Ashwagandha– Withania Somnifera belongs to the family Solanaceae. It is called “Indian ginseng”.The name ashwagandha came from two Sanskrit words, ‘ashva’ and ‘gandha’, which means horse-like solid odour implying to its roots. For thousands of years in Ayurveda, it is used to reduce pain, inflammation, boost nutrition, treat insomnia, manage stress, and many other conditions. It is being sold in powder form and as an alcoholic extract.

The active ingredient of Ashwagandha

The active ingredient is Withanone, and withaferin A. Withaferin A exhibits cytotoxic activity. It also acts as an antineoplastic agent and an apoptosis inducer. The alcoholic extract of the leaf was given to both cancer and healthy cells, and the following observations were noticed. The combination of Withanone and withaferin A, the ratio of Withanone to Withaferin A as 20:1, called WiNA 20-1, selectively killed cancer cells. Normal cells remained unaffected. On the contrary, the combination of Withanone and Withaferin A at 5:1 or 3:1 were toxic to normal cells. Additionally, the combination WiNA 20-1 was cytotoxic to various human cancer cells, including osteosarcoma, breast carcinoma, glioblastoma, fibrosarcoma, and neuroblastoma. Therefore, in the present study, 20:1 was determined as the optimum ratio of Withanone and Withaferin A in the mixture to kill cancer cells in culture selectively. 

Ashwagandha and Cancer

The cell culture and animal studies suggest that Ashwagandha has anti-tumorigenic properties as ayurvedic medicine for cancer. Furthermore, it was demonstrated experimentally in 1967 that the root extract resulted in vitro cancer lowering incidence.

The active component Withaferin-A has shown astounding cytotoxic activity as an anti-carcinogenic agent in treating several cancer types(breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer, lung cancer, brain cancer). Ashwagandha contains different cytotoxic constituents and Withaferin-A that induce autophagy, necroptosis, and apoptosis by influencing various proteins involved in the apoptotic pathway.

It is used along with conventional cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. A small study shows that Ashwagandha has eased chemotherapy-induced fatigue and improved quality of life and coping with cancer. 

In a study, ashwagandha has shown a cytotoxic effect on the human malignant melanoma A375 cells by MTT (a colorimetric assay to assess the metabolic activity of cells) essay, the crude extract of Ashwagandha has visibly reduced the cell count depending on the dose and time given.

A study shows that the apoptosis mechanism is the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), Bcl-2(B-cell lymphoma 2)family proteins. This family of interacting partners includes inhibitors and inducers of cell death. Together they regulate and mediate the process by which mitochondria contribute to cell death, known as the intrinsic apoptosis pathway; this pathway is required for normal embryonic development and prevents cancer. The Down-regulation and activation of MAPKs pathway [Mitogen-activated protein kinase relays, amplifies, and integrates signals from a diverse range of stimuli and elicit an appropriate physiological response including cellular proliferation, differentiation, development, inflammatory responses, and apoptosis in mammalian cells, are critically involved in the apoptosis induced by Wit A and radiation.

Other health benefits of Ashwagandha

  • It is observed to reduce high blood sugar levels.
  • A high-concentration full-spectrum Ashwagandha root extract safely and effectively improves in reducing cortisol (stress hormone) levels, therefore, reducing stress.
  • It helps to alleviate depression. 
  • Treating infertile men with Ashwagandha showed that seminal plasma levels of antioxidant enzymes and vitamins A, C, and E and corrected fructose has been recovered. Also, the treatment significantly increased serum T and LH and reduced the levels of FSH and PRL, indicating good semen quality.
  • It helps reduce cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and lipid profiles. Due to its antioxidant properties protect the nerve cells from free radicals.

Risk factors

  • Side effects may include
    • Stomach upset
    • Diarrhoea
    • Nausea & vomiting. 
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to avoid Ashwagand.