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Ashwagandha, or Indian ginseng, is a shrub of the nightshade family believed to have many beneficial medicinal uses. Purported beneficial ashwagandha effects include stress reduction, reduction of swelling, reduction of blood pressure, and immune system support. The herb, known also by its scientific name, Withania somnifera, contains alkaloids, steroids, and antioxidants, and is used to treat a variety of medical conditions, including arthritis, insomnia, asthma, bronchitis, fibromyalgia, and even more severe conditions such as multiple sclerosis, cancer, and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Most ashwagandha effects are positive or at least benign, but the herb can also cause unwanted side effects in some users, most significantly thyrotoxicosis, a condition that can cause similar symptoms to hyperthyroidism.
Some studies done on mice show that ashwagandha effects might include antimicrobial properties. The herb successfully cured salmonella infections in mice when administered in solution. Another study done on mice showed that ashwagandha has potentially positive results in treating Aspergillus fumigatus, a fungus that can cause a disease called aspergillosis in people whose immune systems have been compromised.
Ashwagandha also appears to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. As an anti-inflammatory, the herb is apparently effective in the treatment of swelling. It also decreases the pain associated with swelling, such as the pain caused by swelling of the joints in individuals with arthritis. As an antioxidant, ashwaghanda may be effective in reducing the risk of heart disease.
Other beneficial ashwagandha effects include stress reduction and mental stimulation. The herb is believed to be an adaptogen, a substance that helps the human body cope with stress. Many people who use the herb as a general tonic report feelings of general well-being and calm, as well as enhanced physical energy and clarity of thought. However, greater study is needed to verify the existence of adaptogens.
Ashwagandha effects also appear to be stimulating to the libido. It is sometimes used to treat infertility in men and women, as well as male impotence. The herb may also be effective in treating menstrual cramps and other gynecological conditions.
Though side effects of ashwagandha are rare, some individuals taking the herb may develop them. Some ashwagandha users may suffer from increased drowsiness and fatigue. The herb in its powdered form is somewhat difficult for the human body to digest, so other side effects can include gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, and the aggravation of any preexisting ulcers. One of the more serious side effects of ashwagandha is caused by the herb's tendency to stimulate the thyroid gland, which can lead to high levels of thyroid hormones in the bloodstream. This condition is known as thyrotoxicosis, and can cause dramatic weight loss, depression, and emotional instability.
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