in the form of extracts, capsules, or powdered form, which are normally single ingredient formulations and do not contain any kind of digestives, you really need to have a good digestive power to gain the maximum benefit from the herbs. Otherwise, there is a probability of indigestion, flatulence or other problems. Inappropriate consumption of herbal preparations might cause health distortion instead of health benefits.
Type of preparation
Many so-called Ayurvedic products use gelatin capsules, preservatives, colouring and flavouring agents. But these formulations decrease the best effects of the herbs.
Let us take the example of turmeric. Today we have raw turmeric capsules available in the market in the name of Ayurveda. But according to Ayurveda, raw turmeric is very difficult
The dosage of the Ayurvedic Health Supplements is also dependent on factors like digestion, age, health requirements of the body or medicinal purpose.
Tapering dosage is always recommended in Ayurveda, which means that you start with half of the final dose and gradually reach the full dosage so that there is no toxin formation in the introductory phase of the medicine.
Tapering dosage allows the body to assess and decide to accept or reject the medicine. It also helps to prevent allergies at an early stage. Tapering dosage is like a proper introduction of a stranger before he enters the house. It is like taking the consent of the owner (our body). If a stranger suddenly enters the house, even with good intentions, the owner might feel attacked. There can be mild or severe reactions by the body when a high dose of a medicine is suddenly consumed, unless in extreme conditions.
Tapering dosage is applicable in stopping the medication as well. If the medicine is consumed for a reasonably long period of time, the body might become dependent on it. Imagine suddenly shaking away a hand that is placed on your shoulder! According to Ayurveda, a medicine or a health supplements should not be stopped suddenly, unless urgently required. Similar to the tapering introduction of the medicine, there should be a gradual and phased reduction in the dosage of the medicine. This helps the body to adjust to the new condition.
For example, if your optimal dosage of Chavanprash is 2 tsp, you should start the medicine with 1 tsp and increase it to 2 tsp after a week or so. Similarly, if you are stopping the intake of Chavanprash, you should decrease the original dosage to 1 tsp and stop the health supplement completely after a week. This duration and incremental dosage differ from person to person. It is good to consult a physician in case of any medicines containing heavy metals or minerals.
Tapering dosage, increasing or decreasing, is an important factor in preserving the homeostasis of the body.
Timing is another extremely important factor according to Ayurveda. Timing helps the medicine to reach the focused organ or metabolic system we want to improve.
The timing of a medicine can be divided into mainly 2 parts – seasonal and daily timing.
According to Ayurveda, the seasonal cycle and biorhythm of our body, both are synchronized to the sun. Dosha, one of the important physiological factors in Ayurveda are severely affected by the changing seasons and so is our body. Ayurveda has a specific seasonal health regimen to prevent the effects of seasonal changes on the body. This regimen is called Ritucharya. There are many health supplements that are designed specifically to preserve the homeostasis of the body in different seasons. Each season has its own range of health supplements based on the Prakriti and requirements of the individual. For example, Chavanprash, paka and alcoholic preparations are best suited for winters, Amrakalpa(Summer Rejuvenation Therapy: Amrakalpa) is a fruit-based detoxification therapy best suited for summers. Use of season based health supplements is more effective as compared to using same health supplements throughout the year because the requirements of the body keep on changing according to the change in the climatic conditions. Therefore Ayurveda recommends differential health supplement therapy for a perfect balance between the external and internal body environment.
One of the best examples of seasonal health supplements is Ritu Haritaki
After the seasonal health supplements are decided, daily timing of intake is the most important thing. Daily timing of the medicine is decided according to the theory of Vata subtypes. For easy understanding, the recommendations of this theory regarding the time of medicine intake are explained in brief below.
Focused Body Part
Timing of Health Supplement
For organs in and below the pelvic region
Before breakfast (lunch in case breakfast is missed)
For organs involved in digestion
middle of the meal
For general effect on entire body
After breakfast/ Lunch
For medicinal effect on throat region(speech-related organs – vocal cords, related muscles etc), heart, esophagus
For respiratory problems
Many factors are stated above, that should be considered regarding health supplements or medicine intake. Sometimes, it is not possible to incorporate all the factors at the same time. If you are not able to factor all the requirements at the same time, you can consider the factors in following hierarchy –
Decide on best formulation
For example, first, improve your digestion with healthy dietary and lifestyle habits. Take a preparation that you will be able to digest in the best manner. Gradually increase the dosage. If you are not able to follow the proper timing for the medicine, then also the medicine will benefit you if the other primary factors are integrated properly
Every human body reacts differently to the same medicines. It is important to be aware of the physiological changes that you feel after the start of health supplement consumption. The awareness will help early identification of any kind of positive or negative changes in the body. Immediately contact your medical advisor if you notice signs of a possible allergy.
With some experience and practice, you will be able to decide the best possible formulation, dosage, and timing for your Ayurvedic health supplements. However, it helps to consult any experienced Ayurvedic physician if you are confused or using Ayurvedic health supplements for the first time.