Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is the poster child of Ayurvedic medicine, thanks to its wide range of benefits – from neural protection and hormonal balance to skin and hair health, there is not much that this herb can not take on.1 The powder (churna) is mixed with water, and in some cases milk, to produce a concoction that can truly revitalize the body. Can it also work in your heart’s favor?
Highs And Lows Of Blood Pressure
Your blood pressure has a big say in your heart health, and it turns out ashwagandha can play a role here. But first, the lowdown on how blood pressure works.
Blood pressure is recorded in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and comprises two readings: the systolic reading is the top number and measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart muscle contracts or beats. The diastolic reading is the bottom number and measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats (when the heart muscle rests between beats and refills with blood).
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), for an adult, pressure readings should ideally be less than 120/80 mm Hg (less than 120 systolic and less than 80 diastolic). Unfortunately, as many as one in three adults has high blood pressure (greater than 140 systolic and greater than 90 diastolic). This is also known as hypertension.2
Powder Power For Hypertension
The root of ashwagandha, in its powdered form, has been an integral part of several Ayurvedic herbal remedies for centuries. One Indian study looked into how effective ashwagandha powder was in treating hypertension. The roots were washed, dried, powdered, and then given in 2g doses, mixed with milk and with water respectively, to two sets of people for a total of 91 days. Both groups recorded a small decrease in systolic blood pressure and, notably, a significant decrease in diastolic blood pressure – from 100 mm Hg to 85 mm Hg and 92 mm Hg respectively, with the milk group showing a larger drop in blood pressure.3
The study also reinforced the role ashwagandha can play in stress-related hypertension and cardiovascular risks. The fact that ashwagandha is a natural adaptogen, helping the body cope with stress, is a factor in its favor. Stressful situations cause a surge in hormones in the body, which in turn constricts blood vessels and forces the heart to beat faster. They also lead to a spike in blood pressure. Ashwagandha has the ability to inhibit stress-related responses and reduce adrenal cortisol levels, thus working as an anti-stress agent.4
The Root Of Coronary Heart Disease
Coronary heart disease is a silent but significant killer when we look at worldwide morbidity rates. While heart disease is largely controllable through lifestyle choices, obesity and high cholesterol levels have, unfortunately, made this a rampant health issue. Ashwagandha could work some of its magic here too. Known to have antihyperlipidemic (countering high lipid/cholesterol levels) and hypotensive properties, ashwagandha, especially when combined with guggulu (myrrh tree), shows great results for cardioprotection.
In one study, an Ayurvedic preparation of these two herbs was administered to obese patients diagnosed with coronary artery disease. The results were seen on the liver and thyroid and had cascading positive effects – by working better, the thyroid improved the body’s metabolic rate, while the liver helped metabolize LDL cholesterol more effectively. The net effect – it slowed down the transformation of undigested carbohydrates into triglycerides and reduced blood cholesterol, one of the underlying causes of coronary heart disease and stroke.5
In another study by Mary et al., a herbal formulation comprising ashwagandha alongside other plant ingredients such as guggulu, guduchi (heart-leaved moonseed), and tulsi (basil) was found to have an antiatherogenic effect. It protected against vascular damage and lipid peroxidation (where free radicals attack and degrade lipids, causing cell damage), reduced body weight, and countered hyperlipidemia while raising HDL or good cholesterol levels – all factors that are integral to cardiovascular health.6
The Many Faces Of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha or Indian ginseng also works as a rejuvenating tonic (rasayana) for overall health, vitality, and longevity. The “withanolides,” basically active components such as steroidal alkaloids and lactones, in ashwagandha are responsible for most of its biological action.7
The versatility of this herb – as an antioxidant that reduces free radical damage and oxidative stress; a hypolipidemic that lowers lipid levels; an anticoagulant that prevents blood clotting; an adaptogen that reduces the effects of stress; and an anti-inflammatory that promotes healing – all converge to reinforce its cardioprotective effect.
|↑1||Narinderpal, K., N. Junaid, and B. Raman. “A review on pharmacological profile of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha).” Research and Reviews: Journal of Botanical Sciences 2, no. 4 (2013): 6-14.|
|↑2||Understanding Blood Pressure Readings, AHA.|
|↑3, ↑7||Kushwaha, Shalini, Agatha Betsy, and Paramjit Chawla. “Effect of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) root powder supplementation in treatment of hypertension.” Ethno Med 6, no. 2 (2012): 111-115.|
|↑4||Mishra, Lakshmi-Chandra, Betsy B. Singh, and Simon Dagenais. “Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha): a review.” Alternative medicine review 5, no. 4 (2000): 334-346.|
|↑5||Mehra, Raakhee, Mahadeo Prasad, and G. S. Lavekar. “An approach of Ashwagandha+ Guggulu in Atheromatous CHD associated with Obesity.” AYU (An international quarterly journal of research in Ayurveda) 30, no. 2 (2009): 121.|
|↑6||Mary, N. K., B. H. Babu, and J. Padikkala. “Antiatherogenic effect of Caps HT2, a herbal Ayurvedic medicine formulation.” Phytomedicine 10, no. 6 (2003): 474-482.|
|↑8||Ojha, Shreesh Kumar, and Dharamvir Singh Arya. “Withania somnifera Dunal (Ashwagandha): A promising remedy for cardiovascular diseases.” World J Med Sci 4, no. 2 (2009): 156-158.|