Withanolides are a group of steroids that have been shown in laboratory tests to suppress cancer cells and act as an antioxidant. These steroids come from Withania somnifera, or ashwagandha, a shrub that is native to India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The roots of the plant contain a chemical compound called withanolide, which has been the focus of medical research. The most promising research indicates that withanolides could regenerate nerve cells. Withanolide A, withanoside IV, and withanoside VI are the withanolides believed to have regenerative properties.
The leaves and berries of the ashwagandha plant have been used as ingredients in Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years. The plant's species name, somnifera is Latin for "sleep-bearing," which aptly describes the sedative properties of the plant. The plant is considered to be an adaptogen, which helps the body adapt to stress, and an anti-inflammatory agent. Also, the plant can improve sexual function and the health of the liver.
Adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha help to reduce irritability, anxiety, and impatience. Generally, the body's ability to resist several types of stress is improved. As a result, energy is used more productively during times of stress, which improves overall health.
Withanolides have antioxidant properties as well. In laboratory tests, withanolides have been shown to suppress free radical formation. Free radicals are reactive oxygen molecules that can damage cells. Antioxidants can prevent tissue damage overtime, reducing the risk for several types of diseases.
These steroids have also been shown to slow cancer growth and even induce apoptosis, which is a series of cellular events that lead to the eventual death of the cell. A cell enters apoptosis in order to prevent further damage to an organism. This is usually seen is cells that are infected with a virus or cells that have DNA damage.
Regarding brain cells, withanolides have been shown in laboratory experiments to regenerate parts of the neuron, including the axon, dendrite, and synapse. In animal studies, the effect of the steroid on the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease have shown promising results. Research indicates that the steroid generally improves memory.
Withanolides are typically extracted from the fresh roots of the ashwagandha plant. Supplements are available and range in strength from 1.5 percent to eight percent. The recommended dose is two grams per day for up to three months. Higher doses can lead to toxicity. Pregnant women should avoid using products containing withanolides because of possible effects on the unborn child.