Herbal Therapies Used by People Living With HIV: Ashwagandha
Part of A Practical Guide to Herbal Therapies for People Living With HIV
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an Ayurvedic treatment made from the leaves of an evergreen shrub native to India. Its active ingredients are called withanolides.
Ashwagandha is sometimes called Indian ginseng, because the two have similar medicinal properties. Ashwagandha, like ginseng, is considered a tonic herb, and both are known as adaptogens - substances that normalize the body's function and help it cope with illness and stress. Recent animal studies support the use of ashwagandha as a tool to help the body deal with stress. Traditionally, this herb is prescribed primarily for men; shatvari (discussed later in the guide) is used for women.
In Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha is used to combat weakness due to old age, nervous exhaustion and overwork. It has also been used to treat Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis. Ashwagandha has a reputation for nurturing and clarifying the mind, calming and strengthening the nerves and promoting restful sleep. It's also said to rejuvenate the ojas or bone marrow.
Ayurvedic practitioners prescribe ashwagandha to rejuvenate the immune system of HIV-positive people. Animal studies have shown that the herb improves the immune responses of mice that are given immunosuppressive drugs and helps mice resist tumours and other cancers. There are, however, no studies specific to HIV. Ashwagandha may also help treat muscle wasting, which is associated with HIV. In fact, Ayurvedic doctors often prescribe the herb to treat weight loss in men with low testosterone. Ashwagandha is also becoming an increasingly popular additive to muscle-building formulas, but its effects have not been studied in clinical trials.
Practitioners do not recommend the continued use of immune therapy. Rather, immune therapy is usually prescribed in cycles - one month on, one month off. Although ashwagandha has no known side effects, it's generally not recommended for pregnant or lactating women because its impact during pregnancy is not known. Ashwagandha is sometimes used as a mild sedative and may make you sleepy. The herb is available in powdered form and may be purchased as a tea, a tincture or a capsule. Its raw seeds can be toxic, so it should be prepared by an experienced practitioner.
This article was provided by Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange. Visit CATIE's Web site to find out more about their activities, publications and services.