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New Findings Vindicate Efficacy of Shatavari
(Asparagus racemosus), Traditional Medicine
by Lalit Tiwari

Shatavari is a versatile traditional plant used for a variety of serious diseases as also impotency of both the sexes. Shatavari means one 'who possesses a hundred husbands'. It is considered both a general tonic and a female reproductive tonic. Shatavari is the main Ayurvedic rejuvenative tonic for females. Shatavari is, however, also used for sexual debility and infertility in both sexes. It is also used for menopausal symptoms and to increase lactation.

Recent chemical analyses have now thrown some light on its efficacy. We give here references to a number of recent analyses of its multiple medicinal properties.

Asparagus racemosus is a woody climber growing to 1-2 m in height. The leaves are like pine needles, small and uniform and the flowers are white and have small spikes. This plant belong to Liliaceae family, is common at low altitudes in shade and in tropical climates throughout India, Asia, Australia and Africa. In India this plant grows in Northern India. Locally this plant is called Shatavari in Hindi. In Sanskrit this plant is called Shatamuli; shata means hundred and muli means roots. Like in Sanskrit, in Central Himalayan region also this plant is called Satmuli.

Generally the finger shaped root and needle shaped leaves are used in Ayurveda. The root is highly mucilagenous, antidiarrhoeal, antiseptic, refrigerant, diuretic, antidysenteric, nutritive, tonic, demulcent, galactagogue, aphrodisiac and antispasmodic.

Uses of Shatavari:
In Himalayan medicine system this plant is used traditionally for treatment of many diseases. Tuber, leaves and fruits are used in gonorrhea, piles, diabetes, rheumatism, cough, diarrhoea, dysentery, gastric troubles and headache, also for increasing lactation.

In Ayurveda and Siddha medicine system the plant is used for treating madhura rasam, madhura vipakam, seeta-veeryam, polyuria, chronic fevers, soma rogam, white discharge, internal heat and as tonic.

  • Generally the root is employed in diarrhoea as well as in chronic colic and dysentery problems.
  • Root boiled with some bland oil, is applied in various skin diseases.
  • Root is boiled in milk and the milk is administered to relieve bilious dyspepsia and diarrhoea and to promote appetite; root is also used in rheumatism.
  • Tubers are candied and taken as a sweetmeat.
  • Fresh root juice is given with honey as a demulcent.
  • Boiled leaves smeared with ghee are applied to boils, smallpox, etc., in order to prevent their confluence. Juice of this drug taken with milk is useful in gonorrhea.
Chemistry of Shatavari:
Recent chemical analyses indicate that the following active constituents are present is Shatavari plant:
  • Steroidal saponins, known as shatavarins I-IV. Shatavarin I is the major glycoside with 3 glucose and rhamnose moieties attached to sarsasapogenin
  • Isoflavones including 8-methoxy-5,6,4'- trihydroxyisoflavone 7-O-beta-D-glucopyranoside.
  • Asparagamine, a polycyclic alkaloid
  • Racemosol, a cyclic hydrocarbon (9,10- dihydrophenanthrene)
  • Polysaccharides, mucilage

Structure of Sarsasapogenin and Shatavarin

Michael Thomsen (2002) has done extensive research on this plant. He analysed the adaptogenic, diuretic, antitussive (suppresses cough), antibacterial, immunological, digestive, antioxytocic, hormonal, galactogogue (increase in female milk production) properties, toxicity and cytoprotective effect of this plant on human body. He says that this plant acts as adaptogen, antitussive, antioxidant, antibacterial, immunomodulator, digestive, cytoprotective, galactogogue, anti-oxytocic (preventing the stimulation of the involuntary muscles of the uterus), antispasmodic, antidiarrhoeal and sexual tonic in human body.

Diuretic Activity:
Shatavari has been shown to inhibit antidiuretic hormones (ADH).

Antitussive Activity:
The methanol extract of Asparagus racemosus root (200 and 400 mg/kg, p.o.) showed significant antitussive activity on sulfur dioxide-induced cough in mice, the cough inhibition (40.0 and 58.5%, respectively) being comparable to that of 10-20 mg/kg of codeine phosphate (36.0 and 55.4%, respectively).

Antibacterial Activity:
Different concentrations (50, 100, 150 mcg/ ml) of the methanol extract of the roots of Asparagus racemosus showed considerable in vitro antibacterial efficacy against Escherichia coli, Shigella dysenteriae, Shigella sonnei, Shigella flexneri, Vibrio cholerae, Salmonella typhi, Salmonella typhimurium, Pseudomonas putida, Bacillus subtilis and Staphylococcus aureus. It has been suggested that antimicrobial activity may be due to 9,10-Dihydrophenanthrene.

Immunological Activity:
Shatavari is an immunomodulator. Animal studies found that shatavari is capable of producing leucocytosis with neutrophilia and, furthermore, was able to prevent myelosuppression by reducing cyclophosphamide-induced leucopenia. Shatavari has also been shown to inhibit drug induced mammary carcinogenesis (cancer). The hypothesis that macrophages play a pivotal role in the development of intraperitoneal adhesions and that modulation of macrophage activity may therefore prevent adhesions, was tested in an Indian study. The effect of shatavari was evaluated in an animal model of intraperitoneal adhesions. Shatavari reduced the severity of the adhesions and this correlated with a significant increase in the activity of the macrophages.

Cytoprotective Effects:
Oral pretreatment with Asparagus racemosus (200 mg/kg/day) was found to protect against chemical induced gastric damage in rats. Pretreatment with shatavari has also been shown to reduce drug induced lung fibrosis. Bleomycin (a cytotoxic antibiotic) increases the hydroxyproline (a nutritionally nonessential amino acid) content of lung tissue causing intra-alveolar fibrosis and deranged alveolar architecture. Shatavari significantly reduced (p<0.001) the bleomycin induced lung fibrosis. These protective effects were associated with a significant increase in alveolar macrophage activity. Shatavari has also been shown to reduce alcohol induced damage to the gastric mucosa. Pretreatment for seven days caused a 70% reduction in the ulcer index.

Digestive Activity:
Shatavari is used in Ayurveda for dyspepsia (amlapitta) and it has been shown to improve digestion by increasing the levels of amylase and lipase.

Extract of shatavari has been shown to increase both the weight of mammary lobulo-aveolar tissue and the milk yield. This effect was attributed to the action of released corticosteroids or an increase in prolactin.

Hormonal Activity:
Pure 9,10-dihydrophenanthrene has been shown to interact with androgen receptors and may therefore inhibit androgen-dependent prostatic growth. 25 Shatavarins, the steroidal saponins, may be responsible for the hormonal like effect of shatavari and explain its traditional use as a reproductive tonic.

Antioxytocic Activity:
The saponin rich fraction was shown to have antioxytocic activity. The saponin inhibited oxytocin-induced uterine contractions in vivo.

Shatavari or Satmuli is a very important medicinal plant, which is used, in many (allopathically) incurable diseases in Ayurveda and also in Himalayan traditional medicine system. Traditionally this plant is used as a reproductive tonic. It is also used traditionally for treating gonorrhea, piles, diabetes, increasing lactation, anthelmintic (pertaining to a substance capable of destroying or eliminating parasitic worms, esp. human intestinal helminthes), rheumatism, cough, diarrhea, dysentery, gastric troubles and headache. The Western world has now to accept these traditional treatments after analyzing the chemistry of this plant. Here the most important thing to notice is that we have many traditional herbs and therapies which can cure many incurable diseases, but these traditional medicines are vanishing very rapidly because our government doesn't have any serious program for promoting these medicines.

Main Source:

Michael Thomsen. 2002. Shatavari - Asparagus racemosus. Weblink: www.Phytomedicine.com

Further Readings:

Anon. 1992. BharatiyaVidya Bhavan. Swami Prakashananda Ayurveda Research Center. Selected Medicinal Plants of India. Chemexcil: Bombay. Pp: 43-46.

Bhattacharya, S.K., A.Bhattacharyaa and A. Chakrabarti. 2000. Adaptogenic activity of Siotone, a polyherbal formulation of Ayurvedic rasayanas. Indian Journal Exp Biology, 38:119-28.

Boger D.L., L. A. Mitscher, M. D. Mullican, S. D. Drake and P. Kitos. 1985. Antimicrobial and cytotoxic properties of 9,10- dihydrophenanthrenes: structure-activity studies on juncusol. Journal Medicine Chemistry, 28:1543-7.

Chang C. S. and S. S. Liao. 1987. Topographic recognition of cyclic hydrocarbons and related compounds by receptors for androgens, estrogens, and glucocorticoids. Journal Steroid Biochem, 27:123-31.

Dalvi S. S., P. M. Nadkarni and K. C. Gupta. 1990. Effect of Asparagus racemosus (Shatavari) on gastric emptying time in normal healthy volunteers. Journal Postgrad Med, 36:91-4.

Dange P. S., U. K. Kanitkar and G. S. Pendse. 1969. Amylase and lipase activities in the root of Asparagus racemosus. Plant Medicine, 17:393-5.

Dhuley J. N. 1997. Effect of some Indian herbs on macrophage functions in ochratoxin Atreated mice. Journal Ethnopharmacol, 58:15-20.

Frawley D. and V. Lad. 1986. The Yoga of Herbs. Lotus Press: Santa Fe. Pp: 183-184.

Gaitonde B. B. and M. H. Jetmalani.1969. Antioxytocic action of saponin isolated from Asparagus racemosus Willd (Shatavari) on uterine muscle. Arch Int Pharmacodyn Ther,179:121-9.

Joshi J. D. S. 1988. Chemistry of ayurvedic crude drugs: Part VIII: Shatavari: 2. Structure elucidation of bioactive shatavarin I and other glycosides. Indian Journal of Chemistry Section B Organic Chemistry Including Medicinal Chemistry, 27(1): 12-16.

Kamat JP, Boloor KK, Devasagayam TP, Venkatachalam SR. 2000. Antioxidant properties of Asparagus racemosus against damage induced by gamma-radiation in rat liver mitochondria. Journal Ethnopharmacol, 71:425-35.

Mandal S.C., A. Nandy, M. Pal and B. P. Saha. 2000. Evaluation of antibacterial activity of Asparagus racemosus willd. root. Phytother Research, 14:118-9.

Mandal S.C., C. K.A. Kumar, Lakshmi S. Mohana, S. Sinha, T. Murugesan, and B.P. Saha. 2000. Antitussive effect of Asparagus racemosus root against sulfur dioxide- induced cough in mice. Fitoterapia, 71:686-9.

Nadkarni, K. M. 1908. Indian Meterica Medica. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan Private Ltd. Pp: 153-155.

Nyman, P. et al. 1995. Glimpses of Indian Ethnopharmacology. In Joshi P., Ethnomedicine of Tribal Rajasthan. Pushpangadan, Kerala: Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute. Pp:159.

Patel A. B. and U. K. Kanitkar. 1969. Asparagus racemosus willd. form bordi, as a galactogogue, in buffaloes. Indian Veterinary Journal, 46:718-21. Pharmacol, 10:639-44.

Rao A. R. 1981. Inhibitory action of Asparagus racemosus on DMBA-induced mammary carcinogenesis in rats. Int Journal Cancer, 28:607-10.

Rege N. N. and S. A. Dahanukar. 1993. Quantitation of microbicidal activity of mononuclear phagocytes: an in vitro technique. Journal Postgrad Medicine, 39 :22-5.

Rege N. N., H. M. Nazareth, A. Isaac, S. M. Karandikar and S.A. Dahanukar. 1989. Mmunotherapeutic modulation of intraperitoneal adhesions by Asparagus racemosus. Journal Postgrad Med, 35:199-203.

Rege N.N., U.M. Thatte and S. A. Dahanukar.1999. Adaptogenic properties of six rasayana herbs used in Ayurvedic medicine. Phytother Res, 13:275-91.

Saxena VK and S. Chourasia. 2001. A new isoflavone from the roots of Asparagus racemosus. Fitoterapia, 72:307-9.

Sekine. 1995. TIFFNal Structure and relative stereochemistry of a new polycyclic alkaloid, sparagamine a, showing anti-oxytocin activity, isolated from Asparagus racemosus. Journal of Chemical Society, Perkin Trans, 1:391-3.

Sekine. 1997. TFNMlaRN Racemosol, a 9,10- Dihydrophenanthrene from Asparagus racemosus. Phytochemistry, 44:763-4.

Sharma S., S. Ramji, S. Kumari and J. S. Bapna. 1996. Randomized controlled trial of Asparagus racemosus (Shatavari) as a lactogogue in lactational inadequacy. Indian Pediatr., 33:675-7.

Thakur RS, H. S. Puri and A. Husain. 1989. Major Medicinal Plants of India. Lucknow, Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants. Pp. 78-81.

Thatte U.M. and S. A. Dahanukar. 1988. Comparative study of immunomodulating activity of Indian medicinal plants, lithium carbonate and glucan. Methods Find Exp Clin Pharmacol, 10:639-44.

Lalit Tiwari
Lok Vigyan Kendra, Almora 263601 India
E-mail: ltherbal@rediffmail.com