You know about asparagus, but do you know about shatavari?
Asparagus is a food that we often think of being delicious on the barbecue or as part of a wholesome meal.
But its cousin shatavari is a wild asparagus that has beneficial effects on our health. Shatavari has been traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine.
More research is needed on shatavari before it will be used for its health benefits in Western medicine.
Researchers have started to look into this traditional Ayurvedic herb and what it can do for us. Here is what we know about shatavari.
What is shatavari?
Another name for shatavari is Asparagus racemosus. It belongs to the Asparagaceae family. Shatavari is a different species than the asparagus we eat. However, shatavari makes a good food supplement.
The tuberous root of this plant is what contains medicinal properties. It contains a significant number of flavonoids. It also boasts 33 steroidal saponins and 16 triterpene saponins.
Shatavari is the second most prescribed Ayurvedic medicine in India. Since ancient times, people know shatavari as the “curer of hundred diseases”.
In Ayurvedic medicine, shatavari balances pitta and vata. It can also help to increase kapha due to its heavy nature.
Shatavari is a general health tonic that helps improve vitality. This makes it a staple in ayurvedic medicine.
It is an adaptogenic herb, meaning it helps the body to cope with physical and emotional stress.
Shatavari also has a long history of use as a galactogogue in India. This means that it helps nursing mothers with breast milk production and maintaining milk supply.
Unfortunately, shatavari is facing the threat of endangerment. This is due to several developmental and seasonal constraints and malpractices in its collection and storage.
In addition to the conditions below, shatavari can also be helpful for:
- Fertility, due to its effects on the female reproductive system and reproductive organs
- Menopause (hot flashes, vaginal dryness and other menopausal symptoms)
- Difficulty with the menstrual cycle
- Female health and balancing of female hormones
There are studies showing that extracts of the shatavari plant may increase levels of antioxidants in the body. Antioxidants help prevent free radical cell damage. They also fight against oxidative stress, which can cause disease.
Shatavari is high in compounds called saponins. We know that saponins have antioxidant abilities.
According to a 2004 study, racemofuran is produced in the shatavari root. Racemofuran is a newly identified antioxidant. Two other antioxidants were found as well. These were asparagamine A (a polycyclic alkaloid) and racemosol.
Ayurvedic practitioners have used shatavari to successfully manage inflammation for thousands of years.
As we discussed above, shatavari contains a compound called racemofuran. Racemofuran has significant anti-inflammatory properties. Racemofuran acts similarly in the body to COX-2 inhibitors. COX-2 inhibitors are prescription anti-inflammatory drugs. They reduce inflammation without any serious digestive side effects.
Shatavari can also be used in vasculitis. Vasculitis is a chronic inflammation that results in necrosis of blood vessels due to narrowing or occlusion of the lumen.
One case study looked at a 28 year old woman who had medium size vessel vasculitis since childhood. She had purulent skin lesions on the outside of her legs. She also had fatigue and pain all over her body. She had bluish discolouration of her arms and legs, especially in winter.
She had been treated with drugs in the past, but this treatment did not meet her expectations. In fact, her skin lesions hadn’t responded to drug treatment in the past year.
Researchers prescribed three grams of shatavari powder to her twice a day for one year. After one month of treatment, her skin lesions healed. There was no relapse in 18 months of this treatment. At the start of this study, the patient was underweight. After the year of treatment, she gained four kilograms. She didn’t have any tingling, numbness, pain, or fatigue after the year long treatment. She also had no more bluish discolouration.
Shatavari has also been successfully used in the treatment of arthritis. Arthritis is an inflammatory condition of the joints.
BPH stands for benign prostatic hyperplasia. In BPH, there is abnormal non cancerous cell growth in the prostate. This causes sypmtoms such as the following:
- Urinary frequency
- Waking up to urinate during the night
- Difficulty initiating urination
- A weak stream of urine
- Dribbling at the end of urination
- Inability to completely empty the bladder
As you can see from the symptoms above, BPH has a sudden impact on overall quality of life. BPH occurs above the age of 40. It is also associated with sexual dysfunction.
Shatavari helps to relieve inflammation. It also improves urination and urine retention problems.
Urinary tract infection
A urinary tract infection involves the following symptoms:
- A strong, persistent urge to urinate
- A burning sensation when urinating
- Cloudy urine
- Passing small volumes of urine frequently
- Blood in the urine
Research shows that shatavari helps relieve inflammation. It also helps to improve urination and urine retention.
Boost immune system
Ayurvedic practitioners have used shatavari successfully for certain infectious diseases. Shatavari enhances the immune system. It has immunomodulatory activities.
In a test tube study, shatavari compounds stimulated immune cell proliferation and IgG secretion in a dose dependent manner. This means that the more shatavari compounds used, the more immunomodulatory activity there was.
Shatavari also stimulated production of interleukin 12 (IL 12). It inhibited the production of interleukin 6 (IL 6).
Shatavari had strong modulatory effects on the immune cytokines Th1 and Th2.
Many studies show the immunomodulatory properties of shatavari dried roots and formulations.
Treatment with shatavari extract resulted in significant increase of CD 3+ and CD 4/CD 8+ percentages. This suggests that shatavari has an effect on immune T cell activation.
Animals treated with shatavari root extract had upregulation of interleukin 2, interferon gamma, and interleukin 4 cytokines. This shows that shatavari has mixed activity on both Th1 and Th2 cytokines. Interleukin 2 and interferon gamma are both Th1 cytokines and interleukin 4 is a Th2 cytokine. The animals treated with shatavari showed higher levels of antibodies. They also produced a significant proliferation, suggesting an effect on activated lymphocytes. Researchers concluded that shatavari root extract has immunoadjuvant potential.
Shatavari root extract has the following immunomodulatory effects:
- Modulation of cytokine secretion
- Histamine release
- Immunoglobulin secretion
- Class switching
- Cellular co-receptor expression
- Lymphocyte expression
According to a 2004 study, animals treated with shatavari root extract had more antibodies to a strain of whooping cough. These animals also recovered faster from whooping cough. They had improved health overall. This suggests an improved immune response.
Ayurvedic practitioners use shatavari for cough and cold.
According to a 2000 study on mice, shatavari root juice is a natural cough remedy. They use it in West Bengal, India.
Researchers looked at shatavari’s cough relieving abilities in coughing mice. Researchers saw that shatavari root extract stopped cough as well as codeine phosphate. This is a prescription cough medicine!
This research looks promising. More studies are needed to see hwo shatavari works to relieve coughs.
Diuretics help your body to get rid of extra fluids. Doctors often prescribe diuretics to patients with congestive heart failure. This is because diuretics help to remove excess fluid from around the heart area. Unfortunately, prescription diuretics can cause some serious side effects. This is why natural alternatives are desirable.
In a 2010 study on rats, researchers found shatavari is a diuretic used by Ayurvedic practitioners. The study found that 3200 milligrams of shatavari had diuretic activity. The best part is that this had no acute side effects.
However, more research is necessary on humans before practitioners can safely recommend the use of shatavari as a diuretic.
Ulcers are sores that are commonly found in the stomach, small intestine, and esophagus. Ulcers can be painful. They can also lead to some serious complications. These include perforation and bleeding.
Ayurvedic practitioners use shatavari to treat stomach ulcers and dyspepsia.
One study looked at antisecretory and antiulcer activity of shatavari. Shatavari also has action against the NSAID indomethacin induced gastric ulcers in rats. NSAIDs are non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs that can cause gastric ulcers as a side effect.
The study found that treatment with shatavari crude extract significantly reduced the ulcer index. This was especially true when they compared shatavari with the control group. The study rats took shatavari at a dose of 100 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day orally.They took it for 15 days.
This reduction in stomach ulcers was similar to a standard antiulcer drug called Ranitidine. Shatavari also significantly reduced the volume of gastric secretions, free acidity, and total acidity. Researchers also noticed a significant increase in total carbohydrate and total protein ratio of gastric juice.
Researchers concluded that shatavari is an effective antiulcerogenic agent. They added that its activities are comparable with those of Ranitidine hydrochloride. The results of this study show us that shatavari inhibits the release of gastric hydrochloric acid. It also protects against gastric mucosal damage.
Ayurvedic practitioners use shatavari for the treatment of kidney stones.
Kidney stones are hard deposits that form within the kidney. Kidney stones are concerning because they can cause excruciating pain as they pass through the urinary tract.
Most kidney stones are made up of oxalates. Oxalates are compounds that you consume through eating spinach, beets, and French fries.
A 2005 study showed that shatavari root extract prevents the formation of oxalate stones in rats.
Shatavari was also able to increase magnesium concentration in the urine. This is important because proper levels of magnesium help prevent crystal development in the urine. This crystal development is what forms kidney stones in the first place.
Maintain blood sugar
As type 2 diabetes becomes increasingly more common, people are on the search for safer and more effective treatments. Diabetes is a hormonal imbalance involving insulin.
A 2007 study showed that shatavari may help in the maintenance of blood sugar levels. Compounds in shatavari help to stimulate insulin production.
Scientists are unsure of how this happens. More research is needed. Researchers suggest that finding out how shatavari impacts blood sugar could help to develop new diabetes treatments.
Major depressive disorder (called MDD for short) affects over 16.1 million Americans per year. This statistic comes from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Pharmaceutical solutions tend to have negative side effects. For this reason, many patients cannot or will not take anti depressant medications.
In Ayurveda, practitioners use shatavari to treat depression. One 2009 study found that shatavari has antidepressant activities in rodents. This is due to their antioxidant content.
Shatavari was also able to impact neurotransmitters within the brain. This is important because neurotransmitters communicate information in our brain. Some of these are associated with depression, including dopamine and serotonin.
How to use
As you can see from the studies above, there is not much shatavari herb research in humans. Most is in rats and other rodents and animals.
Because of this lack of human research, there is no established standardized dose for shatavari.
Shatavari exists in powder, tablet, and liquid forms. There are also shatavari capsules. A typical dose of tablets is 500 milligrams once or twice per day. A typical dose of liquid extract is 30 drops mixed into water, one to three times per day.
According the the Journal of the American Herbalists Guild, the following doses may help prevent kidney stone formation:
- Liquid tincture of shatavari root: 405 millilitres three times per day
- One teaspoon of shatavari root powder made into a tea: Twice per day
There is also shatavari ghee that you can buy to use in your cooking.
It is important to note that the United States Food and Drug Administration does not monitor herbal medicine or supplements. This includes shatavari. This means that the quality, strength, and purity of supplements can vary. It is crucial that you purchase shatavari root extract from sources that you trust.
If you are interested in taking shatavari, please speak to your health care provider first. This is extra important if you take other medications or have health problems. Your health care provider will be able to determine the best and safest dose for you.
Side effects and risk
Researchers have not rigorously studied the safety of shatavari. However, two small clinical studies found no adverse effects at all.
Dietary supplements do not need lots of approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration before going on the market.
Manufacturers are the ones responsible for the safety of their supplement products. However, they do not need to prove the safety or the effectiveness of their products.
So what does this mean? Dietary supplements can contain ingredients or dosages that are different from what it says on the label.
It is good practice for a supplement manufacturer to use an independent organization to verify a product’s ingredients and quality. However, this still does not certify the safety or effectiveness of the supplement.
This is why testing done on one product might not be applicable to other products.
Studies have shown limited adverse effects from shatavari. Any side effects that have been reported, have been minor complaints.
A 2003 study stated that shatavari is absolutely safe for long term use. This includes throughout pregnancy and lactation. Aside from this study, however, there is little scientific research on the side effects of shatavari. Therefore, we suggest that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use shatavari. At least not until more studies come out proving shatavari’s safety.
It is important to note here that there have been reports of allergic reactions to shatavari. If you are allergic to asparagus, please do not take shatavari, as they are in the same family. If you take shatavari and have asthma or allergic symptoms, seek medical care. Allergic reaction symptoms to look out for include the following:
- Increased heart rate
- Itchy eyes
- Itchy skin
- Difficulty breathing
As we mentioned before, shatavari can have a diuretic effect. Therefore, you should not take it with other diuretic herbs or medications. These include furosemide.
Since shatavari can lower your blood sugar levels, you should not take it with other herbs or medications that lower your blood sugar.
As you can see, shatavari has important actions that can be beneficial to us. Shatavari is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. This is important therapeutically because so much of disease is rooted in oxidation and inflammation.
Shatavari also boosts the immune system, helping to decrease the risk of infections overall. Shatavari is useful in diabetes and depression, two conditions that are on the rise in the United States.
Shatavari can help with several different systems throughout the body. It has effects on the respiratory system, urinary tract, kidneys, and the digestive system. This is one of the qualities that makes shatavari so special: its diverse range of actions.
Although human research is lacking, a few studies on shatavari have started to pop up over the years. This is promising for this traditional Ayurvedic herb.
One of the many shatavari benefits is its safety. Although not fully proven in humans yet, studies show little to no side effects.
If you think shatavari could be helpful for you, speak to your health care provider. This is especially important since there is no standard dosing for you to follow. Your health care practitioner should be able to help you with this.