Ashwagandha/withanolides

June 15 2007 post. A blog friend recently sent me a list of substances that he found while doing research on another health-related topic. I am deeply obliged to him (thank you!) for telling me about another funny-sounding but deadly-to-cancer-cells compound: withanolide. Surprise surprise, in 2006 an MD Anderson team made the discovery that withanolides kill MM cells in vitro. The full study, published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, is available online: http://tinyurl.com/2eq3pc The study abstract begins: The plant Withania somnifera Dunal (Ashwagandha), also known as Indian ginseng, is widely used in the Ayurvedic system of medicine to treat tumors, inflammation, arthritis, asthma, and hypertension. Chemical investigation of the roots and leaves of this plant has yielded bioactive withanolides. Earlier studies showed that withanolides inhibit cyclooxygenase enzymes, lipid peroxidation, and proliferation of tumor cells. But even more importantly (for us MMers), in addition to suppressing the nasty COX-2 enzyme, these compounds blocked the activation of NF-kB in human myeloma (U266) cells. Yippee! And I would like to mention that a 2004 study shows that an extract of Withania somnifera inhibited angiogenesis: http://tinyurl.com/ypq58h

A 2003 University of Michigan study (http://tinyurl.com/yqmgxh) tells us that the roots of Withania somnifera are used as a dietary supplement around the world. Furthermore, from what I have read online, Withania somnifera is non-toxic, non-addictive and has no negative side effects (but I should say that I am still looking into this matter). Indeed, a recent study demonstrated that a purified standardized extract of ashwagandha protected the heart from the well-known cardiotoxic effects of doxorubicin: http://tinyurl.com/3yjcno And withanolides may also be effective against arthritis, see this June 2007 study: http://tinyurl.com/2vfw7r

The above-mentioned 2006 MD Anderson study concludes: Overall, our results suggest that the antiproliferative, proapoptotic, anti-invasive, antiosteoclastogenic, antiangiogenic, antimetastatic, radiosensitizing, antiarthritic, and cardioprotective effects assigned to withanolide may be mediated in part through the suppression of NF-kB and NF-kB-regulated gene products. Did I read anti-osteoclastogenic? Ahhhh, that rings a bell. This is a fascinating study, and not difficult to read, so I would urge all MMers to have a look at it.

Update, October 5 2009 post: For three weeks in September I tested ashwagandha, or Withania somnifera, a medicinal plant used as far back as ancient Egypt (!) and, in more recent years, found to have anti-myeloma activities (see my page on “Ashwagandha” or my June 15 2007 post). I took it separately from curcumin, just to be cautious. And I took the recommended dose on the bottle. No more, no less.

So these were my ashwagandha tests. I really hope that even the low dose I took had a positive effect on my MM markers. Fingers tightly crossed!

But I wanted to mention a couple of rather odd things that happened during the ashwagandha period…not necessarily bad things, but certainly out of the ordinary. As follows.

1.  I felt more tired than usual. I mean, REALLY TIRED. Whenever possible (not at work, i.e.!), I would fall into a deep sleep, especially after lunch…and it would take a colossal effort on my part to wake up in mid or late afternoon. This didn’t make any sense. 

Ashwagandha, you see, is supposed to give you energy. It translates into something like “the vitality of a horse.” A horse?! Hah. In my case, the translation should be: “the vitality of a sloth.”

I went online and read somewhere (a forum, I think) that ashwagandha can make some folks tired. Okay, no problem. Mental note: next time (for I am sure I will try ashwagandha again, even if my tests don’t turn out as fabbbbulous as I hope), take it before going to sleep.

2. Now for a more, er…private topic. Not an easy one for prudish little moi. But for the sake of science, I will set aside my modesty for just a second. Here goes.

I stopped having my menstrual period quite a few months ago: in January 2009, to be precise. After ascertaining that I was not pregnant (a relief for many reasons, mainly my condition of having SMM, but also my age, 47 at the time; I am now 48), I simply decided that I had hit menopause. No big deal. You see, I have always belonged to the “hate-my-period-with-a-passion” category of women, so “losing” my period was almost cause for a champagne/chocolate truffle celebration. No, I never experienced unbearably painful menstrual cramps, I never became moody or irritable (as far as I know…), nothing like that…I just have always hated getting my period. Period.

I made an appointment to see a gynaecologist who checked me out thoroughly last spring, including an ultrasound. Tutto bene, she told me (=everything is just dandy). She agreed that I might have entered menopause but didn’t exclude that I might have a period at some indefinite point in the future. She prescribed specific menopause tests, which I had on Saturday, in fact.

Well…about two and a half weeks after beginning ashwagandha, aunt Flo (=euphemism!) popped in to visit me for about a week. An unwelcome visit, to say the least. Uffa!

I remembered reading that ashwagandha was used as some sort of sexual tonic in Ayurvedic medicine. I had a look online, where I found that ashwagandha is still traditionally used to treat loss of libido in men and, tadaaa!, sterility in women. Does that imply that it has the ability to start up a menstrual period again? No idea.

In spite of my uncertainty about the ashwagandha-period link, I decided to publish this post because I found something that might be of interest to those taking doxorubicin, which, at high doses, is known to damage the heart. Tests carried out on rats show that ashwagandha may play a role in the protection against cardiotoxicity and thus might be a useful adjuvant therapy where doxorubicin is the cancer-treating drug, see: http://tinyurl.com/ydw3k7k 

In fact, ashwagandha has some remarkable properties, more than I had realized, to be honest…just go to PubMed (http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/) and type in “ashwagandha” together with whatever you want to look up, e.g. “diabetes” “stress” “anxiety” “Parkinson’s disease” “cystic fibrosis” “arthritis” or “glioblastoma.” Oh, and osteoporosis, see this 2006 study, e.g.: http://tinyurl.com/yc8o946

And finally, here is a link to read an extremely interesting 2006 review of ashwagandha, including references to, and details of!, scientific studies: http://tinyurl.com/yeaggrc (those doing radiotherapy or chemotherapy, e.g. cyclophosphamide and paclitaxel, should have a look at the “Chemotherapy Interactions” section). Good stuff!

Update, October 13 2009 post: What follows are the results of my early October blood tests, the ashwagandha ones. For more details, see my original post. Excerpts: my total IgG has gone down from a whopping 39,9 (June 2009 tests) to 29,7 g/L. No kidding. A more than 30 % drop! Incidentally, the reference range happens to be the same for both hospitals, except one is in g/L, the other in mg/dL, which simply means that I went from 3990 to 2970 (mg/dL, i.e.).

Now, my M-spike (or rather, what Sherlock and I believe to be the number corresponding to the M-spike, though this will have to be confirmed by our respective hematologists) has gone down from 2,68 to 2,41. That would also be a very good result: a drop of more than 10 %.

Other things:

1. my platelet count has increased to 305 (new range: 150-400) from June’s 244 (Careggi range: 140-440).

2. my serum calcium and creatinine are stable…still within the normal range. And my IgA and IgM also remain unchanged. Phew!

3. my C-reactive protein, which till now has been a maddeningly “less than” amount, is finally an ACTUAL NUMBER: 0,3 mg/L (normal range: <0,5). Good to know.

4. my monoclonal component has gone down from 28,3 % to 25,7 %. Another slide in the right direction!

5. my total protein seems to be stable, still slightly above the normal range, but, due to the difference in ranges, I will have to do a few calculations later on, with Stefano’s help. It looks about the same to me, though.

6. I am almost positive that my hemoglobin and hematocrit have increased. Hard to tell because of the, yes I am sure you have guessed!, slight range difference. My hematocrit has certainly gone up…Oh, and so has my white cell count.

There are a few bad things (can’t have everything, after all):

– my B2M appears to have gone up a bit. But yes, as you may have guessed (again!), the new reference range is lower than the Careggi one. Even so, my B2M is only slightly above the normal range. I am not concerned.

–  my vitamin D has decreased compared to June, in spite of my vitamin D supplementation over the summer, so I will have to do something quickly about that…this is a matter of some concern to me, now that the flu season has definitely struck Florence. This number is still within the normal range, but it is located on the lower end, which I know is not good at all!

20 thoughts on “Ashwagandha/withanolides

  1. Hal E

    Dear Margaret

    Why did you not continue taking ashwagandha, given the positive IgG results you obtained? My IgG has recently spiked (up almost 1000 in a month – to 3080) while taking 8 grams of Drs Best curcumin daily. I’m adding ashwagandha today…

    Hal Eilersen

    Reply
  2. Libby Rothwell

    Hi Margaret

    Thanks so much for such an informative blog, it has helped me so much over the past year since my MGUS diagnosis. I was just wondering why you are not taking ashwaghanda anymore since is seemed to help you.

    Reply
  3. andrea

    Hi Margaret,
    I love your blog, your Curcumin information has helped in my treating my 11 yr old Rottweiler’s Osteosarcoma. i am very interested in using ashwagandha combined with Curcumin, there are phase 2 studies being done on it now. Could you please direct me to any information or experience you have had with this supplement?
    Thanks so much,
    Andrea

    Reply
  4. Hari Nath

    Hi Margaret,
    I thought you or your readers may be interested in reading a very successful (miraculous!) experience with Ashwagandha. You may see this recently appeared as a news in a local newspaper in NZ:

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/taranaki-daily-news/news/6321798/Herbal-therapy-gives-cancer-patient-hope

    I am a Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL) patient from 2002 based in New Zealand. Did chemo twice using chlorambucil tablets in 2002 and 2004. In 2008 I had a full chemo with CVP-R followed by a maintenance therapy with R (Rituximab). There were absolutely no problems during the chemo. After a year completing 4 cycles out of 8 cycles planned, I developed severe recurring throat ulcers. The maintenance therapy was stopped immediately and several tests did not prove any virus or any cancers. The only medication that the oncologist could give was Prednisone that caused side effects like diabetes. Eating was impossible when Prednisone dosage was gradually reduced and my weight went down by 21 kgs within 6 months due to recurrence of throat ulcer bringing back the steroid dose to high (60 mg) every time. I was told that it is an inflammation caused by low immune problems probably a side effect of Rituximab, which Roche disagree as expected. Immunoglobulin infusion was tried unsuccessfully. Two separate trials were done in India (Calicut, Kerala) in 2010 using Azethioprine and Thalidomide while reducing steroids, but failed at lower steroid levels. Further colonscopy showed few ulcers in the large intestine which were benign.

    After 1 year of unsuccessful struggle and a life with pain killers, I Googled to search for a naturally occurring steroid equivalent and stumbled across a herb called Ashwagandha (Witheria Somnifera) used in Indian Ayurvedic system. It has several therapeutic properties like anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, anti-oxidant, anti-stress etc. Checked with an Ayurvedic doctor and confirmed that it will not give any side effects. I started taking the root extract (dried/powdered root) from a very reliable source (Aryavaidyasala, Kottakkal), twice daily 5 gms each mixed with few drops of honey and water from April ‘11. At this time my Prednisone dosage was 30 mg and the throat problems were just beginning to re-appear. My oncologist advised me to increase the Prednisone to 40 mg, while I asked him whether I could try Ashwagandha as there are some interesting research papers in the web comparing successfully Ashwagandha with Cyclophosphomide, Prednisone and Azethioprine on mice. He agreed and to my pleasant surprise I could sustain the 30 mg steroid dose and within a week could bring down to 25 mg. Steroid reductions was continued steadily without any ulcer problems. Within a month a blood test showed a sharp jump in total WBC with my Lymphocytes increased from previous level of 600/700 (absolute) to a whopping 2500 – 2800. Steroid was gradually reduced further and stopped completely almost after 3 months of starting the herb. My Lymphocytes level was checked 4-5 times during the past 10 months and is still maintained around 2500 to 3000. My previous low haemoglobin levels also got increased from 11 to 13.
    I am so glad now that my 1 year of struggle and expensive treatment / hospitalisation (due to infection/abscess etc) was solved within 2-3 months of treatment with Ashwagandha. I am eating well and my weight increased by 15 kgs. I am wondering whether this herb would be beneficial to any chemotherapy patients between chemotherapy sessions to raise back lymphocytes or even for trying Indolent NHL patients during their initial “wait and watch” period. I have a full graphical trend of my WBC counts over the past 9 years and this is the first time I have reached a high (normal) Lymphocyte count. Many thanks to Ashwagandha and the Google search!!

    I also note that the lymph node swelling that was remaining near my collar bone even after my last chemo in 2010 Jan is now practically disappeared probably proving the anti-tumour effect of Ash apart from the ant-inflamation effect that I have already experienced.

    Also recently I read a research paper from Japan on “Selective Killing of Cancer Cells by Ashwagandha Extract”. I am very excited about a probable situation of a long remission for me if not a complete cure.

    Hari Nath, New Zealand.

    Reply
    1. Arun

      Hi Harinath,

      Thanks for your detailed explanation about your treatment,i am writing this for my dad he is also suffering from Non Hodgkins High Grade Lymphoma,he is right now undergoing chemo treatment now in Kerala can you tell me where we can get this ashwagandham and daily how many grams we have to take, please advice.

      Thanks
      Arun Krishnan
      09972123004

      Reply
  5. Krishna

    Hi Mr.Hari,

    First of all congrats to you for your effort to come back from this bad disease. Am really happy for you after reading this article. I came to know about you through Facebook, infact the posting of your interview with Mangalam News paper. Sorry I forgot to introduce me, Am Krishna Kumar from Kerala. I’m writing this mail mainly because of my very good friend. Recently he was diagnosed with Cancer in Pelvis area. I don’t have the complete information about his condition. But still I would love to know more details about your treatment, where and how you did it. If that can help my friend, then I’ll be so much thankful for that information. Could you please share the details at the earliest. I hope you may see this mail from me.

    Hope to hear from you soon.

    Regards,
    Krishna
    my mail id is : krishna415@gmail.com

    P.S : If Hari did not see this message, someone who know his contact details please share with me. My

    Reply
  6. Don

    Hi Margaret,

    You didn’t seem to post a public reply to why you stopped taking Ashwagandha after such good results. Would be greatly interested.

    Cheers

    Don

    Reply
  7. Margaret Post author

    I didn’t? Sorry! Not surprising, though, when you consider that I have 626 UNREAD messages in Outlook right now. (Sigh.)
    The reason is actually quite simple: the ashwagandha I had in the house expired, and I neglected (ok, FORGOT! 😉 ) to buy some more when I was in the States last spring, with everything that was going on…I’m probably going to be in the States soon, though, so I’ll make sure it’s on my list.

    Reply
  8. Cherie

    Hi Margaret,

    I am so very grateful to have found your website (see, there I go again crying) After 5 months of intense back and rib pain I was diagnosed with MM 2 weeks ago. I have 3 tumors on my spine and they immediately went to Radiation. I can already see that this route is not going to be a fun one and have started looking at alternative remedies for this cancer. Your blog has given me such hope and I will start using Ashwanda immediately. Can you tell me which dose was recommended to you. I am a 44 year old female who wants to watch her little 7 year old grow up :>):>) Thank you so much for giving me hope today !!!!

    Reply
  9. Hari Nath

    Hi Cherie,
    Sorry to know that you are unwell. But please don’t loose hope. For every ailment nature provides a cure or at least a medicine that rectifies your breached immune system so that the body does a “self-healing” that is inherent in all living organisms. I believe that’s what Ashwagandha does and I am a living example of this (see my comments elsewhere in this blog). I started my Ashwagandha treatment in April ’11 with 3 gms of extract powder (approx. 1/2 teaspoon) twice daily. You may expect tummy upset, which I felt as a boon since constipation was the norm of the day after chemo sessions. However your tummy will get used to this wonder drug and then I raised the dosage to 5 gms (1 teaspoon) x twice a day just before meals.
    The Ashwagandha Extract that I was taking (and still taking to prevent reoccurrence of my NHL) is from Aryavaidyasala Kottakkal India. I do not know the % of it’s key components to equate to the extract capsules that is available in US. I continued using the above 5 gms x 2 for more than a year and now 4 gms once a day (at night). The extract from Kottakkal is now short supply since my story appeared in local TV channels and newspapers in June ’12 in Kerala, India. Thousands of people call me to hear my story and from where to get this herb extract. So far the feed back from people are very exciting. I am trying to help to find an alternate source of it’s supply from Mumbai after an analysis of their key components. However there is no shortage in India of the basic powder of it’s root (called Ashwagandha Choorna) which may not be as effective and also very bitter and smelly. In any case you mix the powder with little honey (1/4 spoon) and some water to make a paste to swallow. I find there are a lot of capsules available over the net or in your local health supplements shops, but they are in few mgs only like 250 to 500 mgs (perhaps they may be concentrated) unlike my dosage of 5000 mgs x 2.

    Hope this helps.
    Hari Nath (now in India but returning to NZ this week).

    Reply
  10. Cherie

    Thank you Hari, that is a wonderful story and congratulations on your recovery. I bought a little bag in a store that has ground up ashwanda in it (and yes, it does smell a bit :>) I but the powder in a capsule and have one at night and one in the morning. Next week I will talk to my oncologist and tell him I want to go the alternative route…. mostly and show him the ashwaghanda. I have come across so many success stories already and have great Hope for my full recovery. I do believe the body has its ability to heal itself when give the right nutrition, rest and LOVE and I am working on all three :>)

    Reply
  11. Ron

    Greetings Hari and Cherie
    this is very interesting and research of literature seems to show the leaves of Ashwaghanda are used in the cancer studies. the product that seems to contain the leaves with a good concentration of withanolides are the ones with sensoril which is a patended product of root and leaves.

    Reply
  12. Jim Meertens

    Great reading testimonials of the effects of this herb, especially wit regards to the big C!
    Does anyone have comments re prostate problems?
    Pl post or e-mail me . Thanks!

    Reply
  13. Benjamin

    Would love to hear if folks are still seeing positive results with this, please keep the thread updated with your experience! Thanks and be well.

    Reply
  14. Girishchandra

    On smell or Foul Smell of “ASHWAGANDHA”. in Hindi, Ashwa means Horse, and Gamdha means Smell, so what Ashwagndha means, is, Smell of Horse.

    Reply
  15. Raj

    Can you guys suggest me whether ashwagandha helps my mom who is affected with cervical cancer. Please its urgent she has undergone radiation and chemotherapy , now she is in level 4. Is it safe to ashwagandha besides taking medicines. Please suggest me as early as possible. Thankyou.

    Reply
  16. Christine

    Since ashwaganda is a withadnolide and has steroid like effect can you take it when you have glaucoma?

    “One of the chemically active ingredients found in the leaves of ashwagandha is withanolides. These phytochemicals appear to have a steroid like effect, meaning that they indirectly increase activity of steroidal hormones like testosterone and progesterone”.

    “Structurally, withanolides consist of a steroid backbone bound to a lactone or one of its derivatives; they are produced via oxidation of steroids.”

    “Steroid-induced IOP elevation typically occurs within a few weeks of beginning steroid therapy. In most cases, the IOP lowers spontaneously to the baseline within a few weeks to months upon stopping the steroid”

    “Patients on chronic corticosteroid therapy can remain undiagnosed with an elevated IOP, which can result in glaucomatous optic nerve damage. ”

    Is ashwaganda a corticosteroid.

    Reply

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