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Could Ashwagandha Help Against COVID-19?

Written by Carlos Tello, PhD (Molecular Biology) | Last updated:
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Carlos Tello, PhD (Molecular Biology) | Last updated:

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This article is for informational purposes only. The current coronavirus outbreak is an ongoing event and certain details may change as new information comes to light. No effective or FDA-approved products are currently available for the treatment of the new coronavirus (also known as SARS-CoV-2 or 2019-nCoV), although research is still ongoing

Ashwagandha is a traditional remedy for stress; it is under investigation for its potential to boost immune function.

Lung Function

In a clinical trial on 40 elite cyclers, 8-week supplementation with ashwagandha improved respiratory endurance [1].

In a study of 133 people with tuberculosis, ashwagandha and other herbals in combination with antibiotics relieved coughing and fever better than antibiotics alone. In another study of 99 people with tuberculosis, ashwagandha improved symptoms, inflammation, and body weight [2, 3].

Polysaccharides extracted from ashwagandha suppressed coughing in guinea pigs as effectively as codeine [4, 5].

In baby rats, withaferin A also protected the lungs against inflammation and oxidative stress caused by toxic bacterial lipopolysaccharides (LPS) [6].

Ashwagandha may support lung function and reduce cough, fever, and inflammation.

Viral Infections

An herbal remedy containing ashwagandha sped up recovery from viral hepatitis in 29 patients [7].

In T cells (CD8+) isolated from 38 people with HIV infection, ashwagandha extract reduced the production of a disease progression marker (CD38 production) [8].

In chicken infected with infectious bursal disease virus, dietary supplementation with ashwagandha reduced viral load and increased T cell activity [9].

Ashwagandha has also shown antiviral activity against HIV, herpes, and infectious bursal disease in cell-based studies [10, 11, 12, 13].

A computational simulation study found that withaferin A has the potential to block an enzyme required by the virus that caused the 2009 swine flu pandemic (H1N1) to spread (neuraminidase) [14].

Interestingly, a recent simulation study suggested that withanone may help prevent the SARS-Cov-2 virus from binding to the ACE2 receptor, and thus entering cells [15].

Ashwagandha has shown antiviral activity and, perhaps most interestingly, may prevent the SARS-CoV-2 virus from entering cells.

Asthma

In asthmatic mice, pretreatment with withaferin A reduced airway inflammation, injury, and scarring. This compound also had anti-inflammatory effects in human cells isolated from the airway lining [16, 17].

Immunity

In a small trial of 5 people, ashwagandha extract improved the immune response by activating white blood cells. In two other trials on 142 people, an herbal mix containing ashwagandha increased the activity of natural killer cells [18, 19].

In mice, ashwagandha extract enhanced immunity by activating bone marrow cells, macrophages, and lymphocytes [20, 21].

It also increased the levels of Th1 cytokines and prevented the depletion of white blood cells in stressed mice [22].

Finally, in a combined mouse and cell study, withaferin A inhibited the activity of myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs). These dysfunctional immune cells can stimulate tumor growth and prevent the immune system from attacking cancer cells [23, 24].

Ashwagandha extracts improved immune response in both clinical and animal trials.

About the Author

Carlos Tello

Carlos Tello

PhD (Molecular Biology)
Carlos received his PhD and MS from the Universidad de Sevilla.
Carlos spent 9 years in the laboratory investigating mineral transport in plants. He then started working as a freelancer, mainly in science writing, editing, and consulting. Carlos is passionate about learning the mechanisms behind biological processes and communicating science to both academic and non-academic audiences. He strongly believes that scientific literacy is crucial to maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid falling for scams.

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