This herb has many names. It's also known as the winter cherry or Indian ginseng. Ashwagandha is a popular Ayurvedic herb from India, but women all over the world use it for a variety of health reasons.
If you translate the word Ashwagandha, it means “odor of horse”. Sounds pretty weird, right? But there's a logical explanation for this!
Ashwagandha got this funny name because of its distinct smell, which is similar to horse sweat. According to many users of the herb, the smell is so strong, that taking the herb in its raw form can sometimes be intolerable. Aside from this, Ashwagandha gives you so much energy, endurance and strength – just like a horse!
In Ayurveda, this herb is known as Rasayana. It helps calm the mind and body and lengthens life. Ashwagandha also belongs to the class of small shrubs called Solanaceae where tomatoes and eggplants are part of. You can identify this herb because of its red berries and five-petal flowers.
Although most of its parts are usable, its roots are the most important part of the plant. They are made into powders, tinctures and extracts.
Grown in harsh weather, sunlight and extreme temperatures, ashwagandha, also known as “Indian Ginseng” or “Winter-cherry”, is capable of managing stress and boosting immunity. Interestingly, researchers have discovered more than 200 benefits of this herb!
How It Works
Ashwagandha has adaptogenic properties, which means it is a stress fighter. Menopause herbs such as red clover, red ginseng and ashwagandha have no direct effect on estrogen levels and thus, do not generate an estrogenic balance in menopausal women.
However, as mentioned before, practitioners do use it as tonic. Ashwagandha helps manage menopause symptoms by directly stimulating the central nervous system. Since it is an adaptogen, it works in your brain to reduce cortisol levels. Cortisol is one of the stress hormones in your body, which in high levels causes a person to become increasingly anxious or depressed. Ashwagandha is a fabulous herb for those fighting with stress, especially menopausal women who are more vulnerable to negative emotions at this stage of their lives.
In addition, ashwagandha has a similar effect to GABA (Gamma-Amino Butyric Acid), which plays a role in calming the brain and the body. According to the Denver Naturopathic Clinic, GABA is a natural tranquilizer of the body.
Therefore, unlike most menopause treatments, ashwagandha doesn’t tackle vasomotor symptoms directly. However, since vasomotor symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats are linked to stress, using ashwagandha can help relieve these symptoms too. Furthermore, adaptogens do a great job at improving sleep and treating insomnia. They can also be used to minimize mood swings and panic attacks, not only during menopause, but in all stages of a person’s life.
Ashwagandha and the menopause
Ashwagandha has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for millennia to treat a wide range of health problems, including menopausal symptoms. Thanks to its adaptogenic properties, ashwagandha has been shown to help the body adapt to stressful situations, whether that’s environmental stressors or hormonal changes.
Ashwagandha has also been shown to play a role in calming the brain, by boosting the production of GABA – an important natural tranquilizer that boosts calm and reduces anxiety.
As many symptoms of menopause are directly linked to elevated cortisol levels, reducing stress naturally can help minimize many of these uncomfortable problems.
Here are just a few ways ashwagandha can help:
Boosts mood and improves sleep
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine adaptogens like ashwagandha are the most effective herbal remedies for treating sleep problems and mood swings in menopausal women.
Boosts sexual potency
Thanks to ashwagandha, you don’t have to go through a long dry spell even after being hit by menopause. Ashwagandha has been mentioned in the Kama Sutra as a natural and powerful aphrodisiac. According to research, ashwagandha promotes sexual health by increasing the flow of blood to all parts of the body, including the genitals. And it reduces muscle tension. Women who take ashwagandha usually talk about the effect it has on their libido.
A recent study has suggested that Ashwagandha, or Withania Somnifera to use its scientific name, could help to decrease stress. After conducting a series of cold water swimming stress tests on albino rats, the study concluded that those rats that had taken Ashwagandha demonstrated higher levels of stress resistance. This ability to decrease stress could be of particular value to women experiencing the menopause.
Boosts energy levels
Many women experiencing menopause complain of low energy and fatigue. However, a 2011 study has suggested that ashwagandha can boost energy levels by tackling problems associated with high stress levels.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine assessed the effectiveness of six herbal medicines for the management of symptoms related to menopause. Researchers found that the use of ginseng for sleep problems and mood swings in menopausal women had the strongest evidence out of all the other botanical treatments. Since ginseng is also an adaptogen and has similar effects to ashwagandha on the body, it can be assumed that ashwagandha is equally beneficial in treating menopause symptoms. Of course, research has been done on ashwagandha too.
Researchers from the Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India describe the use of ashwagandha as follows:
“The roots of Withania somnifera (WS) are used extensively in Ayurveda, the classical Indian system of medicine, and WS is categorized as a rasayana, which are used to promote physical and mental health, to provide defence against disease and adverse environmental factors and to arrest the aging process.”
The researchers studied the effect of ashwagandha on rats and compared the results with benzodiazepine lorazepam, a clinical drug used for the management of stress, anxiety, insomnia and alcohol withdrawal. The rats were given a daily dose of 20 and 50 mg/kg of ashwagandha versus 0.5 m/kg of lorazepam.
The study was published in the 2000 issue of Phytomedicine and researchers found that the effects of ashwagandha on the lab rats were comparable to those of lorazepam thus, showing that ashwagandha can be used as a mood stabilizer to manage stress, anxiety and insomnia. Menopausal women fighting mood swings and sleep problems can greatly benefit from the regular use of this herb.
Improves vasomotor symptoms
Although ashwagandha doesn’t have a direct effect on your estrogen levels, studies do show that it can help in reducing vasomotor symptoms that are associated with estrogen decline. A couple of these symptoms include, you guessed it, the dreaded hot flashes and night sweats.
This is mainly because your stress levels have an effect on how frequent and intense your hot flashes are. The more you stress, the more you flush.
One study involving 51 menopausal women published in the 2012 issue of Ayurveda, showed that daily intake of ashwagandha supplement resulted in a significant improvement in symptoms of menopause syndrome, such as hot flashes, mood swings and anxiety.
Prevents memory impairment
According to modern research, ashwagandha may help reduce memory decline in aging and menopausal individuals. This isn’t some magic memory improvement gimmick, however. How ashwagandha works is complex yet simply put, it protects the brain from oxidative stress and thus, inhibits neuro-degeneration. You need to take ashwagandha regularly to reap its benefits and protect your brain.
One study showed that the herb relaxes the body and mind and fights stress. Stress is a strong degrader of memory and therefore, regular use of this herb has been linked to improvement in visual memory in the long term.
Helps relieve inflammation
Although many studies support the use of ashwagandha for the treatment of menopause symptoms, it is still a subject of ongoing study.
Researchers believe that ashwagandha may help fight inflammation in the body, indicating that it could be used as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, which is common among middle aged women.
In addition, ashwagandha may help improve cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels and immune system function – but further research is still needed to validate this.
Usually, experts recommend a dosage of 500 to 1000 mg, twice or thrice a day however, a recommended daily dosage has not been established yet. Therefore, it is always best to follow the instructions given on the label or instruction sheet of the supplement.
How much you should take depends on the form of the product you take too, because it’s available in powder, capsules, tea and tincture form.
Side Effects of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha has been used for over 5000 years in Indian traditional medicine and has been mentioned in the oldest book related to sexual wellness, Kama Sutra. It’s a herb that was used years before an idea of a good dosage was developed and no side effects have been reported, except for occasional drowsiness or gastrointestinal problems.
Animal tests have been conducted with extreme doses, such as ¼ of the daily diet, which resulted in toxicity. However, this is true for almost any other herb. Too much of anything can be detrimental so it’s always best to follow instructions and not go crazy!
Women who are pregnant should avoid ashwagandha and always take supplements under their doctor’s instructions.
Ashwagandha powder may lead to some mild gastrointestinal problems so if at any point, you feel some discomfort with its use, reduce your dosage and gradually increase it to your complete daily amount. Another option if you experience side effects with the powder is to switch to tincture or supplements.
Since it has a calming effect on the body, it may lead to drowsiness in some people. If you’re sensitive to the herb’s sedative effect, try taking it to the night only and adjust intake accordingly. Some people report that the supplement makes them more energetic, in which case, you can have it during the daytime only or have a smaller dose in the night.
Stem cell therapy may help reverse effects of premature menopause, restore fertility
Young women with premature ovarian insufficiency (POI) may be able to use their own bone marrow stem cells to rejuvenate their ovaries and avoid the effects of premature menopause, new research suggests. The preliminary results from the ongoing ROSE clinical trial were presented at ENDO 2018, the 100th annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, in Chicago, Ill.
"In the two participants who have completed the treatment to date, serum estrogen levels have increased as soon as 3 months after the injection of stem cells, and the effect has lasted for at least one year. Their menopausal symptoms have been alleviated, and six months after the injection of the stem cells into the ovaries, they have resumed menses," said senior author Ayman Al-Hendy, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Gynecology and Director of Translational Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
For the two patients who have undergone the procedure so far, they collected each woman's own mesenchymal stem cells from her posterior iliac crest bone marrow and used minimally invasive laparoscopy to inject the cells into one ovary, keeping the second, untreated, ovary as a control. The authors followed the patients closely with frequent blood work, imaging of the ovaries, menopausal symptom questionnaires, and safety studies.
Now that both women's estrogen levels have increased significantly and they have begun to menstruate, the research team looks forward to the possibility that they may again become fertile.
"Ultrasound imaging of treated ovaries shows significant size increase in the treated ovaries compared to the contralateral untreated ovaries. In the cases completed so far, the patients have tolerated the treatment very well with no complications or side effects," Al-Hendy said.
The ovaries produce hormones and eggs typically until menopause in the early fifties, when they stop working. About 1 percent of women have POI, and some are as young as in their teens, the authors wrote in their abstract.
With POI, the ovaries stop working and the women enter early menopause. They lose the ability to menstruate, ovulate and have children using their own eggs, and they may be at increased risk for menopausal symptoms including hot flushes, night sweets, mood swings and vaginal dryness, and for cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis-related fracture and earlier cognitive function decline, Al-Hendy said.
This treatment was tested with 33 women experiencing POF. Participants' oestrogen levels increased and, after six months, they began to have periods again.
All of the women taking part in the study are now trying to get pregnant.
Dr Kate Maclaran and Dr Marie Gerval of the Daisy Network charity agree, saying: ‘This study offers hope for women with POI that in the future, they may be able to conceive naturally or have fertility treatment using their own eggs.’
Dr Christos Coutifaris, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (who was not involved in the study) shares the optimism of those who were involved, saying ‘‘These preliminary findings are exciting. If these observations are validated under further experimental protocols, their implications for female fertility and reproductive hormonal function may prove extremely significant.’
Through the injection of stem cells derived from bone marrow, ovarian function can be stimulated, allowing the return of ovulation and normal hormone levels as well as the possibility of pregnancy. All of the women in the study are currently trying to get pregnant and, once the research has been fully carried out, the option to use stem cell therapy as a treatment for infertility across the board will be explored.
This isn’t the first study exploring the use of stem cells in treating infertility. Back in 2009, scientists in China showed that it was possible to isolate stem cells in mice, store them, and then transplant them back into sterile females to enable them to give birth. But, in this most recent study from US researchers, patients are able to reactivate their own ovaries.
The scientific community and women everywhere are looking forward to final results from the study which will show if the women will, in fact, get pregnant as a result of stem cell injections.
Women have dreamed about ending menopause since time began and thanks to science, technically it’s possible through three different processes. While this may mean an end to hot flashes, it also means that periods will also return.
Scientists have found a way to potentially restore fertility to women previously thought to be infertile. And according to their research, so far, it’s working. Hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, and menopausal-related bone loss will be a thing of the past. Instead, women will have their periods restored and thus can continue on their child-bearing years longer than before.
While this may not be a desire or need for many menopausal women, for some women who encounter the onset of early menopause by their mid-30s, it may offer a bit of hope for women looking to start a family later in life.
When Menopause Begins
Women entering the change early deal with the physical side effects of menopause, in addition to the psychological side of it as well. Women going through the change early begin to feel old and may experience infertility, even if they’re only in their 30s.
When the change begins, egg quantity and quality diminish. The ovaries overproduce the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which drowns the pregnancy hormone. This hormone imbalance can have the effect of irregular ovulation times.
What Have the Studies Found?
Many studies are using different things to reverse early menopause. One study that has shown results was done in Athens, Greece by the fertility clinic Genesis. Doctors took blood samples from women and placed it into a centrifuge to isolate certain portions of the blood. In this case, the platelet-rich plasma (PRP) was extracted. It was then injected directly into a woman’s ovary. Once injected, it uses the ovary’s stem cells to generate new eggs, thus reversing the menopausal and infertile phase of a woman and restoring ovulation and menstrual cycles. For women who underwent the procedure early, fertility was able to be restored.
During the study, a team in Athens treated approximately 30 women, ages 46 to 49. Six months after being treated with this procedure, a woman had her period after five years of menopause and another patient become pregnant with twins.
While this concept sounds ground-breaking, this type of work is not a new procedure. Doctors in sports medicine have been using centrifuged blood for years. When applied to a sports injury, the plasma uses the body’s own tissue to facilitate healing. The yellowish substance present in healing wounds is the result of these platelets.
“It offers a window of hope that menopausal women will be able to get pregnant using their own genetic material,” Konstantinos Sfakianoudis, a gynecologist at Genesis, said.
The Science Behind Platelet-Rich Plasma
Blood contains more than just red blood cells, it contains iron, growth factors, platelets, white blood cells, stem cells, healing proteins, as well as plasma and much more.
A centrifuge can be spun in a specific way depending on what doctors and researchers want to separate from the blood. Generally, a tube of blood separates by itself, with the red blood cells on the bottom. Next are a layer of white blood cells, and on top is yellowish plasma.
Once the plasma with platelets is separated, and in this case performed by a Harvard medical team, is injected into the woman’s ovary, stem cells are activated. When stem cells are activated by the blood’s growth factors, they can morph into any cells the body needs. In this case, they change into ovarian stem cells. The woman’s own stem cells stimulate the ovaries to produce new mature eggs.
Benefits of PRP Injections
PRP is autologous, meaning it comes from the patient’s body, so it is natural, and the injections carry few risks. If women don’t want to become pregnant, but wish to reverse the signs of aging, PRP can help. Aging adversely affects the skin, making it thin and susceptible to bruising. The heart suffers from its own diseases. Add to that aging bones which become brittle and delicate as we age.
With the use of PRP injections, there can be a reverse to the effects of aging, plus women suffering from menopausal symptoms will appreciate a decrease or alleviation altogether of hot flashes.
While the new treatment looks promising, do we need to say a word of caution? When Dr. Alisha H. Wilkes, DNP, CNM, ARNP, of Three Moons Midwifery near Seattle, Washington, read the study’s communique, she said, “For me this research raises more questions than it answers. Without knowing how eggs and/or the endometrium are being stimulated there is no way to measure the potential physiological side effects women may encounter, let alone understand the quality of the eggs themselves. We know as eggs mature (women have them from the time they are fetuses themselves) their genetic material degrades; therefore, this type of fertility induction may increase the chances of miscarriage, genetically abnormal fetuses, etc. Enhancing, preserving and inducing belated fertility are all topics rife with ethical questions, as well. I tend to lean toward trusting the inherent and natural wisdom of bodies, but to address this topic in particular there is too much we still do not know.”
Trying to control women’s hormones at all of the stages of life is not new. For decades, women have been given the Pill to prevent conception, drugs and IVF to encourage conception and hormone replacement therapy or bio-identical hormones to lessen the symptoms of menopause.