In Sanskrit, Ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse,” traditionally suggesting that the herb imparts the vigour, strength, and focused calmness of a stallion. Thus, in Ayurveda (traditional indian medicine), Ashwagandha has been prescribed to help people strengthen their immune system after an illness, promoting, according to its ancient users, a youthful state of physical and mental health that expands into happiness.
Neurodegenerative diseases commonly induce irreversible destruction of neuronal networks, resulting in permanent functional impairments. Unfortunately, effective medications against neurodegenerative diseases are currently lacking. As an alternative, ashwagandha is used in traditional Indian medicine (Ayurveda) for general debility, consumption, nervous exhaustion, insomnia, and loss of memory.
And it seems that this traditional wisdom is being able to pass the rigorous scientific method lately.In a meta-analysis of 28 studies, ashwagandha appreciably inhibited the neurological abnormalities due to oxidative stress in rodent brain produced by different physical and chemical stimuli. The revered herb also significantly restored the altered oxidative and other stress markers in different parts of rodent brain.
Besides these neuroprotectant and neurogenerative properties, ashwagandha is also an alternative treatment for anxiety: in a systematic review of human trial results reported for the Ayurvedic herb,researchers concluded that ashwagandha intervention resulted in greater score improvements (significantly in most cases) than placebo in outcomes on anxiety or stress scales .
Thus, large scale studies are needed to prove its promising clinical efficacy in stress related disorders, neuronal disorders and cancers.
For a detailed review of the scientific basis of Indian ayurvedic medicinal plants in the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20528765