Ayurvedic science updates
Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, Feb-March, 2005 by Virender Sodhi
Continued from page 1.
Ashwagandha as potent anti-inflammatory
The word Ashwagandha comes from the Sanskrit words, Ashv meaning horse, and gandha meaning odor (from peculiar equine odor of this plant). Commonly known as winter cherry, this herb is regarded as a general tonic and is considered a Rasayana in Ayurvedic medicine. Rasayana are a special class of herbs and treatment that are rejuvenating and can be taken over long periods without causing any side effects. Ashwagandha contains steroidal alkaloids and steroidal lactones. Currently, 35 withanolides have been isolated from the plant. These withanolides serve as important hormone precursors that convert into human physiologic hormones as needed by the body. Ashwagandha exerts amphoteric properties, which means it can help regulate important physiologic processes. Whenever there are excessive hormones, it attaches itself to the cell membrane and nullifies the effect of the hormones, and whenever the hormone level is low, it helps to balance that hormone. In my opinion you get all the benefits of steroids with this plant without all the nasty side effects. I have used Ashwagandha in place of hormones and have seen amazing results.
The effectiveness of Ashwagandha in a variety of rheumatologic conditions may be, in part, due to its anti-inflammatory properties which have been studied by several authors. In animal studies, comparing the effectiveness of Ashwagandha and the prescription drug phenylbutazone in controlling inflammation, Ashwagandha was shown to be more effective. The Ashwagandha-treated group completely reduced the inflammatory proteins, whereas animals treated with phenylbutazone as well as the control groups had increased inflammatory proteins. Similar results were achieved in carrageenan-induced inflammation. In another study, Ashwagandha extract showed far superior (almost double) results when compared to the drug hydrocortisone to reduce inflammation. In another study on paw swelling with adjuvant induced arthritis, Ashwagandha caused significant reduction in the swelling and showed regeneration as observed by radiological studies. The reduction in swelling and regeneration was better than the drug hydrocortisone.
In another study, Ashwagandha root powder was given to 46 patients of rheumatoid arthritis with doses of 4, 6, or 9 grams for a period of 3-4 weeks. Pain and swelling disappeared completely in 14 patients, considerable improvement was noticed in 10 patients and 11 patients showed mild improvement.
The free radical mechanism is one of the mechanisms considered to contribute to many inflammatory diseases. Ashwagandha has demonstrated its powerful antioxidant action on the nervous system. Oral administration of Ashwagandha in animals has prevented lipid peroxidation. These effects were dose-related.
Immunomodulatory effects of Ashwagandha have also been studied in three myelosuppression models: cyclophosphamide, azathioprin and prednisolone. Significant increases in hemoglobin, red blood cell count, white cell count, and platelet count and body weight were observed in Ashwgandha treated mice.
Doses: A typical dose of the Ashwagandha root powder is 3-6 grams per day and 300-500 mg of standardized extract two to three times per day.
Side effects: Ashwagandha is generally considered safe even in higher doses.
Looking at the full profile of Ashwagandha; its negligible toxicity, along with its antioxidant, anti-stress, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory and rejuvenative properties, it makes perfect sense to utilize this herb in inflammatory conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other rheumatic conditions. I have chosen to give Ashwgandha wherever there is a need for steroids (like hydrocortisone or Prednisolone) or to people who already use these steroids and need to reduce the dosage. Ashwagandha has always come to the rescue with flying colors.
Ginger as powerful anti-inflammatory
Ginger is widely used as a spice in Asian cooking. It is commonly used in baked goods, beverages, candies, liqueurs and even perfumes. Ginger has been described as a medicinal plant in India and China for centuries. Charka (father of medicine) and Sushruta (father of surgery) have referred to its efficacy in many diseases. To the Arabic physician, ginger was known as "Zanjabil." The Greeks and Romans used it as a spice. In folk medicine it is considered a digestive and carminative, and an aid for stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, rheumatism and toothache. Back in India, this spice was always Grandma's favorite for stomachaches, toothaches, headaches and joint pains. Pharmacologically, ginger is an antioxidant. It stops inflammation, inhibits prostaglandin, thromboxane, and leukotrienes synthesis, and is a potent blood thinner. It is also known to be choleretic, cardiotonic, digestive, carminative, antibiotic, thermogenic and it lowers cholesterol.
Ginger is an antioxidant: Ginger is a strong antioxidant, which is why it is used in preventing rancidity of meat products. It has been shown to prolong the shelf life of fresh, frozen and precooked meat. As an antioxidant, it helps prevent free radical damage and helps inflammation.
Ginger as an anti-inflammatory: Numerous ingredients in ginger have been shown to be potent inhibitors of inflammatory prostaglandin and leukotrienes. This may explain its use in inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, headaches and body aches. Ginger is also a powerful antioxidant and contains an enzyme "protease," which contains a powerful action towards inflammation as bromelain (from pineapple) and papain (from papaya). In an animal model study, ginger extract reduced the carrageenan-induced inflammation in rat's paw. Ginger also contains antihistaminic and anti-toxicity activities. Allergies and toxicity can many times trigger inflammation. In a study on seven patients with Rheumatoid arthritis, all the patients that were given ginger reported substantial improvement in pain relief, increased joint mobility, decreased swelling and morning stiffness. In another study with 28 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, 18 patients with osteoarthritis and 10 patients with muscular discomfort; powdered ginger was given in doses of 500-1000 mg per day for three months to two and a half years. Based on clinical observation, 75% of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis experienced relief in pain and swelling; 100% of the patients with muscular discomfort experienced relief in pain and swelling. Patients taking higher doses experienced faster results.
In another study by Srivastava and Mustafa, ginger was reported to be beneficial for migraine headaches.
Blood thinning effect of ginger: Ginger is a potent blood thinner. The blood thinning effect is due to its platelet aggregation inhibiting effect. It also inhibited thromboxane and prostaglandins and reduced platelet lipid peroxidation, which makes it one of the superior blood thinning agents.
Analgesic effect: Ginger has been shown to exhibit analgesic effects in experimental animals by inhibiting the release of substance P. This is a very similar action to capsaicin from cayenne or red pepper.
Antispasmodic action and anti-ulcer activity: Ginger increases intestinal motility and at the same time, has proven to be a powerful antispasmodic. This is why it is used as a gastrointestinal tonic. Ginger has also been shown to stop serotonin-induced diarrhea. Many patients taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac or Paxil suffer with the side effects of diarrhea. Ginger may come to their rescue. Time and time again, it has been shown to have anti-ulcer properties. It can prevent ulcers due to alcohol, indomethacin, aspirin and other common ulcerogenic compounds. Indomethacin and aspirin used as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents are known to cause ulcers. Almost 2000 people die every year from gastric bleeding due to these drugs. Ginger is a much safer alternative because of its valuable properties.
Dosage: Most of the research has been done with 1-2 grams of ginger powder, but in India the average intake is around 8-10 grams per day. Cooking the spice may also decompose the active ingredients in ginger. For anti-inflammatory purposes, take ginger 3-6 grams two to three times per day. Ginger has been combined in equal parts with long pepper and black pepper for digestive actions and the preparation is commonly called "Trikatu." Standardized extract of ginger doses is 100-200mg three times per day.