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International Journal of PharmTech Research
CODEN (USA): IJPRIF ISSN : 0974-4304
Vol. 3, No.1, pp 187-192, Jan-Mar 2011
Withania somnifera: A Rejuvenating
Ayurvedic Medicinal Herb for the Treatment
of various Human ailments
Veena Sharma*, Sadhana Sharma, Pracheta, Ritu Paliwal
Department of Bioscience and Biotechnology, Banasthali University,
Banasthali-304022, Rajasthan, India
* [email protected], Tel.: + 01438228386
Abstract: India is one of the 12 mega-diversity countries. It is estimated that around 70,000 plant species,
approximately 7500 species have been recorded to have medicinal value. The 300 species are used by 7800 medicinal
drug manufacturing units in India, which consume about 2000 tons of herbs annually. There are estimated to be more
than 717,319 registered practitioners of ayurveda, siddha, unani and homeopathy in India and in recent years, the
growing demand for herbal products has led to the extinction of many important plant herbs. Ashwagandha is also a rare
and endangered plant. Withania somnifera possess good immunomodulatory anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, antioxidant,
anticancer properties and many pharmacologically and medicinally important chemicals, they protect the cells from
oxidative damage and diseases. In present paper we have tried to unveil the therapeutic knowledge about Ashwagandha,
which is used to exploit novel medicines. Considering its relevance, further research is required to explore the potential
from this medicinal herb.
Keywords: Withania somnifera; immunomodulatory; anti-inflammatory; antioxidant; Withaferin A; alkaloids.
According to the World health organization, traditional
created huge issues related to the potency and quality medicines are widely used in India. Approximately of medicinal products derived from these plants.
80% of the population of developing countries rely on Withania somnifera (Family: Solanaceae) is a popular traditional medicines for their primary health care Indian medicinal plant and is also known as needs 1-3. Medicinal plants continue to play a central ashwagandha, ginseng, and winter cherry. It has been role in the health care system of large proportions of an important herb in the ayurvedic and indigenous the world's populations. Recognition and development medical system for over 3000 years. Numerous studies of the medicinal and economic benefits of these plants indicated that ashwagandha possesses antioxidant, are on the increase in both developing and antitumor, antistress, anti-inflammatory, immuno- industrialised nations. The medicinal plants contain modulatory, hematopoetic, anti-ageing, anxiolytic, ant- several phytochemicals such as Vitamins (A, C, E, and depressive rejuvenating properties and also influences K), Carotenoids, Terpenoids, Flavonoids, Polyphenols, various neurotransmitter receptors in the central Alkaloids, Tannins, Saponins, Enzymes, and Minerals nervous system 4. In recent studies done on human etc. These phytochemicals possess antioxidant breast, lung and colon cancer cell lines, plant extracts activities, which can be used in the treatment of inhibited the growth of these cell lines. The researchers multiple ailments. Most often the medicinal plants are revealed that a specific extract from the plant, collected from the wild. This uncontrolled harvesting Withaferin A, was more effective in the inhibition than has resulted in the extinction of many plants and the common cancer chemotherapy drug, doxorubicin,

Veena Sharma et al /Int.J. PharmTech Res.2011,3(1)
they used to compare it with 5. Studies revealed that conditions, increasing the capability of the individual the anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory to resist adverse environmental factors and creating a properties of Withania somnifera (WS) root extracts sense of mental wellbeing 7. It is in use for a very long are likely to contribute to the chemo preventive action time for all groups and both sexes and even during 6. The roots of the plant are categorised as rasayanas, pregnancy without any side effects 8.
which are reputed to promote health and longevity by In this review, we have attempted to summarize briefly augmenting defence against disease, arresting the the information available on the potency of WS ageing process, revitalising the body in debilitated because of its immense therapeutic potential.
Figure1: W. Somnifera in its fruiting stage
Figure 2: Withania somnifera
Figure 3: Roots of Withania Somnifera
Veena Sharma et al /Int.J. PharmTech Res.2011,3(1)
It improves learning ability and memory capacity. The Withania somnifera is a small, erect, evergreen woody traditional use of ‘Ashwagandha' was to increase under shrub belongs to Solanaceae family that grows energy, youthful vigour, endurance, strength, health, or reaches about 30-150cm in height. Withania nurture the time elements of the body, increase vital somnifera is known by various vernacular names i.e.
fluids, muscle fat, blood, lymph, semen and cell In Hindi it is known as Asgandh; in English, Winter production. It also helps to counteract chronic fatigue, cherry; in Turangi, Gandha; in Bengali, Aswagandha; weakness, dehydration, bone weakness, loose teeth, in Gujarati, Ghodakun & Ghoda; in Telgu, Vajigandha thirst, impotency, premature aging emaciation, & Pulivendram, in Tamil, Amukkira; in Karnataka, debility, convalescence and muscle tension. It helps to Viremaddlinagadde; in Goa, Fatarfoda; in Punjabi, invigorate the body by rejuvenating the reproductive Asgand; in Malyalam, Amukkuram; in Kannada, organs, just as a tree is invigorated by feeding the roots Viremaddinagaddi; in Bombay, Asgund; in 12-15. Fruits, leaves and seeds of this plant have been traditionally used for the Ayurvedic system as This plant grows wildly in all drier parts of subtropical aphrodisiacs, diuretics and for treating memory loss.
India i.e. in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab The Japanese patent applications are related to the use plains and North-western parts of India like Gujarat of the herb as a skin ointment and for promoting and Rajasthan. It is also found in Congo, South Africa, reproductive fertility. In US, the New England Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Pakistan and Afganistan 9.
Deaconess Hospital, has taken a patent on an The fleshy roots when dry are cylindrical, gradually Ashwagandha formulation claimed to alleviate tapering down with a brownish white surface and pure symptoms associated with arthritis 16. The product white inside when broken. The roots are the main called "ashwagandha oil" is a combination of portions of the plant that are widely used as therapeutic ashwagandha with almond oil and rose water designed agents. Leaves are simple, ovate, glabrous, 10 cm long, to be used as a facial toner. Two acyl steryl dense beneath and sparse above. Flowers glucosides, sitoindoside VII and sitoindoside VIII inconspicuous, greenish or lubrid-yellow, in axillary, isolated from the roots of Withania somnifera were umbellate cymes; berries small, globose, orange-red screened for putative antistress activity using a diverse when mature, enclosed in the persistent calyx; seed spectrum of stressinduced paradigms. Two new yellow, reniform. The bright red fruit is harvested in Glycowithanolides, Sitoindoside IX (1) and the late fall and seeds are dried for planting in the Sitoindoside X (2) isolated from Withania somnifera following spring.
were evaluated for their immunomodulatory and CNSeffects (anti-stress, memory and learning) (3) It is said to have free radical scavenger activity (antioxidant In Ayurveda, Ashwagandha is considered as a activity) in In vivo model where it has increased rasayana herb, which works on a nonspecific basis to superoxide dismutase and catalase activities of rat liver increase health and longevity. W. somnifera has been 16. The active principles of Withania somnifera in use for over 2500 years to treat all kind of diseases consisting of equimolar amounts of Sitoindosides and human ailments 10. This herb is also considered as VIIX and Withaferin A were investigated for putative an adaptogen which is a nontoxic herb that works on a nootropic activity in a experimentally validated nonspecific basis to normalize physiological function, Alzheimer's disease model. The syndrome was working on the HPA axis and the neuro-endocrine induced by ibotenic acid (IA) lesioning of the nucleus system. The roots and berries of the plant are used in basalis magnocellularis in rats. Withania somnifera herbal medicine. In Ayurveda, the fresh roots are significantly reversed both IA induced cognitive sometimes boiled in milk, prior to drying, in order to deficit and the reduction in cholenergic markers after 2 leach out undesirable constituents. The berries are weeks of treatment. These findings validate the used as a substitute for rennet, to coagulate milk in Medharasayan (promoter of learning and memory) cheese making 11. The species name somnifera means effect of Withania somnifera as has been reported in "sleep-bearing" in Latin, indicating it was considered a Ayurveda 17. Studies of ashwagandha showed that an sedative, but it has been also used for sexual vitality acetone extract of alkaloids caused mild CNS and as an adaptogen.
depression in dogs and mice and protected against In the traditional system of medicine Ayurveda, this supramaximal electroshock seizures in rats. The plant is claimed to have potent aphrodisiac extract caused hypothermia in mice and potentiated rejuvenative and life prolonging properties. It has hypnosis induced by barbiturates, ethanol and urethane general animating and regenerative qualities and is used among others for the treatment of nervous Root of Withania somnifera used for the treatment of exhaustion, memory related conditions, insomnia, asthma, bronchitis, edema, leucoderma, anorexia, tiredness potency issues, skin problems and coughing.
consumption, asthenia, anemia, exhaustion, aging, Veena Sharma et al /Int.J. PharmTech Res.2011,3(1)
insomnia, ADD/ADHD, neurasthenia, infertility, constituents like withaniol, acylsteryl glucosides, impotence, repeated miscarriage, paralysis, memory starch, reducing sugar, loss, multiple sclerosis, immune- dysfunction, hantreacotane, ducitol, a variety of amino acid carcinoma, rheumatism, arthritis, lumbago 19-23. Leaves including aspartic acid, proline, tyrosine, alanine, have been used internally for fever and haemorrhoids; glycine, glutamic acid, cystine, tryptophan, and high externally for wounds, haemorrhoids, tumours, amount of iron.
tuberculosis glands, anthrax pustules, syphilitic sores, Withania somnifera has chemo genetic variation and erysipelas, and in ophthalmitis 22,23. Fruits are used so far three chemotype I, II and III had been reported externally in ringworm 22.
37. In Indian variety thirteen Dragendroff positive A methanolic & 80% ethanolic extract of Withania alkaloids have been obtained.
somnifera displayed significant anti-inflammatory The reported alkaloids are anaferine [bis (2- activity on carrageenan- induced paw edema 24. The piperidylmethyl) ketone]; isopelletierine; tropine; root extract of Ashwagandha prevented the rise of experimentally induced LPO in rabbits & mice 25.
cuscohygrine; dl-isopelletierine; anahygrine; hygrine; Withaferin A and Sitoindosider VIII-X exhibits fairly mesoanaferine; choline; somniferine; withanine; potent anti- arthritic, anti- inflammatory, antioxidant & withananine; hentriacontane; visamine;withasomine, a immuno modulant activities, they also increase in the pyrazole derivative from west Germany; levels of SOD, CAT, GPX in brain & the steroidal pseudowithanine and ashwagandhine.Withaniol lactone W.A 26. Withaferin A, also showed significant (mixture of withanolides) and number of withanolides antitumor & radiosensitizing effects in experimental including withaferine-A; withanolide N and O; tumors without any toxicity & inhibiting tumor growth withanolide D; withanolide p and 8; withanolide Q and increasing survival in swiss albino mice inoculated R; withanolide y, 14α- hydroxyl steroids and with Ehrlich ascites (ESC) carcinoma 27-29.
withanolides G, H, I, J, K and U 38.Seven new The administration of Ashwagandha Rasayana withanolide glycosides called withanosides I, II, III , significantly reduced the lung tumor nodule formation IV, V, VI and VII had been isolated and identified 39.
and also reduced leucopenia induced by cyclo- Much of Ws pharmacological activity has been phosphamide treated experimental animals, indicating attributed to two main withanolides, withaferin A and its usefulness in cancer therapy 30, 31. Withania increase withanolide D.
the WBC count, reduce leucopenia. They alsoincreased bone marrow cellularity &normalised theratio of hormachromatic erythrocytes & polychromatic erythrocytes 31.
Medicinal plants maintain the health & vitality ofindividuals & also cure disease, without causing toxicity. As Withania somnifera possess good The plant is chemically very complex and more than immunomodulatory anti-inflammatory, antitumor, 80 compounds are known from it 32. The biologically antioxidant, anticancer properties and many active chemical constituents are alkaloids pharmacologically and medicinally important (ashwagandhine, cuscohygrine, anahygrine, tropine chemicals, such as Withaferins, sitoindosides and etc), steroidal compounds, including ergostane type various alkaloids, they protect the cells from oxidative steroidallactones, withaferin A, withanolides A- damage and diseases. Thus consume a good diet, rich in antioxidant plant foods (eg. Fruits and vegetables) withasomniferolsA-C, withsomniferin A, will provide health- protective effects. In conclusion, withasomnidienone, withasomniferols A-C, withanone this article provides the therapeutic knowledge about etc. The constituents of Withania roots are the Withania somnifera, which is used by the people all steroidal alkaloids and steroidal lactones. They belong over the world. Also, it is of significance to exploit to a class of constituents called the withanolides 33, 34, novel medicines from Withania somnifera. Although, with the main active chemical constituent Withaferin the results from this review are quite promising for the A, a phytosteroid 35. Other constituents include use of this plant as a multi-purpose medicinal agent.
saponins containing an additional acyl group(sitoindoside VII and VIII), and withanoloides with a glucose at carben 27 (sitoindoside ix and x) 33, 36. Apart The authors are thankful to the authorities of from these contents plant also contain chemical Banasthali University for providing support to thestudy.
Veena Sharma et al /Int.J. PharmTech Res.2011,3(1)
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