Review on anticancerous therapeutic potential of Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal

J Ethnopharmacol. 2021 Apr 24:270:113704. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2020.113704. Epub 2020 Dec 25.


Ethnopharmacological relevance: Withania somnifera, commonly known as Ashwagandha, is an important medicinal herb belonging to family Solanaceae. It is widely used in folkloric and Ayurvedic medicines since antiquity. Traditionally, the plant is highly practiced throughout the globe as immunomodulator, anti-inflammatory, anti-stress, anti-parkinson, anti-alzheimer, cardio protective, neural and physical health enhancer, neurodefensive, anti-diabetic, aphrodisiac, memory boosting etc. The plant is also effective in combating various types of cancer and other related problems of colon, mammary, lung, prostate, skin, blood, liver and kidney.

Aim of this review: The present review represents the critical assessment of the literature available on the anticancerous role of W. somnifera. The present study throws light on its diverse chemical compounds and the possible mechanisms of action involved. This review also suggests further research strategies to harness the therapeutic potential of this plant.

Materials and methods: The present review is the outcome of a systematic search of scientific literature about 'Withania somnifera and its role in cancer prevention'. The scientific databases viz. Google Scholar, Science Direct, Pubmed and Web of Science were searched from 2001 to 2019. Textbooks, magazines and newspapers were also consulted. This review summarizes all the published literature about its therapeutic potential for the treatment of different types of cancers.

Results: W. somnifera has been widely used in traditional and ayurvedic medicines for treatment of numerous problems related to health and vitality. The plant is a reservoir of diverse phytoconstituents like alkaloids, steroids, flavonoids, phenolics, nitrogen containing compounds and trace elements. Withanolides are the major alkaloids which renders its anticancer potential due to its highly oxygenated nature. The plant is highly effective in combating various types of cancers viz. colon, mammary, lung, prostate, skin, blood, liver and kidney. Previous studies depict that this plant is more effective against breast cancer followed by colon, lung, prostate and blood cancer. Furthermore, from different clinical studies it has been observed that the active constituents of the plant like withaferin-A, withanolide-D have least toxic effects.

Conclusion: The present review confirms the various medicinal values of W. somnifera without any significant side effects. Withaferin-A (WA) and Withanolides are its most promising anticancer compounds that play a major role in apoptosis induction. Keeping in mind the anticancerous potential of this plant, it is suggested that this plant may further be investigated and more clinical studies can be performed.

Keywords: Anticancer; Aphrodisiac; Apoptosis; Ashwagandha; Withania somnifera.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Medicine, Ayurvedic
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Plant Extracts / adverse effects
  • Plant Extracts / chemistry
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use*
  • Withania / chemistry*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Plant Extracts
  • Ashwagandha