Ashwagandha has ‘tremendous potential’ for promoting healthy aging: Review

By Jonathan Smith

- Last updated on GMT

© askmaks / Getty Images
© askmaks / Getty Images

Related tags Withania somnifera healthy aging

Ashwagandha could serve as a potent anti-aging ingredient by improving immune system function and acting as an antioxidant, according to a review published in Frontiers in Nutrition.

Preclinical studies indicate that compounds in the plant can modulate which genes are turned into proteins in the cell and could be effective in tackling conditions related to immunity and aging including long Covid and Alzheimer’s disease.

“Management of aging is difficult due to its progressive and irreversible nature, as well as the comorbidities associated with aging,” wrote Sujit Nair (PhytoVeda Pvt. Ltd, Mumbai, India) and colleagues.

They suggest that the aging process can be slowed by “recent advancements including intervention with nutraceuticals that can modulate the transcriptional activity of different genes implicated in aging and age-related complications.”

Tackling the hallmarks of aging

As the world’s population gets older, age-related conditions are expected to increase over the next decades, making preventative strategies crucial, according to the study authors.

“Aging is a complex process that affects various bodily organs and has effects at the cellular and molecular level,” Nair told NutraIngredients, adding that the aging process involves a set of biological ‘hallmarks’ including the shortening of telomeres and epigenetic changes that impair the function of cells.

The winter cherry, aka ashwagandha or Withania somnifera,​ is an evergreen shrub that grows in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, with active ingredients including withanolides such as withaferin A, withanolide and withanone. The plant is a common ingredient in traditional medicine with antioxidant and immunomodulatory properties and could have a role in “modulating RNA-level changes associated with aging,” Nair said.

Withania​ has already shown promise against aging-related conditions in human cell culture studies, the review noted. For example, the plant acts against inflammatory markers, making it a potential tool for treating long Covid. It also reduces neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration, which could also slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Other conditions that could be addressed by the plant and its ingredients include gastrointestinal ulcers, breast cancer and asthma.

A work in progress

Withania​ has been commercialized as dietary supplement in many forms, including by PhytoVeda. However, research into its role in promoting healthy aging is at an early stage.

"To an extent, clinical trials have attempted to demonstrate the benefits of Withania somnifera​ in aging, mainly to identify biomarkers of response including inflammatory biomarkers and markers of stress, anxiety and endurance," Nair said. "However, there are limited results available from clinical studies, and almost none of these trial results have been subjected to peer review, thus underscoring their uncertain status."

Nair’s team is currently carrying out a clinical trial on the plant in aging with results expected in the next few months, he said.

In addition to generating a scientific basis, the key mission is to ensure quality between batches in the manufacturing process. Another priority for the field is to uncover the exact biological mechanisms behind the effects of Withania​ on the hallmarks of aging.

"The main challenge of using nutraceuticals is to discover a ‘panacea’ for all facets of the aging process and to precisely titrate the dose and duration of nutraceutical therapy to enable healthy aging," Nair said.

With this roadmap ahead, and given the modulation of key RNA markers in aging and inflammation pathways, there is “tremendous potential” for harnessing Withania​ in the goal to achieve healthy aging, the review concluded. 

Source: Frontiers in Nutrition​ 
2024, 11:1370951, doi:
"Current insights into transcriptional role(s) for the nutraceutical Withania somnifera in inflammation and aging"
Authors: Praful Saha et al.


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